Friday, April 30, 2010

Louis Jordan: Is You Is, or Is you Ain't My Baby . . .

This is dedicated to the 96th Engineers (Colored) who rebuilt Port Moresby and several extemporaneous jungle/swamp airfields to save pilots and aircraft during World War II. Running out of gas over the jungle was no joke. There's no telling how important their work was to the overall effort.

I found this gem looking for the song itself. Louis Jordan singing for a film Follow the Boys (1944). This is the only Hollywood film I have seen showing black military men in World War II.

However, I do know there were films and newsreels specifically targeting black-patronized movie theatres. Many of those have been lost, but the remainder have become the object of intense historical interest and preservation work.

Miss Ellen Bops w/o Direction, & No Wonder

My Toolbox
I needed a Wrench. Swear I used to have a whole darn set.
But that was before my Mom reorganized my tools Her Way. Her way is to get rid of the case that sorts drill bits by size, and throw them all in the Tupperware you usually use for celery sticks.

"You have plenty of Tupperware," she said. "Hmm. Let me try this one."
I don't have a lot of Tupperware. Furthermore, I don't want to buy any Tupperware.

She took socks and cut off the feet, then twisted them around to keep my extension cords nicely untangled..

"Mom, couldn't we just use a twist tie?"
"No, this will work. You'll see."
"That was a perfectly good sock, you know."

She does this for a living--use tools, I mean. She's actually really good--measure twice, cut once, careful on the job, everything. But I don't see how this works. It doesn't work for me.

Miss Ellen, Miss-Directed
So, I need a Wrench. Miss Ellen's handlebars are suddenly headed West when I want to go North. It is possible to steer like this, but only to Eventual Disaster.

Our HotWind Tax Dollars Are At Work, along with the Federal Re-Build America Act, re-doing the streets in my neighborhood. So far they have sliced a lot of pavement and laid down a lot of metal sheets on the road, then torn up the sidewalks and put in fancy brick stripes and granite curbing. They look great. When this project is done, no doubt I will be very pleased. But there's a lot of gravel and Pitfalls now, and every time Miss Ellen swerves to avoid one-----

-------her handlebars are suddenly headed SouthEast when I want to go West.

She was Always a loose cannon. Now she's a loose cannon with a loose nut, and I don't mean me.

I took Miss Ellen back to a place where direction is not so important, i.e. my living room. I tore up my closet for a nonexistent wrench. Finally I proceeded on half-finished state-of-the-art sidewalks to the neighborhood hardware store. I had a tracing of the nut and was measuring wrenches against it.

The guy behind the counter is a short, wiry caramel-colored man with a grey Afro hairstyle and a grey plaid flannel shirt. He's worked there forever.
"Why don't you get an adjustable wrench?"
"Sounds good."
"Right behind you," he points out. "Look up, above your eye level."

I pick a small one I can leave in my bag. "I've been needing a weapon, too," I tell the hardware guy.
He pokers up. "Need a bigger one then."
"I'm not going to hit anybody with it particularly," I tell him back. "I'm going to sling the bag."
"Yeah, that'll work," he says, still straight-faced. "Like David and Goliath. A course, I got a pipe wrench for $29.95 if you think about it." He hands me the receipt. "Come back anytime."

He probably thinks I am one of those candidates for a floral-print screwdriver. Hah! That is completely untrue.

Anyway, one of Miss Ellen's nuts is all right and tight. The other one still needs some adjustments.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to Build a Landing Strip in New Guinea Swamp

Earlier I wrote about the Kokoda Track  in this blog. This is a sort of chatty follow-up.

A long time ago, I went to a library book sale. You could buy de-commissioned library books or donated books by the inch. I bought a three-foot stack of books, mostly on World War II, for thirty-six dollars. One was Love, War, and the 96th Engineers (Colored). It is mostly the diary of Lieutenant (later Captain) Samuelson, (white) a New-Orleans resident assigned to the 96th.  And it just so happens his battalion supported the Battle for New Guinea, stationed in Port Moresby and elsewhere in Papua, building airfields and supporting the air effort.

Morale and Equity Problems in a Segregated Pacific
The black troops were supposed to get everything that every battalion got, but separate but equal did not work in the Army any more than it has in the schools. They were one of many units using Springfield rifles (World War I make) fairly close to Japanese depredations.

As a rear-guard, supposedly non-combat battalion, they were never going to get them first. But that, along with other curtailments of life, made their work in the Pacific even more difficult. Even more heroic.

The 96rd sailed from Brooklyn to Australia. Once the ship reached port, none of the black soldiers were allowed liberty at Brisbane. It was to keep the fighting down between U.S. troops. According to Samuelson,
"It is a dirty shame the way the white American soldiers treat our boys.  The Australians are wonderfully tolerant, but the Americans, especially the Southern boys, are a problem."

There are some accounts of riots and such in the early period, but this isn't showing up in Samuelson's diary. Trouble does. Racism limits their work periodically and almost gets Samuelson shot at least once, taking care of his 100 men, at liberty in town, but surrounded and arrested by a mass of gun-toting white American soldiers. The next day, all of them out, they were given camp-side recreation. Samuelson said only that "it was a flop. You can't force recreation on a man. It just doesn't work."

That was April 17th and 18th, 1942. By April 23rd, the 96th had the distinction of being the first U.S. troops in New Guinea. They began to rebuild a flattened Port Moresby: airstrips, docks, and roads for Allied air efforts. The 96th started as a labor battalion but was converted into a general service regiment, eventually the best trained unit of its kind.

Some Things Were Equal
One thing the Engineers fought, and Samuelson wrote a Long poem on:

      . . .  I'll spend my life
     In stamping you out
     . . . .
     So that if a man wants to work
     both Day and Night, he can
     Unmolested by a serpent-type thing
     A snake-like thing that used to be
     A viper called Red Tape!

                                  (March 20, 1943)

At another point, he says that to get supplies, he would not go through channels, but instead scream and yell and threaten to inform headquarters. Apparently only ultimatums worked.

During this time, he was running a constant fever of 102.3 or so. He did not report it, because "they would send me to the hospital and my job would be finished." He dosed himself with quinine and slept with extra quilts and the mosquito nets.  You can bet the rest of his battalion were equally fevered

In another entry, he credits the spiders in the outhouse for keeping him from getting dysentery. Apparently the eight-legged ones had spun a wall of webs, keeping flies down in the officer's crapper.

On to the airfield.
Samuelson writes, after about a year in PNG:
" Bombers kept running out of gas from Port Moresby to Rabaul or in the Solomons. Consequently the Australian government ordered the natives  to clear a strip 150 feet wide and 4800 feet long in a marshy flat grassland." (The kunai grass). "Since the strip has been cleared, three heavy bombers and several smaller aircraft have been saved from destruction, but each of these has torn up the ends of the runway while turning around, and one of the heavy bombers was stuck."

The solution to the mud-churning at the ends of the field was 'matting'. 146 tons of steel mat were shipped from Moresby to the drome somewhere in the middle of Papua's kunai grass. It was shipped over sea, loaded onto a barge about 25 tons at a time, as close to Houla as the shore conditions would allow, and then carried by native bearers to the drome. Samuelson describes that no one was happy with this job, the natives sneaking off or complaining (There is no word for the bitching I would do.) The food rations wouldn't show, for instance, or other details that make it possible for the real work to go forward.

Once the hauling was done, the mat had to be stored until they had enough for part of the job. The matting was laid on two ends of the airfield and around a parking lot for the brass. Oh, and Japanese Zeroes were buzzing around about twice a day. It took three sweating, grueling weeks. Done, April 23, 1943. By May 8th he was hospitalized for malaria with a temp running over 104.

He writes that he loved getting backrubs and alcohol baths from the nurses. I just bet.

One Last Word
The thing Samuelson is famous for is talking straight to the men about the racial distinctions rather than glossing them over. In one notable instance, he shared their exile during an extended R n R period. He did not always eschew his R n R-- but in this instance, with morale so low and so much lying going on, it made a huge impression.

Here is a story of an interaction with a sentry, and I think it describes his relationship to his men: Lieutenant Samuelson at times could be overly-paternalistic, but apparently he could also take a zing or two back:

"About ten months ago the Japs were but a few miles from here and we posted a heavier than usual guard around our camp area. I instructed the men they must be particularly alert at night when some of the Nips might sneak in and kill our boys while they were sleeping. During the night I went out to inspect the guard.

