September 30, 2008

"Raise the white flag!"

I was perusing the intertubes one day and ran across a couple of unrelated stories. Unrelated of course, until I let my twisted little mind go at them for a while and make a connection. Thought I would share it with you.

“Tom Rukavina, a longtime Democratic state legislator from northern Minnesota with a Buy-American philosophy, sponsored a bill enacted into law last year that requires flags sold in the Gopher State to be made domestically.”I guess I believe if anything should be made in this country, it's our flag," he said. His father was a U.S. soldier in Europe during World War II and his uncle was a Marine on Iwo Jima when the flag was raised over Mount Suribachi. “

At first I figured that this must mean that Mr. Rukavina has solved all of Minnesota’s problems and was moving on. You know no hunger, no homeless people there. Everyone has affordable health care. Best school system in the country. Banks are solvent. There are plenty of police and firefighters to protect the citizenry. Figured it was late on a Friday, thought he might make a law.

Then the article continued.

"People say it's a question of constitutionality," Mr. Rukavina said about some protests over his foreign-flag restriction. "You know what? I don't give a damn. It wasn't a patriotic thing so to speak. But it is one thing that I care about."

The ONE THING HE CARED ABOUT! Sorry homeless hungry people. Sorry sick people without healthcare. Sorry teachers and students and parents. Sorry police and firefighters. Mr. Rukavina doesn’t care about you. He is much too busy attacking our rights to free speech and commerce. You know, that stupid little thing we call the US CONSTITUTION and the BILL OF RIGHTS. Well at least this was being limited to a small part of the country, waaaaay up near the Canadian border. Or not…

Further in the article, it continued to assail me. “Trade laws require products sold in the United States to state the country of origin, she said. Some states have taken action. Minnesota enacted a law in 2007 requiring that any U.S. flags sold in the state be made in America. New Jersey is considering a law requiring that flags bought with state funds be domestically made. One of the bigger buyers of Stars and Stripes is the U.S. government, which has laws requiring that flags used by federal agencies and departments be made in the United States.”

Ok, so as Arlo Guthrie has said, if one person does something they may think he's really sick.And if three people do it, they may think it's an organization. And can you imagine fifty people doing something; they may think it's a movement. It is the “OUR FLAGS MUST BE MADE IN THE UNITED STATES!” movement. Plus, we can import Chinese toys with lead paint and Chinese chocolate made with tainted milk, but no flags dammit. That crosses the line.

Give me a break.

This logic was making me nuts so I continued to surf the interweb and imagine my shock when I saw this from Bloomberg, the financial news service. It was reporting “Morgan Stanley, the second-biggest independent U.S. securities firm, may sell a larger stake to China Investment Corp. and is in talks about a possible merger with Wachovia Corp., a person familiar with the matter said. China's state-controlled fund may buy as much as 49 percent of the New York-based investment bank, said the person, who declined to be identified because the talks aren't public and may end in no agreement. Morgan Stanley resumed its decline on the New York Stock Exchange, falling as much as 22 percent.”

So let me get this all straight. Several state legislatures and the federal government worry about us buying US flags made in China, while we bring in billions of dollars in tainted product and China is planning to buy 49% of Morgan Stanley.

We get our flags made in the good ol’ US of A, we get toys and chocolate we have to throw away, and they get our home mortgages, IRA’a and retirement accounts.

Expect to get evicted people, we deserve it…

September 28, 2008

"Don’t we have that Hurricane response plan down yet?"

I heard a rumor recently that there were Hurricane Ike relief supplies sitting on trucks waiting to be delivered more than a week after the catastrophic wind event. (How is that for Orwellian Newspeak?) I understood that FEMA was paying the drivers some $800 a day to idle in their trucks waiting for directions of where to go and who to supply. So I jumped on the intertubes to see what the Google had to say about this. In two separate news articles from local newspapers, this is what I found:

“HOUSTON -- As recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast slowly expanded Wednesday, local leaders and federal officials resolved their spat over logistical tie-ups that kept thousands of residents from getting food and supplies from government aid stations. Earlier in the week, a federal employee sent away a supply truck that arrived late in the day at one Harris County distribution center, citing concerns about leaving the goods unguarded overnight. At other centers, crowds stood in line for hours, only to learn that there were no supplies.”
“In Houston, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff met with local officials and promised to deal with the problems of supply distribution. A clearly frustrated Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett took over the logistics operations Tuesday. They opened extra centers and ordered supply trucks to drive through the night so that supplies would be available at daybreak to the region's hardest-hit areas.”

