“A group of people all trying to impress one another was always more dangerous than the lone psychopath.”
Sanderson, Brandon. Oathbringer: Book Three of the Stormlight Archive (p. 630). Tom Doherty Associates.
TODAY FROM AMERICA:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN MENDOCINO:
Peter and Barrie returned to the Bay Area the day after the Christmas party. I resumed spending my days sitting by the window watching the waves crest over the bluffs and a hawk hunting gophers in the backyard. When not daydreaming by the window or amusing myself on Facebook, I wander about the town Christmas shopping, searching for the appropriate and affordable gifts for those on my list.
Nights are another thing. I sleep ok but, before I fall asleep and after I wake up, I feel an existential malaise that is difficult to describe to those who have not felt the night that never ends bearing down on them like an out of control train. It isn’t fear, I think. More like the sad wonder of a sunset.
For the past few days, they have been removing some of the large trees that menace the house. Over the last year or so, two of those trees have blown down, one of which destroyed the pump house. During my walks, I sometimes stop to watch them work. I find that watching other people work relaxes me. I wonder if Gautama sitting under his bodhi tree observed some people working in the fields when he decided living a life of contemplation was a good thing and we should all do it if we could figure out a way to get away with it.
People have begun arriving for the Christmas Eve celebration my sister holds every year. A few years ago about twenty of us, friends and family, gathered together at a house that she rented for the holidays a few miles up the coast. Some of us slept on the floor. I slept on a sofa. We all cooked most of the day and ate and drank in the evenings. A great storm blew in Christmas Eve, throwing up giant waves that crashed on the beach, driving us all inside where we sang carols and opened presents.
That was a far cry from the Christmases of my youth when uncles, aunts, and cousins would gather with our family. The women would prepare endless amounts of food while the men napped in the living room. Dinner was a loud affair with everyone shouting and drinking wine until the arguments and tears erupted among the adults while the children hid in quiet corners and learned to hate the holiday for which they had spent weeks in eager anticipation.
Anyway, this year it was planned to be a smaller affair than usual. First to arrive, late Friday evening, were George and Maryann’s children Brendan and Katie with their significant others, Ashley and Quinn. The next morning we all got up, fitted a Christmas bow on Bingo the dog and watched Brendan, dressed in fuzzy brown PJs, make us all breakfast.
Chewbacca and MaryAnn in the Kitchen.
That afternoon, I went to Fort Bragg and my favorite bar in the area, Milano. They were having their Christmas party and it was crowded. Most of the regulars were there. The old man who owned the place and always sat on the stool by the wall at the end of the bar, however, was missing. Perhaps he died. He was not looking well the last time I saw him well over a year.
I took an empty stool and ordered a Stella. There was food at the party, a potluck. The bartender urged me to get some food but I demurred for some reason or another. The noise in place was almost defining, There were several little groups talking loudly, others pounding their dice cups on the bar-top. A few people sat quietly staring at their drinks. I made a friend.
I Usually, I do not talk to anyone preferring to watch. But Gene, who sat down next to me, insisted that I engage him in conversation. “What’s your nationality?” he asked. “Italian,” I responded. “I’m Bohemian,” he said. I thought he was playing with me, but since I could not figure out the joke, I ignored it. I then asked him what he does for a living “I’m a stone contractor,” he said. Not knowing what a stone contractor was, I ignored this too. “I’m retired,” he went on, “but I still work 5 hours a day.” How one can work five hours a day and still consider himself retired I could not comprehend but I let that pass also. “I like my clients,” he then declared. “I did not like mine,” I responded. He stared at me a moment then said, “Attorneys are the most difficult to get to pay their bills.” “I can understand that,” I replied. “After all, they spend most of their working lives helping people to avoid paying their debts, financial or otherwise.”
I was happy when I left and drove back to my sister’s house. Shortly after I got back, two additional weekend guests, Debbie and Shelly, arrived. We had risotto for dinner.
The next morning, it was the day before Christmas. We had a long breakfast where we talked about many things that made us laugh and some that did not.
