Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 14, 2017
Damn! I wish I could find my fucking reading glasses. But it’s a nice day, and I head out to buy a battery for this pinche little clock/timer I use. The little silver oxide battery is going for $5.99, which seems a little steep for just one, so I buy the three-pack for $10.99. What the hell. Save a few bucks when I need another one. And I buy a package of Walgreens’ faux-Oreos while I’m there. No high fructose corn syrup in these, they taste exactly like the real thing, and at $2.29, they’re a great deal. For some reason a pack of real Nabisco Oreos with the cheap-ass chemical hybrid syrup cost twice as much.
But then things get real good, because there’s a piñón coffeeshop a few blocks away. Now, this section of 4th Street features nothing but shops and restaurants. There’s a KFC and a McDonald’s, of course, but also Bob’s Burgers, Powdrells BBQ, Tacos Mex Y Mariscos, Burritos Y Gorditias, a Church’s Chicken, and a Teriyaki Chicken Bowl, among others. There are money-lenders, the Laundromat, and a car wash, donuts and ice cream. It’s a busy street, so it’s not the greatest place to hang out, but I brought a book with me, and I love piñón coffee. Piñón coffee is always smooth. The cafe uses dark-roasted beans. My large café americano has four shots of espresso, which will make me hyperactive later on. I buy a bear claw too, and sit in a stuffed chair in a sunbeam. The bearclaw is gooey, and so messy that it’s hard to eat it and drink coffee one-handed, while trying to turns pages and hold a book one-handed, so I ignore the really hot coffee for a bit and finish off the bear claw first. Then I have to wash my hands. Finally, I get all settled with the book in one hand, and my coffee can be set on a little table next to me when I need my other hand to turn a page.
The book is excellent! Luis Alberto Urrea is not only one damn fine observer of people, but he can write about it with fine attention to detail, and also be funny. Well, some of it seems funny to me anyway, because it sounds like barrios in California, the South Side of Chicago, and here in Albuquerque have a lot in common, and I’ve heard a lot of it before in my forty years in the southwest. The book is a real treat, but I do wish I had my glasses, because reading without ’em is usually tiring, and it sometimes gives me a headache. Can’t get new ones until I see the optometrist in a week. But the book is so good that I don’t mind, and the sunlight makes it easier to read.
It’s not a real busy coffeeshop, having only opened recently. One old guy, like me, sits reading when I come in. A couple comes in after I sit down, while I’m still strugging with the bear claw. The woman is young, smiling and very attractive. When I try to ogle her, she looks back, but blankly, twice. Her companion, with his back to me, is a young man with extremely short buzz-cut hair. A young woman comes in with a guide dog, orders coffee and something to eat, and sits down six feet from me. She speaks low to the dog from time to time. She is dressed in very plain clothes in muted colors and without any kind of style. Her hair is cropped short and she looks more like a young man.
I read three stories in Urrea’s The Water Museum, and prepare to go. My coffee is not quite finished, so I sit quietly for a few minutes without reading. The man reading a book has left. Another single woman comes in and hits the restroom. The young woman with the guide dog prepares to leave, taking her trash to the receptacle across the room first, which seems to confuse the dog when she returns to her chair for her coat. She chides him, humorously, for sitting as she turns to leave, and I chuckle with her. Moments later, after the woman in the restroom leaves it and walks to the counter, I finish my coffee and head out.
I think about my glasses. I thought they were in the house somewhere, but I’ve turned the place over several times and I can’t find ’em. I was on a movie set near Santa Fe, on Zia Pueblo land, a few weeks ago, and may have had them with me. I vaguely remember that, since I intended to read, I could have taken them with me and stashed them in my green fleece jacket with Applied Biosystems embroided into it. They are a biotech firm I used to order supplies from before I retired. I’ve had it for many years. I remember hanging it on a tree limb at one point, as we rushed to set, and left it behind when we wrapped after dark. No one in the crew had found it when I went back later. The set had moved, and they clean up really carefully, but I suspect my reading glasses were in that jacket, and it’s still hanging in that tree somewhere in the hills south of Santa Fe among the stunted piñón trees.
(FOLLOW UP: I finally finished Urrea’s book in the evening, and it is mind-blowing. The stories bounce around from barrio to rez to border towns and midwestern towns, and the people come in all races and types, and the love and hatred and ennui and dialogue and descriptions and emotions and sharp shots of drama just knock the breath out of your chest. And then I read the title story, about the water museum, and yeah, it’s a museum, because large parts of the country have had drought so long that children don’t know what rain is or what it sounds like, and fear humidity. And, although it hasn’t happened yet, you know, you just know, it will happen just as he described it. And I’d recommend this book to everone.)
Posted in coffee, Life, My Life, Random Thoughts, Writing | Tagged: food, Life, piñón | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 14, 2016
So, I got a message that I was booked on T@gged, season 2, for a day. I’m a background actor these days, in addition to making and selling wine. People try to not use the term “extra” anymore, preferring the more accurate “background actor”, and probably for two reasons. Firstly, it is a bit more accurate, in that you’re not just standing there. You get directed, to walk here, eat, drink, talk, or pretend to talk, clap your hands, or just pretend to, ride a horse, drive a car, etc. But you do it primarily without speaking lines.
Secondly, many of the background are indeed actors, with lines, in local independent movies, usually without pay. I’ve done some of that, and a short movie I was in, WelcomeMatt, will show here in town a week from today. Neither I, nor anyone else in the short, have seen the final product, and it was shot three years ago. However, it has been shown at movie festivals, and it has garnered four awards so far: Best Male Actor (Feature), Best Short Film, Best Produced Screenplay, and Best Comedy/Dramedy.
and there’s this: -^And no, the best male actor award was not for me. I was a supporting actor, very early in the movie, a corporate executive who fires the main character, Matt. I had a number of lines of dialogue with Matt and helped set up the premise of the movie, so they couldn’t cut too much of me out. So, I know I’m in the movie, but that’s all. I’m also pretty sure that my performance was crap, since I’ve learned a lot in the last three years about acting in front of a camera, and how different that is from stage acting, and how difficult it is. I was totally stressed during shooting. I had studied my lines hard, but was nervous about remembering them. Hah! That was the easy part.
I’m calmly sitting there at a desk, ready to go, when the camera crew come in, and the sound guys, and the script supervisor, and the director, etc, and there’s all this activity, talking, lights, and a boom microphone over my head. I say my lines, and then again, and again, and again. And my actions get modified a bit, and sometimes Matt isn’t even in the scene, and I’m talking to thin air. And the camera moves to another position, and we do it all over again, and the director tells me to do this, or not do that. Then the camera moves behind me so they can record Matt’s reactions. And suddenly I can’t remember my lines for crap, even with the scripty’s help, and the director tells me to read ’em off the script if I have to, “I don’t care how you do it, just do the lines.”
So, since I’m sitting at a desk covered in papers, some of them become pages of script and I get through it. Although I’ve been dying to see myself perform, I’m apprehensive about my performance, to say the least, and not sure if I should even tell anyone close to me about it, but I already have. Good or bad, I have to live with this performance.
So, since then, I learned about background acting, which is something I get paid to do. For the last two years, I’ve been background in about 20 movies or TV shows. I got to be a stand in/photo double on the TV show Night Shift. I was an actor in a short silent movie, and am currently cast in a TV pilot that has yet to begin shooting. The shooting has been postponed for the last year, but we hear, “Soon, soon.”
