Monday, March 27, 2006

La Nonna: The hermit

When I decided to apply for unemployment upon our return home, I knew that my former employer would contest it. I could elaborate on that theme but won’t. Suffice it to say that my lived experience of my stress breakdown differs from what others perceived. (Who can argue with that? Your perception is as real to you as mine is to me. They have done psychology experiments asking eye-witnesses to describe events in detail. No two people perceive things in exactly the same way. For Example, click. Remember The Six Blind Men and the Elephant.

I do not consider myself an evil or violent person. Sometimes even good people do and say things under stress that they might not do or say otherwise. I cannot help but be reminded today of a story my grandmother told. Her stories often had a Catholic, old world flavor and a lesson:

There once was a man, a hermit of sorts, who lived alone in a small house in the countryside, a great distance from his neighbors. He was a good man who practiced his woodcraft on his own and went to Mass and received the sacraments every week. Every week, before Mass and communion, he would go to confess to the priest who was considered by all the parishioners to be a wise and holy man.

Every week, it was the same story. The man would say, “Bless me father, it has been a week since my last confession…I have no sins to confess. I go to church every Sunday, I don’t eat meat on Friday, and I don’t get drunk or curse or swear. I honor my parents and have no lust in my heart.”

Every week the priest would tell the man, “For your penance, say three Hail-Marys and give alms to the poor.” One day, the man confessed to the priest as was his habit, “Bless me father, it has been a week since my last confession, but I have no sins to confess…” The priest, who was becoming a bit impatient with the man’s pride, instead of assigning the Hail-Marys and giving alms to the poor, told the man, “For your penance, go out and buy a chicken and bring it home and keep it”. The man had never heard of such a penance but did not question the holy priest.

So the man went to the chicken vendor and bought himself a nice young chicken and took it home. The following week, the man went to see the priest in confession. He began as usual, “Bless me Father, it has been one week since my last confession” but he then said, “for I have sinned”.

The priest smiled imperceptibly as he asked the man, “Tell me my son, what sins do you have to confess?” The man replied, I have sworn and cursed many times every day, I have entertained thoughts of revenge and of violence, I have cursed my mother and the day I was born and I drank wine last night till I passed out.” The priest was not surprised in the least, but pretended to be so, “And why would a good man like yourself do such things?” The man replied, with some disgust, “It’s all because of that godamn chicken who's always getting in my way, constantly cackling, crapping all over the place, knocking things over and is possessed by the devil himself. I would have killed it for dinner days ago if I didn’t have to keep it to fulfill your silly penance.” The priest replied, “For your penance, my son, say three Hail-Marys and give the chicken to the poor family on the hill.”

Damn chicken.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Day of Our Lives

Like sand through the hour glass...revising a resume, filling out applications, on-line job searches, exploring health insurance options...the days go by quickly.

Meanwhile the Dog had to go for his yearly vet visit and we're told that surgery to remove a large fatty tumor is now recommended. Because of its size, we should expect it to cost at the "high-end" of the estimate of $500 to $1100. I can't help but think that if we had had the tumor removed when it was smaller and though we were told that surgery was not necessarily indicated, it could have been done at the "low-end" of the estimate.

Going through imaginary job interviews: how will I answer the question "Why did you leave your last job?" I won't describe how this fantasy goes.

This has also been a time for questioning our financial and "legal" arrangements. Our state has legalized civil unions as an alternative to the real thing. Does this mean that we have less legal standing as an un-married, un-unionized couple than we did before civil unions were made legal. This is not an idea entirely without merit. Some companies are now requiring those previously recognized as "domestic partners" to enter into a civil union in order to keep health benefits. Are our wills now obsolete? Is our joint ownership of our home different than if we were civil unioned? What kind of mess is this anyhow? I can see the day when we will not be fighting for the right to marry but for the right not to have to marry.

Enough for one day of our lives.

Monday, March 20, 2006


"L" Back Home Again

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Returned home this evening after a long but pleasant drive from Winchester, VA where we spent the night in a Wal-Mart’s parking lot. Noisy, windy and wintery, we left springtime several hundred miles behind us.

