Drawing Lines — Morning Confession

Last night I had the idea of writing a book about the great times I had teaching. The title would be, “When I was the Shit*: Great Times in the Classroom.” I thought of some of the stories, too, and it seemed like kind of a good idea, but I think, mostly, I really like the title.

And then I thought, “What about all those times you internally (or actually) disparaged people who wrote/write memoirs? What about all the times you shrugged off suggestions from friends to ‘Write what you know’?” And I thought, “Yeah, I should’a known as soon as I thought unkind thoughts about people who write memoirs that I’d be next.”

It’s a constant with me. As soon as I reject something or disparage something, I will be doing it next. “What do you know, anyway?” says God, “Muahahaha.” Like the daily prompt which, when I started writing a blog on WordPress, I thought was for losers.

Shut up.

A great title is not enough for a book, though — Oh, BTW, I also disparage people who have a title before they have a story. This needs to be said openly so that I can further cleanse my soul in this morning confession. I wish coffee stayed hot longer… Oh, what? A thermo-mug? No I disparage them, too.

***

*Lest you think I’m being vulgar, over the years several students said, “Professor Kennedy, you’re the shit.” Usually this was when they got an A, enjoyed class, got cut a break they didn’t expect, or I did something unexpectedly cool. It was frequently followed by a fist pound and/or secret handshake. You might’ve had to have been there.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/constant/

Minimalism

Sometimes a person has an effect on our lives long after they have gone their way and we have gone ours. A long, long, long time ago I was enamoured of a guy in New Mexico. He was beautiful, smart, and adventurous, and I was me, which is to say, pretty cute but terrified. Still I summoned up the courage (twice!) to visit him. The first time was filled with a chain of small and apparently trivial events that forever changed my life.

It was 1979. I was 27, just out of graduate school. Most of the people I knew were lawyers or on their way to becoming lawyers. I had been working in the development office of the University of Denver College of Law and then got a new job as a paralegal in a law firm that (literally) spawned David Gorsuch. His grandfather was a founding partner.

My friends were all about things. Fancy pasta making machines, elaborate camping equipment that took the camp out of camping, ergonomically designed leather furniture, Brookes Brothers Suits, the whole litany of “Holy shit I’m a successful lawyer now!!! I can have a two-bedroom apartment! Maybe even my own condo!”

As a divorcee living on the income of a secretary, I wasn’t living like that, obviously. One day one of the law students who was clerking at “our” firm said, “What’s with you? You think you’re going to come in here one day and be promoted to attorney?”

I signed up for the Law School Admission Test.

My journey to New Mexico had problems from the start — I awoke to find a flat tire on my car. I had to wait for stores to open so I could replace it. I got a  late start. A few miles after I crossed the New Mexico border, I got a speeding ticket that I more or less flirted my way out of. I had never taken a long road trip by myself and suffered a few sessions of paranoia. I had no music in my car (a ’70 VW bug) only a tape recorder with two tapes, one Donna Summer the other Jane Oliver. Shudder.

I arrived at an empty house where the man rented a room. He was trying to get into medical school at the time and taking organic chemistry. He was a mountaineer who would make an attempt on Everest (North Face, Mallory’s route) in a few years.

There was a note on the back door, “Martha, If you come: I’ll be right back. I’ve gone to the store for groceries.” I was so late, that he thought I wasn’t coming. Back then there were no cell phones and no way to say, “I’m on my way.”

Because I’m a writer, and because back then I hadn’t found my stories, I naturally wrote everything down as if it were fiction, making characters out of the man and myself. For the sake of making it SOMEWHAT fictional, I changed his name to Charlie. We are in Albuquerque. Something like small talk has been exchanged, information about the flat tire, and we are cooking dinner…

***

“Let’s cook dinner.” He opened the sack which contained cheese and two cans of tuna. He handed me the cans and told me to open them, but I, who had never thought of getting my tire repaired rather than replacing it, didn’t know how to use his can opener. I suppose he thought I was some kind of pansy who had used only electric can openers, but that wasn’t the case. My can opener was even more primitive than his.

“I don’t know how to use this.”

“You don’t?”

“No. I never used one like this.”

