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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

absurdity

Decisions! Decisions!

I just realized how long it's been since i dropped in here to chat about life and stuff. My only excuse and explanation is that I've had a series of decisions to handle lately. I've come to realize that one of the things I hate most about living alone is the sheer responsibility of it. There's no one to discuss a problem with-- no one to offer a solution I haven't thought of -- no one to force me to make up my mind -- and no one to blame if it all goes wrong.
     What all's been going on? Well, I guess it all started with an unexplained leak -- just a wet bathroom floor. Our housing complex has a history of problems with underground pipes leaking and seeping upward, so that was one possibility. But we had also had previous problems with the roof  over the bathroom, so . . .  Finally narrowed  it down to a leaking toilet, but couldn't find the real source because I'm no longer agile enough to squeeze into a small space and stand on my head to look at the underside of things.  And then, there was the decision of who to call. All was resolved eventually and handled by my homeowner's insurance, but not before my schedule faced major disruptions. 

Then came an aging cat whose problems I could no longer ignore. Nutmeg was going on 16, so it was not really a surprise, but you  never expect wonderful creatures to fall ill. Suddenly she was not eating, losing huge amounts of weight, and looking odd. She was still lively and interested in what was going on -- the other cats could lure her into play and chase time --and she could still jump from the floor to table and countertop. But she grew weaker and unsteadier. Eventually she started to tell me that it was "time" in a soft and plaintive voice, but I didn't want to hear it until a Sunday morning when she tried to come to greet me and fell over, unable to walk any further. With a breaking heart, I had to be the one to decide to take her to the emergency animal clinic where they do compassionate euthenasia. Talk about a hard decision!  

Then there are the books! Through some idiocy on my part, I ended up with two different books in the final stages of preparation--one fiction, one non-fiction. And both had set dates for pre-orders and launch activities. I had also decided to publish both of them using new editing and formatting software, and now had no time to change those plans. So I've been juggling files for day.s  Just yesterday morning, I thought I had finished the final submission for my first Kindle pre-order, scheduled to ship on September 19th.  Then an e-mail from the Kindle folks informed me that they had discovered  three spelling errors (two of which were French terms they didn't recognize.). The only correction required was the insertion of a single space between two words. But was there an easy way to do that? Nope! I had to remove the file, create an entirely new one with the new software program, and then go through the whole submission process again. Sigh.

And now the latest. I've been planning a trip to a writers' conference in San Antonio for months -- have all my flight and hotel reservations, and a couple of jobs to do once I get there. But my perfect flight schedule took me through a landing at Houston's Hobby Airport.  With just 10 days to go before my departure, i had to read the future and try to decide if that currently-closed -and-flooded airport could possibly be high and dry in time for my flight to go as scheduled. Maybe! But what if it's not! The consequences of the wrong decision multiplied every day I delayed. So yesterday, I had to bite another bullet  and make the decision. I'm now scheduled to fly through Dallas (Love Field), which will certainly be drier. It's a tighter connection, however, so the outcome of that decision is still to be determined.

As for today's decisions -- I could either do a grammar edit on another chapter or write a blog post.  Here it is!

Charlotte or Charley? Whose Web Is It, Anyhow?




I have a curious l drama going on outside my window today involving a huge black and yellow garden spider . She has spun a wide web that spans the sidewalk and extends from the branches of my crepe myrtle tree to the hedge underneath the windows. I have resisted the urge to call her Charlotte, no matter how interesting her web is.

But today has been windy, and the crepe myrtle is shedding the last of its snow white blossoms. The little flowerettes have been drifting down and getting caught up in the spider web. It made a lovely blossom-decked veil and I found it charming, but my spider-friend apparently does not agree. She has been viciously attacking the flowers, one by one, pulling them off the web and dropping them to the ground. I can understand that, if she’s not a vegan spider. She hopes to catch a little insect meat, not a flower petal (maybe they taste like broccoli!). Still, it bothers me that she cannot appreciate the free room decorations.  

Or maybe she’s not a Charlotte. Maybe he’s a Charley, who does not want his man-web to be all gussied up.

Aunt Lola and Her Chickens

Neither my Aunt Lola McCaskey nor her husband Frank Connor were particularly sensible people.  Lola spent her entire life convinced that she  alone was responsible for keeping everyone around her happy. That effort led her to some very bad decisions.

But Frank was worse.  By day, he was an unhappy butcher in the local grocery store. By night, he was a fire-breathing evangelical revival preacher.  In either role, he scared me to death -- whether he was coming home still wearing that bloody butcher's apron or whether I was sitting in a revival tent listening to him describe the fires of Hell.  He scared Lola, too, and with good cause.  He eventually ended his days in the state mental hospital after attacking her because he mistook her for the devil.  But that's another story.

The chickens came much earlier in their married lives. One day Uncle Frank came home upset about the price of eggs. Who knows what it was?  -- Five cents a dozen, maybe. Anyhow, whatever it was, he informed Aunt Lola that if she wanted eggs from then on, she would have to get a chicken -- which she did, because Lola always did what she was told.  In fact, she bought a whole lot of chickens. She tried raising the chickens in the back yard, but the neighbors complained.