Leon, the Dog and I were ready to be back: the Dog, visibly delighted to be in his own backyard, us, feeling grateful for our safe trip and a home to come back to.

(Oh, how I hate to end a sentence with a preposition. Which reminds me of a joke: Two women who didn’t know one another were seated side by side on a plane. The more outgoing lady decided to start a conversation and, turning to the other woman asked, “so, where y’all from?” The other woman replied without parting her clenched teeth: “Where I come from, we do not end a sentence with a preposition.” The first lady thought for a moment, then asked with all her Southern friendliness and charm, “So, where y’all from, bitch?” So forgive me if I end a sentence with a preposition from time to time.)

Thursday, March 17, 2006 to Sunday, March 19, 2006

Saint Patrick’s Day and Friday were spent going through a month’s worth of mail, restocking the fridge and cupboards which we cleaned out the day we took off on our jaunt, paying bills, taking care of personal business like health insurance options and looking at want ads. Feeling calmer and more confident than I would have expected. At this stage in my life I am less concerned than ever about a “career”, a concept I never quite mastered. Health insurance is a joke. Retirement is a fantasy. And I don't have children to become highly educated and wealthy who can support me in my old age (or at least give me a room in their McMansion).

We question the wisdom of taking a long road trip when we can least afford it. It has something to do with my theory of "pleasures of the lower classes". Those who can least afford to: smoke, drink, do drugs, subscribe to cable TV, have their nails done, eat junk food, do so because of the immediate gratification those things provide. If you have a buck, spend it on something that provides you pleasure now, because if you don't, someone will come along and either steal your buck or demand payment for what you owe them. Save your meager wages and you're screwed. Someone else will get their hands on it and you'll be left with nothing. If you spend it as soon as you get it, at least you've had the satisfaction of the temporary pleasure it provided.

As members of the lower middle classes we are now in a similar situation: there is no possible way we can ever save enough for retirement. (I did one of those on-line calculations that revealed that if I retire at 68 and work part time, my savings and Social Security along with a part-time wage will put me about $13,800 in the red for each year I remain living, or more as the cost of living increases.) So the conventional wisdom about working and saving begins to break down...there is some impetus to enjoy the pleasures of the moment - for us, travel and leisure, rather than entertain the possibility that a single major illness will wipe out our entire "nest egg" in a matter of weeks. Eggs are fragile.

Saturday we had friends over for hiking, drinks, and dinner (corned beef and cabbage which needs no recipe) and to thank them for looking after our house while we were away.

Today, Sunday, we're off to a Lambda Car Club meeting.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Road Trip: Arkansas, Tennessee, the Carolinas

Thursday March 9, 2006

Drove on Thursday till we got to Little Rock: destination the Clinton Library. Leon was practically in tears as he heard about all the achievements of the Clinton presidency while at the same time realizing that they’ve all be Bush-whacked. Hell, we’ve all been Bush-whacked.

I certainly understand the importance of documenting history, of preserving the memoirs and mementos, of showing the world your best side and presenting a positive spin. But I could not help getting the impression that Bill was completely full of himself. The Clinton Library is decidedly a monument to the Greatness of Bill. My only disappointment was that the Blue Dress was not among the memorabilia.

Woke up to news that tornadoes devastated parts of Arkansas. We probably wouldn’t have noticed because the truck traffic over the highway bridge practically above the RV park was such a constant rumble.

Friday March 10, 2006

We’re both a little tired and cranky after last night. Talking to neighbors who travel in their RV for 6 months a year. Have encountered several couples who full or part-time in their RVs. They talk about work-camping: working at a campground in exchange for a campsite; or other work/travel arrangements. Those who sold their homes, all the furniture, the pots, pans and dishes, even their great-grandmother’s handmade quilt and their first-born’s baby shoes. They now travel the interstates and backroads to adventure, or to warmer climates: Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Mexico, where they play cards or golf with their comrades. They are baby-boomers and the “tint and rinse” (thank you Michael) crowd, retirees with pensions and kids who are doctors and architects to care for them in their old age. The word pension is not, nor ever will be in my actively experienced vocabulary.