"Halt!" cried one of the sentries. "Who's dere?"
"Officer of the Day," I answered. To check whether the sentry knew his duties, I asked him, "Now Jones, if I hadn't stopped, what would you have done?"
"Called the Corporal of the Guard, suh."
"By that time, all the damage would be done. . . . (more sermon) . . . Why in hell would you call the corporal of the guard, anyway?"
"To help me carry away your dead body, suh."

I can't find a picture of the 96th at the National Archives. The first picture is of men from the 93rd, a combat battalion on Bougainville--similar terrain and vegetation. That should give you some idea. Then the 477th Anti-Aircraft Battalion stationed at Oro Bay, New Guinea, picture taken in 1944.

I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Zombies, Chicken-Hearts, Law and Order

We have had a lively month at the Condo!

Lies, Cocaine, and Delusions
The prostituting, extortionist, scary scream-in-the-halls-"I'm going to kill you and everyone here!"-with-blood-on-his-face guy was Arrested At Last. The Staff is all chicken-hearted--I don't mean the zombies, but the Desk Staff, and so when he came in with his dealer or stable, they could never confront him.

Probably I would have, and been sorry afterward.

The Hearing
So the Owner/roommate/partner came in for a Hearing. The Board threatened to fine him Huge MegaBucks in order to get him in. To avoid the fine, he must write a Never Come Back Here Again authorization (I am sure it has a better title) so that the Chicken-Hearts can bar him from the condo.

Does this sound like it's going to work? No. Is it the extent of our power to protect our Owners and Staff in the law? Yes, unless we want to sue a coke dealer who is currently unemployed.

I suspect he will get out much earlier than a year, break his half-way house agreement, and Return. But we will have the letter this time. The Threat of the Fine is not really a good one now, but it can be renewed with Cause.

The Soap Opera
The dejected room-mate/partner of course knew nothing about this man he was living with. (He was only trying to help him. He was back in France at the time. Can we all say bullshit merde now, in unison?) He was so surprised by all that had transpired. He thinks it is a mental health problem.

I wanted to kick him awake, myself. But these were all the self-delusions of a battered spouse, so I also wanted to direct him to the nearest Shrink.

There is something fragile in the middle of his self-deception. And something calculated, not desperate, under the lies. He's the weak link in our chain.

But the bid for sympathy didn't work. That's not our job as Board members. So we legislated a new reality--we told him we didn't care what his arrangement was, or his mixed feelings, the guy had to go and stay away forever. And by the way, change your locks. We'll want to see the receipt.

A Space to Breathe In
Hello, police force of HotWinds. Thank you very much for tracking this guy down, and providing the Chicken-Hearts, the Zombies, and the preoccupied Bureaucrats of the Board a chance to work this through.

Maybe you didn't get him in on the big crime case you wanted him for. Maybe he was busted only for failure to appear. It was still leverage for us, working for our 275 families and friends, our staff of say twenty.

This Bureaucrat salutes you.

101 Words: A Relic of the Hathaway ‘Cheap Period’

Dark lightning, no Still:

Soak two pounds dark Seaport coffee in ten cups of water 48 hours, stirring every twelve.

Find five clean wine bottles and corks, funnels, and coffee filters. Buy a quart of grain alcohol and a two-ounce bottle of real vanilla.

Boil two cups of sugar in ten cups of water until the water is pale yellow and a ‘feather’ of sugar floats on the boiling surface. Let cool while you strain coffee.

Mix the syrup, the coffee, the vanilla and the alcohol. Funnel into clean bottles. Drink it that weekend with friends. They will party all night.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Zombie Meeting Prep

Okay, I am not ready. But are they ready?
They need to talk to me about something but they don't want to tell me what. In the meantime . . . our Board meeting packets have nothing of substance . . .

I set it in a bedroom because I swear they are sleeping all day, or screwing around, although, not quite R or X rated screwing around.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I have to get to work

No posts today and probably tomorrow. I am swimming in Zombie Finance.
Board Meeting Tuesday Night--I'll let you guys know how it went!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Honest Scrap, part 2: The Blogs that Can

I forgot to put a picture of the Honest Scrap up on part one. But here it is, in all its glory. It makes me think of Rosie the Riveter. We Can Do It! And to me, that is what the award is all about. Are you ready to do the right thing, even if it's not glorious? Does life come in bits and pieces of scrap that you rivet together to a good purpose?

Momma Fargo over at The Boogie Man is My Friend gave me this award. We are recently following each other. (If you were tracking, that would be some odd trail sign.) She has a daughter that runs up to her and gives her hugs. That says it all about her parenting. She has an S & R dog who recently was very ill, and all we got was a brief mention or two. That says it all about the strong shoulders. And she has a Captain that she can make *blink*blink* and a partner who will roll his eyes, but they count on her every day.

The Ten Awardees
My first Three Awards go to Bloggers I wish were still Blogging. I regret their loss, but this is not about whining, it's about Tribute. Three writers in law enforcement, each very different, all very good. So for Conspicuous Gallantry and Honesty in a world full of dishonest Scrapping:

1. The Warrior Poets--This writer wrestled bleak streets with a near-golden sense of  the beauty in it all. Within those twin tensions, he had a definite opinion, but it was layered with subtleties.  It made me want to do better, even if only to See and Witness for myself.

2. Pepper Spray Me--One Time was adventuring every day, twenty-four seven. The Wild West is still plenty Wild, thank you very much, and meetings on Main Street do not have the rules conveyed by John Ford flicks. But somehow like those flicks, desperadoes and bombshells in red satin still careened through . . .

3. The Johnny Law Chronicles--A spare writer with definite opinions. My understanding of him was clued by his political profile. He's a moderate man who saw plenty of concern in the immoderate way we are living. A moderate man can be a fighter, maybe the best there is, because he won't brook nonsense from the fringe. He was also a great instructor, teaching directly and by example.

And now for The Magnificent Seven. The Rules: You mention me, so that readers can follow the chain up and back and meet new bloggers. Then you tell Ten Things about yourself. That gives you the opportunity to choose other bloggers you believe should be highlighted! It is up to ten awardees.

You can mix it up, tell Ten things you believe about your work, or something like that. It's still personal but won't give your home address, if you know what I mean. Or you can just tell us any thing at all.

4. peedee at Queen of the Dogs
She's a scrapper, all right. She and I want transformed lives. Both of us are changing our diet, the way we work, our sleep patterns (maybe that's just me) and our exercise levels. We're also rebuilding new structures for a new life. There have been days when a letter or post from peedee has been the last holding grapple on the line. I know that grapple holds. Peedee, muah!

5. Bob G. at The Pa-In Erudition
Do I need to say Bob is a scrapper? He Told It How He Sees It for a thousand posts. He knows how to fix a screen,. plant a daisy, and make use of a backbone. Bob, we need Ten Life Lessons, or where you saw Ten Birds on your Life List, or anything that comes to mind.

6. The Bug at The Bug's Eye View.
Dear The Bug, give us Ten! You've been all around the world and seen a lot that we can relate to. That's for sure. And you brighten my day. You may not think you're scrapping, but not everybody does it the loud way.

7. Gia at A Gia's Life!
Dispatcher, mom, best friend to those who are down, sender of packages to the military, gardener, lover of tulips, and a force for Good. Another quiet and honest Scrapper.

8. meleah at Momma Mia Mea Culpa
She's out every day, Doing Things Differently until that Doing means Doing Things the Same. It's about Elevating Rituals.  I go there often to see another person taking the bumps and living with What Is while Moving Forward anyway. She has a unique style!

9. Linnnn at The Chronicle of Linnnn
This is another new blog on my list. She's a funny writer and/but in other posts, very nuanced under a riveting directness. I have been enjoying her insights and her travails now for about a month. Go Linnnn! Give us Ten!

10. Slamdunk at Slam Dunks
Slamdunk, you get so many awards, and so deservedly, I think it sometimes wrecks your regularly scheduled programming. So I am going to Mention You as an Awardee, but without laying the Rules on You.

Everybody knows Slamdunk! And by checking his comments, you can network all over the blog-a-verse. So let's just say he pre-qualified. Right now he is tackling some way-difficult subjects and I am more than grateful. That is Scrapping Loud. And he's doing the good at home, too. That is quiet Scrapping. And both equally honest.

