Sunday, December 25, 2011

Time Travel of a Different Sort

When I was about thirteen my parents let me buy a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. It had a plastic stock and fore piece. I made it a new stock and fore piece. It looked really nice. I still have the BB gun. I keep it in the cabinet with my real guns. Unlike my other guns the BB gun doesn’t work. I wore it out. The spring mechanism that drove the pellets just finally gave up decades ago. But I have kept the corpse of that precious little gun. I had hoped to buy a replacement mechanism to fix it, but such a thing was not available.

The activity that caused the spring mechanism to finally wear out was massive. Daisy didn’t build a weak little product, I just used it to its death. An in the process I became a deadly shot.

Now it is Christmas Day 2011.

My wife and daughter are in London baby sitting one of my daughter’s friend’s cats. I am baby sitting our last remaining cat, Bert the 19 or so year old Maine Coon that wandered into our yard in 1998. He likes it on Lopez so we are on Lopez.

Here is an email I sent my wife a couple of hours ago.

I just opened/found my presents.

I had hopefully wished that Midnight in Paris would be there.

But there were two packages.

I guess I had my mind set to seeing Midnight being there when I had opened the first package.

I was almost outside of myself, on the sidelines watching, as a startled yelp of delight came out of me when I saw Groundhog Day. Oddly I was listening – as I am now – to The Tobolowski Files.

I was really pleased that Midnight was in the next.

Then I opened the envelope on the tree.

When I opened the Mysti side of the closet and saw the Red Ryder I experienced a feeling that – even if I had been aware that such feelings were still in me I would have not been able to describe – was an overwhelming surprise.

I was twelve years old again.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Time Capsule

Not long ago the wife of one of my fraternity brothers gave me a letter I had written to him.  Previously she had given a number of other such letters that I had written him and which I had read.  They were bilge. 

So I thanked her for the one she had just given me and put it aside. 

I didn’t expect to find more merit in this one than I had in the other ones.

But I did, finally, read it.

And then I begged my wife to key it for me.  There is only one edit.

I give it to you you here for what it is worth.

“27 Feb 67


I likewise am sorry that I haven’t written but my reasons are somewhat different. I even tore one up that I had written because it was fucked up. Also, I’m not trying to keep the correspondence on a one-for-one basis.

First, don’t tell me about not being able to leave. You, at least could if you wanted to, get in your little pink car, say screw it, flip a BA at fading Pullman and go off into the world to make your fortune. (Of course it wouldn’t be long before general Hersey came calling, but at least you have a choice.) I absolutely can’t leave. I am under official orders telling me against all human logic to stay in one of the most unsafe, unhealthy dunghills in the entire world. I can’t even catch a bus ride to Bien Hoa on my day off because I have duty and travel restrictions (an “E” prefix on my AFSC – Air Force Specialty Code – which looks like: E8054) because they think that I know too much and cannot be allowed to be put in a situation more liable to capture than Saigon. This means that I am on a treadmill which must make 365 revolutions before I can get off.

At least I’ve somehow reconciled myself to this. For awhile I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do so; I was really on the ragged edge of insanity. Now I just float through the whole situation, hoping no-one will say much to me because if he does I will lash out and try to destroy him. The only people I can tolerate are the ones who become irrational when they talk about being here. This is, truly, the only rational way to react here, which may go to show ou how much of a paradox everything is. I want to destroy the ones—the vast majority unfortunately, who want to “make the best of it, and take things as they come.” This, fat, satisfied complacency can only be defined in terms of what Conrad wrote about. These are the ones who have no trouble coursing through life because they never perceive anything. They don’t really act, they merely flow along the stream. They are unruffled, but by the same token they never participate in life because they never see it or find it.

Seriously, there is a drastic need for someone to take a real stand. But no one has. No one apparently will. While Johnson mumbles of a bitter long struggle (if that is any sort of a definition) military men talk of a situation that is “bigger than all of us.” God damn it, it isn’t bigger than all of us. If someone would just have the guts to do something, we could begin to accomplish something. You will notice that there is a trend toward accepting Bob Kennedy’s thesis of talking to the NLF since they constitute “A” (possibly “THE”) legitimate voice of the Vietnamese people. This is a sign of hope, but why did we have to wait so long? Why can’t we have somebody as president who is capable—like Kennedy.