So, yes, I do think about my current predicament. Yes, I do experience some anxiety, resentments, existential questions: being who I am has brought me here. I wasn’t born with corporate genes, or secondary sexual characteristics of competitiveness and one-up-manship. I was never taught about financial security, wealth management, trust funds, or tax loopholes.

The good Sisters of Mercy taught us to “feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned”; they told us that “blessed are the poor”; that “it is more difficult for a rich man to get to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”. We read wisdom words about how “sanctity is like humility: as soon as you think you have it, you lose it”.

At the same time Walt Disney was teaching us to “wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are” (I'm beginning to think it was the particular star that mattered, 'cuz I'm still waiting).

Later President Kennedy would ask what we could do for our country and start the Peace Corps. Even the hippies were anti-materialistic. So, what has happened while I worked in a group home with disturbed youngsters, in a children’s psychiatric hospital, in AIDS programs and volunteering with gay youth and working in non-profits?

Today they announced that more than 100 individuals were added to the “billionaire list” (but they did not mention how many were added to the poverty rolls).

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Arrived last night at Leon’s mom’s house in SC. Had a lazy day today.

Road Trip to Texas, Oklahoma

Cadillac Ranch

Wednesday March 8, 2006

Put miles on through NM and Texas: a quick roadside pilgrimage to the Cadillac Ranch. Spent overnight at Wal-Mart in Oklahoma where we were attacked by no fewer than 23 shopping carts in what looked like a scene from the Twilight Zone: it's 2:00am and there is a heavy wind-driven rain, distant lightening and a swarm of animate shopping carts having communicated with one another, simultaneously exiting thier corrals and willfully charging across the parking lot at 35 miles per hour headed toward our truck and camper. Fortunately only one hit the truck wheel-well molding causing minor damage. I wish I had video.

Trucking is an unbelievable phenomenon: the sheer quantity of tractor-trailers constantly on the move over interstate highways, especially in the south is mind-boggling. How much diesel fuel is consumed daily? How many truckers are there? Are any of them cute? Do all of them talk like Boomhauer? Could someone do the math? Are they all transporting useless junk made in China by folks who go home and laugh about the things that Americans buy: talking fish, tacky souvenirs, collectable teddy bears and plastic lawn ornaments?

Truckers in Texas

Road Trip: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos

Monday March 6, 2006 and Tuesday March 7, 2006

Headed for Albuquerque, NM and actually landed about 30 miles west of there at a funky little RV park in Moriarty. Revisited Santa Fe on Monday afternoon but seeing it with different eyes. In 1990 it was the fascination with history, adobe, hanging chile peppers, turquoise and Santa Fe blue. Now it seems a bit tired: like how much Indian jewelry, pottery, cowboy boots and saddle blankets can the world need? Like other “most desirable places to live” more and more people move there, demand all the hassles and amenities they thought they wanted to get away from, and end up re-creating strip malls, traffic and crime, only with a view. Desirable real estate ranges from almost affordable to out of sight.

Funky Campground

Los Alamos held our interest on Tuesday: a science lesson at the Bradbury Science Museum and a history lesson at the historical society. Los Alamos is the home of Pandora’s Bomb, the weapon that was to put an end to war. But War, in one form or another, wages on, while our mis-guided head of state searches in vain for weapons of mass destruction. He fails to recognize the real weapons of mass destruction: poverty, injustice, intolerance, greed and power: as effective as a nuclear bomb but quieter but less of an event.

The private school and camp that was taken over by the government to house the Manhattan Project scientists had been for “frail and delicate boys” who were taught outdoorsy activities, went on long camping trips on horseback, and often swam in the nude. “Selected boys”, would accompany the headmaster to Santa Fe for overnight trips. This sounds suspicious to me. Or is it just that I’ve become cynical?

The drive back to Albuquerque through the Jemez Mountains via Jemez Springs was so enchantically typical of New Mexico: the unique scenery changing around the bend or just beyond the next rise; spectacular colors, awesome mountains, an adobe village or pueblo, a expanse of flat earth with a single geological monument making a statement to mere mortals passing by; thirsty vegetation, from prickly pear to ponderosa pine, juniper and pinon, dotting the landscape depending on altitude and region.

