Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: THE OTHER WES MOORE

The Other Wes Moore, by, oddly enough, Wes Moore, is an interesting comparison of two young black men growing up with Baltimore roots, with the same name. The author, now a decorated war veteran and business leader after being a Rhodes Scholar and White House intern, was shaken when a youth with his name was arrested for killing an off-duty cop in a robbery, and after some hesitiancy, contacted his namesake and initiated and maintained an unlikely relationship. The point of the book is summarized neatly by the author as "the truth is that his story could have been mine, and the tragedy is that my story could have been his." And indeed, there weren't too many differences up until the teen years.
So what did happen? The difference is partly fate, but also partly the difference that involved adults in a youth's life can make. Sacrifices were made by the author's family to get him out of an environment in which he was already in trouble and giving him a chance to turn it around. The other young man did very well for a time after attending Job Corps, but did not have that kind of support and fell back into the drug life, with horrible results. There are no shortcuts to parenting, and it cannot be done by a "single" parent, not well, anyway. Neither kid had a father, but one had grandparents and others, while the other just had a older half-brother who lived the street life as a role model.
But from the perspective of the white adult reader, what is most disturbing here is the portrait of life as a black person in the United States. There is precious little to hope for, and I imagine that it has gotten worse in the decade since the other Wes Moore went to prison. It reinforced my personal belief that a major conflagaration is coming; hopeless, angry people have nothing to lose. One of the few hope shots in the book was the author's sojourn in South Africa, which, incredibly, did not explode when apartheid ended, but the contrast between here and there was noted starkly: the rite of passage into adulthood for young males there is celebrated and young men are prized and esteemed. Here, young black men are feared and avoided, even by other parts of their own community.
The problems are dauntig, but could be overcome here. More than anything else, more than even the pervasive racism in this country, we need to stop inundating all our youth in the consumer culture and stop making the acquiring and hoarding of material goods the sign of "success." The drug trade appeals not so much for the effect of the drugs, but because of the money to be made. One of the lasting images of the book for me is the other Wes Moore, selling drugs as a teen, having dozens of pairs of sneakers, rarely wearing the same pair twice, while living in dumpy circumstances and not going to school. The difference between the value system I am living by and that one is measured in light-years, not in a blaming sense, but as a statement of fact. And with the immersion from early childhood in the images and messages of Corporate America that it is normal and even patriotic to consume profligerately, that it is the purpose of life to own things, it's no wonder that a real set of values to live by, and the ability to stay true to them through difficult times, is so lacking in our culture.
One other interesting thing that I had forgotten: the other Wes Moore's mother's life started to go downhill in the early 1980's, when the Pell Grants that had been making her able to attend college was withdrawn after the Reagan Administration cut the funding for the program in half. I got Pell Grants, too, and I remember that my senior year, my amount got cut, as well. But for me, it was a nuisance, not a killer; my family had other sources of income and money saved, and to me personally, it made no difference whatsoever. But for thousands, it ended the dream of college. Here is your Republican America at work. As George Carlin said, all they really want is an obedient workforce, with just enough education to perform basic skills.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: LAST CALL

Last Call is Daniel Okrent's wonderful in-depth study of one of the most curious and and mythological episodes in American history: Prohibition. The first part of the book traces the movement prior to the amendment, essentially a study of perhaps the most effective special interest group in the history of the country. The rest of the book explores what it was really like during the 14 years when it was the law of the land, and how repeal came so relatively quickly after the imposition.
The story of the Anti-Saloon League, which still exists in some form, and its massive effort to ban alcoholic beverages reads like a political action primer that many organizers would do well to emulate. The League focused on the negative effects of a single issue and relentlessly beat the drums on the topic through all the available media of the day. It mobilized its members to act politically regularly, and made its concern its only litmus test as to whether a candidate would get its support--or not. The ASL focused on the 20% of Congress that was vulnerable to pressure, and relentlessly applied that pressure to achieve its aims. It supported legislation--notably the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the Constitution, those establishing the income tax and women's suffrage-- that would help Prohibition become law, and seized the moment at the end of World War I to push its aims through. And it succeeded, capitalizing on a perfect storm of events (not least of which the huge representation of German-Americans in the brewing industry and the violent xenophobia of World War I) that gave passage its best chance of success at that time.
However, Prohibition and its sponsor was a microcosm of many elements of the Tea Party movement today. It established a difficult-to-enforce law, and yet there was no money appropriated to enforce it. Once established, the ASL and the drys basically manipulated the political process in frankly illegal ways to ensure that their political efforts stayed unchallenged (there was no reapportionment for nine years after the census of 1920, simply because the urban--and wet-supporting-- population of the country had exploded and the rural base that was the backbone of Prohibition would lose seats in Congress, to take the most obvious and egregious example). There was also a factor at play familiar from today's headlines: many of the most sanctimonious public drys were caught with liquor or in circumstances where liquor was present as the 1920's went on. And ultimately, Prohibition fell victim to a huge campaign of nullification; a large proportion of the population was bound and determined to ignore the law, and went to remarkable lengths to do so. The amounts of money made in bootlegging in the 1920's would be impressive in today's money, and were simply staggering for their time and place.
What turned the tide, even more than the rampant hypocrisy and the crime wave, in favor of Repeal was the Depression. The federal government, before the establishment of the income tax, made much of its money on alcohol taxes, and as the economy worsened in the early Depression, the federal government simply had to get another source of revenue. A group of rich industrialists headed by a DuPont established what today would be called a PAC that fervently pursued Repeal ostensibly to bring in more money for the government--and with the aim of abolishing income taxes once Repeal was enacted and excise taxes were collected again. One of the forgotten factors in making the New Deal possible was the huge amount of what was essentially found money after Repeal; there was suddenly a great deal more money available to FDR's Administration when the excise taxes began to be collected again, and the income tax, needless to say, was not abolished, which was one reason why FDR was violently hated by the wealthy.
And running through the pages of the book are some very interesting people, largely forgotten today: William Jennings Bryan, the leaders of the various temperance movements, legislators of the era, famous mobsters, and the forbears of today's liquor industry magnates, the original Busches and Bronfmans,  And most of all, a man who was perhaps the most influential man in the country for the first 25 years of the twentieth century who is completely forgotten today: Wayne Weaver, head of the ASL and political influencer extraordinaire. It also was not a coincidence that Repeal only gained steam after Weaver died in the mid-1920's; his successors were feeble and unable to ruthlessly keep the Congressional dry bloc in line. Weaver and his control of the ASL was the single most salient fact of American political life for three decades, and it is simply amazing that no one knows who he is today.
And Okrent, on top of a good story to tell, is an excellent writer. I am familiar with him as a sports fan; he has written books about sports, edited the New York Times for years and Sports Illustrated briefly, and is famous for both having invented fantasy baseball and giving Bill James a helping hand in getting established in the national consciousness among baseball fans. But this book took me a week to read not because it was slow reading, but because it was totally absorbing; there were no parts to skip over lightly, nothing to be skimmed over. Coming so soon after reading Supreme Power, I now understand the political landscape of the post-Wilson United States much better than I ever had before--and also can see both a way out of the present political morass and also, unfortunately, how far we are from doing so.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Neighbors From Hell, Part II