Houston we have a problem. Gulf Coast, we have a problem. Ray Nagin and Bill Chertoff, we have a problem.

I don’t know about you, but after I do something a few times, I start to get the hang of how to do it. Start to develop a real skill at managing things. When MillieJupiter and Booth Boy were small, we had a double blizzard – like 45 inches of snow in 5 days with the second storm knocking out power for 6 days. No power, no heat, no showers, no water, no food storage, no electric stove, oven or toaster. We were unprepared. Had to dig the cordwood out of the snow. Had to melt snow on wood stove in a bucket to flush the toilets, Had to warm food and cook on top of a small wood stove. Had to huddle around said stove to stay somewhat warm. We learned a valuable lesson – have wood, have water in the tub, have access to stored food and coolers to keep food in. Keep those candles, matches and flashlights handy. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…

Well, it would seem that we have had to call on FEMA quite a lot in the last couple or three hurricane seasons, for multiple incidents. After all these storms we are getting good at planning, prepping and delivering right? After Katrina and Wilma and Ike and Gustav and Rita, we have this relief thing down right? Surely after Hurricane Andrew we had begun to figure it out.

But they don’t seem to have the whole planning thing down yet. At least not if we have supplies sitting in trucks or have trucks being turned away while people are in need of these basics.

My friend Maqz quoted Ray Nagin after the last hurricane slapped New Orleans around a bit a few weeks ago. A couple of barges that were not secured got loose in the harbor and threatened to hit and maybe destroy a couple of levees that were protecting the city. His response to reporter’s questions about the incident – “We’ll have to make a note about that for next time.” Dude, this is like the third one to hit you guys in like the last 5 years. Make a list – fill tubs with water, check. Look at levees to make sure they are secure, check. Pick up some extra food and snacks and candles and batteries and drinking water, check, check, check, check and check. TIE UP THE GODDAM BOATS AND BARGES! Check.


September 25, 2008

"Lies, lies, damn lies..."

John McCain canceled a scheduled appearance on CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman" mere hours before he was slated to tape the show Wednesday as part of the suspension of his campaign, MSNBC reported on air Wednesday afternoon. He told Letterman he couldn't be on because of the crisis, and that he was leaving immediately to race back to Washington to crisis manage. Letterman then did a live feed during the show showing that McCain was just in another studio in 30 Rock taping a "friendly" interview with Katie Couric. Just another lie. If you have 9 minutes, check out this video of part of the Letterman show. The Master at work…

Check out the Letter video here:

September 22, 2008

"Racism at the very core?"

I just love those shows on the History Channel or NatGeo (sorry MJ, I like that moniker...) and Discovery. You know the ones; they have key words in their titles like Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon DNA, First Modern Man, Skulls and Fossils, Clovis points, and the like. MillieJupiter and I sit and watch them all. We watch dinosaur ones, archeology ones, anything involving digging up bones and fossils. I've noticed over the last several weeks there seems to be a predominance of shows about the Neanderthals. About their DNA. About them surviving despite the odds.

How could they have survived, they were physical brutes with small brains and lacked the ability to communicate. They were forced out by the smarter Homo sapiens who were traveling the land bridges and moving into all the inhabitable areas. At least this is what we learned in science and anthropology class. The Homo-sapiens had better tools, more social society, better skills. They were more like us.

But recently there seems to be a major change in thought about this group, a positive spin on them, not had before. Following is a quote from The Independent, a British newspaper published by Independent News & Media, a media organization based in Dublin, Ireland.

“Neanderthals were not as stupid as they have been portrayed, according to a study showing their stone tools were just as good as those made by the early ancestors of modern humans, Homo sapiens. Scientists who spent years learning how to make replicas of the stone instruments used by Neanderthals and Homo sapiens have found the Neanderthal tools were just as efficient as anything made by Stone Age man. And researchers believe that the demise of the Neanderthals – which has often been explained by the supposed inferiority of their technology – could not have come about solely as a result of their stone tools being worse than those of their rivals. "Our research disputes a major pillar holding up the long-held assumption that Homo sapiens were more advanced than Neanderthals. It is time for archaeologists to start searching for other reasons why Neanderthals became extinct," said Metin Eren, a graduate student at Exeter University. "Technologically speaking, there is no clear advantage of one tool over the other. When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' but more in terms of 'different'."

