Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2015
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 31, 2015
There’s this fiction writer (above) who spends a lot of time in this compound (that’s what it’s called) where I live. He rents a house here to write. I see him at the mailbox kiosk sometimes. I once complimented him on his old science fiction novels, real space opera stuff that I love to read. He said the series might have been the best stuff he’s ever written. They are good books. The characters have more substance and human emotions and sex than in most of the sci fi I’ve read, much like Robert A. Heinlein’s works. There’s a darkness in the stories, rebellion, violence, and blazing lasers of course. But people stop to love, and there’s a feminine quality to the relationship talk, which seems odd coming from a cantankerous old writer (arisco, in Spanish) continuously chomping on a big fat cigar. He says he is a family man, and has to balance writing with family time.
One day I spoke to him about his other line of works, fantasy books that lean on authors like Tolkien and Roger Zelazny. I asked him what he was working on, and it’s more of the same, sounded like. I told him I didn’t read much of the sword and sorcery stuff, which, in retrospect, wasn’t a good comparison to his writing, just a way of cataloging fantasy in my head. However, he appeared to take some umbrage with that, saying that there aren’t any swords in the book he’s working on – not really my point – but, “…Well, there is one sword.” Then he asks me: “Who are you anyway?”
Well, I think I pissed him off, and that’s bad because I worship writers. Oh, well. I’ve deeply loved several women, and I always managed to piss them off too. Who am I to describe someone as cantankerous, anyway?
But, aside from the obsessing over things I’ve said and shouldn’t have said to famous authors and the ex wives and lovers, that question remains uppermost in my mind: “Who are you?”
Who the fuck am I?
I’m a guy that lives alone. I’m not certain I could ever live with anyone ever again. I like my solitude too much. Some days I can’t be bothered to get out of bed. Or I get up and sit in front of the computer, which amounts to the same thing. Some days I get up at 4:30 or 5:00 am, and hike up the mountains around Albuquerque: Sandia, Manzano, Jemez, and sometimes Sangre de Christo near Santa Fe, or up in the Rocky Mountains in the northern part of the state. There are over eighty mountain ranges, but I don’t plan to visit them all. I am retired, after all. I need my down time, and hiking up thousands of feet of elevation can be hard work.
In fact, I was having trouble hiking up for any great distance a few years back, and found out I had heart problems. Too much plaque in my arteries. Big fat artery in my heart was mostly plugged, and, in the process of getting that rotor-rootered, it moved to completely block the artery (Felt like a mild stab to my heart). Fortunately, I was already getting prepped to have a thin plastic tube shoved up my arm to my heart, and I was surrounded by medical personal and high-tech equipement, so within a minute, I had relief from that. It was blessed relief from my overwhelming symptoms of chest pressure and the feeling of impending doom that had dogged me all that afternoon. They left a stent in place to keep that tiny section of the artery open.
Recovery was fast, but my cardiac surgeon insisted that I work out to pump up my heart rate a bit more than I had been doing. I hadn’t been hiking much more than a few hours once a week, especially since I was having a hard time climbing mountains any more. The cardiac rehab center he refered me to was way too expensive for me: $90 a week (after insurance). I had once run a stair climbing challenge that benefitted the American Lung Association, and still had a flyer they’d included in my donation packet for a training group of runners. I called them and ended up running instead. I’d never run before, so it was a revelation how hard that really was. I’d always thought joggers a bit crazy, but it is damn good cardiovascular work, and that’s what I needed. They call themselves the OxyGenMorons, or morons, for short. So, I was partly right.
So now, I hike up the mountains, and jog. I’ve run two half marathons, which are defined as 13.1-mile runs. I’m training now for an honest-to-goodness fucking 26.2-mile marathon this October. We’ll see how that goes.
I hiked in the Valles Caldera last Saturday, which is now a national preserve instead of privately owned. That was fun, even with a bit of rain. I contunue to try to hike on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and then run a few miles with the Morons at 6:00 pm those days as well. Saturdays are often long runs, from 6 to 14 miles. I may do some longer runs soon. I do have to be ready on October 18 to run 26.2 miles. Training is supposed to be 5 days a week for marathoners.
Well, besides running, I’m a background actor. I’ve managed to get on the sets of TV shows like Better Call Saul, Night Shift, Gunslingers, and Longmire, and movies like BARE, Highly Functional, and War on Everyone, as well as many local productions. Like it is said, it keeps me out of trouble. In two days I’ll be on the set of Gold.
With all of this, I’m still trying to maintain my association with a local winery. I only average working there two days a week, but I enjoy the hard work of picking fruit and mixing vats of wine, and filtering, and pumping into and out of tanks, bottling and labeling and selling. It’s far, far different from my old job, DNA sequencing, DNA synthesis, and protein sequencing and synthesis before that. That seems like a lifetime ago now.
I take photos too, when I’m hiking mostly, but sometimes with a group called the Guerrilla Photo Group, where we experiment with photography, mostly in a studio setting. Sometimes I enter my photos in shows. Over the years, I’ve sold six photos. although Bon Appétit once bought the use of one photo for their magazine.
This all sounds like I do a lot, but I really seem to spend my life more like today. I got up late, shortly before 9:00 am. I feed the cats, and drank some juice (carrot, apple, or cranberry-raspberry-blackberry). I ate some eggs, and drank coffee. My refrigerator has milk and juices and ice tea and State Pen porter for later in the day. I walked a book I’d sold on eBay to the mailbox across the street. (I buy way too many used books online, so I am continuously reselling them or trading them away. I like to read, but many of the books I read are graphic novels or very old paperbacks, and they do not show up in my local library. If I buy books cheap, and resell them, I don’t end up paying a lot for them on average.) After that I read a bit. I am about to walk up to the mailbox kiosk and check my mail. Woo hoo, I received an old record album.
That’s my life. That’s who I am. A bit lazy, with bouts of frenetic activites, or reading quietly at home. My job no longer defines me, and it’s hard to say what does. I’m not just a hiker, or a runner, or a photographer, or an actor, or a winemaker.
Does that answer your question, mister fantasy writer?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 14, 2015
I try to have nice things, but with cats or children, it’s not easy.
I acquired two cats some years ago. One was part of a litter dropped by a feral cat in my back yard. I watched the mother feed them, and then teach them to hunt. I was fond of the little group, but my wife at the time didn’t care for animals, and didn’t like having them in her back yard. I had to get rid of them, and once she decided they had to go, they had to go immediately. I had no time to look for homes for them, and wild cats with no shots and not neutered are pretty hard to unload on anyone. I had to trap them and take them to the animal control center. It saddened me, but it had to be done. I set out a trap, and got all but one. Interestingly, the only one not to go into the trap was the one I’d had to rescue from inside a two-sided picket fence I’d put up. It had dropped in from on top and couldn’t get out. I’d had to remove a plank to get it out, and had taken him back to his mother.
I decided to keep him, and not just because of the circumstances. He was a near-perfect duplicate of an orange-striped cat that had died in my lap earlier that year. That particular cat had been half of a pair of cats belonging to my dad when he died, and my mother had maneuvered me into taking both cats. Both were also now dead.
So, not only did I keep this tiny twin of my old cat, but I gave him the same name: Charlie. About one year later, a female cat showed up in the yard, and she and Charlie II were close friends before I knew it. So, I kept her too. She had the same black and white colors as my dad’s female cat Krissy who died a couple of years earlier, although not in the same pattern. I called her Girl, until I could think of a name. I still have her; she’s about 12 years old. Charlie II, unfortunately, is gone. He disappeared one night. Eight months later, a neighbor told another neighbor, who relayed it to me, that he’d seen a dead cat in the garden area of this compound I live in. He said it had looked like the one in the photos I’d put up all over the place. I wish I’d known.
So, it had been nine months since Charlie II had died, and I had mentioned his death to a hiker who leads meetup hikes. She knew of a cat that lived on a golf course, and she badly needed a home; would I take her? Well, I’d been thinking of getting a cat to replace Charlie II, since the female was obviously lonely. I had finally given her a name: Kilala, which is the name of a Japanese cat demon. She’s never became totally tame, and cannot stand to be picked up; she’s not a lap cat either. But, she and Charlie II had been inseparable. I really wanted to get her a male companion. Charlie II had been quite the lover. I agreed to meet a couple who had taken responsibility for getting the cat adopted. I had to be vetted first, so they could be sure I’d take care of the cat.
The cat was well-loved at the golf course, and had been given bedding in a little wooden cat house. The golf course’s clubhouse personnel had been feeding it for two years. The couple approved of me, and I ended up with the cat, the cat house, cat treats, food bowls, a little round cat bed, and a huge bag of dry cat food. And, of course, I ended up with Snowflake. The couple had named her that because of her almost all-white fur. They even took her to a mobile veterinarian for shots. However, among the couple I’d met, the vet, and all the people at the golf course who doted on the cat, no one had noticed, until just before I went to pick it up, that it was male after all.
Snowflake has settled in here. He had been called Snowflake so long that that is the only name he’ll respond to. Even with a cat door, and freedom to roam, he stays close by, and usually in the house. However, he and Kilala do not get along. It’s been over three months, but they still fight. They’ve sniffed at each other, and tolerate each other’s presence in the house, but my older cat won’t accept him. I think she tried one time, but he had been neutered very young, and doesn’t know what to do with a female cat. The fighting tapered off for a while, so I thought things would be fine, but the hissing, growling and chasing go on.
Sunday night, they had come barreling in the back door through the bedroom – not unusual. But this time they rounded the corner out of the bedroom door and I heard a crash. It was a Chinese plaster figurine, unglazed, 19 inches tall, that I’d acquired the previous year. It was beautiful. I have a set of three. I bought one from the Monkey King, an eBay store with a physical storefront in California. Shortly after that, the store announced a huge going-out-of-business sale, so I purchased another figure cheaply. They are replicas of old Chinese female musicians that reside in museums. However, even though Monkey King wrapped the crap out of the figure, it arrived with the base broken, very smashed up.
Monkey King had sold the figure to me at a bargain price, but they agreed to replace it. It hadn’t been their fault, but they were in their last days, so I agreed to pay shipping. Meanwhile I decided to try repairing the figure. I worked with glue and rubber bands over several days, and got it mostly together. Some smaller pieces had been crushed, so it’s not perfect, but I have it:
The one the cats knocked over was the first one I’d bought, a musician playing a pipa, a four-stringed lute, behind her head! Her head, unfortunately, had been knocked off. Both arms were broken off at the elbows. The beautiful flowing scarf had been broken off in several pieces. The pipa was broken at the neck. I was pissed. Damn cats!
The cats had run off immediately, fight forgotten as soon as they knocked the figure over. Kilala had run outside; she was the one who was instigating these fights, so I slammed the door behind her and locked it for the evening. Damn, I was pissed. I cannot replace the statues. The Monkey King store is long gone, and I have no idea where they bought their merchandise. In fact, I think they bought the raw plaster figures, painted them, and then rubbed ashes on them to make them resemble the old figures in the museum. I had cleaned most of the ashes off.
I feared Kilala might run off, but by morning she was back in the house, through the cat door in the house’s front entrance. I ignored her. Later on, however, as I looked at the broken statue again, I decided I’d try to fix it. I got out my glue and went to work. It would take a while, but the action of working on it calmed me down. I fed Kilala, and later on petted her.
I decided it was silly to blame cats for something like that. And, really, what do some statue replicas really matter anyway? The world is full of violence and injustice. Material possessions are of no real importance.
I always find it odd that the loss of some object bothers me so much. Part of that is that I object to changes in my life: divorce, retirement, loss of a lover or friend. I seem to have a hard time accepting change, although I know that change is not only inevitable, but change is life; life is change. Hard for me to accept emotionally. But, emotions about physical things make no sense.
Be that all as it may be, philosophy aside, I fixed the damned statue. I may lose things from time to time, but part of me really likes keeping things as they are, inane as that is.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 4, 2015
Got knocked down by a car the other day. It made me think about all those times in my life when, but for one thing, I would have died. As an infant, and later as a two-year old, I had pneumonia. I was saved by penicillin, by science, technology and society, twice. Before penicillin, I would have been dead as an infant.
As a six-year old, I fell into a house under construction. The incomplete basement had no concrete yet, the floor was mud with pools of water. Me, my brother John and Eddie Knight were bringing the biggest stones we could find and carry, climbing the foundation wall, and dropping them into the pools of water. The object, of course, was to get a huge splash. We dropped in our stones, enjoyed the splash, and set out to find bigger stones. I dropped a nice one in, hit the water nicely, and turned to see Eddie plop the biggest stone I’d seen all morning on the floor level of the foundation, so he could use both hands to climb up. Somehow, I couldn’t help myself. I ran over, grabbed the stone, and dropped it in. I think it made a big splash. I say think, because all I remember is perhaps a sense of movement. Eddie, pissed off as all hell, had come charging at me, I think. The details are vague. Because I was standing by the edge of the hole in the floor we were using (it was for the stairs to come), I must have gone right over. I woke up some time later. Two adults were carrying me through tall weeds in the huge field behind my house. I had cracked my head against one of the stones, maybe even Eddie’s big one. Lying face down in the muddy water, I would have drowned. My brother pulled me out. Eddie, meanwhile had gone for his parents, who were carrying me home. I never saw Eddie again. He never came by. I would guess that he felt guilty, or his parents simply forbade him to play with us again. Life saved by my younger brother, although medical science repaired my cracked skull.
I turned eight years old during my stay at Lutheran Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland (formerly the Hebrew Orphan Asylum). My appendix had ruptured, and I remember being told later that I had peritonitis (literally an inflammation of the stomach lining), although today the term used is blood poisoning, or sepsis. In septic shock, weak, and barely able to shamble, with support from my mother, who drove me to the hospital in a borrowed car, the staff there knew I was in trouble from my blood work. An x-ray did not show cause, so I was taken for exploratory surgery. The appendix was hidden behind an organ, and hadn’t been visible on x-ray. Again, medical science, through surgery and chemistry, had saved my life, although I was hospitalized for four weeks, and convalesced at home for another week. Happy Birthday!
Soon after that I developed bronchial asthma, and survived by using steam and a towel over my head, or a prescription inhaler. Sometimes I simply couldn’t catch my breath at all. I didn’t know where it went or why it was running away. The asthma attacks went away sometime after my 12th birthday.
Of course, not everything I did was life threatening. I slipped trying to repair a leaky roof in a tree house and fell to the ground, breaking my arm. Excruciating pain came with that one, and a cast on my arm, and notoriety at school. It was hard to brag about falling out of a tree. I was just embarrassed.
I must have developed an acute sense of caution, because I didn’t get hurt again until I was an adult. I got creamed by a huge beast of a car as I had been pedaling down a nice hill. It hit me broadside, and dragged the bicycle across the street, but I had been thrown forward by my own momentum. I bounced, and passed out. Passers-by thought I was dead. I heard them say so as I came to. They’d already given up on me and were comforting the driver! I was in shock, didn’t know who I was or what had happened at first. I was thoroughly amazed that I’d survived, because my last thought before the impact had been that I was going to die. Traffic had been thick and heavy, and I could have easily been run over by some other vehicle. As it was, my own momentum had carried me in a high arc straight forward, and the car was so big, a Lincoln Continental Mark III, that it had blocked enough of the lane to keep the other drivers away. Saved by the eighteen-foot car length. Nothing broken this time. I had a major sprain on the top of my left foot, which had been hit by the car. The heavy Schwinn bicycle pedal arm had been bent, back into the spokes.
Bicycles on highways or city streets are accidents waiting to happen, and I had a few more. Once my shoe was simply ripped off my foot. Once I skidded on gravel on a mountain road and slid down a long section of blacktop, taking a lot of skin off my chest and stomach. Ouch. Another time, a car side-swiped me as I pedaled down a city street right on the edge of the road. It appeared as though the car had passed another car on the right, illegally, had not seen me up ahead, and clipped me. The impact left a huge bruise on my ass and thigh muscles. I was stunned at first, and lay on my back, staring unblinkingly into the light rain that was falling. I worried that I was paralyzed. The driver didn’t stop, but someone else did after a few minutes, and an ambulance took me and bicycle to a hospital. Bruised and scraped flesh was all I received then, but it could have been worse. Somehow I had fallen without breaking my neck. Somehow the car hadn’t broken my hip or run over me. Little things.
Given my history, buying a motorcycle was not a very smart thing to do, but at least it put me out into the drive lane at speed, instead of paralleling the other vehicles, riding bicycles in the gutters full of storm-drain grates and broken glass. It didn’t take me long to lay the bike down: the first time taking a corner in the rain, slipping on icy roads, or hitting a crazy dog on a curve. I was never hurt, but I went through a few turns signals and mirrors which stick out to the sides. I learned to anticipate accidents, to always brake the front and rear wheels simultaneously, and even ride on icy or snow-packed streets. I got good. However, as I neared my house one fine day, I decided to pass in front of a stalled car blocking my lane, and he hit the gas microseconds before I got there. I t-boned him, and sailed over the car hood. The bike was totalled. I was sore and bruised but none the worse for wear after a few weeks. Everyone in the neighborhood said I must have said my prayers. I didn’t pray anymore, so that wasn’t it. Given my moral turpitude at the time, I could have thanked the devil instead, if I’d still believed in such things.
Years passed with my replacement motorcycle. As I was near home again, in a different house with a wife waiting for me this time, I misread a red traffic light. I thought it was still green, but the sun was directly behind it as I topped a hill. I sailed into the large Route 66 intersection at about 40 mph. There was a pickup directly in front of me; I looked up – the light was red. Never even applied the brakes. Totalled that bike too. I was again bruised and scraped up. My arm was a bit sprained, so I wore a sling for a short time. The driver of the pickup told my insurance company that I had bent his truck frame. Really? Well, no matter. I got another bike, number three in a series, and I never wrecked it. Since it was old and leaked oil, and always needed repairs, I finally traded it in. Success! I had ridden a motorcycle the entire time I had owned it without damaging it or myself. However, the newer bike was not so lucky. Within two weeks I had laid it down, negotiating a turn, I didn’t understand what had happened until it happened again. This time I took it in to a shop. They found a spacer missing from the front axle. Such spacers keep the wheel centered on the axle, but without one, the wheel was sliding to one side as I turned, causing the wheel to lock up.
Of note in all this mayhem is that I paused in June of 2013 to have a minor heart attack. The large descending artery on the right side was partly clogged when I first got to the heart hospital, but within minutes, the clog had moved to completely block the artery (sudden minor pain). Fortunately, I was already hooked up to an IV and heart monitors, and my wrist was prepped for sticking a balloon up to my heart to clean it out and leave a stent behind. They went ahead and did that, and I felt relief immediately. Recovery was rapid and complete. Four months later, I ran a half marathon in three hours exact. A year later I ran it in 2 hours, 46 minutes. Cheating death. Again.
So, I’ve dodged any motorcycle accident for many years now. I am very aware of my surroundings. I always know where other vehicles are, and I keep a constant eye out on side streets and pedestrians. I hit nothing, and nothing hits me. I have a car now also, and my motorcycle habits have transferred. I have no accidents, because I am always acutely aware of my surroundings. So, it came as a shock last Friday evening to find a moving car pushing against my body, again.
I was crossing a street at a slight angle to reach my car. It was a cold night, and I was worried about an approaching storm, so I had opted out of riding the bike. I was in the southbound part of the street as I saw a car approach the intersection from an eastbound lane. I sped up so I wouldn’t be in its path. It was about 50 feet away, so I had plenty of time to reach my car before it even reached me. Wrong. She had turned wide, and sped up as she straightened out, but not where she should have been. She was squarely in the northbound part of the road. Her right fender was pressing hard against me. I noticed the rest of the car was ahead of me, instead of behind me in the empty southbound lane. She never said what she was doing. Was she just turning wide? She later said she only saw me at the last moment before hitting me. Had she tried to avoid me? swerving around me? She never said much else. Liability issues, I’d guess.
Fortunately she did see me plastered against her grille, and stopped. I was thrown forward and hard onto the asphalt. It hurt. So, there I was again, lying in the street again, wondering how the hell I’d misjudged that situation. How the hell had she caught me? I hurt all over it seemed, but I thought I should get up. My right hip area had impacted the street, and it was in considerable pain, but after a few minutes, the pain went away. We exchanged information. She is an artist with the gallery whose open house I’d just left.
I went home, took two Advil Liquid capsules, applied some Blue Emu cream, ate a late dinner with some chokecherry wine, and got some sleep. The pain was back next day, but so far, so good. The hip only hurts to the touch. “So don’t touch it!” I know, I know, but sometimes ya gotta roll over in bed, or ya bump against the side of a chair. It’ll heal. There’s skin scraped off again, but no bruising. The pain seems to be deep, and just behind the hip bone that juts out there. Worked hard yesterday, did a lot of heavy lifting and shoving at the winery, with no pain, so I think I’m OK.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 5, 2014
I wasn’t sure at first where to post this. It doesn’t really fit on my Ennui blog. It is kind of random. I just found out today that my missing cat is dead. I was speaking with a neighbor who makes beer, and he promised to bring one by. He asked what my house number is, and I told him, asking him if he remembered the poster I had up for months asking if anyone had seen my cat, since it had my house number and phone number. He remarked that another neighbor said he had seen a cat just like that at the same time (June), dead in our community garden. Well, thanks a lot for telling me neighbor! I’ve wanted some closure since then. It makes me mad and sad at the same time.
I’ve missed that cat so much. He was a cat who waited for me to get home. Even though he had and used the cat door, he’d wait for me to unlock and open the main door. He loved attention, and sleeping on my lap, and bed. At eleven years old, he still loved to play. Sometimes I think I hear him. I’ve posted posters of him, and walked the surrounding neighborhood nearly every day, calling him and whistling for him. He used to come running when I whistled. Two neighbors left me a phone message that they’d seen a friendly cat just like him in the next neighborhood down the road, and I walked there nearly every day for three months calling and whistling for him.
I had always imagined he might show up one day, that someone had taken him in, or he wandered so far away that he’d become confused and lost. Of course, the worst scenario was that he’d been eaten by coyotes. He was such a lean, healthy, strong, and fast animal. It’s hard for me to imagine him not being able to climb a tree or building to get away, and he could run really fast. Aside from the occasional coyotes, it is a safe neighborhood for cats. We are far from the major street, and the speed humps in our cul-de-sac road keep my neighbors driving below 15 mph. Traffic through the compound is very light, and he often slept or played on the large flat roof that results from having six houses connected. He is microchipped, but animal control here had no record of him being picked up injured or dead, so I had some hope I’d see him again.
It’s strange, after all this time, but now I am grieving for him. I missed him before, and couldn’t quite believe he was gone. Now, I have to accept it, and I don’t even know what happened. Was he hit by a car and left in the garden? Did he choke, or was he poisoned by something he ate? Why did no one tell me? That poster was up right by our mailboxes for a long time, and everyone saw it. You’d think the person that saw a dead cat in the garden would have told me. The bad ugly thing is that this happened right after there was an email broadcast to all the residents here from another neighbor that cats were shitting on her roof, and left a turd on her patio, that a roadrunner had been mauled, and that cats can decimate all wildlife in an area. I fired back that, from my experience, cats eat what they kill, and would not have left an injured bird. The email misrepresented the study on cats. The point of that study was the effect of un-neutered cats, proliferating unchecked. Mine have always been neutered. The neighborhood is full of wild birds, doves, pigeons, and all manner of small mammals, and in the seven years I’ve lived here, there has not been any noticeable decrease in the wildlife. Sure my cat ate some birds and rodents, but the roadrunner is a fierce predator itself, even eating rattlesnakes, rodents and other birds. It is not in danger from cats. (Coyotes are faster, but roadrunners can fly.)
My cat went missing right after I sent that email. That’s why I’ve been angry. The thought that some idiot may have killed my cat on purpose really infuriated me.
But that’s over now. I know it’s hard for people to accept that a dead pet can cause such sadness. I know he wasn’t my child or a person, but he sure was a friend, affectionate and loyal, and since he was initially born outdoors, of a feral mother, he never accepted anyone but me, retaining a wildness that I liked, and yet being very trusting and affectionate with me, and the other feral cat that showed up a year later.
The main reason I had moved into this compound was for the safety of my cats, and the fact that there were many trees to climb, and grass to frolic in. Now, I’m not certain that I’ll stay. In my mind, animals need space, room to run and play and hunt. Of course, I recognise that the freedom my cat had probably led directly to his death, and I should accept that. It just makes me so fucking sad.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 25, 2014
Another set of older photos; these are from June 28, 2014. I worked as a volunteer photographer for ACE, which encouraged me to stop and ask people to take their picture “for ACE”. Included in those photos are Joel Hodgsen (of Mystery Science Theater 3000), and professional body builder Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk in the 1980s. Both of them graciously allowed me to snap a photo without having to wait in line or pay a fee. Please do not use these photos without permission. Click on any photo to see it full size.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 19, 2014
Although the photos are a bit old, just from May of this year, I still wanted to post them. I had fun taking them.
May 3, 2014: Concerto Grosso No 1, Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo, & Tabula Rasa. Fantastic concert in a great place. Established in 1880. 1/4 of Albuquerque’s workforce was employed here in 1919. Eighteen buildings remain on 27 acres.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 10, 2014
Today was another day. It was a day like many others. I woke too early, in that it was very dark. That was to be expected, inasmuch as I had drunk a pint of beer the night before. What was unexpected is that, after I fell back asleep, I woke again, before dawn. I knew that I had to be up fairly early, as I had work to do, and 24 miles to travel before 9:00 am. However, because I had also run 3 miles the evening before, I wanted as much rest as I could, so I stayed in bed. Before long, after a period of daydreams, I noticed it was light, which, this time of year, meant it was later than I should have gotten up, so up I got. For the third time that morning, I peed.
I made a double Americano, and sipped it while browsing the land of the internet. I ate a banana, and showered, and brushed and flossed my teeth. I was running late, but I rarely care about that. I am retired, after all. The sky was dark with rain clouds, but it is never safe to bet on rain in Albuquerque, so I mounted my old motorcycle anywa and rode to Placitas. There was work to do at the winery. I am a partner in the winery. The work involved “buttoning up” a storage shed, to quote the vintner. The vintner showed myself and Michael what needed to be done, and began working with us, but was soon called away. We cut wood strips, and screwed and nailed pieces along the upper east side of the shed to close the openings there. First, we had to move all the old pipes, wood, metal, and other junk that accumulates in farms and ranches everywhere, and remove a small fence along the side of the shed, so the project took many hours. We took a lunch break because the vintner always makes lunch (venison stew today) for whomever is working. After lunch we worked for 30 to 40 minutes, but the rain came and chased us off, since we were using power saws to cut the lumber and pressed plywood.
We went inside. I was still hungry, and I wanted something sweet. Since there is never anything sweet to eat at the winery, I persuaded Michael to drive the four miles down to the closest shopping. He bought coffee for us and the vintner, and I bought a wonderful peach and apple cake baked right there in the local grocery store. It was heavy in its pan, full of peach and apples slices, spiced with cinnamon in a sugar syrup, and covered with a simple cake. It was incredibly delicious, and not only did the vintner partake, but our newest partner, who is upgrading our computer books and website, also had some cake.
Michael and I finished the work on the shed and stowed the tools inside it. It still doesn’t have a door, but, there is still a lot of work to do: sealing all the cracks inside, and then we will power wash the entire inside, because of the activity and shit of pack rats in there. Then it will become a functional place to store things safely.
But, as it was after 4:30 already, I headed home. I hoped to make it home without being caught in the rain, but I did not get far before it caught me. I’m used to that. On my way home on Wednesday night (my 64th birthday), I had also gotten caught by rain and soaked. If I had thought to have brought my chaps, and worn my boots, I’d have stayed mostly dry. Fortunately, today, I had at least worn my boots. I arrived home with only my pants wet, from the top of my boots to my knees. I threw them in the washer as soon as I got inside the house. They are clean and dry now.
There was an interesting book reading by the coauthors of More Than Two, and a discussion about polyamory across the street at the bookstore at seven, so I had time to walk over there, dressed in my leather hat and leather jacket, as it was still raining. The talk was interesting, and the questions even more so, as: “What is the effect on children in polyamorous groupings?” and “What about legal problems, mortgages? What was their experience with couples introducing a third person into the relationship? I thought the book, and the discussion rather dry and boring, or I was just very tired, so as soon as there was a break, I grabbed an unrelated book by Neil Gaiman that had been on the shelf in front of me, browsed it, bought it and left.
I went into the restaurant next door and had a vanilla bean milkshake. It was good. I was still a bit warm and red in the face from being outside most of the day, and I had a thirst I couldn’t quite quench with water.
I walked home, not a long distance, but perhaps a city block away in length near the back of the compound I live in.
Suddenly, I found myself humming loudly, and enjoying it. I was even voicing some da, da, da da, dadadadas, along with the hums. I was unaccountably happy. I couldn’t even stop doing it. It was just spontaneous, and I enjoyed it. It doesn’t happen very often, and it didn’t last long, but today had become a day unlike many others.
Tomorrow I will run 8 miles. The next day I will hike 12 miles in the mountains. I will do some more running and working next week. In one week I will run a half marathon.
I’ll likely take a week off everything after that. Read, watch some movies.
Such is my life.
I look forward to feeling happy again some day.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 24, 2014
Sometimes my dreams intrigue me. I woke up the other day after dreaming about a strange happening in a restaurant. There was an argument going on, and I was following several of the people involved. One man stood off to the side and simply wrote comments on pieces of paper that he handed to the people arguing. He wrote comments like, “bullshit” and “irrelevant” and “you’re an ass” – things like that. Suddenly I felt the need to get up, and I approached him. I had been following one argument, and while I didn’t agree with the last point entirely, (it escapes me now) I felt the need to add my opinion, being that there was some merit to the argument, but only up to a certain point. I wish I could remember it now; seemed important at the time.
However, as I approached the man who gave out the comments, and I felt he would probably give me a scathing comment of disapproval, he instead threw a whole bunch of written comments in the air. At first I thought he was exasperated, but he simply came over and stared at me. He seemed to be watching me as I continued to make my point. He looked concerned. He listened very intently ro what I had to say, it seemed, and then walked off, out of my field of view. Then he returned, looked and me, and kept looking out over the balcony. I continued to speak, and he continued looking at me and walked away again. When he came back again, I noticed that I felt funny. My chest was tight, and I didn’t feel good. I realized I was likely having another heart attack, and the man had noticed. I decided he was trying to help, had called an ambulance and was looking for it.
I wondered how he knew. Was I acting odd? Slurred speech? I couldn’t tell, but he seemed to know. Of course, I woke up before this could play out. Was he a doctor? Why had I approached him? What had I been trying to tell him? One thing I remember is that I felt very grateful that someone noticed and decided to help. Amazing.
Awake. Being wide awake, then, I noticed that my chest did feel funny, and my heart seemed to be calming down, like I’d been really excited. The story I’d seen could have excited me, or the argument I was making, or, which seems most likely, my heart had flipped out for few moments, and the dream was my attempt to understand what was happening. In one of my recent stress tests, the EKG had revealed extra heartbeats as I was recovering from the test. The doctor had been concerned enough to put me back on a heart calming beta-blocker drug. A stress test, following a few weeks of that drug, showed that I was doing better after stress, with very few extra beats, although a few showed up during the exercise this time. However, his opinion, and that of others he had consulted, was that I stay on the drug, at least until I see him again in six months.
Damn. I had been happy to get off the damned drug. It seemed to make me drowsy, and it made training for a marathon harder than it should have been. At least I’m only on a half dose this time. Last time, I felt like I couldn’t get my heart rate up at all while running, and I had trouble getting enough oxygen, with no stamina. I’m better now. Is it my heart that is stronger? or it because of the half dose? I don’t know, but I’m running a half marathon (13.1 miles) on October 19, so I’m anxious to see how it goes. Maybe I’ll dream about it.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 1, 2014
Woke up this morning early, dreaming. I had stayed up until 1:00 am, but I was wide awake at 5:30am. I ran a lot last evening, in the rain, with lightning just a few miles away. It was the first time I’d run in the rain. I liked it; I was able to keep my body temp down while running. Cool, in reality.
The doves are cooing and I have my coffee now. I decided to post because my dream fascinated me. In my dream, I had decided to live on the street. I know, I know, one does not just “decide” to do such a thing, but hey, it was a dream. I had some sort of small tent or structure over me, and I was under a large blanket, peering out at life on the street. Part of me wondered what I’d done with all my stuff. That part of my brain decided that I still had a car and had my stuff in that.
As I peered out, I saw a couple I knew. I knew the male better than his partner, but they came over and looked in at me. Suddenly the woman was getting into my tent, box or whatever it was I was in, and she was naked. So was I. She climbed under my blanket and lay on top of me. Her skin was warm and smooth. I was in heaven. Then, of course, this guy also came in. He seemed a bit hesitant at first, but he came in and lay down next to the woman. I had no idea what was going on.
In fact, I quickly realised that the two people didn’t know who I was, that I was out of context, and in the poor light available, they hadn’t recognised me, as I had thought. That raised interesting questions to me. Did they do this sort of thing all the time? Did they seek out homeless men to sleep with? Should I tell them I know them? As I pondered ways to shock them with my knowledge of their identity and introduce myself, I realized I’d forgotten their names, which killed my element of surprise, so I said nothing about myself.
Realizing that they were probably expecting sex, especially since the woman had her hand on my erection, but I wasn’t into either this ménage à trois stuff, or sex with men, I wasn’t sure what to say or do. The male asked me if it was alright. I said I wasn’t into men sexually. He asked me why. I told him that men just didn’t turn me on, and he, of course, wanted to know why I wasn’t curious. I told him, I had been curious, but I had gotten over that. I went into a reverie, and could no longer tell if I was just in my head or speaking out loud.
I remembered my roommate from when I’d first left home. He was into young boys, his words. I accepted that about him, but came to realize he was also intererested in me. In fact, he was four years older than me. I’d thought of him as a friend, but he had other ideas. Nothing ever came of that, not for lack of trying on his part, but I’d had to punch him a bit to finally dissuade him.
Shortly after that experience, my best friend had been a lesbian. That doesn’t mean that I learned anything from the experience, but years later, on a trip to Canada, where my old roommate had become an expatriate, I had needed his help getting across the border, after a run in with the border cops, and I was staying in his apartment. He made it clear I couldn’t stay long, as he couldn’t afford to feed me. It was clear that he wanted me to feel grateful for his help, and he told me to go ahead and make myself breakfast while he went off to work. I had very little money at that point, having lost $50, half of all the money I’d had a few days earlier, and I was feeling a bit desperate.
When he came home later, it seemed clear from a number of things he said, that, if I were to be open to sex, he could possibly put me up longer. That was consistant with his previous attempts, and I figured I should consider that. However, the sight of him naked didn’t excite me, in fact, I was totally flaccid, and couldn’t get it up anyway. That seemed to settle the issue for him. Somehow, people always seem to assume one can get into something they have no interest in, if only they try. It often doesn’t work for heterosexual relationships; so there wasn’t any reason to expect it would work for a homosexual relationship either, except that young men seem to always be ready for sex at any time.