Before ranting, I have to say it isn't as bad as it was in mid-summer, where something was happening virtually every day. But it still happens enough so that I am still aware of exactly how many days (216) are left before their lease runs out. I guess what gets to me most is the cursing. I have never heard a woman drop the f-bomb as regularly as this one does at her own child, even if that child is 18 years old (the daughter gives it right it back to her, but having done what I do for a living for almost 8 years, I am not shocked by 18YO girls with this sort of vocabulary anymore). I supposed there are things to like about this family up there, too, but when you are getting assaulted at 8:45 in the morning with a stream of profanity that would stand out in a locker room over something as trivial as a car window left down overnight, it's hard to keep those in mind.
But this whole "slice of Puerto Rico" experience since April has led me to review my neighbor experience, and realize just how lucky I have been in my life with this sort of thing. In order:
1) Growing up, there were some neighbors that were somewhat of a pain, but none that were really awful. Almost all conflict was about kids going in yards, which is something I would guess almost never is an issue today, because no kids seem to have free rein of the neighborhood like we did. I cannot imagine even the most disrespectful of middle school kids casually using a neighbor's yard as an outfield in a wiffleball league like Dut and I did with the Tidicks, to take one example. It's a different world, and one where I wonder when the change took place. Private property has always been sacrosanct in this country, but now property lines are like fortresses. Which I will return to when I get to my current neighbors.
2) In college, I did not have real bad roommate experiences. Dave was all right--friendly, minded his own business, didn't give me a hard time. Steve from Oswego was a freak, and Doug French was one of the world's biggest squirrels and losers. None of them caused any major problems, although the last two were seriously annoying a good portion of the time.
3) I don't even remember the immediate neighbors in Texas. The fact that they were natives was enough to damn them.
4) The old couple across the hall at Indian Ridge was another who was annoying at times, but I can't say he (I hardly ever saw her) was a large presence in my life.
5) The neighbors when I was married were more troubling. Harold Chrisler was just a mean old bastard; my kids tell me he died a year or so ago, and my reaction, truth be told, was "took long enough." The Hurleys on the other side were much friendlier, but Don was a major slob and took liberties with us-- ran his stuff off our electric when he thought we weren't home, had his gutters pour into our back yard under the surface--that weren't terribly neighborly. He died years ago (his grave is about six down from my father's up in Calvary), and my kids tell me the widow Hurley still has the one daughter living with her.
6) I had about ten neighbors in several places in active addiction. I remember two; the couple underneath us on Pearl Street that bought weed off us during the day and kept calling the cops on us at night because of our fighting (can't say I blame him for the latter), and the very old woman next door, who was plainly scared for her life by everything about us. I will never forget overhearing her telling the neighbor in back of her one morning, as I was sitting in the kitchen with the window open, "Martha, they had Negroes there at 12:30 last night." Negroes, indeed...
7) The Mary Street apartment in Endwell had two people underneath me in the time I was there. The first was a person that would become familiar to me, Derrick Watson, who has made a couple of half-ass attempts to get clean over the years but more often can be seen patrolling the streets of Binghamton as his army of drug sellers is flooding the neighborhood. It's beyond me how he hasn't caught a major bid yet; it's not like he's subtle about what he's doing. When they left, Crazy Rose moved in. Rose claimed her $800 NYSEG bill was due to Lila leaving the garage door up once in a while, and made a CPS report on Lila when Lila told her, "I don't think so." Rose hated Lila, and although Lila certainly could be difficult, I know for a fact this one wasn't on her. I don't know what happened to Crazy Rose.
8) I had a bunch of neighbors in Webster Court. The only one of those directly underneath me I even noticed was the black family that was there a year; the boy had one video game that he insisted on playing loudly that had a serious bass shake in it, but he never played it after 7 PM or so. The retarded mother/daughter team downstairs were a little odd--the kid stood by the door and opened it to see who was walking by every single time someone walked by for two years-- but not really annoying. Mrs. Osborn across the hall was great; never problem one for the five years I was there.
is...unique. She will talk to you for hours, even follow you into your house, if you let her. I have managed to piss her off so that she doesn't really speak to me now, but for once, I didn't do anything wrong; she actually expected me to drop what I was doing at 8:30 one night and come to her back yard and dispose of a skunk that her dog had killed, and got highly indignant when I didn't. She's also starting to become a bitch about the property line; she had her yard-service minions cut my pumpkin vine that was hanging about three inches over her driveway last week. Considering her goddamn cat lives in my back yard, and treats every non-grass covered area as its personal litterbox, I can foresee serious issues in the future here. I've begun digging out the Hedge from Hell, and if she doesn't like the garden box currently there, she's going to like what I have planned in the future even less.
9a) And now the wonderful crew upstairs. I suppose I ought to be grateful that she doesn't have a lot of traffic through there, and that if she is screwing her boyfriend up there, they either do it when I am not home (more likely) or that they are quiet about it. But the fighting is really not cool, and it's pretty much constant--there does not seem to be much in the way of "normal" communication there.
Maybe I"ll get luckier next year when they leave.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sleeping In and Stuff

Usually by time Saturday night rolls around, I am exhausted. I have a lot of aches and pains, and I've always had a very good metabolism (although I am a bit overweight, considering the amount I eat, I could easily be well over 200 pounds), and so I really don't need more than 5-6 hours a sleep a night. But most Saturdays, I haven't even gotten that much for several nights running, and so it is a struggle to keep my eyes open much past the sunset. But last night I was up to eleven or so (I am reading a pretty good book, but have been so busy recently I haven't had a lot of time to invest in it. I'm still only halfway through it) before I simply could not read anymore, and dropped off to sleep. I woke up around 3 for a minute, and then dropped back off.
And woke up at 7:15. I can't remember the last time I had two stretches of uninterrupted four hours of sleep. Once in a great while, I will sleep til 7 or so, but that's almost always that fitful, one-dream-per-hour sleep. Not this time. I did dream, but can't remember now what it was, and when I woke up, I really didn't want to get up, but I did, for two reasons: 1) my back is already touchy; laying down for long periods of time accentuates my creaky skeletal structure at this point in my life, and 2) I have some paperwork at the office that I need to get done this morning before I pick up Sabrina at noon.
Still, I don't think I have four hours of work, so I am still just kind of lounging around at the moment. I indulged myself a couple of weeks ago and bought some Starbucks Italian Roast, my favorite flavor of coffee, and this is the first I've had of it. I like strong coffee, and this is as powerful as it gets without being espresso. I've been trying to cut out bread products for breakfast, since I've started eating sandwiches for lunch more often, and so I've rediscovered the joys of cereal--I love Life cereal with sugar and Cocoa Puffs as well. I also saw, the last time I was at Price Chopper, that there is now a chocolate Cheerios, which simply is begging to be bought, so as the fruit season draws to a close (I like to start some days with a nectarine or plum, but I'm not paying $2/pound for some crappy fruit shipped in from California; in addition, I am not going to start eating things called plumcots or pluots or whatever nutty hybrid they've started to push on us the last two years), it looks like I will be reverting to the inner child, at least until decent navel oranges start showing up in Wegman's again.
I haven't been in Weis in September. It's amazing, but there is absolutely no reason to go there anymore. For a few months, I was buying things like Rice-a-Roni and speidies there, but yesterday I found that Wegman's is just as cheap on those things, and bought them there. I've been dropping the same $40-60 a week on food between Price Chopper and Wegman's that I used to spend at the Giant (I could spend less, but I normally buy a package of lamb chops every week at PC because they're the last ones in the area that carry them at their meat counter, and who knows how long that's going to last), and I have to say I'm liking eating better. My brother is the lawyer of someone who works in Weis management, and he claims that that person told him that business in the Vestal Weis near his office is down 95% from where it was when they bought the Giant. I find that a little hard to believe, but I can tell you that on Friday afternoons, the parking lot in the Weis two blocks from my house used to be full, and now it's about half-full at 4:30 PM. Most days, there are no more than a dozen cars in the lot whenever you drive by. I can't imagine that they are going to keep ten stores open for much longer, and I'll bet one that closes is going to be this one by my house.
Anyhow, the guinea pig is restless--she is used to a pile of grass being dropped in by 7 AM, much less 8--so it is time to get on with the day.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Mini-Committment

I really haven't been around the fellowship much for several months now. Yesterday morning, Bridget texted me (along with John and Kate) that we were going to have our group conscience last night, and as the day played out, I was able to go. I have been wavering in my mind whether to get a medallion this year, because of my reduced involvement in the fellowship, but they ordered one at the conscience, so I guess I am going to be getting a 12-year on October 29 and also speaking about it, since it is a fifth Friday of the month. There was some talk, too, about the recent tendency of people taking the meeting hostage by sharing for ten to fifteen minutes; Bridget brought up the checkered flag that is used at the General Hospital meeting and wondered if we should do that here. I spoke up, telling her that I was the one who created the checkered flag when that was my home group and I was serving as group secretary for two years. I said that according to "The Group" booklet, the secretary is really in charge of the actual meeting on a regular basis, since the secretary is supposed to have at least a year clean and holds the position for a much longer time than the chairperson does, whereas anyone can chair the meeting. This was news to her, and I thought to myself that one of the problems with the fellowship in the last two years has been that fewer and fewer people know how NA is supposed to be run, that the general lack of people who have worked a 12 and 12 and actually have a nodding acquaintance with the Steps and Traditions as written in the literature have contributed to the gigantic ego-fest that it has become. Not for the first time, I thought about the toxic infatuation with the cult of the speaker that dominates NA in this area and its true cost. Danny A might have 22 years clean and a circle of "peeps" around him, but not a single one of them knows a thing about basics like the way a home group is supposed to function. Wes might have 18 years clean and a zealous Taliban to do his nefarious bidding, but their "Left Behind"-type views on Traditions and basic hypocrisy when it comes to excusing the transgressions of their own tribe have turned off many people who just do the best they can to try to stay clean from getting further involved in the fellowship.
And the more I sat there considering, the more guilty I felt about bowing out recently. Decrying why things are not as they should be and using it as an excuse to bail out is something that I did very frequently before 1998 in many areas of my life. I really shouldn't be doing it here. While I am not about to try to ride to the rescue of Area or proselytize at eight meetings a week, one thing I am very capable of doing is taking a bigger role at the one meeting I am a part of, especially when a need and a niche to be filled becomes starkly apparent. I, of course, am in full agreement as to the problem, and mentioned to Bridget that it is the lot of the secretary to enforce the time limits. Bridget said she doesn't have the personality that can do that, and John doesn't, either, and I decided that I can serve as secretary for a time because I have experience in dealing with the issue and also have the type-A personality necessary to speak up. We are a candlelight meeting, so the checkered flag is not going to work at our group, but I made an announcement in the secretary's report at the beginning of the meeting on the subject--that due to the issue becoming impossible to ignore recently, the time limits on sharing will start being enforced; that there is a magic number--I only said out loud that it is longer than five minutes; when I was at the New Horizons meeting, the magic number was ten minutes, but I decided that at our group, most nights it's going to be eight--and if someone goes over, I will interrupt them and ask them to wrap it up very quickly.
As it turned out, it wasn't necessary to do so last night. We only had 12 people, all of whom were aware of their sharing time; the prime offenders--Andy, Ithaca Mark, and Erik--were not there. I also said in group conscience that I have different tolerances for different people--not from an editorial standpoint, cutting off whom I think is full of shit and letting my friends speak, but from a time standpoint. There are a number of people at our home group--me, Kate, Aldo when he comes, John, --that go to one meeting a week, and others--Kathie, 2.0, Staten Island John--that only make two. They are going to get a few minutes longer to speak because they don't get the opportunities that an Andy, who goes to six meetings a week and shares substantially the same thing at all of them, has to share his thoughts with us all. That I didn't say out loud. And I spoke with John after the meeting, and found out he buried a son in recovery. I ended up, in spite of how much his normal sharing irritates me, finding myself not only sympathetic, but admiring him, because of any of my children died, I doubt I would find the will to go on. If it sometimes seems he's just a tad angry at the world...well, he's got more reason than most to be.
You learn something new every day, if you're in a space to learn.
The upshot is something I've experienced over and over again; if you don't like what's going on in your recovery setting, then change it. The New Horizons group exists in large part because I had gotten to a similar point five years ago about not liking existing meetings; Kathie and Roman had the idea, but the one who was committed the most the first two years it was running was me, because I had the opportunity to create at least one 90-minute period a week where I could directly help create the atmosphere of recovery I need and was comfortable in. I'm not sure I'm at the point here, but taking on the secretary job for a time is a start. I haven't been liking things for a while, and vaguely wishing that it would get better hasn't been getting it done. So I am going to get back involved and see if it helps. Judging by the way I feel today, it will. Just for today, I don't feel the alienation that I have felt a lot of the time recently.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Autumn