That last sentence says it all – “we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' but more in terms of 'different'." Could this be the earliest form of racism? Believing that the Neanderthals were somehow less human. They were stupid, would not be able to survive? Were our anthropologists and archeologists closet racists?

If you change the word Neanderthal in that last sentence and substitute any one of multiple races that have faced the sting of racism in their life, don’t we have a plea for accepting diversity, for understanding and accepting others, for (cue the music…) that Pepsi moment when we teach the world to live in perfect harmony. Try it:

When we think of African-Americans, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' but more in terms of 'different'."

When we think of Hispanics, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' but more in terms of 'different'."

When we think of South African blacks, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' but more in terms of 'different'."

When we think of Americans who live in the Deep South, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' but more in terms of 'different'."

Kind of interesting, don’t you think.

One final note about accepting diversity. When Ms. Fabulous and I went on our first cruise last spring we sat for our meals with four people from South Africa. White people from South Africa. It was a wonderful experience, filled with stories and laughs and positive feelings. Except for one thing. When they talked about the Blacks in their area, they were mostly negative thoughts. Words like lazy and doing nothing crept into their conversation. When I told my podcast partner Maqz, who calls it like he sees it, about this, he immediately branded it racism and reminded us of the Apartheid issues there.

Thanks Maqz.

September 19, 2008

"Should people who refuse to evacuate be held responsible for rescue efforts"

A hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf coast again. It has its sights set on Texas. Not to worry though because they are used to this sort of thing. Why New Orleans was just hit again last week and then there was Katrina such a short time ago. They are well practiced. Besides, The Federal Government is going to be on its best behavior. I mean, it’s the Republican National Convention time and after the debacle of Katrina and Louisiana. Bush 43, and the Cheney Gang certainly would not allow things to get out of hand again, would they? As the storm closes in on Galveston and Houston, the Feds and state leaders declare that a MANDATORY EVACUATION must take place. Over 2.3 million people must move inland and uptown and to all the far flung neighborhoods across the area. Good idea, good planning, way to look out for the people in this area. Much better than last time.

But there is a problem, there are lots of problems, but this is one to deal with in the future. Over 90 thousand people did not leave. They decided to ride out the storm, they are going to hunker down and face Ike with steely eyes and guns drawn. They are staying and there is nothing the town leaders can do about it. They have gathered the candles and extra blankets and the box of “Triscuits” and maybe some bottled water and extra batteries for the flashlight and radio and are getting ready. Some are seeing this as a party. Whoo hoo, here comes Ike! Lets Paaarty!

Except, the storm is worse that anticipated and the computer model tracks are off a bit and suddenly people are in more danger than they might have thought. The flood waters are rising, the lights are out and people are facing “certain death.”

Then we see the real heroes, the coast guard and police and fire departments and on and on and on. They are out there picking up the victims, 10’s, hundreds, more than a thousand. People who WOULD NOT HAVE NEEDED RESCUE IF THEY HAD LISTENED TO THE MANDATORY EVACUATION NOTICES.

And who pays for all this stuff. I don’t mind my tax dollars going to provide food and water and shelter and medical supplies to the victims. BUT THEY DID NOT NEED TO BE A VICTIM IF THEY ONLY LISTENED TO THE MANDATORY EVACUATION NOTICE. Sure you were hunkered down in you basement protecting your property right up until you were flooded out, climbed onto the roof, were rescued by small boat or helicopter and then watched you home be relocated by the flood waters. How did that protecting your property go again?

Do any of you realize the costs of those unnecessary rescues? Coast Guard C-130 aircraft flying in supplies cost about $4,244 an hour to operate, Coast Guard helicopters cost about $4,400 an hour, Coast Guard cutters cost about $1,550 an hour to operate and Coast Guard small boats also cost between $300 to $400 an hour to run. What a drain on the small municipal budgets and taxpayers!

