The question this morning is watch or don’t watch the impeachment hearings. I tuned in for 30 seconds and watched Devin Nunes make several sweeping comments of blistering inaccuracy, the usual, that the Mueller investigation was a hoax, yada yada, climaxing (for me) in the statement that the Democrats are investigating Republican collusion with Ukraine.
Here we go. I tuned in because on my Twitter feed some guy complained that the hearings had been embellished with theme song and fancy graphics. I had to see that, remembering (as I do) the first Gulf War for which a theme song was written. I didn’t see that (watching PBS) but I believe it. Looking for a graphic for this post, I found one graphic (see featured image) that confirms what the guy wrote.
Blogging. A couple of days ago I realized that I have been spending my morning hours on this and I began to wonder if that was what I really wanted to do. I’m still not sure. I have more than a thousand posts here and several hundred more on Blogger from the “old days.” I love my “neighborhood” here, but I feel I might be at a crossroads about what I want to do with these precious morning hours and the coffee…Oh the coffee.
So, if you don’t see me for a while (or?) I’m fine, and all is going well (so far). Just taking a break.
After getting punched by a dirt road yesterday, I seem to have awoken to this shining day not much worse for wear. Roads appear to be, overall, inert, passive, and mostly helpful, but you never know when you might suddenly find yourself road wrestling. All you can do is hope for the best. I suggest you think twice before sending someone that famous Irish blessing about the road rising to meet you. It might not work out like you want it to. My poor judgment yesterday seems to have left me none the worse for wear.
A couple of nights ago I dreamed about a man who was in my life back in 1981/82. It might have been meant to be a great love story, but the timing was wrong. In a vague way, I was looking for something. I didn’t really know what, but it wasn’t love. I thought I was looking for the world, for adventure, for a reason for my life. He, having had the world and having had adventure, in which he’d found the reason for his life, was looking for a wife and family.
Then, too, like most of the men who’ve been in my life, he was pretty inarticulate. Of course, at the time, I thought I was articulate, but I wasn’t. I was at least as inarticulate as any of them. We groped toward each other, but I think we knew (partly from the words we actually managed to exchange) that we were ships passing in the night. He was a wonderful man, really everything I could have wanted if I’d wanted a life partner. But I felt that my horrible first marriage had stolen 6 years of my life. I was focused on what I’d missed out on, even without knowing what that was. And, I was always ambivalent (to say the least) about having children.
It seemed that the dream was about making amends. Sometimes we hurt people inadvertently in our rush to get on with our lives. Because the dream was filled with a very broken house we’d bought (??? don’t ask me. It was a dream) and various other dream-driven quotidian crises, the opportunity to talk never arose. I woke up thinking I should tell him things.
But what? I thought about that yesterday. I doubt I’m going to hunt him down for the purpose of telling him whatever things my dream told me I should, but I realized how much I got from knowing him. At the time we met, I was recently divorced, an escape from an abusive marriage that left me afraid of men. I was also nearing the end of a relationship with a gay guy who was also my best friend and, possibly, my life’s great love. My life was interesting, but it didn’t feel real; it didn’t feel like it belonged to me. Something about it was off but I had no idea what. I was lost. I was struggling to make my life right, but I didn’t know how.
I’d heard of this man — he was a college friend of my boss — and even read one of his letters, sent from India. In the letter he wrote about how he’d finished his expedition up Annapurna II on which he was a support climber. He was wandering through northern India and probably on his way back to the US soon. He sent my boss a breathtaking photo (he was a professional photographer and filmmaker) of a snowy high mountain trail with a single line of footprints. It evoked a dream I’d had and, for that reason, was kind of eerie.
A few months later he showed up in the office. No man had ever affected me like he did. From our first meeting, I’d have followed him anywhere. He was beautiful, graceful as a cat, soft-spoken. We began a correspondence and, months later, I went to visit him in Albuquerque. It was a strange visit — but during that trip, he showed me photos and books of the places he’d traveled, snowy mountains, long walks, trails, far away towns filled with faces that usually looked out at me from National Geographic Magazine. He was in the process of applying for med school and when I asked him why, he actually thought about the question then, answered, “Inspiration, I guess.”