The locations are not yet confirmed, and the director was replaced and the entire script rewritten, so all my lines I’d been working on changed.
I still go to auditions, and don’t hear much back. I’ve some lines to videotape myself doing, and then send them in for a preliminary audition. I’m also getting a tape made of myself doing a short monologue, because that’s something you’re expected to have ready when you apply to audition for the big movies.
But, still, I keep on doing background for whatever I can, like
T@gged (Verizon’s go90 original series).
Some of the main actors
So, I was on the T@gged set Monday, from 6:15 pm until 5:30 am Tuesday. There was a lot of waiting. We were at a local high school in the cafeteria. I kept wandering around the school, walking, and walking. I had forgotten to bring a book, something I know I have to bring. I saw a young woman reading a paperback book. I saw a woman reading a book on an electronic device. Some people watched videos and movies. Some played games. Some talked. Some told jokes. But they pay us, right? So we wait. Martha, an actor I’d met recently, sat with people I know, and I said hello. She showed me a picture she had on her phone of the two of us at a Film Foundation event where we’d recently seen each other. Great photo. We’d auditioned together once, and had gotten to know each other. She has a similar scientific background like myself, and she’s a good pool player,
very intelligent, and good looking, but married with two young kids. I enjoy her company. She smiles a lot, and looks really good. For some reason my eyes keep following the bouncy movements of her breasts, loose in her low-cut blouse. Soft and smooth, and so inviting. But, well, she’s a friend, and married, and a coworker in this background acting, and I really can’t tell when I’m being inappropriate or if there’s flirting going on. And I’m quite a bit older than her anyway, and I shouldn’t jeapordize a friendship by being my own creepy self. And she got picked to go on set long before I did, so she was gone.
And then there is this amazingly sexy redhead, Alla, who shows up on most movies I’m background in, and I spent time speaking with her, and she was having stomach problems, and she thought it was because she had been wearing this extremely tight corset for a prodution she is working on, and she said her internal organs are squashed and bruised, so that’s why she feels so bad. And she said she needed something hot to drink, and when coffee was available, I suggested it, but she wasn’t sure coffee would be good for her, and there was no tea or hot water, and finally she got up and got coffee, and we talked some more, and she is very friendly, and my roving eyes keep noticing her unfettered tits bouncing around in her low-necked blouse, and I liked her exposed freckles, and what the hell is wrong with me anyway? Why am I being such a dick? Can’t I just be friends with women without checking them out, without fantasizing about their bodies? Most of the time I’m good. I look women in the eyes when speaking with them. I listen to what they say. I converse, I’m friendly, I’m helpful, I’m considerate, and a good boy scout. In fact, I don’t find most women attractive anymore. But I was getting turned on. I can’t say why. I don’t think this woman finds me attractive, but Alla is good looking, with a fine – I mean really fine, taut and lithe – body.
Finally the production assistant asked us to go hang out outside, because our scene was coming up. We milled around for some time, but they finally came to start letting people into the auditorium where the action was. But, out of around 200 background actors called in that day, they only took 55 initially. The rest of us went back to waiting. Around 2 am we had lunch (pizza). The 55 came out and ate also. The crew ate. The cast ate somewhere else. The 55, cast and crew went back in.
But, getting back to the young woman reading a paperback. I noticed her sitting across the cafeteria when I first got in line to obtain my pay voucher, fill in the four pages, get signed in, and then approved by wardrobe. It takes awhile to get all that done. She had done all that already. She never moved from where she sat, and I swear she seemed to be looking at me, watching me. She had glasses on, reddish hair, and tattoos. She had that book with her. After I was signed in, I sat with friends, but she had moved across the cafeteria. I could’t take my attention off of her. I kept glancing across the room at her, kept trying not to stare, and looking away when she looked my way. (I may be creepy, but I try not to appear that way.) That went on for hours. I watched her read her book, except when we were all interrupted by announcements of pending action that didn’t materialize until so much later.
During lunch I missed her, but I went outside and found her sitting on a wall. Not wanting to scare her, I sat down a little distance away at a table, facing obliquely to her, without saying anything. She looked my way from time to time; I tried to look at her surreptitiously. Once, we made eye contact and I smiled at her. A production assistant come out and made an annnouncement. I made a comment about it to her, and she replied, but went back to reading her book. A pleasant, not-unfriendly voice. Somehow I found encouragement in that, even though she is young, and I’m not. At one point we all went back into the cafeteria for an announcement. She went back to reading across the cafeteria from me, and I was restless. When she crossed her legs I could see her tattooed thighs.
I finally decided I was going to introduce myself to her and went over. Her name is Nicole, with just the c. She was reading the second Game of Thrones novel. We talked about it, and fantasy fiction, and science fiction. Even though she’d been alone all this time, some guy suddenly walks up and asks her about the Game of Thrones book, and starts talking to her about the ones he’s read, and I’m like, what the hell? where did you come from? and why now? But he wandered off after a bit, and Nicole and I talked some more.
Later, we had to move close to the actual set to prepare for going in. We managed to sit closely enough to talk. I said a few things to her. She wasn’t freaked out or put off. When we finally got to go into and fill up the auditorium, I lost track of her, even though I’d been fantasizing about sitting with her. Looking for an empty seat, I actually found her sitting alone, stood there a moment, and she noticed me. I moved into the row before anyone else could, asking if I could sit next to her, and saying something lame about wanting to sit close enough to be on camera. She was unconcerned about that herself, just happy to be sitting in a comfortable chair instead of those metal stools in the cafeteria. As part of our job, we had to react to events on the stage in front of us, gasping, or murmuring. I turned to her, but she usually turned the other way, and I turned to the woman on my other side as well. Once Nicole did turn towards me and murmured something about the action on stage. During breaks between action, we did manage to speak a few times. She felt cold. (It was freezing in there.) I didn’t want to to blurt out the trite line about being able to warm her up, but I sure would have liked to snuggle. She said she was going to climb under three blankets when she got home. You know where my mind went. She mentioned getting hungry again. At four in the morning, trapped on a closed set, there wasn’t much we could do about that.
Finally, about 5 am, the assistant director said we were wrapped and to head out. I said good night to her, and told her, truthfully, that I was happy to have met her, and enjoyed talking with her. As I headed for a door, she was behind me, but turned and headed out another door. I saw her already near the front of the line to get her pay voucher signed. I had put mine outside in my car with my extra sets of clothes. You don’t want to lose your pay voucher. So, by the time I got it, and got in line, Nicole was a hundred people away, and I was near the back of the line. I saw her turn my way, and tried to wave, but she didn’t seem to notice. I never saw her again. I tried to find her on Facebook, without any luck. A first name is not much to go on. Why didn’t I get her phone number? It didn’t seem appropriate. I didn’t have any reason to ask, and I know how creeped out young women get by older men hitting on them.
I went home and slept. It took a while to shake off the effects of the coffee I’d been drinking, and I only slept a few hours. I got up and fed the cats, went outside for my jeans which were still in the car and noticed a box on the patio; something I’d ordered had been dropped over the gate by Fed-X while I’d slept. The gate had been swollen from rain overnight. I opened that, looked for mail at the mailbox kiosk, and ate breakfast. Later I decided I was too sleepy to read, or screw around on the internet, so I took a nap. But, boy howdy, did I wake up horny! Suddenly all my fantasizing caught up wtih me, and I had an erection I could open a door with. I figured it would go away, and tried to go back to sleep, but it was not having anything to do with that! It had been some time since I’d had an erection like that pop up on me out of the blue. Then I noticed it was 3:30 and I had to be somewhere at 5:00. So I got up, but the penis stayed ramrod straight, and I didn’t even have to pee. I was regretting not having gotten Nicole’s number, and that made me think of her, and how much I lusted for her, and that erection wasn’t going anywhere. And I thought about her, and Martha, and Alla, and I grabbed some lotion, and I spent 45 minutes imagining myself with any one of them, and I erupted into a gloriously delayed orgasm, and wondered again why I was by myself.