That evening, we gathered for Christmas Eve dinner. Maryjane (she who had married a clown) and her current husband Jovan, and Nancy and Duncan joined us. Before dinner, we snacked on stuffed calamari, baked eggplant, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail and a lot of other things — too many for me to remember.
Debbie and Katie.
At dinner, we toasted to good friends and holidays and then dug into the marvelous cioppino my sister had prepared.
Happy Holidays to All.
I sat between Nancy and Shelly. Nancy told me about her father (or Duncan’s, I forget which) who led a wonderful and exciting life and at 95 years old lives by himself in a house in Oregon, still drives and cooks his own meals and refuses to go to a senior home. Shelly, a potter by trade who’s studio is at the Women’s Pottery Studios on Noe in San Francisco told us about her good friend and studio mate who died at 105. She began her ceramics career in her late 40s. When she was 80, she was “discovered” by the critics and became a bit of a celebrity. She made well over 5 million dollars from her pottery in about 5 years. Because so many of her clients and friends were in the entertainment business, she began being offered roles in the movies. She was the voice of the grandmother in “Titanic.”
Following these uplifting tales and several different desserts, I went to bed.
The next morning, Christmas, it was Panettone and presents, coffee and wrapping paper, giggles of happiness and moments of silent contemplation of fleeting pleasures that penetrated the veneer of joy like no-see-umm pricking your skin.
Christmas Morning with Bingo and George.
I then left drove five hours back to the golden hills where I opened more presents.
A woman, Wanni, who I assisted in the sale of her business, gave me a lovely blanket, fleece on the inside and smooth and soft to the touch on the outside. Adrian also gave me a number of great gifts as did Dick and Hayden. We then had dinner and I immediately went to bed where clutching my marvelous new blanket I thankfully quickly fell into a deep almost dreamless sleep.
An Aging Childe Harold.
B. Molly had a Baby:
On Christmas Day, Molly had a baby. I was not there at the birth, but I had been there over 20 years ago at Molly’s birth along with her father Maurice, a dear friend and a kind gentle man. When the nurse brought tiny Molly into the nursery, Maurice. for a long, long time, stared through the glass at her with a wonder and love that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Molly soon became the child of all of us, our family and friends. She was a quiet waif of a child. Usually, she sat silently at the edge of things — an innocent in a cynical world. She wore large round glasses and had a shy smile. Often, she babysat my grandchildren, traveled with them and at lived with them in their house when Maurice worked.
When we awoke on Christmas Day, we learned she had given birth — to a boy, a Christmas baby she named Amir, Emmanuel, Duncan Trad (Trans: Prince, Messiah [God is with us], Dark Warrior [dark of visage, not of heart] Trad) a fitting name for someone born on this day. A few years ago, Molly wrote a prescient poem that she shared with me. Read it slowly.
A New Years Poem
I have a desperate attraction to new beginnings
Sometimes the numbers on the calendar look so beautiful
Today’s the day I drink less and run more
No smoking, all veggies
Honesty, integrity, self-reliance, perseverance, creativity,
No fear, live large,
Dream big, be bright, believe in love and believe in yourself!
And I do
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Sometimes I just feel it, on a Tuesday
Today’s the day I keep doing yoga
I don’t back down when I’m right
I go to bed at a reasonable hour, pay my bills on time
Clean out the toe jam, learn all those languages
All the little steps start here and I’m climbing
I can feel it now, right now, and I won’t look back
This is it!
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Then I find myself making the same mistakes
Who manufactured the grooves in my record?
How would it feel if the dj scratched me across the turntable?