I really do think that there has to be some physical attraction, and some hormonal signaling, for this whole sexual attraction thing to work. I don’t think one should ever have sex with someone one is not attracted to. Random sex with strangers is just not a good idea, in my opinion.
So, that is what I told the couple. The woman still wanted to have sex with me, and, as had happened before, the man said he would just watch. I had turned down that offer as a young man, but I was very much interested in this woman, so I was considering it when I woke up.
Ah well, it would have been a much more interesting dream, I think.
Once, while I was young, tanned and muscular, I met a couple who invited me to their home for a party, and since I didn’t have a car, they drove me there. However, there was no party, except for the three of us, and the man had made that offer: I could have sex with his wife, if he could watch. It was the first I’d ever heard of such a thing. I considered it for a nanosecond, but at 25 years of age, I turned them down. I felt vulnerable, and a bit worried about what would happen. Rape came to mind. Being bound and tortured came to mind. But, most of all, I knew damn well I couldn’t have enjoyed myself with the woman with anyone else watching, much less her husband.
Once I told them I wasn’t interested, we had a few drinks, talked some, and slept, since it was very late at night. I slept on the couch and they didn’t bother me. In the morning they drove me back to where I lived. I never heard from them again, but it was fascinating to learn that there where people who did such things.
I don’t know why all this bubbled out of memory last night.
Perhaps I was curious about what my stepdaughter was up to. She had texted me to pick her up from work, but hadn’t said where she was going, Her evening class was over, and I thought she might want to have me take her food shopping, since she doesn’t drive. However, she had wanted me to take her to a certain bar, a favorite of hers, one not far from where I live. I was going to be running with my running group, and would have to turn around as soon as I dropped her off, and go right back to near where I’d picked her up. I remarked on that, since I thought it was kind of funny. She was apologetic, as she thought it would be easy for me, since I’d be so close to my home.
I asked her if she was meeeting someone, and she said, “Yes.” I asked her if she was having dinner or just drinks. She said, “Dinner.” And she said, “Bye, See you next time.” I was curious who she was meeting, but she didn’t seem to want to say, or give me any information; I was curious why.
I love that woman a lot. She inspired me to run. She runs a lot, always has, except during her cancer treatment. It took a lot of work on her part to get back into running, but she runs marathons these days. I ran a half-marathon last year for the first time ever, four months after my heart attack, and will run one this year. She will run a full marathon at the same time, probably in little more time as it takes me to do a half.
When I got back from my run last night, I thought about stopping into the bar where she was, but I know she likes her privacy. I remember thinking that I’d have joined her if she’d asked, but three can be a crowd, and anyway, we don’t hang out much anymore.
So, perhaps that is why that threesome idea permeated my dreams. It’s not that either of us would ever comtemplate such a thing as the stuff of my dreams, but I was lonely, and I’d have enjoyed some dinner company. Boy, do I have to be careful that she never knows I even connected her vaguely with the kind of things I dream about. She’d be horrified. I’d hate that. When I say I love this woman, I mean it. I love her with all my heart, and always want her to have a great life. I’d love her even if I never saw her again, but I hope that doesn’t happen.
Some day, she’ll be married, with a kid perhaps. Maybe we’ll drift further apart. I used to drive her to and from work, but she doesn’t need me for that anymore, just an occasional lift here and there. I’m divorced from her mother these last seven years, and her mother avoids me like I have bubonic plague. No communication or reapproachment with that one. She’d kill me if she believed I had any designs on her daughter. Hell, my stepdaughter would quickly terminate all ties with me too, if she thought I’d ever thought of such things, even in a vague association with a dream.
I don’t know why I even brought it up. It is nice to have someone to love like her, even in a non-sexual, platonic way. In fact, I’d find life a whole lot less tolerable without her. It’s bad enough my cat got eaten by coyotes. “Situations tolerable” the Traveling Wilburys sang, and really, my life could be worse, but it could be better.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 8, 2014
Charlie, my feline friend for the past 11 years, went missing two weeks ago. While he often strays for a day or two, this is unusual for him. I have always followed the practice of letting him come and go as he wished. If he wanted to hang out, he would do so. Perhaps the time came. He is a very affectionate cat, born in my yard of a feral mother. I fed his mother and the other kittens, until my wife (ex-wife now) insisted I get rid of them. There are so many feral cats around here that Animal Control has to euthanize them all, so I put it off as long as I could. When I finally got a trap, all the cats except Charlie went in for the food. I felt like I’d betrayed them. But, I kept Charlie. He had been one who found his way inside a new double-sided picket fence I’d put up, and I’d had to take a plank out to remove him. Perhaps it changed him subtly. He was a bit freaked out at first to find himself alone, but I continued to put food out for him. Eventually, he allowed me to pet him while he was eating, an action that became imprinted on the little orphan. Even as an adult, he’d usually wait for me to pet him before he’d start eating, but not always. When he’s hungry, he wouldn’t stand on ceremony.
A year after he became attached to me, another cat showed, a female as was obvious soon enough by her swollen belly in a skinny body. The two cats hit it off right away. The new feral cat I called Girl until I read about a Japanese demon cat named Kilala. I tried it out on her, and she actually responded immediately, so she became Kilala. Both cats were neutered, and they have been constant companions ever since, sleeping together, screwing, fighting, or running across the flat roofs of the houses here. Even though I’d had to move seven years ago when I found myself divorced from my wife of 14 years, the cats stuck by me, acclimatizing themselves to their new home and environment. This area is largely farmland, full of water-filled ditches, and wildlife of all kinds. My attached house sits far back from the main street, so I feel the cats are safe here, safe to run and play and hunt. There is no danger of them eliminating the prolific wildlife, being just north of a wildlife preserve, and smack dab in the middle of hundreds of quail, rabbits, mice, gophers, and all manner of other critters.
Coyotes are actually faster runners than Roadrunners. However, Roadrunners can fly, and coyotes can’t, so it balances out. Roadrunners are fierce predators themselves, competing with cats for small birds, mice, and the eggs of other birds. They even kill and eat snakes.
So, the very real possibility is that the local coyotes got my cat. As strong, healthy and fierce as he can be, one never knows. I’d about given up on Charlie, assuming he’d likely been eaten, when neighbors saw my poster for Charlie and left me a message. They’d seen a cat like him in the neighborhood just slightly north of me. It’s far enough that I believe Charlie may not have heard me whistling for him. This is a cat that comes when I whistle, if he’s anywhere in the vicinity. Anyway, not only had this neighboring couple seen a similar cat, but picked it up after it came over to them. That would be unusual behavior for Charlie. Neither cat has ever warmed up to strangers, even close friends or family. They disappear whenever anyone visits. But, I reasoned, perhaps Charlie was lonely? He is a very affectionate cat, with me and Kilala.
I have started walking through that neighborhood every day now. I whistle for Charlie, but have not seen any sign of any cats at all. It appears bad, but I still haven’t totally given up hope. Perhaps he didn’t get eaten. Perhaps he’s wandering. Perhaps someone took him in, in his desperation? I may never know, and that’s the thing that bothers me. It’s hard to say goodbye when you don’t know what has happened.
I had to say goodbye to my wife. That was hard. The parting was sudden and not amiable at all. We’ve never talked since. The cats were a real comfort in my sudden isolation and loneliness. Since then, I’ve stayed busy, and know a lot of people. I met a woman who warmed me up physically and emotionally, but she dropped off the face of the earth, as far as I’m concerned, having no further interest in me. It’s hard to deal with these losses. Now I’m sad, and nearly cry during movies, and not even sad movies – anything with emotion in it. So strange.
This will pass, but, damn! I hate it. The cat was such a strong part of my life, like my ex. Even my on again – off again relationship after that, with a warm, affectionate and sexy woman, ended as suddenly as it began. The cat was a better friend than that.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 5, 2014
The Dome Fire burned in the Jemez Mountains in the northern portion of the state of New Mexico. Devastating portions of the Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument, the fire exploded on April 26, 1996, starting from an improperly extinguished campfire. 16,516 acres in Capulin Canyon and the Dome Wilderness were burned. The fire was fought by over 900 firefighters.
On May 30, 2014, I hiked through a small part of the area. I was struck by the fact that all the trees had been burnt, to the ground. In fact, I could see portions of roots that stuck out above ground burnt. Everywhere I looked the trees remained as black ghosts of their former selves. In some case, due to the destruction of the soil, extreme flooding brought down centuries-old Ponderosa Pines, breaking them up like matchsticks, or simply pulling them out of the ground.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 16, 2014
I feel like this is my last night on Earth. Almost one year ago I had a heart attack – on that day, I felt doom, oddly like the end of the world, or at least my world. I honestly felt like my life was finished, like I was going to die. If I hadn’t gotten myself to the heart hospital, I’d have been dead – so they say. At the hospital, I was shown an echocardiogram of my heart. The main right artery was nearly completely blocked. Only a trickle of blood was making it past the clot. The doctor convinced me that I needed balloon angioplasty, where they would break up the blockage with the balloon-tipped catheter and leave a stent in place. I asked about options. He said I could undergo drug therapy, but he didn’t recommend it. He seemed amused that I was unconvinced that angioplasty was my best option. I said to go ahead. They decided to insert the catheter via my arm, instead of my groin, after they shaved both areas. My groin may not have been the best choice since I hadn’t showered since the morning of the day before. They asked my if I’d taken Viagra. I had, on Saturday night – it had been a nice night of sex with a woman I knew at the time. It was then Monday. They probably thought I’d not showered since then. In actuality, I’d showered on Sunday morning, but masturbated Monday, that very morning, and washed up, but had not had time to take a full shower. I had had to rush off to pick my stepdaughter up and get her to work on time.
I felt fine that morning, and, in fact, donated a pint of blood after I’d dropped my stepdaughter off. My blood pressure was OK, and my pulse steady, and all seemed fine; my cholesterol levels have always been good. They told me to go eat a big breakfast. Taking them up on that, I stopped at a breakfast buffet. I had a pile of bacon, a little bit of scrambled eggs, some carne adovada, a small waffle, some fruit and coffee. I felt great. I went home and relaxed, played around on my computer: checking the status of things I had for sale on eBay, reading email, looking at my blogs on WordPress. I picked up a book and read for a while. It was then that I felt the weird pressure in my chest that wouldn’t go away and kept getting worse. Nothing I did helped. The feeling of doom crept in. Death. An ending. It’s over. All that went through my mind. No pain. No numbness. No nausea. Nothing but the most unusual sense of impending doom, and the pressure in my chest. I survived.
No heart attack now. I’m off most of the medications. I’m supposed to keep taking aspirin every day for the rest of my life. I’m still taking a statin drug to keep my cholesterol down. It’s lower than it’s ever been in my life. I also take a drug to fight off acid reflux. It helps. However, I don’t feel like taking any more drugs. I checked my blood pressure the other day, and it was higher than it’s ever been in my entire life! Way higher. I never had a problem with hypertension before. I started training for a half-marathon shortly after the heart attack, and ran it in October: 13.1 miles in three hours. Slow, but I made it. I had never run before. I’ve been running since, but not lately – I’ve had too many conflicts, what with work at a winery, and being on a movie set, and hiking sometimes in the mountain. Somehow I am busy, even five years after I retired from my day job. All is well.
Psychologically? I don’t know. I came back from visiting a friend who just had cancer surgery a few days ago. She had her thyroid removed, and her parathyroid relocated. We visited a bit, and she said she was tired, and wanted to nap. I left, but later saw that she was on Facebook, and at dinner with friends. She hadn’t mentioned that. I’d offered to take her out, or pick something up, but she’d said no. Well, that felt odd.
Watched a movie tonight: The Secret LIfe of Walter Mitty. Great movie. Easy to identify with the main character. Just before it ended I heard a muffled explosion from my kitchen. I was engrossed in the movie and didn’t want to get up. But then, I heard the sound of water running, and dripping, and I had no idea what it could be. I paused to see what the hell it was, and discovered my kitchen cabinet leaking. A bottle of Blackberry wine that came from the winery I work at, but had been opened by my stepdaughter, and recorked, had exploded and was pouring out over the countertop. She hadn’t liked it, and had given it to me. I grabbed some towels to mop it up, left them in place and watched the rest of the movie. Since then I’ve cleaned up a little, taken most everything out of two shelves and wiped up all the wine. I still need to wash it out. My whole house smells like wine now. It’s past time I should be in bed. I need to get up in 5 hours to drive to Santa Fé to work with the film crew. It’s the last day, day 13 of filming. It is a Sci Fi TV pilot. Whether or not it will ever be seen by anyone but ourselves, I can’t say. It’s an excellent concept, and everyone has worked hard. Very low-budget. Most of us worked for free. As extras and crew we’re not paid (except coffee, donuts, fruit, cheese, water and pizza). The actors are paid, although not much.
It feels like the end to me. Running through my head is the idea I can’t shake: that this is my last night ever, that tomorrow is my last day, ever. I don’t know why. I’m being melodramatic. I’m foolish. I know better, but not much inspires me to write anymore. This does. What if this is my last night?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 24, 2013
Why is that?
It is so, because murder is a legal term for killing not sanctioned by society. If all killing were murder, then executions would be murder. If all killing was murder, then any death in wartime would be murder: killing the enemy? murder. Friendly fire? murder. collateral damage? murder. Because we sanction those things, we do not define them as murder. Recently I came across the comparison of the fines and penalties for harming the eggs of protected species, like Eagles, and human fetuses. The argument appears to be that if it’s wrong to destroy eagle eggs, then it is wrong to kill human fetuses as well. This does not follow logically. The Eagle, for one, although recovering, is an endangered species, and the fine is an attempt to allow that species to continue. Does anyone, really, anyone, believe that abortion is killing the human race? That we are in danger of dying out as a species because of abortion? No, of course not. Hell, we continue to proliferate, for now. What does threaten the survival of the human race is pollution of the air and water, and eradication of too many animal species. Life on Earth is a balancing act.
When we kill off entire species, we remove an element from the balance. For example, animals are usually either prey for some other animal, or prey on some other animal, or are both. If a species goes, its actions in the balance of things go too. The result can be overpopulation of that animals prey, or an absence of prey for others, whether it was mammalian or insect, or aquatic in nature. Sometimes, another animal can fill the void, sometimes not. Sometimes, the death of a species results in the death of many other species. Some argue we are in the middle of just such an effect now, where the death of so many thousands of species has reached a point of cascade, wherein it is impossible to stop, and we will be left with only humans, for a short time. For, regardless of whether one is vegetarian or not, humans are dependent on animal life for our survival.
There are so many interactions between animals and plants, between animals and insects (another animal, but I’m making a point here), between animals and the air we breathe and the water we drink. Humanity would cease to exist long before the last animal species was wiped out, because it is a co-dependancy. A good example of co-dependancy is that between wolves and deer. Too many wolves, and the deer are removed. Not enough wolves, and the deer overpopulate, then overgraze the available resources and die out en masse from starvation. Huntings laws help keep that balance, but hunting laws are not going to keep us alive when all the predators are gone, or when all the prey is, or when all the bugs are gone. There are billions upon billions of interactions in the world that result in life for humans, and we can’t imitate them all. That’s the reason for endangered species laws.
Be all that as it may be, however, I’ve strayed too far from the point. The point is that killing is not murder, legally. Abortion is NOT murder, legally. There is a movement among Evangelical Christians to define life as beginning from the moment of conception, frivolous and stupid idea that it is. Does the world celebrate birthdays or conception days? Most of us know that life begins at birth. No one wants to see a baby killed. However, killing living, breathing human beings is almost universally illegal, except for executions, and in war, or self-defense, or by accident. Killing is not and cannot ever be considered murder in all cases. Killing a fetus is just such a case.
Killing a human fetus, is not, for the time being, murder. There was a time when it was. Murder is a relative term, depending entirely on what the society making the laws believes.
For, if killing a fetus is murder, regardless of the law, then so is execution, war, and accidental death. We don’t seem to agree on this. A number of fundamentalist zealots want life defined as beginning from the moment of conception, so they can justify making all abortion illegal. However, almost all of them accept execution, and war, and do not want those things to be illegal. It is a very inconsistent, illogical and convenient. Is all killing murder? or not? Does a woman who slips and falls, kill her fetus? or a woman who is involved in a car accident or other such incident that results in the fetus’s death kill that fetus? Are they murderers? How many exceptions will the believers accept in order to make abortion illegal again?
But then, there is that other question. If one is opposed to all killing, and all killing is murder, then eating animals is certainly murder, for animals are often cruelly killed, tortured and abused in the process of becoming what we refer to as meat. Dead animal flesh is dead animal flesh. The animal had to be killed for that. If killing is murder, than eating meat condones murder. Hah! you say? animals are not human. Why is that? Very convenient. We can kill, that is, terminate any life we want, as long as it isn’t what society defines as human. Funny how most animal fetuses, including human fetuses, look exactly alike in the womb at some point. It is in the development that a fetus becomes an animal or a human. So somehow, people argue, animals and people are not the same, and it is OK to kill animals for food, even if they resemble us, because well, they are not human – by law. Again, it is a legal fiction that animals and people are not protected from killing in the same way. There are animal cruelty laws, but those usually apply only to pets, and ranch animals like horses, which often are a kind of pet. Slaughterhouses kill every day, and we don’t blink an eye at that.
So again, I have to ask, why is a human fetus, unborn, not yet even breathing, more important than a living, breathing animal? The historical answer has always been: the soul. Biblical teachings have it that human beings are special, and are thus endowed with souls. Animals have no soul, therefore, it is legal to kill them. And, kill them we do, in the millions every day, and yet it is not murder, because we do not define it as such. So it is with abortion: when it is legal, it is not murder.
So, the whole question of abortion as murder comes down to this soul, a religious belief that sets humans apart from animals, for the purpose of allowing us to kill animals without shame or repercussion.
Some people do not believe in the concept of souls.
Some people believe that all living things have souls.
Some people selectively believe that only humans have souls.
So, what life-begins-at-conception laws and anti-abortion laws really are, are an attempt to impose, legally, the belief on all people, that souls exist, that a human fetus, alone of all creatures, has a soul, and therefore cannot be killed. This attempt is only possible if one does not care what other people believe. Lately, I see all these complaints from the politically-motivated-religious right that they are being persecuted for their beliefs. Somehow, it is persecution to resist their attempts to force their beliefs on those of us who do not share those beliefs. This has happened throughout the history of religion. Those who believe have killed those who do not believe the same things in the same way. “That was in the past,” they say. Bull. It is happening again. This same group of self-righteous religious fanatics wants to make providing access to abortion, or having an abortion a Capital Crime. Again, those motivated by their belief that they are right and the rest of us are wrong, want to kill everyone who does not accede to their beliefs, and they want it to be legal to do so.
That is the essence of religion: do what I say, or you will die, for I am right, and you are wrong. And you seriously think I shouldn’t be offended by that? You seriously think I shouldn’t fear your blatant attempts to legislate your particular brand of morality? to make everyone follow your beliefs by law?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 2, 2013
I have the most bizarre dreams sometimes, but I forget them quickly. This one stuck with me. I’ve a friend I see occasionally. We used to travel a bit with a group that visited state monuments, went rafting, saw the sights, etc. She is the daughter of an old lover, from many, many years ago. She is 30 years old. Lately she has returned to school to work on a graduate degree, so she doesn’t get out much. However, she does like to catch movies from time to time, and set up a regular trip to the dollar theater for anyone who wanted to share. I was part of that group, but, eventually, it dwindled down to me and her. She is a lovely woman, bright and funny, and good-looking. I enjoy her company. We don’t date, as she considers me a family friend. Even after her mom had dumped me for another guy, I was still invited to family gatherings, especially after that guy dumped her mom, and she has since remarried and divorced two more times.
Anyhoo. This dream was about Mona (name altered to protect the innocent). Mona is attractive to me, but off-limits. And, after all, she is quite a bit younger. In this weird dream, Mona decided one day that we could be lovers after all. I was really excited about that, and, oddly, in this dream, we were going to move in together, before we even had sex. We went to a house that belonged to neither of us, perhaps the new one we’d be living in and ended up in bed quickly. Now, that was a scenario I was really happy about. I would love to see her naked. I would love to fuck her, perverted old man that I am. In bed, Mona was next to me, naked. I swung her over on top of me, and in the process spread her legs wide. Instantly, this tremendous fart escaped from her, and I could feel it on my toes! I could even smell it, but it was not so terrible. Mona was really embarrassed, but I told her it was no big deal, and it didn’t matter to me; in fact, I laughed. She laughed with me, but then, of course, I woke up. Damn. I would have enjoyed the sex part. Well, fantasies are fantasies, and sometime they must remain so. Sigh.
I treasure Mona’s friendship. I do not want to alienate her. However, the last time we saw a movie, the weather was still warm. Mona wore a short-sleeved shirt, and as we got up to leave out seats, our arms brushed together. The sensation was electric! (No, it wasn’t static electricity). The sensation was one of extreme pleasure. I know from that what the effect of climbing into bed with her would be. Be all that as it may be, however, Mona is a masseuse. We had arranged a massage session for after the movie. Mona has a massage table, and oils, and incense at her house. The massage took an hour. Mona took the pain out of my neck, and rubbed all of my body from my neck to my toes, except for my penis, of course. She’s not that kind of masseuse! It was a wonderful massage. There was no sexual element to it at all. I was extremely relaxed, and did not experience an erection, which I was afraid I would, given how sexy Mona is. It was the best massage I’d ever had, without any element of sex involved, although I was indeed naked. Mona rubbed my arms and legs and kneaded my back. She worked my neck good. It was heaven.
I’m not sure I should relate this dream to Mona, but I’d sure like to share it with her. She has a good sense of humor, but I’d hate to have her think I’m dreaming about sex with her. That might make future movies or massages difficult. I always seem to find ways to alienate women.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 11, 2013
There have been many times over the last five or six years when I thought I was ready for death. My life didn’t have much meaning, but it didn’t have to, I thought, since I had lived a good, and a long life already. I mean, what’s the point of just living? Life needs to be lived, and I mean lived, enjoyed, relished, savored. It doesn’t matter what the mix of good and bad is. A really good week makes up for a bad day anytime. An exceptional day makes up for a bad week. However, since my days were one long string of bad, mediocre, or really crappy times, I couldn’t figure out why I was still alive.
Sometimes, I felt like I was dying. It seemed to me, day by day, that my life was winding down. Sometimes I had trouble hiking, and I could feel my lungs struggling to bring air in. Sometimes I felt pain in my chest. In my mind, I suspected I might have a heart attack anytime, or simply stop breathing. I was old enough. The idea didn’t bother me. We all have our time, and it seemed mine had passed. A few times, after I’d fallen asleep in my recliner, I’d awakened to find myself half dead, my brain fuzzy, my thoughts chaotic. It was as if I hadn’t been breathing for a few minutes. I would get up and walk around, but even though my lungs were moving, there was no oxygen in my brain. My brain felt dim, and dark, as though I was trapped underground. I mean, what is more symbolic of death than that? I asked my doctor about it, and she said those were panic attacks. Well, you’d panic too if there was no oxygen going to your brain. I believe I actually did stop breathing each time, probably not for long, but long enough to trigger my body’s desperate attempt to reboot. I envisioned a time when I would be found dead at home, probably days or weeks after the fact. Who would check?
When my step-daughter had experienced her brain tumor, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and more radiation and chemo, that had been really troubling. I didn’t want her to die. She survived, and the joy I’d felt then had been true joy, unbelievable happiness. However, my marriage ended shortly after that. There was no further contact, no hope of reconciliation. I had a friend I’d known for years, and asked her out. She was horrified at the idea, and gradually pulled away too. I retired from my job of twenty-five years. I lived alone. It all seemed pointless right then. Was I depressed? Sure. But, eventually that passed, but I could see that I wasn’t really living, I was just marking time. It was as though I was in a waiting room, killing time, only I was just waiting for death to tap me on the shoulder, even though I was occasionally having good moments.
So, a week ago, I did have a heart attack. I suspected it might be a heart attack before it had hardly begun. I had felt something odd in my chest, a tightening, or pressure, on and off for months. It never lasted long, and I could simply sit down and rest a bit and I was fine. I don’t exercise enough, so I attributed it to my less-than-perfect stamina. Hiking in the mountains here, once a week, even for 5 to 9 miles, is not really enough to stay in good shape when you’re old. When the day came and the pressure wouldn’t ease off, and I felt anxious, was sweating like a pig, and foggy in my head, I thought, yeah, maybe this is it. For years, I’d believed that I would welcome it. I debated going to see my doctor, the newer one who had diagnosed exercised-induced asthma. I was breathing OK. I had no pain. However, something was wrong. At first I thought I would get over it. I took two aspirin. I tried to relax. Increasingly, I felt worse. Suddenly, I had to make a decision: do or don’t. I decided to act. Got help. Heart attack verified. Angioplasty performed. Clot destroyed. Stent placed in right coronary artery.
For someone prone to hypochondria, this was actually vindication. I knew I was sick, and I was. More importantly, I made the decision to live. If I had just sat down, or gone to bed, I would have reached the point by myself, as I did in the cardiac lab, where my heart went into arrhythmia. I would have died, painfully, all by myself.
So, I had decided to live on. I took steps to get help. I survived. I am on drugs for a while to help get my body through this experience. I signed up to train for a half-marathon. It feels good.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 8, 2013
I hike in the mountains, nearly every week. Sometimes its a three to four-hour jaunt, sometimes six hours, with a lunch break. The elevation gain can be 1000 feet or 2000. I’ve done much harder hikes in the past, but found that I was having too much trouble keeping up with the other hikers. Instead of getting stronger with more stamina over time, I was having a hard time finishing 12 mile hikes up and down a mountain trail at all. So, I began hiking with a Meetup group, hiking just the three or four hours at a leisurely pace. I tried hiking to the peak of one mountain, Mt. Taylor, at 11,301 feet, as I had done on three prior occasions, but couldn’t make it. I fell so far behind that the hike leader, tired of coming to look for me, and unwilling to wait for me in temperatures near zero degrees F, relayed a message to me that I was to turn around. I had never failed to complete a hike before, so that was upsetting. I knew I could get to the top, but just needed more time. I missed the wonderful sluicing through the deep powder on the back side of that climb. Well, so it goes. However, on the way home by car, I had trouble breathing. My lungs actually hurt upon taking a deep breath. That was very troubling. Back home, I saw my doctor and he said I had exercise asthma, and prescribed an inhaler. I used it a few times before hikes, and had no trouble. However, on a hike with a fair amount of elevation gain, I wished I’d brought it with me, because I felt strange and weak on the crest of the mountain.
This happened again, and then, last Sunday, while puttering around a winery I help out at, I felt the same strangeness, more like a tightening of my chest, or pressure on my chest. I had only been cleaning up, putting equipment away, and climbing up and down a short ramp when I felt it overtake me. I sat down in a chair with a glass of cranberry wine and relaxed. I felt better after a short while, so I finished my duties and went home. At home I was comfortable and relaxed and slept well. The next day, however, was far different.
In the morning I awoke early, had coffee, and picked my step-daughter up from her home, dropping her off at her job. She doesn’t drive, due to a problem with her peripheral vision, so I take her to and from work most days. This day I also had a blood donation appointment, so I went there after dropping her off. The blood donation went well – no unusual blood pressure. I stopped for breakfast at a breakfast buffet, and had bacon, eggs smothered in red chile, a bit of carne adovada, small slices of french toast, and fruit – hey, the blood place said to eat a big breakfast, so I did. I dropped off a package at Fed-X for my step-daughter and went home. It was a slow day after that. I messed around at the computer, reading news, checking blogs, Facebook, eBay, an art site (Deviant Art), and then sat down to quietly read a book. In mid-afternoon, however, I felt that strange pressure in my chest. I used my asthma inhaler, but to no effect. I stretched out on my bed for a bit, but without improvement. I felt odd, perhaps a little anxious. I was sweating, so I turned on the evaporative cooler. I went back to reading. I still felt that something was wrong. I increased blower speed on the cooler. I took two aspirin. I began to worry. It was getting late, after 4pm, so I wasn’t sure if I could get to the clinic my doctor worked at before it closed. Suddenly I decided I was going to go anyway. Enough uncertainty! I had to find out what was wrong; I might even be having heart problems. I decided not to take the motorcycle, opting instead for four wheels, should I become weak or unsteady. However, I changed my mind as I was backing the car up, and went back in. Something was wrong and I was getting worse fast. I called 911.
It didn’t take the EMT guys long to get to my house, as the firehouse was than two miles away, but they had to search a bit so I got up and flagged ’em down. They came in, asked questions, took vitals, and decided I should go to the hospital. An ambulance had arrived after they came in their firetruck. By this time I was sweating profusely, felt weaker, and didn’t mind lying on their gurney. I’m not sure it was a good idea to attempt an IV while the ambulance was bouncing over speed humps, but I got to the hospital OK. They sent me to the cardiac lab, and five or six guys went to work, taking pictures, repeating vitals and finally deciding that I was, indeed, having a heart attack. There were options, like drug therapy, but the best idea presented was to do an angioplasty, where they run an inflatable device up an artery into my heart to open the artery there. X-rays had shown that the artery was indeed almost completely blocked by a clot. I agreed, so they went ahead. I began to feel pain just as they began. I said ouch as they stuck a needle in me, but it was the sudden sharp pain in my heart that had gotten my attention. The pain increased, but, miraculously, as they worked, the pain subsided, the pressure that had been building stopped, and I felt great! They had used the balloon-like device to ream out my artery, and then released a stainless-steel tube that expanded to fit to the walls of the artery, called a stent. It’s an odd, meshed device. To me, it resembles those old Chinese finger puzzles, but on a much reduced scale. The stent will remain with me now. I must take a drug for one year to prevent my body from rejecting the stent. Ha! I wish I only had to take one drug. I must also take aspirin, a small 81 mg dose, every day. I am taking a drug to lower my blood pressure, even though my pressure is normal. I am taking a statin drug to lower my cholesterol even though my cholesterol is not high. I am taking a drug to block blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots. I am taking a drug to lower the acid in my stomach. And I am taking a drug that lowers my heart rate, reducing strain on my heart, which was only minimally damaged in all this.
In short, I survived, and in good shape. I’m certain I do not need all of these drugs. My blood pressure is now lower than ever, at about 118 over 70, as I just measured. I already eat fairly well, so my cholesterol is not dangerous, but I welcome the assistance of the drug, for now. I think some of the others are a bit too much, as I would like to be as drug-free as possible. One drug can be interfered with by fish-oil supplements, which are in my daily multivitamins already. If the fish oil has the same effect, I don’t know why I can’t just take that instead of a drug.
Ah, well. I’m lucky to be alive, and damn lucky to have had that cardiac team work on me. They worked very quickly, efficiently and smoothly, each one performing certain vital tasks, and being watchful of changes in my status. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived. I need to take them some wine.
I received lots of messages from friends and family, and my step-daughter visited me while I was confined to the hospital for two days. My friend, who is “not a girlfriend”, declined to visit me in the hospital because, as she put it, “…hospitals freak me all the fuck out…”, but she said she wanted to see me to verify that I was alive. We went to a movie and had dinner Friday afternoon. Life goes on.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 29, 2012
Orbiter, this is Lander.
Go ahead, Lander.
We have determined that the atmosphere is Earth compatible. We are preparing for egress.
Affirmative, Lander, we concur. Recommend full suits.
Roger that Orbiter. Full suits, with open helmets.
Roger that Roger, Lander. (chuckle). Any visible signs of life?
No, Orbiter, not yet. There seems to be a ground fog, obscuring most of the surface. We are on solid ground, and we will be exploring cautiously.
Roger that, Lander; step by step.
Egress now Orbiter. Surface is firm, under a thin layer of coppery dust.
Can you see anything yet, Lander?
No. Wait, yes, Orbiter, there appears to be something moving towards us in the fog.
Lander, what do you see?
Lander, come in. Lander?
Lander, what do you see? Is everything OK? Lander?
Lander, Lander, come in Lander. What’s your status?
Orbiter, AOK. We are OK.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 5, 2012
So, on the fourth of July I was making my way home from a hike, and I ended up detoured by a parade in the village of Corrales, NM. I tried to get around it, following directions from a sheriff’s deputy, but I simply ended up farther along the parade route. Not sure how to escape, I took out my camera and started shooting. In a few minutes I noticed that a Model A car club had put all of their vehicles in the parade, so I shot them all. There are a few other pictures of other vehicles here as well, since they were all so interesting. In this type of gallery posting, click on whatever shot you’d like to see full size. Then, after viewing it, you can scroll through all of the photos one at a time.
If you like the shots, let me know.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 8, 2012
Albuquerque’s Comic Con, second year. Just wandering around on opening day, Friday June 8, 2012. Click on each image to view full size.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 31, 2012
Some call El Morro a bluff, or a headland, but it translates directly as The Promontory. It certainly is a prominent feature. At this place are many features: colorful rock formations, cliffs, centuries-old graffiti, excavated ruins of the Atsinna people, and the only source of water in the area for hundreds of years since modern peoples found it. Although there are some petroglyphs left behind on the walls, there are fantastic inscriptions left in the sandstone by thousands of others as well. Modern-day graffiti is removed immediately, as all of the old inscriptions were documented in 1934. In the 1920s the first superintendent erased any inscriptions he found that were added after 1906, so the ones left range from approximately 1275 to 1906. The first modern-day inscription was left on March 11, 1583, 15 years before New Mexico became officially part of Spain.
I spent some time there photographing the beauty of the place, and taking a few pictures of the inscriptions to see if I could. Contrast in the light-colored sandstone is poor. One ranger tried darkening the most famous inscription, by Don Juan de Oñate, with a No. 2 pencil, but preservationists no longer take such steps. Oñate, first colonial governor of New Mexico, established Santa Fe, but is infamous for cutting off the left foot of every Acoma Pueblo man over the age of twenty-five. Eighty men had one of their feet amputated (although other commentators put the figure of those mutilated at twenty-four). He also had 800 Zuni people killed, and enslaved 500 others. A statue of Oñate, erected in Albuquerque in recent years, had Oñate’s bronze left foot cut off in the night, although it was restored and the statue moved. General Don Diego de Vargas also recorded his visit here in 1692, after retaking New Mexico after the successful united Pueblo revolt of 1680. Click on each image to view full size.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 23, 2012
page 24A ☼☼☼Wednesday, April 23, 2042 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ ☺The Morning News☻
EDITORIALS / OPINION
It is a measure of visual acuity. It was a popular TV news program. It is also the year Mars was first touched by a human. It is the year the United States lost its technological edge, its pride in leadership and exploration.