Posted in humor, Life, love, madness, My Life, rambling, sex | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 8, 2016
It’s a parasitic growth on tree roots, usually pines. It’s interesting how it takes on the characteristics of a pine cone, made very apparent here sprouting among the cones themselves. Bears do eat it. From a hike in the Sandia mountains on June 9, 2016.
You never know what you’ll run into in the mountains around here. These shots are from a hike in July.
Some amazingly acrobatic dancers at the International Folk Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 10, 2016.
Like I said, you never know what you’ll run across in these mountains. This guy is about 3 feet long, full grown for his type, lying right across the trail, but very sleepy. July 18, 2015.
[AND, da da da dah! here is the “Circus Life” video:
Circus Life video by Rachele Royale released finally by singer Rachele Royale. If you watch carefully, you’ll see me here and there.
July was a very busy month. Here I am, made up, posing with the fire breather for a Gothic Circus themed music video. She dressed like that for the whole 1st day, but since we were on loaction at a masonic temple, the Masons asked that she cover up a bit the next day. Aww.
CLOUDY DAYS CAN SURPRISE YOU
Wrapping up July, here is a hot-air balloon flying over my house, silhouetted against some rare clouds.
HORSE CLINIC FOR MOVIE COWBOYS
So August found me at an open house for actors needing to learn or polish horse-riding skills. Directors can be very picky about who they let ride a horse on set. Even the two life-long professionals shown here can’t be sure a director will pick them. 08/02/16
A SUDDEN RAIN
Looks like snow, but it’s just raindrops backlit by the sun or an otherwise bright summer day. 08/30/16
Albuquerque just had its 48th science fiction convention. The Convention Theme was “Rockets, Robots & Rayguns”. Although you see some costumes here, it’s not so much about that as it is about the authors. There are plenty of chances to meet one of your favorite authors. And, the auctions are not only a lot of fun, but the final one on Sunday gives you a chance to auction off your own superfluous items. There was also an art show, open to all, based on the theme. The panel discussions can be interesting, but there are also presentations by authors and at least one by a scientist. This year, the science talk was by Sid M. Gutierrez, NASA Shuttle astronaut and the first Hispanic astronaut.
Posted in hiking, Life, My Life, photography | Tagged: hiking, photography, photos | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 6, 2016
So yesterday I helped filter 300 gallons of cranberry wine, but I fucked up, because, of the three square filters we use to pump wine through, I managed to turn the 3rd one 90° so the holes didn’t line up, so even though it seemed like everything was fine, only about 2/3 of the wine got really filtered, and we only discovered that when we tried to filter a small batch of wine with lots of sediment, and the higher pressure punched a hole in the filter and so today I had to refilter that whole 300 gallons of wine into one tank and then pump it out into the two tanks eight of us will use to bottle that wine and three other batches of wine on Saturday. And Sunday my step daughter and I will label some of that wine.
So when I got home there was a message from the background casting company. Because of a bad weather prediction for Friday, the shoot for the episode of the TV show I was to be in the background for was moved up to Thursday, and if that was OK, “…could I come in right away for a costume fitting?” And of course I said, “yes,” but before I went to the studio I stopped by Ramona’s house to pick up my hiking cap that I’d left there, because we usually watch movies together on Wednesday nights, but not tonight, so then I dropped off a book I had borrowed from a photographer who sponsers a teaching/learning photography group on Wednesdays called Guerrilla Photo Group, and then I went to the movie studio, and found out that the shoot was postponed until Friday anyway, but I had already told the vintner at the winery that I couldn’t work Friday, and then emailed him that I could work Friday because the shooting had changed to Thursday.
So I usually hike in the mountains on Thursdays, but I decided to go to Tractor Brewing Company’s tap room for Poetry and Beer night, and I had two strong beers: an oatmeal stout and a Farmer’s Tan Red, and an “asian style” chicken sandwich with sriracha mayo from the food truck outside. So now I don’t have acting work for tomorrow, and I could hike, but I really just want to sleep. I don’t want to set an alarm for early in the morning again. I don’t want to think about anything tomorrow. I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything.
But, of course, I have a part in a horror film and I have about nine pages of dialogue and rambling monologue to commit to memory by April 24, and I’m not quite there yet, and I probably shouldn’t be doing so many things, but I’m “retired” so what else should I be doing? I don’t want to just sit on my ass. Sometimes it seems like all I do is sit on my ass, but this week reminds me that I really don’t.
Posted in Life, My Life, Random Thoughts, rants, wine | Tagged: higher pres h, Life, poetry | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 21, 2016
I am a very imperfect man, with many flaws. That said, I’m going to tell you some things about the concert I went to this morning. There is a classical concert 50 Sundays mornings of the year here. I do not go every Sunday. For one thing, it costs $15, and since there are espresso baristas who provide great free coffee, tipping is a nice thing to do. There are people who bring fresh home-baked sweets as well, and there is another tip jar there, so it’s easy to spend $17, and I’m not going to do that every Sunday. Besides, sometimes the music is choral, or operatic, and I’m not going to those. I like my classical music, old or modern, to be instrumental only. Perhaps that’s a flaw, but I do not care to change it.
This was Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, to be exact. Born 1685, died 1750. It was a sold out concert accommodating 150 ticket purchasers, and the volunteers who make it possible. The first part of the program was performed by a fantastic cellist who was solo cellist of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway, among other positions in the U.S. She played Suite No. 4 for solo cello in E-flat major. It is a complicated piece, and a very busy one, with seven parts. I remember thinking how thickly populated with notes it was. The notes seemed mostly brisk and sharp without long duration. Since I am not a musician, I cannot speak technically about the music, but it rocked! Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in coffee, eremiticism, Life, madness, misanthropy, My Life, opinion, Random Thoughts, relationships, Writing | Tagged: Life, love, sex, women | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 17, 2016
It was nice. I sold the photo of a roadrunner, and the concert was fun: music Albert Einstein used to love to play. A local actor depicted him on a stage, and sometimes he gave a monologue over the slow sections of music, about music and musical instuments and math and science. The concert part was sold out.
94% of the photos were ones that I had bonded to metal (aluminum). It’s a fascinating process whereby an emulsion is permanently bonded to a piece of metal and the photo is permanently embedded into the emulsion. The process creates a sense of depth, and the wood blocks, or woooden frame or metal frame on the back add to the sense of a photo viewed almost in three dimensions.
The one exception in my part of the exhibit was an image of a Sponge Bob-like hot-air balloon that I crewed for in 2010. It is a regular print, matted and framed. I was allowed to use my photos as I wanted, and they used this image in their advertising. The special shapes balloons are mostly made in Brazil, and they bring them to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta to fly and sell them. I used my balloon ride that I earned by crewing to take photos from above, and I got a nice shot of the balloon while in the air. I don’t recall the exact name of the balloon, but I named my photo Wheeeeeeeeee!