The dissonant rip, like a zipper coming undone
A cut away from the 4/4 time that I was trying so hard to hold
But this is why the crowd came to the club
To hear the sound of the universe tearing into a new song
The maligned has become music
We throw our hands up and we dance
I am scratched across the turntable and the crowd is screaming
We are scratched and screaming
And the dj takes it back, and the song plays
All of it is beautiful
Every moment new
Every moment auspicious
Every moment beginning
Molly and Amir Emmanuel Duncan Trad
Within minutes of finishing the above joyous account of a Christmas birth, I received the following distressing email from Naida regarding my dear friend Bill:
“I have been sitting with Bill next to his bed. His coughing woke me at 5 a.m. He asked me what my name was. I told him and, when asked what I’ve done all day, explained that I am his wife and I’ve been taking care of him. He said he’d been put away into in some attic. I told him he’s downstairs. He said he wants to see out the window. I explained that the sun wouldn’t come up for a couple of hours. He said, “OK. When it’s light I want to see out the window.” He also said, “I feel weird like I’ve been separated from all civilization” — followed by his characteristic sarcastic “huh” of a laugh. Then he asked if any of his relatives were coming to see him.”
Bill, a gentle giant of a man, has been my cherished friend for more years than I can remember — always cheerful and always seeming happy to see me when I visited he and Naida at their beloved ranch along the Cosumnes River near Sacramento.
Few people know that Bill was quietly responsible for the passage of the California Coastal Conservancy legislation, a key element of California’s Coastal protection program over 40 years ago. We were on the floor of the Senate. We clearly did not have the votes. Bill privately spoke to Senator Denny Carpenter a vocal opponent of California’s Coastal Protection legislation. He asked Carpenter to speak in favor of the legislation when it came before the Senate for its final vote. Carpenter agreed and did so, turning enough votes to pass the bill. So, whenever you visit a beautiful section of the California coast or San Francisco Bay that the Conservancy has had a hand in preserving, please remember Bill, Geyer.
I will miss him greatly.
And, the Great Wheel grinds inexorably on.
A Simple Primer for Understanding Politics.
First, Democrats exaggerate, Republicans lie. So whenever Democrats tell you something about an issue, you can be reasonably confident it is not as bad or as good as they say it is. When a Republican, however, says something, you can be sure the exact opposite is true.
Second, when politicians tell you the deficit is too large and will lead the nation into ruin they are really saying that they want to reduce taxes on the wealthy and increase the military budget. Remember, no large private corporation can operate without debt. (Note: no politician ever claims the deficit or public debt is too small.)
Third, Promises are used to get elected not to govern. Trust is not a verity one can rely on in politics. The devil is always in the details. Whatever is promised before the election will not look like what you thought it would after. Especially, if it needs to be approved by the legislative body. Support politicians because you are confident you can persuade them to your point of view after they take office, not simply because they agreed with you before the votes were counted.
“This estimate is according to Five Thirty-Eight. Apart from post-mastectomy reconstructions, reconstructions, around quarter-million American women now get breast implants each year, including several thousand girls eighteen and younger. An additional 149,000 women a year have their breasts surgically lifted, a procedure that has become seven times more common since the 1990s.”
Andersen, Kurt. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History (p. 251). Random House Publishing Group.
A. Thoughts to Ponder:
“I’m a child of the enlightenment; I was raised thinking that moral and ethical standards are universals that apply equally to everyone. And these values aren’t easily compatible with the kind of religion that posits a Creator. To my way of thinking, an omnipotent being who sets up a universe in which thinking beings proliferate, grow old, and die (usually in agony, alone, and in fear) is a cosmic sadist. Consequently, I’d much rather dismiss theology and religious belief as superstitious rubbish. My idea of a comforting belief system is your default English atheism . . .. except that I know too much. See, we did evolve more or less randomly. And the little corner of the universe we live in is 13.73 billion years old, not 5,000 years old. And there’s no omnipotent, omniscient, invisible sky daddy in the frame for the problem of pain. So far so good: I live free in an uncaring cosmos, rather than trapped in a clockwork orrery constructed by a cosmic sadist.”
Stross, Charles. The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry Files Book 3) (p. 136). Penguin Publishing Group.
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:
American’s have always considered belief to be more important than truth, money more desirable than morals, and celebrity more trustworthy than scholarship.
C. Today’s Poem:
THE HAPPY VIRUS
I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious-
So kiss me.
