Friday, August 30, 2019

Space time friends continuum

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Can it really be the end of August already?

The calendar says that it is. So it must be.

We were away for almost a week, which is part of the reason for the wrinkle in space time.

It wasn’t the best trip, it wasn’t the worst. We split the time between Neil’s dad’s home and his mom’s.

I got to have dinner with my brother. I didn’t get to see Chelsea, who just moved to New York, and I feel badly about that. But when we booked the trip, her plans were still vague. We could’ve crammed in a dinner maybe, but she got there only one day before we did, and had to go to work the next day.

It’s crazy, because I lived in New York City for the first 18 years of my life, including 6 years at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, and now the city intimidates me. Figuring out how to get there, get around, find a place to meet and eat, it all seems daunting.

And yet, it’s just a city, isn’t it? People go there on vacation, stay in hotels, take cabs or public transportation, dine out, go to shows, go to museums. I’m going to have to sort it out, because I want to go back and visit her when she is settled.

We spent two nights at Neil’s dad’s place, and the less said about that, the better. His place, I mean. Dad Bob is 90, and while he has a lot of spunk to live alone still, his eyesight is failing, and he doesn’t see the dirt. He did have a cleaner come do the bathroom before we got there, bless him, but she didn’t vacuum, and frankly, I would not walk barefoot on his carpet.

He also insisted on giving us his bedroom, which I was uncomfortable about, but he and Ellen, Neil’s sister, had made the bed up, and it was a done deal. And Neil really wanted to stay there, and not in a hotel. There is the nostalgia aspect for him, sitting at his dad’s dining table, drinking chocolate milk, reading the Post and the racing form.

Neil also likes doing odd jobs for his dad, hanging a mirror, tightening all the kitchen cabinet knobs, changing a ceiling light bulb. I got to wash the glass globe for the light, sending 30 years of grime down the drain.

Speaking of drains, the tub/shower wasn’t draining. Neil tried plunging it, which brought up lots of gunk, but didn’t get the drain cleared. Then he used half a bottle of drain cleaner, which also did not do the job. Then I listened to Neil trying to convince his dad that he needed a plumber, and his dad resisting, just as he resisted the idea that the air conditioner in his bedroom wasn’t working properly.

All of this totally baffles me, but Neil says it’s completely in character for his dad. When Neil was growing up, the family car was always breaking down because Bob never did the scheduled maintenance. It’s running fine, he’d say, or, I thought I just changed the oil, when in reality it had been a very long time. I don’t think it’s strictly the cost that makes him balk at making repairs. I think it’s some relic of the Great Depression mentality, when people saved string, reused aluminum foil, and made do.

After a couple of days, we drove to Neil’s mom’s place, another aging edifice, but very clean at least, with a strong smell of moth balls. We spent much time there in her small kitchen, where at least I’m not afraid to take out my knitting. You have to hold down the toaster handle to make toast, but don’t try to buy Eleanor a new one. She’ll make you return it and get your $7 back. Ask Neil’s sister. The microwave oven works but has an antiquated dial instead of buttons. You just have to guess how long to warm your coffee.

The day after we arrived, the family gathered for a 90th birthday cruise. For Bob’s 75th birthday we cruised to Canada for five days. This time we went for lunch on a river boat. Neil’s brother joined us from Texas. We all got together again the following day at Monmouth race track. Horse racing is a deep-rooted family tradition for Neil’s family.

After the track, Neil and I drove Eleanor home. Neil’s dad, sister and brother headed back to Bob’s home. After we dropped Eleanor we headed back too. On the way we got a call. Neil’s brother had left his jacket at the track, with his medication in the pocket. Eric is deathly allergic to tree nuts. So we made a detour back to Monmouth and retrieved the jacket and Epipen. Eric can be a know-it-all and boast a holier-than-thou attitude, so on Neil’s behalf, I didn’t mind the chance to be a hero for fifteen minutes.