(Incidentally I’ve got to take a parenthetical time-out here to say that this whole place just shook like an earth quake. Some B-52s just dumped a hell of a load of explosives someplace near here. Now they’re doing it again—5 minutes later. I guess here will be more too—Jesus, if that doesn’t run the V.C. to the conference table I don’t know what will—that is sort of ridiculous isn’t it?)

Speaking of things that are sort of ridiculous next winter when I get back, I want you and me and Doug to find a little crummy tavern, wherever we happen to be—you may be home for Xmas by that time. I want to sit there and drink beer and eat “o-cello special super-wonderful” sandwitches [sic], and play shuffle board, or whatever the game is and get obnoxiously drunk. I hope that my repeated reference to this type of thing in my letters doesn’t sound like random ravings because they are not. One of the major things that has gotten me through this horror show so far has been knowledge of the fact that I could return to controlled absurdity when I got back. The description of the action doesn’t come anywhere near telling its value. For instance sitting on a table taking turns drinking out of a ½ gallon pitcher and making lewd observations about the young ladies present could be pretty high schoolish. But when it is something totally spontaneous, totally without thought, just like waking from a dream and finding yourself doing something, I think it takes on a real value. If you’re doing something like this merely because at that moment it was what you wanted to do, it seemed natural, then it has a sort of legitimate meaning; it isn’t for appearance. Since these things that we do spontaneously always take such a rather macabre form they are of especial value to us. They allow us momentarily to transcend general life and all the “non perceivers” that I mentioned earlier; they allow us to sit back and let this stupidity go by, for awhile at least not affecting us. When I return from here, next to seeing my wife I need this, because there is no such reprieve available here; at least I haven’t found it.

I may have asked you before, but I don’t remember for sure and you haven’t answered me in any case, about Multnomah Law School. Just how useful would a degree from there be? Would one from the University of Washington be sufficiently more useful that it would be worth the extra trouble?

I was going to pick up a beginning accounting course with the U of Maryland extension Center here, but I found out that if I accepted financial assistance from the Air Force my obligation would be extended 24 months from completion of the course. Doing a quick about face I vacated the premises screaming and foaming at the mouth. I guess I’ll have to pick it up in my first year in law school.

Ruth seems to be getting along quite well; she has gotten high grades so far in her interior decorating course and is now taking a course in antiques also. This coupled with her experience at the rug and drape company should put her in a good position to get future jobs. Along these lines, one of the biggest moral uplifts since I’ve been here was something she said in one of her recent letters. A rough quote would be “I hope you don’t change your mind about law school because I think it is best for you and also what you want. You know by now that I will help in every way I can.” Somehow this makes life in the future begin to become more real. After being told for more than 2 years about the terrors of getting out of the Air force and going on “The Outside,” I guess it has had some effect upon me. Not having ever really had to make my way on “The Outside” I have no quick answers to these merchants of doom. All I know is that I don’t like the military and I want to be a civilian, at which they laugh derisively and all-knowingly. With Ruth giving me the concrete as well as moral backing that she is there is no doubt in my mind what is right. Actually there never was, but while I was more than willing to throw myself into the black, swirling unknown, of “The Outside,” I was a little reticent to do so to Ruth and the kids. This tour has solidified what I knew all along. Further it has given me some real confidence in myself, plus a conviction that I am needed in politics. I know I can do better than many or most of those now running the show; when I see messes like this I know that people like you and me are drastically needed. Perhaps salvation is just around the corner.

A final thought, one that I touched on before but didn’t amplify, is think long and hard about how you fulfill your military obligation. In fact let’s do some real serious analysis of this subject both drunk and sober this Christmas season. I hope you don’t think that I am getting nosey, because I am truly interested, and feel that I have some reason to consider myself an authority of sorts. We’ve got to consider the political necessity of the military, and what status this necessity entails. i.e., is being a 6 months reservist as good as being some sort of officer? We also have to figure that Vietnam service probably isn’t a necessity, because as time goes by I think this is going to become an albatross—not around the neck of those who participated, but definitely of those who instigated it. Thus, since it won’t be a question of your patriotism, but of your good sense, and since being here is probably the worst thing that could ever happen to a person, I think avoiding here would be wise. Anyway, there are a bunch of things to consider, and since I just stumbled into the military I think I have learned a little bit about what to do and what not to do.