By 2020, the United States’ economy had spent too many years fluctuating between extreme lows and mediocre progress. Attempts by every President and Congress to address the problem had done little. Military spending had increased, and the short-term effects had kept the economy going, but military spending does not have any positive long-term effects. It is not an investment in the future; it does not improve infrastructure, education, health care, technology or knowledge of our solar system.
There was a significant improvement during the Clinton administration, when both president and legislators cut government spending and waste, and concentrated on reducing the national debt. Of course, all of this effort was for nought, considering the money spent during the next administration on the invasion and occupation of two countries simultaneously. The cost in human lives was great, but the devastation wrought on the U.S. economy was greater.
Subsequent administrations tried once again, to tackle the ailing economy. Greater money than ever was authorized by Congress to jump start a recovery. The hemorrhaging loss of jobs stopped, but new jobs were slow to materialize. Taxes were cut again and again, but still the effects on the economy were slight. The national debt continued to grow. Politicians clamored for more war, for greater military spending, as if shaking our military might at the world was enough to save us. It wasn’t. Taxes were cut again. Few in the U.S. realized that we had already lost our way. A country that had grown great through exploration and innovation no longer had such goals. There was no vision to inspire us to grow, to innovate, to change. Fear of terrorism still dominated our lives, as we gave into the very purposes of terrorist attacks: to inspire fear, to focus almost exclusively on defensive and offensive capabilities, at great expense to ourselves.
Meanwhile, although the rest of the world was having similar problems with economic disasters, they had learned, from the United States, not to give in to despair and ennui. In the 1960s, in the United States, despite an economy-busting war in Vietnam, we had a space program dedicated to landing on and exploring the moon. Despite the costs of running that war, and investments made in social programs, we still found the time and money to land on the moon, to explore it, to participate in building Earth’s fist space station. Spin-offs from our space program gave us new technologies, and inspired ever greater innovation. We had pride in our country, in our goals, in our technology, and in our education system. All wanted our country as a whole to succeed, to grow, and to become the best.
In Australia, in Asia, and in Europe, people still believe in setting inspirational goals. One of them was the continued human exploration of space, the idea all but abandoned by the U.S. They worked tirelessly to send human beings into space, to move beyond our small lunar satellite to the planets. They mined near-Earth asteroids, and then they put mankind on Mars. To be accurate, the first footprints made on Mars were female, but humankind had reached another planet, and far sooner than near-sighted politicians and educators in the U.S. had envisioned. Cuts to the operating budgets of NASA crippled plans to land on Mars; the goal was pushed farther and farther back, until 2037 was the earliest possible date for a U.S. Mars attempt. Innovation was taken away from government, and left to private citizens. This was admirable in it’s reliance on capitalism and entrepreneurism, but investors were loath to invest the money necessary to reach near-Earth asteroids, Mars or the other planets in our solar system. Robots landed on Mars, the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and several asteroids, but the start-up money necessary to successfully mine, transfer, and process elements from the asteroids just wasn’t available to the few wealthy individuals who believed in the work.
Ferrying people into low Earth orbit did little to inspire the kind of creativity and wonder of the 1960’s space program. In fact, the role of the U.S. became little more than support for the efforts of other countries to grow their space programs. We needed their assistance just to maintain our own system of communication, defense, and navigation satellites. The information gleaned by our robotic exploration programs did much to advance Earth’s reach into space, but the U.S. reluctance to finance human exploration and establish base camps crippled our efforts to reap any benefits from our investments. The second space station went into operation without the participation of the United States. When China established their first moon base in 2020, we scoffed at the idea, claiming it was unimportant and insignificant. We knew that we would soon reach Mars. We just needed a little more time. Our economy wasn’t up for the task of massive spending on the establishment of bases in space. Unfortunately, despite their own economic woes, Australia, the European Union, and Japan followed suit by establishing bases on the moon, and set up processing facilities for the material coming from Chinese asteroids Ni and Hao.
Still, the U.S. goals were robotic exploration, and perhaps a 2037 Mars landing. But we no longer had the guts to compete in any space race. Our politicians, right and left, wanted to focus on growing our economy through artificial means, believing that all would fall into place as soon as we cut taxes far enough, as soon as our government no longer had the burden of investing in social programs, education, health care, or the worry of caring for the aged. And still, we invested heavily, not in innovation, infrastructure, or space, but in war. It has been argued that we had no choice but to support Israel in their devastating attack on Iran, but, after, all, we were the ones who had advocated, and indeed, proven (to ourselves) that preëmptive strikes were perfectly justified in the name of security. The staggering costs of supporting Israel in their jihad crippled us far worse than anything we’d ever done. Significantly, NASA’s budget was cut further, and private enterprise could not pick up the slack as our economy spiraled ever closer to ruin.
The joint Soviet/Asian/Australian/EU Mars venture electrified the world in 2030. Not only had they landed on Mars before the United States thought possible, but their joint base was now the center of technological innovation. The newest methods of sub-surface mining, extrapolated from their earlier work with asteroids, provided not only the water necessary to make life on Mars possible, but also those rare elements on Earth that were nearly depleted and too costly. Cheap rare-earths and precious metals flow outward from several asteroids as well as Mars now, providing the means for each of those countries to grow exponentially.
The United States will reach Mars one day. We’ve passed our 2037 goal now, and there is the promise that we will reach Mars by 2050, and begin the reap the benefits thereof. In the meantime, food riots continue. We lack the national will to spend money on space exploration when so many are hungry and homeless. Even if martial law is lifted soon, as promised, we may never see the grandeur of our country restored. We have fallen too far behind. We are safe and secure behind our borders for now, although few people around the world any longer seek to cross our borders legally or illegally. We lost our edge, our will, our purpose.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 17, 2012
Previously, I uploaded some pics from my hike across the lava flows in El Malpais Conservation Area, founded in 1987 near Grants, New Mexico. See: Hiking the pāhoehoe and ‘a’a in New Mexico. I went back. This time I saw, not only the lava and spectacular landscape, but also an incredible arch, located in a very accessible public part of the area. It is called La Ventana (The Window), and it is also in the El Malpais Conservation Area, founded in 1987 near Grants, New Mexico.
and here’s more of the pictures from my 3/11/12 hike (click on a pic to view it full size):
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 2, 2012
MARCH 2, 2012
As much as I’d like to go to Mars, and work in a habitat, it’s not likely; the earliest populated mission to Mars is in 2037. However, I have applied to the Cornell/University of Hawaii Mars Analogue Mission and Food Study. Applications are now closed, and about 700 people applied; only eight will participate. It’s a 120-day Mars exploration analogue mission that will take place in early 2013 on the big island of Hawaii. I’m psyched! Actually, studies of the effects of living in an enclosed environment for long periods of time have already been done. Between 2007 and 2011, a crew of volunteers lived and worked in a mock-up spacecraft. The final stage of the Mars-500 experiment, which was intended to simulate a 520-day manned mission, was conducted by a crew consisting of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian and a Chinese citizen. The experiment helped plan the mission, identifying possible problems and solutions. The mock-up facility simulated the Earth-Mars shuttle spacecraft, the ascent-decent craft, and the martian surface. Volunteer crew used in the three stages included professionals with experience in fields such as engineering, medicine, biology, and spaceflight. There have been many other similar studies and more underway, in Antarctica, Europe, Russia, China and Australia.
520 days! Holy crap! That includes a round-trip flight time of between 400 to 450 days. What will we do in space that long? I’m trying to imagine what 120 days in isolation will be like, and that’s only in a contained environment on Hawaii. However, the habitat part of this mission doesn’t involve psychological effects or exploration. It’s all about the food! People on long missions typically eat only prepackaged meals, or concentrates. No matter how tasty the food, a type of fatigue sets in, a food monotony, and astronauts not only lose interest in the food, but also eating meals altogether. Additionally, prepackaged meals contribute more weight to a mission already starved for mass. Every bit of mass taken on a spaceflight must be boosted into orbit, at tremendous cost with limited storage space. There are other problems: prepackaged meals have a shorter storage life than the individual ingredients. Moreover, all of the crew members have scientific and exploratory goals, and time spent in food preparation and cleanup is time lost to research.
I think this type is thinking is short-sighted. I know exploring Mars will be exciting. I know the prospect of living on another planet will be exciting. I also know that there is such a thing as job fatigue. One cannot spend all of one’s time on the mission. I don’t mean just that all work and no play makes the Mars explorer dull. I mean that everyone needs a break from their own work. I propose that each member of the crew take turns preparing meals and cleaning up, say one day a week for each person. Perhaps one day a week, assuming there is a six-member crew, be a non-cooking day. The crew could simply eat prepackaged meals on that day, and everyone gets a break.
I’m sure that the experience of preparing meals will benefit every member of the crew. There will be the benefit of eating freshly prepared foods. There had better be a small array of spices! Salt, pepper, red chile powder, garlic powder, onion flakes, maybe some packaged shallots, and other spices as crew members might suggest. Nothing helps break the monotony like different spices; and dried powders are very light. Will there be cooking oil, I wonder? How about some sesame oil and chile oil too? Certainly some oil is a necessary part of our diet. Instant butter! Mmm.
One thing I’d recommend: high fat, great tasting food. One does not get fat or malnourished by eating good foods. One gets fat or malnourished by eating too little or too much food. Period. These programs might be making the mistake of assuming all the food must be low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar. No, my friends, I don’t think so. If portion size is strictly controlled, one can have snacks and deserts and still maintain a healthy diet and weight. I’m sure the calorie-intake needs of each person can be measured, and such a group of dedicated explorers, knowing how limited their food supplies are, will adhere to strict guidelines for food consumption. There should be enough leeway to allow for the occasional party, with some special food and drink.
What will these intrepid explores drink by the way? Water is extremely heavy to ship into space. In an ideal situation, the Mars explorers will find ice or other trapped water on, or close to the surface. But we do not live by water alone. I’m sure there are some powdered drinks to break up the monotony. Coffee, PLEASE! But you know what makes digestion go better, and livens up the entire eating experience? Wine! How’s that for an idea? I know a lot about wine, particularly food-pairing. I am a partner in the Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas, New Mexico. We pair our fruit wines with a wide variety of foods. Apricot wine goes extremely well with fatty fish and aged cheese, for example. Cranberry wine goes quite well with roast chicken, turkey and mild cheeses. I’m not just talking about a connoisseur’s point of view. I find that certain foods, like venison, soft and/or aged cheeses, for example, bring out intense fruit flavors in wine. The wine itself alters the palate so that the food itself is more flavorful. How about that, mission control? Can we have wine with our meals? We need it. Can wine be freeze-dried and retain its alcohol and flavor? I don’t know. Alcohol is usually the first thing to go when dehydrating liquids. The alcohol would sublimate from even frozen wine. I don’t know how to solve this problem, but I’m telling you all right now: if you want those souls trapped in a hostile environment to always enjoy their meals, they will need wine. Put it in individual lightweight boxes, like those ubiquitous boxed fruit drinks. Put it in small bags. Put it in anything lightweight, but bring it!
MARCH 3, 2012 – Walking to Mars (Mars reached the closest point to the Sun in its orbit)
On Wednesday, February 29, after I had sent my application off the night before, I went hiking into the Sandia Mountains. Short hike; just fours miles up and back the Domingo Baca trail. The entire time I kept thinking that I need to get in better shape. I still have to pass a Class 2 flight physical. Of the 700+ people who applied for this mission, 30 will be selected and notified to get the physical. I expect the physical will help prune that number down to the remaining eight. We still don’t know when we will hear anything. In the meantime, I need to keep walking. Today, March 3, I went on another 4-mile hike, but climbed 1200 feet in elevation in one hour! My hiking group hiked to the Eye of the Sandias. It was painted in the 1960s, refreshed in the 1990s and it looked as if it had been touched up within the last two years as well. The Eye looks out at Albuquerque, monitoring its growth, according to legend. It was a good hike. We started at about 7200 feet and climbed to 8400 feet to take a break at the Eye. I took some photos and we went on back down. I suspect I’m going to have to increase the number of hikes I go on, and get back to those 9 to 12 mile hikes I was going on two years ago. Time to get this old body back into shape, and I’d better hurry. I’d hate to be selected and fail the flight physical. Anyway, here are some pics from today. Some are looking out across Albuquerque to Mount Taylor, some 90 miles away. Other shots show my hiking companions, the Eye itself, and parts of the trail. One shot shows I-40 snaking eastward though Tijeras canyon, even as we were able to view Albuquerque and Mt. Taylor. It really is a good place for an eye.
MARCH 5, 2012 – News & Information
Finally, some information: “The selection panel is currently going through the applications to determine a short-list of candidates, who will then be asked to get an aviation medical exam (at our cost), and to provide references. We expect to be able to inform you whether or not you are on the short-list by the end of March.” Good to know.
In case some of you are wondering why the hell the Mars mission itself is important, there is this:
Half a mile high! Image from the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. More info: http://bitly.com/zNeD5P
MARCH 9, 2012 – posted on HI-SEAS:
“As we go through the applications, we are blown away by the caliber and the passion of the applicants. You all are amazing.”
Of course! :-)
MARCH 12, 2012 – The Case For Space
Please read this article: The Case For Space
In it, the author makes a logical, but also very compelling pitch for the United States to go to Mars sooner, not later, and to revamp its space program now. A hazy “commitment” to Mars sometime in the late 2030s is not going to keep us on track. President Obama said that the Apollo program “produced technologies that have improved kidney dialysis and water purification systems; sensors to test for hazardous gases; energy-saving building materials; and fire-resistant fabrics used by firefighters and soldiers. And more broadly, the enormous investment of that era — in science and technology, in education and research funding — produced a great outpouring of curiosity and creativity, the benefits of which have been incalculable.” Of course, according to author Neil deGrasse Tyson, there is much more to that list of revolutionary spinoff technologies, including digital imaging, implantable pacemakers, collision-avoidance systems on aircraft, precision LASIK eye surgery, and global positioning satellites. Even in troubled economic times, the author states, the United States is a sufficiently wealthy nation to embrace an investment in its own future in a way that would drive the economy, the country’s collective ambitions, and, above all, the dreams of coming generations; in 1969 the United States went to the moon while fighting two wars — one cold, one hot — during the most turbulent decade in American history since the Civil War.
Imagine the excitement when NASA, bolstered by a fully funded long-term plan, starts to select the first astronauts to walk on Mars. Right now, those science-savvy future explorers are in middle school. As they become celebrities whom others seek to emulate, the United States will once again witness how space ambitions can shape the destiny of nations.
MARCH 28, 2012
No news yet; just this post from HI-SEAS:
“We expect to have an update for applicants next week. Thank you for your patience as we give your applications the attention they deserve.”
I’m patient, but next week seems so far away now. :-)
APRIL 7, 2012 NEWS!
Received this today:
“Thank you for your interest in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and
Simulation. As you may know, we received almost 700 applications for
this mission, for only six crew positions. Because of this huge
response, we have had to add one more stage to the process (as
originally described in the call for participation). At this point, you
are one of the candidates for a potential
education/journalism/outreach/art/social-media position on the crew.
However, we will have to narrow the total pool down further before
moving on to interviews, references and medicals. We expect to be able
to notify the ~30 crew semi-finalists by mid-April.“
This must be what waiting for a launch window is like: “end of March”, “next week”, and now “mid-April”. I’m pretty damn excited! I feel like a kid waiting for a holiday.
APRIL 20, 2012 Final News
My last message from HI-SEAS:
“Dear HI-SEAS Applicant,
Thank you again for your interest in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog
and Simulation. I am sorry to inform you that you have not been selected
for the interview stage of the application process. We had a very large
number of highly qualified applicants, and it was extremely difficult to
narrow the pool down.
We expect to be able to run further HI-SEAS missions, so even if you
will not participate as a crewmember this time, we will keep you on file
for future opportunities. If you would like us to delete your
application from our files, let us know.
Thanks again for your application, and for your commitment to human
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 2, 2012
I went hiking in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness recently. I thought people might be interested in seeing some photos. After you click on one, you can use the arrows to view all of the photos. They are high resolution photos, so give each one time to fully load before moving on to the next one. It was fantastic hiking there.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 25, 2012
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 9, 2011
For many years, I’ve traveled by the lava flows around Grants, New Mexico. I’ve stopped to smell the lava occasionally, and even picked the tunas, the fruits of the prickly pear, as they are known around here, which grow near the lava by the highway. I’d never hiked through the lava fields before, so when a hike came up to do so, I jumped at it. Now, hiking through cold lava is not as easy as it sounds. The smooth flow, pāhoehoe, is not bad to walk on: mostly flat, good traction. The ‘a’a is not so easy. Much of the later half of the hike was on ‘a’a, the sharp, strewn rocks blown out of the volcanoes, including sharp rocks and loose gravel-like stones.
There is a trail, (a very loose term), through the badlands. It is 7.5 miles long. Seems easy, right? Well, people do get lost and die in there. In fact, human bones found scattered on a lava flow in El Malpais National Monument have been identified, just last year, as those of James Chatman and Crystal Tuggle, father and daughter, who never came back from an afternoon walk there nine years ago. See? It is so easy to get lost in there. The trail, such as it is, is marked with cairns throughout. Sometimes the cairns are no more than ten feet apart, sometimes, 20 to 30 feet apart, when the trail is obvious. Usually, it is not, so the cairns are placed liberally along the trail, showing the way through every twist and turn.
There’s one there, in the upper right corner, next to one of my hiking companions. Now, this one is fairly easy to spot, but do you see a problem? The cairns are simply piles of lava rocks. On a rise like this, fairly easy to spot, silhouetted against the sky. Imagine that you are walking through a field of lava and all of the cairns are about two to three feet tall (max), composed of rocks the exact same color of the background. Here are two cairns in a row; can you spot them?
The advice the park service gives is to always have the next cairn in sight before you leave the one you’re at, and I wholeheartedly endorse that. Occasionally, this takes a bit of reconnoitering, but there is always a cairn alongside the trail in the direction one needs to travel. Looking at the photo above, you might be tempted to say that one needs only follow the other hikers, right? Wrong. Suppose you’re a slower hiker, or you stop to pee or take a photo. The other hikers are gone, around a bend, down a hill, or behind a pile of lava somewhere. You then have to navigate on your own until you see them again. Sometimes you walk right past a cairn, if you glance up at the wrong moment, so you have to backtrack a bit and try again. Imagine doing this right after a snowstorm. It had snowed the night before, but fortunately, it was light, and tended to melt as the day wore on.
Helpfully, the park service has provided wooden posts for some cairns, sticking straight up through the center of the cairn, but even these have a tendency to fall down, due to the really intense winds blowing through there. This one was near one end of the trail.
There were piles of these poles here and there, so I assume it’s an ongoing project for the few rangers that have kept their jobs. It’s unfortunate that the National Park Service has felt the brunt of the many cuts in government over the years. I guess we need to keep raising our Congress people’s salaries, and keep paying them for life, and make sure they have top-of-the-line free medical care. Well, at least they think it’s more important, for them, even if they don’t think it’s important for the rest of us.
Anyway, you came here for pictures, yes?
Here ya go:
As I told the hike leader, it was one hell of a hike. Although I was tired and aching by the time we finished, (just under five hours including two 15-minute breaks), I really enjoyed this hike. The views were always outstanding, and the experience, on the whole, was fantastic! It’s one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. On the way home, we stopped at the ‘WOW’ diner in Milan, near Grants. Their menu is just as unique and varied as the lava fields are. With three pages of dinner entrées, I may never experience everything on their menu, but I intend to try. (There are still lots of hikes in the area.) It is the perfect end to a perfect hike.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 28, 2011
The last time I was preparing to fly, I felt a feeling of impending doom, although I did not associate that with the flight itself. Now, I wonder. Here I am about to board another plane within a month’s time, and I again feel apprehensive. Could it be that I have developed a fear of flying? It seems odd, although not so much considering the use to which some planes have been put in this country. However, I’ve always loved flying, even though I don’t get to do it much. I have been excited the last few days about going to my brother’s wedding on the east coast. Celebratory gatherings are so much more fun than wakes.
Why, then, does my mind dwell on scenarios of fighting with terrorists, surviving a plane crash, losing my luggage, and even ending up homeless, wandering the world? Too much violence in the world, I suppose. Hard to feel safe anymore. Of course, that was the intention of the terrorists, and the huge expenditure of money from a government in deficit has helped their cause by wasting our tax money on overblown security precautions, and a new bloated government agency. No amount of expenditure is going to make us safe ever again, but we keep on spending money, throwing money away, building new screening machines, hiring more clueless, uneducated screening personnel, making every U.S. citizen a terror suspect. We keep looking over our shoulders, backwards, instead of looking ahead.
Can we really keep spending money like this, just to create a false sense of security? It doesn’t even work, if I am any indication. I don’t believe all this removing my shoes, emptying my pockets, being x-rayed and hassled, and having to suspect all my fellow passengers is making me any safer. Paranoia inevitably leads to fear, and to an inability to function. Look, people: flying has always been dangerous. Planes crash on a regular basis. More people die in car crashes, to be sure, but there is no way to guarantee passenger safety just by hoping that our laughingly inadequate security measures are really going to keep some nutjob from finding a way to sabotage a plane. It’s unlikely that the whole flying a plane into a major U.S. landmark thing is really what every terrorist in the world is planning next. Our security measures are predicated on stopping that from happening. Someone can still plant a bomb in luggage, or fire a rocket grenade at a plane landing or taking off. Hell, to really inspire more terror, someone is not going to do the same thing that was done before.
The next time, there’s going to be a nuke, or at least a dirty bomb. Forget the planes, for crying out loud. We need to ensure that those nuclear plants are secure, that transportation of fissionable materials, and even nuclear waste is secure. We know this, and yet we permit our government to spend the bulk of our security money on securing our air travel? Jeez, enough already. Let’s monitor terrorists, investigate possible security lapses in protecting our power grids and oil and gas facilities. Let’s go back to working with every nation in the world to seek out and destroy terror cells, and cut off their funding. No funding, no travel. If the nutjobs want to blow each other up, let ’em. But if they can’t afford large bombs, intercontinental missiles, and even plane fare, then we’d be a lot safer.
Every day, people die in this country. Sometimes it’s from car crashes, bus crashes, plane crashes, gas line explosions, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, or accidents and homicides. Do we really think a few terrorists can do worse? I don’t. This is one huge MF-ing country. It can’t be taken down with a few explosions here and there. But we can fail, if we let fear dominate our everyday lives. We can fail if we use fear to win elections. We can fail if we keep seeing each other as the enemy. Some day, we need to stop fighting each other and work together to make this, again, a country that other nations envy, that everyone would like to imitate, not attack. People don’t hate us because of our freedom. They hate us because we threaten their way of life. Sure, some of them are just nuts, they strike out at power, because they are powerless. But, when we violate the sovereignty of other countries, when we exploit their resources, and attempt to impose, often simply economically, our way of life on other cultures, we create resentment. I think, maybe, we need to stop doing that.
Even the most powerful country on the face of the planet can fall under its own weight. Look at the Roman empire; look at the British empire. Look at the Third Reich. And those were just the most recent empires to fail. Throughout history nations and empires have risen and then fallen. If we want to remain a great nation, we have to represent more than a nation of powerful weapons and large armies. Spending all of our money and effort on weapons and security will not save us.
Are we with the rest of the world, or against it?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 10, 2011
Haven’t had many dreams that I remember in some time. Maybe it’s because I sleep poorly. At any rate, my ex-wife was in my dream this morning. I hadn’t seen her in four years until just recently, when I spotted her dancing at a Salsa event one night. That was something we always did, mostly every week for fourteen years, so it upset me to see her dancing, knowing we could never dance again. She was on my mind for weeks after that, almost all the time. Spending time recently with my siblings and cousins, and laughing with them, broke the spell, and I hadn’t thought about her as much.
Suddenly, I’m dreaming about her this morning. In my dream, I run into her at a party at a friend’s house in the mountains. She asks me to go home with her, so we are driving up this steep mountain road to her place, somewhere deeper up in the mountains. She was always a drinker, so she has concocted a way to drink while driving. She is wearing one of those camelback water bags that hikers use, except that it is filled with wine. She attempts to take a drink from the tube but is having a hard time getting it to stay in her mouth. She is driving, and I realize she is drunk when she swerves across the road into the opposite lane of traffic. It is very late at night, so there is no other traffic, but there is some light snow on the highway, left over from an earlier storm. I am not concerned, as she has slowed way down, aware she is in the other lane. When she gets the wine tube in her mouth and takes a long swallow, she attempts to move back into the right lane when we see headlights behind us. So, she stops the car, on the left side of the road on the shoulder. When the car passes, I look at her, realizing that she never used to drive when drunk. It was always my job to drive her home. I am wondering why I am not driving. I am wondering why I am with her at all, except I know I am still sexually attracted to her. Jokingly, I tell her that drinking WHILE driving will make them throw the book at her. She tells me to get out. It is cold, the wind is blowing powdery snow around the highway. I can’t believe she is serious. I tell her I was only joking. I want, after all, to go home with her.
All this thinking wakes me up: wrong part of the brain for dreaming, I guess.
I am left wondering why I would have a dream like that! Of course, the car ride could have been a metaphor for our marriage, but I don’t know why I would invent such an elaborate story. Perhaps I am correct, and it was a metaphor.
In a car = in the marriage
Worried about car ride = worried about marriage
Not in control of the car = not in control of marriage
Unwilling to get out of car = unwilling to get out of marriage
Warning her in car = telling her I was unhappy, wanted counseling
Cold, snow, mountain = there be monsters outside marriage
Pissed her off; she says get out = pissed her off; she said I had to go
I guess I never resolved that whole thing. I need to let go; thought I had.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 30, 2011
I have such an odd feeling, as though I have no future. I have cleaned up my house, put things away, and find myself thinking that it is ready for the estate sale after I die. It keeps running through my head that I haven’t much time left. Last night I even thought that my due date is coming up sooner than later. All bills are paid for the month. Rent check, book I sold, and Netflix movie are all in the mail.
I watched The Man Who Wasn’t There last night. Perhaps it influenced me too much. In identifying with the protagonist, I ended up being depressed. Of course, I never have to dig too deep to find such feelings. Been that way for some time now. I don’t feel sad as such. I just have this gut feeling that I will die soon. I kept getting the idea running through my head last night that once I leave my house today I will never return. That could mean different things, but it’s hard to imagine not returning to my house if I’m still alive.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 7, 2011
˙ǝɯ punoɹɐ sɯɹɐ ǝsoɥʇ ɟo ssǝuʇɟos ƃuoɹʇs ǝɥʇ sı sɹǝʇʇɐɯ ʇɐɥʇ llɐ ˙uǝʇʇoƃɹoɟ sı ǝɔuǝıɹǝdxǝ ɥʇɐǝp-ɹɐǝu ɹno ˙ɯlɐɔ ɯɐ ı ˙sǝɥɔuı ʎq ǝʇoʎoɔ ǝɥʇ ssıɯ ǝʍ ˙ǝɯ sǝʌɐs ʇɐɥʇ ǝɔuǝsǝɹd ɹǝɥ sı ʇı ˙ǝɯ sɹoɥɔuɐ ǝɥs ˙ʎʇıɹnɔǝs ˙ʇlǝq ʇɐǝs ɐ ǝʞıl ʇsǝɥɔ ʎɯ punoɹɐ sɯɹɐ ‘ǝɯ puıɥǝq ɐʎɐɯ ˙ɹǝʇsɐsıp ɹɐǝu ˙ɥdɯ ǝʌıɟ-ʎʇɟıɟ ʇɐ ǝlɔʎɔɹoʇoɯ ˙puɐs ɟo ɹoloɔ ǝɥʇ ‘ǝʇoʎoɔ ɐ ˙pɐǝɥɐ pɐoɹ ǝɥʇ ƃuıssoɹɔ ʇsoɥƃ ǝlɐd
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 5, 2011
Because of the fires throughout the state, the drought and extreme dryness, all fireworks were banned, including sales, possession and use, but the city of Albuquerque put on a good pyrotechnic display for all, for free.
Balloon Fiesta Park, 07/04/2011
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 24, 2011
June 24 First Day
Well, we have lots of other conventions here, like Bubonicon, or the Albuquerque Comic Con, but this is our first Comic Expo. I’m not sure why we need two Comic conventions, but we’ve got ’em now. The “Expo” says it is more professional. Stan (The Man) Lee will be here Saturday and Sunday, but I was only able to attend on Friday. I saw a few friends, mostly photographers, and had my picture taken with LeVar Burton and Marina Sirtis. ( photo by Esi)
I didn’t get to meet Doug Jones (Buffy, Hellboy,etc.) or Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) or ten other notable actors, animators directors and producers, but maybe next time. Perhaps I’ll have time after a photo shoot on Sunday to stop in again. In the meantime, here are some of the photos I took on 6/24/11:
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 8, 2011
Warning: I brake for rhinoceros. That’s what the bumper sticker on the pickup in front of me said. What I found odd was not that this was on I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but that I thought rhinoceros should be plural, like rhinoceroses or maybe rhinoceri. I didn’t know that the plural of rhinoceros is rhinoceros, because I was surrounded on all sides by cactus plants known in the aggregate as cacti. So that seemed a good bet. Braking for rhinoceros didn’t seem as odd as the highway signs that say things like Caution: Watch For Water or Gusty Winds May Exist. There is even a large official-looking road sign near my house that says: Lizard Crossing. True enough everywhere around here, but try seeing one on the street ahead of you in the explosively bright afternoon sun with waves of heat shimmering over the road.
The idea that one brakes for rhinoceri tickled me, as tumbleweeds often seemed just as formidable charging across the highway. Some of them grow to enormous size, and, just as often, dozens of them blow by right in front of you. Tumbleweeds may seem innocuous blowing along, but not when you’re traveling between 70 and 80 miles per hour on a highway with traffic flowing anywhere between 60 mph and 110 mph, and several of them appear directly in your path. You can’t swerve into the other lane, because a long line of vehicles are backed up behind the Winnebagos there, and you can’t suddenly brake, because then the idiot behind you, traveling at 110 mph expecting you to get out of their way, will just plow into your ass.
So, sometimes you continue right along, hoping that the tumbleweeds will be knocked up over your hood and into the idiot behind you. For inexplicable reasons, at least part of the tumbleweed will end up under your car, wedged under the muffler or the heat shield. Unfortunately, tumbleweeds, at this stage of their lives, are ridiculously dry, and the underside of your car is pretty damn hot, so it is not unheard of to have one catch fire under there. Tumbleweeds are a good reason to carry a fire extinguisher in your vehicle. What I really need is a bumper sticker that says: I Brake For Tumbleweeds.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 15, 2011
She came into the room wearing only frilly pink panties. Her nipples were covered with black crosses of electrical tape. My heart jerked. My eyes felt like they popped out of my head. My hands were shaking; my legs were weak. I could barely speak.
I wanted to wrap my arms around her, pull that tape off with my teeth, taste her, lick her, feel her, fuck her. I wanted to give into my wild impulse and have sex on the spot, sex like no other: wild, uninhibited, hard.
Instead, I clicked the shutter shakily, again and again, over two hundred times. I am a photographer.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 14, 2011
I didn’t know I could find joy in
a brain tumor
I never really felt love before
the brain tumor
I never felt such fear
a brain tumor!?
We joke about it
It’s not like you have a brain tumor
We compare headaches to
It’s my step-daughter that had
the brain tumor
I never knew such fear
– the all-day brain surgery
– the chemotherapy
– the radiation.
I never knew I felt such love
this young woman I’d known
thirteen years from girl to woman
I never knew such joy
– after the operation she survived
– still needed chemo she survived
– still needed radiation
– a high-tech magic bullet.
Damn brain tumor
fuckin’ damn brain tumor
dead brain tumor.
My chest loosened
I can breathe
I never knew such joy before
the brain tumor.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 2, 2011
She said to me that I was lazy, that was why I was with her, that I was too lazy to look for love. She implied that was why I loved her. I think she felt she wasn’t good enough for anyone to fall in love with. She also said that I didn’t love her, I loved everyone. She was a hard person to love. She would not tell me she loved me, and, it’s likely she didn’t. She was never affectionate; she never touched me on her own. She was rarely passionate. I could touch her, but not too much, usually only after sex, and then we could cuddle together for a short while. If it was sex on the rare night, she would turn away quickly to her own spot on the far side of the bed. If it was a weekend morning, then she would get up shortly after sex, so the cuddling was short. She slept late on weekends, and told me never, ever, to wake her. I woke early on weekend mornings, and I waited for her to wake for hours sometimes. Over the years, she began to sleep late, wake up suddenly and jump out of bed before I could touch her.
Sometimes she would let me put my arms around her while she worked in the kitchen, but she wouldn’t stop what she was doing. Usually she’d move away or brush me off. She seemed to like it sometimes, but never for long. If I persisted, she said all I wanted was sex.
She never came to me for sex. Sometimes she allowed it; that was my impression. I liked sex, sure; never seemed to get enough. I liked sex with her, even though it was so one-sided. During the four years we dated before marriage and for a few years after that, we’d often had sex multiple times in an evening. One morning, I remarked to her in surprise that we’d had sex five times since the night before, and she was shocked; she didn’t remember the middle-of-the-night sex at all. That puzzled me for years. It was rare for her to orgasm, and she said she didn’t mind. She once told me that she had orgasms in her sleep. She thought that was the only time she had them. I knew better. She would orgasm during sex, sure enough, but only after a night of drinking. She had to be really drunk, and her body arched, and shuddered, and sounds came from deep within her chest. Afterward, she passed out. It was years before I found out that she just didn’t remember such things. I always thought it odd that she said she never had orgasms, no matter what I did, when I’d heard her moan softly and felt her breath quicken. And she breathed hard and fast and I kept going as long as I could, and her excitement excited me and I’d go crazy with lust for her. I never wanted to stop when she seemed to actually be enjoying it. I never knew if I pleased her, or if I disappointed, because she never said anything. After years of marriage, she would often just signal that that was enough, and I should stop.
I finally put it all together. It happened one time that we were out of town, staying at a motel in Santa Fe. We ate dinner and drank a lot. We drank way too much, and the increase in altitude made the drinks work faster, and we headed off to bed. It was not often, away from home, that she’d agree to sex, but this night was different, and we both got our clothes off quickly. She said that she had to use the bathroom. I don’t know when she came back. I woke up shortly afterward to find her nude, and asleep. It was a hard night for me in both meanings. I was aroused by her nude body always. She was out cold. I once heard a neighbor tell how he often had sex with his wife when she was passed out drunk. He loved for her to get drunk. That wasn’t me, however. I couldn’t see having sex without mutual desire, or at least acquiescence. I snuggled up to her, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I was aroused, probably because it had been awhile, and also she was nude in bed, which didn’t happen anymore. She always slept in a heavy nightshirt and socks. In the summer she’d wear something lighter, but always there were the socks. When I could snuggle with her, I’d get my hands inside her night clothes to feel her warm body, but often not until she was asleep. She always said she was too hot. She insisted on sleeping under a thick comforter all year long. She said it made her feel good, but she would throw it off several times a night.