I doubt it was his intention, but he confirmed and intensified my wanderlust, turning it from mere yearning into determination. He’d also decided from the (innumerable) letters I’d written him (a pile that he called “the archive”) that I was a writer. He was the first person (other than my dad) who said to me, “You’re a writer.” When I left his house the next day (yeah) after we had gone to the balloon festival, I was a lot less lost. I knew I was a writer, and, the next morning I immediately sat down and began writing seriously. I also knew that without mountains and trails, some kind of exploration, my life was empty.
Not all that long ago a former student (10 years younger and a friend) wrote me some long, passionate, love letters. Where they came from I had no idea. I found them confusing, but lately I’ve realized that he means that our time together (hiking, talking) inspired him to do most of the things he’s done in his life. He, too, is a world-class mountaineer. He’s written three books about his life and adventures. I’ve read bits and pieces of them (it’s difficult reading Italian). He put the credit for all his adventures on me, on the things we did together long ago, on the fact that we’re still in contact. Then I came to understand that what he meant was not “I love you,” but “You inspired me.” I wonder if our lives are not a chain of that, if we’re lucky, we are inspired by others and inspire others in turn?
It’s 4:15 am and my room is completely silent. The noise machine off. The humidifier off. The space heater? SPACE heater? Sabotage! My first thought. Anarchists, no, wait, I’m an anarchist. COMMUNISTS, no, not communists. That’s absurd here in the far west, back of beyond. Could be a posse of REDNECKS, no wait, I’m living in so-called redneck country, and they’re all really nice. I even kind of fit in. Then it hits me…
THERE IS NO OTHER REASONABLE EXPLANATION!!!
Aliens are common here in the San Luis Valley. There’s even a tourist trapUFO Watch Tower where people can camp out all night waiting for aliens.
I hunker down in bed. Better not let them know that nothing wakes me up as quickly as ABSOLUTE SILENCE. There’s no way I’ll sleep. After living for so long in the brittle mountains of fire-prone California, nothing is more sinister or scary than the absence of electrical power. I get up again. Cold room. I look out the window. No lights. At 4 am here? NONE of these (other) old people with whom I’m surrounded are up YET? What’s going on with them? Have they been abducted???
I walk to the kitchen, barefoot. I look at the stove. Where there should be a conspicuous absence of numbers, it reads, “4:22.” The same as my cell phone. A little later it reads, “4:23.” WTF? I try a light switch. Nothing.
What does this mean???
With the dim glow of my cell phone, I look for my flashlight in the drawer where it is alleged to repose. A lot of useless stuff but no flashlight.
In the living room window are the battery operated Christmas “candles”. Since it’s not Christmas, they are switched onto their off position, and I flip their little switches. In the comfort of their bright glow, an actual thought wafts through the rational part of my brain.
What if the electricity ISN’T off? What if your neighbors are sleeping in until 5:00? What if your heating devices tripped a circuit breaker?
“Merde,” I think, not wanting to get dressed and muddle my way through the mine field of dog excrement, holes and stumps of lilac bushes between me and the electric panel for the house. “You must,” whispers the rational side of my brain. “You want coffee.”
“Why in the name of God don’t I have a gas stove?” I think.
“You’d better get a propane camping stove for emergencies like this,” says the rational part of my brain. “And never never buy whole-bean coffee again. It could be ugly some morning without electricity.” You can see who the leader is, though…
Meanwhile, Bear and Teddy have ascertained that any aliens who might have been roaming the property have been scared away (or now inhabit their bodies, who knows). I get dressed, carry the two Christmas candles in one hand, slip on my gardening Birkis, grab the snow-shovel for balance and head into the mine-field. Miraculously avoiding the hazards, I reach the breaker box, open the cover and see a feeble red light on the circuit that seems to run the whole house. I flip it off, wait a second or two, and flip it on.
I won’t know until I’m back inside if it changed anything, but… A couple of neighbors have woken up. Lights are on in their houses.
So…the kids came over yesterday afternoon with their mom bringing Halloween cookies they’d made. There was much hugging and telling of stories. At one point, Connor found a pile of leaves I’d raked and stood there and threw them into the air so they’d fall on him and his sister. His sister got a little annoyed, but not much, and shook them out of her hair.