So, I guess my question in this matter is should the people who refused to leave under the mandatory evacuations be held somewhat responsible for the costs of the rescue efforts? Now, in this question I am not talking about people who were caught unaware when the storm worsened or took a turn off the expected course. I am talking about those who IGNORED THE MANDATORY EVACUATION. And, this concept is not new.

Many, many municipalities have gone to charging for rescue and medical attention. The Rocky Mountain News ran a recent article that stated that “a Kansas hiker who dislocated his ankle climbing in Jefferson County, Colorado was due to receive a bill for $5,000 for his rescue…apparently the city of Golden provided rescue services in response to a call from the county, and officials did not feel that the taxpayers should have to pay the cost, mostly overtime, for a rescue out of the district. In times of tight budgets, the cost of rescue operations for recreational hiking has been a difficult question for governments in mountainous areas.” It continued “The American Alpine Club offers rescue insurance to members which cover peaks up to 8000 meters, with supplemental insurance available above that. Some locations around the world have instituted advance rescue fees and/or are considering mandatory rescue insurance.” There are charges now days for ambulance runs and medical technicians too.

I am not sure how to go about the charging people, and I understand that many times it seems we are talking about the poorest people who do not have a way to leave an area. However that is not always the case. My first thought would be to attach any tax return money due up to a certain amount. That way it would only affect those who make enough to pay taxes. That is for a different blog entry. My point is just that in this litigious society that we live in, responsibility is a two way street. It is time to step up and have people consider the responsibilities they have.

In discussing this issue on the podcast last night, Maqz raised an interesting point. How do people feel if someone ignored the MANDATORY EVACUATION NOTICE, needed rescue and during the rescue, a firefighter or policeman or coast guard grunt was severely injured or maybe dies? Left behind a wife and several small children. A life wasted all because you felt a need to ignore the order and stay in the path of the storm.

People, be responsible!

(To listen to Maqz and the Fabulous Penguin discuss this issue on Countless Screaming Argonauts, the Podcast, go to and check out Episode 56…)

September 16, 2008

"Cat-alogue Part 2"

Mitty’s first kitten had a traumatic birth experience. Mitty slipped out of the house early in the morning and no one was home all day. When Ms. Fabulous returned from work Mitty came running up and deposited one little black bundle on the doorstep. It was a kitten in distress, birth sack still over its head. One panicky vet stop later we were the proud keepers of an all black kitten. MillieJupiter named him “Black Coat”, what else? We called him BC for short. He was nothing like the other cats that had been with us. His fur was rough. He had a blank look in eyes, never seemed to understand anything. We used a spray bottle with water to keep the cats off the table and prevent furniture from being scratched. BC thought he was getting a shower. In the kitty job game we played, BC was a gym teacher.

Mittens had 2 other litters, a total of 5 kittens and MillieJupiter and a young Booth Boy enjoyed the growing up process of all of them. They went to good homes and after they were gone we lamented that we missed the kitten experienced. Mitty was fixed so she was no help but a neighbor had a cat with kittens and MillieJupiter had one all picked out.

Indy was a long haired cat with some coon cat mixed in. We got him the day of the Indianapolis 500, hence the name Indy. He was by far the smartest cat we had ever had. He learned to give kisses and effectively avoided the other two cats we had. It seems like we only had him a few months but his disappearance still affects most of us.

We had a storm, wind and rain and a pine tree fell across our driveway. When I returned from work that afternoon, I got out the chainsaw to cut it into pieces so that we could use the driveway again. As I was cutting, Indy was sunning himself on a rock wall by the drive. He got up went up the stone stairs, headed I figured to get in the house. We never saw him again. MillieJupiter called his name each morning and afternoon and evening for days but he never returned.

So it was Mitty and BC alone together for a long time. Mitty got all the attention and always wanted more. She would sit on the book you were reading, cover the keyboard of the laptop and look at you with an imploring gaze, “pay attention to me.”

We got a call, during the Christmas holidays of the new millennium. Friends had a stray kitten staying near their house. It was icy and cold and they were feeding it despite the father’s telling them not to and they were taking it into their house on very cold days despite the father’s severe allergies. What’s a bit of sneezing among family? We talked over if we wanted another cat and MillieJupiter and Booth Boy cried about how unfair it would be to Mitty and BC to bring in another cat. So we went on a holiday visit, just to see the kitten. MJ and BB fell in love the minute they saw her. She was a frail looking but healthy grey tiger striped cat. She would climb up on the window sill of our friend’s house and watch them eat dinner, talk about your guilt trips. We ended up taking her home, named her Millie after the millennium and she moved in. She was our first stray.