Posted in My Life, photography | 1 Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 13, 2016
I live in Albuquerque, at the base of a mountain range called the Sandias. The mountains often block rain and snow storms from hitting the city very hard, so many winters there is just no snow in Albuquerque at all. However, the long drought has ended for most of the state, and this past year we had more rain and snow for any year since 1986. Technically, according to geography studies, based on the average amount of rain that falls here, New Mexico is more accurately classified as a steppe. (In physical geography, a steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes.) Locally, people say we live in a high desert.
Long story short: we’ve got snow! Not much hit the city. In areas closest to the mountain range, there were several inches. In other places, like outside my house:
I hiked up the Pino Trail on December 17 looking for snow:
I went for a hike on Dec. 24. There was still snow in the mountains.
In fact, we got snowed on as we hiked. Things were looking up!
(photos by Robin Tackett)
So, I hiked up the Piedra Lisa Trail on the first day of the New Year:
Good snow, but I knew there was more on the crest of the mountain range itself.
Hike leader Robin Tackett set up a hike for Jan. 7, where we would ride the aerial tram up to the crest and hike along the ridge:
Someone mentioned this reminded them of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining
As you can see, the tram station was nicely iced over. In fact, the workers there had to carefully inspect the cables, as well as clean under the docking area for one of the trams, chipping away ice and frozen snow.
The cross-country skiers took off ahead of us on virgin powder.
I could hike on the narrow trail itself, but step off and I sank, sometimes to my waist.
This is living! However, not only did I not bring snowshoes, but I forgot my camera this day, so none of the photos are mine. Photos by Robin Tackett and Khondeh M.
One more trip up the mountain, up the Pino Trail again on Monday the 11th of January:
It was a (relatively) warm day, (the sun was out) and there was no wind! Damn! Life can just be so good to me sometimes. (Even though some people aren’t).
Such a glorious start to winter. I hope this means the upcoming fire season will be quenched by the rain to come. Moisture! Snow! Come On Rain! Here’s hoping there’s enough rain to discourage the bark beetles and moth larvae that have been destroying so many acres of trees, and they won’t be so easy to burn. Yea snow!
Posted in hiking, Life, My Life, photography | Tagged: hiking, Life, photography, photos | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 10, 2016
Another Sunday morning, although, truth be told, it’s just another day. I wandered over to the cafe for some good coffee – 2 shots of espresso diluted with a bit of hot water – and some breakfast, because I get tired of the stuff I make.
It’s nice to get out of the house too, but I can’t say I like the crowds on a Sunday. Way too many people all at once, and many talk as if what they have to say is really important, loud and clear words cutting through all the other mindless chatter. And I brought a book with me that I use to shut ’em all out, but it’s hard to do. They come in at times, standing next to me, looking for a place to sit, and we all know how busy the place is on a Sunday, but they look anyway, thinking there’ll be room just for them. Important assholes.
I never understand why half of ’em don’t go up or down the road to where there are dozens of food or coffee joints. It’s probably too busy for ’em there, too many people, too many cars. But they come here, here where’s just a bookstore and a cafe, and they pack the parking lot full to bursting, and the latecomers drive around and around looking for that spot that must be waiting just for them somewhere. And the tables are mostly full, and although they know it, they come with groups of five or six and expect to find room. And they ask me if I’m using one of the extra chairs at my table, and I pull my eyes away from my book and say no. And I go back to reading, and sure enough, another group has come in, and another one of them asks me for another chair.
And I just want to tell them to go somewhere else. When they arrive before I do, and they stand lined up from the order counter, and the line snakes around past the door and heads north, I just turn around and go back home. It’s just not worth it to stand quietly in line while people talk loudly about nothing, and have no idea what they want to eat when they finally make it to the counter. And most of ’em come from the rich houses a little north of here, and they have big dining rooms and kitchens, and lots of chairs, but they want to squeeze in here where they pretend their words matter. And their big expensive houses are empty except when they come home at night and sleep in them.
And I grow more impatient with humanity. And I lean to eremiticism. Sometimes I am lonely, but more and more I’m just alone, because I just can’t stand to hear humanity babbling, especially when the babbling rises to a dull roar. I grew up with six siblings, and you’d think I’d be more accustomed to background noise. When I first left home, I missed the sound of other people in the house, low conversations, or toys being fought over, or crying or toilet flushing. I used to think I’d prefer that to living alone, because as much as I enjoy solitude, the loniliess creeps up on me and it aches. And the aching makes me aware of just how alone I really am, despite my reluctant acceptance of being a recluse, because, well, maybe I’m not a true hermit.
I could be a cenobite, but I’m not religious, and I no longer want to be part of any community, I think. And yet, something drives me across the street to eat at the cafe. I am a hermit in a crowd, but the crowd bugs me. At the same time, I have been trying out for parts in movies, and I must, of necessity, be around other people, interact with them, and act. I’m good at acting. I think most of us are, because we act differently around each group of people we get around. I feel as though that’s how I’ve gotten through life, acting here, acting there. I smile when I’m not happy. I talk because people expect it, but usually I’d rather not. Conversation, to me, is private, shared one at a time with someone I trust and like to be around, but there are so few of those.
Blogging is almost ideal. I get to talk without listening, something most of humanity seems to prefer. We talk at each other, and listen for the pause that allows us to speak again. It’s all a big pause here. I can type and type and type, and maybe someone will read it, and maybe no one will, and that’s OK. But something drives me to write and put these words out where someone might read them, and I don’t know why.
And, just like a semicolon in a sentence, like the one tattooed on my arm, I know there’s more to come. I haven’t finished what I have to say just yet.
And, I suppose that’s a good thing! After all, a few months ago, a man drove his car here and parked by the cafe and blew his brains out all over the inside of his car. I guess he had nothing more to say. Was he lonely, or just sad? Was he terribly troubled? Was he in pain from loss? Was he dying of some incurable or painful disease? I’ll never know. It saddened me, me, a recluse. Why should I care? if I don’t care about humanity? Perhaps I can only care in small doses. Humanity is just too big. There are too many. Too many.
Posted in coffee, eremiticism, Life, madness, misanthropy, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, rants | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 9, 2015
I like kissing. I like the feel of silky skin on my lips, and of moist lips buried in my lips. I like the give and play of the lips, hard and yet soft at the same time. When you’re in lust with someone, kissing is the most delicious and delirious thing you can do. Well, it is, until you factor sex in. Kissing stimulates blood flow throughout one’s body: the skin is sensitive all over, blood feeds the skin. Blood flows to the genitals as well, and the whole body participates in the arousal of sensual pleasure. Still, for me, even with skin to skin and genital to genital, I still like to continue kissing. Near orgasm, I can lose track of my lips, but as that height is reached, I want to kiss. And oral sex before the genital sex just increases that juxtaposition of mouth and groin, of pleasure above and below. Passion. That’s what it’s all about. Passion can supercede reason, as least temporarily. There is a state of bliss we reach when we have sexual congress. It is exquisite.
Only love, real love, can surpass it, but the two of them together? It is transcendent.
However, not all sex is like that. Even when some relationships start that way, or become that way over time, it can fade, can slow, can cool, until it is a simulation of passion. There is still the quickening of pulse, and usually an orgasm, but sex can become like kissing a distant relative. Dry lips, tightly drawn together. No give. No take.
Sex is like a kiss. If the kissing is perfunctory, passionless, then the sex will be too.