“Here.” He showed me opening one can. “Now you do it.”

I did it and drained the oil from the tuna into the sink.

“What are you doing with all that good oil?” he screamed. “You’re wasting it!”

“You cook,” I said, and he did, winding up with a tuna casserole we ate with carrot sticks. Then, it was over. Everything had been prepared, cooked and eaten from one stainless steel pot. I loved it. No Cuisinart for this man; no fancy pasta machine. Just one pot, two knives, two spoons.

“That’s great,” I said.

“What?”

“That pot.”

“It’s all they use in Nepal, for everything. Cooking, eating, shopping. That’s what I learned there. You don’t need a lot of stuff. You shouldn’t have more stuff than you need because, one way or another, you just have to carry it around with you. The best thing is a thing you can use in a lot of different ways. So, this pot. I brought back two.” He washed it. “Come on. I have to do something. You can help.” We went into what had been planned as a dining room but was now a study. He sat down at the typewriter.

Next to the typewriter was a model of a molecule. I picked it up and said, “Benzene.”

“How did you know?”

“My husband — ex-husband — was a chemistry major.”

“You’re a writer,” he said, suddenly. “I’m trying to write my application for medical school. Maybe you can figure out a good way to say this.”

“OK.” It was the first time I’d heard that I was a writer. The idea was exciting.

“I need to explain why I want to be a doctor.”

“So why do you want to be a doctor? Maybe if you tell me, you can just write down what you say.”

“I don’t know. Inspiration? Inspiration, I guess.”

Inspiration. Wow. I was knocked hard. No one I knew used inspiration as a reason for anything. Reasons were money, success, prestige. Charlie had beautiful legs, a stainless steel pot and ordered his life according to inspiration. I was very, very frightened.

“What inspired you? Write that.”

“India. When I was in India, I saw so many sick, sick people. You can’t imagine. You want to see some pictures?” he got up from the table and went to his room, and I followed like a puppy. I felt like a puppy. I’d been taken in, fed, disciplined and now I wanted to stay.

“Here.” He handed me a big book filled with pictures. I was behind him, still looking all around me. On the wall was a photo of the Taj Majal. There was the dome, some minarets, a slight haze, a reflection; water in the foreground in which beautiful curves moved, curves like the necks of swans or a woman’s arm, everything your mind visualizes with the words, “Taj Mahal.” But, the curves were the necks of camels, not swans; the water was a lake, not the rectangular reflecting pool; the dome was not centered perfectly between the minarets, but stood to one side. The photograph did everything I believe art should do, force you to turn around and look beyond your expectations.

“I love this picture,” I said with solemn reverence.

“It’s mine,” said Charlie.

“You took it?”

“It took me a long time to get everything just right.”

So, now I had to imagine Charlie sitting on an unknown dusty hill in Agra waiting for things to get “just right” so he could take this picture, develop it, hang it on his wall in Albuquerque so that I, a person he didn’t even know, would see it.

That was the end of any chance for coherent conversation between us.

***

“Charlie” succeeded in getting into med school and is now a doctor. I succeeded in not acquiring a lot of stuff and keeping a comparatively simplified life. It all worked out. And, though I showed up for the Law School Admission Test, in the middle of it I realized I was not the LEAST inspired to become an attorney and I walked out.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/simplify/

Infinitude

I was never very good at arithmetic or math when I was in school. This was rough because my dad was a mathematician. I struggled more, I think, than my parents knew or my teachers knew. Now I know there is a learning disability — discalcula — that makes it difficult for some students to read a number problem. When we got to algebra, I was screwed.

But in 9th grade we had one six-week unit on a different kind of math. I didn’t just love it, I got an A. It was a unit on theoretical math and it included topology. That was completely fascinating to me. Here were bottles that had no inside or outside, maps that couldn’t be drawn (but had been), and the Möbius Strip. I already knew about this wonderful thing because my dad and I had built some.

“Here’s the symbol for infinity, MAK,” said my dad. I loved infinity.

I think my dad must have been happy when I cam home excited about math rather than despairing. I wanted to talk to him about all the cool stuff I’d learned — about Pascals triangle, probability theory, Klein bottles, the whole shebang.