There are so many blogs I love, but they are sometimes very private people or just Don't Do Awards, (really, Schmoe, not even Breakfast? What do you mean, you don't like chickens?), or it's not part of their Blog Mission (Oh, so that's it! No clucks allowed.).   If anyone needs a good read, check out my blogroll. Ann T. has the best blog roll in town, or at least, the best blogroll according to Ann T.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Honest Scrap, part 1: The Books that Did

This past week, Momma Fargo gave me an Honest Scrap Award! I received this award once before, when I was first blogging, and it helped my confidence immensely. (Thank you, Christopher.) I am thrilled to win it a second time. And again, more confidence! So thank you Momma Fargo at The Boogie Man is My Friend.

For those of you who have not checked out her blog, she writes about juggling law enforcement duties, talkin' whack and getting whack talk back, the love she has for her family, pets, craziMom, and I believe humanity in general. You can get a laugh or an insight at her blog any time.

This time, I've decided to use the "Ten Things to Learn About Me" to be ten books that Changed My Life or Got Me Through. They also define my areas of concern, my Scrappin' personality--I am a Crusader, my readers, so it's a combination of dreaming and working here. So I think there may be something for everyone.

Kid Stuff
1. A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.
I had an illustrated version. I loved most of these, because RLS talked about pretending. Making a ship out of two chairs, for one. The Land of Counterpane, where you fight army battles over the patches of a quilt. Not all play is directed play. Sometimes I think we over-parent, never leaving kids alone enough to dream it out. Uh, they still need to pick up after themselves and go to bed on time, though.

2. Up A Road Slowly by Irene Hunt.
I received this book for Christmas one year when I was in grade school. I didn't understand it fully for years. A young girl's mother dies. The girl lives with a maiden aunt. The story is how the girl learns that cool-collected people also love deeply. That you do not have to be the best-loved to be well-loved. Hard lessons for all, and beautifully told.

Science Fiction and Fantasy
3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
When I was recuperating from getting hit by a car, a friend gave me this set of books. Who Knew you could make a world this huge with words? This series got me started on science fiction of all types. But also I studied Tolkien, then King Arthur and then Welsh mythology and Norse literature. What an incredible journey. Later, I figured this out: Tolkien was also a nature writer. He knew trees, weather, the look of frost on the grass. What an amazing adventure in the book and from the book.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert.
I keep only the first one. Invented absurdities start to bedevil the series in book 2. But the first is a masterpiece on ecology, cults, religion, self-control, power, politics, feudalism, corruption--and a damned good story. Nowadays, to me it looks ahead of its time, because it incorporates much of the culture of Islam. It won't teach you Islam, of course, but it does show cultural and environmental pressures that helped form it.

5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
An incredible book on social organization: manners, marriage, and politics. A good read and short, too, and often defines my sense of politics.

Nonfiction (mixed with related Fiction)
6. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley plus 3 more, cheating
When I was in high school, I was reading a book a day. Therefore, people like Dickens, of whom it was Impossible to read in a day, had special significance. I could think about the characters longer. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was another two-dayer. I remember vividly his description of hair-straightening--"conking" your hair, ouch! and the Lindy Hop.

It formed the basis for many other reads, including Jubilee by Margaret Walker, and This Was Harlem by Jervis Anderson, also very great books. Jubilee is a fiction novel of slavery and Reconstruction, and I liked it better than Roots. This Was Harlem is a fantastic history that remains way relevant to current cultural phenomena, like the 'rent-party' and the role of ministers. It's also a great backgrounder to Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, another fine read.

7. From those Wonderful Guys Who Brought You Pearl Harbor by Jerry Della Femina
Della Femina was an advertising executive, and he writes about the tilted world of promoting products. I think it started me off on deconstructing advertisements and eventually news video. It is hysterically funny, but dated, since he is telling stories from the Sixties and Seventies. Does anyone but me remember Braniff Airlines and Pucci prints on the stewardesses? My dad Loved them: glam to the max. Like James Bond's airline or something, now belly up for decades.

8. The Craft of Power by R.G.H. Siu, plus three more
Back when I was working for a coke-headed boss who loved to analyze things . . . I ran into this book. I was fascinated by everything it explained about the Take-Charge-Make-A-Killing 1980's. It also filled in the gaps in my imperfect reading of Machiavelli--previously seeming only applicable to third world countries--and led me to Musashi's Book of Five Rings, James Clavell's Shogun, and thence to The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Oh, my coke-headed boss? His wife flushed a thousand or more dollars of white granular down the john and filed for divorce. I left shortly thereafter to do Anything Else, Just Give Me A Job.

9. Women in Art by Whitney Chadwick
In this book, Chadwick talks about some incredible art, but that's not why it's useful. She writes about how women in art (or any group) is set up in the press or popular discourse to be in competition with each other rather than the industry at large. It explains divide and conquer, in other words, within the world of public relations.  I read it as a kind of manifesto on how to look at backgrounds and environments of conflict. Each chapter has a kind of lesson like this. Low price, with good quality art reproductions and timeless lessons.

Fiction, Unmixed
10. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Post World War II, a half-Native American, half-white semi-outcast has PTSD. This book documents his rise from everlasting miasma to a full life amid the limits of the reservation. The mental health community could not help him. The tribal ceremonies didn't work. Eventually he finds a shaman who can adapt ceremonies to circumstances. Tayo goes on a quest that somehow follows, loosely and yet fully, an old story. He finds his way back to the world. But this is not a feely-good book, it's about stupid choices, selfishness, self-hatred, and ongoing limits. It's a good book for a person who needs passage out of trouble.

11. I said there would be something for everybody. I can't resist putting out some Great Books. But the truth is, I also have Common Taste. Sara Paretsky, Georgette Heyer on Regency romance,  the Scarpetta books . . . Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler, and Daniel Goines, almost illiterate, but fiction based on Detroit slum culture. Unbelievable, yet I think a true window.

I read one romance, A Perfect Rose, every day while my husband was sick. The hero was dying and was trying to get the good out of life in the last months. It helped me realize my life also needed to be lived. It helped me realize my husband needed to get out and do things. The binding blew up and pages scattered all over the bathroom. I still read it, tucking pages back in as necessary. So was that not a great book too? It was. The best one, because I needed it at the time. I think everyone has a book or two like that. Or at least a song like that.

Okay, I am now supposed to pick some Honest Scrappers! You tell ten things about yourself and then pick five to ten awardees. Since this post is already longer than Methuselah's beard, that's in a second post . . . tomorrow . . . .

Friday, April 23, 2010

Al Capone & The Long Cool Woman with the Bean Pan

I ran into a beer blog yesterday, and it got me to thinkin' . . .

Prohibition, part I.
My crazy Great-Grandfather ran away from home to be a cabin boy on a ship. He eventually went all over the world and ended up in Chicago. This was I believe in the Twenties.

He got a job in a grocery store and fell in love with Cinderella. She was the adopted child of a prospering grocer's family, and her lot was to scrape and clean for the besom (look it up, she was a you know what) and her Two Daughters. There was also a Son and a Boss-Daddy, so this doesn't Completely follow the usual cast. Plus, you know, Great-Grandpa was not really a prince.

Eventually they had their own grocery. Sometimes Capone's men would come by and say when they needed the truck. They got it when 'requested'.  Capone's people were, in all historical accounts, bloody and terrible men. But when Grandpa got the truck back, it was clean, full of gas, and ready to go.

Another time he was unloading crates of eggs and found liquor in the bottom. When I heard this story, I was very young. I thought The Outfit shipped whiskey in egg trays, which didn't seem very efficient. However, it was romantic, and I also mentally invented several different funnels which might make it work. What a help I could have been to Al Capone.

I've lately come to suspect that Great-Grandpa's grocery was mostly funded by truck rental. For one thing, he didn't keep it long after Prohibition. He retired, built a boat, and sailed it down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico. Did he go to Cuba to run rum and cigars? No, but I assure you he went on to other colorful pursuits.

He was never arrested.
That I know of.

Prohibition, Part II:
My reprobate great-grandfather and Cinderella had one daughter, and she was a young married woman during Prohibition. You could actually brew beer in limited amounts during that era. You just couldn't sell it or give it away.  I think it also had to be in certain percentages, a kind of 'near-beer'.