Mitty hated her because she got so much of HER attention. BC ignored her because he ignored everyone. She hid under Booth Boy’s bed her first night but soon was a happy, playful part of the family. She took a page out of the Mitty school of attention, climbing onto book, magazines and desktop computers with abandon in search of the behind the ears scratch.

She became MillieJupiter’s cat. Slept with her most nights and got terribly depressed when MJ went away to college. When she came home for visits and vacations, Millie ignored her for a couple of days to teach her a lesson but soon they were best pals again. Such was cat life in the wilds of Massachusetts until a new visitor came to stay.

To be continued...

September 11, 2008

"And now for something completely different..."

Booth Boy is my college bound son. He got his moniker as the production master of the Countless Screaming Argonauts Podcast, when he had time and we were relevant to his learning production skillz. . He has now moved on and has started his own video podcast:
Its raw and interesting and reflects the early stages of college life.

Maqz is my podcast partner in the CSA production. He is funny and smart, smart, smart. He did a parody of the Booth Boy production. Check this out too:

Hope you enjoy. If you have a few minutes and want to read more of Maqz, check out this link too:
Maqz's Blog

September 10, 2008

"Cat-alogue: Part 1"

(Did you ever notice that while many people say they are dog “owners,” cat people do not say cat “owner” often. Makes you think about the independent nature of cats.)

This is a history of our family cats. We lost a cat recently and part of the mourning process was talking about all the other cats that have lived with us. Therefore a history of our cats: a cat-alogue so to speak.

We were a dog family when I was growing up. We had several over the years but I never really liked them all that much. Loved them but didn’t see them as part of the family. Perhaps it was the fact that the first one bit me as a child and was sent to “the farm”. Perhaps it was the last one who bit a girlfriend and took a piece out of her lip that required plastic surgery. He went to “the farm” too. Come to think of it, those two farm dogs looked a lot alike. I’m sure they did fine down on the farm.

When I had my own family I didn’t want a dog. We lived in the country and worried more about raccoons than security. But I also like the idea of a pet for the responsibility lessons and the circle of life issues. Thus we decided on a cat as soon as my daughter was old enough.

My daughter, MillieJupiter, was about two years old when we got our first kitten and she inadvertently tortured him as any two year old might. She could always be seen dragging him out from under some furniture by the tail or back leg, carrying him around the house with a stranglehold around his head. I guess she was not quite ready for him. But he was ready for her.

Henry was a great cat. He had a regal and educated look to him. We often played a game in our house trying to decide what kind of job our cat would have had if he was a person. Henry was a college professor. No doubt about it, smart, independent and mellow. Unfortunately, he died so young from some sort of heart defect. A little over a year old, we found him under a bed, unable to move his back legs. A vet trip produced some medication but he died that night. We buried him in the back of the vegetable garden and we all cried for a long time over the loss.

As anyone who has cats will tell you, when one is lost it seems like you need to take on another one soon. It’s not a mourning thing, it is an emptiness thing. You are used to the cat being there, and need to have a cat there. MillieJupiter was ready and so were we and we quickly found Mittens. She was a sweetheart, elegant and affectionate. Of course she needed to learn to be carried by her neck around the house but she didn’t seem to mind and was not the worse for wear. In the kitty job game, she was meant to be a mom, and so we let her.

As a female cat, outside cat, reproduction needs to be considered and we figured Mitty would teach MillieJupiter all about that. She gave us 6 kittens in all, first litter one cat, and second litter two. Third litter three and whoa, let’s get her fixed quickly.

Mitty lived for 17 years. She was in some pain at the end, so thin, and she needed to be picked up onto the bed but she spent her last night resting next to my wife and died in the kitchen near her food bowl. We buried her out in the back yard and we all cried for a long time over the loss.

Side note: Whenever I hear the word “fixed,” in this context I can't help but think of the Gary Larson comic of a dog, excited jumping around the back seat of a car, telling the neighbor’s dog, “I’m going to get tutored…” It gets me smiling every time.

