Saturday, October 14, 2017

Shingle Rain

Every room in my home has a ceiling.

The sound of rain on shingles, to many people a simple white noise, to me is an essential part of childhood, and a comfortable, comforting sound. To you perhaps it may mean I'm going to get wet, or maybe the crops will have water. To me, it means all is well.

I was one of 10 kids in a small 3 bedroom house in south Everett. On the ground floor was one bedroom for parents and perhaps a crib and one bedroom for toddlers, plus a kitchen, living room, utility room, and stairs up. The stairs led to a landing with two door:  to the right to a finished bedroom for the girls, to the left unfinished attic for the boys.

Stepping into the boy's room and looking up, you saw the rafters and the stringers - the boards that go from rafter to rafter - and the back of the shingles nailed to the stringers, forming the outer skin of the house shedding water. They were visible from inside. That's the ceiling to our bedroom and it was normal.

Likewise, the floor was unfinished planks. This is a good floor for active children because you can pry up a plank and create a hidey hole. Now we might not have much to hide, but it's the principle of the thing. If there had been linoleum or carpeting we would have had a lot less to work with.

Occasionally we'd decide to finish the room a bit. Once we got some canvas and nailed it down over the planks as a rug. We felt that was very nice! It lasted until our next project.
Somehow we came across the remnants of an electric train set, just the tracks and the engine (without the plastic shell that made it look like a real engine) and the transformer. The cables connecting the transformer and track were missing, but this was no problem, unwind some wire from another motor, wrap around the terminals on the transformer and the thing on the track, and it worked fine. The engine went around and around. And it made a smell. We sniffed. The smelled smoke but it wasn't coming from the engine. Finally, I looked down and saw that the wires were glowing bright orange and red, and the canvas under it was smouldering. We unplugged everything, put something over the scorch marks on the rug, and hid everything away. A few minutes later dad came up the stairs "THUMP THUMP THUMP" and demanded, "Have you boys been smoking?" Truthfully we said, " No, dad we have not been smoking!" and that was the end of it. I think we had to get rid of the canvas now that it has suspicious burn marks on it.

In the corner above the stairs were some shelves holding canning jars and government surplus goods. This was before food stamps. The way the government solved a problem of overproduction and underconsumption was to bag beans and bulgar where and other raw materials for handing out to the needy. Each bag was as plain as could be: clear plastic or brown paper, with the contents labelled in black sans serif font: Beans Comma Pinto. On some cans: Meat by-product.

One time we got mysterious cubes of compressed figs. I have no idea what they were intended for but we found a use.

I had seen the board game "Risk". The concept of buying it was as alien as flying to Mars.  and decided my family needed a copy. I carefully copied the board using crayon on a large sheet of heavy paper. My brothers and I sat on our knees around this board on the floor and played using commodities: one brother got beans, I took fig cubes and the youngest got lentils. Lentils are the worst for this purpose because they skitter around the map. We would hunch over the board for hours. The games never really ended possibly because I hadn't made the deck of cards that gives one side a decisive advantage when well played.
--
The best time was when the power went out, which happened often during the winter. Electricity came on wires strung on poles by roads that went through forests; snow- or ice-laden branches could bring them down.
When this happened in the evening, mom would light the storm lanterns: kerosene lamps that always stood on top of the piano. Uncle Jerry had made his sister, my mother, a lamp by attaching the metal works to a heavy jar. The only time we lit it was when the power went out. We were never afraid of the dark because that meant we would gather around the kerosine lamp, something that never happened when there was electricity. We would reach down the game of stadium checkers from the top shelf in the hall, and we would play this game that was reserved for emergencies.
Our clocks were, of course, springwound so we never got to stay up past bedtime. We went upstairs by whatever ambient light there might have been and crawled under the covers. The rain on the shingles assured us that we were inside, dry and safe.
Looking back I appreciate that this is not normal by today's standards, but it seemed normal then.
--
I look at my home today and I see that each room has sheetrock and a ceiling. It seems awfully "finished" to me. Of course, that is just the standard today.
Around the world today there are people for whom a ceiling is a luxury. It's a good thing, but do you really need it?

