Monday, February 25, 2008

No country for old men?

Here is yet another Monday morning, and yet another attempt to haul my tired ass out of bed, pour myself into my car, get myself to work.

Someone told me once, "Fifty is the new 40." Meaning nowadays when people turn 50, they are more like people used to be when they turned 40. By extension that would mean that I would feel like a 50-year-old, but no, I feel my chronological age. I remember 50, and it didn't feel like this. Like everything else in our universe my parts are starting to wear out and those parts are letting me know of the wear and tear I've put on them.

I looked on some biographical web sites, and saw that Senator John McCain was born August 25, 1936, which makes him 71. If he were elected he'd be 72, then if he were re-elected and lived out his term he'd retire at 80.

On the other hand, Senator Obama is now 47, so by that sort of logic used with McCain, by the time he stepped down after eight years as President he'd be in his fifties, which means he could start a whole other career, much like Bill Clinton. It also means he'll be on the public dole, sucking down millions each year in Secret Service protection and pension.

I'm a few months older than Hillary, so she'd be barely past the age she could apply for Social Security. Does she qualify? Has she ever paid into the system? It seems, like Obama, she has done well for herself financially, and won't need to worry. Well, none of them will, elected or not.

They probably won't need to sign up for Medicare, either. Unlike civilized countries, which provide health care for their citizens regardless of age, we make our oldsters jump through hoops to get even the simplest care. A great perk of being the President is you don't have to make doctor appointments in advance ("I have serious pains in my chest." "OK, I can schedule you for six weeks from now.") Physicals, tests, you name it, on the house, baby! Come on in to the examining room, no need to take a number! We take care of those folks, but the riff-raff, uh-uh, can't do anything about you folks.

In their own respective ways, I see each candidate as an ideal age for the job; they all have maturity and life experiences. They haven't abused their bodies too bad, not based on what I'm seeing, anyway. It's only us poor working stiffs who've done that, and as I shift around in my chair and feel my aching back start to tighten in anticipation of the heavy work ahead of me for today, I'm made acutely aware of the working, and being stiff.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Scratching a little itch

I've been reading some of the modern paperbound reprints of the Little Lulu comic books of the 1950s. I enjoyed this comic in the '50s, although I'm not sure why buying a comic book about a little girl seemed to be OK, since us boys were mostly into Superman and Batman.

The Lulu stories are more like what kids are really like. Lulu seems more mature and the boys she knows are all immature. Well, they are boys, after all, and boys take a while to catch up. In the Lulu comics the boys hated girls. But I liked girls. If the other boys liked girls they'd never admit it, and truth to tell, I probably didn't either. But there was always at least one girl in any class that I was totally bonkers over, head over heels in love. They were usually petite and blonde, and without exception they thought I was icky.

When I was in 4th grade I was in love, as usual, this time with a petite blonde named Kathy. Kathy sat two rows over and at the front of the class. That placement meant she was a good reader and all around good student. I usually sat in my seat and glanced at her when I got the chance. At recess I managed to hang around the tricky bars, especially when she'd hang upside by her knees. Ah, the sight of those panties…wait, I didn't really notice those when I was 9 years old, did I? I did. I didn't know why I liked the sight of her panties or bare legs, I just did. It took me a couple more years to figure out what the appeal was, but when I did, I was down with it!

OK, OK…so I'm slowly getting to the point. Being a boy I was clumsy in a social sense. Having to talk to Kathy would have been impossible. Like what would I say? Read any good books lately? Watch Playhouse 90 on TV last night? I was a blurter, so if I said anything to her it was probably stupid and wrong. One day we had to write a story. I wrote about my dog. The teacher read the stories at home and then the next day she had a few picked out to read to the class. Not mine, though; probably the first major rejection to my writing. But the teacher said, "Kathy has written the funniest story! It's about a little girl and a witch!" My ears perked up. When the teacher read the story I recognized it immediately as being straight out of a Little Lulu comic book. It was from that month's issue, a story about Lulu and the witch, Little Itch.

Nowadays plagiarism seems like such a nasty word. Hillary Clinton used the p-word with Barack Obama, when he lifted a phrase from a friend of his and used it in a speech without attribution. I didn't know that word, but I knew when someone was claiming something that wasn't theirs. I spoke up, "That story is out of a Little Lulu comic book!" Kathy shrank down in her seat. The teacher stopped reading and looked at her. "Is that true, Kathy?" Kathy muttered something, and the teacher put the story away and started into our arithmetic lesson. Kathy turned to me and gave me the first of many looks I've grown familiar with, the female laser-eye. The laser, emitted from her eyes in a blast of heat and light, immediately took my head from my shoulders, sent it clunking to the floor, where it rolled. And as it rolled, the thoughts turning in my brain like clothes in a dryer were, "Well, I guess that does it for that relationship!"