To be continued…

September 8, 2008

Episode #006 - "Junk...Part 2"

Junk…Part 2
I mentioned previously that my dad is a pack rat. Fits the profile, depression child, poor family. Well, it is in my genes too. Not the profile, just the genes. Can’t help it. Like my brown hair and brown eyes, I got that gene. My genetic disposition is not so advanced but it’s there.

My garage is full. Most of the things not useful, at least in their present condition. I have good intentions at heart, just never seem to be able too pull it out. I wanted those flower pots for a deck garden. Sure, I’ll refurbish those bird feeders, I like the birds. Of course we need that scrap wood. Who knows what I can build, or fix, or maintain. Maybe a bird house. Maybe a flower box. That old dorm fridge would make a great wine cooler. I can get that weed whacker fixed. Those wind chimes just need a bit of attention. We might be able to use that pipe someday.

Our closets are full. Can’t close the living room closet without rearranging a few things. My son Booth Boy went off to college recently and his sister MillieJupiter moved into his room. (Yes that is Booth Boy wailing away.) Now, there is a small spare room Booth Boy will sleep in when he visits during the holidays. Hope he doesn’t need the closet space, we already had taken most of it over and in the room changing process too much ground was lost to recover. Plus there is all his sports equipment.

My wife, Mrs. Fabulous, knits. ‘Nuff said. All those knitters out there understand. She has boxes and baskets and storage bins filled with her stash – that is yarn to be used on a rainy day I think, or a snowy day or some other time. Then there are the supplies – patterns and needles and bags and holders and half-done projects and on and on. It’s all pretty well organized but still it’s boxes and boxes of boxes and boxes. She has cordoned off a spot in the living room that seems to grow each and every day. She finishes lots of things – mittens, baby hats, troll dolls (ok, gnomes…), hand bags, scarves and the like. She is even going to knit me a man bag for Christmas, nice man colors like black and grey with some sort of organic button for show. But it all out there.

I too have my collections. Photo equipment, computer parts, craft projects to start or finish. I have a Kiln in the basement waiting for a good home. I manage (or is that mismanage) our family finances. Do you know how much paper that involves? I have boxes of bills paid (and unpaid!) medical notices and the like. I have had some health problems so there are medical supplies. Ms. Fabulous broke her wrist. Add more medical supplies.

When someone dies, we get more. My grandmother dying a few years ago brought several more boxes of memories. Ms. Fabulous lost her father and a sister in the last 8 months. More memories, more boxes, more stuff.

Every once in a while we vow to get organized. Several hours later we have used up a weekend afternoon to create a pile for Salvation Army (Uncle Sal’s!), enough dust from moving things we get allergy attacks, several fights (mostly about helping out)and still way too much junk. We are getting better however thanks to the internet.

We found a website called freecycle/cheapcycle that is area based. The Brookfields in Massachusetts has a group. You post that something is available and people come running to take your junk, I mean those treasures, away. Sometimes when the items are right they can’t get there fast enough. In the last few months we have given away a box of computer books, a tent, car top carrier, bread maker, computer desk (sorry booth Boy, no room in your closet!) There were lots of other things too. Thanks, fellow junk collectors. You have helped me tremendously.

Hopefully next weekend, we will tackle a blanket chest filled with country knick-knacks and a couple of bins in the computer room with books and spare parts and maybe some old programs. Then there is the cabinets under the dish shelves, the hall closet, then spare room closet (Booth Boy sigh of relief), the attic treasures and the garage. Hey did you know you can put a car in the garage to keep it warm and snow free in the winter? Will wonders never cease? I hope someone will want that stuff…

September 5, 2008

Episode #005 "Junk…Part 1"

We are surrounded by it. My garage is loaded to the point of no car entry. Our closets are stuffed to the rafters to the point that doors are difficult to close. We got boxes and boxes of boxes and boxes. We got to do something about it. See my plan in Part 2.

My dad was a pack rat. When his dementia started to interfere with his ability to take care of himself, us kids moved him to a nice assisted living facility. He had one closet. At his home in NYC, he had 8 rooms with almost countless closets. His closets were stuffed to the rafters to the point that doors were difficult to close. He had boxes and boxes of boxes and boxes. We had to do something about it.