Or Fall, whichever you prefer. It is my favorite time of the year, for a number of reasons. One is that I liked school from the sixth grade onward, and fall meant a return to school. Two is that I do not like to be hot, and never have. I would sleep in a freezer if I could, and there are definitely limits to how much clothing you can shed when you're hot, whereas you can always put something warmer on if you are cold. Three, Autumn means football season is here, and hockey season is close; they were the two sports I loved playing the most and still follow as an adult. Then there are the rituals of fall, as well, to consider; Halloween, whatever its origins, is a great concept, if you are a child, and I've never totally outgrown the sense of wonder and awe that a kid gets from people willingly giving candy, and lots of it. Of all the mundane chore-type outdoor tasks during the year, raking leaves is probably the least offensive; you can jump in the pile as you are doing it, and it isn't disgusting like many other jobs of this nature. Columbus Day has always been my favorite minor holiday; the parade is cool, being Italian is cool, and it was/is the first day off from school (and I am fortunate enough to have a job that gets the second-tier holidays off, as well). As I've gotten older and become a pretty involved amateur gardener, I like turning over the garden and mixing in the table scraps and other organic material. Every other year, there are major elections to vote in; I'm usually not happy about the choices that we have, but on balance I'd still rather have the opportunity to vote than not. I like the windy days, I like the chill in the air in the morning, I like when the clock changes and you gain an hour, I like when it starts getting dark earlier (it just somehow seems right to be eating dinner at twilight or after it has just gotten dark). I like the first snowfall, mainly because it usually just dusts the ground and you don't actually have to exert yourself to remove it. I'm not much of a "beauty" person, but the fall foliage is nice to look at, and there is nothing quite so beautiful as a light dusting of snow sparkling on a moonlight night, which happens usually in late fall. for the first time in the year.
That's a lot of good things about this time of year, and only one drawback I can think of; the incessant hawking of Christmas shopping that is already beginning and will be in full swing when the calendar turns into October in a week. For three solid months, we are assaulted everywhere we turn by the hucksters and corporate shills with impassioned presentations designed to separate us from our money to buy various geegaws for those special someones in our lives. But if you keep the idiot box off or to a minimum, it's a minor annoyance rather than an immersion in toxic waste, and I generally am able to do so. As I age, I get less enamoured of winter than I used to be; shovelling snow has definitely lost its appeal, my feet and knees are now incapable of allowing me to play hockey regularly, and as an adult who has to actually be concerned about paying bills, I'm much happier paying NYSEG $65 like I did this past month instead of the $225-$250 that I shell out in the wintertime. Winter also hits us with its most pleasant experience--Christmas--right at its beginning; the rest of it seems like a dreary, drawn out letdown. Spring can be pleasant, but it is always tempered by the knowledge that the uncomfortable summer is on its way. So I much prefer the autumn, and being able to wear normal clothes, and being able to be outside for long periods of time without either needing to flee extremes of temperature or coming under attack by various unpleasant arthropods that view me as some sort of feeding trough.
So of course, today's high temperature is going to be around 90...but Saturday's will be in the mid-60's. I love that about this time of year, too; there are few if any prolonged spells of anything.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Little Things

After so much tween stuff going on here the last couple months or so, yesterday was a welcome change around here. I don't know what happened with Sabrina, but she was happy and perky and all about Dad after she got home (well, it probably helped that I had to go back to the office before dinner because I forgot something and to Wegman's to get a prescription after dinner). I've been told this is not unusual, to enjoy the up days, and so I did. She was full of good news (they've already chosen an Odyssey of the Mind team, and amazingly enough, I know two of the other kids--Emma and KK-- on it even though she's been in West for two weeks) and she is very excited about Curriculum Night tonight. So, if she's excited, I'm excited. I admit I am finding the lack of homework in some courses perplexing, but I can't argue with the results; she loves going to school. I loved the sixth grade, too, but when I was in school, that was still an elementary grade, and my first year of middle school, the following year, was the absolute worst ten months of my life, even worse than active addiction. So I am enjoying that.


So I'm in pretty good space, and grateful for the little things today.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Review: BROKE, USA

Gary Rivlin's Broke, USA ought to be required reading in all high school social studies courses. I have rarely been so upset by any book. I've known for a long time that this country is in awful shape, and I certainly am not in denial about the greedheads that put us there. But I have never seen a 200-plus page expose on just how the American lower and middle classes have had it shoved up their ass by the "financial services" industry. The book focuses on the boom in check cashers, payday loan outfits, pawn shops, and the subprime home loan mess that have become ubiquitous in the last ten years in many places in America. I don't have it in me this morning to give a blow-by-blow; regular readers of this space know how I feel about the economic carnage and who is responsible. But what is sickening to me is how tirelessly the exploiters justify it, and several of them are given free rein to show what kind of scumbags they really are in these pages.
I don't avail myself of payday loans or tax refund loans or pawn shops, but quite frankly, that's because I have family members that still have surplus money sources that have been able to help me in tight spots over the last decade or so. I've gotten stable enough and saved enough over the last six years to where I can survive a calamity of minor proportions; if I blow a brake line on a car, I can get it fixed. But I've also been fortuante to have a lawyer in the family who has been able to confront debt collectors, as well; in 2002, when I was unemployed a good part of the year, I fell behind on several credit cards, and those debts have been passed to at least a dozen different outfits over the years. I know, now, that most of them don't know how to do things legally (I've only had to settle one account; the rest have not bothered, when challenged, to do things in compliance with statutes), and I don't really worry too much about them anymore. My credit report has been awful for over ten years (I declared bankruptcy shortly after getting clean), and I survived the Bush years still holding water. I don't take it for granted, though, and frankly, between being smarter than most people and having access to people with resources, I know I'm the exception. Just yesterday, Sabrina's mother was begging for money to tide her over again. I almost felt sorry for her (although I still said no) but I know her case is much more typical than mine.
I guess what was so shocking was not so much that these sort of places exist. It was the sheer rapacity of them, the shameless way they suck their customers dry. I suppose check cashers are necessary, but to hit them with interest rates in three digits when translated to APRs? If I did have to cash a paycheck, I would go to a place like Price Chopper, that charges a few bucks for doing so, rather than one of these "financial services" outfits that charges $20 or $25. I don't know why anyone would go to those places, but they do. A few years ago, a check cashing outfit opened up next to Nirchi's and near Dunkin Donuts about seven or eight blocks from here. At least four businesses had been in that spot and failed in the previous five years, and I remember thinking "Who's going to come out here and use this place? It won't last six months." It's been there at least three years, and while I've never seen it out-the-door busy, every time I drive by there is somebody in there. I'm frankly surprised there aren't more of these places around (although both Spitzer and Cuomo, for all their faults, have been all over predatory lenders for a decade; New York is not the friendliest place for exploitative businesses like these).
Anyone who truly doubts how screwed over most of us are, and how awful the predatory class is, should read this book. I am becoming more convinced than ever that at some point in the future, that people will reach their breaking point and it's going to get ugly. No one has ever really viewed this country as fertile ground for radical revolution--but if it does come, the elites have no one to blame but themselves. There is simply no excuse for wringing as many of us as they can dry like the finanical predators have. The day when there are going to be millions of Willie Suttons--"because that's where the money is"--is coming, and it may be a lot closer than we ever imagined.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Routine Settles In