Well, Pa-Pa and Ma-Ma brewed beer the way some farm women do canning all year.  They rented a duplex, and they kept the beer all racked and hidden in the basement. One day Pa-Pa was at work, and Ma-Ma was hanging wash on the line and talking to the other ladies over the back fence? She heard this 'pop' sound. And then another. And then a sort of pop-gun fire. And then the odor of beer washed over the back yard. The basement was a-swim in beer. I am sure that was a cleaning job for the ages.

I don't know what my Ma-Ma told the neighbor ladies. That was in Chicago too. Maybe they had basements full themselves. And, as far as I know, they were never cited for this. But in that amount? It does make me wonder, again, about my illustrious ancestry. And Blood Will Tell.

Around and About the Still
Before my husband and I were married, we were broke. I personally do not care for beer, but my husband always enjoyed it. He did not like Bud though, or 'Circle G' or 'Brand X'. So one day, he invested an inordinate amount of money on brewery equipment.

A life filled with Projects is full of expectation and promise. It also requires Storage.

That was a small apartment. We had plastic bags of unused orange crush and Fanta root beer bottle caps in the kitchen. We had a bottling 'lever' (I guess that's what you call it) that would put those orange crush tops on recycled beer bottles. Oh, did I mention we had a bottle-washing operation also in that kitchen? It never looked sterile to me. Anyway, the stock pot would only boil eight bottles at once. I can assure you that you do not brew beer only eight bottles at a time. So there were used bottles, used clean bottles, and used sterile bottles. Sometimes the sterile bottles were not used in a timely fashion.

I only needed the stock pot back so we could eat beans on a regular basis. Those are cheap, and did I say we were poor? I can make the best pinto beans you ever ate, but only when I have a pan to do it in. Eventually we bought a second stockpot at some Army-Navy warehouse. And some more funnels and tongs. A bottle rack for drying. And some Pilsners. I'm pretty sure he could have been drinking Dos Equis by then. But there's no ambition in that.

We had racks of unfilled and filled bottles of beer awaiting 'tasting'. Those were in the dining room. And last of all, we had the actual brewing operation. This was much smaller than the bottling operation. It consisted of a couple of five-gallon water jugs (as I remember) with clear rubber pipes running back and forth between them. That was in the bedroom.

The yeast ferments the grain and malt and barley or whatever in a solution in the large jug. This rises. I would awaken every morning to the alarm clock, roll over, and see brown curd bloop through a tube first thing in the morning. After awhile, it got to me. We rearranged the bedroom so that the wort blooped on his side of the bed.

It was good practice in sharing, ah, resources. Since I had a drawing and a sewing project space, there was no reason for me to cut up stiff. I haven't mentioned my boxes of fabric or my dresser full of art and sewing supplies. So except for the wort-blooping and the bean pan, it worked just fine.

Now, perhaps you are thinking we had an explosion . . . that never happened. Perhaps you are thinking we got beer out of this . . . that never happened either. The beer was grainy-textured with undissolved yeast. Ick! Every time my husband opened a bottle, it smelled just like a Wonder Bread Factory. Brave woman that I am, I actually drank a sip out of his glass. Once.

Eventually, he redoubled his efforts in the sale of used kimono . . .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Birthday Thoughts

Today is my husband's birthday. If he had lived, I mean.

I was trying to think how to celebrate his life today. Next year I may have a more ceremonious plan. But today so far I have made sure BoyCat feels loved. He's been a little neglected-feeling lately.

Miss Ellen and I are going out. I go see my therapist. The sun is out.

For some reason, I have been thinking about the day we learned he got sick. He had a seizure, right on the bottom steps of the VA where he worked. He used to get there very early and have breakfast, work on his files before appointments. He was not yet fifty.

In truth, he had been hiding his illness from the both of us--not very well from me anymore--but I still didn't have the full. When he fell over with the seizure, he looked like a bum. Unshaven, in clean clothes at least, a big man passed out on the street. His I.D. got him into emergency right away. But someone found him first. Somebody made sure he got inside the VA hospital.

Today, whoever that was, because I never met you: thank you for stooping down and looking at the strange man passed out on the curb. Thank you for rolling him over and determining he needed help. I am grateful forever.

Bad Vibes

So I am working at IHOP, the graveyard shift. A guy I didn't wait on comes up to the cash register and I ring up his check. He's mostly polite. Nothing wrong with how he looks. He leaves, I drop the menus, and I'm unreasonably angry for twenty minutes. It was the guy. Bad, bad vibe. Something about him instantaneously scared the crap out of me.

I never saw him again. That would have been bad. Or maybe I'm making it up. But I remember him over twenty years later. I know what he looked like. If I saw him again I'd know.

The Guitarist
A couple of years later, I worked with young adults as a peer counselor. Some I tutored, others I talked about how to relate to parents whose trust you have betrayed in the past, and vice versa. I had one in particular that I can't forget. I was to get him to look at jobs, learn social skills, do something besides dreaming into the hole of a guitar. Because I mention the guitar, you may think he wanted to be a professional musician or a 'rock star'. But he never thought of the future. Not that much enthusiasm, either: sure, it might be nice. He could play blues guitar really well, but not all the way through a composition. Just a neatly-combed lost soul: white skin, white shirt, wire glasses, no expression. You might think it was depression. I don't know.

Working with this guy made me nauseous and fogged. He was passive beyond belief, and nothing I tried was any good, no emotional or analytical expenditure. We met four times a week and he was always late, or missing, or vacant on arrival. I got him to look for jobs, a huge effort. He was a busboy for a day. He quit because he wanted to sit down and eat, not watch other people do it. The shrink on the case thought this was the best admission ever. "Everybody feels like that," he said. "Now we have something real to work with."

That was a new one. I realized how unthinkingly normal people defer gratification.

So, more effort. All my other work was suffering, and my boss got mad. He yelled at me (he was a yeller)  and finally he mentioned my counselee's name mid-rant. After a pause, he said, "Ah-ha." I was given two weeks without sessions with the guitarist. My health, vital nature, and performance came straight back in a matter of days.

Months later, the guitarist confessed to a terrible local murder. My future husband had to go get him out. The guitarist did not commit it, alibi in full. He was not really capable, either, of anything that required fortitude of any sort.  But he looked good for it because he was full of bad vibe, the big ick factor, and of course, the telephoned, hysterical confession. It was a big pain to everyone involved and also showed the only spark of acute feeling that I learned of him. The only act he ever made toward resolving guilt wasted hundreds of other people's hours.

His mother had already written him off when I first met him. That was not from lack of trying, you understand. He came from a good home. She just finally recognized a black hole. She was angry and disappointed, and now conserving her resources. The father was not so analytical. He was spending his life force, worry and money and emotion, trying to get "growing-up" for his son. The disparate reactions wrecked this marriage for all practical purposes. 

The dad had heart trouble. He later died of it. I'm not sure it ever fully registered for him, or even a huge fear about the new difficulties that presented themselves. He was like Narcissus. Nothing to gaze at except the surface of a pool, summer or winter, starving or lonely. After awhile, I'm not sure Narcissus even needed to have his eyes open to see what he wanted to see.

I have known others who will take it out of you: some instantly, like at IHOP, some over the deadening or infuriating months we were employed in the same place, some over a lifetime. Some were evil, or whatever word you want to use. Some were desperate, and some were selfish to the bone. Most were ordinary, even boring, in how they try to take from you. But then there are the extraordinary ones.

This guitarist, I have never been able to classify. In the end, I think he is proof that Nature abhors a vacuum, that people will rush in to fill a silence or a lack. These are decent people who tried. But nothing dented the guitarist enough to form one of those internal scars we use to keep ourselves real.

I know this sounds hard, I know it doesn't have true cause-and-effect logic, but I am right all the same.

I think about this sometimes, when I hear about crime victims. I sometimes think they didn't trust their own sense of the vibe. I think about it with first responders, too, especially law enforcement and also prison guards. They spend prolonged time with people that make you sick.  I wonder if we know what they pay to keep the sickeners away from us. I want them to have a damn good health plan that includes psych support, and a culture that allows them to make use of it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Looks like tiny daisies, but ten times tougher.
Comes in every color, including 'ham and eggs'. Grows in swampy dirt and desert heat. Pretty flowers, tenacious shrubs, likes the luxury of regular rainfall but doesn't have to have it to thrive.  Tough ladies for the garden and a perennial good addition.

Good luck tomorrow, my friend. A long set of stairs climbed. 
May the landing be a good chance for a deep breath.

