Monday, August 31, 2009

Living in History: "With the Depression On"

I wrote a chapter for my story, "My Sister Rosalie," entitled: "With the Depression On" that looked at (thematically) the philosophies of economy and abundance.

Reviewers didn't get it.

Or, more correctly, they judged that chapter and the characters' actions in that chapter as people informed by modern experience. These reviewers come at it from nearly a century's worth of experience in economics and politics: "Oh, Bella shouldn't have reused her bath water, she should have ..." "Oh, Rosalie's wasting the planet's resources, she's being much too ..."

We are forgetting something here. The Depression's on in 1934. You know? The Depression? The Depression where twenty-five percent of American people are jobless, where checks don't bounce because banks are bouncing. Where rich, rich, rich people are throwing themselves out windows of sky scrapers. Where the Wheat Belt has become the Dust Bowl. Where prizefighters queue up with the rest of us just to get a shot at hard labor for the day so they can be paid a pittance. Where the lamentation "Brother, can you spare a dime?" was made into one of the most popular songs of the day.

Where parents, if they are the lucky ones that have flats, are watching their own children fade away and die because the heat bill hasn't been paid in months, so never your mind about getting a doctor to look at the wee ones. Doctor? And pay him with what? Today's gruel? That is, the only meal of the day?

When you read this chapter, please don't judge your Bella with modern sensibilities. Put yourself into her woolen socks. Look at those rich kids over there, sharing one apple. Go up to them and ask if you can have the core after their done with the apple. Have them look at you with disdain and tell you "Nope!" as you watch them eat the core, and feel the emptiness in the pit of your stomach.

That would have been a nice dessert, a nice change, from the one meal you've had today, and yesterday, and, if you're lucky, will have tomorrow.

Put yourself into the mind of a person not too distant from her parents' immigration from the Old World, where saving was considered to be an act of Faith. Saving? Money? The Old World had its own issues, including pogroms and potato famines. The New World, the streets are paved with Gold. So what did you do when the streets weren't, but you still were getting money for work (instead of just working for the roof over your head and a meal on the table)? You horded it. You buried it in the back yard. You stuffed your mattress with it. You put it into a bank because you got 5% interest, and then the bank went belly up, so you learned a hard lesson there: hold onto what is yours with a death grip, because times are hard now, and they'll be harder later.

Now, eat off a paper plate. What are you going to do with it after you're done? Throw it away? Never. You are going to wash the paper plate, because who knows when you'll ever see another paper plate again in your life?

Do you have that mindset now, with this understanding?

No, you don't. Because, even in today's "troubled" situation (and it is troubled, but it's nothing compared to the Great Depression that our (great-)grandparents went through with no context of a prior Depression to help them weather that interminable storm), we are surrounded by abundance: cars and homes and cellphones and 50" HDTVs. You can't put yourself into a scenario that doesn't exist in your experience because you can always pull yourself out and say "Oh, well, Bella should have done ..." as you grab the remote and switch to ESPN.

But maybe you can be grateful to the people who fought in the Great War and then fought in the Second World War and who built this country up from its infancy through the Roaring '20s through the Great Depression to now where there are hot running water and heating and air conditioning. Maybe your modern sensibilities, that they earned by the sweat of their brow for you, can judge them a little less harshly, and maybe you can drink your morning coffee as you do (or don't) read your morning newspaper with a wee bit more reverence.

Yes, I do say that this is the best of all possible worlds, but, unlike Voltaire, I do not say it with biting sarcasm. I am appreciative of what I have today, and I am grateful to the men and women who committed their lives, then and now, to give me it.

This whole entry points to the fact (sad but real) that people do not learn from history. But we can be comforted that we do, now, have ESPN. Just like the Romans had the Colosseum. Oh, what happened to the Romans? Who knows? Who cares? Besides, the game's on, pass the chips.

Monday, August 10, 2009


It's the little things, isn't it?

After every meal, I make sure I thank my cara spoza for it, telling her how good it was. I may have liked it; I may not, but that really doesn't matter: I wouldn't have had it if it wasn't for the work she put into making it.

My dear heart recently told me how much she appreciates my effort in complimenting the meals, and that's when I reflected on what prompts me to do this. Surprisingly to me, it wasn't (primarily) the example of my parents. Surprising because all the good things that I am have come from their example.

No, it was from a book: Ursala Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven. In that story, the wife of the protagonist George Orr (called "Jor Jor" by his not-so-imaginary-"friends") reflects on how it makes her feel when he thanks her for the meal, especially when it turns out ... well, not so well. She reflects on what a good man he is, for many reasons, but particularly for this little thing, this nothing thing: that he eats his meal, and that he's grateful for it ... that he's grateful for her.

It's the little things, isn't it?

I recall talking with a chief in the Navy on how his wife decided he was the one. He took her out on a date to a fancy-schmansy restaurant, and they were dressed to the nines, and the waitress tripped, spilling a tray full of drinks right into his lap.

Of course the waitress was mortified, but Chief made sure she was okay, helped her clean up as best he could, and told her to forget about it, because he already had.

That's when his (to be) wife knew. I'm sure she thought: if he behaves in this way, in this situation, to somebody he doesn't even know, well, that must show how he really is deep down.

Sometimes people like to think: oh, this-or-that didn't turn out so well, and I was rather nasty to the wife and kids then, but I'll do something really big to make up for it.

But you don't, and you can't. It's easy to say, "I'm not really like that ..." or "If the situation were different ..."

But this is how you are, and this is what the situation is, and the big event is never going to come. What you are is how you are in this scenario right now, all the time, because that's all you have.