Once, on a cold night, I awoke shivering and found neither of us covered. I pulled the comforter up over both of us, which woke her up. She asked me why I’d covered her. I told her it was cold; I thought she’d want to be covered. She yelled at me, angrily, to never cover her or uncover her. She thought I had been uncovering her at night.
On this particular night in Santa Fe I couldn’t sleep. It was a combination of the excessive alcohol and my desire for her. I tried falling asleep, but I couldn’t. I felt her soft belly and cupped my hands around her breasts. My rock-hard penis was nestled against her ass, and it wouldn’t settle down. I felt the curve of her hips and her soft thighs. I caressed her arms. I dared to rest my hand on her mound. She never woke. I was restless and excited. I wanted her so bad. Towards morning I was exhausted. It had been a long night. I dozed off only after light came in the crack between the heavy curtains, but not for long. I woke and dozed, woke and dozed, always with a hard on. Finally she was awake. I snuggled up against her, touched her, kissed her, and she pushed me off, gently this time. I persisted, however, and she said, “We already had sex.” I was incredulous. “What! We didn’t.” I told her she was wrong, that I would know. She insisted. She said that since she was naked, she knew we’d had sex. I struggled for words. It was impossible. There was no stickiness, no wet spot on the bed, no smells, and besides, sex is not something I have ever forgotten. She insisted we must have, but, after a quick trip to the bathroom, she came back to bed and agreed. It was too late for me. I was dead tired, and hung over. My penis was not very stiff, and I couldn’t keep it erect for more than a minute. I had to just give up. She said nothing. We got up and went to breakfast.
But, after that, I knew why she thought she never had orgasms, why she thought we didn’t have sex when we had, and why she thought we’d had sex when we hadn’t. She blacked out. She is one of those drunks who doesn’t remember what she did the night before. All those times we had sex after Thursday night dancing and drinking – she didn’t remember it. I think she remembered mostly the morning sex, the quick rushed sex because we both had to go to work. Years of long Thursday nights, and lots of sex that she would never remember. Orgasms she would never remember. My efforts to please her for nothing. I enjoyed the sex, but it was only a chore for her, something one does for someone else’s benefit. Did it mean she loved me? I guess I’ll never know. She never said. It’s been four years since I’ve seen her. I wrote her, without a reply. I sent her a book with a note in it, asking if we could get together to talk, see if we had misunderstood each other, if there was anything to say; she said no. I called her when her daughter had to travel to Texas for surgery, offered my help, offered to drive, share a motel room, or buy her a plane ticket. She said she’d think about it, that her sister might fly in from LA and go with her, but she never called me back. I called her and she said her son was taking her, and she didn’t want me there. My step-daughter said not to come, that it would just upset her mom more than she was already.
She lives alone now, as do I. She told her daughter once that she had never been alone before. She’d gone from home to marriage, and even after her first divorce, she’d had the kids with her. Now she is alone. She has her alcohol, and her phone and her sisters and friends to call long distance. Her son calls her nearly every day or she calls him. But, she doesn’t need anyone. She thinks she has always been this way, because she doesn’t remember when I held her hand, when I cuddled her, when I touched her and fucked her, and loved her, and only her, for all I was worth. She just doesn’t remember when someone really loved her, and when she thinks of me at all, she knows I didn’t love her, because I just love everyone.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 26, 2010
Just what the fuck is depression anyway? I tried researching it, after experiencing it for a few years. Got medication simultaneously with counseling. I was definitely depressed.
Depression, which doctors call major depressive disorder, isn’t something you can just “snap out of.”
- Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
- Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- Extreme difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and inappropriate guilt
- Inactivity and withdrawal from usual activities, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed (such as sex)
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
Major depression disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic, is when a person has five or more symptoms of depression for at least 2 weeks. In addition, people with major depression often have behavior changes, such as new eating and sleeping patterns.
Depression can appear as anger and discouragement, rather than as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. If depression is very severe, there may also be psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. These symptoms may focus on themes of guilt, inadequacy, or disease. It is thought to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals and other factors.
However. Hmmph. However, none of this says what depression is, or where it comes from. Obviously, trauma can bring it on: the loss of a loved one, a pet, a friend, or the end of a marriage, love affair, or even a job. Many things can trigger depression. If it is caused solely by a chemical imbalance, then it would be entirely random, in my opinion. People in all walks of life would be depressed for absolutely no discernible reason, whereas most of us can attribute those feelings to something that happened. Everyone deals with these things in different ways, and, in fact, it is common for everyone to be depressed at some time. So, to follow the medical opinions, I should talk about major depressive disorder, that thing that just doesn’t go away for some people sometimes.
I think I know what it is, and where it comes from. I’m not a doctor, neither an M.D., a psychologist nor a psychiatrist.
Now, Wikipedia says: “The biopsychosocial model proposes that biological, psychological, and social factors all play a role in causing depression. The diathesis–stress model specifies that depression results when a preexisting vulnerability, or diathesis, is activated by stressful life events. The preexisting vulnerability can be either genetic, implying an interaction between nature and nurture, or schematic, resulting from views of the world learned in childhood.”
Blah, blah, blah.
I think it is nothing more than our reaction to pain. Pain, as many of us know, decreases in intensity after we suffer it for a time. Runners, torture victims, accident victims, and victims of disease know what I’m talking about. There may be a variety of things involved, but we all commonly think about endorphins kicking in, numbing us to pain after awhile.
Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters. They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm, and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.
Well-being after sex, yeah, I know that one pretty well. I also like chile, red or green, and sure enough, a blast of really hot spicy food brings about a lessening of the hotness after a short time. I can then eat hotter chile, but I pay for it later. So, one thing to notice is that this morphine-like substance we produce in our bodies doesn’t last very long. But, we can produce it over and over again, in response to various stimuli, including stress. Some of us experience stress daily, so we must also be producing endorphins daily.
Here’s what I think: depression is our bodies’ response to psychological pain. Depression is our psychological morphine, producing analgesia. We go numb in response to psychological pain. We cry, or grieve deeply, sometimes feeling an overwhelming crushing weight. We can’t function that way. We have to go to work, or continue our normal routines, so we have to push those feelings aside just enough to function. Depression is the result. If it was a relatively minor pain, we may work it out through continuing our normal routines. Sometimes, however, the pain was severe, or was perceived as severe, and continues to recur. We may keep brushing it aside. I think this is a normal mental defense, allowing us to continue our life until we can deal with the cause of the pain, similar to the production of adrenalin or endorphins, which give us temporary options for survival.
But, it has to be dealt with sooner or later. Just as an injury can be ignored while adrenalin or endorphin pumps through our bodies, eventually the injury must be treated. Depression is our temporary defense against psychological pain, but at some point, we have to deal with the “injury” that produced the depression in the first place. How we deal with the injury is what our mental health industry is all about. Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants slow normal brain function. In higher doses, some CNS depressants can become general anesthetics. Temporary. These measures are temporary, and can actually worsen depression.
An interesting tidbit I gleaned from the research literature is that endorphins attach themselves to areas of the brain associated with emotions (limbic and prefrontal areas). Perhaps endorphins are involved in the onset of depression? I do not know, nor care.
Do I know how to “cure” depression? No. Various treatments, combinations of certain drugs with counseling, are said to allow our minds and bodies to slip out of depression long enough to allow us to reprogram ourselves out of it. The length of treatment, types of drugs and types of counseling vary widely. The results vary widely.
Having just come out of a three-year long depression (at minimum), I have some observations:
1.) Depression is temporary.
2.) It does not occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
3.) In all likelihood, we prolong our depressive state ourselves.
4.) Whatever caused the initial depressive response must be overcome.
Yeah, I hear you: Overcome? How? Beats me. Drugs and counseling will help in some cases.
My best guess?
1.) Recognise that one is depressed.
2.) Trace the cause. This may take medical and psychological help.
3.) Eliminate the cause. This one is tricky.
I know that there are techniques often applied, common sense approaches, that may or not be accepted by all. For example, I have read that grief cannot be overcome unless one goes through various stages, like denial, and anger, leading to acceptance. I’ve found this to be true for depression. One cannot wish depression away – that is simply denial. Accept that one is depressed. And then get angry. Avoid violent solutions, because the depression will worsen, and be prolonged, but anger? Anger is good. Get really fucking angry. Maybe one thinks it was all their own fault. Let me tell you, getting angry with oneself doesn’t do a whole lot. What hurt you badly? What was the thing that drove you over the edge? Was it your boss, your spouse, your ex, your lover, your sibling, your parent? Hate them. Your injury? Hate it. Give it all you’ve got. Hate your boss, your spouse, your ex, the negligent driver, the government regulation, the politician? Hate them. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Give into it. Feel the vindication, the release, the shifting of the pain from yourself somewhere else. When you’ve gotten the focus off of you and onto the cause, let it go. Forget? No. We can never forget. But we can let the anger go, and the pain goes with it. Then focus on change. Get away from the source of the pain if you can, or confront it. Attempt to change the situation that caused the pain in the first place. We all know what we have to do. If we don’t, the pain will hit us again, and we will be depressed again.
In my opinion.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 29, 2010
When I was a very young man
I asked my father to please tell me
Will I get lucky Will I get laid
Here’s what he said to me
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
When I grew up and fell in love
I asked each lover what lies ahead
Will there be love and sex every day
Here’s what my lovers said
Que sera, sera
What will be will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
When I was just an old man
I asked my shrink what should I try
Could I fall in love again or fucking give up
This was his wise reply
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
What will be, will be
Que sera, sera.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 16, 2010
The boy’s nickname was Terry. He didn’t particularly like his name, because a lot of girls had the same one, and it sounded like a child’s name anyway. He’d started out with Terrance, but in 1st grade the other boys called him Clarence instead. It always got a laugh, but not from Terry. It sounded like the name of a clown, or some snooty rich kid in a story.
After grade school, he changed his name to Bob, although Bob didn’t have much of a ring to it. Still, it seemed a nice unambiguously masculine name, and much more adult sounding than Terry, or Terrance.
Bob, as a name, worked fairly well for Terry. People didn’t stumble all over it, like they did with Terry, confusing his name with Gerry, Perry, Harry, but most often, oddly enough, with Larry. He wondered if it had to do with Larry, Moe and Curly, since the most common misunderstanding of his name was always Larry. He tried emphasizing the T whenever he said Terry, but it didn’t help. People just don’t get Terry usually until the third try. It made introductions tedious, even though people always smiled, and often apologized.
Terry went by Bob all through high school. He liked it. People seemed to respond better. He was older than he’d been of course, but high school boys are not generally known for their maturity, and Terry, or even Terrance could still have been disastrous. If there was one thing Terry hated more than anything else, it was being teased. Still, boys will use just about anything to tease another boy. The school insisted that everyone wear ties.
Terry had a hard time waking up in the mornings, and taking the time to tie a perfect Windsor knot every day had gotten old fast. Terry discovered the clip-on tie: perfect knot, perfect length, and impossible to discern. Somehow, one day, a classmate noticed, and snatched it from him. He chased after the perp, grabbing the tie and pushing the perp onto the ground. Generally, Terry had always been very easy-going. His father often said Terry would let someone take the shirt off his back, but that was what “turning the other cheek” meant in the real world. In the religious world, “turning the other cheek” meant martyrdom, and martyrdom was preferred to violence. However, just ignoring all the jibes and taunts was not easy, and that one time, Terry ran his attacker down and won his self-respect. Or so he thought.
Instead of congratulating him on standing up for himself, his other classmates made light of it, pointing out that the other boy, although the same age, was shorter. This made Terry into little more than a cowardly bully. “But, what was I to do?” he asked, “let him take it?” No one answered that. Whining was not allowed. However, this incident provided the catalyst for another far more embarrassing one, since the real bullies felt Terry was an easy mark, and could only defend himself against smaller adversaries.
Terry’s family didn’t have a lot of money, and clothes were patched, sewn and worn until they fell apart. It so happened one day, as Terry bent over to pick up a fork he dropped in the school cafeteria, that his pants split. He was mortified, but no one had seemed to notice. The pants were brown corduroys, with lots of vertical lines, and baggy enough that Terry thought it would pass unnoticed if he walked slowly and kept his butt cheeks pinched together. He sat down opposite his peers, and relaxed. He made it through lunch without a single comment. In fact, he relaxed too much, because as he stood, the gap widened enough for someone to see. Ellis, agent provocateur, class clown, and always an outlaw, took it upon himself to take full advantage of the situation. He grabbed a slice of pickle off his lunch tray and ran up to Terry, dropping the pickle in the rip as Terry stood up. The indignity of this was just too much.
That someone would see the tear no longer mattered. Ellis was going down. Terry lunged for him, and Ellis, cowardly as most bullies are, took off running. Ellis laughed at Terry, sidestepping and ducking through the cafeteria. Terry chased him into the hallway. Lunch break was not yet over, so there was no one in the hallway. Terry chased him, gaining on him, running full tilt down the hallway. Of course, yelling and running past the principal’s office, in a school that prided itself on self-discipline, was not a particularly bright thing to do. They were caught.
Now, Terry was in the equally uncomfortable position of trying to explain that someone had put a pickle in his pants. Fortunately, it had been the principal who’d caught them. The vice-principal was in charge of discipline, and he would have come down hard on them. As it was, the principal referred Terry to Student Court, a disciplinary board wholly run by the students.
Terry explained the pickle incident, (picklement?) and the court, laughing behind their hands, let it go. To add to Terry’s shame, all decisions by the Student Court were published in the school paper, although the rip in someone’s pants became a rip in someone’s shirt. In 1965, no newspaper would dare even allude to something sexual , much less the innuendo of a pickle in someone’s pants. It wasn’t journalistic integrity, but everyone knew the real story anyway.
Terry could see, by now, that the name didn’t make any difference. He was kind of an oddball, it seemed, and names were nowhere near as important as he’d always believed. After high school, he kept using Bob, although his employer and coworkers were not the types to care about a name one way or the other. By now, however, Terry noticed that Bob was an extremely common name. In every room, it seemed, there was a Bob. In a restaurant, in a garage, on the street, or at work, Bob was as ubiquitous as Tom, Dick and Harry. Terry, realizing that, as an adult, he could have his name changed legally, thought about changing his name to Bilbo Baggins. It was not a bad name, far out of the ordinary. That would have been alright, but he knew his family wouldn’t like his dropping the surname. But, what would Bilbo be without a Baggins to go with it? He thought about just using Frodo, but few people had read the half a million word sequel to The Hobbit, so he would have had to spend a lot of time explaining the Lord of the Rings character to every person he met.
Of course, changing one’s name is a very superfluous thing to do anyway, as Terry had found out. And now there were far more important things to worry about in the world, like sex and war, and getting to work on time. He took night classes at the University where he worked, but he really wanted to go to school full time. He applied for, and was accepted at another University a few years later, still calling himself Bob. He kept his job on a part-time basis, as a sort of contract employee. However, those aforementioned things, sex and war, took over most of his thoughts, as he sought one but wanted to avoid the other. That took him to rallies and demonstrations, as well as into drug and sexual experimentation, and his studies suffered. His thoughts were always elsewhere. Dismissed from school on probation for a year, he decided to travel.
After a few years of odd jobs and traveling, he took a job one day in a small foundry in Arizona. The foreman must also have thought Terry an oddball when he asked him his name, because Terry paused. It was a normal question, but suddenly, and without having given it any thought in years, he told the foreman his name: Terry. It was, after all, how his family had known and still knew him. No one he had ever met was as important as family, and he never changed his name again, even though he rarely got through another introduction without having to say his name at least three times.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 12, 2010
Dust bunnies blow across my floors
like tumbleweeds through my yard
Some blow away, keep tumbling
some get stuck.
Tumbleweeds in the ditch
tumbleweeds in the fence
dust bunnies in the corner
dust bunnies underneath
Memories are like that.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 11, 2010
Some people eat beans every day
some people have bread every meal
some eat anything any old way
We had potatoes, hey, what’s the deal?
Ate a lot of them growing up
with potatoes in the garden
and meat vegetable potatoes
every night for dinner
Mashed potatoes Scalloped potatoes
Boiled potatoes Baked potatoes
Potatoes au gratin
Potatoes and ham
Bacon potato salad
Sweet potato pie
Potatoes in the stews
potatoes in the soups
potatoes as main course
potatoes on the side
But, ah! potato pancakes
smothered in applesauce
Couldn’t get enough
More pancakes please.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 3, 2010
Fishing is religion to many people. Fishing in New Mexico is like that – it’s a spiritual experience. Rick loved fishing. He also liked to drink, and he liked to party – “Ajua!” – and he liked to grow and eat the hottest chiles you’ve ever tasted – “Yesss!” – but he loved just a few things: his wife, his sons, and fishing. There probably isn’t a river or lake in the whole state that he hadn’t fished.
“Rick’s dead.” That’s how I got the news. Linda repeated it, because I just stumbled out a “What?” “Rick’s dead.” “Yeah, but, but, you mean, Rick, Hilda’s Rick?” “Yes.” “But, how? when? Was he in another accident?”
Well, anyway, Rick was dead. The deal was this: he was at home, “evaluating,” a friend’s gun to give his wife, Hilda, for her protection. The reason she needed protection is a family secret. Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet. The story we were told was this: while Rick was loading the gun, Hilda left him to call Damien, one of her sons, and ask him about the value of the gun. Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet. Rick, who had just the month before wrecked their truck, and who had broken an arm here and a leg there, having a habit of being not quite careful, dropped the gun. The problem with an automatic, however, is that, as it’s loaded, that action cocks the gun. The gun went off when it hit the floor, and the bullet, well, the bullet found Rick’s heart. It had to pass through the sofa cushion, then it severed Rick’s scrotum, and traveled up through his stomach, where it managed to hit a valve in his heart, and no one could save him.
Hilda was devastated. I don’t recall ever seeing a woman’s face so utterly deflated with sadness. All of the skin in her face seemed to droop. She cried, sobbing between spasms of crying. Of course, her family was soon with her, as were Rick’s and Hilda’s friends: those that fished, and those without that particular religion. Everyone came, and we all brought food and beer. You come together to try to accept what has happened, you sit together, you talk, you eat, you drink.
Just days before the accident, Rick had one shot from a new bottle of tequila. He had said he wanted to save it, to make it last. Now, since he was gone, everyone crowded into the living room, the room with that bullet-holed sofa cushion, and shared the rest of his bottle. It was our last chance to share a drink with him. Martín, Hilda’s brother, sang a corrido in a great full voice laced with sadness.
Curious, I looked at the cushion. Someone had turned it over so the hole was not so visible, but it was there. I put my finger in it. I couldn’t imagine how it had happened. I didn’t know at the time that Rick’s huevos had been blasted off, or I wouldn’t have touched the sofa at all. There was, curiously, no blood, as if the cushion had not been under Rick for long after the bullet passed through it. Perhaps he fell over onto the floor. If there had been blood on the floor, it was gone now.
Eventually people hugged, and cried some more, and went back to their own homes. There had been a church service earlier, but Rick had long ago insisted that there be no funeral, and no coffin for him. He was cremated. His ashes had been brought from the church, and rested in a jar in the hallway. In the morning his family and friends took the ashes to Rick’s favorite fishing spot in all of Nuevo México.
It was a long drive from Albuquerque, past Bernalillo, traveling highway 550, through Cuba, through Aztec, and on and on near the Aztec ruins, almost to Colorado. Five trucks convoyed behind Hilda, in the lead, because only she knew the place. We pulled off the road, and plunged down an embankment to a sudden stop near the water. There was a short hike along a thin, almost overgrown path. Damien poured Rick into his fishing hole, a slowly revolving eddy alongside the swift flowing San Juan. The ashes whirled round and round and round, some of them heading briefly upriver, where they slowly sank. We all tossed flowers in the water, and watched, and waited for Rick to join the mainstream.
As the ashes and flowers slowly spiraled towards the deep rushing water, Rick’s family stood on the yellow sandstone rock that balanced over the eddy. I thought the whole thing might just topple into the water, and the entire family drown, what with the aunt, the cousins, the sisters, the sons, the dog, and the friends standing or sitting on that cantilevered rock. The sun is mercilessly bright when there are no clouds, and creates silver highlights on the surface of water. The swift splashing water has shadows between the ripples. Perhaps that helps explain what we saw.
Damien saw it first – a fish, probably dead, swirling with the ashes and the flowers. It listed in the water, but wasn’t clearly dead, so Damien poked it with a stick. It swam away! but only for a few feet. It remained there, lazily pulled this way and that by the competing currents in that watery grave. Someone said, “It’s drunk,” and it was almost certainly true. The ashes and flowers had been followed by brandy, and beer, and tequila. Rick was known to take a sip from time to time, well, probably more times than not. The fish was drunk.
It wasn’t long before someone decided that the fish was Rick. It made sense. Rick had been coming to this spot for a long time, and he had just returned for the last time in what was left of his human form. The fish wouldn’t go away. It kept reappearing at intervals, and drifting, drifting, drifting, like it was waiting for something. It seemed to be watching us watching it.
The fish told us that Rick wasn’t dead, that he would travel the San Juan now. That he would hang around the fishing holes, drinking the beer and tequila that slipped from the hands and lips of fisherman down the length of that river.
Gradually, the tears dried, and the sobs quieted. People laughed about the fish. The dog barked at it. The shadows were creeping down the bank, moving over the edges of the water. It was time to go. The fish became more animated, swimming faster, reappearing less, and moving closer to the central current. Finally, he disappeared into the shadowy, reckless middle.
Rick had joined his compadres in the water’s mainstream, and we felt relief. Rick was free. Rick was home. I swear I heard something in the splashing, gurgling water, as we watched the river flow. I swear I heard, “Ajua!”
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 17, 2010
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 31, 2010
With nothing left to live for, no joy in my life, no pleasure in waking, breathing, eating, or even being, I knew I had to just get it over with and die. I went through all the options: gun placed in my mouth to fire upwards, blowing the top of my head off – way too messy.
Razor along my vein, for maximum loss of blood – too slow, and painful. What of pain? I shouldn’t care, but, it’s because I tired of pain that I no longer feel anything at all. No sense having pain be my last memory.
Jumping? What if I survive? What if I’m paralyzed? unable to die? kept alive for nothing?
Pills? so I can wake up choking on my own vomit?
Jumping in front of a bus? Same problem as jumping.
I really couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve some kind of pain, slow death, or public display. I didn’t want anyone to know I died, or how I died. I had no one to impress, no one to feel sorry for me, no one to send a message to. I just wanted it all to be over.
I found a solution: drowning. I knew it would be unpleasant. I had a plan for that. Nitrous oxide. I would feel myself drowning, trying to pull air into my lungs, trying to breathe, but I wouldn’t care. I’d laugh my way into death, gulping in whole lungfuls of water. Then peace, with a smile on my face.
The water was deepest near the dam, about 75 feet, so I’d plunge deep into the numbing cold water. I wanted to sink, and sink fast. I found four twenty-pound ankle weights. It was hard walking with them, but I practiced until I managed to just look like I was just drunk or high or old. And jeez, was I ever old. Too old for life to hold any interest anymore.
With a small canister of nitrous oxide, I crossed Deep Creek’s concrete bridge leading to the dam. It was 3:00 am. I walked, slowly and silently. There was no traffic that time of morning. I’d been there often enough to know. I climbed the fence to the dam, clumsily, but without making a sound. There was a maintenance ladder on the dam itself. As I grabbed each rung, my legs felt dead. It took a lot of effort to pull them up with me. I was sweating in that nearly freezing air. Those weights got heavier with every breath.
The water was calm, and inviting. I opened up the canister and let it fill me with gas. I had a small mask to cover my mouth and nose. It took longer than I thought. I hung there on the ladder, a few feet from the top. My legs were tired. My feet were hooked uncomfortably in the rungs. My hands, wrists, and ankles ached from the climb. After awhile, I didn’t care much about the slight pain anymore. I didn’t care much about the cold night air. I was really happy, for the first time in many years. I didn’t feel like laughing, but I was smiling. I dropped the canister into the water. The splash was reassuring, calming, a funny preview of my own fall.
I threw myself out as far as I could. I was taking no chances, but there was little danger of hitting the dam wall, as it curved inward at this point, near the long tunnel that takes water to the powerhouse. The water flows past the turbines, back into Deep Creek lake, back into the Youghiogheny river, continuing on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. I hit feet first, as I expected. There was pain, pain to my feet, despite the thick hiking boots I’d worn, pain to my knees, pain to my hips. But the water was so cold, and I was so excited, it didn’t matter. I sunk quickly. I opened my eyes, surprised that I’d had them shut so long, surprised that I was holding my breath. There was not much to see. It was dark, but some light from the power plant was reflected down into the depths. I had expected to touch bottom, but I seemed to be drifting down incredibly slowly.
It was time. I pushed my stomach in with my fists, expelling a lot of air. It blooped out of my mouth and nose. When it seemed I had no more air left, I held myself still, trying not to breathe until the last possible second, when my reflexes would kick in and force me to. It was peaceful. As I faced death, I realized I was ready. She was gone forever. There was no one left to care for, no one to mourn my passing, no reason for my existence. I was now useless. I’d had a good life. I’d loved, and lost, and loved again, and again. I’d worked many jobs, some I’d enjoyed, some I hadn’t. I had done all that I had set out to do, and I was content with my lot in life. Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t want to die out of regret. Hell, if I’d still had any regrets, I’d have wanted to keep on living, kept on trying to overcome those regrets for the rest of my life. No, I had no regrets. It was just time to go.
My lungs burned with the beginnings of pain, so I opened my mouth and swallowed, deeply. I sucked greedily at the water, blowing some residual water out my nose. Then, then there was only water, and I was afraid. Fear stabbed at me like an ice pick through my heart. I wanted to breath! I wanted air. My brain felt funny. It was hard to think, but I kept trying to breathe. There was a heaviness in my head, a feeling of darkness. My lungs struggled, again and again, for air. The water was too heavy, too thick. I kept choking. I started retching, water into water, and water back in again. It hurt. It hurt bad. Worst of all was the feeling of panic, of absolute fear. I thought I’d wanted to die, but now I wanted to breathe, to live, to think again.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 4, 2010
What? where? who? slipped vaguely through my barely conscious mind as I came to. There were no answers available. As I started to lift my head, I couldn’t imagine where I was. I was lying down; I might be dreaming. I saw sky above. I was outside. I wasn’t in my bed. I wanted to get up, find out. In a sudden panic, I realized I didn’t know who I was. I felt like I was still dreaming. A name, I must have a name. Now that was scary. I was awake and thinking, but I didn’t know anything. I remember telling myself: Just lay here. Relax. Let it come. It was like trying to remember something on the tip of my tongue: think of something else, don’t think about what it was I’d forgotten. I closed my eyes.
I remembered the construction site, being pushed into the hole above an unfinished cellar, waking up to pain, being carried across a field, blood on my face, getting stitches above my eye. I remembered standing outside the tree house, trying to cover a hole in the roof on a rainy day, slipping, falling, coming to with a terrible sharp pain in my arm, the visiting relatives in our house, the ride to the hospital, the plaster cast.
It came back to me. Pumping my bicycle down that hill, hell-bent for speed. Traffic. Lots of traffic, rush hour traffic. A whole lane to myself. I had been keeping up, moving fast. An unseen car on my left was trying to cut across traffic into a driveway I don’t know was there, just to my right. It was practically touching me as I looked into a woman’s face: wide open eyes, slack mouth.
So, I was – in the street, still. Somehow I’d survived. I opened my eyes to a grey-blue sky. I knew who I was, forgot that I’d forgotten. I saw firemen sitting in lawn chairs outside the firehouse across the street. They appeared to be laughing at something, but I couldn’t hear them.
But, there were vague noises and voices, somewhere else, behind me, yes, and yards away. I was alone in an empty circle of asphalt.
“I saw the whole thing,” I heard a man say – I could hear an eager concern in his voice – “It wasn’t your fault. I’ll testify in court for you.” Now, why would someone say that? I wondered. I’d had the right of way.
Someone else – I remember a deep gravelly voice – asked, “What about him?”
“Him? He’s dead,” another voice answered, flatly and certainly.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 3, 2010
I’d like to be
a scented candle
in your room
burning for you
I’d like to please you
make you feel good
fill your senses
I see my scent
clinging to you
I see my scent
to your hair
to your skin
you blow me out
you set me aflame
you made me glow
you put me out
quenched my flame
a smoky ember
make you happy
light your face
make you smile
Your lips are a torch
when they smile
Should you smile
if only you would
I think it could
fan my ember
into a wildfire
light me up
I may swirl around you
O to burn so brightly
even for a moment
though I be totally
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 18, 2010
Birthdays were never an egocentric event for me. My brother and I, although a year apart, shared the same birthday month, so my parents always combined the two into one party, one song. You know how people sing it, Happy Birthday to so-and-so? Ours were always together, Happy Birthday John and Terry. As a result, I think, I never thought of a birthday as a focus on me alone. This is a little odd, since some psychologists believe children under the age of 7 reason egocentrically, believing that their view of the world is the same as anyone else’s view. However, I at least saw that the world didn’t center around just me, but included my brother.
I remember much of my childhood, but not all. However, I can interpolate some things. I have no idea what my first birthday was like, although my mother was about to give birth to my brother, so I’m certain that weighed heavily on my parent’s minds. Knowing them, I assume they used the occasion to have family over for cake. What was my second birthday like? Well, I don’t know, but with John one year old, they might not have wanted people over so things stayed a little quieter. At that age, I wouldn’t have cared. I know we were a handful. By my third birthday, I’m sure the tradition got started to have both our birthdays on the same day. There were no other children as yet, and mom would have wanted to light candles and teach us to blow them out. The difficulty would have been in trying to teach us our numbers, because John needed two, and I needed three. She baked two cakes! By the age of four, John and I knew the drill. When October came around, and my mom started baking, we knew what to expect. We knew there would be a cake with four candles for me, and a cake with three candles for him. At the time, I remembered that previous birthday, my third, but that memory is long gone now.
You may well ask how I remember my fourth birthday at all, but I think it was the trauma of moving. I can’t remember the place we moved from anymore, but it had a long stairway outside the building. I remember being forced into a car, and driving a long way to the new place. The car was green, the rear sloped in a continuous curve from roof to fender. The inside had a cloth-covered ceiling. I remember that cloth, because in later years, it was loose, ripped, and always falling down. At the time, I didn’t pay it much attention, because I was more excited about where we had arrived. It was a small house, but it had a grass-covered front lawn. We had not had one of those before. My parents seemed happy about that, but, compared to the other lawns in the neighborhood, ours looked different. It hadn’t been mowed in a long time. It was wild and tall. I liked it, but, of course, no lawn is ever allowed to be like that for long. I suspect that is when my dad bought his first lawn mower, because by the time I was ten, we had moved twice again, my bother and I had the job of mowing, and that thing seemed ancient.
Those old push mowers were something else. I delighted in the spinning blades, each one of which curved in a broad sweep, much like present-day wind turbines. To my ten-year-old brain, the blades should have been straight, but somewhere along the line, people had figured out how to cut grass more efficiently. Often the blades would be near-dull, and pushing that thing through the grass was not my idea of fun. It was however, not something I had to do, but something John and I had to do.
We were sidekicks. From birthdays to work, we did everything together. Hell, we even got punished together. My father, discovering something broken or missing, would confront us. If neither one of us owned up to it, he said we would both be punished. Punishments ran a wide gamut then, from standing in a corner, to no dinner, to slaps on our butts, or the dreaded leather strap, which hurt like hell. One time, John owned up to something neither of us had done, just to get the interrogation and slapping over, and so we wouldn’t both be punished. Odd to think that our parents thought we’d ever do anything deliberately bad, knowing the consequences, but I guess they thought we wouldn’t ever do anything bad again if they punished us hard enough. Boy, were they wrong.
Running through the yard, we accidentally trampled mom’s azalea bush. You’d have thought we went outside just to destroy that bush from the way my dad carried on. We took our clothes off one time, and went out on the porch roof, climbing out the second story window. A neighbor saw us, so that didn’t go over very well. We also thought it was fun to throw small stones out that same window at passing cars, since the porch roof kept us from being seen from the street. We thought we were pretty clever about it, trying to determine the exact time to throw a stone, so that it would hit a car while we ducked down. We could hear the thunk on a car roof or door, and one time a car squealed to a sudden stop, and backed up to our house. That we had to see. Of course, that meant we were seen. Well, it was not fun anymore, as the driver got out and walked up to our house.
Then there was the time John and I built a small fire in an empty lot behind our house. We tried to build it up with stones all around it, but we were too young then to know to clear the entire area of combustibles. It spread, and we couldn’t put it out. We got on our bicycles and rode for our lives, afraid we’d get caught, and we were. A neighbor had seen us, called the fire department, and called our mother. She made us march out to the firemen and apologize. They were incredibly nice to us. They smiled at us. I didn’t know what to make of that, because we had been scared to death to go out there and tell them it was our fault. Our parents made sure we knew the danger of fire, and read us the riot act over that one. I doubt we could sit down without wincing for days after that.
John and I were a class act though. One time, investigating a construction site nearby, my brother and I and Eddie, a friend, were dropping rocks into a pool of muddy water in the incomplete basement of a new house. There was a hole in the first floor where the stairs would eventually be. We didn’t question why the basement walls and the floor of the first floor were built, yet the concrete for the basement floor hadn’t been poured yet. It was just fun to have a huge puddle far enough below us to makes big splashes. Three boys, a hole, a long way to fall; what could go wrong? I fell in, but Eddie went for his parents, and John found his way down to me. I was laying face down, out cold, in the water. He turned me over, saving my life.
Years later, we had ridden our bikes miles away from our house, and were investigating a sewer drain outlet. All the storm water from the street above flowed out into a small creek, and beavers had built a dam on it. It was just too damn fascinating to leave alone. However, the concrete around the storm drain outlet was green and slimy. John fell in. The slime was everywhere. He couldn’t grab hold of the edge to pull himself back up; he kept slipping back into the water. It was deep there, over our heads. We didn’t know how to swim yet, and the water was dark and filthy. In retrospect, I think he was panicking, because he thrashed around like crazy. I got on my stomach. I reached out my hands and yelled at him to grab them. He did. I was able to pull him far enough so he could climb out. We rode over to a nearby house and knocked, explaining what had happened. John was socking wet, and reeked. My dad drove home from work and took us home. He was, shall we say, upset, but also happy that we were OK.
So it continued over the years, through accident after accident. We even shoplifted together; that was a mess of trouble. Always we survived, and both of us have all our parts. We even fought each other. Sometimes only one of us got into trouble at a time. We balanced everything out by being Altar boys and Boy Scouts. We served mass and camped together. We were a team.