Hafiz (14th Century Sufi Poet)
D. Some Comments on My Previous Post:
1. From Ruth:
So I fretted all week about your doctor appointments and whether to inquire what happened, but I got distracted by Moe’s medical adventures–which appear to be on the way to fairly good resolution. He’s out of the hospital and will go home from rehab tomorrow, but with a home health asst 12 hours a day for at least a while. I didn’t dare ask how that’s being funded, but he is in good spirits about getting home and back to something approximating real life.
From your missive, it sounds as if your situation is not as bad as you feared, but certainly bad enough to spoil your day.
It sounds as if SWAC remains true to character; she’s been sort of her own bulldoze-through-other-people individual ever since you first met her and probably way before then. One question is what kind of woman would give birth to a child and then farm him out in one foreign country or another for months at a time. And another question is what the hell is the matter with Dick that he would kick you out, especially in the present circumstances. However, there is nothing I can do about that and probably nothing you can do either.
I hope the various doctors are able to help you with minimal suffering on your part. Cancer unquestionably sucks, and so does the treatment.
And I hope you manage some festivity over the holidays. I’ll be in Vancouver at my cousin’s for a week, then home overnight, and then in San Diego for New Year’s. I plan to visit Joan on the way home if not also over that weekend.
Hang in there.
O.K., some unsolicited advice (but first a couple of unsolicited thoughts):
1 – I firmly believe that stress is a cancer accelerator. I watched my mom die of it (cancer and stress) at age 46.
2 – It seems to me that you’re spending a lot of time with sick people and generally talking about sickness a lot — basically adding to the stress.
Forget all that shit, do what you have to do to fight the good fight and, every time the subject of illness comes up, think about the Geriatric Round Table (and other ‘past glories’!).
It is what it is. As you know, talking about, stressing over and fearing what may or may not be there at the moment isn’t going to help, it just adds more stress!
I know, easy for me to say but … ‘I know things Lily’
Hang in! Happy Holidays!
Final unsolicited thought: We know all too well the type of person who would throw someone with cancer out of his home.
Final, Final unsolicited thought: Karma can be a bitch to bitches!
I shall never forget the Geriatric Knights, their bravery in the face of temptation, their courage in discharging their duty and the fortitude with which they met their destiny.
I agree about spending more time with people who are not obsessed with sickness. But, when I am with people my age, sickness, and cloying memories are often all we have to talk about. I think that is why my time with Hayden is so enjoyable.
When are we going on that cruise together?
I read that you are not well, and I’m so sad because of that!
I’m sure the biopsy will be negative and you will get well soon again!!
I’m sending you a big hug and Merry Christmas to you and the family!
Joe, I can echo the statements of your friend regarding UCSF. The oncologists there are far ahead in their treatments and knowledge. My daughter has been cancer free for sixteen years because of UCSF doctors. She went through chemo, radiation, and surgery in Davis and all failed. She went to UCSF and participated in what was then experimental. It worked—from stage four cancer to cancer free! A lot of prayer was involved as well and those prayers are now directed at you.
As you stroll around Mendocino if you see a lady with a guide dog, say hello. She is my good friend Judy Chapman the dog is Jamie, a yellow lab.
Maryann and George have a wonderful situation in a gorgeous place that seems so precarious; I think of My Fault vino up the road. Yet, imagine if/when the water is turned off in SF. Truly, living on the edge….
In a long run historical context, such as considering the progression of Chinese dynasties which included that roughly 200 year Period of Disorder (between Han and Tang), as the historians call it, what could be the brief (a trifle more than 200 years) American Period of Democracy could be viewed from the Far Future as yet another historical blip — especially if viewed from Elon Musk’s Martian refuge, which, rather than being the bridge and tunnel crowd, would be the dome and burrow bunch.
Still More Peter:
When faced with this, you can simple light up some candles and incense, adopt the eternal full lotus position, and intone Om and Oy Way and celebrate another swig of prosecco and a puff of the Great Weed.
“If there is something comforting—religious, if you want—about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.”
—THOMAS PYNCHON, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)