It was our custom to do the Saturday shopping together without my mom. Now I understand it was a way for my dad (who had MS) to enjoy a walk around the grocery store aided by a shopping cart. We had our method. We went up one aisle and down the other. It was an inside joke between us. When my mom was a teacher, she’d assigned the usual fall essay, “How I Spent my Summer Vacation.” Her school was in rural Montana, so she couldn’t have expected much, but one kid wrote. “I hoed beets. I went up one row, and down the other. Up one row and down the other.” He filled the paper with this.

And my mom told this story over and over…

One Saturday my dad and I headed to Bakers (the store). Dad had a list, but we often bought stuff off the list. At the end, it was a race between me and the checker to see if I could keep up with her or even get ahead of her. Back then, prices weren’t scanned, they were punched into the cash register key board.

My dad and I were waiting for the people ahead of us. As the groceries were carried on the conveyor belt, my dad suddenly said, “You know what that is?”

“Conveyor belt?”

“Most conveyor belts are Möbius Strips.”

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I tried to fathom this by imagining a little paper Möbius strip in my mind.

“It has no sides, honey. Remember? By using a Möbius strip as a conveyor belt, no ‘side’ wears out before the other. It wears evenly.”

“Wow.” That this strange stuff was actually useful seemed miraculous to me.

“Still haven’t found a practical use for the Klein Bottle, though,” laughed my dad.

 

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https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/conveyor/

A Candid, Backward Look at Mid-Century American Poetry

Lacking the candor of dogs, I kiss the departing air,” wrote Theodore Roethke in “Praise to the End.’

What does that mean? That he is too inhibited to piss on the hydrant as he passes by? I have never known… Just now I tried to find a way to link the poem to this blog, and all I found were academic papers about the poem. Not the poem. That’s kind of how I thought things might go here in the future.

When I was in high school, Theodore Roethke was regarded as an Important Contemporary American Poet. I don’t know if his work is even taught any more. I know that I believed Miss Cohen and I bought a thin volume and read it back to front. Some of the poems I wrote in those days emulate Roethke and Ferlinghetti. I thought I might grow up to be a poet.

Roethke was not one of the “beat poets” yet rhythm was important to him. When we read his poems aloud, my teacher made a big deal out of this. “Hear it? Hear the 3/4 beat behind his words?” She was reading “My Papa’s Waltz” which is a poem about Roethke getting slapped around by his alcoholic father.

Anyway, since we read Roethke at the same time we were reading “the beats,” they are conflated in my mind — and they are poets of a generation. Of the beats, we mostly read Ferlinghetti. Our teacher mentioned Ginsberg’s Howl, but she made it  clear that it was a questionable piece of literature and had been censored by the Supreme Court. Or something. Not that she objected to that. I got to know her well as a friend, and I’m sure, now, she was following the orders of the Board of Education in not teaching it. Not that Howl makes any sense. It doesn’t. What does is “Supermarket in California” and, especially, “America.”

But time rubs the edges off of horror (as we see daily in the news, that shithole) and by the time I was in my thirties, Howl was required reading in many college and university Intro to American Lit classes. Here’s a photo of West Point cadets reading that unspeakable work.

Gordon-Ball_CadetsReadingHowlBB

Oddly, one day in San Francisco some 40 years after I left high school, I found myself in Ferlinghetti’s old neighborhood, not far from the Haight, my friend and I, hours away from a toilet and in desperate need of a good pee, availed ourselves of a dark corner in a parking structure before we headed down to find Chinese food in North Beach. We, too, lacked the candor of dogs, but in every sense that was a memorable urination and a really good poem.

Still, lines of their poetry linger in my memory. Of Roethke, from his poem, “In a Dark Time,” “What’s madness but nobility of soul At odds with circumstance?”

I will think of this line from Ferlinghetti, In Golden Gate Park that day, a man and his wife were coming along, thru the enormous meadow that was the meadow of the world.”

I’ve been to Golden Gate park and Ferlinghetti exaggerates, but I get the idea, and sometimes, when I’m walking through a field, even at my slough I think of that line. I refuse to be a party to the ultimate nihilism of Ferlinghetti’s poem. It’s cheap, facile, juvenile and useless here in the “meadow of the world.”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/candid/

“Grandma, you WHAT???”