High school changed everything. I went first, leaving John behind. John developed new friends. Rather than follow me to the same high school, he went to a religious school in another state for a year. It was the sort of pre-seminary school you go to if you plan to be a priest, but before you go to an actual seminary. It was strange not having him around. Stranger still, he changed his mind and came back after that first year. Instead of hanging out with me however, he had other friends. He told me about discovering masturbation. I had discovered that on my own. He also knew girls. He did end up going to the same high school as me, but we never saw each other. He was one of the popular kids. He found a part-time job after school working on an assembly line for printed circuit boards. I rarely saw him, and he never told me how to get a job like that or what he did. He had money, bought himself a leather jacket, and combed his hair out and down and over his face, unlike my greasy pompadour. He was as different as he could be. I stayed after school myself, joining various clubs: Science, Computer, Drama. When I was home, I had to study, usually two to three hours, just to keep up.
John and I didn’t have free time anymore; no time to waste riding our bicycles randomly, exploring, getting into trouble. I stayed to myself. He thought I was weird. I didn’t have friends, I didn’t date. Well, I took my cousin out a couple times, but that didn’t go anywhere. By the time I graduated high school, John and I were like strangers. There were no more joint birthdays. I got a job and left home. He graduated the next year and got married. I went to his wedding, dressed in a funky double-breasted suit I’d picked up for myself. It reminded me of my grandfather’s suit. I looked and felt out-of-place around the family. I tried to look and act mature. I had even bought a packet of Tiparillos, small plastic-tipped cigars. I thought they’d make me look sophisticated, but when I tried inhaling one at the wedding reception, I thought I’d choke my lungs out. Clueless.
John invited me over one time after his daughter was born , a year later. He’d always been the skinny one, but he’d put on a lot of weight. His wife cooked a lot. They had certain meals on certain nights, same thing every week. I asked him about sex, and he whispered to me, “Tonight’s the night.” I thought, “What, once a week? Are you kidding?” Clueless.
I however, was very involved with anti-war activities. I’d been arrested. John thought it was a joke, that I’d gotten arrested for the hell of it. Neither of us had been drafted, but I was caught up in a counter-culture, one that distrusted the family unit, authority, the draft, wars, and law itself. I liked marijuana and tried LSD a few times. Dropped out of school, lost my job. I moved away. I had many lovers. Sex was my favorite drug. I was a drifter and a carny. I settled on the other side of the country, poured bronze, worked as a hod carrier, then found work in a cancer research laboratory at a University. I took free classes there, got a degree. I got married and divorced twice. I retired.
I still miss my brother. His 40th wedding anniversary is coming up soon. I think I’ll go see him. We’re so much alike.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 3, 2010
Hey Charlie boy, strange furry little child of mine. You want to go out, do you? Here you go, I said. Charlie, a tiger-striped short-haired domestic tabby, lept out the now open cat door. Why they waited like that puzzled me. Charlie and his other half, a black and white short-haired domestic tabby, come and go as they please. Sometime they stay out all day, sometimes they pop in for a bite and pop right out again. Sometimes one or both sleeps on my bed all day. In summer they sometimes don’t show for a day or two. I never can figure them out. They don’t need me to open the cat door, but if I’m in the room, they sit or lay patiently until I notice them, and wait for me to hold the flap up so they can leap through the hole.
There’s cat litter in the house, but they rarely use it. I hardly ever change it anymore. I can pull out the occasional piece of dried shit. I can often hear them running around over my head. They love the flat-roofed houses around here. There are six houses connected together, so they often run full tilt across the roofs, sounding like herds of miniature horses. Cats and horses, of course, have exactly the same gait, moving both legs on either side in unison, alternating from one side to the other as they run.
Often they wait outside the clear plastic door, waiting patiently for me to notice them. I let them in. Sometimes they eat, sometimes they want to be petted, sometimes they are just looking for each other. Sometimes they want to go right back out.
If I’m too slow to notice them, they start scratching the small throw rug by the door. There’s a small rug by my bed that they do the same thing to, if I’m too long in bed in the morning. Charlie sometimes meows at me, but the other one, Kilala, just scratches like mad. Sometimes they want food. Charlie has a high-pitched meow he uses when he’s hungry, so I always know just what he wants. If he wants attention, he simply jumps up on my lap, or on the desk if I’m at the computer.
Kilala doesn’t ever jump up on me. She likes to rub her neck on all the corners of the walls, and likes me to pet her, mostly just around her neck and head. She was the feral one, showing up out of the blue one day. Charlie was barely a year old when she showed up; I had raised him from a kitten. His mother had camped out in the yard, and dropped her litter. I fed them every day. Since this was the second time a cat had dropped a litter there, my wife insisted I get rid of them quickly. Before I did, I heard one of them mewing and crying away from inside the fence I had recently put up. There were pickets on both sides, and he must have fallen in from on top. Fortunately, I had used deck screws to put the fence up, and I undid the screws on the plank closest to the crying. It was the little striped orange cat I’d later call Charlie. I took him over to his mother, petting him all the while.
After a few more weeks I went to Animal Control for a trap. I set it up early, and put their bowl of cat food inside. Later on, I found the mother and most kittens inside. That made my wife happy. She was glad to see them go. It was the second litter I’d had to get rid of. I’d kept the mother of the first litter, after leaving all her wiry, well-trained mousers at Animal Control. They were such lively, healthy animals. I’d watched the mother train them in mousing, bringing them a field mouse to learn how to catch. I hated to see them go, but my wife insisted, and she wasn’t interested in waiting for people to come by and take them.
I had the mother fixed; no more kittens for her. She was a gentle cat, obviously a runaway, as she was well used to people, cat food and houses. But, one day a few weeks after she been spayed, she died in the garden. My wife noticed while she was watering. I was sad. I never knew what killed her: complications from her spaying operation? insect poison on the garden?
But, next spring there was another female, another litter. That was the litter Charlie came from.
When I trapped them, Charlie was the only one who hadn’t gone into the trap. So I kept him. My wife wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, but as long as the menagerie was gone, she was OK with keeping one. Charlie was almost feral himself, still very young. He stayed away from the house, but showed up every day looking for food. While he ate, I petted him, and it must have imprinted, because, to this day, he often waits by his food until I pet him. He’s the only animal I’ve ever seen who will allow himself to be petted while eating. He even purrs as he chomps away.
I think Kilala was no more than six months old then she showed up. I never knew if she’d stay, so she was just “Girl” for the longest time. She was incredibly thin, but then I noticed her belly hanging down. Damn, another pregnant cat. She took to Charlie right away. They hung out a bit until she had her kittens, then she was often missing. One day I found her with her kittens in a small pit under an old, low-slung bench in the garden area. She grabbed one of the kittens and ran to the fence, vaulting it like a champion despite the bundle in her teeth. Later on, I noticed she had taken all the kittens, probably in the same manner. As they got older, they needed more food than Kilala could provide, so she brought them all over to the bowl I had Charlie’s food in. She had eaten there before, so now she was teaching her progeny where the food was. I had to put a lot more out. I was happy again to see the kittens playing, fighting, running around the yard, but my wife insisted they could not stay. Again, I had to round ’em up and take them away. I kept Kilala of course. She was a great companion for Charlie. I can’t stand to see animals kept by themselves. Most animals, especially cats and dogs, are very social creatures. An animal locked up by itself, in a house or yard, is the cruelest kind of life, I think.
Charlie had already been neutered, and I had Kilala spayed. I kept my fingers crossed, and was very happy to see that she survived. Eventually I coaxed the two of them into the house to eat. They had a ball investigating all the rooms in the house, and chasing each other through them. They didn’t, however, like it when the outside door was closed. They loved running out and in, and out and in again. Whenever I could I left the sliding glass door and screen open. In winter, when I couldn’t, I had to open the door every time they wanted in or out. They never ran away. Even if they were out all day or night, they waited by the door for me to let them in again.
My wife hated the way I catered to them. I couldn’t see just leaving them outside, or confining them inside, so I became their doorman. I didn’t mind. They are affectionate to me and each other, although, just as people do, sometimes they fight with each other. Often they mate, even though both are fixed. It is always funny to watch them, curling together like a Yin and Yang painting, then suddenly fighting, or chasing each other around and biting and hissing. But always, they return and sleep curled around each other. They remind me so much of married couples, with one exception: they stay together. Either one could leave, but they never do. No matter how much they fight, they end up licking each other’s face, and cleaning each other’s fur. And always they like to sleep together.
Not like humans. My wife is no longer with me. We grew apart, without much affection passing between us anymore. I loved her, but she seemed, to me, to be cold and hard. Perhaps it was all in my mind. I told her once, after she’d been away, and she kept insisting, drunkenly, that I tell her, that I hadn’t called her because I hadn’t missed her. I had actually enjoyed a little time away from her. I meant nothing radical. It just was nice to have the house to myself, with peace and quiet, without the constant noise of the TV and her nagging, once in a while. I hadn’t meant more than that, but she wouldn’t talk to me anymore, wouldn’t listen to me. She made me leave, and, of course, I took the cats. The cats went with me kicking and screaming, but they adjusted to the new place, and they stay with me. I never heard from my human companion of fourteen years again.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 3, 2010
my indigestion, my yellow teeth
pain in my feet, pain in my back
or is it my sacroiliac?
all the times I’ve come to grief
they add up over time
these aches and pains
the body slows, stiffens
joints pop and squeak
The mind wanders though time
dull painful memories
sharp happy ones
the future is looking back
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 2, 2010
The synthesis order from Dr. Jella’s lab was taped to my lab door when I arrived, even though I was early. Science marches on, without regard for working hours. After flicking on the lights, I dropped my lunch bag on my desk in the rear of the lab, under the sealed windows that let in light, but no air. I turned my PC on. I wanted a cup of coffee. I wanted to sit quietly for a few minutes, playing Solitaire. But, I had unfinished orders from the day before, as well as these new orders. I’d be lucky to synthesize all of ’em by days end. A long day ahead of me, probably ’till 7:00 pm.
I typed the first sequence into the machine: ACGCCCTATTACGACGAAGTTAC. I could synthesize four pieces of DNA, or RNA simultaneously. It would take almost four hours for the DNA Synthesizer to complete four oligonucleotides, then I could start the next four. Hopefully, they would finish in time to let me start another four before I went home. Those would run overnight.
I finished entering all the code letters for all of the syntheses, checked the level of the liquid reagents at every bottle position, and started the Pre Run. Solenoids clicked on and off as current was applied to each one, moving a magnetic rod back and forth to allow the flow of gas or liquid for each step of the syntheses. Click, click-click, click, click-click, click, click, click, and occasionally the whoosh of gas as regulators adjusted the pressure of ultra high purity nitrogen that pushed all the liquids around. After all the lines were purged of air and old liquids, and fresh liquid flowed from each reagent through all the lines, I started my first batch of the day. I was happy that I’d had the machine upgraded from the original two-position one. I’d never have been able to get this much done so quickly.
I went for coffee, brought it back and sat idly in front of my PC. I took a few sips while I stared out the window at a clear blue New Mexico sky, then got to work. I entered the sequences I was making into my database, so I could keep track of them for billing purposes. My lab was not directly funded by any grants or stipends. I had to bill each researcher for the work I did, and then they paid me out of their grants. It wasn’t a hard job. The machines did most of my work, synthesizing DNA, or occasionally some RNA. The RNA was tricky, as it required careful handling and sterile conditions. There are enzymes that destroy DNA and RNA, but of the two, the RNA enzyme, RNAase, was the worst. If contaminated with RNAase, the RNA I made would be useless, experiments ruined. Time and money would be wasted. I would lose credibility. I was very careful in my work.
Besides the work synthesizing, I had other jobs: two of which were either synthesizing proteins or sequencing them. In sequencing, the machine took each protein apart, one amino acid at a time and pumped it past a detector to identify it by its characteristic wavelength. I didn’t have any orders for protein synthesis today, fortunately, because the process consumed a lot of time, and required constant monitoring. The final step in protein synthesis involved the use of a dangerous, highly corrosive acid in gaseous form: HF, or hydrogen fluoride. HF is used to etch glass. Due to its insidious nature, it can splash undetected on your skin, and slowly eat its way to the bone. I hated working with HF. People using it had lost arms, eyes, lungs and some had died. I had to prepare a super cold bath of dry ice and methanol to cool the gas into liquid form for use. When I opened the valve on the HF bottle, everything had to be ready: I wore a special apron made of acid resistant material over my lab coat, and wore similar gloves. I had a special clear shield over my entire face, and the apparatus for using the HF gas was shielded behind a glass-sashed fume hood. In theory, the gas flowed into my collection vial, liquefied, and cleaved my synthesized protein off of the glass beads it was attached to as part of the synthesis protocol. Then it flowed through a trap of strong base to neutralize the acid.
The first time I had tried the procedure, my boss at the time had worked with me. Dr. Latif was from an Arabic family, but had grown up in Trinidad, been educated in England, and had worked for the Mayo Clinic. He was an interesting guy, full of stories about his parents and Trinidad. Oddly enough, we were the same age, and liked the same kind of music, rock ‘n’ roll and Motown. I needed music playing to get me through the day. In today’s world, an iPod would have sufficed, but in those times, the music came from my radio/tape player and coworkers needed to like the same music for that to work. Dr. Latif and I were suited up in our protective gear, and we switched on the gas. All looked well at first. The gas was cooling into liquid form, and flowing through the simple apparatus. Suddenly the plastic container of strong base began to implode. It made no sense. We had followed all the instructions perfectly, and the pathway of gas was clear. For some reason, it was back flushing, collapsing the trap. We couldn’t just shut the gas off, because we feared the trap would either backflush into our protein mixture, or worse, rupture, spreading gas and caustic base all over the place. Without losing our cool, we increased the pressure of a secondary gas, simple nitrogen that also flowed through to help keep the HF moving. We opened the exhaust stopcock all the way. Success. The plastic trap re-inflated.
After the experiment was over, we both let out of sighs of relief. The danger had been very real. We laughed too. We were the only ones who knew the danger. If the HF gas was released, and even if we’d gotten away safely, that floor of the building would have been in danger. Likely the entire building would have to be evacuated and sealed off. We’d have needed a HazMat team, police and firemen. It would have been a mess and created havoc. We worked out our own procedure after that, and never had any further episodes.
Today, my first four oligonucleotides were finished synthesizing, and I took them off the machine; they would require a minimum of five to eight hours heating to be ready for purification next morning. I was readying the machine for the next set of orders when Dr. Jella rushed in. He looked anxious. He wanted to know if his DNA was ready. I almost laughed. Even if I had synthesized his orders first, it would still require heating and purification. I told him that I could put his order ahead of the others I was about to start, and explained the time constraints. He was so anxious looking that I told him that if it was for a critical experiment, and he needed it right away, I could stay late, even work all night to have it ready for him by morning. He thought about that for a bit, but shrugged his shoulders, saying, “No, that’s alright. I can wait until tomorrow. It’s not, uh, not for anything real important.” Turns out it was, but he didn’t want anyone to know what he was working on.
Later, I found out that reporters had been cold-calling various researchers, pumping them for information for a story. Dr. Jella was working on the newly hot disease: hantavirus. The disease had flu-like symptoms, and people in New Mexico had died within days of showing symptoms of what everyone thought was a cold or flu. A test for hantavirus was needed as soon as possible. Researchers were working across the country to develop such a test. Dr. Jella had the idea of creating a kit, using synthetic fragments of single-stranded hantavirus DNA. If he had told me what it was for, I’d have gladly worked overnight. As it was, research is a highly competitive business. Researchers across the country, especially at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, where also racing to develop a test. Whoever developed an effective test first would not only get recognition, but would be able to grab new research money to continue their work. Dr. Jella didn’t want word to get out of the specifics of what he doing. Someone else could take that information and receive the credit, not to mention future grant money to research other diseases. Basically, his job and life’s work was on the line.
I arrived for work an hour early next day, and purified Dr. Jella’s oligos first. Needless to say, he was at my door soon after. “Are they ready yet?” he asked, somewhat breathlessly, like he had run up the stairs. I told him they were synthesized, and purified, but I would need another two hours, at least, to dry them down. A lot of water is used in the purification protocol, and I used a freeze-drying apparatus to evaporate all of the liquid. That made it easy to reconstitute the DNA to the desired concentration for experiments. He looked very disappointed, but I promised him I’d bring the DNA to his lab as soon as it was ready.
Later, I found out that he was using the DNA I had synthesized for the hantavirus kit. It worked, and his kit is now used to detect hantavirus. I got a mention in the paper he wrote describing the experiment.* That was unusual. Most of the work I did went unacknowledged. Sometimes the lab itself was mentioned. Most of the time, I went about my days synthesizing, sequencing, analyzing, purifying, and running the lab itself, buying materials, and billing the researchers. They paid me. It was a good living.
*(Rapid and specific detection of Sin Nombre virus antibodies in patients with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome by a strip immunoblot assay suitable for field diagnosis).
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 26, 2010
Stopped breathing. Just like that. The ocean had been cold. Much colder than I’d expected from a warm Spring day. It was early in the beach season. The winter had been harsh. Cold currents still flowed past the Jersey shore where my parents had dragged all seven kids. Normally, in Summer, they dragged us out of our comfortable beds early on a gray Baltimore morning, drove us across the Bay Bridge and down to the Ocean City on Maryland’s coast. I had no idea there was another Ocean City in New Jersey, and I have no memory of why we went there.
Me and my brother John had run into the waves, let them knock us over, felt the water churning and rolling over our heads. We never tried to swim in the crashing surf, just dived under the waves and tried to touch bottom. Felt the undertow trying to drag us out to sea. Tried to body surf our way back to the beach. That was our relationship with the ocean. The younger kids were still too young to play in the surf like that. They were walking along the sand, sticking their feet in the frigid water and running away from the incoming waves.
Me and John were the oldest. We did what we wanted sometimes. We were always together: walking to school, serving mass as altar boys in the early mornings, riding our bikes miles away from home, sledding down the steep city streets in winter, building a tree house, or carrying groceries home from the store down the road.
Sometimes, when fighting the wild bucking waves and swift undercurrent, I’d do my best to stay under water as long as possible. John and I were pretty good at holding our breath. I always hoped to see fish, crabs or starfish on the ocean bottom. I was always digging in it, hoping to find something.
I came up after a long dive and didn’t see John anywhere. No big deal. He’d probably gone in. I was freezing anyway. Even my frenetic play hadn’t warmed me up all that much. I headed into the warm dry sand towards my father. I still didn’t see John anywhere. I knew Dad would know where he was. As I got closer to him, I felt funny. My body had instantly started to warm under the 75 degree sun, but I felt hotter than that. My breath became ragged, uncertain. I sped up, saw my dad turn his head towards me, and that was all I saw.
I awoke on my back, but my hair was full of sand. A crowd encircled me. “What happened?” I heard a voice ask. I wanted to know that myself. Another disembodied voice in the crowd answered, “I think some old man drowned.” Old man? At 15, I could hardly look old. My dad was there too, looking down at me. He picked me up. A beach jeep pulled up, and hands grabbed me, loaded me into the jeep. It flew along the sand, bouncing and twisting. Suddenly we were off the beach, on the street. An ambulance waited. I was hustled into it. A mask was pushed onto my face. Oxygen poured into my nose and mouth. It felt good. I didn’t notice anything else, but I wondered where John was.
Next thing I knew, I was lifted onto a gurney, rolled into a curtained-off room. “I’m cold,” I remember saying. It was warm in the room; everyone was in swimsuits around me. The air was humid, but I shivered in all that heat. A thick wool blanket was dropped over me. I shook, uncontrollably. I just couldn’t warm up. “I’m still cold,” I said. Another heavy, dark green blanket was draped over me. I still shivered, amazed that I could be so cold, warm as the day was, and covered in heavy blankets. I felt like a freak. Well, I was, I guess. Turns out my rare allergy to cold had been my nemesis. In recent years, after playing for hours in the snow, and coming in the house to warm up, I had developed swollen hands, fingers that wouldn’t bend, red blotches on my face. But this was summer! Somehow, the cold ocean currents had swollen the muscles in my throat, tightening around my windpipe, cutting off my air. As I warmed up, my breathing slowed, and I relaxed. My parents had my clothes. I got dressed. I remember being back in the station wagon, surrounded by all the other kids, including John, next to me as always. Freaks need their families.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 17, 2010
I carry an Irish name
just part of my lineage
but important I think.
I got the name from my father
he died – too much tobacco in his lungs
he got the name from his father
he died – bad lungs
too much mustard gas
he got his name from his father
who got his name from his father
a refugee from occupied Ireland.
I don’t know how he died
but I’ll bet he choked on the memory
of leaving his home to the British
the Anglos killed Celtic men women children
took their land
sold some as slaves
no Irish could own land or money
no Irish could speak their native tongue
no Irish could have any other religion but that
of the bloody church of England
No school allowed, no life no culture
Not people slaves
without hope without justice
without reason to live.
They fought and died for freedom
from the bloody English imperialists
who tried to own
the whole world and failed.
They screwed the Irish even harder
took their forests their elk
their land their money
their language their culture.
The English fought the spirit of an entire nation
a people that had fought its way across Europe
survived invasions by Norsemen
by Vikings by Romans
and invasions by the bloody British
’till any sane people would have gone mad with despair
again and again and again.
But the Irish fought back
the British killed them jailed them
took more land more crops more slaves
left the Irish people potatoes.
Their crocodile tears did nothing
for the starving people of Ireland
when the potatoes lost heart.
So the Irish escaped their hell
joined relatives in Australia,
the United States, Mexico, Canada, and other places
Those that survived the trip.
I have their blood in me
the blood of the dispossessed, the beaten, the despised
the hated people who lived in Briton
before the British
who lived as one great people
artisans bronze workers
young and old, male and female
many tribes and clans.
The Romans started the slaughter
started the theft of Celtic lands.
The Brits came and took more and more and
more and more and more and more.
But Ireland still exists
Independence for the southern part!
hope to many
But the British still own most of the land
and the factories
and cling to the stolen land in the North
as if it was somehow theirs to defend.
To defend from what?
from joint rule? from democratic elections?
guilty over their own bloody past
they are afraid of retribution.
The Irish clans and tribes lived their own
life happily if not always peacefully
but it was their land their own fights
they had a system of justice praised
by the Roman invaders themselves.
They remind me of the Native peoples
of the Americas
forced from their land
forced to give up their cultures
forced to speak Spanish, or English
killed and beaten and raped as
were my ancestors too.
I don’t wonder at the Irish names
the Irish names that some
Native Americans carry and the
marriages between Irish immigrants and
Native American peoples.
We are family, after all
we believed in the same things
people land even gods
gods who brought rain and sun
and game and water and fire.
in a simpler time
before the English brought their civilization
to the Celtic tribes
British and Spanish brought their civilization
to the American tribes.
Many of us drink a bit too much
after hundreds of years of
civilized rape murder theft.
and we distrust each other
see skin color as a barrier
as if the invaders ever cared
if we were white or brown or red.
To them we were all inferior
scum vermin heathens savages
We know we are not.
We carry on.
Wouldn’t it be something
wouldn’t it be absolutely fucking amazing
it we saw each other as brothers and sisters
under the skin
on the skin
of our Earth?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 16, 2010
Do you know that odd feeling in your throat when you get emotional? It tightens up, you find it hard to breathe, and maybe your eyes water. Happens from time to time. Sometimes I watch a sentimental movie and feel that. There was a time when I felt deep regret over a lost love and I’d get that way. Doesn’t seem to happen much anymore. It’s an odd feeling, and only seems to occur with a sense of great loss, or empathy with someone’s loss or near loss. I remember when my step-daughter survived cancer. If it had been something I was watching in a movie, I’d have choked up like that, with my throat tensed and a feeling of being overcome by emotion, regardless of outcome. However, when Maya survived the surgery, and then again, when I found out the tumor was gone, after a whole lot of radiation and chemo treatments, I felt joy. It was the purest joy I’d ever felt. I was happy. My throat did not tighten, I did not cry, I did not feel overcome with emotion. I was, instead, blissfully happy. I stayed that way for a while. I am, of course glad that she is fine today, and in complete remission, and it is not the type of tumor, being so rare, that she is likely to experience ever again. The joy I felt back then was for her. I love her so much. I don’t need anything from her, don’t need to have love from her, or anything at all. I wish her a long and happy life.
Mine is not so happy. I experienced depression for a time in my life; got counseling, and medication. It may have made a difference. There was a change from that deep hopeless depression. I was sad a lot. It was sometimes overwhelming. There was an almost physical pain, tightness in my chest, sighing. That part is over now.
As always, I stay busy, even though I’ve retired from work. I hike, I snowshoe, I read, I watch movies. I buy things online and in junk/antique stores. I don’t feel sad. I eat a lot, which is not good, but it hardly seems to matter anymore. Nothing does really. It’s not the way I ever thought I’d be: just drifting along. No sadness, but no joy either. It is hard to enjoy a movie, a good book, a good sleep.
Sometimes I nap and I wake up nearly suffocating. It is dark and terrifying. My throat feels like it has been closed up. My brain feels oxygen starved. I feel like I’m dying. It happens more and more often. I don’t know what it means for sure. I’ve no known breathing problems. I had pneumonia as a child a couple times, so perhaps my lungs are not all that strong, and I had asthma until I was twelve years old. I don’t feel like there is anything wrong with my lungs now. My hikes take me up over 10,000 feet above sea level sometimes. It’s not all that easy, but I survive. I hiked near that altitude once for 20 miles.
I don’t know what to make of all this sometimes. I think I will drop off to sleep one day soon and I will just stop breathing. That doesn’t seem to scare me. It’s just the waking up unable to think straight and feeling like I’m dying that ever bothers me. When I couple that with my lack of joy in living, with a loss of interest in companionship or love, and with no enthusiasm for the sex that always made me happy, I wonder if this is it? Is my life over? Not in any figurative sense, but really. Is this what it feels like to die, or just to grow old?
I should do something, right? I try. I have a meeting tomorrow with people who want to change the world of politics. That used to excite me, but it’s more running on inertia now. I do the things I used to do, and new things too. I tried out to be a VJ ( a TV announcer/spokesperson), and it was good to try. Didn’t happen. I went to a local winery and I will be working there a couple days a week, with flexible days and hours. I might be serving/selling wine, or helping clear the ditches, or helping with new construction. I may be able to help with some of the tedious paperwork stuff, since I have some experience with maintaining inventory and budgets. It’s a new place for me. Something to do.
I don’t know if my life will change again. I tried the guitar, but I’m not doing much with that anymore. By now I thought I’d have a few dozens songs down. My photographs never sell, so I don’t know how much I will keep that up. My stories never sold, and I know they’re not that good. My poems pale next to most everything I hear or read. You’d think that would make me sad, but I don’t feel sad so much as tired. I don’t know what the point of it all is anymore. Going through the motions, eating, sleeping, doing things, watching things, reading, writing, working. I just don’t know. I know that people say, even when they’re dying, that life is a joy, and we can just enjoy every minute. Can’t say I feel like doing that.
In reality, I think my life is winding down. I think it may be ending soon. I can’t say why. It just seems like it. Sometimes the brain knows things we don’t consciously admit to, or recognize. Animals have been observed doing that: preparing themselves to die. They sometimes seem to know. Are people any different?
There are lots of things I can do: volunteer to help kids with their homework. Ask someone out. I have tried to get interested in other people, but the spark is just not there. It’s not here in the sense that perhaps there is no need anymore? If my life is going to end soon, then there really isn’t much point in anything. I look at that in the reverse direction, and I think, if there isn’t much point in anything anymore, then maybe that’s the sure sign that I am going to die soon. I have no regrets, no bucket list, no things I need to resolve. Death doesn’t scare me. Nothing scares me. Nothing excites me either, so that seems the same as death.
Well, tomorrow is another damn day. Who knows what will happen?
I had a dream last night: I was moving. I didn’t want to move. There were other people I was living with, and I didn’t want to go with them. I stayed in bed while people finished packing. I got up after awhile. There had been a very young kitten hanging around for awhile, feral, skittish. I didn’t know where it had come from. I saw it now, asleep by the bed. It looked so sweet and happy there. I went into the bathroom to pee and noticed little bits of cat shit around the toilet. Seems the kitten had decided to stick around. I thought about sticking around myself, just by myself. I heard a truck horn. There were to be two vehicles going. Four guys in one big truck and the two women in a car. I remember thinking it odd that the women and men were going separately, fearful that the women were going to disappear. That it was deliberate.
I went back to the cat, stared at it. I decided it was my cat. I could stay. Then I decided to go after all, but the cat was coming with me.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 11, 2010
I remember tasting
in your navel
ran my tongue
between your legs
into your sex
your red almond
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 15, 2010
A new year. It was a new year. It was the first new year whose coming I had not celebrated. I had not anticipated such a new year.
After a fourteen-year marriage, I was alone. The house I’d lived in, worked on and renovated was lost to me. She had that. I would keep my future pension. That was all.
I was uneasy in my new place. Winter-bare trees stared in my windows. I stared at the rented walls, the rented high ceiling, the rented hard brick floor. It didn’t feel like home. It was the nicest place I could find. It had all I needed, a small kitchen space, a nice bathroom, two bedrooms and a fireplace in the living room. I had my books, my old vinyl, my 16-year old TV. Still, I felt like a visitor, as though this was a hotel room far from home. It seemed cavernous, empty and cold.
After almost four months there, I decided I was going to have a Christmas tree, but I had no ornaments. eBay to the rescue! Over the next two months I found and purchased dozens of old glass ornaments. I’d remembered the thin glass ornaments my parents had decorated the tree with every year, many of them German, family heirlooms. Online, I found indents, and double indents, and triple indents! There were multicolored ones, all fragile, large and small, and round ones, tear shapes, bell shapes and cello shapes.
I had walked down the street to the neighborhood tree lot. They brought in-state trees down from Mora every year. I carried my tree home, as though I had walked into the forest and chopped it down myself.
Once decorated, the tree stood there silently all through Christmas. As the new year arrived, I’d grown to accept it as part of my house. The place seemed more like a home. On New Year’s day, I built a fire and kept it going all day, for just me and my tree.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 2, 2010
I happened to notice that today’s date, in the standard US nomenclature, is a palindrome: 01022010, if reading as January 2nd, 2010. That is the way most of us speak of the date in English in this country. Of course, it is sometimes written another way, as the 2nd of January, 2010. Under that convention, today’s date is 02012010, not a palindrome at all, and confusing. Of course, under that secondary convention, the palindrome for this year would be the 01 of February, 2010, or 01022010, but that dating convention leads to far more numerous palindromes. I prefer to use the first convention, by which the last such palindrome date was October 2nd, 2001, and, which is more interesting, the one before that was August 31, 1380!
Of note are these: October 10, 1010 (not a palindrome), although January 1st, 1010 was; December 12, 1212 is an interesting repeating two-digit number also, but, again, not a palindrome; and November 11, 1111 (now, that was quite a date!). Perhaps people don’t consider 11111111 as a palindrome?
So, assuming today is the palindrome for 2010, then one question that would arise is: when is the next such year? Obviously, it occurs on November 2nd, 2011; 11022011. However, no such date palindrome occurs again until 2020: 02022020. For those who put a lot of faith into numbers, it may mean something. It means nothing of importance to me, but, still, I find it interesting to note that our 12-month, approximately 30-day cycles yield such rare sequences of numbers.
This would all be so much simpler is there was only one conventional way to write a date. So, I’m looking forward to February 2nd of 2020, the first date in 1010 years that is unambiguously a palindrome by any convention, even one that puts the year first.
Is the next dual-use, unambiguous one after the year 2020 in March of 3030? There is, of course, Sept. 22, 2290, an ambiguous palindrome (It’s either 09222290 or 22092290), and October 3rd, 3001, (it’s either 10033001 or 03103001). Another 1010 years? I leave that to you, but I believe there is such a date. Tell me if you think you know what it is. There’s a hint in this post.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 2, 2009
After spending nearly 40 years of my life working, post high school, I retired from my last job after 25 years there.
In high school I flipped burgers, but after leaving high school, my first real job was running equipment in a physics lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a good job, working with a machine that used x-rays to measure molecular spacing in crystals, like silicon and germanium, which would prove vital to computers later on. It was, however, boring and repetitious, but I took night classes for free there. I stopped working full time to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County for two years, but continued working part time as an independent contractor. I simply typed up a bill for my time every week. As good as that was, I was also involved in anti-war and anti-government protests, as well as volunteer work with a free clinic, classes with a chapter of the Black Panthers, and experiments with sex and drugs, so college work seemed irrelevant. The University finally told me my grade-point average was too low to continue, so I’d have to drop out for a couple semesters. Instead, I left town with my bicycle, riding through parts of Michigan, Canada, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Short of money, I took my second real job, as an electrician’s assistant for a large mid-western carnival: Murphy Brothers Mile Long Pleasure Exposition. I spent a full season with them, running cables to rides, troubleshooting, and maintaining the generators. Then, when my final pay was stolen by Toothless Lester, so he could go on a binge, I stayed on and worked small fairs in Oklahoma and Florida. Florida in winter is nice, and I got to swim in the ocean in December, but the ride I was with didn’t get enough business, for the four of us it took to set up and run, for us to eat all that well. I split to Virginia to visit people I’d met in Canada. The only work I could find there was helping out on a small goat farm, so I passed on that, and hopped a train back to Baltimore.
I got another job at Johns Hopkins after a short search, and this time I was preparing genetics and developmental biology laboratory materials for the pre-med students there. That job got short circuited when a graduate student opened a drawer in a chicken egg incubator, and left it open. The large rotating drum full of dozens of drawers full of eggs then tilted forward, and the drawer slid out. It didn’t have far to go, and could have slipped back in, but ventilation was maintained by aid of a wooden blade revolving around the drum. The graduate student was long gone by the time the wooden blade slammed into the open drawer, jamming the whole device, and causing the premature hatching of 50 to 60 chicks. I was blamed. As it was, there had been complaints from the students of contaminated agar plates, which was also blamed on me, even though the students did not follow instructions very well, and violated every protocol they were given to prevent contamination. Another job down the tubes. I knew exactly what to do: get on the bicycle again. This time I left Baltimore directly, and rode west to Arizona. After hiking across the Grand Canyon and back, I ended up in Scottsdale, Arizona, working for a crafts foundry run by Paolo Solari, a visionary architect building an “Arcology” in the desert. I made bronze wind-bells, melting bronze, ramming clay/sand mixtures around molds and then pouring the bronze, cleaning up the raw products, assembling and even selling them. Sometimes I helped out by giving tours to tourists and other visitors. It was a fine job, but I met some bicyclists traveling through who were doing advance work for a cross-country bicycling/networking trip. I agreed to join them when the group arrived from California.