Eric had the good grace to be grateful. He and Bob drove us to our hotel for the last night and dropped us off. And I won’t tell if you don’t that Neil directed them to a Hampton Inn, where we found out, after they drove away, that our reservation was for a nearby Hilton. The Hilton shuttle came and picked us up, so other than a short wait and a tip for the driver, it was no harm, no foul. Oh, and no Hampton breakfast. But I won’t complain, because our flight home was on time, and we departed before the weather caused long delays at Newark for the rest of the day, including Eric’s afternoon flight.

And now we’ve been home for a week, and it’s been one of the hottest and quietest weeks of the summer. I went to my Tuesday morning knitting group and not much else. It cooled down enough over the weekend that we took a walk to our little town center for the first time in months. Other highlights of the week were a trip to Trader Joe’s, happy hour at Starbucks, $5 Friday smoothies, stops at Lowe’s and Target. And Neil hung my wall hanging!

It’s an exciting life.

I was so happy to hear from one of my friends in Texas, Carolyn, who’d been in absentia for the whole summer. I worry, because she lives alone and has some health challenges, even though I know she has a good support system. Fortunately, all was well, beyond after effects from a broken wrist and ongoing post-chemotherapy mobility problems.

Carolyn and I met sometime during my first decade at Conoco. A geologist by profession, she reinvented herself as a legal assistant when the energy industry went south in the 1980s. She came to Conoco with pertinent environmental expertise from her work at a prestigious private law practice, but her experience with the company was very different than mine had been to date. While I had felt valued and rewarded, she had been given a difficult assignment where her skills were never fully appreciated.

Over lunches in the cafeteria, Carolyn and I became good friends. I didn’t see her often outside of work, though. I had young kids, Carolyn and Bill, her late husband, were older, and had no children. Once, my first husband and I hosted them for a barbecue dinner. I remember it particularly because the meal was such an unusual fail. Jon was generally a good cook, but we somehow got a less than succulent cut of meat. For reasons I’ve long forgotten, I didn’t make enough of the side dishes, so the comestibles were really dismal. At least the company was good. I hope.

On her fifth anniversary with Conoco, Carolyn shocked me by resigning from Conoco to go back to the private practice where she’d been properly treasured, and where she spent the rest of her long career. We kept in touch though, meeting for lunch or dinner now and then. After my divorce, if memory serves, while I was with Robin, we had dinner with Carolyn and Bill, although many details of that time in my life are blurred.

Over time though, for many years, Carolyn and I stayed in touch only by email. We had some interesting discussions, about happiness and aging, and whether the golden years really were all that gilded. Every year Carolyn would send out a newsy Christmas letter, and I’d respond by email, often provoking a renewed thoughtful dialogue. I have no idea why we stopped making the effort to get together. My kids were grown and flown, and I’d called it quits after 30 years with Conoco. One of my regrets is not trying harder to see Carolyn more often in those years.

Ironically, in my last year in Houston, I was able to meet up with Carolyn for lunch, twice. I’m grateful that we have the sort of friendship that resumes naturally, where we can be together and talk easily, as if 15 or 20 years hadn’t gone by. Despite what would seem to be differences in our background and demographics, we still have so much common ground. At least that’s how I feel. I hope she feels the same.

Right now, as I’m floundering for my own balance with regard to friends, relationships, social life, yada yada, it’s affirming to remember that I do have friendships sustained over many decades.

Carolyn (right) sent me this photo scan of us, with our dear friend Marilyn
(who passed away too soon and not long enough after this snap was shot).
Don't we all look so young? Sigh.

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blowin' through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends

Old friends
Winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you

(Paul Simon © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Fighting words

Some would say that we forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish
Words are just words
Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish

With back-to-back mass shootings in the USA this week, you probably expect me to climb on my gun-control-law soapbox. Again.

Twenty two dead in El Paso. Nine dead in Dayton.

Dozens more wounded.

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

Why would anything be different this time?

We have the gun-control-law faction boldly crying, we should, we need to, we really must, this time things have to change.

We have the freedom-of-firearms faction frantically defending, it’s mental illness, it’s video games, it’s not the guns.

Nothing has changed. Nothing will.

Despite incontrovertible evidence that weak gun laws correlate with more gun violence, we are in gridlock.