Another Constellation

We have a lot of cold dessert choices in my neighborhood.

Down the street and over from Brett's Yogurt, there is another, national franchise. It sells ice cream and doughnuts: you know the one. The lady that owns it, LaRonda, is there every day in the morning with the rush, worrying in the afternoon during the lull, then speeding through the afternoon after-school rush. She does not find good enough help to be open late at night. This is a mistake on weekends.

We also have a lot of homeless people here. One of them used to buy cases of water and ice in summer, cool them down in an ice chest, and sell them. He would carry the ice chest up and down the street, or sometimes he had a wagon. Then he disappeared.

Months later, Reginald was back. In a wheelchair. He'd been at XYZ University's Hospital, getting treatment for brain cancer. Over the intervening months, he panhandled from his wheelchair, with the tumors in his head visibly getting larger and larger, his cognition poorer and poorer. Occasionally you would see him with a quart of hand-packed ice cream, getting the full good out of it. LaRonda at the ice cream and doughnut store used to give it to him freely, whatever flavor he wanted. She is struggling. She gave that homeless entrepreneur some of the last joy he had on this earth.

Star Quality

There's a small yogurt place in my neighborhood. It sells soft-serve yogurt, no fat, at a reasonable price. For another dollar they will put fresh fruit on top--prime, best quality stuff. The store is tiny, and it is jammed with Tetris, board games, Wi-fi, and numerous college students.

Today I walked in and somebody famous had dropped by. He is a television star from probably Seinfeld, and is now starring in a play in my city. The proprietor/inventor of this business gives all kinds of discounts to people who can imitate Seinfeld characters, or answer trivia questions, or score at level gazillion at Tetris. He Loves Seinfeld TV. He is also having a good time with his business. It's still personal, so slinging yogurt and cutting up mango is not a rote activity yet. Almost two years in business now.

So, The Star's entourage was filming and taking pictures. The Star and the Proprietor were trading free yogurt, autographs, jokes. Brett, the owner, had met a hero. He was having a blast, plugging his company and learning about the actor's new gig. Probably all this will go on Facebook or Twitter eventually. But you could see he was mesmerized.

To me, it was a constellation, or twin star.

Brett is in his early twenties and has already started a small business that employs up to ten college students. It's a great concept and is already a nascent chaiin--I think a new one is opening in Baltimore. Who is a hero here?

Maybe they are both heroes in their own lives, the stars of their story.  The one man brings glamor--and surely it's difficult to achieve success in show business. But in exchange, you get recognition, free yogurt, and the big bucks. Brett won't get the recognition. He pays wholesale for yogurt. Maybe someday, he'll make the big bucks. He's just as much a star, although I'm sure he doesn't think so.

Photo: i'm only here for the

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Betty Boop and Cab Calloway, 1933

Straight from Fleischer Studios, Dave and Max Fleischer, Producing . . .

Koko the Clown sings St. James' Infirmary:   . . . "let her go, let her go, God bless her" . . . .

They're pretty sure that KoKo's dancing was drawn exactly, using film footage of Mr. Calloway's unique dancing and the Fleischer-invented Rotoscope. If you want to skip the story line, he starts at about four minutes in and sings for about two.  Just excellent.

They're also pretty sure that everyone was stoned when they came up for the ideas for this. But I don't know. Drawing takes a steady hand . . .

The Fleischer studio was one of the few that gave Disney a run for its money--featuring not just Betty but Popeye and later Superman. This Snow White is from 1933; Disney's mega-production came out in 1937. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Little Dorrit, Little Prisons

Between my bouts with the zombie ledgers, I am re-reading Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, my second favorite of his books. Just a chapter at a time. Dickens was a heavily-worded writer. Most if not all of his stories were serialized in magazines. So they could drag on and on, and a public starved for reading materials would wait for the next installment. When he was writing "The Old Curiosity Shop" he left his tiny heroine in dire straits. It is said that a crowd met the ship with the next installment in Boston Harbor--a near-riot--all of them chanting "Little Nell. Little Nell." They wanted the magazines unloaded first to see if she was okay.

The Marshalsea
Each one of Dickens' novels seems to follow a theme, and show every possible permutation of it. Little Dorrit is about prison. The most obvious prison is the Marshalsea, a debtor's prison that Dickens knew well. When people like Dickens' father could not pay his bills, he was sentenced there by his creditors. A debt-convict could not leave until he satisfied those creditors in full. In the meantime, your family moved in with you (to save expense) and other family members on the outside paid your meager bills inside. Your sons and wife could seek work during the day. They had to be back at the prison before dark so they could be locked in.

Food was not free. A better prison cell cost money. Tobacco and clothing. All of that. Thus some were more wretched than others, based upon how many people did for them on the outside. It skewed the value of clearing up debt. Once you were in, you didn't have to do for yourself any more.

The Dorrit Family
Amy Dorrit's father, a gentleman, is sentenced to the Marshalsea. Eventually Amy is born there, which makes her an object of fame and of pity. She is small because she never got enough to eat. She went to the prison church and her uncle got her basic schooling. Otherwise, there is no reason for her to understand morals better than the rest.

Her father has long since given up trying to get out of debt, and instead uses his status as a gent and a "long-lived tenant" to beg from other prisoners. The way he receives alms is as a sign of appreciation for the "tone" he sets at the prison.  If someone goes about this alms-giving without the proper manners, Mr. Dorrit is hurt beyond bearing. He is a scam artist, but the person he has scammed the best is himself--and his other two children.

His eldest son is a ne'er do well who cannot keep a job. Her sister works in a dance hall, and is not averse to blackmailing society ladies whose sons are infatuated. The combination of pretension and self-deception, despair and acceptance have ruined this family. Except Little Dorrit, who continues to work, and who refuses to be less than honest with herself. She is a remarkable lady. As in all Dickens, the remarkable ladies are always a bit of a doormat, but she has a way of making her opinions known when necessary.
[Mr. Dorrit's cell. From l. to r. The elder Miss Dorrit sitting on a bed, Maggy (beaten simple as a child) in the cap (unrelated, makes a living selling potatoes in prison), Little Dorrit serving her father tea, and a visitor to Mr. Dorrit (of the wrong class) not given a place at the table. Arthur Clennam, a genteel visitor, at the table.]

There's a moral in this for today--the way people are ruined and self-ruined. The way it passes onward. How remarkable it is when somebody doesn't buy into the value system they're given. How hard it is for them.

Other Prisons, Other Rooms.
There is Mrs. Clennam, who has made a name for herself in business. In guilt for what she has done, has imprisoned herself in a bedroom and a wheelchair. She gives herself no joys, she tells her every visitor, and yet at three in the afternoon some servant brings her a plate of perfect oysters, wine, and dry bread. This is a prison of guilt and spite, a proud prison. It satisfies no guilt, and it spreads misery.

Then there is the young girl who has been lovingly imprisoned in good parental care and wealth--so much so that she does not recognize a respectable brigand. She makes a bad marriage--another prison.

Many of the prisons in this story are quite genteel: those of the upper class, the bureaucracy, the social climbers, the cynical, the oblivious, and the resentful with money to spare. Yet there is Mr. Dorrit, genteel for a living. He tries to get little Amy to flirt with the Warden's son. An eminently respectable thing to do, if you were on the outside, yes? Be nice to the important man, darling. Little Dorrit's hand comes up. It covers her father's mouth.  There is nothing he won't do now for a favor, for a chance at a cigar or someone to look up to him. Except the one quiet voice says 'no'. It tears the veil away, for one half-hour. He is nothing without it. She helps him put it back. Later, when he unexpectedly gets out, he is still a prisoner to his habits of mind.

Little Dorrit goes on to a happy ending. And in Dickens' lifetime, the Marshalsea was torn down. He saw it as a triumph. Nobody knows what happened to its dependents. Dickens just wanted no more of them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sorry I Missed Yr. Equinox

Last week, about 5 a.m. on a weekday, somebody visited one of the (tiny, in full view of the street) garden areas next to our circular drive. The person lit a fire in front of a wooden bench and behind a low-growing box shrub, and danced around it.

The police and fire department responded. They stood respectfully back and waited for this person to finish their religious observance. This person then retired to another building not too far away. Perhaps then the fire department took care of any lingering aura surrounding the event.

A naked woman is the only way this story makes any sense whatsoever.  Since the equinox was almost a month ago, I have no idea what religion it may have been. I think she should use a hibachi next time.