I look at old ladies a lot differently now and, yes, because I am one. It pretty much never occurred to me when I was a whippersnapper that behind the visual static of their wrinkled faces and lumpy bodies might lurk some very interesting love stories. I could be wrong, I think they just weren’t saying.

I’m thinking about this because this morning I’m drinking a marvelous cup of Guatemalan coffee. I ordered two pounds from the Solar Roast people as a birthday present to me and now I’m savoring it.

A long, long time ago in a faraway place known as Denver, Colorado, my then boss introduced me to his college friend. Let’s call him Ed. That wasn’t his name, but it’s a fine name. Ed was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. He walked into our office with the kind of grace you never see anywhere, but maybe particularly not in a man wearing clogs. He was long-legged, had black hair, green eyes, and a beautiful, wide smile.

He noticed (who wouldn’t?) the 2″ x 3″ photo of T. E. Lawrence and Lowell Thomas that was on the top shelf of the credenza behind me, leaning against the wall.

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“I’m reading Seven Pillars,” he said. “Monster book.”

I was stunned. The first love of MY life was T. E. Lawrence. I got a huge crush on him (thanks to David Lean) back when I was 10 and really NEVER got over it.

“Yeah, it is,” I said. “I read it a long time ago.” I was 12 when I read it, but why show off?

It turned out he was as attracted to me as I was to him and an epistolary and telephone love story ensued. He was, at that time, taking courses at a university in Texas so he could apply to med school. He was already 30. He’d been inspired to this decision by his recent expedition (yes) to Annapurna II. Passing through India (passing through India, got that?) he’d been touched deeply by the poverty and illness of the people. And he’d picked up TB.

It coulda’, shoulda’ worked, but as time unfolded it was clear that though we were attracted to each other and had many commonalities, we were not at the same places in life. I was recently divorced and wanted to “see the world.” He’d seen the world and was ready to settle down and start a family. But in the meantime, his career goals (climbing and treating diseases of impoverished Spanish speaking people) took him to Guatemala to study Spanish and climb. He brought back a yard of Guatemalan weaving and two pounds of unroasted coffee beans as gifts for me.

The night before my one-woman painting show in 1981, I roasted them in my oven. They lent their fragrance and flavor to that moment of my life. There’s more to the story, but as an old lady, I’m not saying.

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https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/static/

Cody O’Dog

A few times in my life, I have found myself in abusive romantic relationships. Go on, shake your head. I really did write “timeS.” Two were physically abusive (which goes along with psychological abuse) and one was pure sadistic sociopathic psychological manipulation.

It was during the third that I met Cody O’Dog.

I had recently had my first hip surgery. Before that, I had been obliged to have my sweet husky, Jasmine, put to sleep. She had lymphoma. I was in the middle of rehab, at a cross-roads, walking with two arm crutches and hoping soon to graduate to a cane.

The Evil X was still living with me (it would be a year before I’d eject him).

One evening, about a month after the surgery, I was going through Craiglist looking at dogs. One posting caught my attention. It had a simple headline: YOUR HUSKY. The woman who owned it was living in a battered women’s shelter in north San Diego County. The shelter had an agreement with an animal shelter to house residents’ animals for 3 months. For this dog, the three months were up.

My huskies — Jasmine and Lily — had come to me similarly. The woman who gave them to me had been forced to move into an apartment. Her ex-husband, who had been in jail for beating her, was coming out. She had to get out of “their” house and couldn’t take Jasmine and Lily. As I read the story under YOUR HUSKY, I thought, “That’s the right dog for me.”

He happened, also, to have gotten the attention of the amazing woman who ran a local husky rescue through which I had adopted Jasmine and Lily. She met me and the Evil X at the animal shelter.

YOUR HUSKY was a very large, very beautiful, purebred husky who had once belonged to some movie star and then to the couple. They had used him for breeding with a low-content wolf who was about to be adopted, a sweet girly dog of only 3 years. YOUR HUSKY was said to be three, but he was much older. His name was Cody. He was to belong to the Evil X. The Evil X walked him, but the dog ignored him; his eyes were on me. “You try,” said the EX his extremely fragile and flammable ego in ashes. If the Evil X hadn’t been in public, the dog would’ve gotten yelled at and yanked around.