Summer still has a day to go by the calendar, but it is definitely over in this house. Our school year routine is starting to become more firmly established as the days pass, including the days on the weekend. When Rachel and Jessica were here yesterday, both were doing homework for virtually the entire time they were here (you learn something new every day; Rachel's assignment had to do with something in the early 1700's called the War of Jenkins' Ear. Swear to God). Rachel is taking AP American History, which her father took in 1979-80 as well, and it is refreshing that much seems familiar already. I am going to be interested to see how the second half of the twentieth century is treated. One of my most vivid memories of my AP class was Mr. Harvey saying "In 1933, Germany elected Adolf Hitler as Chancellor, and Americans elected Franklin Roosevelt as President. There is a significant number of people in this country who will tell you Germany got a better deal." I thought he was making a joke at the time, but over the course of my adult life, it has been starkly apparent that he was dead serious, and that those people have taken over the country. But I digress... Jessica has read and was doing work on "The Most Dangerous Game," which I also remember from my ninth grade English class. I thought it was a great little story (I can remember reading a whole bunch of short stories from 9th grade English--"TMDG," "The Lottery," "Lamb to the Slaughter," "The Monkey's Paw," "The Ransom of Red Chief," and "The Star." I also remember Mrs. Silverstein taking up weeks reading Great Expectations aloud in class. I remember several other high school English classes very well, too--the two with Mr. Lippmann and Mythology with Mr. Donatelli. But strangely enough, I have no idea what I took as either of my two English electives in the eleventh grade or who taught the classes. Absolutely none), but Jessica disagreed. I was also surprised to find that the band had been to Baldwinsville yesterday for a competition; the Johnson City Band is all over the state until mid-winter, it seems, which is why they were doing homework here. That's fine by me.
Sabrina hasn't gotten a lot of homework yet; there was one night last week she was doing it past 8:30, but so far it's been manageable for her. She also says she gets some done at school. She is very much liking middle school so far, which is a relief to me, even if there are a couple of friends I haven't met yet that I am not sure I am going to like. I intend to broach the subject of Columbus Day this week. For years, she has had a friend sleep over Columbus Day weekend. I am sure that tradition will continue; I'm just not sure who it's going to be. It might be Hailey again; they remain pretty tight even though they are in different schools. But this new BFF in her grade, Kali, might be the new favored friend, and I would like some idea of who she spends so much time trading text messages with. She's fit right in at the new school and made a bunch of new friends, just like I said she would, and I think it is all working out all right.
She is not getting along any better with her mother. Before we even got back to our house yesterday, Shannon called and was reaming her out on the phone about something, so much so that Sabrina just held the phone out at arm's length while we were getting our stuff inside. I thought it was not coincidence that she chose to watch Akeelah and the Bee yesterday afternoon, too; the mother in the movie is so caught up in her own crap and the brother's troubles that she barely notices that Akeelah is doing something very special. Sabrina even said she can identify with that feeling every time she's at her mother's house. I have absolutely no fear that she is ever going to choose to live primarily over there.
And as September winds down, the work routine settles in, too. I will feel more normal when this month is over and the fiscal year ends, but today is the first day I will spend hours at Johnson City as part of the CDBG grant. Once October 1 rolls around, it will be back to the normal urgency for a few months.
As I said, we're back to more or less routine. And I am more than comfortable with it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cable Outage

Not in Binghamton--today--but in Vestal and Endicott. Some goofy BU kid was talking to another goofy BU kid (not texting, at least according to the paper) and managed to take out a Time Warner utility pole and their fiberoptic cable that apparently serves Vestal and Endicott, because they lost cable and Internet for several hours. And it was BIG NEWS; front page of the paper, in fact.
My Binghamton self finds this very interesting. Two Sundays ago, we had no cable and no Internet for better than two hours. Not only Binghamton, but all points east and north lost it, too-I know it was out in Chenango Forks, in Castle Creek, indeed as far as Oneonta. But according to our local media, it never happened, because there was never an item in the paper about it. I went to my office and got on the agency network and got on Time Warner's website, and there was never a word about it there, either. Of course, you can't call Time Warner and find out; whenever something goes wrong, their customer help line is either busy or "can't be connected." The paper noted today that was the case yesterday, too.
None of this is surprising anymore; Time Warner is so dominant in mass communication in the Northeast that they are nearly impervious to any sort of outcry from their consumers, one of the best examples of capitalism run amok. There are, to be sure, other options-- you can get Verizon DSL for cable Internet (and live with numerous impossible-to-figure-out-what-they-are little fees) , and either DirectTV or Dish for television (no local TV, and you have to get outside and brush off the dish every time it snows). But Time Warner is undoubtedly, in theory, the best way to go. But they sure make it hard to feel good having it. Their salesmen are pushy and rude; I had one, when I lived in Webster Court, whose opening sales pitch was "I see you're stealing channels you shouldn't be getting" (I wasn't) and offering me a chance to "sign up at a good rate before the police got involved." Their service calls are legendary for their ability to cost you time at your job ("We'll be there between noon and 6 PM"). They aren't terribly competent, either; when I got RoadRunner here two years ago, I ended up with a bunch of channels I shouldn't have been getting because their installation guy forgot to bring the right blocker combination and told me he wasn't about to go back to the office and get it, so I would have 60 channels I shouldn't until the next service call (which was this summer). And their customer service via phone isn't half bad--if you can get through. They were one of the first I remember with a superlong automated menu that insures it's 3-4 minutes before you talk to a human being in the best of circumstances, and if something really major is going on, like yesterday or two weeks ago, they either shut it down or it gets hopelessly overloaded. If you somehow have access to their website (don't you love it when an IT department tells you to send an email to tell you of the problem? If the problem is your Internet service, then what are you supposed to do?), I must say they respond within a half-hour--which is good. But that's not always the case.
But Time-Warner, as much as it is one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, can't do much about some nitwit BU kid taking out a pole. What got me was what passes for news around here. Most of the people with money in the area live in Vestal, it seems--they sure seem to think so, at any rate--and many of the rest live in the more affluent sections of Endicott and Endwell. When there is something happening in Binghamton, it's not news; we're all drug dealers/users on welfare, anyway, who probably lost power because some black crackhead stripped a power wire to get copper for a screen in his pipe (during an outage a few years ago, I actually heard some bozo who lives in Endwell say this; never mind that fiberoptic cables aren't made of metal, but you get the idea). But when it happens on a Saturday in suburbia--oh, the horror! Not being able to watch the Yanks? Not being to watch "Cops"? Not having access to 75 channels you never watch? Now that's a major news story.
It might not happen in my lifetime, but many factors, most prominent the likely continued rise of gasoline prices, are pointing to a contraction of American life back into the cities in the relatively near future. I hope I am around to see it--just so the rightful order of things can be reinstated. Without Binghamton, the rest of the outlying areas have no reason to exist. It would be nice if that was acknowledged once in a while.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Review: THE SONG IS YOU

Sometimes when you discover an author that you like, and you start to read their entire body of work, you end up wondering, after several installments, why you even bothered ( eg Steve Berry). Other writers, though, you end up becoming major fans of, and such is the case with me and Megan Abbott. The Song Is You was her second novel, published in 2007, and was simply a great novel. The elements of the now-familar formula were present--set in the early 1950's, murder of a starlet, relentlessly illumination of the darker side of the glamourous set--but this effort was absolutely superb. The plot twists were many and well-hidden; the protagonist's (a man in this one) descent into obsession, on the edges of a whirlpool, is masterfully portrayed, and by the end, all has been turned upside down. Abbott's view of the world (or at least the people inhabiting it) is similarly cynical to my own, which is one reason why I enjoy her books so much. As much as I liked the two later books of hers that I read, I now realize that they weren't quite on the level of this one; this book is a masterpiece of the genre.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: SUPREME POWER

Supreme Power is Jeff Shesol's in-depth study of a forgotten but hugely important part of American history--the problems that FDR had in the 1930's with the Supreme Court that culminated in his "court-packing" plan and its defeat. It is well-researched, very interesting to read over most of its length, and most of the major players are portrayed in a balanced and thorough manner. Most politically-themed books should be this well-done.
And yet, reading it, I was not struck so much by the high quality of the writing as the sense of deja vu. As the daily headlines are filled with Tea Parties and insane rhetoric, and as the country struggles to get out from economic calamity, I was struck by familiar it all seemed, even though the events happened 75 years ago. The entrenched economic interests trotted out the same arguments; there were the same bought-and-paid-for hacks in Congress and in the press doing their bidding; and there was the same ultimate SWAT team for the interests of money sitting as the ultimate word sitting on the Supreme Court, ready to put the interests of property and wealth above the interests of justice while cloaking their motivations in a mantle of "the Constitution."
And I was so saddened by the difference between a President that was committed to the well-being of the vast majority of the population, that was willing to consider almost any idea that might help, and who was willing to use his popularity and his office for substantial rather than cosmetic effect--and what we have now. Roosevelt was hated by the same segments of the population as Obama is--and he welcomed their scorn, and he challenged them, and he used the office and his mandate to ram change down their throats. That Roosevelt's plan didn't work and that he made perhaps the first political blunder of his Presidency ultimately was not the point-- his remaking of the country we live in assumed the air of permanency because he made the challenge and forced the defenders of the status quo on the defensive and ultimately made them accommodate and accept the new reality, even if philosophically they did not want to. And thank goodness he did, because the forces he combated have been fighting steadily to erode what FDR wrought ever since, with only limited success. From 1980 to 2008, most especially, the New Deal institutions that FDR bequeathed as his legacy were under pressure from some of the most reactionary and blatantly acquisitive people in history--but while they have been shaken, they are still in place, only because FDR had the balls and ability to beat those forces back.
This guy doesn't have it in him. I thought from the moment I first saw and heard him in 2007 that he was an empty suit, and I was right.
One other thing that I noticed reading the book was the impact of radio in the national debate of those days. As a form of mass communication, radio is much more compelling and much more given to allowing serious contemplation and instruction than TV. TV is about visual image above all else, and since human beings' most developed sense is sight, the intellectual aspect of anything on television is secondary to the images presented. With radio, there is no image, and if one has to listen to what is being said, then one has to think about it, and thus a more rational presentation, aimed at the better nature of people, has more of a chance to succeed. TV has been the downfall, in so many ways, of the American political process, and this is another buttressing argument in support of that proposition. It is doubtful FDR could have accomplished what he did in any other era; it was the one point in American history where people had access to instant media that did not pander to their baser instincts, where the ability to think and reason was necessary (the newspaper age was similar, but it was much slower). FDR could not have been such a commanding presence on the national stage if there were pictures of him in a wheelchair on TV constantly, and his ability to frame the debate would have been bent and twisted if he had had to rely on the newspapers (which, incredibly, were even more against him in the 1930's than those of today are anti-Obama) to reach the electorate.
This is why the Internet is so important. It's not quite as stimulating intellectually as radio is, but it's a hell of a lot more so than television is. It's no accident that progressive forces have gotten a major boost in the last fifteen years, since the Net became a widespread feature of American life. And virtually all "grassroots" activity on the liberal side of the spectrum emanates from the Internet. The Tea Party and the forces of conservatism--let's call it what it is, the forces of the monied aristocracy-- have a stranglehold on television and newspapers and, ironically, radio now, as well. The Internet is the best place we liberals have to get the message across, to do our work, and to combat the forces of, yes, to call it what it is, evil.
Because if we don't, we live in just another society where the rich get richer and we all are mostly concerned with survival. We lose our status as a historical anomaly. And not incidentally, most of our lives will be much harder and more brutal then they presently are. It's a shame so many people are openly yearning for servility and ultimate misery, and willing to blame anyone but those truly responsible for those for their current distress. FDR didn't make that mistake--and when he failed, he still won. The Supreme Court, in the middle of the court-packing debate, began to uphold the New Deal laws that made it in front of it, because they understood that one way or another, FDR was not going to rest unless the will of the people was followed and the basic function of government as FDR saw it--to improve the general welfare, not to protect the interests of the wealthy and propertied-- was implemented. By the time FDR "lost" the court proposal, the monumental accomplishments of his first term were beyond reproach.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Long Week