When I was young, all sex was wonderful, exciting, new and intense. THERE’S MORE: click to Continue Reading
Posted in Life, My Life | Tagged: kissing, love, passion, sex, transendence | Leave a Comment »
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 in Life, My Life, rambling | Tagged: cats, change, Life, materialism | Leave a Comment »
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 in humor, Life, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts | Tagged: comedy, death, pain | Leave a Comment »
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 in friends, Life, My Life, rambling, rants | Tagged: cats, emo, Life | Leave a Comment »
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 in Life, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts | Tagged: Life | Leave a Comment »
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 in 1960s, Dreams, Life, love, madness, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, relationships, sex | Tagged: emo, family, Life, love, sex, women | Leave a Comment »
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.
Of course, the wildlife includes coyotes.
and roadrunners, which can lead to: .
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 in Life, love, My Life, rambling, relationships | Tagged: cats, emo, Life | 4 Comments »
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 in depression, Life, medical, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, wine | Tagged: cancer, death, emo, Life, wine | Leave a Comment »
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 in Dreams, humor, Life, love, madness, My Life, photography, relationships, sex | Tagged: Life, love, sex, women | Leave a Comment »
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 in health, Life, medical, My Life, rambling | Tagged: death, emo, Life | Leave a Comment »
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 snowshoeing to the peak of one mountain, Mt. Taylor, at 11,301 feet. I had hiked it on two prior occasions, and snowshoed it once before, but didn’t make it that day. I had to stop to catch my breath a few times. Once I leaned against a tree and felt like I could fall asleep right there, standing up. I fell so far behind that the hike leader, tired of coming back to look for me and unwilling to wait for me in temperatures near zero degrees F (he was not warmly-enough dressed), 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. The hike leader had also cancelled our scheduled lunch break at the top, which is when I felt I could have caught up to them. 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 chest 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 several hikes with rapid elevation gain, I had felt strange and weak when we stopped for lunch.
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, pulse normal. Afterwards I stopped at a breakfast buffet, and for $6.49 had bacon, sausage, eggs smothered in red chile, a bit of carne adovada (pork marinated in red chile), 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 took two aspirin. 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, and I still felt hot. I increased blower speed on the cooler. 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 less than two miles away, but they had to search for my house in this compound 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 the 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 the team went ahead. I felt a pain after they began. I said “Ouch!” just as somoene was sticking a needle in me, and he apologized, but it was the sudden sharp pain in my heart that had gotten my attention. The pain increased, but, miraculously, as they worked and the catheter reached my heart, the pain subsided; the pressure that had been building stopped, and I felt great! They had used the balloon-like device on the end of the catheter to ream out my artery, and then released a stainless-steel tube from there that expanded to fit to the walls of the artery. It’s 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 in health, hiking, medical, My Life, wine | Tagged: hiking, pain | 4 Comments »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 25, 2012
Always a Puzzle to Me
Posted in Dreams, Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, photography, Random Thoughts, relationships | Tagged: Life, love, love lost, sex, women | Leave a Comment »
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.
El Malpais is a national park.
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 in hiking, Life, My Life, photography, rambling | Tagged: hiking, Life, road trip | Leave a Comment »
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 in Dreams, Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, relationships, sex | Tagged: divorce, driving, Life, love, love lost, marriage, pain, road trip, women | 1 Comment »
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.
I hope someone takes care of my cats.
Posted in depression, Life, madness, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts | Tagged: cats, death, emo | 5 Comments »
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 in motorcycles, My Life, poem, poetry | Tagged: death, love, road trip | Leave a Comment »
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 in Dreams, Life, love, madness, My Life, photography | Tagged: Life, sex, women | Leave a Comment »
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 in Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, Random Thoughts, relationships, sex | Tagged: sex love marriage madness self-loathing | Leave a Comment »
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 in depression, health, Life, madness, medical, My Life, opinion, rambling, Random Thoughts, rants | Tagged: emo, Life, pain | Leave a Comment »
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 in humor, Life, love, madness, marriage, misanthropy, My Life, poem, poetry, relationships, sex | Tagged: comedy, emo, Life, love, love lost, poem, sex | Leave a Comment »
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 in 1960s, family, humor, Life, My Life | Tagged: Baltimore, comedy, emo, family, sex, war | Leave a Comment »
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 in Life, love, madness, My Life, poem, poetry, Random Thoughts | Tagged: Life, poem, poetry | 1 Comment »
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 in family, My Life, poem, poetry, rambling, Random Thoughts | Tagged: comedy, family, food, potatoes | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 17, 2010
Dark blue evening sky
Wispy white clouds floating high
Feet in the water.
Posted in Life, My Life, poem, poetry | Tagged: poem, poetry | Leave a Comment »
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 in Dreams, Life, love, madness, misanthropy, My Life, rambling | Tagged: death, emo, love lost, pain, peace | Leave a Comment »
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 in Bicycling, Life, My Life | Tagged: Baltimore, Bicycling, death | Leave a Comment »
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 in family, Life, My Life, Writing | Tagged: brothers, family, Life | 1 Comment »
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 in humor, Life, love, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, rants, relationships | Tagged: aging, getting old, love lost, memories, poem, poetry | 3 Comments »
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 in 2000s, medical, My Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged: DNA, double-stranded, hantavirus, hantavirus kit, oligonucleotides, research, RNA, science, single-stranded | 1 Comment »
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 in family, Life, medical, My Life, Writing | Tagged: Baltimore, parents | Leave a Comment »
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 in Dreams, Life, madness, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts | Tagged: death, depression, emo, end of life | 2 Comments »
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 in Life, love, marriage, My Life, poem, poetry, relationships, sex | Tagged: love, love lost, marriage, poem, poetry, red, sex, women | 3 Comments »
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 in Christmas, family, Holidays, Life, madness, marriage, My Life | Tagged: divorce, marriage | Leave a Comment »
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 in Bicycling, hiking, Life, My Life, Travel | Tagged: Bicycling, leaving home, occupation, retirement, road trip, work, working | Leave a Comment »
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 in depression, Life, madness, misanthropy, My Life, rambling, war | Tagged: ennui, lavender, refrigerator, serpentine belts, war | Leave a Comment »
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 in Life, madness, My Life, rambling | Tagged: '96 Cougar, hiking, motorcycles, pain, serpentine belts | Leave a Comment »
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 in Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, rambling, relationships, war | Tagged: death, divorce, karen, violence, war, women | Leave a Comment »
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 in hiking, Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, relationships | Tagged: giving flowers, Valentine's Day | Leave a Comment »
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 in 2000s, Life, madness, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, Travel, World | Tagged: cheap thrills, different dimension, Life, love lost, place, time, traveling | Leave a Comment »
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 in hiking, Life, My Life, rambling, Travel | Tagged: hiking, landscapes, photos, vacation | Leave a Comment »
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 in 1970s, Bicycling, My Life, relationships, Travel | Leave a Comment »
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):
That God-Damned Day
Posted in family, Holidays, Life, My Life, relationships, Writing | Tagged: brain tumor, cancer, emo, Thanksgiving08 | 2 Comments »
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 in 1970s, Bicycling, crime, Dreams, faith, family, Life, My Life, rambling, sex, Travel, Writing | 1 Comment »
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 in Life, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts | Tagged: existence, nietzsche, questions, raison d'etre, why? | Leave a Comment »
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 in Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, poem, poetry, relationships, sex, Writing | Tagged: cats, poem, poetry, sex later, spend now, women | Leave a Comment »
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 in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, My Life, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »
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 in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, My Life, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »
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.