I am struck by the parallels to the situation in the U.S. government.

We have the outraged citizenry, horrified by the words and actions of President Donald Trump and his minions, who are demanding repercussions and calling for consequences.

We have the beguiled citizenry, patting their fat 401Ks, pointing to low unemployment rates, who are praising the president and defending the status quo.

Inertia reigns. An object at rest remains at rest. The path of least resistance prevails.

Inaction is the watchword of the times. Doing nothing trumps doing anything.

Change is much, much harder.

Color me cynical. Brand me fatalistic. I’ve stopped expecting reason to be reasonable.

It’s not pessimism if it’s realism.

Every time there is a mass shooting in America, gun sales go up. The stock prices of the gun making industry giants go up.

Get those handguns while you can folks, just in case some miracle happens and regulators crack down on gun-ownership qualifications.

In a week or so, the news media frenzy over the shootings will taper off and fizzle out.

Until the next mass shooting.

Words are easy. Words are cheap. Words are just words.

But what else is there?

I once owned a gun. My first husband owned a handgun, a Magnum 357, and a shotgun that had been his grandfather’s.

He’d sleep with the loaded handgun on his nightstand.

One day we went to a gun show and he bought me a Smith and Wesson 22 pistol with a pearl handled grip.

Shortly after that, we went to a shooting range and shot target practice.

For a while I carried that gun in my purse. Loaded.

I took the gun to Florida, in my checked luggage, when I went to visit my parents. Unloaded.

I showed it to my mom who flipped out and was terror-stricken by it's mere presence, even though it wasn’t loaded.

After we got married, the shotgun was stolen when our house was burglarized.

When we had a child, I made sure the handguns were unloaded and stored away.

When I was pregnant with our second child, one night Jon thought he heard a prowler outside. He loaded his gun and went out to confront him.

He found no one lurking, but I was deeply troubled. I insisted that we get rid of the guns.

Jon took them to a gun show and sold them for cash. No questions asked.

If that story surprises you, it’s probably no more than it surprises me. Was I someone else then?

Maybe not. I don’t think that I was likely to shoot anyone. Although I can imagine shooting anyone who threatened my children.

For just a brief time, I thought it was daring and sexy to carry. Not so much now.

Mass murders are shocking and senseless, but only account for a fraction of gun violence in America.

Blah blah blah.

Words are useless.

You shouldn’t argue with a pig. You only get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.

I didn’t make that up. But I believe it.

So now that I’ve concluded that we are, or I am, powerless to change the weaponry situation, where do we go from here?

Do we accept this thing that we cannot change?

Today, I have no fight left in me.

For those who still do, I have a soapbox that I’m not using.

Who's afraid of the sun
Who'd question the goodness of the mighty
We who banish the threat
When your little ones all go nighty-nighty
Well, there's no time for doubt right now
And less time to explain
So get back on your horses
Kiss my ring, join our next campaign

And the empire grows
With the news that we're winning
With more fear to conquer
And more gold thread for spinning
Bright as the sun, shining on everyone

Some would say that we forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish
Words are just words
Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish
We like strong, happy people
Who don't think there's something wrong with pride
Work makes them free
And we spread that freedom far and wide

And the empire grows
The seeds of its glory
For every five tanks
Plant a sentimental story
Till they worship the sun
Even Christ-loving ones

And we'll kill the terror who rises
And a million of their races
But when our people torture you
That's a few random cases
Don't question the sun
It doesn't help anyone

But the journalist cried out
When it was too late to stop us
Everyone had awakened
To the dream they could enter our colossus
And now I'm right
Here you said I'm right
There's nothing that can harm me
Cause the sun never sets
On my dungeons or my army

And the empire fell
On it's own splintered axis
And the emperor wanes
As the silver moon waxes
And the farmers will find our coins
In their strawberry fields
While somebody somewhere
Twists his ring as someone kneels
Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone
Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone

(Mark Dixon Gable, Ian Graham Hulme, Lindsay Edward Tebbutt, Brett Hastings Williams © Universal Music Publishing Group, Mushroom Music Pty Ltd, Words & Music A Div Of Big Deal Music LLC)