It's only Thursday morning, and I feel like I've walked to Buffalo and back. Work has been difficult. I had to deal with the first major adolescent crisis of Sabrina's life; she has accepted her consequences to this point, but the tug-of-war continues and I know it is only the opening skirmish in a insurrection that will go on for years. Now she is dealing with either a bad allergy or a cold, and I'm not sure what kind of shape she's going to be in when I wake her up in an hour.
Still, I think back to a year ago, and realize how much has changed for the better. Last September 15, I thought I was staring at the loss of federal funding and looking at a pay cut. Sabrina's mother was facing three felony charges, and I had no idea how that situation was going to play out; the level of near-total responsibility I have for my daughter now was still in the novel stage. As busy as I am now, it isn't quite as overloaded as it was last September, and the cases are not as heartbreaking. So in other words, it could be worse.

Still, I will feel better when I am back home this afternoon. And even better on Friday around 5 PM, when I know the week is over. Saturday, for the first time since August, I do not have, at present, any work-related matters to take up part of my day. Let's hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Voting

Remember when voting actually meant something and was relatively simple? I do. It was only a few years ago. I can remember voting in a few elections where I felt like my vote mattered (almost entirely local elections, I might add; I can't think of a meaningful New York statewide or national election where the result was not a foregone conclusion since Pataki/Cuomo in 1992) and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the old pull-the-lever system.. Yesterday, I voted in the primaries (there was a somewhat meaningful contest for Democratic candidate for sheriff). They used the new machines last November, but my memory was there was a little more privacy for filling out the ballot. Standing at a counter with 12-inch plywood partitions on my sides, then walking across a room and putting it in a machine like the ones at Price Chopper that take your money at the self-checkout station is not my idea of "secret ballot." For one thing, someone who really wanted to could no doubt have seen how I filled out my ballot at any number of points. Two, I have no idea of whether my vote was tallied correctly. Three, someone could have walked over to the machine and found out how I could have just voted, it seemed; it certainly is a hell of a lot more possible than it was under the old system. And four, although my station had no glitches, there were problems all over the county.
In retrospect, it was amazing how many Bush-era laws had titles that seemed to be almost deliberately ironic: No Child Left Behind, PATRIOT Act, etc. The Help America Vote fit right in; it took a relatively simply procedure and not only made it more difficult, but vastly increased the ability to tamper with and incorrectly tally the votes. It was almost as if someone(s) in the adminsistration read 1984 and took it as a utopian blueprint rather than as cautionary satire. And I have no doubt that the law has accomplished exactly what its framers intended-- it is easier to cheat and much harder to actually vote, so that fewer people will bother and the results can be manipulated in a way that makes it harder to get caught.
When Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, he was asking whether a democracy could last. One reason why he said that was because, historically, democracies don't last. The United States is already lasted longer than any other legitimately democratic political entity that has ever existed, but it is under threat from the same classes for the same reasons as the failed entities were--from the moneyed class, for the reason of confiscating and hoarding as much of the available wealth as possible. The only thing that has changed is the technological means available to facilitate the power grab. And it is succeeding. I fully expect that American democracy, as we grew up experiencing it, will be relegated to the past tense by time my daughters are my age.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Threshold

Yesterday was going to be a big day for my daughter. I had to be on the road to Schenectady by 7:45, and West Middle starts their school day at 8:25. So I decided, since she has walked home a couple of days already, to allow her to walk to school. Three times on Sunday night and three more times before I left the house yesterday, I reminded her that I wanted her to call me when she left the house and call/text when she got to the school. Each time, she agreed.
So I am up around Unadilla at 8:10 and am wondering if she has left the house yet, because she already likes hanging out with friends before everyone has to go inside. At 8:12, I call her, and she answers, claiming she "forgot" to call and that she was already better than halfway there. I told her to call/text me when she got there, and she agreed. Five minutes, then ten passed, and it's now 8:22 and three minutes before the bell, and no word, so, increasingly annoyed, I call. No answser. No answer to the text. No answer to three more calls. Now it's 8:30, and I'm wondering if something happened. How can you not answer repeated calls? I ended up--while driving on 88--getting the attendance office to check if she was she was actually in school.
Which she was. She claimed, when I eventually reached her, to have "got caught up talking to her friends and forgetting." I am thinking, "Bullshit;" it was a deliberate choice to ignore me. I flipped out originally, thinking every privilege in the world was going by the wayside, but by time the afternoon rolled around, this is what I settled on, helped considerably by an opportunity to leave Schenectady early and actually be present at the end of school, and as actually said to her: "If you're having that much trouble remembering and concentrating, perhaps I can help you with that. Let's stay off the computer for a week, and regarding your phone, this is what we'll do. I will hand you your phone when you are getting out of the car at school in the morning, and you can turn it on. You will call me, if you are walking home, when you leave the school and when you get home. I will take the phone back when I arrive home and turn it off again until the following morning. I will also change your Facebook password, and we'll see how your general attitude is all week before I decide to allow you to get back on it come next week."
She didn't like it, but it could have been worse. I reminded her that, compared to many parents, I don't ask a lot of her or have a lot of rules--but what I do ask of her, I expect 100% compliance, and it is 100% certain that there will be consequences when I don't get it, and it is 100% certain that those consequences will be in place for the entire time period, or something very close to it. I told her that she failed the first big test of taking more responsibility she was given, and it's going to take some time for trust to build back up. We'll see how she reacts. My guess is that her memory is going to prove to be much more sharp in the near future. But we will see.
I also told her mother of what happened, and left it up to her whether to continue the ban on the weekend when Sabrina is there. Shannon told me she would prefer that I keep the phone at our house, because she's "tired of getting up in the middle of the night and seeing her text her friends and being on-line from her phone." Interesting if she has been, because she was told a couple of weeks ago that getting on the Internet from the phone was absolutely verboten. The phone bill comes in a week, and if she did get online after being told not to, she's may end up losing the phone number she's had since the first grade. It isn't even like she can do much to improve the finances around here; she's 11.
Sigh. I really was hoping that I wouldn't have to be dealing with this kind of stuff for another year or two.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: A KINGDOM STRANGE

No, A Kingdom Strange is not about current affairs or recent United States history. It is an account by James Hand of the "lost colony" of Roanoke, the first concerted (but very small-scale, as the book makes clear) attempt at English settlement in what was to become the United States. The book is very detailed both about what happened in North Carolina and what was going on in England at the time; the reason the colony was "lost" was the timing of the Spanish Armada and the necessity of the English to marshall all their resources to that end. The amount of time and resources that could be devoted to making the Roanoke colony viable were miniscule, and as a result the colony did not take root. One piece of information I did not know before reading the cook is that, contrary to legend, the English did have plenty of information on what happened to the colonists; a good portion of them took up with friendly local Indian tribes inland, and were alive and well until the Jamestown colony was established. Available evidence seems to indicate that they were killed at that time to prevent a linkage with the new arrivals.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Big Kids

I realized it with a start on Thursday. I had dropped off Sabrina at West, only the second day of middle school but already watching her stroll up like she owned the place, and then made my way to Johnson City High School, where I spend an inordinate amount of time (as a matter of fact, that morning they gave me my own office), and realized that Jessica and Rachel were both in the building somewhere. I have two kids in high school. I have two kids in high school. My baby is in middle school. And suddenly I felt like my youth is long gone. I don't necessarily feel old, mind you, but I am definitely not young, anymore.
Rachel and Jessica are coming here today for the first time since August, and they will be here with Sabrina for the first time since late June, I think. I am very proud and happy of the way each of them has developed and grown and the wonderful kids they have become. All three (although Jessica would probably deny it) have a good bit of Dad's personality in them; none suffer fools easily or at all if possible, all of them are intelligent and not easily flustered, and none of them will subordinate aspects of themselves to fit in. It's always very comfortable for me to be around with them now, and Sabrina has gotten along well with both of them for some time and with Rachel in particular for years. I'm really looking forward to this afternoon.
And just think, in about a year Rachel can drive us places in her own car...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Another "Patriot Day"