I was involved in a talk with their mom, so I only watched Connor out of the corner of my eye. Still, I have a clear image of a little boy in a blue jacket tossing yellow leaves toward the sky.
One of the things the kids do in their own yard is run, racing cars that are passing by. Since I live by the highway, cars go faster, but Connor was giving them a good run.
I’ve always been a kid magnet. I was thinking about that last night and I remembered something in an essay by Larry McMurtry in his collection of essays about the West, In a Narrow Grave. He wrote about an uncle he’d had that all the kids followed everywhere. He described him as an adult who, the kids sensed, had never quite grown up. I know that’s true of me. Maybe that’s why I never felt I would be up to the job of actually raising them.
But kids, like musicians, need appreciators too.
Yesterday as I sat down on the stoop in front of my house so I’d be at “kid height,” I was hit by a memory of some other kids, Kaye and Phi. Their parents were Vietnamese refugees. The years were 1988/90. My ex and I were living in our house in the “barrio” which then was largely populated with people who were living in Section 8 housing and people who’d lived on that street for decades. It was a “hood” in transition. The old-timers were white and Mexican. The new-timers were Asian and African American. Over the years, racial gang warfare escalated in in the hood and throughout the city (originating in the hood). But initially, it was pretty calm.
Kaye and Phi were twins, six years old, but Phi had been born with a disability — her legs were crooked and did not grow at the same rate as the rest of her body. Over the years she had surgery to straighten them, but she would always been extremely short. Kaye spent a lot of time at my house. She wanted to assimilate, to belong. She was very bright, and by the time she was seven, was doing a lot of translating for her mother.
I was still missing China and looking at their house (there was one house between our houses and their house faced my front yard) comforted me. Shoes lay outside the front door. Bok Choy dried on strings tied from the side of the house to the back fence. When New Years came, red papers with characters were glued to the sides of the door and a bright red diamond of paper with a door guardian was glued to the door itself. Working in the front yard, I could hear the family talking among them selves, and I loved that. Vietnamese sounds — to me — a lot like Hainanese, the dialect spoken by The Old Mother to her son, my best friends in China. Kaye couldn’t have known this. What she did know was that she was completely welcome at my house and I didn’t find her Vietnameseness in the least alienating.
Every morning the little girls walked to school — a walk that involved going up the street, turning left, walking four blocks to the liquor store, turning left and walking another block. Most of the kids in my hood walked to school. Everyone’s parents worked two or three jobs. How else were the kids going to get there? I am sure at school she experienced ostracism and bullying for being Asian.
Their grandfather lived with them. He had, apparently, experienced something pretty horrific during the Vietnam War. Most of the time he sat calmly outside the front door smoking, but once in a while he lost it completely and would jump up and down yelling, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” in an inconsolable rage. I thought it was funny, but maybe that was just me. But think about it. It is a pretty funny image. His son would bring him into the house.
Finally the family (by working and working and working) saved enough money to move into a better neighborhood with better schools. Kaye and Phi came to tell me goodbye. I sat on the steps leading to the side door of my garage and we talked. I told them it would be better. That our neighborhood wasn’t very nice and she would have better teachers where she was going (Mira Mesa one of the Asian ghettos of San Diego). Just before she left Kaye gave me a little piece of note paper. On it she’d written,
That note stayed on my refrigerator for years. It reminded me of a really great little girl and that being nice was a good direction to take with people in general. Not a very deep message and yet profound in its simplicity.
I’ve virtually been a shut in now for the better (better?) part of six weeks. Even cleaning the dog poop from the back yard has been challenging because of the uneven ground. Now the foot is actually approaching being truly healed. I suspect that’s the most vulnerable time for a sprain, so I’m being cautious. I’m pretty sick of it, though. I’ve even passed the point where I miss taking out the dogs — I look down the alley at the golf course and points beyond and it just seems so far away. Meantime, the Bike to Nowhere and I have gone on some brammer rides in European mountains. It’s not the same as walking out in the world, but it’s been OK.
A friend of a friend has been struggling with alcoholism. Well, he hasn’t been struggling. He’s fine, anesthetized and numbed. His friends have been struggling. He’s lost his apartment. A posse of allies moved his stuff into storage for him and then there was, “Where does he go now?”