“Do you like liver? she asked.
“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 anyone’s charity, and he wasn’t about to just waste time at some boring excuse for a living. Baltimore was already issuing pollution alerts like L.A. Sean was sick of dark little row houses, with their mildewed basements and closets and the legions of cockroaches breeding in the damp. He wanted out. There has to be something better, somewhere. He’d also gotten a letter from his old roommate a few weeks back. Lenny had moved to Toronto, and was going to become a Canadian citizen. Sean would visit him, see Toronto, then head across Canada to the West coast and on down to California. I could do odd jobs, bail hay, pick apples, or something. Yeah, I can do this!
He fine-tuned the bike, bought tough black & yellow saddle bags, and collected tools and spare parts. When he was almost ready to go, he rode over to Leigh’s. He left his bike in her back yard and walked across the street to the People’s Food Co-op. He picked up five pounds each of granola, brown rice, and soybeans. “You’ll need some greens,” the manager of the Co-op said, and talked him into taking some alfalfa seeds to sprout on the way, somehow. He took his supplies back to Leigh’s kitchen, looked out the window, and saw that his bike was gone. Gone? He ran out and looked around, but there was no one, and no trace of the bike in any direction. “How can you do this to me?” he screamed at the world. He knew people on every block from his years of work with the Free Clinic. How could someone take the bike I had just gotten, the day before I was to leave? He was crushed, defeated before he started. He didn’t have enough money left to buy another one. He’d seen his other bike crushed from the car that had slammed into him, dragging the bike across two lanes of street. The driver had bought him another bike. Now it was gone too.
Then he heard from a friend at the Clinic that some guy had a bike he’d lend him. Sean had seen the guy around before, Michael: tall, thin, with a long beard and usually wearing a white turban. He didn’t know what he was, nor did he care to ask. He did give Sean his Gitane. It was a French bike. He told him that gitane meant gypsy. Ready for lift-off! Beam me up, Mr. Spock. He finished loading his things onto the bike. A tool basket in front, sleeping bag over the rear tire, and saddle bags full of food and clothes. Cleaning out the refrigerator, he happened to see a small film container of marijuana seeds gleaned from various bags of cheap dope. He had hoped to try growing them. What the hell, I’ll take ’em with me, maybe I can find a nice place to sprinkle ’em. Not a good idea, as he would soon find out. He also went to the army-navy surplus store and picked up a good knife. Also, not, as it turned out, a good idea either. Border agents are not happy to see such things.
Finally, he went to Leigh to say good-bye. However, she offered him a ride as far as Ohio. He resisted. He didn’t want to cheat like that. He was eager to pedal his way across country.
“Come on,” she insisted. “There’s that Sci Fi convention in Columbus. You’ll like it. I already have a room booked. You can stay with me.”
Now that was enticing. He and Leigh hadn’t known each other long, but he’d miss her. He’d certainly miss the sex. “OK Leigh, let’s go to Ohio.”
“This convention is not a serious one,” Leigh explained on the way, “It’s more of a just-for-fun type of thing. You’d be amazed at what goes on at these things,” she said. As soon as they arrived, he saw green-skinned belly dancers parading through the halls. There were star ship captains by the pool, and unicorns, trolls, and Hobbits buying and selling. He’d be even more amazed at what happened later to bring him crashing back to planet Earth.
He returned to Leigh’s room from a late-night swim, hoping to find her there. In all the party hopping, he’d lost track of her. Or she of him. Well, there she was, in bed, and certainly not alone. What to say? What to do? It wasn’t like they had a commitment to each other, and he was going to be leaving for Canada. Still, it rankled. Leigh just laughed and introduced them, without turning on a light.
“Sean, this is Dan, an old friend. We haven’t seen each other in ages.”
“Uh, hi Dan.” I’m thrilled.
“Dan, this is Sean, a friend from Baltimore, he doesn’t have a room, so I told him he could sleep here.”
“Uh, Leigh, am I interrupting?”
“Not at all. Why don’t you stay? We’re about to go to sleep. There might even be room up here, if you’d like?” Jesus Fucking Christ.
“No thanks. I’ve got my sleeping bag. I can sleep on the floor.” Oh, Great. He pulled his sleeping bag out of his gear and climbed in. “Comfortable down there, Sean?” Leigh asked.
“Yeah, I’m OK. I feel a little like a dog down here though.”
“Well, what does rover have to say?” Leigh asked.
“Woof, woof,” was all Sean replied and Leigh and Dan laughed, but he went to sleep wishing he’d growled, which was the way he felt.
Next day, he was up early, hunting down breakfast, when Leigh found him. “Sean, I’m sorry. Dan is an old lover of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and things just happened.”
“So you said. I thought that’s why we had the room together.”
“Sean, that’s my room, I paid for it. You’re just a guest of mine at this hotel.”
“Well, I’m leaving anyway.”
“Listen, Sean, I’ve got some friends that are driving up to Toledo in the morning. Why don’t you go with them? I spoke to them and they’d be happy to take you with them. Detroit’s not far from there, and you’d be able to cross right into Canada there.”
“That might be a good idea. I’d like to get to Canada as soon as possible.”
“OK, I’ll tell them. You know, Sean, we could go back up to my room for awhile?”
“No thanks, Leigh.” She turned and marched stiffly away. Well, this was a slightly different parting than I’d imagined, he thought, bitterly. The Williamsons found him later on. “Leigh says you’re headed for Detroit?”
“Yeah. Actually I’m on my way into Canada. I plan to bike across the country to the west coast and on down to California.”
“That’s fantastic! We’re leaving early in the morning. Can we take you as far as Toledo?”
“Thank you. Sure. I’d like that.”
Sean spent part of the day wandering around, looking at exhibits and watching the free Sci Fi movies. “Clatou, veratis Nictos”. He ran into one of the Williamsons, Mary, all by herself. She asked him what he was doing, and took him with her to her room so he could take a shower there. Sean didn’t want to go back to Leigh’s room. When he came out she was lying on the bed so he joined her. Her toddler son was asleep nearby. Mary rolled over next to Sean. She looked at him, Sean looked into her eyes, and was won over immediately. They wrapped themselves around each other, and Sean started pulling her clothes off. Suddenly, her son was awake: “What are you doing to my mommy?” he wanted to know. Bummer.
“You see why I end up by myself a lot,” she said. She quieted her son down. Her husband was always off at these conventions, and often screwing around, but she was stuck with her child 24 hours a day.
“Sean, will you take me with you?” she asked.
“How?” Sean said, “I can’t really take you on the bike with me.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t we just throw your bike in the van and we take off, right now?”
“But, but, your husband? Won’t he be mad?”
“Yeah, I suppose, but I don’t care. I really want to get away from all this. I’m sick of it.”
Sean thought about it. After Leigh’s behavior, he was ready for anything. A woman and a child, he thought. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. A life on the road? What? How? He was silent for too long, because Mary said, “Oh, you’re right, it’s a terrible idea.”
Sean tied his bike to the Williamson’s van and went to sleep early, in his sleeping bag. Leigh wasn’t in bed, but he didn’t want to be there when she came back with someone else. In the morning she was there, alone. Sean tried to slip out, but she was awake.
“Good luck on your trip. Don’t forget to look those people up in San Francisco. I know they’ll put you up.”
“Thanks. Well, I’ve got to go. The Williamsons are waiting.”