Actually, I don't remember exactly what I thought, but I probably realized then if I wanted to score points with chicks a good idea was to not accuse them of something in front of a teacher, even if I knew it was true. Sure, I had the moral high ground, but I didn't have the babe. When it comes to women, sometimes the omission of truth isn't as bad as a lie, but a lie is sometimes necessary, even if it is to ourselves.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Keep your head

Does this look like a headless guy blowing snow? It does to me. I keep looking at it and thinking of "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow."

I had a thing about that story when I was a kid in the 1950s. Walt Disney ruined my sleep for years, because that cartoon scared me when I saw it originally. As a little kid I didn't understand the story, didn't know the Headless Horseman was a trick played on the old schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane. When I was 12 and saw it again I understood it, and ha-ha-ha, it seemed funny then. I still think it's one of Disney's best of the shorter cartoons. Character design, pacing, drawing, and Bing Crosby narrating. But it gave me nightmares for a long time.

The guy up top with the snowblower reminds me of some old saying, "Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do the dead know when we dream of them?

My wife's father died in 2002. She told me a few months ago she'd had a dream about him. She also told me, "I believe dead people talk to us in our dreams." My wife and I are not religious in any sense of the word, and frankly, I never think about the subject of life after death. I'm of the opinion, well, someday I'll see one way or another, won't I? If I don't wake up in a lake of fire or to the sound of harps I'll probably figure it wasn't worth worrying about, and if I end up in either place I'll think, "Uh-oh. I shoulda paid attention when I was a kid in Sunday School."

Ah, but I digress. This past Sunday morning I woke up early from a dream about a deceased coworker. Jan was a custodian. She had worked herself up to a top job in the school district where we work. She was in charge of the entire complex--a former hospital--where our district offices are now located. She had a whole staff and was busy all of the time, both with helping other people and with her managerial responsibilities.

Jan was the proverbial diamond in the rough, laughing, smiling when pleased, but you also knew when she wasn't happy. Jan could be sensitive, or she could tell you dirty jokes. I met her in 1995 when she was 30, a rover custodian. She would go from school to school, filling in for custodians who were out sick or on vacation. Jan didn't have more than a high school education, but she was an extremely hard worker. She got noticed and made her rise to the top.

Jan was married at age 19 to a man 24 years her senior. She had met him at Alcoholics Anonymous, where they were both still active. Jan's sobriety was something she was proud of.

One day last year Jan made a left turn in an intersection and was broadsided by a dairy truck. Before she left work that day her assistant told her she should take a nap because she was completely exhausted. Jan was in a coma for about a week and then they pulled the life support. Hundreds of people in the school district felt like they had lost a dear friend. Jan was my friend. I met her first, then my wife Sally met her, and they became friends. They went to lunch together every couple of months.

On Sunday morning I had a dream about Jan, but I can't remember what it was about. It woke me up and I thought about it until, like smoke, it evaporated and I went back to sleep. Then I dreamed Jan was standing behind me as I was sorting mail on my work vehicle. I turned and saw her. She was wearing a blue t-shirt, had her arms crossed, and she looked just like she did when I met her years ago. I told her, "Jan, I have really, really missed you." She replied, "I know. You had a dream about me earlier this morning."

My thought to that was, "Hey! People who've died can tell when we're dreaming about them!" That woke me up, too. I told Sally about it later, and reminded her of what she'd told me about believing the deceased talk to us in our dreams.

As I was typing that previous paragraph a memory came back to me. My dad died in December 1967. Forty years ago, after his funeral, I went back to my Army station in Nuremberg, Germany. By that time I was engaged to Sally. I dreamed about Dad. He was standing on the other side of a fence. Behind him was an amusement park. He said, "Why don't you come on over the fence and join me." I responded, "Well, if you don't mind…I think I'll stay here with Sally."

So, was I talking to the departed spirit of my dad? Was I talking to the departed spirit of Jan? I've known a lot of people who have died and never dreamed of them. I don't remember a lot of dreams, though, so those I mentioned have stuck out in my mind. My rational mind tells me it's all just memory, some sort of peculiarity of the brain, putting people who meant something to us back in our heads during the dream state. As much as I think that's true there's the other side of me that wants to believe that, yeah, it's nice to think that maybe I got a chance to tell Jan I miss her. I also got a chance to tell Dad that my life would be better spent with Sally than on his side of the fence. They are comforting thoughts.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The play's the thing...