Today is the nation's annual exercise in mass mourning and near-hysteria, the anniversary of 9/11. I have very mixed feelings about the orgy of "never forget" drumbeats out there. On one hand, it was a terrible tragedy and a blow to many people, and should be remembered. On the other, it has led to even greater tragedies for this country and others around the globe in the name of "freedom" that have served as 1) nothing more than blind vengeance, 2) a means to defame a substantial percentage of Americans by another substantial percentage of Americans because their patriotism is not sufficiently transparent and shallow enough to be publicly on display at all times, 3) a mockery of the ideals we are ostensibly trying to protect, and 4) perhaps most damaging of all,  a way of ruining our children's future by exhausting our coffers engaging in exploitative (Iraq) and futile (Afghanistan) foreign wars that have turned into quagmires and left behind hundreds of thousands of dead people and filled a reservoir of anti-American hatred so deep among so many that we have guaranteed the existence of generations of enemies that are much more likely to sustain their animus, over the long run, then we are. This year's anniversary has been hijacked by a Florida nitwit who claims to doing God's work by wanting to burn a copy of the Koran in a public ceremony, allegedly as a response to a New York Muslim community wanting to establish a mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero. My views on the mosque haven't changed any since I wrote about it two weeks ago. If we are not going to hold all Catholics responsible for the St. Valentine's Day massacre, and all Congregationalists responsible for the Salem witch trials, or any other group of religious practitioners responsible for heinous acts committed by people who nominally shared their belief system, then why would we hold all Muslims responsible for 9/11? The answer, of course is that we shouldn't. It's tempting to say that the rising level of bigotry being fanned by the Fox News-types is solely responsible for this travesty of a "debate," but even a cursory look at American history shows that mob behavior and narrow-mined intolerance have always been a significant part of the national character. From the treatment of Loyalists during the Revolution to the Know-Nothing era to the treatment of Indians and blacks to the treatment of labor pioneers to the treatment of Germans during World War I and of Japanese during World War II to the treatment of the anti-Vietnam portion of the population during the 1960's, demonization and attempted suppression of all those who are "different" from the mainstream and who can be plausibly scapegoated for "trouble" have been set up as straw men for the mob for almost 240 years. Why stop now? It's as quintessentially American as apple pie.
Anyhow, I am mighty tired of being assailed by uberpatriots and ignorant bedwetters to make sure I "never forget." One, I wasn't going to, anyway, because I was as devastated as any of them by 9/11, and two, how can I possibly do so even if I wanted to because of the constant exhortations that are everywhere every September? If you want to truly remember 9/11, then stop voting for those who crassly manipulate patriotism to further nefarious agendas like raping other countries of their resources and creating vast private security forces that are always going to need "insurrections" to fight and, unlike the regular Army, have no legal and ethical basis to not do so in this country if their bosses decide that's where they need to be deployed. If you want to truly remember 9/11, then fight the madness--don't get caught up in bullshit about locations of religious observance centers, combat the sheep who spread the irrational and incorrect fears of the ignorant, and vote, while it is still possible to do so, for those few candidates who are actually committed to the ideals codified in the Bill of Rights instead of those who would wish to use their offices to perpetuate the cycles of violence, institutional rapacity, and neo-imperial exercise of raw naked (and increasingly ineffectual) power and force.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It Might Be Over

Last night was the beginning of the football season, and the Vikings were again pitted against the Saints at the Superdome. The fact that they lost a game they could have easily won is (besides depressingly familiar) not the point. The point is that I watched for about five minutes. Unlike the previous forty seasons, I simply don't have the strength to come back to the table for more this year. It's like that point in a relationship where a breaking point has been reached, where a line has been crossed, where you just accept that it's over, where there has been too much damage done, where there is a piece of your heart that simply has gone numb and cannot be thawed. I honestly think I have reached that point with the Purple. I don't care like I once did. Something about that fiasco last winter snapped something in me that may not be repairable. I was not even tempted to stay with the game for the second half last night. I switched it on just long enough to see them go ahead at the end of the first half, and decided I'd rather read in bed than devote two more hours to what I knew what be would be a disappointing result.
And I was right. If pressed, I would've guessed that New Orleans would come out breathing fire, put up a quick two touchdowns, and cost to a win along the lines of 34-20 or something. I would have guessed that the second-most likely outcome was a Saints rout--that they would score a bunch of times and win something like 42-16. I definitely was not expecting a 14-9 final, but does it matter? They lost, and of that I was 100% certain from the time the schedule was announced months ago. Watching it would have been like watching Election Night in 1984 or something.
But even more, as talented as this team is in some places, it's not going to happen for this bunch. The injuries aren't helping their chances, but even if Rice and Harvin and Cook and the other injured guys were there, they're still the Vikings. We still have the World's Biggest Ego at quarterback who can be counted on to throw a pick whenever you really don't need one. We still have this generation's Mark Gastineau "anchoring" the defensive line. We still have to hold our breath every time there's a handoff to Peterson, waiting for the next fumble. And most of all, we still have a coach that can be counted on to make five or six bad decisions a game, and who has zero ability to change preconceived notions when reality proves to be different. It's like having W coach a football team.
And yet, I unconsciously typed "we," didn't I? Maybe it's just a case of lowered expectations. Maybe it's like being the parent of a child who gets arrested two dozen times. After a while, you stop running to the station to make bail, you stop asking what happened, and you stop getting worked up over the danger he's exposing himself to--but you never stop loving a child. Even at the end of this year's 6-10 season, I am not going to be looking for another team to root for. The only other one I have even a twinge of feeling for is the Bills, and they're more hopeless than the Vikings ever will be. But I digress... the pain is less prevalent now, but there has been massive scarring. I am not going to get caught up in this again, and the fact that it's been like this for four decades is enough. I'm wrung out; I won't do this to myself again. The analogies to my other sports quests in my life aren't holding up. It took me a few years to get past 1987 with Syracuse, but with a college basketball team, you have a whole new team within three years to root for. The Red Sox tore my heart out for decades, and yet there was always the feeling, at least from the mid-90's onwards, that there was always a chance, that they were always getting better, because they had some great players and kept adding more pieces trying to get over the top (and when their chosen field leader let the team down, they fired his ass). The Rangers, too, tore my heart out on many occasions--but in their case, there was always at least one other team that in my heart of hearts, I knew was better than they were. Even in 1992, the way they lost to the Penguins was galling, but it was hard to make the case that they were demonstrably better than the Penguins. I think the only time in my entire life that I thought the Rangers had a Cup winner that lost to an inferior team was when I was eleven years old, in 1974 (and I still feel that way three-plus decades later, after watching the team and that series on MSG's Vault in the summer). But the Vikings... there have been three different eras where they have clearly had the best team in the league and have not won-- late 1980's, 1998, and last year. There have been a few other years where, if things had broken right, they could have slipped in. It isn't happening. It's just not going to happen.
And I'm tired of waiting for Godot. I'm just not going to do this to myself anymore.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Review: THE FRANCHISE

The Franchise is an older book, published in 1998, that I nonetheless found interesting because of its subject matter. Michael MacCambridge looked into the history of Sports Illustrated magazine from its beginnings to its heyday to the beginning of its decline in the mid-1990's. To someone of my age, many of the personalities populating the pages are vaguely familiar, and I have read many of the writers literally since I could read (although I have to confess I never understood what the big deal was about Dan Jenkins). But the book, interesting as it must have been when it came out, is also more interesting because of the way the last decade or so has gone. The cable competitor to ESPN, CNN/SI, went bellyup years ago, and the magazine itself, despite many cosmetic changes, is still struggling to maintain its preeminence (although this is true of all print media; ESPN's magazine is no raging success, either).
And I confess, as someone whose subscription was allowed to lapse circa 1997, that I find the magazine so distasteful that it rarely gets even a cursive look/see in a dentist's waiting room. The writing is substandard compared to what it was 30 years ago, and the pages are so busy that it's hard to read. The change toward this sort of monstrosity was already gathering steam during the time frame covered by this book. Like every other Time, Inc., magazine, SI is not destined to last forever; a world without Life was unimaginable in 1962, yet a decade later the magazine was gone.
But the story told within is fascinating, at least for those of us who have dreamt of writing for a living and who love sports. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, dated as it is.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Adventure Begins