Yes, it's easy to say, "When I am the grand poobar, I'd do this."

No. The strength of a man is measure thus:

  • When he is weak, does he stand for what he believes in the face of overpowering adversity? That is, does he accept martyrdom, even if it's the little death of saying, "No, boss, you're wrong, and I refuse to go along with this"?

  • And, when he is strong, how does he treat the littlest of these, including the waitress, including the wife and kids?

And that is the story of the soul that God will read on Judgment Day. That is what the spiritual exercises and that is what George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior are for: to help weak men grow into strength and to keep strong men, strong.

For, after all, it's the little things, isn't it?

Sunday, August 2, 2009


So, I was preparing breakfast for my cara spoza yesterday.

What kind of oatmeal do you want? I asked her.

Oh, she waved regally, any kind is fine.

So I ripped open the very-berry oatmeal packet (purple wrapper) and poured into a bowl.

That's for you, right? she said cautiously.

No, I've already eaten. Hours ago, in fact. I've taken the habit of waking up early nowadays.

My cara spoza grimaced. When I interrogated her, I found out that she didn't like very-berry oatmeal.

How could this be possible? Everybody loves blueberries! Very-berry oatmeal is my favorite! How could my cara spoza not like that flavor?

Well, she doesn't like that flavor. She likes the maple syrup one (brown wrapper) or the oats and flax one (orange wrapper). So, any flavor as long as it's one of those two flavors.

"Any color you like, as long as it's black."

I wrapped the bowl of very-berry, under my cara spoza's distressed protests and made her the maple syrup one.

What did I have for breakfast today? Day old very-berry oatmeal. And it tasted great.

'Cause it's the best.

407 Arrows: Will and Want

Kayso, just in case you didn't get the hint and all? I rock at DDR.

What is it this time, geophf?
you sigh exasperatedly.

Well, I'm glad you asked.

So, I was doing my DDR thing (Ultramix 3), and I aced "Dança de Yucca."

See, it's a tango, and the beat increases in speed along with the complexity of the steps so that in changes from a tango to a tango that a whirling dervish or the Tasmanian Devil might have trouble keeping up.

I've been dancing, and loving to dance, this song for years. Years. A tango? Me? geophf? Dance a tango in real life? That might be possible, but in the virtual DDR-world, I am dancing away like a madman or Michael Flatley in Riverdance ... wait: aren't they the same thing?

So I love to dance "Dança de Yucca," but ace it? Nevah! But I did last week.

Now there is no weapon formed against me that shall prosper. So, I put in DDR Ultramix (1) and danced "La Senorita Virtual." I FCed it. For the first time, ever.

How many arrows does "La Senorita Virtual" have? I couldn't answer that question until this Tuesday past, but now I can: 407 arrows. 407 arrows in a minute and a half, and I touched them all.

Latin songs. Latin songs are so hard for the stuffy "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" dancers with their off-beat lead-ins. But now, for this pasty-faced fella?

Yeah, the site is down, so I can't show you the numbers, but yes, it's true: in over twenty-thousand DDRers out there, geophf rings in at number 38.

Psssst! Hot! I'm hot!

So of course I tried doing "Paranoia Rebirth" ... didn't quite get it, but I came close. So I left it for now. After burning through 700 kcal during that workout I knew that now was time to take a break.

For I know this, after about ten years of DDR, a FCing or acing a song is simply will and want now. If I don't FC a song, it's now because I'm not concentrating enough on it or that I don't push myself all the way through it (Paranoia and La Senorita can get tiring three-quarters of the way through). If I don't have the skill to do a song now, like Waka Laka, it's now simply a matter of doing a song over and over and over again until I do, even if that means I must do that song for years to be able to complete it.

Perfect example: Dorset Perception. I aced that song a couple of months ago, but then I played it again the next week and my score, albeit higher, wasn't an ace, so I had a low grade staring at me from that song for two months as I played and played it to regain my ace, which I did, time and time again, but didn't earn the score to knock out that lower grade.

DDR is funny: it gives you points for style as well as precision, so may dance a song "well" but not well enough to merit a better grade: I've failed songs with higher scores where I previously had an 'A' grade.

So, what to do?

Will and want.

I kept doing that song until I FCed it, restoring my ace. Now anytime I dance it, there is nothing that will take down that peg: I can now only improve on that grade.

But isn't that what life is? You work at something because you have the will to work at it and the want for it. You don't get it because you really don't want it: your will isn't directed toward that thing. Or, you get it because your will and want is such that you will get it. You don't have something? You want it bad enough and eventually you will have it.

"Mean Papa"

My little ones EM and Iz came downstairs to play in that large, spacious playroom they invade and occupy. I stopped DDRing.

"No, no: no playing until the area is clean," says I.

"Why, Papa? Why? We are going to be playing with the toys that are already out, anyway," they counter, whiningly.

... and the toys they'll be pulling out of the storage area, and the books scattered all over the floor, and the books on the shelves, and the ...

"Because," I 'answered,' "I'm a Mean Papa."

They moan. But EM loves this game, too: "But, Papa, why did you let us come downstairs to play if you're a 'Mean Papa'?"

I give them a growly look: "No playing until the area is clean."

"Awwww!" they complain, and set to work cleaning (by intermittently cleaning between reading books, serving "tea" to their dollies, imitating my dance steps, then intermittently cleaning some more).

Diane returns home from shopping and tromps downstairs.

Kids: "Awwww! We had no time to play! Mama, Papa made us clean the downstairs because he's a 'Mean Papa'!"

Yep, that's me: the Mean Papa.