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis: So What

In honor of the Vietnam Vets at the VA MH Ward. Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Live, in 1959. Or, better, get your CD out and play the whole album. It's perfectly lovely taken in whole.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Miss Ellen Nearly Cooked by Natural Gas-Burner

In Which Miss Ellen & Co. Are Treated as Objects
It's spring, so naturally the bicycle wear must change to the lighter and less cover-some clothing . I wore a smart retro mini dress with bike short underneath to gad about with Miss Ellen this afternoon. Destination: park. Apparently she has been good for my ankles. A lot of trucks lingered in our vicinity, calling "Hey!" out the window. That was unexpected.

Under such circumstances, Miss Ellen and I do not object to being treated as a piece of scenery.
On the way back, we were treated as equals, which is far more dangerous.

In Which Miss Ellen & Co. Are Challenged
All we wanted to do was pass a stopped bus with a crowd around it. I had no traffic, so I swerved out of the Right Lane in order to pass. I even signalled, the ancient Arm Signals that nobody seems to use any more.

The bus driver did not like this. The bus left its crowd behind and buzzed almost straight into Miss Ellen's back wheel. I was clearly visible in his window. I was also moving rapidly left, watching the looming bus, the left lane, behind, and front. Probably my head was swiveling as much as my legs.

"See how you need me," Miss Ellen was saying. "You couldn't move this fast without me!"
"Not now," I ordered. "We are cooked goose with spokes."

The bus was running on natural gas: Miss Ellen, on natural fright. The bus made a sloppy right turn and I got out of the way of six cabs and two SUV's just as fast as I could safely do it.  I hope he was happy, that bus driving son of a gun. Miss Ellen will be. She is getting a horn this week. I am getting some knucks. Of course the beep-beep and the knucks will be beside the point if it is a bus.

We are going out again tomorrow. We are too cool to be fazed by admiration or challenge. Ellen is disgusted currently though, since I have had to inform her that despite the law, she is not a true equal to anybody on the road.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

We Value Your Business

I was a Doctor's Wife, and a Doctor's Daughter-in-Law, but for forty hours a week I was also a servant to a random public. I worked retail, but there are other professions who will recognize this story.

I will tell you a secret about Doctor's Wives. They have a high rate of alcoholism, just as Doctors do. They are frequently lonely. I will tell you another secret: they always want a discount. A woman with a three-hundred dollar hair-do, getting snippy about $2.00 off of a $10.00 brass candlestick? I bet you that two bucks she is a D.W.

So, I did meet the ones in my husband's neuro/psych squad in RiverTown. We went to a couple poolside picnics, a couple dinner-dance affairs. One day I was at the information desk at my store and one of the D.W.s stumped in with her cane. Somehow everybody cleared out of her way.

"I'm looking for a book on heart disease," she told me, looking down her nose. "The name of it is X."

I looked it up. "Yes, we do have it," I said. "It's upstairs--"
"Well, you just march right on up those stairs and get that book for me." This is exactly what she said.

"Yes, of course." I marched right up those stairs and retrieved that book for her. The book was right where it was supposed to be, so I only got a quick laugh. I brought it right back down to Info and handed it to her. No thank you, no smile, not even a look. I am Beneath her.

"I know you," I said. "Your husband is Dr. Baldy, a neurologist. My husband is his colleague in Psych. We talked for a good long time at Pietro's last month."

"Oh, my gosh, how are you?" The lights in her face suddenly came on, and she was as effusive as a girl. "I had no idea you worked here. Isn't this wonderful to see you?"

"I'm glad to see you too," I promised. "Tell your Dr. Baldy I said hello."
Now maybe you think I am irritated. I just think it is funny. But I lived on both sides of that particular class divide. Not every clerk is that lucky.

Post-Zombie Reconstruction

Well, as you might imagine, the Condo Board was not exactly pleased to look at an Excel table for Zombie Depredations to the Funds.

A few statistics from the sheet: 136 accounts. 84 of them to be reviewed. Two hundred eighteen entries. That does not include the sixty incident uses of Zombie Discretion, some of which was perfectly proper, the rest which cost us more dollars we can not get back.  I estimate over 20K lost for the halfway mark.

But enough of that. Do I need to wail ALL the time about Zombies? No I don't! Today the weather is fine. Miss Ellen would like to shove off in three-gear splendor to parts unknown. I think we will make time for that.

Other News
In other news, my friend came through his surgery well, although I am sure he is still hurting. Thanks for all the good wishes from everyone.

101 Words-Muezzin

Every night one cat sleeps in the perch I call the cake plate, pretend ruler of the universe. The other sleeps on the bed, waiting for me to move her before I turn in. Night air blows too cold for an open window. In summer, I leave them open, even in sticky heat. I hear the drunks screaming, the hooker in my building talking phone sex in the parking lot, and at last the street prophet from a loudspeaker. This sounds like the Muslim call to prayer, the muezzin, but it is a female cop advising people to shut it down.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Health to You

A friend is having surgery today.
St. Michael  is the patron of police officers, and I think the illustration will serve for other reasons, too. But the dress has got to go. The boots should be more substantial for fighting a dragon, assailing a serpent, or barring a forbidden Gate. Possibly Danners.

Get well soon, my frand, and much health and joy to you and yours.
Ann T.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen v. Zombie Ledgers

I have a meeting tonight at 7 p.m. with the Condo Board to go over de-zombified ledgers. The official halfway mark. No Zombies Admitted, so we can talk.

I have a two-page presentation on how the association loses a thousand dollars, no lie, when it looks like we've only lost twenty-five. (Complete except photocopies).

I have the ledger corrections nearly done, i.e., separated into categories and all written up in Excel. (Needs more editing.)

I have a list of discretionary moves that should be explained and a lot of incomplete explanations. I tried to get that yesterday and no luck.

I have prepared remarks for the publicly-reported part of the meeting and prepared remarks for the executive session.  (Complete).

I have a lot of polishing left, though! More later . . . gotta get that red dress and a few swords . . .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

PTSD on foot

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is on the rise in our population, and according to the Chicago Tribune, the costs for treatment are escalating. It is a syndrome we believe we are familiar with.

Most narrowly and properly defined, however, it is not applied to flashbacks or stress or mental trouble related to a single incident. It is most properly defined as a disease coming from the stress of war, or a long-lived history of child sexual abuse.  It applies to duration as well as severity of trauma. Many of us say we have it, a little. I've said it myself. It does not compare.

I copied a lot of welcome packets.
I worked for awhile as a volunteer in the Veteran's Hospital, in one town I've lived in. I worked in the mental ward as a clerk-ette and pinch-hitting art therapist. I am not trained to be an art therapist, but they didn't have one, and I do know about art. Furthermore, I am not afraid of crazy people. It was actually fun and/or meaningful to interact with the patients on the ward.

They did not give a damn about me. I understood that. Perfectly. I got yelled at a lot for no reason other than unbounded frustration, unless it was time to go down and buy the snacks. At that point, I was not superfluous. I was the trustee of their desires and their allowances. It was the moment of maximum friendliness and minimum honesty in our relationships. I do not mean the money of course, which I counted back carefully to each and every one.

 There were some vets from World War II and some from Korea. They had a chip on their shoulder, or else an out-sized belief in their ancestry and prosperity. Very poor men would tell me their grandparents used to own the land the VA was standing on, or some such tale, all similar, and all involving riches and past success not quite their own. One ordered me to call his limo, since he was going home. That was my first day. I knew better, but I had to ask anyway. No limo, no discharge, no concierge service on the ward.

The ones I met from Vietnam have settled into homelessness. They come to the VA when the nightmares and the craziness and the bugs in their clothes get to be too much for them. They are not freeloading on the VA system--they are in distress every day. They appear when they know they cannot control themselves or their environment well enough. They are taking themselves off the street for the good of the public.

The public wants them to 'get a job'. Their job is to keep sane, keep that bundle of rags they call a bed, find a way to self-medicate the crap away for just another few hours. The VA gets them off the shit and onto legal drugs, gets them stabilized, and then out they go again.

We have done little or nothing for them. What they have chosen to try doesn't work either, but this is what they have now: a house with no walls or roof, varying degrees of salesmanship or guile, and a limited set of enjoyments, all of which are annoying to the rest of us.

And then there are the convicts and the trouble-seekers. Those come too, to a short-handed ward. They served too.