She couldn't get rid of them because Frank had told her to raise them,  so she moved them into the basement. Frank seemed not to notice they were there, but the rest of the family knew. Can you imagine what that did to the house? For years afterwards, the entire house smelled like chicken droppings. They got rid of the chickens eventually when they started to die off, but they never got rid of the smell.

And speaking of chickens, one of the family legends concerned a chicken dinner at which there was an unexpected guest, so that by the time the plate of chicken was passed to Lola, all that was left was the tail. She took it, uncomplaining as always, and professed to find it delicious. So from then on, everybody saved their chicken tails for her, and she ate them for the rest of her life.


                         The same story also spawned a famous family quote.

When she was asked how she liked the tail, her answer was "It was good, what there was of it." Then, afraid that sounded like a complaint, she added, "Oh, there was enough of it, such as it was."

The moral, I suppose, is that when you try to keep everyone happy, you end up pleasing no one, not even yourself..

Not Every "Dead Man Walking" is a Convicted Serial Killer


Facebook and other internet outlets have been full of controversy all weekend.  For the most part, I have stayed out of it, but before the next fight emerges, I have a simple observation to make:

Yes, this is the correct historical approach:
  • Memorial Day (May)  was established to honor those who died while fighting for their country.
  • Veterans Day (November) honors all who fought in one of the so-called “great” wars.

Moreover, the long- grieving families of those who died on a battlefield are justified in objecting to anyone who wishes them a “Happy Memorial Day.”  This day is meant to be somber and reflective.  It’s not about barbecued ribs or the kickoff for summer. It's about the dead.

But on the other side of the controversy are those who lived through the wars but who have been forever changed by the experience — "dead men walking," indeed.

On Memorial Day, should we honor the soldier who stepped on a land mine, but not recognize the soldier who came home from the war without so much as a Purple Heart?  One who (like my own brother) was so mentally and emotionally damaged by his experiences at Iwo Jima that he never had  the ability to get his life back on track. Hallucinations, nightmares, raging alcoholism, and unexplainable rages were his daily reality — and the reality for his family as well.

On Memorial Day, should we honor the sailor whose ship was torpedoed, but not honor the soldier who (like my husband) came home from his  war unscathed?  One who discovered too late that exposure to deadly chemicals in Vietnam had caused permanent and fatal deterioration of his heart muscle.   

So, yes, those of you who support the historical meaning of Memorial Day, you are literally correct — right up to the point at which you deny your recognition and respect to those who didn’t suffer a quick and immediate death. Death on a battlefield is devastating, but so is the living death of a man who lives for sixty more years with the ravages of PTSD — and as well as for a man who lives for forty-five more years with the hovering threat of dropping dead without warning.

As you can see, this is all personal to me. When you say this to someone — “You’re wrong. It’s not your day.”  — you are talking about my family. Both the men in the examples above are my veterans who now lie buried in national cemeteries, and yes, they both received their little flags this weekend to honor their sacrifice. But while they lived, they carried their war damage with them every day. Please — next year — before you criticize a living veteran for expecting to be honored on the “wrong” day, remember that a living veteran may well be a dead man walking.

A Brief Rant about Old Folks

Today’s paper carries a so-called story about the college at which I taught for the last 15 years of my academic career. Said college is not the #1 school in the country, but it is a fine institution, with a well-deserved reputation for its beautiful campus, for its tradition of teaching students to give back for the privileges they have received, for its innovative programs, its first-class faculty, its amazing athletic teams who all manage to carry high grade point averages without special attention from hired tutors. I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s a great school, and I’m proud of it.

So what have they done to capture the attention of the local paper this time? It seems they have announced that they are going to make changes in their adult education program. For thirty years or more they have invited people from the community to attend short classes taught by the faculty. They have offered the courses simply for the benefit of those who want to engage with fascinating people about interesting topics.

Now the college says they will be making some changes to integrate these courses more closely with programs that are happening on campus — lecture series, community roundtables, guest speakers of national reputation. They also intend to use emerging technologies to expand access to these programs nationwide. Did you realize what I wrote? They are going to CHANGE things.  (I’ll wait while you all gasp in unison.)

The bulk of the article consists of interviews with current partakers of this feast of information. I recognize most of the names.  And I know that most of them are old. (I’m allowed to say that  since I freely admit to being old myself. At 76, I can say what I like, although I do my best not to sound like an absolute idiot.) They’ve been attending these classes for thirty years, and “THAT’S THE WAY WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT!” 

Apparently no one has yet released the details of the new plan, but these folks already know that it’s not going to work. “We’re going to lose everything,” one cries dramatically. Another says, “Well, it’s certainly not good for me, so how can it be good for the college?” Doesn’t that just make you want to shake him and scream, “It’s not about you!”

I’m still trying to decide whether I’m more upset with the complainers or with the newspaper for giving them most of the article to vent their silly gripes. The college spokesperson gets the last word, but it’s only one sentence long.

Whatever happened to the idea that old age imparts wisdom and dignity? This morning, all I saw in this article was a bunch of old geezers who don’t want anybody to take their toys away. Maybe those adult education courses didn’t work so well after all.