Today is the beginning of another school year. For Sabrina, today is her first day of middle school. She is setting her alarm for 6 AM in order to be ready for an 8:25 first bell. I told her I didn't think it was necessary to get up that early, and she told me that she needs to curl her hair and get herself ready, and I flashed back to my sister Marianne getting up at 4:30 every day of the two years we were in high school together. I am sure, with Sabrina, as routine settles in, that 6 AM will stretch to a somewhat later time, but there is no doubt it is a new era.
And one she is reasonably ready for, to all appearances. She seems pretty accepting of the summer ending (I think I can thank her mother for that one; Sabrina simply did not have a great time hanging out at Mom's during the day very often) and of the challenge of a new school. And I am very proud of her for being so accepting, and gratified, too. One shorthand measure I have always had of Sabrina's state of mind has been her willingness to explore and try new things. As a little kid, her self-confidence was noticeably higher than most, as was her willingness to learn, and that mindset was something I worked very hard to nurture. She was always encouraged to learn things, supported without being suffocated, and taught that initial setbacks were not a reason to not try. At times in the last couple of years, she got complacent in some areas and reluctant to accept challenges in others--not much, but not the gung-ho dynamo of learning ability she had been at three and five and seven years of age. But that seems to have returned; she is genuinely looking forward to going to middle school.
The all-star experience helped this summer. Not only did she learn that she belonged in elite company, but she met with and made friends with a whole bunch of (good) kids that are either already at West Middle or entering with her. I am hoping that she gets KK or Emily in her block and/or classes, and that Maggie Rose and Nika and Maggie Hill and Lily stay friendly with her even though they are in higher grades. But Sabrina makes friends fairly easily, in any event, and while there is always a bit of trepidation hoping that your child fits in socially in a new environment, I don't feel much of it--she's a good kid and has a lot of different interests, which means she should be able to draw a larger pool of friends.
The walking from school bit is going to be new and a little nerve-wracking at first. The plan is for me to drop her off most mornings, but that she is, in good weather, expected to walk home. It's about ten minutes away, in the "better" direction, and while I am really not too anxious about it, the next couple of days, you'd better believe I will be texting her at 3:27 and 3:33 about her progress. And by Monday, she needs to have the route down pat, because I have to be in Schenectady at 9:30 and she's going to have to walk to school as well as home from that day. But I am sure by October 1 it will already be old hat and routine.
Jessica doesn't start high school until tomorrow; Johnson City, for some reason, starts a day later than most of the other schools. And my job is becoming much more hectic and active. Three or four years ago, there used to be a honeymoon period at the beginning of school; I didn't see a pick-up in the number of calls/cases until October. Then it became mid-September, and then last year it started right on the first day of school. This year, it started right on September 1; I will be going right to Binghamton High School from dropping off Sabrina, and then to Columbus afterwards, while tomorrow I will be going to Johnson City right from dropping off Sabrina. I am sure I will be hearing from my friends at Union-Endicott and Maine-Endwell before the end of the week, as well, and maybe even Susquehanna Valley. I'm not complaining; it was pretty dry this summer as far as admissions.
Today, I am just focusing on my pride in my not-so-little girl. It's a big step in her life's journey, and I want it to be a good day and a good beginning. And I feel so much more at ease knowing that her main support, her main guide, her locus of existence, is with me and here, rather than Munsell Street and her mother. Eleven years into her life, seven years into her schooling, everything is still possible for her. For many of her peers, sadly this is already not the case.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Familar Story Takes A Twist

Sunday, the plan was for me to pick up Sabrina at her mother's around noon and just take her home long enough to get dressed for Nancy's wedding shower before she went there and over to Nancy's overnight. At 10:30, while I was in CVS buying the shower card, I get a phone call from Shannon. She said she was sick of Sabrina's attitude and mouth and demanded I pick her up early "because she's instigating trouble with Christopher." Now, I've been having a bit of trouble of Sabrina and her entrance into adolescence myself, but nothing that drove me to that level, and I certainly have my doubts that Sabrina instigates anything with the Monster, but I said I would be there shortly.
And then I get the following text message from Sabrina: "I'M GETTING TO THE POINT WHERE I CAN'T STAND HER AT ALL ANYMORE I WANNA PRETTY MUCH LIVE WITH YOU ALL THE TIME I HATE HER!!!". Wow. So naturally I ask her what happened when I picked her up. It's the same old story: Shannon communicates by yelling, favors the Monster, and has the patience of a gnat. But more telling, Sabrina said that the yelling starts and "she doesn't let it go," which is a classic symptom of someone exercising power simply because she can, which terribly upsets Sabrina. I've worked on that for her entire life, because it was one of the things about my own childhood that hurt the most, and I've tried very hard, especially this summer, if I am angry, to say what I have to say and let it go. Sabrina has told me that her strategy for dealing with angry adults is "tuning them out," and I've actually noticed that after about 10 seconds or so, she doesn't seem to have any recollection of anything said, so I think she does tune it out. I've adjusted. I don't yell like Shannon does anyway, but I do yell on occasion, but I try very hard to keep it short. This "hating" bit is somewhat new, but it's just another sign of adolescence, as far as I am concerned, and while she does not like many things about Shannon, it's her mother and true hate is not in the cards, I don't think.
But there are some disturbing elements to the situation over there. I made up my mind months ago that, as middle school becomes reality, that I need to get serious about getting child support; ten dollars a month isn't going to cut it for Sabrina's allowance anymore, and I'm frankly extremely tired of Shannon continuing to smoke regularly, having hundreds of cable channels, and buying huge bags of dog and cat food every week while crying poverty. She touts her buying rollies as progress, and I suppose it is better than the $9 per pack that Marlboros apparently are now, but one complaint Sabrina has had for months is that Shannon spends most of her time in front of the television rolling cigarettes. I have six channels on my television, and still pay (along with wireless) $61/month to Time Warner; I can't imagine how she is shelling out more for many channels and digital phone, too. And I spend about $30 month on our pet, mostly for bedding; it eats grass, not bags and bags of dog food. It would be one thing if she had ankle biters or even hounds, but she has a Rottweiler and a Lab mix, both rather large dogs with the appetites of small armies. As I said, I am tired of hearing her complain about her finances and looking to borrow money to take care of necessities. She managed to scam the system into giving her SSI for the Monster (have you ever heard of a 6YO kid being bi-polar? I thought so), and while I am not looking to break the bank, I think it's time she did her share for Sabrina. I have an appointment to see my lawyer next Monday on the subject, and I am sure that is going to be more hassle, but it's becoming necessary.
But even more to the point, Shannon is losing control of her household. Aside from Sabrina, she apparently is not going to do the right thing by the Monster. Nothing will exacerbate problems in a kid like holding him to standards he is not capable of meeting. This is the second time that it was recommended that the kid be held back, for his own good; regardless of his intellectual capabilities, which are ordinary at best, socially he needs to be held back because he cannot handle the added responsibilities of his current age group. It's not a black mark or a stigma,; it happens to a fair number of kids. But she refuses to do it, for reasons that are nothing more than a fear that it is going to reflect poorly on her abilities as a parent. She is also losing it with the 16YO boy. Everyone has wondered for years how Jacob turned out as well as he did, all things considered, but the years of no male figure in his life, being asked to be a second adult in the house, and inconsistent direction coming from her are now extracting their cost. As if she didn't have enough silly expenses, she has been buying drug screens at CVSBinghamton played their first game this past weekend and he's not on the team. His grades, pretty good up until high school, have nosedived the last two years, and at this point, he's going to do well just to graduate from the high school, rather than GED track or getting sent to Columbus. He also had that bit in the spring about making noise about leaving home; I never did meet with him, but I think I am going to put that on my agenda early this year, because if something happens to him, that will mean Shannon will try to put even more on Sabrina.
This is Exhibit A of why people should not have children as teens. Shannon did not have a lot going for her in any case, but having a child at 19 put her in a hole that she has found it difficult to get out of, and her lack of judgement skills and inability to maintain a consistent course of action have negatively affected three children. Sabrina will survive and even thrive because she has me and support on this side of the family, but it would be better if her mother was not an albatross around her neck. The other two don't have strong father figures, and they don't have a chance to make it to healthy, fulfilling adulthood.
Not a chance. And how sad it is.
Anyhow, Sabrina is spending the day over there today, as it is the last day of summer vacation. School starts tomorrow, and I think she is looking forward to it. I know I am.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review: MYTHS, LIES, AND DOWNRIGHT STUPIDITY

A title like Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity is always going to get my attention. It is a look at many different commonly accepted pieces of wisdom by 20/20 anchor John Stossel. Stossel got his start on the national show as a consumer reporter, and his chapters on common ideas about consumer products are insightful and helpful. Less so are his ideas about economic practices (as pertaining to big business) and the role of government in our life. Stossel is an open "libertatian" of the Rand Paul type, and his insistence on blaming the "government" for virtually every ill is annoying and repetitive. The book was written in 2005, and it is almost amusing to read his paeans to the "market" and his propoganda in favor of Corporate American practice. Especially annoying was the "outsourcing is good" argument. It doesn't matter if we end up with shoes that cost us $4 if no one has a fucking job and income. That's what a lot of these assholes don't get; it isn't so much as about "efficiency" and "competition" as it is that "everyone wins if everyone has some money to spend." As great as free trade is on paper, in practice free trade and the lack of regulation by what Stossel views as the enemy leads to a vast majority of people trying to subsist, and your consumer-based economy goes to shit. That's why FDR was the best leader we've ever had; he understood that in order to have a viable national economy, people needed to have jobs and the ability to buy things. No one in the current climate seems to realize that, and as a result we're nowhere near the bottom yet.
I don't watch TV; I don't even know if Stossel is on 20/20 anymore, or even if the show is still on the air. But it's rare when a comeuppance of this level occurs. Of the dozen chapters exposing "myths," at least four turned out to true after all. And Stossel's ideology is as much of a myth as that which he is trying to expose. Still, as I mentioned, in some areas this was worthwhile reading; generic food, to take a small example, is as good or better than brand name stuff--something I learned by necessity seven years ago, but nonetheless I was glad to see confirmed.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book Review: THE BISHOP MUST DIE

The Bishop Must Die is another Michael Jecks Templar mystery. This one sees the death of a familiar character, but it is also a portrait of a nation on the verge of mutiny. It is set in an actual time and place, depicting real events: the end of the reign of Edward II of England, and it covers much of the fateful year of 1326. The desperation of the loyalists, the conflict between what is best for the realm and oaths taken, is movingly depicted in many of the characters, as is the opportunism and the removal of moral brakes in some less-savory characters at such times. The Bishop himself is a rich character, with many good qualities offset by an overwhelming avarice that has led to his predicament. I will not spoil the end of this book, other than to say that in revolutions, a lot of people die. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment of the series.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Curious Happenings