That was the first time after the surgery that I dropped one crutch and walked. The dog was on my left, my crutch on my right. As we walked around the little park that was part of the animal shelter, the dog watched me and matched all my steps. I knew immediately that he was a spectacular dog. If you know huskies, you know that’s NOT what they do. Their attention, even when they are well-trained, is not usually on a human but on the trail, on the bushes, on possible prey, on their job.

“I want him,” I said. “He’s a very wonderful dog.”

“Really?” said the Evil X. He wouldn’t have known, anyway. The only dog he’d ever had was a Shiba Inu who bit him. (Smart dog.)

“OK,” said the rescue person. “I’ll set that up for you. The shelter has to approve your application and his owner has to approve, but I know she will. I know you two have been in contact. He’s scheduled to be put down day after tomorrow, so I hope we can do all this in time.”

Cody was put back in his cage. That night he went into a health crisis. He refused to get up off the floor and he refused to eat or drink. They took him to the emergency vet who found nothing wrong with him. Everything was done to get him to rally, but he didn’t want to. He’d been in a cage in a shelter for 3 months. I also believe he’d found the person he wanted to belong to, and when he didn’t go home with me, he gave up.

I got the OK to adopt him and we went to get him from the emergency vet, knowing it might not work. We brought him home. He still wouldn’t eat or drink. I cooked him scrambled eggs and rice and fed him from my hand for a few days. The EX — with whom I did not share a room — put a bed for Cody in his room. Little by little, Cody began to regain himself. The only problem he had was Dusty T. Dog, another male between him and his person, me. There were some fights for dominance, which Dusty never tried to win, and, ultimately, I just kept them apart. They were amenable to that so it was (mostly) OK.

Siberian huskies are very special dogs because of their long history of being bred by the Chukchi people of Siberia specifically for pulling sleds and living with people. They were not bred to be watchdogs, but to be helpers to any person. They are friendly and naturally affectionate. They are also very independent because they needed to be able to think for themselves in an emergency. They were bred to be babysitters and they really LOVE little kids. All of my huskies have instinctively cared for the kids who have shown up at my house, but Cody, in particular.

The Evil X’s daughter, Heather, came to visit with her 3 month old son. As soon as Cody heard the baby’s sounds, he was alert, ready to work. The cooing and gurgling and crying evoked an instinctive response from Cody O’Dog. Wherever that baby was, Cody was there, too. It was astonishing to watch. When Heather nursed, Cody lay at her feet. When she changed the little guy’s diapers, Cody watched from close up to be sure she did it right (and possibly to clean up 🙂 ). When the baby slept, Cody kept an eye on him. At first Heather was nervous. Here was a big, wolfie looking dog obsessed with her baby, but soon she understood what Cody felt his job to be. When the little boy got to be three years old, he started bringing home dogs. I think Cody is the reason why.

When things finally began to come to a head between the Evil X and me, Cody was there. One afternoon we were having an altercation in which the Evil X stood too close to me, towering over me, yelling at me. Cody stood up on his hind legs and wedged himself between us. I took the message from that and Cody began sleeping in my room. I called him my “knight in furry armor.”

The Evil X left and our lives changed for the better. Cody and Dusty still had an occasional fracas, but no one was ever badly hurt. They happened at entry points — going in or out of the dog run, in or out of the door. Cody stayed with me whenever I was home. He was a strong, very peaceful, fierce, sweet Gary Cooper of a dog. He was the “good guy.”

In 2010 he traveled with me to Colorado Springs for my 40th high school reunion. It was a road trip. I got him a special cover for the back seat and off we went. It was quite a journey.

Our first stop was a dreadful Motel 6 outside of Cedar City Utah. The room had a nasty vibe, AND I had been driving so long that the room was moving. I went to bed, nervous and apprehensive. The next thing I knew, Cody was up on the bed with me — something that had never happened before — and he was panting, gently, making the bed shake as a baby’s cradle might rock.