I am grateful that every room in my home has a ceiling, but if I want to hear the rain on the roof I have to open a window.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday Mulching the Heart-Shaped Garden

I mulched the apple tree in the heart-shaped garden, using mulch given away to participants in the Seattle Reforestation project (or whatever they called it). While it was a pain locating the site (because the map on the postcard was too small, and I hadn't checked it at hope on my computer) once I got there it was fun shoveling wood chips into burlap bags and talking about sustainability.
I got a bunch more burlap bags too, which I can share with the neighbors or use to suppress the ivy. I little gardening every day is nice!
I also stopped by Pegasus to pick up a few bags of books, and was rewarded with an awesome find: another edition of the Rubyiat!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Furnacesaga


My oil furnace went missing!

Prime Suspects!

And, of course, the electrician!

Three days of chaos...

...with comings and goings...

Success: The new heating system!
Investing into my home to save energy and (in the long run) money!


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Companions For The Road

The philosopher Dorothy Gale said: "There's no place like home".
Indeed. That’s why we leave.
As a young teen, Dorothy was blown out of Kansas
And as a young teen I, myself was blown away by the thought:
If I go to high school seminary, studying for the priesthood
I could please my parents
and run away from them!
At the age of 13, I took the road to the yellow brick boarding school in Kenmore.
The instructors were strict.
We sat alphabetical order:
I in the back,
Behind my pious friend Mr. Murphy,
In front, my nervous friend Mr. Dunne.
A Latin teacher picked on the boy in the front:
"Dunne, what is the singular feminine superlative of beautiful?"
Poor Mr. Dunne! He would stammer and wilt. "Pulcher? Pulchra?"
Then it was "Murphy!"
My friend Mr. Murphy gave it a try: "Pulcheriora?" and got chewed on a bit.
Then: "Winn!"
I had had two minutes to look up the answer.
So: I always got it!
From this, I reached a wrong conclusion:
I was smarter than everyone else!
This has since been proven
To be the opposite of true.
Today, Mr. Dunne is at the top of his profession, a brilliant counselor solving complex problems.
He would have been far better than I at the job for which we were ostensibly studying,
But for his unfortunate choice of last name early in the alphabet.
Do not think of him merely as scholastic roadkill.
Oh no!
For his lack of academic achievement, Mr. Dunne got extra duty in the school office: trusted and often unsupervised.
He knew he was trusted because when unsupervised, he read his file.
For a Hershey bar he would read your file too.
This was helpful for my friend the inappropriately named Mr. Holy.
Mr. Holy liked knowing things and doing things.
Just not faculty-approved things.
He knew which basement window opened from the outside, when he needed to reenter after an all night carouse.
He often dozed in Latin.
Perhaps those facts are related.
Later he used his energy and curiosity to be a very successful what?
Detective? Of course!
Late that Spring he learned, no doubt with the aid of Hersey bars, he was going back to Spokane.
He gifted me with a magazine in which the people wore not enough clothing;
A generous increase to my knowledge
Not to my vocation.
My friend Mr. Phelan, now a senior computer engineer, showed me how to solder circuit boards. 
Thus college workstudy put me in a computer lab, rather than washing dishes, which lead to all my professional success.
One Saturday we two amiable dweebs were in a walkathon, raising funds for some charity or other, strolling down the road, just us two and no faculty, discussing life, and whether computers will ever be really important, and everything.
He pushed his glasses up on his nose and said,
“Randy, you know, I’m gay.”
Well, I knew now. 
Gay was against the rules.
But friendship is its own rule.
Either my friend was wrong or the rule was wrong.
What can you do?
We walked on together.
“Also,” he said. “So’s my sister.”
Disaster!
Even now, my breath stops at the glory, the wonder, the singular feminine superlative that is Mr. Phelan’s sister:
"Pulcherissima!"
She and I had been together.
Well, we had been at the same table at the school picnic.
I passed her the jello,
She gave me a smile,
I knew I was not meant for celibacy.
But now this ….
Mr. Phelan snickered. “Just kidding...”
“...About her”.
You see why we’ve been friends for so long.
There are little things, and big things, but one REALLY big thing:
Some go home to Kansas – or Spokane -
Some settle in the Emerald City
Does it matter?
With your companions of the road, you are always at home,
And there’s no place like home.
There is no place like home.
 ...I must ask Mr. Phelan for his sister’s phone number!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

First Furlough Saturday

Yesterday was my last full day of work, as most of my office was furloughed due to the usual practice around this time of year. It's just part of the gig, and I can use the time to look for other work while improving the house.
Today I started with an hour of yoga/sculpt at the Y, which was delightful. Then it was a matter of waiting for the dryer to be delivered, which was less delightful. When it arrived, however, the delivery group was quick, friendly and efficient; the first load is drying now. This is a prosaic but useful improvement!
My short term goal is to win or try to win the Humorous Speech Contest October 2. The method is practice, although I have supplemented that with research. Most of the research indicates that the writing of the speech is often underestimated as a factor, so I am honing the writing too.
This is fun. I don't have a lot of experience competing to win; as a child I was impressed by my incompetence in competitive endeavours, so I never really picked up the techniques - such as research and practice. However the best time to start is now, and I find I enjoy studying the game!