Naturally no one wants him to live with them. The man is at the point where it’s literally quit or die. He’s physically disgusting and unable to care for himself. The talk was “Assisted living” “Rehab” “the hospital.” He did go to the hospital yesterday after the social worker and his friends staged an intervention. The hospital treated him, but released him. There is no room in hospitals for alcoholics. “He needs to go to a shelter,” said the nurse/doc someone. Naturally, his friends were outraged at the hospital, but where else would he go? Then my friend learned that all the detox facilities connected to the hospital are full. The hospital had no where to send him but the shelter.
It hurts so much to learn that the “system” doesn’t (apparently) care for the person who means so much to you. It isn’t immediately obvious that the “system” is overburdened by substance abusers. Hospitals don’t have beds for alcoholics. Hospital beds are for sick people or injured people. People who can be helped.
My friend is naturally outraged that the “system” doesn’t step up and save her precious friend. Because the users have abdicated the use of their rational mind and are in the power of whatever substance drives their lives, to the experienced eye, users are not fully human. That sound horrific, doesn’t it? But daily life logic and rationality don’t exist in alcoholic reality. A rational mind would say, “Whoa, my drinking caused me to lose my apartment. I’m up shit crick. I’d better stop drinking.” Some alcoholics might immediately make this connection; some won’t. Who knows? In my experience, as soon as the alcoholic sincerely moves toward sobriety, he/she reassumes their full humanity and thousands of hands reach out to help them.
It’s the saddest thing I know. Keeping my brother housed was a constant concern for me. In the early 90s, he got married to a girl who’d loved him since high school (some 20 years earlier) my mom said to me, “I don’t know. Do you think we should tell her?” meaning should we tell her that sooner or later the bubble is going to burst and all hell will break loose? We’d both suffered that with him. We decided not to say anything. Who could say but what all my brother needed was a good woman, a nice house and life in California? I didn’t think his wife would believe us, anyway, love being blind and all that. What we really felt was that — for however long it lasted — my brother was somebody else’s problem.
My own personal experience trying to rescue my brother taught me a lot of hard lessons, and the biggest lesson I got from it is that the alcoholic might be suffering but his/her suffering is NOTHING compared to the suffering of those who love him/her and want to save him/her. Even if the alcoholic goes into detox and rehab it doesn’t mean he/she will stay sober. The family/friend’s hope soars and then? My brother was in three serious residential rehab programs — for which I paid (and yeah, I resent that) — and ultimately he died of alcoholism.
For more than a year I worked with a friend — former junky — counseling families of users. Over and over I experienced how it’s almost impossible for the sober person who loves the addict to wrap their head around the reality that no one can do anything until the alcoholic/addict makes a sincere effort to do something on his/her own behalf. You KNOW that alcoholic/addict is incapable of making decisions, and his/her life is totally out of control. How can he/she do anything? You — the sober person — MUST do it for them but wait…
It’s not your job to live their lives for them. We are all compelled to live with the consequences of our choices. Why not the addict?
That serenity prayer is right on, more for the friends and family than for the alcoholic, maybe, especially at first.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The wisdom part is the key, especially for friends and family. While I was attempting to help my brother, I dismissed this prayer. “Yada yada,” but then one day I paid attention to it. “The wisdom to know the difference.” Damn. Since then, it’s been one of the guiding principles of my life. “Can I change this? Is it my job?” is a useful question.
It’s so hard to let go of wanting to control the outcome. There’s this completely unreliable (and needy) person in front of you, someone you love, and, at a certain point, to a large degree, you have to let go and let the unreliable person blunder through the darkness. And you just pray he moves toward the light of a sober life and all the things that offers, means, one of which is…
You really want your friend back. It hurts that he/she might not want you as much as he/she wants booze. In a way, it is that simple, yet far more complicated. The alcoholic has a relationship with alcohol that’s become almost symbiotic. Alcohol becomes a kind of entity preying on the alcoholic, and the alcoholic lives for the numbing effects of alcohol — a kind of demonic possession that ultimately kills the “host.”
In my recent, temporary, house-bound life, I’ve been alone most of the time. I’m mostly OK with it. In going out with the dogs, I always saw and talked to people, or I saw and (talked to) the river, the mountains, the birds, whatever was there. We yearn for the companionship of others and the outside world. I might yearn for that less than many other people, but I can feel the absence of it after nearly two months of semi-isolation. Isolation can do weird things to your thoughts.