My siblings did the yeoman work. I traveled down to help one weekend, but they spent hours and hours picking out the memories, bagging and tossing stuff, doing a garage sale (take it please), tossing more stuff. There was hundreds of the Big Box Store black contractor trash bags dragged to the curb. Hundreds of boxes stacked for the junk man and the city sanitation department. My siblings were saints for doing this, dealing with this mess. I could never thank them sufficiently.

Whenever I tell this story, people always ask what he collected, what we tossed, what we threw away. After I say “everything”, I try to give them an idea of what we are talking about. The following is not a comprehensive or exhaustive list but a list none the less that gives the highlights.

Clothes. Besides clothes that no longer fit my dad, there were old kid clothes from when we were all there. There was clothes from my mother who died when I was a teenager. There was clothing that never belonged to any of us, collected by my parents for unknown reasons. Gone.

Boxes of magazines too numerous to count. My dad worked for more than a decade delivering mail for the US Postal Service in Manhattan. Each day he stopped at the dead mail office and picked up a few magazines to bring home. We read them all and an eclectic collection they were to say the least; Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Sport, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, the list goes on and on. He didn’t throw them out when we were done, he put them in boxes and stacked them in the closets and basement of the house. Hundreds of boxes, thousands of magazines, too numerous to count. Gone.

Pens. My dad delivered to office buildings in the city. He would pick up pens and bring them home. His pockets always had several. First he put them in a cup and then into a coffee can and then into boxes. Black and blue and green and red, ball points and felt tips and markers of all descriptions. Loads of them, boxes of them. Gone.

Sweet and Low and coffee stirrers. My dad liked his coffee. When I was young, it was my job to make him some when he was working around the house on any one of his repair projects. He worked in Manhattan. He visited lots of coffee shops and McDonalds and picked up the little pink packages and stirrers – wood, plastic and the like. Boxes and boxes of them. We had to dump the pink packs because to reintroduce the product into the system would have caused the price to drop precipitously. We could have created our own pink pack depression or at least a glut. Gone.

Tools. My dad was wonderful with his hands, always working on something, fixing something to a fault. He collected tools. If I had a dollar, for every hammer, screwdriver and wrench there was, I’d be lying on a beach in Tahiti right now. Gone.

TV Tubes. If you are a kid, this does not mean much to you but if you are my age, you know that before transistors and chips, there were tubes. My dad repaired TVs for a while and built trays to hold the tubes. The solid state electronics put an end to their need, but not to my dad collecting them. Hundreds, thousands, too many to count. Gone.

I miss the pens. We never seem to have a pen that works around here when I need one. Nothing else. Well I miss reading the magazines. Wish I had some to read. Nothing else. Well maybe the sweet and low.

September 4, 2008

Episode #004 "Don’t do me like that"

I was chatting with a couple of people the other day. One is a friend, the other, more an acquaintance.

The subject moved from the general health questions and concerns (do we always start here) to another favored subject, computers. The friend had recently got a computer for her home and with some finagling, had gone online via a telephone modem. A computer neophyte in this type of setting, she was reveling in her accomplishments (playing solitaire and listening to music AT THE SAME TIME!) and enjoying her new found hobby. She was proud of herself for learning something new and stimulating. That was really neat to see.

The acquaintance, on the other hand, expressed disdain at the computer, proud that she didn’t have one and revealed that she didn’t even know how to turn one on. She was proud of herself for not learning something new and stimulating. That was really weird to see. It is hard for me not to think less of the person resistant to learning the computer. I could not think more positively of the person learning the new skill.

What would cause a person to assume this mantle of ignorant bliss? Fear of failure? A lack of motivation? Not understanding the significant power of the technology? Maybe it’s a combination of these things. Maybe it was none of these reasons but something else. Not wanting to be part of a trend? Wanting to live a simpler life? I don’t think I will ever know. To me this isn’t just about the computer but rather is about a resistance to learning. Would it be any different if this acquaintance had said she didn’t know how to swim or ride a bike and was happy that she couldn’t do these things?

Technology is a tool and like every tool it has its uses and abuses. To simply deny its place in your life, for whatever reason seems narrow-minded and elitist. I would much rather deal with someone who admits that they don’t know much about something but holds a genuine curiosity about it, than someone with the false bravado of being happy that they don’t know and don’t care.

Wake up and smell the printer ink. There is a whole new, cool jewel of a world out there…