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Third Result of Our Beatings.

I am now closer to age 70 than to 50, and if that does not make you shake your head in wonder then you're not me. How did I get this way, still feeling on the edge of 17 (as Janis Ian put it)?
I see around me adults in or nearing retirement and I imagine some of them feel the same; others express complete feelings of adulthood and mastery of life. What is the difference?
I have a thing to mention, and in bringing it up I am not asking for sympathy. The past is past, and by my age I am responsible for what I have done with the hand of cards dealt to me. I hope that by talking frankly I may be able to explain a few things that will lead others to wiser action.
The most important part of my personality was forged by being beaten, or threatened with beating, every day of my life until I left home.
That's it. You don't actually have to strike a child  very often. Once the pain comes down a few times, the kid gets the message: failing to placate the one in power means pain, physical pain, pain that drives out every imperative except to do what it takes to make it stop.
I know that others have suffered worse. I'm not asking for anything, especially since it has been nearly 50 years since I was last struck. But the feeling remains: the most important thing in life is to keep those with the power to cause you pain from being angry.
I disagree with this policy, vehemently. It is wrong. But I understand the feeling, and reflecting on it offers an understanding of some friends and family members who are making what I know to be big mistakes in turning to fascism.
I used to think that beatings taught one of two lessons: some learned that beatings hurt, and that therefore you should not do it. Don't hurt people is a pretty good lesson.
Others learn that beatings hurt, and therefore it's a good idea to be the person doing the beating rather than the one being beaten. This is a bad lesson but it seemed common enough. The distinction between the two put me in a comfortable moral position, which should have made me suspicious but there you are.
I feel now that there is a third lesson that many people learn: beatings come from angry men and therefore it is most important to keep them from being angry, with your behavior and that of others. Stay in your line; keep other people from getting out of line. It is this last element that is most important: the beater enlists his victims to keep others in line.
This explains the authoritarianism of many of my fellow victims. Where one would expect compassion for other victims, there is too often only a desire to kick down, to join the beaters in ganging up on someone else.
I saw this in the fights over legalizing pot and gay marriage. Why did so many worry drunks worry so much about others smoking weed and straights with multiple divorces worrying about gays getting married? The only thing that made sense to me is that both of these issues involved changing what was officially acceptable, and that risked making Angry Father Angry.
I mentioned this theory because it offers a few obvious suggestions for improvements. First, comfort those who express fear and hatred; they may be afraid of being beaten.
And don't hit people. It's really not a good idea.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

RIP James Cline

Late last week the message came that Jim had gone into hospice, and then early Saturday that it was going to be only some hours. I made ready to go up to visit Saturday but then got the message that he had passed.
Three things you should know about Jim Cline . He and my sister Sharon were married and in love for I don’t know how long, and he loved his children as well – that was obvious, you can see it in every picture.
Second, our family is noisy and Jim was not. He was a heck of a smart guy, very successful in his profession, but he didn’t show the urge that many of us have to tell everybody everything we know, several times in case you missed it the first. More than once I stepped out of a family party to see Jim and Brad sharing a cigarette break outside in the quiet. He’d say something funny and we’d all laugh. I never heard him complain, not about anything – which is something I can’t say about myself. You set a high standard, Jim.
The third thing is his last words on Facebook: “Quick reminder gentlemen, get that PSA test to check your cancer levels. It's critical. My love to you all.’
You set a standard, Jim. I’m not going to be able to match you in not complaining, but I’ll sign up for the test on Monday.
My love to you too.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Weekend Reminder