Even I have gotten a little sick of talking about how crappy national politics have become; the Corporate Overlords are in charge, and no propaganda is too silly to throw out there to justify the continuing pillage of the vast majority of the population. I don't like it, but I've more or less accepted that, and have to deal with it as best I can until my daughters are able to function independently. But this morning, there was a note on the Press website about Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan's getting another adjournment on a speeding ticket he got in Johnson City over 15 months ago. He was ticketed for going 46 in a 30 zone, and has had the court hearing adjourned several times since then, including once more yesterday. Ryan claims that the ticket is "politically motivated," and that he continues to fight it on "principle."
Whatever the issue is, it sure doesn't seem to be principle. First off, the ticket was given in May 2009, over five months before the election last year. I highly doubt that he was targeted, or that it was a political issue; I follow the news pretty regular, and yesterday was the first I've heard about this ticket. Secondly, Ryan is clearly using his training as a lawyer and position as mayor to manipulate the system. He has accused Judge Miller of bias, claiming that since they are members of different political parties, and have clashed in the past, Miller should not preside over the trial. He has requested postponements because of official duties (which were granted). He accused Miller of acting illegally by setting bail on a bench warrant--not sure if it's correct, but I can understand , after a year, why it was done. Yesterday, he claimed he could not have the trial because his lawyer could not attend--a lawyer he conveniently had hired on the previous day. This sounds suspiciously like abuse of power and position not only to me, but to virtually anyone else in the community, too. I haven't got the time and resources to drag this out, and I would have gotten one adjournment at best. There comes a time where perception of your actions has to trump whatever you might believe the principle to be, especially if your day job is political in nature and you have to answer to a whole lot of bosses.
He got his adjournment yesterday, after a shouting match between Miller and Ryan--in open court--that would have, again, gotten you or me locked up for contempt. I actually know both men, Ryan very slightly, Miller somewhat well. Ryan was a good guy when he was a public defender, but his reputation has always been that he is a hothead, and while I have voted for him twice as mayor, I really can't understand why he just doesn't pay the ticket here. It sends the wrong message to the people who voted for him, and from a political standpoint, he's lost far more than the $150, at most, the ticket would cost him. From where I sit, it looks like he got a break of sorts to begin with; most cops start writing at 15 MPH over the limit, and many times they will write a lower number down than you actually were travelling in order to limit the fines. My experience with Rick Miller professionally is excellent, in addition. Rick is not going to dazzle anyone with intellectual prowess, but he is a solid judge and attorney, he has served his community well holding political office (he is Republican, too, the side I normally have little use for), and he is a good man whose best attribute on the bench is his innate sense of decency. He treated me well when I was in court for traffic tickets (note the use of the plural) years ago, and I saw him bend over backwards to try to be fair to a couple of very recalcitrant and stupid 16YO clients that have been in his court over the past few years. Rick's dad was in the State Assembly for many years, and Rick actually takes the notion of public service very seriously; he is very scrupulous and always has been about being politically neutral in his court. And more than that, he's just a good man. We used to see each other out and about frequently when we were both in her 20's, and unlike some people who were planning on political careers, he never came off as on permanent campaign; in bars like the old Headquarters, he wasn't going to get into drunken fisticuffs, but you could have a spirited argument about stuff like the Giants with him and know that you were dealing with a real person, not a politician in the making. He was just one of the guys, not "the Candidate" 24/7. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that what you see publicly with Rick is what you get; he's just a genuinely nice guy. I was actually very sorry that he lost the race for Family Court Judge a few years ago; I think he would have been absolutely great in that role. Which, for me, makes Ryan's claims, at least as reported in the Press, ludicrous. I am sure that Rick is not pleased about how this is playing out, but I am also sure that if Ryan had just paid the ticket or shown up ready for trial after one or two adjournments, Miller would have been very circumspect and fair about it all. He's still going to be fair, if and when this takes place, but I can't blame him for being testy now. Ryan's earned that.
Matt should just pay the ticket and have it done with. Despite all the noise about "principle", there is something more basic in play here, and that is that the cost of persisting in this fight far outweighs any benefits he might achieve. This is the second time this year (after the war sign on City Hall) where Ryan has spent a lot of political capital for very limited gain, and with the city budget negotiations ongoing, I'm not sure he can afford to have any more withdrawals from that account.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hurricane in the East

I have to say I am somewhat pleasantly surprised by the realistic, unhysterical coverage of Hurricane Earl that has been in the media this week. Even though it's been 20 years since a hurricane was coming near New York, we haven't seen runs on grocery stores, or massive traffic jams, or grim scenarios of mass power outages and such. Granted, the National Weather Service has been saying for a week that the hurricane was going to weaken as it turned north, and it has (although 100 MPH is still a lot stronger wind than I ever want to deal with). Maybe it's because that it isn't supposed to last more than a few hours; the highest rainfall totals I've seen predicted are 3 to 5 inches, which is peanuts compared to some of the hurricanes and tropical storms the South has gotten in past years. Maybe it's perspective; after Katrina, it's hard to get uptight about a hurricane that isn't likely to send you back to Mesoamerican times.
But even in the Outer Banks this week, there simply hasn't been the sort of mass concern that there usually is when these things occur, whether in summer or winter. What I am hoping is that we are seeing the dawning of Big Media being tuned out. The end result of all Big Media "events" seems to be a turning to Corporate America--quick, get out there and stock up on any number of supplies! I think large numbers of us are getting to the point where I am--well, maybe in my direction, anyway--and saying they can't deal with constant crisis that leads to the wallet constantly being open. It isn't much in the way of fixing things, but it's a start.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Approach of School and the Dawning of True Perspective

Sabrina got her middle school packet in the mail yesterday, which is a rite of passage if there ever was one. Along with her homeroom assignment, there was a fuller list of what was required for the first day of school. All the back-to-school supplies we bought, and it turns out we're not done... an accordian folder? Really? I swear, like every other damn thing in this country, the return to school has been commercialized and turned into another offering on the altar of Corporate America. It's gotten beyond disgusting.
But as we now get into September, I'm actually kind of glad. Sabrina clearly has had enough of summer; she called me yesterday at work to ask if I could leave early, since her mother's home is "boring" (especially without her mother there). She has spent virtually all week on the computer here; she has four or five Facebook chats going at once regularly anymore. She does not seem to have any trepidation about switching schools; she's made a few more friends on this side of town, and has taken to heart that everyone is going to be adjusting, too. If she's worried about it, she's hiding it well.
But mostly, she's developing faster than I dreamed possible. At 11 1/2, she is already post-childhood, in her mind; she is fast becoming much more independent and already starting to picture herself as a young adult. We gave Kathie a ride home from her job yesterday, as Katrina needed Kathie's car, and while Kathie was describing the changes wrought by Katrina working, going to college, and driving, Sabrina was sitting in the back seat devouring every word. She says she wants to get her license at 16, and expressed some frustration she can't work for a number of years yet... I don't know if I'm happy about this. I'm in acceptance that adolescence is here, and that it is healthy. I certainly do not wish for Sabrina to be one of these clueless post-adolescents that cannot make a move without calling mom or dad every ten minutes. And yet, there is a part of me that is saying that this is happening too fast, that just a few short months ago she was still a little kid. The truth is somewhere in between, I am sure; if I look hard enough, there are still signs that she isn't a full fledged teen yet (she still has her teddy bear on the couch with her, for example, almost without exception, and drinks chocolate milk constantly).
But I even talked about this with Sabrina a bit yesterday; while I am not freaking out about her growing up, I am tinged with sadness and apprehension in part because it means that I am on my own back nine. I am 47, and while the end is not in sight, neither is my youth; it is irrevocably gone. I have a lot of aches and pains that are not going to improve. I am at the point where a job loss (as opposed to change) would be catastrophic; there just isn't enough time to begin another career (my former sponsee Jeff is 55 and lost his job nearly a year ago, and hasn't even had a nibble for months. Jeff is some sort of engineer. Food for thought). As Kathie's mother slips into dementia, as I see my mother's aging process accelerate, as Nancy gets married soon, as Rachel drives her and Jessica here for their visits, as my friend Kate has MacKenzie drive her to meetings, as Kristen talks about Jessica getting a permit, as MOTY talks about Jacob getting a permit and a job, as Sabrina tells me about her cousin Aaron getting his license, as I see Kareena posting on-line that her oldest daughter Brittany just turned 19--all I can think of is "OMG, where did the time go?" I remember Kathie's mom presenting me with homemade jam when I shoveled out her driveway a few years ago after a particularly nasty snowfall. I remember my mother being able to put up with kids more than one day at a time. I remember Nancy with hair down to her ass and looking like she just got out of college. I remember my own kids as little kids excited for the arrival of Santa Claus. I remember MacKenzie starting school. I remember the first time Katrina brought a Nintendo to a meeting. I remember Kristen's Jessica starting the first grade. I remember Jacob learning to tie his shoes. I remember Shannon's sister starting college and finding day care for Aaron. I remember seeing Brittany struggle to pick up her infant sister at a meeting. I remember a thousand other things, and finally understand that life is finite, that it is a linear progression and that it only goes in one direction.
And I understand, better than I ever have before, that there is going to be an end to it. Not just for other people, but for me. It's not necessarily comforting, but I have to say it's not overly distressing, either, not like I thought it might be. Of course, I'm only a few days removed from nightmares, too, about having some sort of major medical issue and having a breathing tube in my throat and my hands tied to the side of the bed, which freaked me out so much that I could not return to sleep that night... I don't know what the future holds specifically. But maybe for the first time, I know what it holds in general. And good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, it is inevitable.