That was my longest break from working ever, although it involved riding a bicycle nearly every day for six months. Sometimes we did odd jobs to supplement our communal income, and we all gave workshops in our specialties. Mine was bicycle maintenance and repair. The tour ended, and I tried working for a solar contractor in Philadelphia, but that didn’t work out. I hadn’t enough experience in carpentry (none with solar panels) to satisfy my boss, who had wanted to have me work unsupervised. So, I traveled to New York City. I knew a few people there and had a place to stay. Then began my fourth major job: bicycle messenger. I pedaled letters, packages, advertising films and even artwork all over Manhattan on my trusty metal steed. However, I had met a fascinating and very sexy woman in Albuquerque when the bicycle group had stopped there for ten days. Although I had met several woman in my travels, she seemed like the one. She wanted me to move there, and I wanted her, so I found my way back to New Mexico. Unfortunately, there weren’t many jobs available in the Land of Enchantment. After six months of looking, working odd jobs, and hanging around the unemployment office, I finally got a job at the University of New Mexico as a mason’s helper. For a couple of years I replaced broken sidewalks, mixed hod for block walls, and even laid a brick floor in the University President’s house. There was also some remodeling and jack hammer work. I transferred to a job at the Cancer Center for about a year and half, injecting and implanting, respectively, tumor cells or tumor chunks into rats and mice. Then I would treat them with radiation and drugs, monitoring them, weighing them, and dissecting them. It was OK work, but the Director, and my boss, the Associate Director, took their grant money and moved to Philadelphia. I had no desire to go there, much less to the east coast, so I was out of work for another six months, doing odd jobs, and even collecting unemployment while I searched for work. I finally found a good part-time job, analyzing electroplating baths for a printed-circuit board manufacturer, which gave me a chance to take University classes again. I did that for four years, but my quality control position was dropped, and I was looking for work again. This time I ended up back at the University, working initially with mice, removing their glands for analysis and isolation of immunoglobulins, the wonderful molecules that protect our bodies from disease.
This time the job lasted 25 years. It changed continuously though. I stopped working with mice, and ran machines again exclusively. There were machines for determining the amino acid sequence of a protein, for purifying such proteins, for making short versions of such proteins, for analyzing the total amino acid content of biological samples, and determining the purity of all of the above. That changed too, as we obtained new machines: first, a machine for creating synthetic DNA. Cool. Then a machine for determining the sequence of various DNA samples. That became my job then: making and sequencing DNA. Interesting at first, but ultimately boring and repetitive, fraught with problems. The problems could be fun to isolate and resolve, but dealing with an ever-changing clientele of Ph.D.s, graduate students, post-graduate students, undergraduates, and dealing with all the budget balancing was sometimes frustrating. As this last and final job wound down, I went through the motions, doing the best job I knew how, but increasingly disinterested. I could barely force myself to go to work, much less work all day, every day. In the end, I suddenly decided I’d had enough, and retired.
So, what do I do the day after retirement? I went hiking in the Sandia Mountains here. Hiking the entire 18-mile length of the Faulty trail from Placitas, New Mexico to Tijeras, New Mexico. It was fun, with beautiful views, a clear blue sky and leftover snowfall from a snowstorm four days earlier. Faulty Trail has a mysterious origin. Diamond blazes appeared on trees marking its route before any official Forest Service recognition, and it was unofficially called the Diamond Trail. Probably an old herding route, it was apparently cleared by a horse club. The Forest Service took it over and renamed it Faulty Trail in honor of the dikes—fissures filled with igneous rock that moved up from a lower fracture and created the limestone blocks—that appear alongside the trail. Working in a laboratory for twenty-five years, however, does not really prepare one for hiking rolling hills 18 miles at almost 8000 feet above sea level, even with some hiking experience over the last year. I saw wild turkey, rabbit, raccoon, deer, and even fox tracks in the snow and mud. Many of the trees date to the 1700 and 1800s, and some have been cored and marked with their age, so that is a wonderful experience. I even saw a large black coyote near the crest of the mountain. It was one hell of a long day however, from the meet-up at 7 a.m., to the timely lunch break halfway, to wandering off the trail for a bit, to the final late, forced steps on the darkened trail in the light of a full moon at 7:30 p.m. (2 1/2 hours beyond schedule). Tired, sore, and as hungry as a bear, I ate, went home, and crawled into bed early that night, and slept the longest I have in fifteen years: 8 and 1/2 hours non-stop!
Now that is worth retiring for.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 30, 2009
Rat shit, bat shit, dirty old twat! 69 assholes tied in a knot! Hooray! Lizard shit! FUCK!
– the world, according to photographer/model Kassandra Leigh Purcell
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 18, 2009
There was a lavender festival in my neighborhood last weekend. I didn’t go, but there was fresh lavender, and other products for sale across the street from me near the coffee shop. I decided my house needed a little boost of sight and smell, so I bought a bunch of the fresh lavender. Oddly, wildflower plants like that, when placed in water, need to have the water changed every day, as they foul it quickly. I didn’t know that. It’s true. That bunch of lavender sucked up every drop of water at first, then the second day the water was rank. It does need to be changed every day. So, who cares, right? It’s just one of those things I might have mentioned to my ex-wife, and she would have ridiculed me for saying it. “That’s really interesting,” she’d sneer at me. She was a hard woman to talk to. She loved to spread gossip, talk about other’ people’s lives, her sister and bother-in-law, her mother and her mother’s depression, or her other sisters, or her friends. That was all she cared to talk about. This worked well for her on the phone, because she could call one person, pump them for information under the guise of curiosity and friendliness, hang up the phone and talk about the conversation she’d just had with the next person who answered the phone. She hated it when no one she called was home, especially if she had something she wanted to tell everyone. I was always amazed at her ability to have the same conversation over and over. She didn’t particularly like to talk with me, because I had little interest in the personal lives of other people, so I had little to say. I tried, for a long time, to listen attentively, but not only had I usually heard much of the stories while she talked on the phone, but she had the habit of repeating the same stories over and over, not remembering who she had talked to. This had the effect of making me zone out. She wasn’t saying anything new, or interesting, so my mind would drift off, particularly since she always had the TV blaring. It was very distracting.
I have no idea why I’m rambling on about this. Just chain of thought. So many things to think about lately. I finally got around to fixing the refrigerator today. I had put a call in to the Sears repair people, because I had no idea what was wrong, or how serious it was. The old thing cools really well, and keeps the freezer compartment frozen, so I had no complaints there. However, the freezing cold water dripping onto the top shelf and turning to ice bothered me. I had a large plastic container under the drip, as it dripped at really odd times, sometimes all at once. Long story short, it’s $70 just to get a Sears repairman out, and then parts and labor. It seemed cheaper than a new one. I gave them my credit card info over the phone, but later on, a repair guy called, asked me about the problem, and told me how to fix it. Since it involved turning the refrigerator off and “defrosting” the frost-free thing, I had put it off. I needed some ice coolers and ice for my food, and I couldn’t carry all that on the motorcycle. I have a car, but it needed work. First, the “mass airflow sensor” died. Having no idea what or where it was, I asked the dealer about it – would cost a lot for the sensor, then labor, and I would need some other engine work done. For $800 plus bucks, I didn’t trust ’em. I took it to a local mechanic who quickly diagnosed the same problem, but said he could probably clean the sensor and I wouldn’t need to buy a new one. Cool. $257.70 I could save. however, he said the engine had not been running correctly with the air flow off balance, so I’d need a tune-up. It was about time for one, so I told him to go ahead. Still, even though he did a great job, even replacing the crappy battery terminals, the fouled spark plugs, wires, and valve cover gaskets, I still ended up spending $827.70. So, I felt it was money well spent, if I could then depend on the car, in case I needed it. Of course, when next I did need it, the serpentine belt broke, completely shredding all over the engine. It was beginning to look like I’d never get those ice chests and ice so I could empty out the freezer.
Naturally, on my way to get a new belt, I laid the bike down when the front wheel spun sideways on some loose gravel in a turn bay. Scraped the fuck out of my hands, my shoulder, and cut my face too. I totally freaked out the employees and customers at the dealership; walked in with blood running down my face, and all over my hands. Got the belt however! It was hard to work on with my hands bandaged. It took me a while to figure out how to replace it, even with a diagram of the path it had to travel, but I got it on last weekend, and everything worked. So, finally I got the ice chests and ice today, so I could empty out the refrigerator. Took three hours from the time I left for the ice and ice chests, took out all the food, and effected the fix I’d been instructed in by the repairman. It all centered around a drain hole for the defrosted ice water that would ice over and prevent draining. Since it couldn’t drain normally, the icy water would overflow into the refrigerator compartment. Twisting a copper wire around the heating element and sticking it into the drain hole was the cure. So far, it’s working. I’m not certain I did it correctly, because the “obvious” place to wrap the wire around wasn’t so obvious to me, but I did get the entire refrigerator and freezer cleaned up. Oddly enough, while it ran a long time to get back down to the cold temperatures, it then stopped cooling, long before it usually does. It used to be near freezing in the back of the refrigerator compartment, but now I’ve had to raise the temperature setting I’ve been using all along. It’s more efficient now. I’m hoping this fixes the thing for good – it often seemed to me to run far too long at a stretch, often long into the night. Of course, it would have been way cheaper, easier, and less painful to buy a new refrigerator. :-(
So, tired, but satisfied, I popped in a movie: Waltz With Bashir, an animated film by an Israeli filmmaker who fought in the war in Lebanon in the early 1980s. He had forgotten most of what he did, and travels around in the movie visiting old comrades from the war to see what they remembered. What little they did remember centered around atrocities, young men shooting blindly in every direction out of fear, massacres, and other horrors. This is an army oddly similar to the US army, in terms of weapons, training and sheer chutzpah. I was tempted to think that Israel has no idea what modern warfare is about, and has no misgivings about killing innocent people for no real purpose. Of course, I found that they weren’t really all that different from the US. Our military has done, and is doing, some really horrific things in the name of freedom, democracy, and protection of the “homeland”. I think the US and Israel are evidence of the new way war is fought, without clear strategy or objectives, just fighting and killing with huge tanks, powerful weapons, and clueless soldiers, in hopes it will all come out right if we spend enough money, shoot enough bullets, and drop enough bombs. Looks like something is being done, but all that happens is war continues, with the certainty that even if a conflict ends, another will start. We’ve entered the period of endless, mindless war that was adroitly predicted in the novel 1984. Always war somewhere; we’re always winning, but the enemy fights on, and we need to support war or we’re unpatriotic. It just goes on and on. There is no longer an end. Even if the combat troops leave Iraq, we’re leaving behind bases filled with troops, a clear provocation. In Afghanistan, we don’t even have a winnable objective, no way of defeating the Taliban, al-Qa’ida, or other terrorists. Bombs, tanks, and bullets just aren’t accomplishing anything except more deaths of our soldiers and local non-combatants, and a terrorist every now and again, and we’ve no plans to try anything else. The more we fight, the stronger the Taliban and al-Qa’ida get. It is mindless destruction, with unprecedented levels of non-combatant deaths, but all we ever care about are “our troops’ – support our troops, support our troops, support our troops, and don’t question any of this, because then you won’t be supporting our troops. I’m sure there were good Germans under Hitler, good Japanese under the emperor, good Iraqis under Saddam Hussein who “supported our troops” too. People never seem to notice that, and it no longer seems to matter. No one really cares. As long as innocent people are dying somewhere else, it’s not really our problem, because God is on our side. Of course, God is also on the terrorist’s side, on the dictator’s side, on everyone’s side in every war, but still people die; still people lose.
Rambling again tonight. No real purpose here. Just a lack of purpose. All seems pointless now. War is pointless. Patriotism is misdirected. God is equated with war, guns and victory over all. I honestly don’t know what to believe in anymore, or what to care about, and that is reflected in my personal life. No desire for companionship, love, or sex. Just day-to-day mechanical living. Why?
I started another blog alongside this one back in 2007 that was about ennui and war and all that. This blog was personal at first, but now it all seems to run together in my head; can’t keep any of it separate, and nothing seems more or less important than anything else.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 7, 2009
What is it with me and pain? How is it I seem to mess myself up so often? I went hiking Saturday the 4th of July. It was fun. We took off-the-map trails, found four geocaches. Along the way the trail was about a 60 degree angle, down and up again. Going down I managed to slip on some loose rock and spun all the way around before I caught myself. Ripped my middle finger open a little, bled on my backpack and shirt. No big deal. The hike was worse going back up; had to stop often to catch my breath, as we gained a bit of elevation as well as the distance climbing. Made it. Then, on the way back, it hailed! In July! Pea-sized bits on our faces and arms. Stopped under some trees by the last geocache and put on our rain gear, as it was pouring too. Stayed where we were for a while, as lighting and thunder were arriving simultaneously. We didn’t want to get into an open area where we were the tallest things around. Finally headed on up to the top of the mountain where there was a porch around a gift shop that people drive to. We had coffee and brownies, courtesy of one older hiker. Not a bad day all in all. I was sore in my upper legs later, and then sore on Sunday still, and then sore on Monday. It didn’t hurt to walk upstairs, but downstairs was difficult. I was not used to scrambling down such steep trails with loose footing. Different muscles used, and they complained until today. Today, the pain and stiffness was gone. The cut on my finger was healing nicely.
I had to stop by the auto dealer on my way home. Friday had been a holiday from work, so I had driven my car for once, looking for a new desk chair, and a few other things that don’t fit on the motorcycle. The ’96 Mercury Cougar is a good car, but I’d recently had to spend over $800 getting the mass air flow sensor fixed, and having the engine tuned up with new plugs and valve covers, filters, new battery terminals, etc. It was running smooth and quiet. All of a sudden, on my way home, it had made a funny noise, and the steering crapped out. It’s power steering, but I could still move the wheel just enough to turn. Found out the belt had disintegrated. It was broken and shredded all over the engine. A lot of coolant had boiled out too. The belt is a serpentine one, snaking around various pulleys that operate the power steering, the air conditioning, the generator, as well the water pump. Well, that was where I was going after work today, to the dealer for a good, reliable serpentine belt.
They had moved far up the interstate, and I had to fight traffic going north. I got off near where they said the new place was, but didn’t see it. It was supposed to be on the frontage road, and I hadn’t passed it yet, so I went down the side road a bit to turn around. Pulled into a turn bay, but hit gravel. The bike went down fast. Picked it right up, although someone had stopped to help. He even offered to put my bike in the back of his pickup, and take me to a hospital, but I thanked him and told him I was OK. He had seen the bike spin out from under me. The bike is OK, a little scratched up, especially my brand new windshield. Crap. Anyway, I got back on the frontage road and went through the intersection this time, and found the dealer about two blocks away around a curve. Parts guy took my order for the belt, but he didn’t have a cash register in his work area, so he sent me out to the garage. I told him about the accident. He said he’d get me some gauze too and meet me up there. The lady at the register gave me some wipes to clean myself up a bit, baby wipes of all things. I didn’t know how my face looked, but I had seen and felt blood running down near my left eye, and my sunglasses were full of blood too. I paid for the Ford Motorcraft belt, $52.81 and they gave me some bandages. I went into their men’s room to clean up. Nice gashes near my eye, and the eye was already swollen and dark. Probably have a black eye tomorrow. Scrapes on my left knuckles, my right thumb is torn up, both palms are scraped and full of gravel bits. My left knee hurt, as well as my left shoulder, where my new heavy-duty cotton shirt was torn open. I bandaged what I needed to in order to grip the handlebars and clutch and brakes, and headed home. When I got there, I found a 1 3/4 inch diameter scrape on my shoulder, almost round, looks like the skin had been taken off with a belt sander, and still weeping. Oddly, it is not bleeding much except around the edge, and it doesn’t hurt. Smaller scrapes below it, right into the tattoo. Both knees are scraped, but the left one is bleeding a lot. Bandaged everything else up that I’d missed at the auto dealer, after cleaning with a little peroxide.
Damn, only one Advil left too. I had wanted two. Added four aspirin. I don’t even know why I’m complaining. I didn’t break anything, and the bike still runs. People go through worse every day. Still, I wonder why I’m so damn careless and accident prone? I ride every day, so I suppose the odds were against me. Just can’t believe I was so stupid. Should have slowed down more before getting in the turn bay. Should have been looking for hazards. Should have taken the car in for scheduled maintenance – perhaps they’d have caught the bad belt? and then I wouldn’t have had to go there, but I rarely even drive the car. I didn’t think it needed more maintenance so soon. Of course, it’s 13 years old.
Oh, man, my neck and shoulder area hurts now. I sure hope I didn’t do any damage to my collar-bone or neck. More and more, I feel like I just want to be home and stay here, never going out again. Work is a real pain with the budget problems and the move to a new lab space. I really don’t want to deal with any of it anymore. I’m tired. And, so what?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 5, 2009
The Legend of 1900. Watch it. The piano playing is phenomenal! The story is unique.
<-The real Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton. As a teenager Jelly Roll Morton worked in the whorehouses of Storyville, New Orléans, as a piano player. From 1904 to 1917 Jelly Roll rambled through the South as gambler, pool shark, pimp, vaudeville comedian and pianist. He was the first great composer and piano player of Jazz and an important transitional figure between ragtime and jazz piano styles. He played on the West Coast from 1917 to 1922 and then moved to Chicago and where he hit his stride. Morton’s 1923 and 1924 recordings of piano solos for the Gennett label were very popular and influential.
He fell upon hard times after 1930 and even lost the diamond he had in his front tooth. He died just before the Dixieland revival rescued so many of his peers from obscurity. He blamed his declining health on a voodoo spell. See: Red Hot Jazz.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 12, 2009
Woke up from a nightmare last night. Middle of the night. My heart was racing. I was horrified. It was raining. I lay there for a time listening to the rain. After awhile I heard hail hitting the roof. There was lightning too. In the dream, I had just killed someone, someone I loved. In the dream, I didn’t feel anything. I killed without remorse. That woke me up, I think. I had been thinking (in the dream) I had no feelings in me, but as I came back into consciousness, I realized I did care, and the horrible reality that I could do something like that terrified me.
Oddly, I can’t remember now who it was I was supposed to have killed. Never saw the face. It was, however, very real, and I was really sure who it was when I woke up, but now I can’t remember for certain. But, I clearly remember coming from behind, strangling her, and burying her. The whole time that was going on, I was aware, in the dream, of my disconnect, of my inability to feel, or care about morality. It was as though I had actually lost all socialization, and had become a serial killer, and without the slightest hint of remorse.
Got up this morning after lying there for hours after that. It was only 6:00 am on a Saturday. I should get more sleep, but I wake up nearly every night, sometimes at 1:30 am, sometimes at 3:30 am, or 4:00, and sometimes I just watch the clock tick off the half hours until it’s time to get up. Made coffee. It’s a special blend of mine: I take a can of “Lite” coffee, which already has half the caffeine of regular coffee, and I mix it with a can of decaf coffee. Still I can’t sleep at night. I’ve tried doing without coffee altogether. After the headaches stop, I feel good, but I still can’t sleep right, not even after months without caffeine. I never get 7 or 8 hours sleep anymore. The amount is not always vital, as long as there is some deep sleep involved, but 5 1/2 hours is my longest time spent asleep, with or without coffee. I don’t think it’s enough time to get a good rest. I’d imagine this is why I’ve been so tense, irritable and depressed, but those things affect sleep, so it’s hard to say which came first. Doesn’t matter what time I go to bed, I usually fall asleep right away, but I always wake up long before it’s time to get up. I’ve gone on ten-miles hikes in the mountains, dropped into bed, to sleep, perchance to dream, but still I wake up, sometimes sweating, sometimes with a bad dream chasing me. It’s aging me fast. People used to think I was younger than I was, but now they’re sure I’m older than I am. I have permanent dark circles under my eyes. My hair rapidly turned from salt and pepper to almost all-white, so I dye it now.
Today a rental movie came in the mail: Hancock. I enjoyed it. I even felt some stirrings of emotion at all the appropriate times. Movies somehow do that to me. Hancock, of course is about a guy who happens to have super powers and creates more havoc trying to help than he helps. Not knowing who he is, or where he came from, he stumbles along until people step up to help him straighten out his life. In the end he does OK, and even finds out who he is. Heroic, and a happy ending too.
After the movie, I sat back to daydream, because I always imagine myself in any movie I watch, or any book I read. I became a superhero. I don’t have super strength or the power to fly, or magnetic power, or x-ray vision – none of that. I have the power I’ve always imagined I had, to transport myself instantly anywhere in the world or universe. It’s a dormant power that surfaces when I need it. My step-daughter Maya goes into the hospital soon for brain surgery. The doctors are highly skilled at it, and the danger is not insignificant, but any operation is dangerous, and a brain operation seems more so. 4 1/2 years ago, Maya had her brain opened to remove a tumor, and they got almost all of it. Enough cells remained to regrow, and she had chemotherapy. The chemo didn’t work. She lost all her hair, was sick as a dog, but the tumor actually started growing faster. She had radiation treatments then, and the tumor was “burned” out of her skull. No traces left on MRI, nothing in her blood, nothing in her spinal fluid all this time. Now there’s something there. Could be scar tissue, a common occurrence with radiation treatment. They don’t know. So, they’re going back in to find out.
In my daydream, I get a call from the hospital. She’s just died. I scream, and suddenly I am there, standing by the phone hundreds of miles away. I ask to see her, and I grab her hand, talk to her, tell her to come back, and she does. She’s not dead. She recovers, but I die. It’s a funny-strange scenario, but it actually makes me happy to think I could do that. I’d readily trade places with her now if I could. I don’t want her to suffer through the pain again. I want her to continue enjoying life. She can have mine.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 6, 2009
The moon, low to the horizon and huge, has a reddish tint to it tonight. I tried to take a picture when I got home, but it was behind the trees already.
I watched it heading west on my way home at 3 a.m Friday morning, in the western hemisphere, North America. It was not full, but the light it reflected on a clear night was spectacular.
It reminded me of the scenes on the red surface of Mars in the movie I had just watched. Watchmen. The only movie I’ve watched in a theater in over a year. The only movie I’ve ever gone to see the first showing of, and at midnight to boot. I read Watchman, the graphic novel, many years ago. Still have it lying around. Impressed me then, and the movie impressed me even more. Damn, that was a spectacular movie. Special effects aside, the graphic depiction of human nature qualifies it as literature, in my opinion, so it ought to be hailed as such. That was one movie that surely tapped into the words and made them even more visual than the two dimensions of the flat page. Of course, imagination has no bounds when reading, so the pictures, the colors, the artistic vision are not necessary, and so neither is the movie. Nevertheless, this is how we entertain ourselves, and ideas must be presented as entertainment. The story, the book, the movie: all are superbly murderous, bloody, violent, tragic, lusty, depraved and, yet, somehow more than that, and much more than entertainment.
Such a story. Is it a tragedy? It ends with horrible destruction, then hope, and finally, a theme that runs through the entire movie ends it: mankind sucks. We could do better, but we don’t. Even the noblest among us would sacrifice millions to save billions, and lie about it. And the lie provides the hope for humanity, and, in the movie’s ending, the lie is about to be exposed.
Of course, I had hoped to have seen the movie with Karen. She’d heard about the graphic novel, but it was out of print. She hadn’t tried to read it sooner because it was DC comics and, not Marvel. Growing up, of course, I knew about the superior writing in Marvel comics, the multifaceted characters, the gray areas of truth and right and wrong, and the real life, love and rejection, paying bills, death, and jobs and tiny human dramas on the sidelines of every larger action. The stuff that goes on even if you’re a superhero. Karen admires that about Marvel and doesn’t care for DC comics. I told her it was worth reading. By the time I found my copy, it has just been reprinted, and she had already bought a copy. She hadn’t read it last time we spoke of it, so I’m not sure what she thought. We have similar ideas about war and peace and science and fiction and religion. We’ve read many of the same books, seen many of the same movies, and admired the best of humanity in all of it. Unfortunately, the difference in our ages prevents us from seeing something like Watchmen together.
[aside: ran into Karen at the coffee cart later this very day. I had to have coffee to stay awake after getting maybe one hour of sleep after this movie. She smiled and forced a wave to me when she got in line. I was talking to someone, so I waited until she come over to sprinkle cinnamon on the whipped cream on top of her iced mocha. Told her I’d seen Watchmen, and she asked me about it. Told her how exciting it was, and the crowds there. Asked her, since it was Friday, after all, if we could meet for lunch later. She said she was having a working lunch. Said she had to go. The oddest thing of all was that I asked her if she had ever read the copy of Watchmen she had bought. She got real defensive; said she’d read it two years ago! But I know she bought it only recently, when the second printing came out, and I had even asked her if she’d read it, and she said no, that she hadn’t had time yet. Now, suddenly she read it two years ago? That doesn’t make sense. Something is very odd here.]
When I asked her if we could see Silver Surfer together – that’s when she let me know. She said, “That would be like a date!” with a look of horror or disgust on her face. “Inappropriate.” That’s the word she used many times. Inappropriate for me to ask her out, to want to meet her after work, see a movie, have a drink, give her flowers. Even leaving aside my romantic interest in her, she can not even think of me as friend outside of the workplace. I rarely see her anymore; we work in different buildings, for different departments, but, occasionally have lunch still.
As intriguing as Watchmen is, I still found part of me wishing I could watch it with Karen. I didn’t ask her. I know it’s beyond her to imagine going somewhere with me. She’d rather go to a play, like Monty Python’s Holy Grail, with her uncle than with me. I guess old men are OK if you’re related to them. It’s not even sad anymore to think about. It’s something I’ve had to accept, like my former wife telling me I had to move out, or she’d call the police, tell them her life was in danger. Very effective. Very legal. I could have challenged it later, but by then, I’d have been out, and why would I want to live with someone who’d done that to me? And Karen. How nice it would have been to tell her about all that, to have a friend I could talk to, who would listen. She wouldn’t listen – it was also inappropriate to speak of anything personal. I’m not really sure why. I could understand a woman not wanting to hear about my disintigrating marriage or the end, when it came. But, even later? Long after the divorce, she wanted to hear nothing of it. Of course, sometimes I think it was just because she didn’t want to encourage my inappropriate feelings for her.
But, life goes on. Sort of. In Watchmen, life goes on, but the underlying tensions are not gone. Even the deaths of so many millions can ultimately have been for nothing. I understand the characters in the story who speak of the pointlessness of it all, that we have exactly the society we wanted. We are violent and selfish and greedy and murderous. Perhaps we’ll never change. We cringe at horror, but do little to stop it. We even participate in our own little ways.
And me? I go on for some reason. Inertia? I don’t know. I move along with work, with my union activities, with reading, and movies, and guitar, and hiking, and it’s not doing a whole lot for me. If it were doing something for someone else, perhaps I could accept that as my motivation. I’m just not really sure I care about anything anymore. I was happy enough being married to someone I loved, even if not every day was a good one. I could have gone on that way for a long time, maybe forever. When it fell apart, and, abruptly it was over, I found myself insanely in love with Karen. I felt so good, so alive, so ready to fall in love all over again. It was exhilarating to believe in love, to think I could actually have the “in love” feeling again. That would have given me a real reason to enjoy life and want to go on. The chances seem slim now. I feel a great sense of accelerated aging, of death coming soon, but I don’t fear death. I would like to be happy while I’m alive, but perhaps it’s just not possible anymore. I don’t even know what would make me truly happy. Karen. Well, there’s her, and my feelings for her. I’d certainly be happy being with her, but it cannot be. So, I seem to be rejecting all possibilities that come my way: the old girlfriend back in my life, the other former lover living close by, the union sister who tried to interest me in dating a friend of hers, or even herself – why am I so withdrawn, so quick to misunderstand, so quick to push people away?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 11, 2009
Another Valentine’s Day. People make fun of the day, and criticize it as meaningless commercial promotion for the greeting card and candy companies. I’ve often found, however, that when I’m in a serious relationship, it is satisfying to do something nice for your lover on a day that is dedicated to love. Once I didn’t, by mistake, actually. I was one of those who felt that gifts or flowers as sentiment should come spontaneously and randomly, and I acted on that. However, I knew, without a doubt, that my lover at the time would want to be treated special, so I had a plan. Since I rode a bicycle every day to and from work, it was difficult to range very far in getting flowers, which is what I thought most appropriate at that time. And, of course, arranging to have them delivered never occurred to me. Every day, I passed a flower shop on the way home. I had never had a real girlfriend or lover to buy flowers for before, and had no idea how early one has to buy these things. However, the shop would certainly have had some kind of flowers left, even if they weren’t roses. So, I left work, and headed home, climbing the slope of “nine-mile” hill steadily. I reached the flower shop, and THEY WERE CLOSED! As in shut down and moved away. Crap. I couldn’t believe it. I knew of none other within miles, and I was expected at home anyway. I went home, and promptly told my love what had happened, and she said it was OK, and no big deal. DON”T EVER BELIEVE THAT. It is just not true. Later, after she’d left me for someone else, and we’d become friends again, years later, she told me that’s when she changed her mind about me. She was actually pretty upset. She met this guy coincidentally the next day, and she became interested in him.
Be that all as it may be, however, I’ve been with many women since then, and I never screwed up like that again, always giving flowers and treats, and not because I had to, but because I wanted to. So, I like Valentine’s Day. However, since that last divorce and my subsequent unrequited love infatuation and rejection, I don’t think much of this approaching day of love. It sucks, really. I added a note to myself on my appointments calendar for the 14th: Kill myself. Now, it’s unlikely I will. For one thing, I’ve gotten really interested in learning guitar, and I practice every day. I understand a little bit of the nomenclature, and I’m training my fingers, and making slow progress. It may take a long time, but I think I can do it. So, since I want to see how well I can do, I should stick around a bit longer.
Before this, I joined the Mountain Club, however. I went on four hikes, up and down hilly terrain, for lengths of 8 to ten miles, and enjoyed it. Loved the slowly increasing strength and stamina, but I haven’t been hiking since January 1. I used to go hiking on level ground about 4 miles every Sunday before going mountaineering, but I haven’t even done that. Now I’m focused on guitar. I wonder if I can keep my interest in that? Or will I lose the excitement that grips me now? If I do, will I decide there’s no further reason to keep on living? or will I find another item on my bucket list to throw myself into? I can’t predict, just can’t tell.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 14, 2009
I watch so many, many movies these days. The TV is useless for much of anything else. I don’t know what I see in the movies. I like to escape, of course, but that is less appealing than it used to be. There are so many stories to see, ideas to hear, intrigues, and mysteries, and wonder. Still, I find it hard to sit still for movies anymore. I wander off and read, or check my email or auctions or Word Press stats, or play solitaire, and watch some more. It’s not so much the movies themselves, but that I am restless again, as restless as I was in 1973 and 1975 when I rode away from jobs and family and stability. I rode away the first time, but came back and tried again. In 1975 I rode away for good.
Movies seem to have relevance sometimes, but I am tired of extrapolating them into the myriad ways that they reflect my own life, or comment on it, or condemn it. They’re not as much fun as they used to be for me. Neither is my job, and my life, which once had purpose. It’s time to return to the carnival. We, most of us, speak of running away to join the circus, and that’s what I did so many years ago, although it turned out to be a carnival: no animals, well, live ones anyway. There were always the two-headed goats and five-legged cows, but they were actually in jars of formaldehyde, which you would only find out after you paid your money to see ’em. The marks always lined up to see those kind of things, and the painted signs outside always made it seem like the animals were real, and just inside. But, a carnival doesn’t put on animal shows, just people shows. Mostly it’s all “punk” kiddie rides and ferris wheels, and all the other mechanized thrill rides, with music blaring from giant speakers. No big top, no tents really. Lots of trucks, motor homes, and trailers. And electrical generators, of course. Need power for all that stuff. All those lights. All those popcorn “poppers” and games-of-chance “joints”. Try your luck, but you’re really buying cheap fluff. Hotdogs and ice cream and sodas. Eat and spend. Eat and spend. The real American dream. Carnies epitomize our values – buy low, sell high. Maximize profits. The ideal is to get the most for the absolute least you must provide in return. Provide thrills and escapism; promote gluttony for empty calories. Cheap thrills.
When I left the carnival, I realized that much of the world around me was the same, even Universities. It’s all sleight of hand, and manipulation, and cheap thrills. Education, sure, it’s important, but secondary to research grants that pay the bills. Stationary carnivals. My brain is tired from trying to keep it straight.
I went back to work, and finished college. I pay my bills, I eat a lot. I watch movies. I marry and divorce and marry and divorce again, and buy and spend and work and buy and spend. Cheap thrills. I am viewed as more respectable than a carny, but the differences are slight. Some towns only sit in one place, some move around, but we stay the same either way.
I can’t imagine I’d really want to work a carnival again. But, traveling is always good. Hiking? Bicycling? The physical activity is liberating. As you put distance behind you, it feels like a new world, a new beginning, and you can’t go back. All that walking or biking would be a waste if you went back. But, one doesn’t have to travel in the opposite direction to go back. I’ve been back to visit, but I live 1675 miles away. Where would I go away to now?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 11, 2009
It’s a good thing I like to complain, because I felt like crap last night. Had been to a day-long meeting of statewide union execs, and felt funny. It was a long, tedious legislative training session. Parts if it were interesting, and in New Mexico, most of us public employees are entirely dependent on money flowing from Santa Fe. But, I had a hard time getting lunch down, and couldn’t even finish it. That should have been a warning sign, as I can eat, and eat, and eat like a teenager. And, it shows. Anyway, I keep feeling, first, pressure in my stomach, than a god-awful pain. Every so often the pain would flare up, and it was intense. Got home finally, and felt like crap. Took a short nap, but woke up cold, shivering almost. Then I felt feverish, like my face was on fire. Then it seemed I was feverish and still cold! Had to put slippers on my feet, and my winter vest, and I had the heat turned way up! My head began to hurt, then my stomach too. Sometimes it alternated, sometimes it was both. I wanted someone to kill me! Good god! that was painful! And, I couldn’t relax, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat or drink anything. Tried to watch Hellboy II, but had to keep pausing it, as I couldn’t relax. Wrapped myself in a blanket on the recliner. Popped some vitamin C, drank a cup of ginger tea finally, but I had to force myself to drink it. 9:30 pm – I’d had enough – went to bed. Woke up six hours later feeling better, surprised that I was alive at all. Got up to pee, but went back to bed. Didn’t want to get up at all. Still hot. Then I realized I’d left the liquid-filled radiator heater on high all night! Turned that off, and got back in bed. My head still hurt, in fact, I couldn’t get comfortable anymore. My neck felt like someone had pummeled it, but the worst part was that my whole head felt sore. It hurt to be face down, sideways, or face up. There was no position in which my head didn’t hurt. And some acid had worked its was up my throat, so that tasted and felt horrible. Finally forced myself up to take some Advil. Feeling better now, but my stomach is still unhappy. I wonder if I could have gotten food poisoning. Sheesh.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 3, 2009
Well, here I am, 3 days into the new year of 2009, day 15 of my vacation from all things work related. I’m trying to see what I’ve accomplished.