We arrived at our destination. I was staying with my niece’ 90 year old grandma who was famous for disliking dogs. But, she had liked my dog Molly when we’d passed through in 1999, so I thought she’d be OK with Cody. She fell in love with him. Cody’s calm presence made her happy. When she’d work in the kitchen, Cody just hung out while she talked to him.

“This is a dog,” she said to the daughter who was then living at home, “Not your little yappy things you have to fuss over all the time.”

During our stay, I took Cody up to see my tree.

Me and Cody and my tree

A day or so after the reunion, Cody and I got back in the car and drove to Caspar, Wyoming on our way to visit my Aunt Jo and Aunt Dickie in Billings, Montana. We stayed at a great motel next to the river and had a long walk that evening before turning in. The next day we got to Billings.

My Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank were astonished at Cody’s size. We went out to the back yard to talk and Cody lay on the grass enjoying the cool, but, in his husky way he was also vigilant.

“Is that what he does?” asked my aunt. “Just lie there? He’s so big!”

“Well, he’ll be up in a flash if there’s a reason.”

Just then an immense red squirrel came over the back fence. Cody was up. Noticing the dog who was NOT supposed to be there, the squirrel made a leap for the front fence.  Cody caught it in the air, rang its neck, and gave it to me. Unfortunately, the squirrel wasn’t quite dead so I had to finish it off. My aunt and I took the squirrel’s body out where some scavengers could reap the benefits.

Cody especially loved my Uncle Hank, and if he had a human counterpart, it would have been my uncle. One afternoon my Aunt Jo and I came home from lunch with Aunt Dickie to find Hank and Cody sleeping on the living room floor, back to back.

The morning we left, I loaded Cody O’Dog into the back seat. Uncle Hank came out to say good-bye to Cody. He bent down and put his arms around my dog, said, “You take care of Martha Ann,” and hugged him. We pulled out and as I drove away, I saw my uncle in the rearview mirror, standing in front of the garage, saluting us. He died the following summer.

Things got back to normal at home for the next year and a half. Life was school, grading, driving and then, in April 2012, Cody started losing weight and having seizures. He went downhill very quickly. On the day he died, it snowed, strange not only for Southern California but for April.

The last little walk of Cody’s life was in the falling snow.

I called a mobile vet because there was no way I could get my 85 pound dog into my car. When she came we laid Cody on the floor in my office, and I laid down beside him. She put an IV in his leg that carried a tranquilizer. I wrapped my arm over my Knight in Furry Armor, and told him he was very ill, that I loved him and that it was OK if he left me. Within seconds of the tranquilizer hitting him, he was dead.

“I think he was just waiting for you to tell him it was OK. I haven’t even given him the shot yet.”

If there’s a Heaven, Cody is sharing it with Uncle Hank. I see them in a well-equipped wood shop where Hank is making things and Cody is lying on the floor. After a bit, they take a long walk and then come home for supper. ❤

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/evoke/

Relate!

Long, long ago in a faraway land known as Denver, Colorado, I loved a beautiful man and he loved me. He was brilliant, funny, irreverent, sophisticated — and primarily gay. He had nice parents, too. His mother was a teacher and his dad a shrink, both lived in Gary, Indiana.

I know you’re singing from The Music Man, now. I can hear you, “Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana, la la,” but please don’t let YOUR singing imply that Peter fit the gay stereotype of loving musical comedy. He didn’t. Still and all, this quotation from the musical says a lot about our lives at the time, “Never let the demands of tomorrow, interfere with the pleasures of today.”

I got to know his father quite well because he often came to visit.

Naturally, as Peter and I were extremely cool and intellectual young people, we lived on Capital Hill. My apartment at the time had a nice pool and sauna. It was a basic 1960s/70s apartment in the faux Spanish style. The stucco on the ceilings in the lobby and hallway was often compared to bat guano, as in, “Why didn’t you open the door? You buzzed me in. You knew I was here, but instead you left me standing out here under the bat guano,” but otherwise it was pretty nondescript. I had a large efficiency apartment with built in bed/sofas. One end of the apartment was a floor to ceiling window looking out on the parking lot. Across the alley and a row of houses, I could see my boyfriend’s apartment, the top floor in a 3 story turn of the century (19th to 20th) converted family home.