It didn’t take long to reach Toledo. He thought about Leigh, wishing that he’d spent those last nights with her. Damn. I sure wish she had waited until I’d left. He and Mary shot glances at each other from time to time. Damn, Sean thought, That sure would have been nice.
He also thought about Geri. His plan was to head back to Texas from California. He might see her then. She had written, to tell him that she was in a psychiatric hospital. She said that she was being treated for chronic depression. Strange woman, Sean thought, but I want to see her again.
The Williamsons said good-bye, wished him luck, and left him on a road to Detroit. He pedaled away, looking back at Mary, who waved. Bique (bike) is French slang for penis. Sean was riding a “gypsy” Gitane. He was wondering what he could do with his gypsy penis, and entertained himself with that poor little joke into the night.
Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, love, madness, My Life, relationships, sex, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 30, 2008
For all the 1970s media-hype about free love, guiltless sex, and non-nuclear families, and the ubiquitous peer pressure, the closest Sean had come to sex was a dry hump in the front seat of a borrowed car, and Sharon had only been trying to make her boyfriend jealous. He’d met her at a party with some of Kathleen’s friends in Frederick. They’d exchanged phone numbers. He’d called her, and arranged to meet her up there. He still didn’t have a car, so he took a Greyhound. The bus ride was pretty long from Baltimore to Frederick, but this woman seemed interested in Sean, and Sean was becoming increasingly frustrated by fate’s teasing. He found her house, but she had him wait outside. She said she didn’t want her father to know. She was borrowing his car. Sean drove and Sharon navigated. They drove around Frederick, Sharon had brought sodas with her. She also brought champagne glasses. She directed Sean to a closed storefront and had him park right in front, facing the street. Sean thought it strange, but here was this beautiful woman, dark-haired, brown-eyed, with a ready smile and, well, something in mind. She poured the soda into the glasses, but after a couple sips, she asked Sean if he wanted to make out. He put his glass on the dash; she did the same. They kissed. Sharon’s tongue was suddenly in Sean’s mouth and he tickled the base of it with the tip of his own. Kissing was something Sean liked. After a few minutes, his hand began roaming Sharon’s back and arms and neck. Sharon leaned into Sean, until he felt her weight on him and he leaned back against the door. He asked her if she wanted to get in the back seat, but she just pushed him all the way down and kissed him some more. Sean ran his hands under her blouse, and had both hands on her bra hooks when a flashlight beam knifed through the darkness, and the voice behind it wanted to know what they were doing. An odd question, considering that there was no mistaking what they were doing. The deputy shone his light in both faces, one at a time. Sean said, “We were just parking for a little bit, officer.” The deputy played the light around the car, taking in the glasses on the dash, but he didn’t even ask if they were drinking, or how old they were. He simply said, “Well, you’ll have to move on. You can’t park here.” So they drove away down the main street.
“What now?’ Sean asked. “I know a place we can go,” Sharon said. They drove out of town up into the hills. She had Sean stop the car in a clearing off the road in the woods. It looked like a make-out spot. “You’ve been here before?” he asked her. “Yes,” she told him, “With my boyfriend.” “You have a boyfriend? Sean asked, surprised. “Yes”, she said. “In fact,” she said, “that was him back there.” “The cop?!” he squeaked. “Well, he was my boyfriend,” she said. Sean’s mind woke up: Now I get it. The whole thing had been a plan to get caught. To make her boyfriend see her with someone else, to make him jealous. The champagne glasses, parking in plain sight of the highway. She must have known he’d be along.
They sat in silence for awhile. Sean pulled her over and kissed her some more. He opened her blouse. He kissed her shoulders and neck. This bra has to go, he thought. He popped her bra open, and pulled it down, exposing the pale flesh in the weak moonlight. He reveled in the sight and kissed her nipples. They were strangely, to Sean, stiff and hard. He ran his hand along her back into her jeans. Just then a car engine roared up the steep hill, and headlights lit up the underside of the trees around them. They froze. Sean was nervous, and Sharon sat up, clutching her chest, then pulled her bra up and closed her blouse. Sean was thinking about being arrested for public indecency or something. He had no idea what Sharon could be up to. Was this her ex-boyfriend? Was she expecting him to fight me or something? The other car turned in a small circle and left, and they sat there like that for a few moments. They drifted back down onto the seat. Sharon rubbed her crotch against Sean’s. Sean’s penis was erect alright, and Sharon pushed against it. Sean could feel her slit through his pants. He kept trying to get her blouse off, but she pushed his hands away. Sean popped the button on her jeans and started to open them, but Sharon had had enough by then. “Let’s just go home, OK? She said. She drove Sean back to the bus station in silence. Sean didn’t know what to say. He kissed her, but her lips were closed, and taut. He took the long ride home in the dark night, back to Baltimore, watching the houses slip by, with lights in the windows. Lots of activity in some of those houses, he thought, and felt more lonely than ever.
After two and a half years of taking night school classes, Sean decided that he would never finish that way. He had only now finished his freshman year. He had been saving money, but it wouldn’t be enough to live on. He applied to the state university anyway, and hoped he could find a way. When he told his boss, Dr. Lyon, he had said, “Don’t you worry about it, Sean. I know how important school is to a young man like you. But tell me, do you think that you could continue working on a part-time basis?”
“I don’t know,” Sean answered, “How many hours?”
“Well now, I think that’s up to you. Would you want to work after school, or on the weekends?”
“On the weekends, mostly.”
“Fine. If I really needed you, could you come in on a weeknight too once in a while?”
“Yeah, I mean, yes, I think I could.”
“Good, that’s fine. Let’s see – what are you making now?”
“Four dollars an hour.”
“I think six dollars an hour would be a good rate. That’s like time-and-a-half. That’s what you’re really doing when you work during non-regular hours.”
“Great,” Sean said, beaming, “Six dollars is fine,” and he knew that he could make it now. Six dollars an hour was a lot of money to a twenty-one year old in 1971. He was admitted to the University of Maryland, transferring in as a sophomore. He was elated.
The campus, however, was not close to his apartment, or his job. He commuted by bus, but he was unhappy with that. The trip took from between fifty and seventy minutes to cover a ten mile distance, and it was time wasted, he decided. I’m not getting anything done. I can’t study on the bus, and I can’t stand sitting down anymore. I need to get off my butt.
Sean had just spent two and a half years planted in a big wooden chair in the Physics lab, and studying would now mean that he’d spend all his time sitting. One day he walked to school, but that took way too long, and besides, he was exhausted by the time he got home. Then he decided to get a bicycle. It had been a long time since he’d ridden one. His previous bicycle had been stolen when he was thirteen. He took a bus to a store five miles away – bicycles were not all that popular at the time – and rode a brand new Schwinn Suburban ten-speed home to his apartment.
He wished he hadn’t. Halfway home his legs felt so weak, he had to get off and rest on the City High School lawn. He was wheezing, and his heart was pumping a little too hard, or so he thought. Before long, however, that bicycle was his constant companion. He felt more alive, using his own leg-power, and not adding to the polluted air he was breathing.
He started pedaling to the theater, to movies, or to local demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. He didn’t have much of a love life, but he sure as hell had transportation.
I can go anywhere, he thought. Just how far could I go? To California? Canada? Shit! I might still need to do that if I’m drafted. I should travel, see the country, other cities. Man! To swim in clean rivers, camp in the mountains, see the canyons and forests, that would be my version of real happiness.