My friend’s friend is alone. I don’t think that’s his optimal living situation. I don’t know him well, but he seems to me like the kind of guy who would like to be part of a partnership, a guy who’d probably do better with people around him. Loneliness + alcohol = kills a lot of people. I hope my friend’s friend finds a community to help him. And, strangely, that’s one of the purposes of shelters.
“I’m sorry I ate Bear’s food, Martha,” says the mini-Aussie after being punished for purloining a bowl of food that was meant for Bear a giant breed dog, his big sister, his friend. And Bear? Thinks she’s being punished, too. She comes toward me, her right lip curled in her particular facial expression of submission.
“It’s all-right, Bear, but if you don’t guard your dish, Teddy WILL eat it and he doesn’t need it.” She dips her head. Until she senses that happiness is restored between Teddy and me, she won’t relax. She also knows I’m not really angry. It’s about disciplining the puppy.
I feed her and she eats. Teddy stares at her bowl, completely unfazed by his recent “negative experience.” He’ll eat Bear’s food again if he gets the chance.
Dogs and food. One of my huskies was killed over the crust of a ham sandwich that fell on the kitchen floor. It happened in seconds. My year old Labrador retriever knocked out Cheyenne’s canine tooth and slit open her throat. It was the saddest interval in my years of living with dogs. Another sad event happened over food, too. Reina, my Aussie some time back, got in a fight with Lily, another husky, while I was teaching. I came home to a Lily who needed surgery and a Reina who was sorry, but had to be rehomed. She lives with a friend of mine, and she’s STILL sorry, and I still love her. Bear is neither of those dogs. She will GIVE Teddy her food.
Dogs act out in a moment. Perceived scarcity can set them off. “She has what I don’t.” “There’s only ONE crust of a ham sandwich. I’ll starve if I don’t eat it.” Humans are no different. I see the great divide in this country as being based on one group reacting against what they perceive as scarcity.
I know we’re not supposed to ascribe human motives to animals, but from my point of view, we’re animals and ascribing emotion-based motives to us or to them is likely to be correct.
Bear is NOT going to fight Teddy for food. She WOULD fight an enemy to protect him (and me). My huskies preferred not to fight, but they could be pushed and if they were pushed, there were two levels. One was a simple dominance thing that looked bad but never led to serious injuries.
My male husky — Cody O’Dog — was extremely intelligent and fierce in this way. He couldn’t abide Dusty (a male dog who was “there first”) and he never liked or trusted the Evil X. He and Dusty had a few tussles and they each came away with bites on the back legs, nothing serious. As for what he would have done to the Evil X? I don’t know but it might have been ugly.
The next level for dogs is fighting to the death, and no one expected a Labrador retriever to be a killer — but she was. Everyone would have expected my husky/wolf hybrid to have an amped up level of ferocity — and she did. She was a murderous beast. But, other than her breeding, she’d also been used a breeding bitch, had known hunger and her loyalty to me was absolute, intense. She hated it when I was not there and would act out. She never made friends with her “pack mates.” I was her pack, her whole world.
There’s that “pack mentality” thing, and maybe dogs have such a mentality, but to differing degrees. Siberian huskies absolutely do NOT like living as only dogs, but Bear, an Akbash, a livestock guardian dog, is an essentially solitary being as are all her breed, bred to spend long periods of time out in the middle of nowhere watching sheep. She needs “alone time.” I think of the Basque sheepherders of Montana who, with their sheep-wagon and their dogs, also live months at a time in the high country without any other people around. Could everyone do that? Why am I here instead of in some big city?