I will say we had some bright people working the ward. We had a head nurse that was tough as nails with flashes of sweetness. She was a black, stern, sometimes humorous older woman who insisted on decorating for every holiday in the calendar. We also had a low-key guy who had his head on straight and his heart in the right place. He was the go-to guy: he knew how to do the meds, how to play games, how to stay calm and not get lost in the drama. It was easy to see that the job was going to kill him eventually--too many fatty dinners at the VA commissary, too much heartbreak. We also had a stern Amazon in dreads and plastic gloves, washing, washing, washing, the lice out of the clothes. Full of good sense. She and the head nurse could have gone to Iraq and kicked serious ass just on backbone alone. Where they kicked ass was in the VA system. It took a lot of kicking. They never had a full staff in mental health. Ever.

So, the art gig. 
I went down to the V.A. art supply room. The ward is a little like prison, you have to turn in your toothbrush, no vienna sausage cans with razor-sharp lids. No plastic forks: you dump the sausages into a styrofoam bowl and they are eaten as finger food. Down in the V.A. supply room they have craft kits. My personal favorite was the log basket kit. It had one hundred to five hundred short dowel pieces to glue and nail together. Just looking at the kit you knew a. it would not work and b. if you weren't crazy when you started it, you would be by the end. It was one hundred to five hundred weapons, no good on the ward. The other favorite was the moccasin kit. you could make shoes, which might be good for a homeless man. Only it had needles. Can't have that either.

There were spirit catchers with wire (garrote) and there were plaques to make with little bonnet girls and 'have a nice day!' (glue). It was quite discouraging, because it was evident the purchasers and vendors didn't give a shit about the clientele. So I spent my own money. I got magic marker sets, pastels, grown-up art paper to stretch out the VA's faded construction paper, writing paper, envelopes, stamps,  and a couple of card games. Turns out they had cards, and even checkers, but no chess. Limited chess and limited cigarette breaks turned out to be the big down side of leaving the street to come onto the ward. These are both very important items to a full life on the street.

The World War veterans wrote letters to people in orange or purple markers. They were pleased with this project, up to and including asking for the envelope. Getting the envelope was always a sad moment--they rarely had an address to send the letter to. It still counted, because they could talk about their family and reflect on other days. I gave each of them steady encouragement for an hour or two, but it didn't change the isolation, the disconnect, the reality of no address.

The Vietnam vets played checkers, and they were damned good at it too. Their shells were tougher. They laughed. They wouldn't write a letter, but they always wanted an envelope. A few of them drew. Mostly not.

The origami was a bust, almost as bad as the log basket would have been. But everyone loved Miles Davis. 'Kind of Blue' was even worth turning off the television set.

Jazz wasn't everything.
The Iraq vet I remember best sat there, looking at the paper.
At last he asked me, what should I draw?

"Well, you can draw whatever you like." I ran through a few suggestions, "A favorite animal, or whatever you think you can draw to start. Maybe a memory," I told him. "Or even shapes. What do you want to draw?"

He drew a car with flames pouring out of the windows. He was called to talk to a therapist in the middle.

I had met the therapist a few times and thought he was the worst choice imaginable for people wrestling with war and sadness. This therapist would wave a flag over anything and would listen to nothing.  It wasn't even that he was a good American. He was a self-absorbed shit with an agenda. A cloak fits anyone--coated with stars and stripes, it might fool personnel, but never a crazy man. The only thing he had going for him was combat experience--he said--but he remains my personal embodiment of REMF.

That vet left the drawing on the table. He never came back. I still have it.

Maybe he was transferred someplace more helpful for him. Maybe he gave up and booked the hell out of Dodge. He was not tough enough for the street, though. Not any longer. But you do what you must. And that's how I'll finish.

If you are a soldier with PTSD, or depression, you should go to the VA. They can do good things for you. But if you are not satisfied, if you are not getting well, you should go further, journey harder, even into the expensive treatment.  Not getting well is one hundred times more expensive.

If you are a wife, parent, sibling of a man with PTSD, do your damndest to make the best treatment happen. The VA is prepaid, but that doesn't mean it is the answer for everyone, or a full answer for anyone. Your husband, son, brother needs you, and they might need you to pay therapy bills. Do it if you can.

When I am an old lady, using my walker to get down the sidewalk,  if I see an Iraq vet with a stolen grocery cart full of crap, I will remember. I will remember that he needed help and was given a flag, unlimited TV, an envelope he couldn't address, sardines on a styrofoam plate. That the most thought-out procedures were how to get meds and Fritos efficiently delivered. I will remember that between 1965 and 2010 they added better drugs and more subtle jingoism to the repertoire, and that wasn't enough.

Do something now to get yourself back. Ask those who--yes, don't understand it, but are in your life--to help you. Maybe it seems like panhandling, asking for assistance from people who should not be strangers. They will never understand everything, you cannot explain everything, but they can still help you. You can still save yourself.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When the gods come down from Mount Olympus,

they end up in People, Us, Star, and Entertainment Weekly.

Tiger Woods is playing the Masters Golf Tournament right now. I would personally rather watch paint dry than watch golf, so Mr. Woods' latest adventures are not of real interest to me. But his Nike rehabilitation is genius. Not Tiger's genius: Nike's genius. Straight out of the psyche and right into our hearts and minds.

Jungian Shrink-ology
There are two kinds of male gods on Mount Olympus. Three of them are father gods, mature men: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. You will note that Poseidon and Hades don't really visit Olympus much. They prefer their own home and rule their own realm. How many alpha-alphas in the castle? Answer: only one. One big one.

Then there are the sons: Apollo, the scholar, athlete, poet, musician, and knower of secrets, e.g. intelligence-gathering. This is the son of whom Zeus was proud. The rest of them he had less-important or more-conflicted relationships with: Haephaestus, that knows how to do everything mechanical but not how to beguile a woman. Dionysos, who knows how to party, let loose, destroy. And Ares, the warrior, irresistible to women, with two good arenas but maybe not a lot of versatility.

Tiger Woods has always been Apollo: the golden one, loved by his father, disciplined, self-contained, intelligent, a star athlete. His swing is 'poetry in motion'. And all that.

But the recent scandal has him cast as Zeus the philanderer, transforming himself into unrecognizable shapes to attract the world's nymphs and babes. His wife certainly has the Hera role. The wife of Zeus always cries alone, and then sets out to wreak vengeance. Generally she does this through intermediaries, such as monsters, tittle-tattlers, escalators. You know: the press and public opinion.

But then the ad casts Tiger as a son again. He looks a little like a scolded boy, except neatly dressed in Nike clothes, listening to his father's highly moral words. Those words are all about forgiveness and lessons learned--Christian words. He's still stoic, still self-contained, which works for both paradigms.

Yet it's mostly mythic. Tiger is still a knower of secrets, an athlete. It casts him as Apollo in a black and white world. Apollo is the god of the sun. Do you see how colorless the world is when Apollo must hide his light, go into seclusion, accept judgement? Wow. They couldn't have done any better.

Nike is named for Nike Apteros, another name for Athena, the woman-child of Zeus' brain. She was a maker of war, a weaver, poet, strategist, the goddess of female intelligence.  She is not Apollo's twin--she is Apollo's match.

It's almost as if Zeus asked his favorite daughter to rehabilitate his favorite son. And being the efficient goddess she is, she wove a powerful tapestry that works for our pagan and Christian moral sensibilities, casting a King of the Golf World, a Zeus of the player's circuit, back into the position of everyone's favorite, the Apollo of the fairways.

Unbelievably adroit. I see it with my own eyes. They are going to pull it off.

This essay was inspired by the comment discussion from this post at The Things Worth Believing In.
For the archetypes, Jean Shimoda Bolen, Gods in Everyman, a book I read a long time ago.

Zombie Tactics--A sad but funny array

Well, I think I have the answer to my previous post about my broken team and the ledger corrections. if I look at this properly, it's funny--in a sad or maddening kind of way.

I'm nearly halfway done. I've had meetings this past week with the accountants, the zombie boss, the Board President. I've written instruction letters and encouragement letters, reviews of meetings, copied everyone.

I've asked zombie boss for past records to be made available. Those were dumped in zombie assistant's office so that everyone understands I am creating crap they must walk around.  LOL! Zombie Assistant got the message, I'm sure. So does everyone who walks into her office to find it trashed.