Pandora's Bomb
Santa Fe


Road Trip: El Morro

Friday March 3, 2006

We departed our gracious friends’ company this morning with a certain feeling of sadness: for Leon, in his stomach, for me, making its way to a moist eye. We headed to Flagstaff where we spent a couple of hours browsing the streets and shops and looking at expensive real estate in glossy Homes For Sale magazines. Stayed overnight at a local RV park.


Saturday March 4, 2006

Arrived at El Morro, New Mexico where we set up camp by the Ancient Ways Café. Spending many hours driving is OK, but we need to STOP, settle in, and take in some local attractions, not just to break the monotony but to experience being here. El Morro is really “out there”. The campground was somewhere mentioned as LGBT friendly, so that got our vote even though it is way “off the beaten path”. We decided to stay for two nights.

Sunday March 5, 2006

Hiked at El Morro National Monument: high cliffs and bluffs, once an oasis in the desert where Spanish and Mexican and American travelers of the 16th and 17th and 18th centuries would stop for water from this natural cistern in the course of their journey. Back then, it took days and weeks to travel the distance we drive in hours. We hiked up the paved trail and along the cliff with our plastic water bottles and camera while reading the graffiti of centuries carved in the rock. Great views.

It reminded me of “Hospital Rock” in Connecticut, where early colonists carved messages of memoriam and ideas of Liberty at the site of a smallpox quarantine hospital in the 1700’s. I never understood how this historical site, lost in the woods, was left to deteriorate from the weather and not preserved.

The young woman who takes care of the campground and café came to El Morro from the Midwest in search of spiritual enlightenment. New Mexico has more than its share of seekers and believers: she believes in a mixture of science, pseudoscience and metaphysics that defies description. Suffice it to say that Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica is probably much simpler and easier to understand.

Except for a “trading post” (read gift shop/coffee shop) next to the campground and café, and a gallery across the road, there is nothing in El Morro for miles around. The Zuni Pueblo is miles away as is the nearest “town”. The Malpais or Badlands are close by – an expanse of lava fields to rival those in Hawaii. Although cooled for centuries and dotted with grasses, the lava is still jagged and rough: as likely a place as any to find spiritual enlightenment.

Road Trip: Tucson 2


Friday February 24 to Thursday March 2, 2006:

MK, a mutual friend in the Bronx made us swear not to tell Paul and Michael that we were about to show up at their house in Tucson. Springing such surprises would ordinarily not be considered polite or considerate, but MK insisted that it would be great fun and so we deferred to his judgment.

After parking (squeezing) our fifth wheel camper in our friends’ driveway, we settled in for a week’s visit in Tucson: spending time in the Saguaro National Park West and East; tooling around Tucso; buying eats at the local Farmers’ Market; making a quick tour of the Tucson Botanical Garden while Leon and Paul went to the junkyard; getting a haircut from an old-fashioned barber; stocking up on groceries; making a day-trip to Bisbee without stopping in Tombstone’s tourist trap; and generally having a pleasant, laid-back time with friends, Paul and Michael. Their friend Tom invited us, sight unseen, to his place Thursday evening for dinner. It was brave of him to invite strangers for dinner…

My impression of Tucson was very dry. The city is small with a variety of charming amenities: music and theater, a University with a vibrant student district, a quasi-gay, bohemian village, spectacular scenery, interesting architecture and nice layout. But very, very dry. One could see it and/or feel it everywhere: the fine, gritty dessert dust and the moisture starved air. The barber said that water would definitely become an issue before long. Despite current efforts to reclaim water for irrigation, water reclamation alone will not be adequate as the city grows. One has to question the wisdom of building and expanding cities in the desert and how the presence of millions of people with their unquenchable need for water is impacting the balance of life in the dessert and in the rivers.

Certainly for us, the warmth in the middle of winter was not hard to take. Tucsonians were urged by the morning weather forecaster to “keep their fingers crossed” when a chance of rain was predicted. The actual precipitation merely dampened the dessert dust overnight. It was hard to imagine that New England recently received 2 feet of snow and our gardens have sometimes suffered from too much rain in May and June.


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