I suspect we humans are also made up of different intrinsic “breeds.” No, I’m not making a pitch for eugenics. I just suspect that nature and nurture can work together to make a husky/wolf mix human or an opportunistic, loving, grateful little guy like Teddy or a gentle, humorous, protective being like Bear. Certain nationalities are renowned for certain traits — the little fighting Irishman? That was my dad and, uh, uh, uh…
Innate intelligence seems also to be a factor in this diversity. Bear is unlike any other dog I’ve owned. Her intelligence (part of her breeding as a livestock guardian dog) leads her to be gentle, very patient and “kind.” She shows enthusiasm and curiosity, but training her to do “tricks” (which Teddy thrives on) is a challenge. A trick I’ve taught them is to go “down” on the count of three. “One, two, three,” and Teddy goes down. Bear goes down on “One.” Not only does Teddy go down on “three,” he will not go down on “One, two, five” or “One, two, seven, twenty-three, forty-one, three.” It has to be “Three” in the right place. Teddy wants the treat but somewhere in his mind the procedure must be executed correctly. He’s a law and order guy except when it comes to filching food.
Meanwhile, Bear tries again and again (smirking inside?) or chills on the floor beside him, knowing a treat is coming sooner or later. Which dog is smarter? Bear is a lot more pragmatic. Teddy seems to have “book smarts.”
BUT…Bear has never known hunger. I think Teddy has. When I adopted him, he was skin and bones. He was found tied up in front of a 7-Eleven. How long had he been wandering? How long before someone caught him? His collar was too small — it could have been a while. When my friend Lois was walking him, he was always looking back, worried that I wasn’t there. Why?
Teddy fetches, puts the ball in my hand, and returns with it, prancing like a puppy. He loves it when the ball is difficult to retrieve so he can solve a problem and return to me with great pomp and circumstance. Meanwhile, Bear leans against me, a little jealous but basically knowing that Teddy’s tricks are irrelevant in the grand scheme of scaring off cougars and bears.
I think all this can be extrapolated to people. While dogs are dogs, and people are people, there’s the thread of animal nature weaving through all of us.
“Jordan, sweet boy, I”m right here. I’m right here. Tell me about your dream.” Tom lifted the little boy out of his crib. Jordan needed to have his crib converted to a toddler bed, but Tom had put it off. “I’ll do that tomorrow,” thought Tom, holding his son to his shoulder. Jordan’s sobs slowly subsided and he put his thumb in his mouth.
“Look under the bed, sweetheart,” he said to Miranda. “See if there’s a door.”
“I might not be able to see it, Daddy, if it’s Jordan’s door.”
“Good God. You can’t expect me to believe that trolls have some kind of exclusivity in the construction…” he stopped. He was talking to his five-year-old daughter, not arguing with his wife.
Just then Joan’s nurse — a brisk, cheerful Filipino woman — came out of Joan’s room.
“She’s sleeping, sir. You want I go home?”
“Yes, Blessica. Thank you again.”
“What wrong with Jordan?”
“Those duendes, they…”
“What? Duen… WHAT?”
“Bad men come in the sleep. Maybe live in this house a long time.”
“We built this house, Blessica. Just three years ago.”
“That doesn’t matter to duende Mr. Tom. The world is older than your house. Who knows about the ground you built your house on?” Blessica shrugged.
“Trolls, daddy. I told you.”
“Night horse,” sighed Blessica. “All the children have them. Maybe closer to old times. We grown ups? We far away. You want me stay, Mr. Tom?”
Suddenly Tom felt totally overwhelmed. How in the world had his life gone sideways like this? A wife with a fragile brain. Her Filipino nurse offering to spend the night to protect them. Trolls building doors under the beds of his children. His little boy crying on his shoulder. His little girl giving him advice — from direct experience — about supernatural beings that lived under the ground and invited children from the surface to tea parties.
“Blessica, take the guest room for tonight. I’ll pay you to stay in case…”
“OK, Mr. Tom,” she said.
“…something happens, and this is more than a nightmare, my wife…”
“I understand, Mr. Tom. I will go get my overnight bag from my car.” As a mental health nurse, Blessica was always prepared.
“Faces don’t talk unless the hole in the bottom region opens and emits sounds. Mine wasn’t.”
“Your face says a LOT.”
“I can’t help it.”
“So what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. It seems like every time I turn around there’s some kind of, I don’t know.” Hubert sighed.
“Some kind of WHAT? Did I do something?”
“No. Not you. I guess it’s the times we live in. I just don’t understand it. So much is so easy that was once so hard and so much is hard that was once so easy.”
“Like walking, Dude? Your ankle is going to heel.”