1.) Replaced the remaining three almost-bald tires on the car – they have whitewall stripes too, matching the car (well, actually it’s cream colored).
2.) Took the rear tire off the motorcycle, scraped the grease off the gear and rim, and replaced the tire, which was stark-raving mad, er, nude, er, uh, bald.
3.) Broke a link out of the stretched-out bike chain (had to use a cold chisel); cleaned, adjusted and greased the chain.
4.) Went hiking around To’hajiilee, just west of Albuquerque. Hiked beyond my comfort level, took some nice pics.
5.) Had lunch with my 1st wife. Learned she thought I wanted the divorce; I thought she did.
6.) Had dinner on Xmas day with my step-daughter; made a kick-ass chile with Italian sausage, green chile, and black beans. We both enjoyed it.
7.) Went hiking in San Lorenzo canyon (near Socorro, New Mexico); hiked just past my comfort level; took a few pics.
8.) Bought a digital picture frame; learned I haven’t beaten my eBay addiction yet.
9.) Read several books: Titan’s Daughter, by Sci Fi author James Blish; Ballroom of the Skies, a Sci Fi novel by crime/mystery novelist John D. MacDonald; Please Write For Details, also by John D. MacDonald, Wild Traveler, a 1967 story about an adopted coyote by A.M. Lightner; Jack of Eagles, by James Blish; Berlin (2): City of Smoke, graphic novel by Jason Lutes; graphic novel David Boring, by Daniel Clowes; graphic novel Far West (Vol. 1), by Richard Moore; the screenplay of Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff; a wierd “art” graphic novel Jellyfist, by Jhonen Vasquez and Jenny Goldberg; and Aya of Yop City, a graphic novel by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie.
10.) Finally watched: 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the new 2008 Journey to the Center of the Earth, the orignal Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), Transsiberian, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Outer Limits: The 2nd Soul, the animated Superman Doomsday, anime Kai Doh Maru, Bridge to Terabithia, a dumb anime: Fencer of Minerva, Chap. 1, and The Incredible Hulk, with which I easily identify.
11.) Learned how NOT to make chocolate chip cookies.
12.) Went out to dinner with an old girlfriend on New Year’s Eve; played 2 games of chess, took her home at 10:00 pm (She goes to bed early).
13.) Went hiking 5 miles up the La Luz Trail in our Sandia Mountains; took the old trail back down; got off the trail; had to bushwhack and slide through snow to the bottom and hike back up to the trailhead. Went beyond any comfort level I thought I had before. Had a GREAT time, because my step-daughter and her boyfriend went with me. (Hope they forgive me for leading them astray.)
Did NOT pass Go, collect $200, fall into or out of love, or have sex, but I least I kept myself busy. What a demented way to live. :-)
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 5, 2008
Sean could see the carnival lights miles away, as a bright glow. It was like coming up on a small town in the dark. Instead of crowds and barkers and food, however, it was a scene of furious activity. It was the last night of this fair, and the carnival needed to move on. They would be expected in the next town or city the next night. It was bright. The lights were shining in colors, red, yellow, green, white and blue, on every ride, and floodlights mounted on towers on top of trailers lit up the entire field.
The sign on the office trailer read: “Murphy Brothers Mile Long Pleasure Trail.” Sean asked about work and they told him to help tear down the small wheel. Sean found the ride foreman and started climbing up and taking the long multicolored fluorescent bulbs out of their sockets, so they wouldn’t break. Then each seat had to be removed and lifted onto the truck. After all the lights and seats were off, hydraulics lowered the ride slowly down into the trailer, while Sean and a few others lifted the braces out and away from the ride. After the ride was safely lowered into its trailer, they lifted each heavy brace and tucked it into the other trailer, the one that would carry the individual seats as well. When that was done, the foreman told Sean to ask the office what else he could do. When Sean told the man in the office window the wheel was finished, he looked surprised. “Look over there. See that big generator with the light tower on it? Ask for Duane. He’s the electrician. He needs help.” Sean trotted off and found Duane. Duane was a short, muscular young man, with short blond hair and a bushy mustache.
“Yeah, OK,” he said. Here. Take this speed wrench, and start pulling the wires out of these junction boxes. Leave the ones on this side that go to the generator, but take the ones off the other side. Don’t let the wrench touch two poles at the same time. Pull the wires out slow. You don’t wanna touch the sides. Got it?” Sean said, “Sure,” and went at it.
The wrench was wrapped heavily in black electrical tape. Each wire had a large one-holed lug crimped onto the end. The hole let the lug be dropped over one of the threaded poles in the junction box, and a large hex nut held it in place. Sean dutifully unscrewed the lug nuts, finding that the nut tended to stay in the wrench. When it dropped out sometimes, it fell into the box and Sean had to carefully fish it out without touching the live junction poles. He pulled the wires out carefully, but even though there was still power to each wire, the hole was insulated with a small plastic sleeve, so there wasn’t too much danger. Unfortunately, the plastic sleeves had a habit of falling off through repeated handing, and Sean had to move real slow when there was nothing but bare metal to pull the wires through. He did real well for a while, moving from each battered orange junction box to the next as fast as he could. He felt rushed by all the frantic activity around him. Sean pulled a wire slowly through a bare hole, but he slipped and let it touch the side. The wire never made it out. With a nearly blinding flash of giant sparks, the wire welded itself to the hole, and simultaneously the lights went out as Big Bertha, the giant generator, popped its main breaker. Rides still being turned or lowered shut off. There was a sudden dark silence. Sean heard curses. Duane ran over. Sean said, “Touched the side. Sorry.” Duane yanked the wire hard, away from the box and ran for the generator. He threw the breaker and that section of midway lit up again, noise blaring from rides and cheers from the workers stuck in the near dark. “Just be careful OK?” “Sure,” Sean said, relieved. He thought he’d screwed up badly already. Just after the lights had come back on he’d heard someone yell, “Hey, we got a new electrician.” He took each wire off slowly after that. He was no longer in a hurry. Later Duane had him pull the wires, bundles of three one inch copper wires, and a 3/8″ ground wire, into a trailer and coil each one, layering the coils in the truck. Sean could barely lift the hundred-foot-long bundles at first. Usually he pulled the wires over to the truck and threw one end in. From inside he could pull the wires into a neat coil. He spent the night doing that: disconnecting, pulling, coiling, back and forth all over the midway. At the end, the generators, for there were more than one, had to be turned off, and the trailers closed up in preparation for the long drive. Duane paid Sean for the work. Sean turned to go, happy to have picked up some money, but Duane stopped him. “Say, you want to work for us?” “But I shorted out the generator.” “No biggie. You’re alive, ain’t ya?” “Well, yeah.” “Well, you want a job or not?” “Yeah, sure.”
Sean wasn’t sure he really wanted to travel with a carnival. He still wanted to ride his bike to California. This would change everything. However, money was money, and Sean was looking forward to having money to buy food again. “What’s it pay?” he asked. Duane told him it was $75 a week. Good enough. Of course, Duane didn’t tell him that the carnival kept $15 every week until the season ended. Then he’d get all of that as a bonus. $60 still bought a lot of meals, even at carnival prices, so Sean was happy. If he saved some money, he could resume his trip. Next stop: Minot, North Dakota, home of the world’s largest open-pit mine, and proud of it.
“Cocaaaaine. Cocaaaaine. Here boy. Cocaaaaine.” After the carnival had reached Minot, and everything was set up again, Sean was relaxing, taking a much deserved rest after the hard electrical work, when he heard that young woman yelling. She was the Snake Girl. The caller, or mike man, played it up to the hilt, saying she’d grown up with snakes, that they were all poisonous and deadly, but only she could handle them. He was pretty funny to listen to. She sat in a trailer full of snakes, handling them, and letting them slide all over her body. Supposedly, they were all highly dangerous, venomous snakes, and people paid a couple dollars to line up and walk through the trailer gawking at her and the snakes, many hoping to see her get bitten. A pretty young woman. Sometimes, instead of being the Snake Girl in some towns, she was Devil Woman, telling her tale of drug abuse, needles and overdoses. It was a living. Right now it was too early for customers, the ‘marks’ who would flock in, gawking, eating, gambling, throwing balls and darts, riding rides, and generally parting with the most money the carnies could get without giving much in return. Snake Girl was just looking for her dog, a pure white samoyed-husky mix she named cocaine. Sean wasn’t sure she was just looking for her dog, because she did know an awful lot about all kinds of drugs. The dog looked wolf-like and fierce, so few people bothered her if the dog was with her.
Sean stepped out of the cable trailer and saw her looking around under everything, still calling for Cocaine. “Interesting name for a dog,” he ventured. She stopped. “Yeah, and he’d better turn up soon, or I’m gonna be pissed. You haven’t see ‘im have you?” “No. I haven’t seen ‘im at all. Do you need help looking?” “No, no, that’s OK. I’ll find ‘im. Well, I’ve got to get going. He’s got to be around here somewhere. I’ll talk to ya later.” She never did. She was always with one sharp-looking dude or another, usually tall and decked out in leather hats and vests, so he never got to get to know her like he hoped.
There were other women around, usually local girls would come around. Sean met a Minot girl a few days later. She was pretty cute, and also pretty young, but Sean was feeling lonely out there by himself, so he walked the carnival with her, and then they sat behind a trailer for awhile making out. Man that girl can kiss! Sean thought. After awhile they talked some more and Sean found out she lived nearby with her mom. She came by every day after that, and kissed some more and Sean was really getting excited, but she held him off easily. By the time the carnival was nearly ready to jump, she asked Sean to stay behind.
Sean might’ve done that, except that he hadn’t cut his ties to Baltimore, not just yet. He still wrote to Judy. Judy White was a young hospital technician at the same time Sean was working in the physics lab. They’d stopped seeing each other after Sean told her he loved her. Actually, he didn’t, and Judy was smart enough to know that. She told Sean they shouldn’t see each other anymore. That was after Sue had told him the same thing. Sean, was, at that point simply interested in sex. He’d been teased to the point of exploding with the Frederick woman, and he was ready. He hadn’t really known Judy very long. She was the daughter of a co-worker of Sean’s father, who had given her number to him. Sean had been really freaked out when his father had suggested he call some strange woman like that. Maybe his father thought he hadn’t had any dates? High school had been a barren time for Sean, but then there had been Kathy, and Sue, and Sharon. What Sean didn’t know was that his old roommate had called his parents once, trying to embarrass Sean, and Sean’s dad suspected Randy of having the interest in Sean that Randy did. Sean’s dad was no dummy either. Sean, well, Sean was still trying to learn social skills, and there was a lot he didn’t know about human behavior.
However, Sean had called Judy. He had no idea what a blind date would be like, but he thought it might make his father happy. Judy had turned out to a very good-looking woman, and Sean hadn’t regretted it, but he had pushed his luck too soon. It wasn’t long after that he lost he virginity with Geri, who wanted a nude model, but Geri was gone, living in a mental ward in Texas. Leah had been great for sex. She and Sean had fucked night and day. Sean sent her a few postcards on his way through Canada, but there had never been more than a sexual relationship, so there wasn’t much to say, and she couldn’t reply while he was traveling, so he had thought.
He had written a letter to Judy. Now, he could get mail back. Far enough away, she could write back without fear of encouraging the horny bastard. Sean would write often, since he was able to send Judy their schedule and mail could be delivered to the local post office at each town they stopped in. He would tell her about the sideshow fat man, who, behind the trailers, didn’t look so fat – in fact, he simply had a ton of loose skin. He would tell her about Snake Girl, and the sleazy mike men who gave money away to entice people to buy junk at inflated prices. “I’m giving away five dollars here. Who wants five dollars?” And they’d give a few people five dollars. And people would stick around and the crowd would grow as more things were given away. And sometimes you could buy something they had with the money they’d given you, plus a few bucks more. It was fun to watch. He would write to her all the time, relishing the replies. It was a connection with home, and he enjoyed that.
Minot Girl wanted him to move in with her and her mom. She was pretty, and pretty young, but it was tempting to Sean. No one had ever seemed to want him before; it had always been the other way around. Working the mines in Minot was not what Sean had in mind, however. He had a lot to see yet, a lot to do. He told her he’d think about it and maybe he’d come back later. She didn’t want that. She said he had to come with her now. Sean told her no. He looked for her on jump day, thinking she might try to come along, but he never saw her again.
At least I didn’t get her pregnant, he thought as he rode in the cable truck with Duane. Duane didn’t ask any questions. Nobody did. Carnies aren’t like that. If you want to hide out, a carnival is your best bet. No one rats you out, no one has ever seen you or heard of you. Sean would meet some interesting characters, and the stories they told….
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 30, 2008
Sometimes I’m sad. Sad that I’ve managed to screw up three close relationships that I really cared about. Sad that my job is boring and I want to retire. Sad that I can’t afford to retire. Sad that I no longer have a house to retire in. Sad that my body seems be to slowly breaking down, with pain and unwanted physical changes. Sad that my lifestyle has left me with few close friends and very little family around me. Sad that I live by myself and have gotten so used to it that I no longer want to change. A friend pointed out to me that I haven’t really experienced serious tragedy in my life. I suppose not, but sometimes it felt that way, and sometimes I feel like there’s nothing to live for.
All that being said however, I still am thankful. Things haven’t turned out the way I expected, and the future is very uncertain, no matter what I do. But, every year I have to remind myself, as if I could forget, that Maya is still alive and healthy. Maya is my step-daughter, a woman so like a daughter to me as to be my daughter. I watched her grow from an eight-year old into a woman, only to be struck with a malignant brain tumor soon after her 21st birthday. I never thought about losing her before that, but the realization was like a physical kick in the heart. There was always hope, and I never hoped so much in my life for anything. I never gave up hope, and through the day-long surgery, debilitating drugs, poisonous and ultimately useless chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, she survived. She was astute enough to opt out of the radical, shot-in-the-dark, full-head, and full-spine radiation treatments, so not only is the cancer gone, but she still has her short-term memory, and her full-strength immune system. She is cancer free, healthy, strong (just ran a fast half-marathon) and absolutely beautiful in spirit and body.
Every time I see her is a joy. I will always be thankful for her recovery. Sometimes my life seems to suck, but, in my lifetime I have known a beautiful, loving person who survived a life-threatening, catastrophic illness that would have devastated me, her mother, her brother, her dad, and the rest of her extended family. I am thankful for Maya, and I have told her so. Life is not so bad.
Also, see published short story here (on pages 13-14):
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 27, 2008
Now I’m the criminal the border agents expected me to become, Sean thought. “Public drunkenness, failure to pay a fine, theft.” Time to get the hell out of Dodge. Sean headed back to the US, to the border between the Sault Sainte Maries. So much for Canada, he thought. At least I’m still headed west. He had to deal with the border again. US customs this time. Well, at least I don’t have anything they can arrest me for. I wonder if they’ll ask me for my draft card? I’m screwed if they do that. I mailed the ashes back to the draft board long ago. What if they don’t let me back in? A man without a country, that could be me.
The customs agents weren’t used to seeing a man on a bicycle crossing the bridge. They saw the bulging yellow bags on Sean’s bike, and they knew he had dope. “It’s all these kids go to Canada for,” agent Stimson said aloud, to no one in particular. Everyone had heard it all before. Everyone had pulled dope out of car trunks, glove compartments, door frames, and spare tires. They’d seen it all. Almost. No one, including agent Stimson, had ever seen anyone brazen enough to load a bicycle full of dope and just ride right up to them.
“We’ll have to inspect those bags,” he told Sean, hoping this hippy would run, hoping he’d have a little fun.
“What’s this?” he asked Sean. “Oh, those are soybeans,” Sean told him, and Sean was enjoying this. “And this is brown rice, and this is granola, and these are alfalfa seeds.” Sean smiled. He saw the agent frown, “We’ll have to open these.” Sean didn’t like the idea of having his food pawed through, but he knew there was no choice. Nevertheless, he complained, doing his best to make the clown think he was hiding something. “Well, I’d rather you didn’t, you know, it’ll be messy.” The agent took the bait, dumping each bag out one at a time, sifting through each one, but there was nothing there but soybeans, brown rice, granola and seeds. “What did you say these were again?” he asked. “Alfalfa seeds.” Stimson could tell this hippie was jerking him around. He’d could always have the jerk held, say he’d detected an odor of cannabis. Instead he said, “We’re gong to have to keep these. Can’t tell where you got ’em, or even if that’s what they are. Too risky. Agricultural rules. Well, Sean thought, that takes care of that. God knows when I’d ever have been ever to stop somewhere and sprout them. I can’t eat them this way. The less weight the better. He smiled. Agent Stimson saw the smile, and he wasn’t about to let a hippie get away with anything. “We’ll have to inspect your bike,” he said. What’s in these tubes.” “Tubes? You mean the frame?” Sean bleated. “Yeah,” agent Stimson said, “you could have all kinds of things inside the frame.” Sean just stared. It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to him. “How could I, where, how could I get anything in?” he stammered. “Well,” agent Stimson said, calmly, “what about right here under the seat.” He bent down and looked underneath. Hmm, well, nothing here, damn it.
“Have a seat,” he told Sean. “We’re going to take a look at this. I’ll bet this seat comes off. Who knows what we’ll find.” He imagined the hippie was squirming now, sure he had him. Sean, however, was not looking forward to reloading all his gear. Stimson took the bike into the interrogation room. Sean pulled out a paperback from his back pocket and read. Stimson took the seat off, and looked inside, tapped the frame all around, and decided that was enough. He kept his eye on the hippie, but he was too young to be so calm if he was hiding something. “Alright,” he told Sean. “Here’s your bike, and all your stuff is on that table. You can go.”
Sean grabbed a leaflet he found and used it as a scoop to get all the grains back in their respective bags. At least they didn’t mix everything up, he thought. He reattached the saddlebags, gathered up all his tools and loaded them back into the small basket under the handlebars. He refolded all his clothes, and had to roll the blanket up again, laying it out on the floor and pulling it tight, banding it with bungee cords. He strapped it down under the spring on his luggage rack, in between the saddle bags. Giddy up, he thought. And, Hi-yo Gypsy, away. He rode back into the US, back into Michigan.
There wasn’t much to see in Michigan’s upper peninsula that wasn’t beautiful: lots of birds, water, and trees, but on the road and along it there were also lots of trucks with camper shells, and lots of Winnebagos, the RVs, not the Indians. It was cold at night. Sean began the afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt, but ended up with a long-sleeved shirt and long pants by nightfall. He rode for days, weeks, crossing into Wisconsin, then quickly into Minnesota. Every state looked the same close to Lake Superior. Beautiful, Sean thought. Gorgeous country up here. I had no idea. Looks more undeveloped that I thought anyplace in the US was. And colder. The nights seemed to be getting colder as he went. He rode, days and nights, stopping to buy a piece of fruit and a small carton of milk for his granola every morning. In the afternoons he continued cooking brown rice and soybeans, then cooking some more for dinner. He slept out of sight. There weren’t many towns, gas stations, or restaurants as he got farther from the lake. He stopped in a bar one chilly night, on the road to Hibbing, Minnesota, asked if they had any coffee. They didn’t. Didn’t seem very friendly to Sean either. That night he wore socks, two heavy shirts, and long pants over his shorts. It was getting harder to pedal with all that on. The lights of towns and homes were farther and farther apart as he continued west.
It became routine. Get up, ride for awhile. Stop and eat. Ride for awhile. Stop and eat. Ride as far as he could, eat, sleep, get up and start it all over every day. The miles flew by, and Sean was happy. Sometimes he stopped to wander through old ruins of houses. Sometimes there was a pond he could jump in. He sang songs, thought about things he’d forgotten, nursery rhymes, Captain Kangaroo’s riddles, and Tom Terrific. Rocky Jones and the Space Patrol with the booming voice over. He sang songs out loud: I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, Bingo, Eency Weency Spider, The Farmer in the Dell, Hickory Dickory Dock, Hokey Pokey, If You’re Happy and You Know It (clap your hands), Ring around the Mulberry Bush, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (when she comes), Take Me Out to the Ballgame, This Old Man, Three Blind Mice, and even Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It didn’t matter what. I didn’t even know I knew those songs, he thought. There was something about the rhythm of the pedaling, the steady push and pull. Sean decided it was like meditation. He had never tired that, but decided it must be something like this. Get your mind off of everything stessful; let it go; spinning, caroming through the dusty corridors. He felt better than he ever had his whole life.
I’ve always lived by others’ rules, he thought. He had always done what he was told. The nuns and priests had told him to love God is to obey God, so he had. They told him that heaven was the goal of his life and hell waited for him if he failed to follow the rules, the commandments, the laws. So he had. He had aspired to heaven, to see God, to experience the bliss and rapture of this God being’s presence in his life.
His parents told him to go to school, to do his homework, to babysit, to do as they said, so he had. The priests and nuns had made it very clear that, after God, one must obey one’s parents, and the law. Rules and laws told everyone what to do with their lives, he had understood that. His parents told him that, as the oldest, he must set an example for the younger kids, so he had. He did what he was told to do. Through countless sinks full of dishes scrubbed spotless, linoleum floors that shone cleanly through the Johnson’s Floor Wax, the near-spotless bathrooms, the hand-waxed hardwood hallway, the lawn manicured with a push mower, and the weed-free beds of flowers and tomatoes, he had done as he was told. He was as perfect as he could be, although his parents would dispute that. He had thought of himself trying to be the perfect son, the pious altar boy, the virtuous boy scout. Good grades, but bad dreams.
Often, in his dreams, he had been chased. At first there had just been the wolves waiting in the shadows, waiting for the hand to fall alongside the bed, or for eye contact. Sometimes Sean had lain awake hours at a time, trying not to look, holding his body stiff, arms tight against his sides, afraid the wolves would strike if he moved. In his peripheral vision he could sometimes see their eyes shining in the night. He knew they were there, snarling, waiting to bite and tear bloody pain into him. He kept his breathing even, and stared straight up at the ceiling until he passed out into fitful sleep. As he dreamt, he was still terrified. He was pursued by dark, threatening things that towered over him, chasing him until he fell into holes, terrified of pain at the end of the sudden stop at the bottom, but the darkness went on and on, and it terrified him, this endless falling. He never stopped, but he would suddenly know he was awake, and see the grayness of dawn. Sometimes he woke up sooner, with the urgent need to pee, but when he went to the bathroom it wouldn’t start, and he knew it was his fault, and he tried to relax, to let it happen, and eventually it would. The relief was wonderful, and he was happy, relishing the relief, the warmth, but he was still in bed, still half-asleep, and he knew he had to get up then, and tell his mother. She didn’t want wet sheets on the bed all night. And it got cold anyway. After awhile all that stopped. He sometimes had dreams about a girl in his class, and she lay there in bed with him, and they kissed and snuggled their bodies together. He didn’t learn what sex was for some time after those dreams started, but when he did, he finally understood the dreams. Sex, however, was forbidden, especially to teenagers, and girls didn’t like him anyway. Sex was just for marriage and making babies. Sean had decided he’d like to be married and make babies.
Maybe. Sean wasn’t so sure of that anymore. The world was facing enormous problems due to overpopulation. He didn’t want to add to that. He learned how to have sex without making babies, and that was just fine by him. Right now, however, he was all by himself, and, he was running low on money. Pretty soon he’d have to find work. He stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere one evening. The guy there told him to check out the carnival down the road. “There’s always work to do tearing it all down. Tonight’s their last night; they’ll be looking for people.” Sean thanked him, and practically burned rubber.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 26, 2008
Time to ramble again. I have a glass of wine in hand, a white wine from the New Mexican winery San Felipe, that they call Moscato. Sweet, but not as much as a muscat. I sound like such a wine snob. Ha! I just shared my life with a wino for 14 years. After a hundred wine tastings, visits to California wine country, and traveling to every winery in New Mexico, I absorbed some of the lore.
Tonight I’ve been watching the 1979 movie, Being There, with Peters Sellers and Shirley MacLaine, and really enjoying it. I paused the movie to write this. The readout is 1:11:11. As with most movies, I only enjoy them if I put myself into the movie, and, much like a medical or psychology student studying disease, I imagine what I watch to apply to myself. The child-like gardener that Peter Sellers plays is easy to empathize with. He only knows how to do one thing, but somehow people imagine that he knows much more. Because of the way he’s dressed, and misinterpretations of his description of his life, he is taken to be more educated and intelligent than he really is. That’s where my imagination comes in. I am him, and imagine that I’ve always been this way. As far as imitating what I’ve read and watched and people I’ve known, I am. I also question if I am who people think I am. I say I work with DNA, which seems to impress people, but I backed into the position, working my way from lab work on rats and mice, to a research position extracting immunoglobulins from the glands of mice and purifying them, to working with proteins. I learned how to operate simple machines that can uncover the amino acid sequence of proteins, or take amino acids and assemble then into a protein. The machines simply take known science, and using valves and solenoids, deliver reagents in standard formulas with standard protocols. From there I learned to do almost the exact same thing with DNA, using very similar machines. At first I was not paid very well, but these days I make about half of what some of the better-paid professors make. I always live in dread that people will find me out – realize that I don’t really understand much of what I’m doing.
I’ve always wanted to be a scientist, but never could get through all the classes. I understood basic chemistry, physics, and math in high school, but college was another story. Laboratories were always fun, but genetics lectures, calculus, and physical chemistry bewildered me. Oh, I understood the lectures well enough, but I could never remember all the formulas, equations and pathways, and did miserably on tests. I persevered for a long time, finally passing several classes in calculus, basic genetics, basic physics, organic chemistry, and basic biochemistry, but even though I understood the purpose and usefulness of integrals and derivatives, and stoichiometry, the biology of cells, and vector analyses well enough, I can’t remember how to use them anymore. I can balance simple chemical equations, and my high school algebra never leaves me, but my understanding of the science of DNA is so rudimentary.
Just like the gardener, I stumble through life, getting credit for knowing far more than I know. What’s worse, it’s all falling away from me now as I age. I can barely type anymore, as I invert so many letters and words, even adding extra words, or leaving some out. Without editing, I hardly make sense. Without computers, I’d have failed to get through many of my final classes, and it’s much worse now. I just make too many mistakes, and don’t control my fingers all that well. The brain feels tired now. I have been playing chess, and doing OK, but only against a novice player. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to pretend that I have a clue what’s going on, or can concentrate long enough to do a job. I’d like to retire from life now. It’s been fun, but, really, it’s all a bit too much for me. People, and money, and relationships and reading and writing. I want to withdraw. I don’t want to be here anymore. But I stay. I work every day. I talk to people. I go to political rallies. I play chess. I still exist. Existence is not a sufficient raison d’etre. But, then again, why should I care about the reason for my continued being? Why does it matter to me? I think we all need a plan, something to shoot for. What is left me at this stage of life? Yes, yes, whatever I want. But, I seem to want less and less. To be a child again. That would be nice. To play, to move from one thing to the next, to have no place to be, nothing I must do. Being here.
Surely, we all can’t be simply dragging ourselves along this way, simply to drag ourselves along?
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 16, 2008
pussys are patient
women are not
men are impatient
mostly about sex
woman can take that
mostly they leave it
what women do want
is ‘our’ own house now
to spend ‘our’ money
to travel and dine
to eat and drink wine
to party and play
you don’t get a say
all for ‘us’ today
now and now and now
but sex tomorrow
I do prefer cats
but I love women
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 1, 2008
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2008
Riding along trans-Canadian highway 69, Sean had no specific place to go anymore, no one to visit. He set up goals, having not totally accepted a directionless life as yet. He picked Sudbury as a good place to stop. There was a youth hostel there. Sudbury, Ontario. Sudbury is Canada’s largest mining and metal smelting and refining center. There are 17 mines that provide about 16 per cent of the world’s nickel. The smokestacks were visible miles away. He arrived late in the afternoon the next day, and after getting directions for the hostel, headed down a steep hill. That was some hill. He coasted for miles. Then the pavement ended. Shit! I’m lost! Where the hell am I now? Fortune smiled on him, however, because there was a women picking berries by her house.
“Excuse me. I’m lost. Can you tell me the way to the youth hostel?”
“Oh sure! You just go up this hill about five miles, turn left, and you’ll see a sign for it about half a mile down the road.”
“Up the hill? O.K. Thank you ma’am.” Jeez. I’m not up for climbing that hill. He slumped down next to a tree until he could talk himself into heading up the hill.
“Are you alright?”
“Huh? What’s that?”
“I said, ‘Are you alright.’ You don’t look very good.”
“Oh, I’m O.K. I’m just real tired.”
“Would you like to come in for some iced tea?”
“How about a sandwich? You look hungry.”
“I do? Yes. Thank you. I am hungry.” He chowed down a sandwich. Then she startled him by asking: “Would you like some pie?”
“I’m making a blueberry pie. If you’d want to wait until it’s done you’re welcome to a piece.” Lord! This is wonderful! I’ve never even tasted blueberry pie, and here it is, fresh and hot!
He sat talking with this woman, drinking iced tea and telling her about the trip as far as he’d been. She wore a simple white dress over her firm tanned body. He guessed her age at about forty-five or so, and decided that she was more attractive than he would have expected someone that old to look. She bustled about the kitchen, cleaning and chatting. He had begun to wonder why Anne had invited him in. She was so friendly. His limited experience with people told him that she must want something. Could she be that lonely? No, she had told me her kids still lived with her. Is it possible that I’m attractive to her? Would we get it on? He’d had two sandwiches and a fourth of the pie, and he was washing the dishes, when she surprised him: “My husband will be home soon.”
Her husband! I’d better get out of here quick. “I’m sure he’d like to meet you,” she said, “Won’t you stay for dinner?” He wondered if all those years of dish washing at home might be paying off. Lord, I’ve done a hell of a lot of dishes – there were nine of us – by the time I’d left home. I miss my brothers and sisters. Potlucks at the Free Clinic had replaced family meals. I suppose that’s why that place had become my new home, and the staff had been so like a family to me.
Anne’s husband came home, with two teenaged boys in tow. After introductions they all sat down to dinner. Sean wasn’t real hungry, but he enjoyed the company. These people are really nice. They actually enjoy conversation at dinner, and I’m in the mood to provide some. I hadn’t eaten with too many people outside my own family before. It surprised him that he felt relaxed. There was no shouting and everyone talked. Dinners at home had been times to remain silent, “unless spoken to,” and they had to remain sitting until plates were clean. Anne’s husband Stan was a retired farmer. After dinner he took Sean out back to the sauna he’d built. Sean had cut up some wood earlier. They sat out there pouring water on the rocks and soaking up some steam. They took a breather every once in a while, and stood outside watching the stars. This is perfect, Sean was thinking.
“We have a friend from the States,” Stan said, “He useta come up here every summer. Haven’t seen ‘im for a couple years. You know, you’d be welcome to visit anytime.”
“But you don’t even know me.”
“Don’t matter, I figure we know you well enough. Anytime you get up this way, you stop by. You’re always welcome here.”
In the morning, after – of course – one hell of a breakfast, Anne and Stan’s kids put his bike in their pickup, and drove to the top of the hill. He decided to pass on the local hostel, and check out one in the next place he came to. He wasn’t really sure where to go next, and he didn’t know how much longer he should stay in Canada. He spent that night by the side of the road, and woke to find a tent next to him. There were three young women in it from Virginia. They were packing up already, ready to hit the road again, but in the direction he’d just come from. They talked about traveling. Sean talked about bicycling. He gave them directions to the hostel he’d passed up in Sudbury and they invited him to come visit them in the Appalachian mountains. They were beautiful. There was the quiet, serious, dark-haired one, the light-haired one with the directions to their place who insisted he visit, and the blonde bubbly laughing one. They were all living on a farm, growing organic vegetables. “We can all kinds of food,” they said, “and we’ve got chickens and a cow, and horses.” That sounded pretty ideal to Sean, and he promised he would visit, if he could get down there. As if anyone could keep me away from such a vision of paradise. He traveled on that day, reluctantly, since all he could think of was a farm in Virginia and three lovely young women.
He found another hostel that night and checked in. It was Sunday. He took out a book, Prairie Fire: Notes from the Weather Underground. He thumbed through it, looking at the drawings of women holding guns high in their hands, reading the quotes of famous revolutionary rebels, and day dreaming of utopias. But I’m not helping to build any perfect society anymore, I’m running away. True, I had revolutionary ideals, but I‘m not there anymore, I’m not where it’s happening. He spent the day and night at the hostel, lazily, dreamily, in perfect isolation from all that he had been. He didn’t know who he was anymore.
Here I am – on a bicycle! – riding across Canada. Am I the same boy who had to run to the sink with the hot water running – so many times – and stand under a towel, trying to suck in the delicious steam that might open my paralyzed throat and kickstart my lungs? The same eight-year-old boy lying in a hospital bed recovering from blood poisoned by a ruptured appendix? The same seven-year old pushed into the darkness of a cellar in a half-built house? That was Eddie. How could I ever forget? We were friends. Pick Up Sticks and serious checker games. Me and Eddie Knight and my brother John walking through the field to the new apartment foundations. Picking up stones and throwing them into the muddy pool of water at the bottom of new cellars not yet filled with concrete. We had to hunt for stones that got bigger and better as we competed for bigger and better splashes. Eddie found a big one. The foundations of the apartment were almost as high above the ground as we were, so he had to put the rock up first and climb up. I couldn’t resist. I grabbed the rock and dropped it in. Eddie was mad. He came towards me. “God damn you!” he screamed. I fell. Did he push me? I remembered nothing except Eddie’s parents carrying me across a field, then lying on a couch, then the urgent whining of an ambulance, then stitches in my head. I never saw Eddie again. I guess he ran for his parents. My brother had pulled me out of the water. He said I had been laying face down and he thought I was dead. I would have been, except for him. I read every rescue story I came across after that. The Boy Scouts taught me how to save drowning people, give artificial respiration, stop bleeding and make a tourniquet.
I learned more from John. He had been scared out of his six-year-old wits, but had saved my life. No medal for him, we weren’t in the scouts then. He was too young for speeches or flowery words, but I paid him back, I did. Years later, he slipped off the concrete by a sewer outlet, in a deep pool of trash-filled water, and panicked. We were teenagers then, we could both swim, but he couldn’t get his footing, couldn’t get out of that slimy hole. I found something for him to grab and I held on to a pole until I had half pulled him, and he had half crawled, out. I missed him now, on this great adventure, so mature in his family responsibilities, so far away. I’m still the boy I’d been, I’ve never grown up. I still believe in rescues and heroes, in revolutions and saving the world.
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to go now.”
“What? I thought I could stay here?”
“Well, you can stay on weekends and overnight, but on weekdays this is a day camp for boys from town. If you’d like, you can leave your bike here and take the shuttle bus back to town.”