One evening, after supper, we all went for a swim. It was the first time I’d met Peter’s father. There was a camera involved — odd because that ONLY happened once. Peter stood on the edge of the pool trying to get both swimmers (heads mostly underwater) into the frame. To do this he yelled, “Relate! Relate!”

I still think that is hilarious.

***

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/relate/

Getting the Boot

“I’m not a toy. I’m your sister!” So said my 3 1/2 year old step-granddaughter to her 1 year old little brother who was suddenly fascinated by her foot clad as it was in a rubber rain boot. I am sure to him it didn’t feel like a sister, but what the heck was it?

She pulled her legs under her, folded her arms around her chest, turned slightly away from him and pouted as she should at 3 1/2. The kid has NO problems setting borders.

This morning Bear (2 years old) was playing roughly with Mindy (10? 11? years old) and I  had to say, “Bear, stopas it was bordering on elder abuse.

I was really tempted to say, “That’s not a toy. That’s your sister!”

When I was the age of my step-granddaughter, I had a book about a little girl who went to the store with her mom to buy boots. Back then (I’m saying back then, good god) we put boots over our shoes, hence overshoes. The little girl and her mom got on a city bus and went downtown. They walked down the city sidewalks to a shoe store and went in. The clerk was eager to help them. They sat down and the mother said they needed new overshoes. The clerk brought out two pairs. Only two pairs. They were identical, but one was red, the other was black. The little girl wanted the red ones. They were VERY lucky that day because by the time they left the store, it had started to rain. Mother pulled on HER overshoes and the little girl had her NEW overshoes, and under mother’s umbrella, they went to the bus stop and then home.

It was a beautifully illustrated book; I remember the pictures even now. They were watercolors that went with the story and the story was told in four or five lines on each page. Both the little girl and the mother wore grey-blue coats and hats, not warm hats, but the kind of hats women wore in the 1950s. The city was not unlike downtown Denver (where I went sometimes with my mom, dad, Aunt Martha) and, as my mother read the story, I could imagine going to Denver and buying overshoes.

But when my turn came, we went to Downtown Englewood ( a LOT closer ) and it was my dad who took me. As MY overshoe story unfolded, it was mixed with the story in the book. I knew what would happen because of the story. We went to a shoe store. My dad asked to see overshoes in my size. The man was eager to help us and brought out three or four boxes of overshoes. I expected two. There were no red ones. All of them were black, some with zippers, some with buckles “Those are for boys,” said my dad and he pushed them to the side. And some  were boots you just pull on.

I was a feminine little thing back then and I chose black zippered boots with fur around the top. I wanted to wear them out of the store — of course — and I strutted down the street on that sunny October day in my new overshoes.

***

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/strut/

Nordic Skis in Canton

In 1982, when I went to China — south China, on the Tropic of Cancer — I took two pair of skis with me. My ex brought his, too. Yes. We were going to ski Tibet. We hauled those skis through the airport in San Francisco, through the airport in Hong Kong, to the airport in Guangzhou, around Guangzhou (Canton), finding a taxi that could carry them to our university north of the city. They sat in our “spare” room for a year. We assiduously kept the wax lingering on the bottom of them from molding during the ENDLESS rains of winter and the soul-sucking heat of the rest of the year.

At year’s end, we hauled them back to the airport in Guangzhou and onto the plane (an Aeroflot) to Shanghai, to the hotel where we were staying and then to the airport from which we returned to America. At that point we also had a large Chinese carpet along with the two footlockers we’d taken in the first place. The airline officials said it didn’t matter what our stuff weighed or how big it was, but we each could have only ONE piece. We found the BIGGEST string bags made in the world and piled all our stuff — skis and all — into these giant string bags that were graciously accepted as baggage.

And so the skis flew back to America with us to be lugged through the San Francisco airport once more, to my ex’s ex’s house and then back to the airport, and from there to Billings, MT (they almost forgot to load my carpet, though, grrr. I stood up and yelled when I saw the baggage cart driving off with my carpet on the top…) From Billings they returned to Denver where they saw a lot of action in the worst winter in decades. Roads closed and they were the best way to get around. Ultimately, they went to San Diego where they saw some good snow but were, finally, given to the Goodwill.