“Stuff we took for granted isn’t…” Hubert took a long pull on his coffee. At least THAT still worked like it was supposed to…
“Did you know that during the reign of the Sun King the Great Pyrenees was the official dog of the French Court because it was just such a beautiful and majestic creature?”
“Are you trying to distract me?”
“Yeah, seems like a good idea. Look at Foster over there. Is that majesty or what?”
The big old dog looked up at the sound of his name. Seeing that nothing was happening that required his attention, he lay back down.
“Can you imagine how beautiful that was? All those people in those ornate, baroque, silk clothes, wandering around an absurdly manicured garden, prancing through the short labyrinths — short in matter of height not length — and all over the place were dogs like Foster.”
“Foster isn’t a Pyrenees.”
“Same basic theme. Big, white, livestock guardian, calm, independent. Why are you always splitting hairs? Did you ever think about that? How that egregious insistence on absolute precision in all things might lead to your depression?”
“If you don’t like me, you can leave.”
“Well, yeah. Why would you want to stay around here if you’re unhappy?”
“Hmm. Good point. Here, Foster. C’mon boy.”
The big dog stood slowly, stretched an immense white dog stretch, looked at Hubert questioningly, shook all over, throwing hair and dust all around the room and went to Anabelle. “We’re going for a walk. See if you can be a little less whiny and self-indulgent by the time we get back.”
“You got it! The whole thing. Windows facing the ocean. A desk as large as a skating rink. A parking space next to the elevator. And this cushy job. Way to go, Babs.”
“Don’t act like it’s gift from Santa or something.” The leggy blonde tossed her mane of shining champagne hair over her shoulder. “I worked and sacrificed for this.”
“We all do, for whatever we get,” sneered Ken. “Some of us sacrifice more than others.” Behind Ken’s bright white smile was a well of resentment. “I just wanted to be the first best-selling male doll. Look what I had to give up.”
“Ken, you didn’t ‘give up’ anything to become the first best-selling male doll. It’s the REASON there wasn’t one before you.” She tapped a pencil on her desk in disgust. “You know perfectly well that the developers couldn’t figure out the paradox. Should little kids see, you know, or should they just make you without, well, you know, the way they did. What man wants even to imagine the absence of, well, you know, even on a 12 inch plastic…”
“Why do we always have to go THERE?” asked Ken.
“YOU went there. I didn’t. This was supposed to be MY little celebration, just me and my best pals and a bottle of Dom Perignon. Why do you always do this? Turn everything to you and your…”
“Because he’s a conceited solipsistic jack-ass,” answered Joe. “Babs is right. Once you came out of production, the rest of us couldn’t have…”
“This isn’t about you, Ken, or you, Joe. Your stupid frat-boy complaints have no currency here. You’ve seen my new office, and now you two need to get out of here and get back to work.”
“I hate that, Joe. You know perfectly well what my name is. Babs. Really. Close the door on your way out.”
When they were gone, she poured half a bottle of champagne down the sink in the marble and gold executive bathroom adjoining her office. “Men,” she sighed, “or something.”
My main regret in life is that I didn’t stay at Head Ski back in 1975.
It started like this. I got my BA in English in the summer of 1974. I had to find a job tout suite. I was married (it was a very very very bad marriage), he was still a student and part of our income had been my government grant from my Dad’s GI Bill, awarded to children of disabled veterans. I went to the local paper and got turned down (didn’t type fast enough). I went everywhere. Then there was an ad in the Daily Camera saying Head Ski (then headquartered out on Valmont Road) was hiring line workers. I went and applied. I started the next day which was lucky as we’d just been turned down for food stamps. It was work on the ski production line leading up to Christmas.
For a month or so I cleaned and painted the sides of Head Skis. This involved Naptha, black paint, and pumice to get the rust off of the metal edges. I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking). I had a partner across the table from me, a tall, bosomy blond my age (22) who was contemplating cheating on her husband. We talked a lot about infidelity during those evenings. I’d already cheated on mine, but, in fact, he deserved it. Still and all, I didn’t want to do it again. It hadn’t helped or solved anything. It just made it worse. I should have left, but…
Turned out I have a great work ethic and this was observed by the floor manager. He promoted me to burning serial numbers on the edges of skis, measuring their flex and putting them in net bags for shipping. That’s a pretty responsible job. It was less smelly than the job cleaning the edges and some of my co-workers wondered why I got the promotion and not them. Life on the factory floor is kind of weird. The job I really wanted was silk-screening the Head logo on the bottoms of the skis. I envied that guy.