This weekend was unusual.
Saturday morning I saw my ex as I drove to the Y. I greeted her and her new BF but they didn't need a ride, as they were rendezvousing with his ex to connect with his child. We all ended up in yoga and it was a fine class indeed. It's nice to use the muscles a different way after the delightful Zumba last Thursday.
Then I drove up to my sister Kat's, in Marysville, having been invited by my niece Stephanie for an informal birthday barbeque. I assumed it was for Kat and brought her a card, but actually it was for Ryder, Stephanie's 2 year old son. A parent may be forgiven for focusing on her own kids!
I enjoyed talking and listening to the crowd. My nephew Kristian delivered a painting "Soft Serve Squid" that he'd donated to a charity auction I one. I'm happy to have it!
I met Karen's wife and had a long talk about our common interest in veterans services - she's a VFW Chaplain and, like my Veterans and Friends pals, working out ways to go beyond VSOs to solve problems holistically.. I'll be connecting her with my friend Cyril, etc.
I had a shot of tequila with Brad and with Jim, who is ailing. This was a moving experience as it is not often that I see someone who had always been so strong and full of life reach a point in his dying that leaves him able to communicate, but hazy and emaciated. There is not much to say so I talked about his kids.
This was all unusual, and I was grateful to Stephanie for the invitation.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Companions of the Road

Introduction

The philosopher Dorothy Gale said: "There's no place like home".
Indeed. That’s why so many of us leave.
Around the age that Dorothy left Kansas, I was blown away by the realization that by studying for the priesthood I could please my parents and run away from them.
I took the road to the yellow brick boarding school in Kenmore called St Edward’s.

The Tale of the Dunne Call

The instructors were very old school.

We sat strict alphabetical order: I in the back, behind my pious friend Mr. Murphy, in front my nervous friend Mr. Dunne. One Latin teacher picked on the boy in the front: Dunne, what is the singular feminine superlative of beautiful? Poor Mr. Dunne! He would stammer and wilt. Pulcher? Pulchra? Then it was Murphy! my friend Mr. Murphy gave it a try and was chewed on a bit. Then: Winnie!

I had had two minutes to look up the answer. I always got it. I learned the lesson: I was smarter than everyone else! Later this proved untrue. 

Today, Mr. Dunne is at the top of his profession, a brilliant counselor solving complex problems. He would have been better than I at the job for which we were ostensibly studying, but for his unfortunate choice of last name beginning with “D”.

Do not think of him merely as scholastic roadkill. Oh no. For his lack of academic achievement, Mr. Dunne got extra duty in the school office. He knew he was trusted because he was often unsupervised, and used that time to read his own file: Trustworthy

For two Hershey bars – our medium of exchange at Stalag St. Edward - he would read your file too.

A Holy Tale

This was helpful for the my friend the inappropriately named Mr. Holy.

Mr. liked knowing things and doing things – just not Latin or theology. He knew which basement window opened from the outside, should you need to reenter the building after an all night carouse. He often dozed in Latin. Perhaps those facts are related. Later he used his energy and curiosity to be a very successful what? Detective? Politician? You're both right!

 At the end of spring term, he learned, no doubt with the aid of Hersey bars, that he being sent back to Spokane. He generously gifted me with a magazine in which the people wore not enough clothing; a great increase to my knowledge, not helpful to my vocation.

The Tale of Mr. Phelan: Out On The Road

My friend Mr. Phelan, now a senior computer engineer, showed me how to solder circuit boards. Thus college workstudy placed me in a computer lab, rather than washing dishes, the foundation of all my financial success.

One Saturday we two amiable dweebs were in a walkathon, raising funds for some charity or other, strolling down the road talking about life and everything, just us two guys and no faculty. He said, “Randy, you know, I’m gay.”

Well, I knew now. 

But what did I know? Gay was against the rules. But friendship is its own rule. Either my friend was wrong or the rule was wrong. This is no contest. We walked on together.

“Also,” he said. “So’s my sister.”

Disaster! Even now, my breath stops at the glory, the wonder, the singular feminine superlative that is Mr. Phelan’s sister: pulcherissima!

She and I had been together, or at least, we had been at the same All School Picnic, a hundred boys and their families milling around. She smiled at me over the fruit salad jello, and perhaps seminary would not last for ever. But now?
Mr. Phelan snickered. “Just kidding. About her”.

Conclusion: On The Road

You’ll understand why we’ve all been friends so long. We share so much, big things, little things, but one REALLY big thing:
Some go home to Kansas – or Spokane -
Some settle in the Emerald City
Some stay on the road
It doesn’t matter: with companions, you are already at home, and there’s no place like home.

Maybe I’ll ask Mr. Phelan for the phone number of his sister.

-- REWINN
2017 Humorous Speech Contest, Chapter 832 Toastmasters (I won yay!)