Sean had a bowl of oatmeal that the camp provided, and took the ride to town, to downtown Sault Sainte Marie. There wasn’t much to see or do, that he could find, so he stopped at a park. He had brought his sleeping bag with him. “Always be prepared,” was his motto, and not coincidentally, also the Boy Scout motto. He looked out west across Lake Superior. It looked like an ocean, although part of Michigan was visible to the south, back in the U.S., which he had hoped to be farther away from. There were factories there, spewing out clouds of smoke. Lenny had told him about the fight between Canada and the U.S. over pollution of the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. The U.S. was unwilling to spend money cleaning up a shared resource. The Canadians had already cleaned up their side and had strong nonpartisan legislation that prevented further pollution.
“Hey. You want a beer?” distracted him from his reveries. Two men, Indians, were waving him over. They looked to be bums, but then again, so did Sean. They were pretty friendly. They talked about Canada, the Lakes, and pollution, and Sean had a beer. He figured that it would help fill his stomach until he got back to the hostel for a free dinner later. They offered another beer, and for some reason, Sean drank it. Then they pulled out the wine, and by then Sean couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse, so he helped them finish the bottle. He was pretty loaded and they suggested coffee. They went to a cafe together. He looked down at the cup of coffee in front of him – and ran for the bathroom. He dumped the contents of his stomach, repeatedly. He couldn’t stand up. The owner came in after awhile.
“You’ll have to clean this up.”
“I can’t move.”
“If you don’t clean up, I’ll have to call the police.”
“Go ahead,” he said. He didn’t care, he couldn’t move.
“The owner says that he asked you to clean this mess up?”
“Yes, but I can’t get up.”
“Sir, if you don’t get up, I’m afraid we’ll have to arrest you.” Sean thought about that. He tried to get up again, but just couldn’t do it. He knew that he was in trouble. “Go ahead,” he said. They pulled him up and took him outside. Air! Thank God! But he couldn’t stand up without supporting himself on the dirty red bricks wavering in front of him.
“Sir, if you’ll go back in and clean up your mess, we’ll let you go.” He moved, and the world was spinning, his head was too heavy to hold up, and he tasted stomach acid. “I can’t,” was all he could say. They dragged him to their car and drove him to a jail. He was led into a single cell. It was comforting to Sean, just to lie down. He never got to sleep, however. It was cold. There were no sheets or blankets on the steel cot, and then he noticed it. Or rather, it noticed him. It was a camera. On an oval track, it slowly traveled the length of the cellblock, checking out each individual cell. He could hear it whirring along all night. He was shaking, shivering. He focused on that camera, waiting for it to reappear, waiting for it to pass. He never saw another soul. There was nothing else in the cell except a toilet. The walls were freshly painted, there was not even the usual graffiti to read. He was thirsty as hell. He was dirty, covered with bits of oatmeal puke. He felt wired, somehow. The appearance of a guard in the morning was blessed relief, but he was taking Sean to a judge.
“Can I clean up first?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
The judge fined him twenty bucks for public drunkenness. Since all his money was with his gear back at camp, he convinced the judge to let him go to the hostel. He did. He went back to the cafe first and apologized to the owner. The owner apologized for calling the police. He didn’t have Sean’s sleeping bag. He said one of the Indians took it with him, that he didn’t know it was Sean’s. He went back to the hostel for his bike. I need that bag, he whined to himself, but he had little hope of ever seeing it again.
He bicycled back into Sault Sainte Marie, and headed for the park to see if those guys were there. Before he even got there he saw one of them.
“Oh, yeah, I remember it. Thomas has it. I can give you his address, if you want it. That Thomas is a mean one, I wouldn’t want to mess with him. I don’t think you’ll get it back.”
“I’ve got to try.”
Amazingly enough, he found Thomas’s place quickly. Thomas had a room on the second floor of a house in a quiet, pretty city neighborhood.
“Thomas?” God, he does look mean. “I was drinking yesterday with you and your buddy.” He started to lose his nerve – the look on the man’s face was anything but friendly. “He says you have my sleeping bag.”
“Yeah? What of it?”
Summoning up his courage he said, “I need it back.”
“I like it, I’m using it as a pillow.”
“It’s all I have to sleep in, I really need it back.”
Thomas laughed and slammed the door.
Nice. Sean went back to the hostel that night. In the morning he packed up one of their blankets with his gear.
I have to have something to sleep in, he reasoned.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2008
It was around midnight when Sean passed through Detroit and stopped for a cup of coffee. It was cool and calm in the motor city. There was the occasional cry of a cop siren, which Sean thought sounded like cats in heat. Someone was racing their hot wheels around and around the block somewhere near, like a rat on a treadmill. A radio blasted from a pink convertible passing by. In short, it didn’t seem any different from Baltimore. Sean had a couple mugsful of steaming pick-me-up and left. The road outside of town was quieter and much darker. He rode until he was ready to drop, then conked out in his sleeping bag.
He was up at dawn. He smiled, thinking, Canada today! By mid afternoon he saw the bridge, pedaled across it, and got in line at customs. There were a lot of funny looks directed his way. Perhaps it was the long ponytail, the bandana around his forehead, or the bright red beard. But then again, it could have been the bicycle, basket in the front, the bright yellow panniers and the sleeping bag over the rear wheel. Anyway, he waited his turn. “You’ll have to bring your bike inside,” he was told. The old clerk gave him some forms.
“Country of origin?” “Purpose of trip?” “Length of stay?” “Date of return?” “Address?” “Birth date?” “Name and address of employer?” Sean rushed through it and handed it back to the clerk, who told him, “Have a seat.” Another guy came out and took Sean to his desk. He questioned Sean about his plans, so he explained the purpose of his trip. He told him of his plan to travel across his country to the coast, and then head on down to California. The clerk’s face was expressionless. He wanted to know how much money Sean had.
“I have eighty dollars, why?”
“Oh, you know, we have to be sure that you have enough money to take care of yourself.”
“How much do I need?”
“A lot more than you have actually. We don’t want any more people on welfare.”
“Welfare? I’m just traveling through. I don’t need much money. I’ve got food, and I’m going to be visiting a friend in Toronto.”
“Well, I can see that you won’t have the same expenditures as most people, but the guidelines do ask that you prove self-sufficiency for the entire length of your stay.”
“What can I do? Go back to Baltimore? now?”
“Nah, it’s alright. I think I can make an exception, considering your circumstance.”
“Is that your stuff?”
“We’ll have to inspect your bags.”
“They’re alfalfa sprouts, I mean, seeds, for sprouting.”
“Honest. I needed some kind of greens.”
“Soybeans, and that’s granola, and that’s brown rice.”
“Hey, Bill, look at this I found in the basket.” Oh no!
“Smells funny, what is it?”
“Seeds. It’s just some more seeds.”
“Hmmm, what kind of seeds?”
“Well, actually, yeah, they are marijuana seeds.”
“What are you doing with this?”
“Nothing. I forgot I had ’em.”
“What were you going to do with it?”
“They’re just seeds. I thought I’d throw ’em somewhere.”
“Anywhere. Just alongside the road.”
“Why didn’t you do that before you got here?”
“I forgot. I just plain forgot.”
“Come with me.” He showed Sean to a small room. “Wait here.” Two men came in a few minutes later.
“Where are you from? Where are you going? What were you planning to do with the marijuana?”
“I wasn’t planning anything. I forgot I had it. It’s just seeds.”
“Remove your clothes.”
As Sean took off my clothes, he was immediately reminded of his pre-induction physical. The army makes you strip down to your underwear first. Then they run you around, weighing you, measuring you, taking blood. “Pee in this cup.” You fill out forms, and answer questions about your health. Then they line you up in a room and tell you to drop your shorts, bend over, and spread your cheeks. Kind of symbolic. Then this guy in a white coat takes a little flashlight and runs down the whole line, somehow looking into every butt hole, or pretending to.
“Bend over.” Oh no, not again.
“OK, you can get dressed.”
“What was that all about?”
“We had to look for drugs.”
“You’d be surprised what people can carry in there.”
“You’re right, I would.”
“Why were you carrying a deadly weapon?”
“Is this yours?”
“My knife. Yes. What are you doing with my knife?”
“This is classified as a deadly weapon.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anything over six inches is considered a deadly weapon. This is seven inches.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“What were you doing with it?”
“I brought it along for protection.”
“Protection? Against who?”
“No one. I was planning to do some camping. I thought I might need it.”
“What for? Well, I’d use it for hunting and skinning. And I thought I might run into a bear or something.”
“Do you know that you could go to jail for seven years?”
“No. I don’t understand. What for?”
“Possession of narcotics and attempting to smuggle a deadly weapon across the border.”
Jesus! I’m dead now. What a trip. I’ve barely gotten started, and I’m going to jail. How can I ever go back? How can I face people? Damn, I can’t even survive on my own for a week. What a god-damned failure I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Wait here, we’ll be back.”
Goddamn! what am I gonna do? Who should I call? God! I don’t want to go to jail. I couldn’t stand it. How can people live in a cage? I’ll go crazy. So much for wilderness!
They came back. “Well, you can go. We’re not filing charges. But we’ll have to deny you entry.”
“Of course. Thank you. Uh, what about my knife?”
“Sorry, but we’ll have to keep that.”
Shit! That’s such a good knife, too. The old clerk came in and took Sean back to his bike.
“You know, you can always cross at the next station.”
“What? Won’t they know about this?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, the paperwork won’t be finished for a few days. It might even take me a week to file it.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You have a good trip.”
He gave Sean directions to the next crossing point, but by the time he was back on the highway it was already dark. He couldn’t find a safe place to sleep, so he pulled into a couple of bushes not far off the road, and snuggled into his sleeping bag with the bike chained to his arm. Try and get that! he challenged the world. He watched the stars, wondering which ones had life, and what they were like. That old guy sure was nice. After all that, there was one nice thing. I guess he approved of my little adventure. Maybe he just felt sorry for me. I’m glad there’s people like him.
He was up at dawn again, excited, full of energy. Canada today! As soon as he rolled up the bag he bungee corded it across the back of the bike, and took off. One mile after another he pedaled along. Push with this foot, pull it back up, and push, pull, push, pull, and don’t stop, keep going, don’t stop, and use your back, and push, pull, don’t lean forward, and push, pull, and push. Alright! I’m gonna make it.
“Get off the road!”
“Roads are for cars, that’s why I pay taxes.”
“Get outta my way!”
Middle finger salutes often followed these greetings. Sean cheerfully returned the feeling. His special contempt, however, was reserved for those mindless honking geese that followed him for miles, refusing to pass. One such goose was the one who shouted: “Roads are for cars…” as he finally roared past and pulled back right in front of Sean. It often seemed as though some of the idiots wanted to kill him. They came close. Sean wondered if he could shoot them. Maybe I could claim self-defense? They were threatening me with deadly weapons – and that’s assault. Blam! Blam! Blam! He started blowing holes in engine blocks. Blam! Got another one. Blam! Whoops. He’s still coming. Blam. Blam. Got the bastard. He tired of that game after awhile – the danger was too real. Besides, it was soon time for lunch.
The sign read: “Picnic Area. No Fires Except In Grilles.” He gathered kindling, broke up some thick branches, and boiled some water. Soybeans first; they take a long time. Then some brown rice. Unfortunately, without spices, butter, oil or margarine, it was bland fare. It was filling, however, and the ritual of building the fire and cooking gave him a pleasant rest. He sat for awhile after eating, sipping sassafras tea. No one bothered him. In fact, people seemed to be making a wide berth around him. He thought it might be his appearance, but his hair was neatly pulled back into a ponytail, and his beard was neat and clean. As he ambled over to the water pump to wash his pan out, the people there moved out of the way. He said “Hello,” and they helloed him back, but coldly. A boy asked him why he was riding a bicycle and he explained his trip again, while the boy’s mother kept a tight grip on him. Finally, she summoned up the courage to suddenly blurt out:
“I thought you might be one of those Charlie Manson types.”
“Uh, no. Why do you say that?”
“Well, you look so much like him. You just never know.”
Sean laughed. “You should have heard what someone called me once. I was walking toward a woman one night. Just before we would have passed each other, she pulled back, staring at me bug-eyed, and said: ‘Are you Jesus?'” The boy’s mother laughed.
“I see the resemblance. Better to look like Him, I suppose.”
“You know, I tried to convince her that I wasn’t Jesus, but I don’t think I did. She kept staring at me, even after I said goodnight and walked away.”
“Well, good luck on your trip now. Come on Jimmy, let’s get back to the trailer.”
Sean packed up, put what was left of the fire out. He heard the woman calling.
“Would you like some sandwiches? We’ve got way too many.”
By mid-afternoon it was hot. Sean pulled into a gas station to change clothes and clean up. He stripped down to a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Miles later, he realized that he’d left everything that’d been in his pockets at the gas station, including money. He backtracked real quick, but the station attendant said he hadn’t found anything. When God passed out brains He surely shorted me. Damn. Damn, Damn! He was stupefied, looking through the bathroom, under and behind everything, again, and again, and again. Fifty bucks, fifty bucks I couldn’t really do without, gone. My stupidity is beginning to even amaze me. Could I really do this to myself? Fortunately, he still had thirty dollars stashed in his shoe, so he decided to continue. What choice do I have anyway? he thought, I’m not going back now.
The next border crossing was close by. He went through almost the same rigmarole, until they got to the money business again.
“I have eighty dollars,” he told them.
“I’m sorry. That’s not enough.”
“But, that’s been enough before. I won’t be staying long.”
“That’s the rule. I don’t know who let you in before, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Eighty dollars won’t even pay for a hotel for two weeks.”
Why am I doing this? he wondered, not for the last time. At a phone booth in a supermarket parking lot, he gambled some money on a call to his old friend Lenny in Toronto.
“Hi Lenny, this is Sean.”
“Sean? Where are you?”
“Almost in Canada.”
“You are? Are you coming here?”
“Yeah, if I can ever get across the border.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
He explained the problem he was having and where he was. Lenny said he’d check into it, and to call him back in the morning.
“In the morning? What can I do until then?”
“I don’t know, what have you been doing?”
“I can’t roll out my sleeping bag here in a parking lot.”
“Don’t you have any money? Can’t you stay at a motel?
“No, not really. I don’t have that much money, I have just enough for food.”
“Sean, there’s nothing I can do until morning. I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK Lenny, thanks for helping.”
“Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, talk to you then.”
Now what? He sat for awhile, then got up and started riding the bike around in circles. He didn’t know what to do, where to go.
“Hello. Where are you headed?”
“What? Oh, hello. I’m trying to get across the border into Canada, but I’m having a hell of a time doing it.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“Nah, ‘fraid not. I haven’t figured out what to do just yet.”
“Why don’t you come to my place? You can stay there tonight.”
“Here, I’ll give you directions. By the way, name’s Mike.”
“Well, I’ve gotta go; see you soon.”
On the way to Mike’s Sean couldn’t help thinking that he might be making another mistake. Why should a total stranger take such an interest in my welfare? Should I be more cautious? I don’t have much money and my bike isn’t fancy. I can’t believe Mike is just a thief. Sean knocked on the door of a small, old house. Mike seemed surprised to see him, but welcomed him in and introduced him to his wife Carla. Sean was surprised. Mike seemed so young. Sean couldn’t imagine being married so young. After dinner they all sat around the tube watching the “Watergate” hearings. Mike was fascinated by the whole thing.
“Who’d have believed Nixon would be involved in something like this?”
“I believe it,” I said.
“Oh, you know, Nixon’s such a jerk.”
“It looks that way, now. But you know, I voted for him.”
Whoops! “You did? Why?”
“He said he would end the War. I didn’t want to go to Vietnam.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“You? But, how old are you anyway?”
“You are? I thought you were much older.”
Mike’s wife spoke up for the first time: “Yeah, Mike told me he had met an old man who was bicycling ‘cross country.” She smiled. Mike looked disappointed. So he thought I was some poor old man that needed help. How funny. As he was thinking about Mike’s error, he was still looking at Carla. She was smiling at Sean. Mike glared at her, and she scuttled off. “I have to clean up,” she said. Sean thought of offering to help, but the look on Mike’s face convinced him otherwise.
“Maybe I’d better get back on the road,” he said.
“Oh, no. It’s way too dark. I said you could stay the night. We have a cot you can sleep on. You should get a good night’s rest.”
Mike was up early for work, and Sean left with him. Before he left, however, he called Lenny.
“It’s all taken care of.”
“That’s a relief. How’d you do that?”
“I knew someone that worked there. He got the paperwork OK’d, but I had to take responsibility for you.”
“You’ll have to take a train to get here. I live in Scarborough. It’s a suburb of Toronto, and it’s not close.”
“I don’t understand, it won’t take me long to get there by bike.”
“Listen, I’m responsible for you. If you get into any trouble, my ass is grass. I don’t need any more problems in my life.”
“OK, OK. I’ll take the train.”
He got off the train in Scarborough and found Lenny’s apartment.
“Sean. You made it, I see.”
“Yeah. How ya doing Lenny?”
“Listen, I can’t talk now, I’m late for work. Make yourself at home. There’s food in the fridge and a T.V. in the bedroom. See ya later.”
Later they went to a bar and sampled Canada’s Moosehead beer. Lenny was involved in Canadian politics. He was helping to elect a Liberal Party candidate.
“I watched T.V. all day and all I saw were political ads.”
“Did you see anyone you liked?”
“I don’t know. There was this one guy from the Conservatives who was promoting bicycle paths.”
“That’s what you’ll find here. The most conservative of the Conservatives are more liberal than most U.S. liberals.”
“So you’re pretty happy here.”
“You bet. I’m getting to be part of the local government. How about that? Can you imagine me in a position of power?”
“Actually no. Seems a little frightening.”
“Oh, you. Still a little creep huh?”
“I’m doing fine. Better than fine actually. You wouldn’t believe how accepted I am here. And you wouldn’t believe how many people like me there are in government.”
“That’s why you’re in politics!”
“It’s a good reason, you little fucker, but no, that’s not the whole reason. I’m happy here. I’m involved in making things happen. People respect me. I’ve got power.”
“Why don’t you run for office?”
“Oh I will, I will, when the time’s right. Look, why don’t we head on home? I’ve still got to get up early.”
Sean was nervous when he undressed and climbed into his bag. He remembered what Lenny was like. He could tell he was still a horny bastard, and he could get violent. He remembered the way Lenny could react if he pushed him too far. They could be having a discussion on just about any topic, and if Sean didn’t accept Lenny’s logic, he’d smash his huge arm down on the table, and then he’d be up and screaming about how stupid Sean could be. He’d jump up and down like a little kid having a temper tantrum. I wonder if he’s still on tranks? But the night passed uneventfully.
“Hey, Sean? I’ve gotta go. Make yourself some breakfast, but take it easy on the eggs and bacon. It’s all I’ve got.”
“What’s this stuff?”
“It’s Canadian bacon. Didn’t you ever have it?”
“No, I’ve never seen it before. Looks like ham.”
“It’s bacon here. You’re such a babe in the woods.”
“Hey, I thought you were doing real well? As a matter of fact, I was hoping to borrow a few bucks.”
“No way. I don’t even get paid until next week. Listen. I can’t afford to feed you, I can barely afford to feed myself. Especially if I’m not getting anything in return.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it.”
Sean thought about it. I am imposing on him. What should I do? I suppose I owe him. I’d never have gotten across the border without his help. Can I really do it? He’s so repulsive. Damn. What else can I do? I do owe him. Damn.
Sure enough, when Lenny got home, really late that night, he seemed to be expecting something.
“Well, did you leave me any food? How long were you planning to stay? I really can’t afford to keep you.”
“Yeah. I know. Look, I thought about it, and I need to be going, but I know I owe you, and I need to repay you.”
“Oh yeah? How are you going to do that?”
“Anyway you want.”
“You know what I want?”
This was it. I’ll find out now if I’m repressing my attraction to men. Maybe I’ll enjoy it, but then again, maybe not. His best friend Bonnie in college had said that heterosexuals were abnormal; that bisexuality was the only real sexual freedom. He’d been in love with her, even though she was gay. She’d always implied that maybe she’d be interested if I was bisexual. “Well, come on Sean, let’s get some action here.”
He looked at Lenny’s huge butt and he looked at his limp penis. No, this wouldn’t work. Sean decided he just wasn’t able to do it, couldn’t fake it, and that was that. And, there was no way in hell he was going to suggest any other options to Lenny. Lenny said, “Just forget it,” and Sean got into his sleeping bag. Really time to go, he thought, and zipped the bag up to his chin.
Sean headed North, as in Great White. He was just leaving Toronto’s city limits, had, in fact, just passed the last streetlight, when he heard the cat-wail of his siren and a cop pulled in behind him. What could he possibly want? God damn! I’ve never been pulled over on a bicycle before.
“Could I see your driver’s license, sir?”
“For a bicycle?”
“I need to see some I.D. Did you know that you have to have a light on your bicycle to ride at night?”
“Well, no. But I do have a light, I just hadn’t put it on yet. It was pretty bright back there.”
“Yeah, I’m on a cross-country trip.”
“Mmmm. Well, O.K., here’s your I.D., Sean. Don’t forget to use your light.”
“Yes sir.” Strange. I wonder what that was about? I wonder if Lenny had a hand in that? Nah, I’m just being paranoid. Although, he did have to promise Immigration that I wouldn’t be staying long, in order to get them to allow me in. Officer McMurphy. Nice Irish name.
After awhile he set up camp off the road. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were incredible! He had never considered what it would be like to be so close to a lake. He built the greenest, smokiest fire he could without discouraging them. He sat in the middle of the smoke, without success, and it was hard to breathe in there. He gave up, got back on the highway. He rode until he started weaving. There was still some truck traffic, so he got off the bike and walked. Soon, he thought he heard footsteps. Just like in a movie, every time he stopped, the footsteps would stop. As he would resume walking, he’d hear the steps. These are not echos! The sounds didn’t seem to quite match his cadence and he could hear twigs snapping and leaves crunching too. He searched through his tools until he found his exacto knife – at least it had a razor blade. He used a leather thong to hang it around his neck. He kept walking, faster and faster, but the noise got louder. Just as he started to cross a small bridge, SPLASH! One hell of a loud splash convinced him it was time to get back on the bike. Fear banished his fatigue. He rode down the center of the road; there wasn’t any more truck traffic. Several miles away he saw a sign for a campground, still another five miles away, and he made for that. There was a ranger at the gate, and he asked if he could stay there. The ranger told him he could sleep on one of the picnic tables.
“What’s that around your neck?” he asked.
“Oh, I thought something might be following me, it sounded big, like a bear.”
“And you were going to stop it with that?”
“It’s all I have.” He decided not to mention the problems at the border.
He slept well, convinced that the ranger would notice a bear. When dawn crept through the trees he was back on the highway riding the white line on the edge. Trans-Canadian highways have no shoulders and only one lane for each direction of traffic. The force of the air being pushed by a tractor-trailer followed by a bus followed by another truck sometimes pushed him right off the road into the gravel, but he managed to stick to that borderline most times, like a wolf to a scared rabbit. He got used to it, and the truckers tried to give him a wide berth. Sometimes they couldn’t move over due to oncoming traffic, so he steeled himself for the blast of air and held on.
After a few days, he thought about human company again. His path wasn’t random, after all. Back in college, he had known a woman who had given him directions to a summer camp where she taught. He hadn’t known Lynn very well, but she’d been friendly and had encouraged him to visit when he’d told her where he was going. He found the turnoff for the camp and had reason to regret the decision. The road abruptly headed up a mountain. Oh well, at least it’ll be worth it to see a friendly face. Who knows? maybe something good will happen.
There was a bend in the road ahead when he heard a truck coming up the hill behind him. Should I get off the road? Nah, I’ve never had a problem before, why should it be any different now? I’m talking to myself! When have I ever argued with myself like this before? I know! I remember. I was wrong. I thought something was going to happen, dismissed the possibility that I could know something like that, and I was wrong! He pulled off the road just as the truck passed. It’s wheels rolled over the exact space he had been riding. The truck hadn’t moved over. Next time I’ll listen to that voice, if there is a next time.
He found Lynn at the camp and she was exited to see him. Her boyfriend, Bob, wasn’t. There goes that possibility. They showed him the camp, and offered to let him stay overnight, but he left after dinner in the mess hall. He had happened to overhear a whispered conversation between Lynn and Bob on his way back from peeing. Bob said, “He’s the BMOC you told me about?” Lynn had shushed him. What could that mean? I wasn’t any big-man-on-campus, I didn’t even know there was such a term around anymore. He rode away wondering how he had impressed Lynn that way. What had I done?
Sean had plodded through the usual classes at the University of Maryland, and ended up doing badly. Perhaps Lynn was referring to my articles in the school paper. He’d written a few things on the meat boycott, child care, and bicycling, but never thought people even read ’em. Of course, I’d helped organize that teach-in on the War. That was sad. We’d not generated anywhere near the excitement of the sixties’ strikes and boycotts, but at least some people, like Lynn, had gotten involved. I remember showing movies about the War. People just wandered in and out. I remember that guy saying, “This is nothing new, I’ve seen all before.” I guess we all had, but hell, the war wasn’t over just because U.S. soldiers weren’t dying anymore. He came away convinced that the whole thing was a failure, but people like Lynn hadn’t seen it that way.
That’d been such a bad time for me. Besides attending demonstrations and organizing meetings, and working at the Free Clinic, Sean still had his job on the weekends. His best friend Bonnie was lesbian. They managed to have some laughs over a few joints, and studied together sometimes, but it was frustarting too. I sure as hell wasn’t happy. Life was too complicated. I could never figure out how to please everyone. Don and Joan were too busy with each other to help me out. I had introduced them – of course – and asked them to room with me. I could’ve hooked up with Joan if I hadn’t gone off to Chicago after Marilyn. By the time I came back, she and Don were a couple. They had their lives, I had mine. Don said my Catholic background was the reason I took everything so seriously. Well, I sure as hell ain’t taking anything very serious now. I‘m on the road, free, but still alone.
The night after he left the camp where Lynn worked he learned how to deal with the mosquitoes. As long as he pedaled late enough into the night, the mosquitoes would eventually disappear. But, the blackflies were something else. They followed him some days, all along Trans Canadian highway 69.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 3, 2008
Sean was sitting in the Free Clinic one day when another volunteer, a tall, heavy-set red-haired guy, started talking to him. “Hey, Sean, did you ever think about posing nude?”
“What? Well, no. What the hell are you talking about?” It was an odd question, especially twenty feet away from the Women’s Center.
“I’m serious. There’s a lady I know needs a male model. She wants to do a nude painting.”
“You’re serious? Hell, why don’t you volunteer?”
“She’s a friend, I couldn’t do something like that.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have any objections….”
“Good! Hey, here’s her number. Her name’s Geri.”
Sean called when he got home, and she asked him to come out to her place a little later. The city bus left him right in front of a Fish’n’Chips. Geri’s apartment was around back, up two flights of stairs. A grossly fat woman answered the door. Oh well, what the hell. “Geri?”
“No.” Thank God! “She’s not here.”
“I was supposed to meet her here. Did she say she’d be back soon?”
“No, I really don’t know when to expect her.”
“Could I wait for her here?”
“No,” she said, “I have to go to work. I work right downstairs, and I have to go now.”
Sean took the next bus, and it was the same driver, end of the line, and he had just gone around the block to turn around. Heading home again. Another bus. Another dead end, Sean thought.
Well, shit. Maybe it’s just some kind of joke, he thought, but Geri called later, apologized for not being home, and offered him dinner to make up for it. Then she asked if she could come over tomorrow night.
“Sure,” Sean answered, and he laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Did you ever read Portnoy’s Complaint?”
“Yeah! I did. Oh, yeah, you’re thinking about what he did with his family’s dinner.”
“And then they ate it!” They both laughed.
He cut up some onions and made dinner with the liver Geri had brought. They made small talk while they ate. Geri was in Nursing school.
“So, you’re going to be a nurse?” he asked her. Sean was not much of a talker.
“Maybe,” she said, “I haven’t made up my mind. I like to paint.”
“Really? What all do you paint?”
“Well, I paint people, mostly nudes. I could really use a model.”
“Sign me up.” Sean was getting really excited.
He noticed scars faintly sculpted on Geri’s lonely face, “From a bad case of acne,” she told him. As they were finishing dinner, Geri asked, “Do you want to hear some music, Sean?”
Sean moved over to the stereo to put some music on, but Laurie stopped him. “No, wait. I have a guitar in my trunk. Do you want to hear my singing?”
“Yes! Definitely. You’re pretty talented, aren’t you?”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” she promised. Sean thought about that while she was getting her guitar, and he threw the dishes in the sink, and filled it up with hot soapy water. Laurie came back in, and Sean joined her on the couch. Sean didn’t know what to expect, but she really knew how to play, and her voice was angelic, so sweet. She sang love songs. Sean wondered what her wild, curly red hair felt like. He ran his eyes up and down her body. He imagined his arm wrapped around her waist. The slight Southern drawl in her Texas voice made him think of Scarlet O’Hara, humorous and intriguing. Sean was impressed. Sean was also impatient.
“You have a gorgeous voice,” he told her, and he reached over and caressed her throat with the back of his fingers. He turned his hand over and reached along the back of her neck. He pulled her towards him and kissed her.
“Let’s go upstairs,” Geri urged.
Sean laughed. “That’s my line,” he said, and he led her upstairs to his room. He was still nervous, however, as anyone would be for their first encounter with the big S,E,X.
Sean had bought into the mystique surrounding waterbeds, and had built one for himself instead of a conventional bed. “Ooh, you have a waterbed,” Geri said, “I’ve never tried one of these.” They took their own clothes off, and climbed under the sheet. They touched each other’s bodies, experimentally at first, then rubbing against each other. Sean fumbled a bit getting his penis into Geri, not knowing how this was supposed to work exactly. He moved his penis back and forth slowly at first. Then, as he tried to pick up the pace, the waterbed mocked him, moving in a counter rhythm of it’s own. It was hard to match. His penis popped out a few times and he kept having to push it in again. After a while, they lay still, letting the bed bounce and slosh around, until it was just a slow ripple under them.
“Sorry Geri,” he said, “The bed was moving around too much.”
“Would you like a massage, Sean?”
“Yeah! That’d be real nice!” he said, relieved. “I, I’m just not used to this bed.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Geri said, and got out of bed.
“Where are you going?” Sean asked.
“You just relax, I’ll be right back,” she said, and went downstairs. She came back with a sauce pot of oil that she’d warmed on the stove. She worked it into Sean’s body, rubbing a little on his penis. Sean didn’t find it relaxing. His penis signaled it was ready for action. They gave it another try, and managed to substitute erotic for erratic. Sean kept his rhythm even as long as he could, only gradually moving faster as he found he couldn’t control himself anymore. Spent, he lay there satisfied and happy, luxuriating in Geri’s soft warm body for a space of time he couldn’t have measured. He felt drowsy. One moment Geri was lying next to him, but the next, she was up, getting dressed.
“Geri? Where’re you going?”
“I have to go home, Sean. No commitments, right?” she said, but it sounded less like a question than resignation.
“What? I guess, I mean, I know we just met….”
“Well, good night Sean. Thank you. I had a very nice time. Bye.”
“Bye…?” Sean sputtered, “Wait. I’ll walk you out.”
“No, that’s OK,” she said, “Please don’t get up,” and with that she skipped quickly down the stairs. By the time he climbed out of the bed and hit the stairs, she was out the front door. He walked to the door naked and looked out as she pulled away. Did I screw up that bad? Shit! He went back to his bed and drifted off to sleep easily, not wanting to think about it too much, but convinced he’d never see her again. The next day, however, she called. She invited him out to her place for dinner. They ate dinner with her roommate Laurie, and after some talk, Geri and Sean said goodnight to Laurie and went to Geri’s room, closing the door. Sex this time was much better, smoother, and more satisfying. They had a fucking good time. Real beds are far better suited to real movements. Afterwards, lying in the sudden quiet, they laughed quietly at the bed squeaks and moans coming from Laurie’s room. Laurie was alone.
Geri was indeed an art student, and Sean promised to pose for her. As soon as he got off work the next day, he made a beeline for her place. When he got there she was packing. Her canary-yellow Volkswagen was already full of clothes and boxes.
“Geri, what’s going on?”
“Oh, Sean, I’m sorry. I should’ve called you. I thought it would be easier this way.”
“What?” he blurted, disbelief etched in his face, disappointment etched in his heart.
“I’m going back to Texas.” Sean didn’t know what to say.
“Uh, you’re going to drive all the way back there?” he finally asked.
“Oh, no. I’m meeting my father at the airport.”
“Why? I don’t understand. You never mentioned this before. What happened to the posing? to nursing school?”
“I’m sorry, Sean. It’s just something that came up.”
“But, what is it?” Sean pleaded.
“I can’t explain right now. I’ll write to you, Sean, OK?”
She kissed him, and got in her car.
“Bye,” she called out, and drove away.
Sean returned to his monkish existence for awhile. Then he met Leigh. They were thrown together, literally. Kathleen was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and told Sean he should come to a tournament. She came by and picked him up. Her boyfriend was with her, so Sean had no illusions there. He climbed into the back of the van where another woman sat. Leigh introduced herself, but Sean was not interested in anyone with Kathleen so close by. He still fantasized about her. The van took a sharp turn and Sean and Leigh ended up sprawled all over each other. “Hey, what’s going on back there you two?” Kathleen laughed. Sean and Leigh looked and each other, and didn’t move out of their accidental embrace. “Nothing,” they both said at once, and everyone laughed.
Leigh took Sean in tow and explained the costumes and swords and regalia of the tournaments, with their knights and royalty. Afterwards they dropped Leigh off first, but she lived just five blocks from Sean, so he got out too, saying he’d walk from there. Leigh took Sean right up to her bedroom. Sean was thrilled. It’s taken me seven painful years from puberty to get this far. Leigh had an operatic voice and loved to yell and squeal, but when she came she cried, every time. Sean asked her why, but she said she didn’t know. Her skin was smooth, with a little too much fat for someone her age, but he loved the feel of her. Her practiced hands and mouth kept him stimulated. She was amazingly insatiable. They fucked and fucked until they were exhausted every night for the next two months.
Sean still had a dilemma, however: trying to do what was important. He thought everything was important, and that he could do anything, but he was wrong. Demonstrations took priority, the Free Clinic was next, his part-time job at the Physics lab was next to last, and studying took last place. He wanted to complete his education. He knew that he wasn’t doing a good job of it, but didn’t think he should quit. One day he received a letter from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His grade-point average was too low; he was being suspended for six months. UMBC had finally decided for him. He could apply for readmission in six months, but his savings from working in the Physics lab were almost gone, and there’d be no more scholarships or loans now. It was time, he decided, to take that long trip across country he’d dreamt about.
Leigh said that he could stay with her until he found full-time work, but Sean really didn’t want to do that. Leigh had already told him that she didn’t want to get serious, and, he didn’t know what kind of a full-time job he could find or when. He didn’t want any