Head had gone from the classic all black, all blue, or all red ski (on which Jean Claude Killy skied ❤ ) with the small, tasteful “HEAD” on the toe to brightly colored skis with the word “HEAD” part of the design. The Yahoo (featured image) was the new ski, and it was shorter than other skis with a deeper side cut.
Howard Head was a ski innovator, designing the first commercially successful aluminum laminate skis. He was also a really nice guy. Anyway, the skis we were making were beautiful and I didn’t think I would ever, in my life, afford a pair. I had a pair of Harts I’d bought with my first $100 from working two years at the A&W in Colorado Springs in high school…
Around Thanksgiving we got the skis all done. Although I didn’t notice (numbering, measuring and bagging skis is a solitary job), some of my co-workers had already been laid off. I wasn’t even aware I had a seasonal job, so being oblivious and alone had advantages. We were moved over to filing the throats of Head Tennis Rackets, a supernally boring job for which we all got high in the parking lot. Weed back then was cheap Mexi so don’t go all thinking we were having some wild drug experience. All it did was slow down time and make us care less about being bored. It made us better at filing the tennis rackets, though. In that state, one could become actually INTERESTED in the throat of a tennis racket.
Then…we all got laid off. We were told at “lunch” (8 pm). “Thanks for your work, Head Ski really appreciates it. You’ll find your final pay in your locker.” As soon as we need workers, you will be the first we call back.” Of course we were all angry and went out to smoke weed and resolved not to file many tennis racket throats when we got back. Down with the man. Screw the system…
I quickly found a Christmas job at a toy store.
Fast forward many incredibly interesting stories to the January day I got the phone call, “We’d like to hire you back to work in the mail room.”
I was so young, so ignorant, I didn’t realized that I’d been lifted out of the plant and placed in the office. Everyone’s dream. It wasn’t a dream, though. It was real, and life in the mail room was bizarre — that’s another post for another day. Over time, I caught the eye of Howard Head. What happened was I rebuilt a table top offset printer I found in the mailroom and got it running so we didn’t have to send memo head and other internal stationary out to be printed, saving the company money. Mr. Head called me in, gave me a bonus check and dinner in a fancy restaurant on the company.
I was tried out in a couple of departments offices and the plan was I would “float” where help was needed until I found my niche. I worked in cost accounting and marketing. Things were going well in Marketing. I did a painting that the company used as a poster (you could see it on Mork and Mindy in Mindy’s house, on her wall). I liked it and the marketing team liked me. Then…
The plant went on strike. My friends from the old days were on strike. Most of us in the office went back to the plant to keep production going. We did finish work, the last stuff to get the product out there. I wrapped leather grips on tennis racket handles…
After a few weeks of crossing the picket lines (all that happened to me was my friends shouted out, “Hey Martha! How’s it going? You wanna’ grab a beer some time?”) I decided I was too smart to work at Head Ski. After all, I had a BA in English (never mind I’d been thrown out of one school and graduated, ultimately, with a humble 2.7 though a 3.9 in my major), I was the intellectual god, and I needed to go to grad school (from which I was more or less ejected, though given the option to go ahead and write my thesis, if I was able to write it, which all but my thesis advisor doubted).
It wasn’t until I was living in San Diego, was 35, and a student from Geneva said, “I live for ski” that I realized that was my story, too. It wasn’t until I moved back to Colorado five years ago that I properly appreciated that fateful decision to return to school. Maybe it took forty years for me to know myself (possible). If I’d stayed at Head Ski I’d have had free skis for life and possibly traveled the world doing marketing for the company.
It’s kind of weird how things turn out. The best and most consistent teaching job in my career was teaching business communication at the university level, not literature, not poetry, not writing, but business communication. Maybe we should say to kids, “Not all smart people are academics, sweet cheeks. Follow your bliss. You don’t know what that is? Give yourself some time. Believe it when you find it. Pay attention to the people around you. If you are encouraged, accepted and respected, you might be home.”