This morning I went on eBay to find skis. I found great skis and good Italian leather boots, barely used, and bindings at an awesome price. Now all I need are poles.

I now think of those perambulating skis as a metaphor for youthful dreams. No one knows when they set out for the ski trip in Tibet how far it is or how convoluted and downright impossible the journey.

My new skis are going to be great for what I will be able to do which is not much as Bear must be leashed and I’m an arthritic old lady. My senior citizen dreams are really pretty much the same as my youthful dreams, though I have a better sense of my own size and scale. I am looking forward to skiing on the local golf course, 1/2 block away. No, they’re not the back-country skis of my youth, but I think they’ll be all I need.

Actually, I can’t wait!!!!

“Life is an Overcoming”

“Life is an overcoming,” said Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra 

I was sitting at one end of the sofa. My very crippled and messed up dad on the other. I was “dad” sitting. He was watching TV and occasionally suffering a leg spasm. I was in high school, going through my sophisticated phase and reading “forbidden” or questionable books. Nietzsche was questionable to my teacher, Miss Cohen for reasons that I think are now obvious. We talked about the book and in it, she explained, came Hitler’s idea of the ‘Übermensch’.

That isn’t what I found at all.

From the first chapter, it’s clear that he has a different view of things, a human centered view. One of the first things he says as he prepares to walk down to the village from the mountain is directed at the sun, “Oh great star, what would you be if not for those for whom you shine?”

And down he comes.

Still no “Übermensch.” I found all kinds of ordinary, simple people and a half-mad oracle. I got the impression that the oracle was a little out of his mind, still, he brought a message of stoicism and hope to the village people (YMCA!) who were struggling with misery and darkness that was, in Zarathustra’s mind, mainly in their heads.

“You tell me your lives are hard to bear, but if it were otherwise, how would you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the afternoon?”

My dad had a more severe spasm and nearly slid off the sofa. I was there to catch him. He motioned to his urinal. I said, “No problem, dad.”

He said, “Errrrwwa errr eading?”

I said, “Thus Spake Zarthustra,” handing him his urinal.

“Werrr ooo ike it?”

“So far.”

My dad finished. I took the urinal to the bathroom, flushed the contents, rinsed it out in the tub. Back in the living room, “Listen to this, dad. It’s beautiful.”

“K.”

I read the beginning, the prologue.

WHEN Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake

of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed, and rising one morning with the rosy dawn, he went be- fore the sun, and spoke to it thus:

You great star! What would your happiness be, had you not those for whom you shine?

For ten years have you climbed here to my cave: you would have wearied of your light and of the journey, had it not been for me, my eagle, and my serpent.

But we waited for you every morning, took from you your overflow, and blessed you for it.

Behold. I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.

I would rather give away and distribute, until the wise among men once more find joy in their folly, and the poor in their riches.

Therefore must I descend into the deep: as you do in the evening, when you go behind the sea, and give light also to the underworld, you ex- uberant star!

Like you I have to go down, as men say, to whom I shall descend.

Bless me, then, you tranquil eye, that can look on even the greatest happiness without envy!

“Isn’t that beautiful, Dad?”

“Es.

“That’s just the beginning!”

“Ayyyknow.”

I loved Zarathustra. I knew nothing about who or what he was supposed to have been, but I liked the idea of his going off by himself to figure out his right relation to the universe. The message of life being “an overcoming” really struck home for me given the situation we — my family — were all living at the time.

As for Hitler, all I could guess  was that he didn’t really understand it. I suggested this to my English teacher, Miss Cohen, and she nodded. “Possibly that’s true, Martha,” she said. “But what horror that misunderstanding unleashed.”

***

So this morning I revisited ZarathustraIt’s still beautiful.

You tell me, “Life is hard to bear.” But for what purpose should you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening?

Life is hard to bear: but do not affect to be so delicate! We are all of us fine beasts of burden, male and female asses.

What have we in common with the rose-bud, which trembles because a drop of dew has formed upon it?

It is true we love life; not because we are used to life, but because we are used to loving.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/overcome/