Bill Bryson, like the subject of his biography, Shakespeare The World A Stage, is a writer of great skill. You want to take every sentence, every paragraph, and linger over it. Bryson is funny and erudite, and his subject matter is always fascinating. My favorite books of his have been A Walk In The Woods and In A Sunburned Country, which have subject matter widely distant from one another, and at least as distant as his biography of William Shakespeare.

Just shows, to paraphrase the Bard, "All the world's a book, and Bryson merely writes it."

Bryson's bio is part of a series of short biographies--for modern short attention spans?--Eminent Lives, edited by a man with the wonderful name of James Atlas. What Bryson does is tell us all that is known of Shakespeare, and according to this book, not much is known about the most famous writer in the history of the English language. There are things that are written down in the contemporary records, but most of what we know about Shakespeare is misinterpreted information, guesses, deductions made from his writing, or out-and-out fabrication.

What this book does is present Shakespeare in context of his times, which sounds boring, but isn't. England during the Elizabethan era, with its plagues and pestilences, court intrigues and wars, was anything but boring. Bryson paints a vivid picture of life in London which sounds to modern sensibilities like the Seventh Circle of Hell. Life was short and brutal.

Bryson devotes the last chapter to the folks who think Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare, but one of a laundry list of different royals or playwrights of the era. The people who follow up these theories, crackpot as they might be, are the same folks among us today who cherry pick the information about 9/11 and come up with their own conspiracies and plots. Their stories all sound good, but they fall apart under scrutiny.

Bill Bryson is the most interesting author at work today, and in this case is talking about the most interesting author of all time. We probably know more about Bryson from the dust jacket biographies of him than we do about Shakespeare, but what little we know about Shakespeare is told as entertainingly as possible in this book.


I believe if Shakespeare were alive today he might be writing for the HBO series, The Wire. Unlike the Sopranos or Six Feet Under, The Wire doesn't fall into the doldrums those series fell into as they gasped out their last episodes. Where The Wire has succeeded is by including in each season a major plot involving some aspect of life in Baltimore. In Season Two it was the dockworkers, in Season Four it was the school system and a group of students, and in this, the last season, the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

The characters in The Wire are Shakespearean. The major players, the police, are actually the least interesting. The most fascinating characters are people like Bubble, the junkie trying to clean up, Marlo Stanfield, the druglord working with the most murderous pair of hitmen ever presented on TV, and the best of all, Omar Little, the gay stickup man who goes solely after drug money.

Michael K. Williams as Omar

All of these characters are deeply flawed by their criminal lifestyles, but are also understandable as being part of the environment of life on the streets in Baltimore. When I mentioned above that Bill Bryson's description of Elizabethan London read like the Seventh Circle of Hell, that's also true of the representation of life in the inner city of Baltimore. I don't know how the Baltimore Chamber Of Commerce feels about this series, but they couldn't be happy.

Like Shakespeare, the dialogue can be maddening and non-understandable, the plots can twist and turn around until they show their true purpose, but like Shakespeare the play's the thing: While you're watching The Wire you're watching major drama that builds until the ultimate conclusions, then leaves you walking away shaking your head, thinking, "Man, I'm glad I stuck that out!"

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

It's Super Tuesday, folks. Time to get out, get off our lazy carcasses and start making a difference.

I don't have to, since I've already voted. Sally and I are on the permanent absentee ballot voting list. In 2004 we requested absentee ballots since we were going to be out of town on election day. We got a letter from the county clerk asking if we wanted to make that situation permanent and we said, sure, why not? Anytime I can sit in my kitchen and mark an X on a ballot and not have to go out to a polling place is OK with me.

I've heard all the talk about needed change, about taking new directions in America. I'm a natural-born cynic; if Democrats win they're in for a tough time, and if Republicans win then vice versa. I don't operate under any illusions that there will be much real change in our country. The majority of people might want change, but they want it to benefit them, and that's understandable. But it means different things to different people and groups.

The whole thing with the war seems insurmountable but it's not. I'm concerned that whoever gets in will inherit the worst bloody mess since Vietnam. Remember Nixon's promise in '68 to get us out of Vietnam? Remember it took him five years to do it? If Americans really want to get out then we'll get out. How much worse can it make us look in the eyes of the world than we already look? Then, as a nation we must repeat the mantra: We will not invade other countries. We will not invade other countries. We will not invade…

Remember, if there is voting in your area, get your finger off the mouse and go vote.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hey, ya think?

I don't know about God's wrath, but I sure do know about Mother Nature's...the snow the past week has been relentless, and the weather report for the week to come shows snow, snow, and more snow! C'mon, Ma! Let up on us!