Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Old America

Clarity. Clear definition of a problem before you devise a solution. Clear enumeration of instructions before you start scheduling tasks. Clear statement of objectives before you start evaluating how well you did on those tasks that implemented the solution to the problem that you never tried to understand in the first place. We need more clarity.

Rambling has replaced coherence. Spin and innuendo substitute for fact. Can-do culture guides us rather than competence. And we take no responsibility for the messes of our muddled minds.

So a Space Shuttle is launched well outside it's temperature range and explodes in flight. And a bridge falls down. And dikes get breached. And an oil tanker captained by someone who was known to be a drunk runs aground, oil gushing forth, destroying fisheries and blighting seashores for many decades to come. And the economy is brought to its knees by exposure of the charade of complex investment stratagems that no one understood but everyone was sure were a sure thing.

We don't think clearly, anymore. It's not what we get paid to do. We can't think clearly, anymore. We don't know how.

This is the beginning of Old America. Maybe it's someone else's turn, now.

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 Monday, February 25, 2008

Looks of Envy

It's a warm sunny day. There are no clouds in the sky. The wind is blowing, and the air is as warm as if it were late spring.

There was no school today. So the boys have been riding bikes inspecting the bulky trash pickup piles that litter the neighborhood this week, and they've been hanging around. Right now, they're playing. Yes: playing.

These 17 year old boys are on the lawn playing in the sun with Hot Wheels cars. The decades-old orange track is draped from the Ash tree to a ladder with a loop in between and from there to a chair near the curb with another loop at the end.

Periodically a shout goes up, or a moan, or they all break out laughing. And periodically the dog barks as he watches from inside. And the younger kids from down the street ride by on their bikes with looks of envy in their eyes.

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 Sunday, February 24, 2008

White Petals Of My Irises

I stood outside as the sun went down, as it sunk behind the trees and the houses across the street. And the western sky began to fade from blue to white to dark. As dusk descended, my shadow from the orange streetlight fell across the lawn, and whining crickets and things filled my ears, and the white petals of my blooming Irises quivered in the gentle evening breeze.

I can say these things, these things about breezes and shadows and dancing Iris petals. I can bring myself to sit down and write those words. But the other words don't come.

Words about high finance gone wrong. Words about politicians doing what politicians do. Words about big brother realized with conservative courts quite happy to oblige. Words about glaciers accelerating to the sea. Words about the ownership society and the landlords it enriches. Words about cities neglected. Words about genocides ignored. Words about torture enabled.

Words that lie in a heap never organized, because I can't muster the spirit to say them, because what good would it do. Those words and my inability to say them -- evidence that the shock doctrine works.

So I stand outside as the sun goes down. I fold my legs and sit on the ground next to the sleeping Redbud tree in the deepening gloom of night. And I watch the white petals of those Irises flutter.

That, I can bring myself to do.

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 Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ends, Means and Anachronisms

They tell us that an omnipotent enemy is lurking in the dark around the corner. They tell us that they are planning to kill us and our families. We should be afraid. We should be alarmed. They suggest that we have only seconds to live, that the clock is ticking, that we are in mortal danger.

And they tell us that the only solution is unfettered executive powers, increased flexibility to avoid the time-wasting constraints imposed by the constitution and by the law -- anachronisms, those, in times like these and emergencies like this.

But do they tell us about the omnipotent robber barons over the next rise? Do they tell us about the fallen forests and the removed mountains? The water is being poisoned. It's happening now. The clock is ticking. Do the tell us this? Do they warn us of our mortal danger?

And what would they say if someone were to suggest that stopping these robber barons required setting aside such anachronisms as constitution or law? How long would it be before someone ended up behind bars?

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 Friday, February 15, 2008

A Question Mark Is All That Remains

Early in the morning, way before the rising sun, I lay there in the darkness with my eyes wide open, my mind racing and all hope of sleep long since lost. Into and out of my head things worth writing streamed one after another. And after an involuntary silence as long as this one has been, I started trying to remember the things worth writing so that when I finally got up, I could jot them down and write more later.

But as I remembered two, a third would pop into my head and drive the first away. And so I would lie there struggling to remember the first and then the second and then the third.

But as I remembered the three, when a fourth popped into my head, it drove the first and second away. And so I would lie there struggling to remember them all and realized that the only way to do it was to remember four words that would remind me in turn of each gem that I so wanted to write about.

There was "angry". Here I lie, it was supposed to remind me, at 4:00 in the morning, angry. Who wakes up in the dark in the silence in the wee hours of the morning angry!?

There was "Valentine's Day". It was supposed to remind me of something, and it's almost on the tip of my tongue, but I'll be darned if I can recall it. I think it was something funny. Certainly it must have been something witty. Sadly, we'll all just have to take my word for it.

There was "tired". And here is where things start to fall apart. For although I went over these words time and time again in my head as I lay there in the dark, I'll be darned if I can remember what on earth "tired" was supposed to remind me of. And it's all the more frustrating because I was anything but tired, lying there in the darkness way before the sun with my eyes wide open.

And finally there was ... I don't know. I just can't remember the last word at all. When I got up in the morning and wrote the words down, I sat there in my morninggloom trying to tease it out of the crevasses of my declining memory, but there was nothing to be found.

And a question mark is all that remains.

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 Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Red Shirt Day

I put on my new pink shirt -- one I got for a steal from my brother-in-law last week. This was a good day to wear pink, I thought, as close to red as I could get.