I've been shown how to access the office computers, but this weekend, with the dumped paperwork to look at, the computers are locked. I will be making a phone call in the next hour to get in, thus proving that they are needed after all. (!)

They've also hidden all the pencils. There are only magic markers of the Sharpie type. How are they getting any work done? I'm laughing. I have plenty of pencils. All I have to do is go upstairs and get one! But they made me take extra steps--just as I am making them take extra ones.

And in the books, I've seen inattention, which was no surprise. Inaccuracy, which is no surprise either.
I've also seen dead apathy, where it was easier to forgive charges with a phone call to the accountant than to send a letter asking for the money. Favoritism--those who have been given a ride for years on small amounts and large. And its opposite, where some people are assessed every charge or screwed in every small way possible. This won't do.

And then I've seen evidence of panic, as things get moved onto ledgers, moved back off, transferred, re-added, but without checking the full ledger for accuracy. A lot of double-billing for late fees that now must come off for some months--all panic. No billing for late fees whatsoever for other months, on the same ledger. Just dumb.

Last of all, I see outright lying and cover-up--the loss of hundreds of dollars so that I would not ask about certain accounts, so that they could say the balance on these problem units was zero. I now understand why this effort is so threatening to them.

This effort has mostly uncovered steadily aggregating amounts of lost money, all because of laziness, inattention, pettiness. The worry I had about a broken team in the previous serious post was a little off. This team has never been. The worry I had about 'exposing' them for petty reasons--that's true and not true. I think I wrote that post as much to myself, as a warning not to descend to those tactics. I'm past that now. But I can't help but expose their petty reasons, because the ledgers shout them out at every turn.

We have a problem. The problem is not really the money amounts--significant yes, back-breaking, no--but the way trust has been breached, continually, Owner by Owner, across the spectrum. The Board will be meeting over the first half of the accounts this week. I have a three-page report prepared, a ledger ready for them to see, and a book of two-part memos nearly finished, documenting all of the adjustments, properly or improperly made. The Board is going to get angry, but they're going to approve the adjustments in the spirit of expediency and also large-mindedness--in some places, you can't go backward. Then they will scrutinize the zombies in, I know, a much closer way.

So, on the moral front, I'm in good shape. I know I'm right, and I can forge ahead. . .

from The Moon and Sixpence

"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives alien among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history.

Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.  Here at last he finds rest."

W. Somerset Maugham

I don't have a page number for you. But loose at is it, unfettered by the surroundings of its book, this quote still might answer something for you as it does for me.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ray Charles

Footage from a concert in Sao Paolo, Brazil, 1963. Ray Charles was in his early thirties. The female singers were the Raelettes.

What'd I Say?

And Hit the Road, Jack . . . which is where I'm coming from.

Everyone have a nice weekend.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Remote and the more remote

Last month I received word that my cousin is in rehab. Good for him. He did not have to be arrested or found in bad circumstances to give it up. He was distressed with himself, from what I understand. Couldn't lie any longer. Couldn't walk outside to meet his dealer. Couldn't face doing it one more time.

My uncle is a recovering alcoholic. Surely my cousin knew that substance abuse takes your personhood away. But this didn't make enough difference. I hear he had an illegal self-medication regimen, street-sourced for anti-anxiety. Isn't that a long way around saying he took downers? Or, couldn't we just say he took [blank]? This is still tip-toeing around, not actually touching it.

My uncle is a recovering alcoholic. Something is missing here, that he didn't see his son's problems. His son (my age) is still living with Dad, has no friends, never dates, just buys drugs on the street and goes to work (my cousin did have a job and I hear a good boss) and then comes home to do--what? Drugs and T.V., I guess. Sitting on Dad's couch. This was normal to them. I wonder which one of them got the remote.

It's like the shell of my uncle was filled with alcohol. When you drained that out, he was still hollow. Decades later, nothing has filled it up. But I can't completely judge this; I'm not there.

I worry about this, even though, I have seen this cousin of mine exactly three times, one of which hardly counts since we were both two years old. For awhile, we even lived in the same metropolitan area. I kept trying, but those were the years of the bottle for my uncle, the secret years. Apparently they never ended, even after my cousin did the intervention and got his father in rehab.

So you could say that part of the favor is now returned.

Flashing forward to now: I sent my cousin a letter with my e-mail address, to the center, cleared by my uncle to go to the rehab center. Maybe we could actually be family. I received a note from my uncle this week. I can write my cousin care of his father's e-mail.

It took me a few days to figure out that my cousin is home again after his serious lock-down rehab, and my uncle wants me to write him again. This means my cousin is not going to do it. He is not going to get his own e-mail box. I wonder if he'll ever get his own home, his own date, or his own couch and T.V. I would never say never--it's early days yet--but not even an e-mail address?

What upsets me is that the pattern of living within Dad's realm is not really broken with my uncle, either. It's still normal. It still leaves my cousin remote from the world.

I have seen substance abuse screw things up royally, more than once. It runs in families, they say genetic. I don't think it has to be genetic to pass down in a family. I think the life habits come down too, the lack of--something--that predisposes to a problem.

In a way I think my cousin is more grown up than his father. No one had to intervene. He admitted it himself. In another way, I think he has not learned many life skills worth knowing, so he is not grown up at all. My cousin is old enough to know better, to seek out skills from others. But he did not get what he should have to make that leap. He will be both older and younger than his years.

So here we are. I am as much a spectator as you who read this. Very far removed from the scene.

Everything I have written is true, given that I have met them all three times, decades ago the last time, and never kept up. Yet so far I am the only one who is not surprised. I find that significant. Not that I am so acute, but everyone else must still be in the fog.

I wish him luck. I wish him a future with no more wasted years. I will write him at his father's address. I will wonder why it must be so.
Parking in hell, or, take the key.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tiny Sorrows, perhaps Relieved

This one's for peedee at Queen of the Dogs, who brought hibiscus for me at her blog. She had a flash visit from the best kid evah and gone again.
These look like pansies, but they're the tiny ones. They're known as Heart's-ease.

It was a long border of them . . . so enough for anybody to take a little comfort, for whatever tiny sadness a tiny flower can alleviate. I think they do.

A good day to all, and to all a good day!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dispatch from the Zombie War

Classification: Top Secret.
communication intercepted by agent of the CBIA(Condo Board Intelligence Agency) from zombie dispatch sent yesterday

To: Zombie General (redacted)
From: Zombie Boss
In Re: Situation at Condo Office Basement
estimable sir we require reinforcements now must wear gas masks against continuing onslaught of Breath of Fresh Air stop Zombie Sparks of Resentment mortars ineffective stop Confusion Dust has only temporary effect stop Zombie Assistant wailing and moaning twenty-four seven afraid of blasts from Freeze Ray and possibly The Axe
Hathaway forces outflanked us at Third Party Accounting Firm has now breached the third floor accounts advance guard working on fourth floor stop 
supply of Bullshit getting low stop tends to disintegrate in face of Common Sense stop signs of Hathaway Laughter Ray appearing soon also Annoyance creeping up stop what do we do next please advise
Well, that sums it up. I'm almost done with the third floor accounts. Five floors to go. I met with the third party accountants and asked how things should go, what they recommend, and how we were going to handle the seriously past-due. None of it was rocket science. In fact, it is all things that it looks like the zombies used to do and then dropped from sheer disinterest.

So, after the meeting with the accountants, I met with Zombie Boss. At the end of the meeting, his lip curled. He said, (and I paraphrase)

"The Board is going to have to take a serious look at the cost-benefit analysis of running financials methodically. If it takes too much time, they may want to come up with another solution."

It was all I could do not to laugh.

"That's a wonderful idea," I told him. "I think you should figure that out. I'm sure the Board would be very interested to know."

He told me that he was working with Zombie Assistant, training her, and I was not to interfere. Hey, been trying to get him to do that since November of 2008.

Today I sent him a note, copy President, that he should definitely add up those costs and benefits. Then I pointed out that I had taken all the time-consuming tasks off his hands, to give him a 'temporary space' to institute procedures. I followed that up with a request to meet with Zombie Assistant, as I have some particular questions and want them answered right away. We could meet Friday or Tuesday.

He did not answer me all day, so I sent another note at 4:45 p.m.--I guess we're meeting Friday, then.
Smack, zam! I received a note saying Tuesday would be good.  ROFL!!!
I've got these zombies on the run--