A final thought is that I have heard, I guess obviously who from—Dick—that you are not looking as healthy as you might. Seriously, you don’t serve yourself or any of your friends or our cause by destroying your health at the age of 24. Once you do ruin it, it will never be properly restored. You ought to at least eat 2 good—not pizza—meals a day, either cooked by you or at a restaurant. Possible if you walked to and from the tavern it might help also. Remember that the day of the unattractive politician is over, and being half dead is hardly attractive.

I’ve put my nose into your business about as much as is possible, but possibly the closing will justify it to you:

A E K ∆ B


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Shift in Paradigms

My sisters and I have a custom that has now assumed a surprising number of years of continuity.

Three times a year, in proximity to our respective birthdays, we go to Schuckers at the Olympic for a leisurely lunch.

Often, for me, that lunch involves two of Schuckers’ wonderful – Tanqueray – martinis.

Those martinis make me expansive in my world view beyond my non-Tanqueray world view.

They sometimes cause me to commit to things that I would not otherwise have committed to.

Such was the case at our most recent Schuckers lunch, which happened to be in celebration of my most recent birthday.

“Why don’t you come to my place for Thanksgiving” I heard someone say.

My sisters had had a subset of what I had had to drink, so the assent was uniform.

No importance was assigned to the fact that we had been talking only a few minutes previous about the myriad childhood nightmares that had been our Thanksgivings when we had lived with our parents.

I invited and they accepted.

On balance the whole thing turned out really well. 

But that is not what I am posting about.

What I am posting about is a tangential occurrence to Thanksgiving, and an occurrence which may be of world changing consequence.

The event occurred the night before Thanksgiving.  I had just loaded the dishwasher to its upper capacity limit, had put the soap in the soap holder and had performed the intricate sequence of button pushings and door openings and closings that have in recent years become necessary to make the obviously failing, and no longer available for replacement control panel perform the task of starting a wash cycle.

Nothing happened.  “No problem” I thought.  In the years that the panel has been in the process of ceasing to work I have had many such aborted attempts, and always, with a little creative clicking of buttons and openings and closings of the latch the thing has always started.  But on this Thanksgiving Eve such was not to be the case.  No matter what I did, nothing started, and the glowing green cycle complete light happily continued to document the washer’s final successful cycle.

The panel had finally died.  “It picked a hell of a bad time” I heard a voice somewhat like mine but with a hysterical timbre to it say.  That same voice then said a number of other things which it would be impolite for me to recount.

I thought seriously of calling my sisters and cancelling Thanksgiving.  It was only the completely chicken shit nature of doing that that kept me from doing it.  But I really had no idea how I was going to deal with the mass of dishes produced by Thanksgiving food preparation and consumption.  I wasn’t even sure how I was going to deal with the full washer load that I already had.

In a moment of quiet rationality a thought occurred to me.  “How did my Grandmothers, who never had a dish washer ever get through Thanksgiving?”

No answer to that question immediately presented itself, but at least it allayed for a moment the increasing hysteria that had begun to descend upon me.  And in that lull I became atypically perceptive: the real problem with hand washing dishes is not the washing of them; that doesn’t take very long, and the time can be occupied fairly pleasantly with various mental wanderings and day dreams; the real problem is that there isn’t a dish drainer in existence that holds enough dishes; so one needs to do a few, put them in the drainer, and either dry them, or wait for them to dry, the former being time consuming and totally unrewarding, and the latter being so time consuming that more dishes are likely to begin to accumulate before the first batch of the base set have gotten dry.

And it was that revelation that presented to me as a follow up insight the obvious solution to the problem: the now dead dishwasher was a monstrously large dish drainer.  And the totally inadequate one then became a sort of bonus rather than a tool inadequate for the task.  In total I had plenty of dish drainer real estate.  All I needed to do was pull both dishwasher shelves out – there was still plenty of room to get around it – and put the washed and rinsed dishes in their accustomed washing stations.  The only difference was they were drying not washing.  What a concept.

I have gotten through Thanksgiving and every day since totally content with my wonderful large dish drainer.

I have no idea when or if I will ever replace that drainer with one that actually washes dishes.  It’s funny how many more entertaining and rewarding things one can find to do with a thousand dollars when one has a perfectly good, copious and eminently serviceable dish drainer.