Trudy looked up. Her smile filled the room with morningshine.

"We match!" she said, pointing to my shirt and hers.

Truth be told, we were both a bit off the requisite Valentine's Day red: I off by a few shades in one direction, she off by a few in the other.

Indeed we match.

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 Monday, February 4, 2008

Fine So Far

He asked for the car keys and went outside. I heard the car start. I figured I'd go out and watch. There have, after all, been times in the past when he thought he had it in reverse but discovered otherwise as he let out the clutch. If there was going to be a crash, I figured I'd at least watch.

The wind was blowing out of the south as I pushed open the screen door. He was backing up the slight slope of our driveway into the street. He had a proud smile on his face.

I took him to get his driver's license the other day, and so I guess we don't have to cart him around on short errands, anymore. He can pick up his things at his mom's house, and he can go out on a date without involving us, which is a source of some relief, I suppose.

But all the cars have standard transmissions. Whereas some parents use standard as a lock to make sure their kids can't drive that car, a standard is all Ben can use. And consequently, going out on his own has got to be a bit more of an adventure for him than it for his friends.

There's only one major stoplight between here and where he's going, and it's on flat ground. Still, ... well you never know. So I sit here wondering if he made it thru the light.

Fine so far! he said waving as he drove off. Easy for him to say.

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 Saturday, February 2, 2008

Walking the Dog on Windy Evening

The wind was blowing. The day had been warm, but the wind was blowing, and I stood in dark in the field with my jacket on, amazed that this was winter.

The dog was somewhere behind me. I could hear his collar as he ran from tree to tree. He had fallen far behind me. I whistled, and he ran up and then dashed off to a nearby telephone pole.

The sky was dark, and somewhere up there, low grey clouds were racing to the north. I stood in the orange glow cast down by a streetlight. The dog ran off to the next telephone pole.

Far away across the field, a groaning city bus drove by, its interior lights glowing as it slowed to turn and head back into town.

I don't know why I tell you these things. You might wonder yourself. But moments like these sometimes give me pause, and this one did: I whistled, and the dog stopped what he was doing to run up and join me on my walk in the night in the wind.

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 Friday, February 1, 2008

Dreaming Again

It's been a long, long time since I have had a dream. I know you'll tell me otherwise, but what I'm trying to say is that it's been a long, long time since I had a dream and remembered anything whatsoever about it.

But something has changed: I'm dreaming almost every night. And today it happened again: I woke up as if I had just stepped out of another life.

We are renting an apartment in an old building. There are many rooms, and the doors all swing open unless you carefully shut them. We're there for some kind of meeting. Today we need get things ready.

The fair and industrious Trudy is up already, has taken a shower, is dressed and is cooking something in the kitchen with two neighbors. I guess that's one of the things we're supposed to do for the meeting -- take snacks.

I'm late and hop in the shower in a rush only to realize that I had left a pre-calculus text book (opened) sitting on a pile of other stuff in the tub and it all got wet. I grab the book and try to rescue it, wiping the water off the exposed pages hoping that it didn't soak in. I picture the wrinkled, warped pages that it's bound to have when it dries, and my heart sinks at the futility of trying to dry it off. So I set it down and run to get some clean clothes to take into the bathroom.

In the (tiny) bedroom I get distracted. I make no progress with my clothes, and I am just sitting there on the bed without any clothes on when Trudy and one of the neighbors (a girl) walk in.

I shriek and reach down to cover myself. The girl turns around and leaves quickly. Trudy hands me a photograph. It's a picture of the girl's home. There are Persian carpets on the floor that look just like carpets I grew up with, carpets we have now. I shout, "Wow!" as I look at them. Trudy, thrilled at my response, leaves to tell the girl that I like her carpets.

And now I'm on the phone. I can't seem to start my day. I'm stuck on the phone with my sister-in-law who's talking about something she prepared for the meeting. I can't get off the phone. I need to take a shower. I'm pacing around, dashing between doorways, because I still don't have any clothes on, and the doors keep swinging wide-open.

Now I'm back inside, still on the phone, trying to get some soap for my shower. I can't separate the bars of soap from each other with my one free hand. I pull and try to use my fingers. The soap is stuck to the shelf. I curse at the soap and it breaks free.

Now I'm outside. I have a pair of pants on, but that's it. And I still haven't taken a shower. And I'm still on the phone. This place looks familiar. I think it's the block where my brother lives. Some people walk by. One of them has one of the others on a leash, and the two are dressed in black leather. They cross the street and disappear just as a man walks by me with a big white dog. I reach out to the dog, but it ignores me. The person on the other end of the phone is evidently waiting for me to help set up for the meeting. I'm late, and I haven't take a shower.

Suddenly I realize that I can take a shower in the big bathroom that doesn't have anything in the tub. I turn off the water in the small bathroom.

But now I'm on the back patio, still on the phone. The conversation (finally) ends, and I go inside. There's a salamander on the door. Not a small, black one, but a large, translucent beige one with bulging eyes and muscular legs holding on to the surface of the door and wing-like gills on the side of its head. It watches me as I go back inside. I pull the door shut slowly.

I finally take my shower, and Trudy comes in, having completed all her assigned tasks. She looks at me, clearly wondering why I am only now taking a shower.

I woke up with a start after dreaming that, cross-eyed and breathing hard. I felt so rested. But it was time to hop out of bed and ... wait for it ... go take my shower.

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