However, he usually had to fight his way through herds of buses, semi’s, beetles, caddies, mustangs, and vettes on his way to and from school – in a cloud of fumes, greasy air and soot. He was not happy about that, but he had other things to worry about over the next couple of years.
The war was not over yet. He could still be drafted. People were still being killed wholesale. He wanted to do more than walk in demonstrations and yell at the President. In the previous decade, Universities had been the scene of violent protests and strikes against the military and war profiteers. He’d only read about it, and seen it on the news. He wanted to do something before people forgot that the war wasn’t over yet, even though the President kept repeating his four-year-old promises to end it soon.
He talked to other students about the war. Some of them felt the way he did. He decided to organize a teach-in. He’d been to plenty of them at the University where he worked, and he thought it was still a good idea.
He wrote a short article for the school paper calling for a meeting to make plans, but only six people showed up. It’s enough, he decided. “Let’s do something,” he told them.
The others were new to this kind of activity, having just left high school. But, they all wanted to get in on the protests they’d missed in the Sixties. “I think we should call for a boycott of classes,” Lynn suggested.
“We need leaflets,” Michael said.
“And movies, and speakers,” Sean suggested.
Sean went to teachers he knew would be sympathetic and asked them to print up the leaflets. He called the American Friends Service Committee and asked them for movies about the war. The others posted the leaflets and talked to their friends. Mike arranged space to show the movies, and Lynn got approval to use the central mall for speeches. An English teacher brought a lectern and a microphone – Sean knew she would help, she didn’t use The Prison Letters of George Jackson in her classes for nothing.
Sean went to class as usual on the morning of the teach-in. The activities wouldn’t start until noon, and he had a Genetics lab to do first.
The lab assistant, a Biology grad student, came over to Sean while he was finishing up. He knew what was being planned, and he knew who had started the whole thing. “So, are you still going on with it?”
“Yeah,” Sean said, “Of course.”
“Do you really think it will do any good?”
“I don’t know, I certainly hope so. I have to do something.”
“You know, you really should decide what’s important.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, are you going to run around yelling and screaming about something you can’t do anything about, or are you going to study Genetics?”
Sean looked at him for a minute. What is he telling me? he wondered. And why? “I have to do both,” he finally said, and he left to go join the students already gathered on the mall.
“Nixon said he had a secret plan to end this war,” the first speaker said, “and he was elected twice now. The war is not over. He says he’ll bring the troops home, but every time he does, he sends over another warship with twice as many men. His “secret plan” was the carpet bombing of Hanoi, and the mining of Haiphong harbor. He used his end-the-war promise just to get elected, and then he used it again. He’s a liar.” The small crowd cheered. Sean went inside to check on the movies.
“Hey Sean,” Michael asked, “Can you run the projector for awhile? This movie’s about over, and I’ve got some other things to do.”
Few people stayed for the next movie. By the time Sean rewound the first one, and got another one loaded in the projector, only four people were left.
He stopped one of the people as he was walking out the door. “How come you’re leaving?” he asked him.
“Aw, hell, we’ve seen all this before.”
“But,” Sean insisted, “that’s the whole point. It’s still going on.
“Well, I’m not going to have to go there.”
“Our tax money is being used to keep a corrupt dictatorship in power. We’re paying for the weapons, the tanks, the helicopters, the napalm. Don’t you think that’s important?” Sean asked, but the guy just turned and walked away.
The crowd thinned out at the rally by the time Sean shut the projector down. An Anthropology professor was calmly discussing the effects of war on society when Sean went outside. Most people weren’t listening. I thought he would be great, Sean thought, He sounded so enthusiastic in class. Thank God it’s almost time for this to be over.
Sean gathered his books, and started his long ride home through traffic. Maybe that guy was right. Maybe it was all a waste of time, a waste of energy. He brooded about the teach-in for a few minutes, but the effort of pushing the pedals and straining his thighs to keep his speed up with traffic brought his mind back to the joy of physical exertion. There was clear road ahead of him. Cool air caressed his sweaty forehead as he leaned into his bike, becoming one with it, pushing it harder, faster.
Posted in 1970s, Life, madness, My Life, relationships, sex, Writing | Tagged: Baltimore, Bicycling, Life, sex, war, women | 2 Comments »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 29, 2008
mom throws things
yells at Dad
Dad yells at Mom
Mom threw a glass at me
broken shard cut my leg.
Dad, angry knocked me
into walls or
my breath out
from across a table
leather strap too
didn’t faze me
when he falsely accused
and slapped me
one way and back the other
and back again and
his hand swung
and I snapped
knocked him down
and raised my foot
his head in
smash his brains
he caught my leg
in powerful arms
never hit me again.
35 years later
calls me a liar
coffee cups in our hands
I empty mine at her
she throws hers in my face
and I snap
What is wrong with you?
escapes my lips
between clenched teeth
and I slap one way
and the other and swing
my open hand
to slap again
with fingers only
but she backs away
and I sit in my chair
and smash a remote
against a wall
I am my father.
she calls the police
domestic violence, she says
I’m in a domestic violence situation
I listen from my chair
disbelief replaces anger.
the police come
while I clean up the coffee
she is not there
cops are suspicious
stained rag in my hand
no one else around
oh shit! I think
yes, of course, come in
search the house
she is not here
I don’t know where
I show them neighbors
where she might be
they find her
tell me I have to leave
counseling for me
anger management for me
She tells me to stay
unless it ever happens again
It never does, but
she keeps drinking
angry happy sad up and down
demanding and hard
belittling and mean.
I left all that as a boy
but, now, in love
I can’t leave her
my heart beats
in a hollow
year after year after year.
Posted in family, Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, poem, poetry, relationships | Tagged: codependancy, domestic violence, family, marriage, violence | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 29, 2008
In two thousand and three
three thousand dollars
bought three weeks in China
meals hotels and travel.
Beijing and Shanghai
Gulin, Xian, Hong Kong
Rivers Yangtze and Li
the Grand Canal in Suzhou
markets and pandas
and cormorants too
museums and gardens
flowers and ponds
temples and factories
and thousands of
the national bird
the construction crane
Curious white masks
more and more we see
worn on bikes in shops
in cars on buses
an epidemic – SARS
the USA invades Iraq
no weapons are found
bloody pictures posted
on walls, fences, bus stops
of Iraqi children.
Chinese express sympathy
for us poor Americans
our country is at war.
I wear my peace symbol
on my lapel as I travel.
will they let me return?
will SARS close US borders?
is peace treasonous?
all they ask is
did I have contact with
anyone, anyone with SARS?
and I have to remove
pass through x-rays
and my bag is searched.
O’Maolchaithaigh 2008, ’09
Posted in Life, My Life, poem, poetry, Travel, World | Tagged: China, death, peace, poem, SARS, sightseeing, tourism, violence, war | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 4, 2008
Sean had tried “acid” himself once, under different conditions, with different results. He had moved into a house with several other guys including Jeff, the young, long-haired landlord. The landlord was from New York City, and played a keyboard for parties and such around town. He had a friend in New York who made the stuff. Sean bought two tabs from Jeff and had one tested by a lab, a free lab set up for just that purpose. The lab tested street drugs to prevent people from being poisoned. Pushers are such creepy people. They’ll use strychnine to imitate LSD, since it has hallucinogenic properties. They’ll even put animal tranquilizers in bags of oregano or cheap weed, and sell it as “Acapulco Gold”, and shit like that. Most often, people found that all they’d gotten in place of acid was powdered sugar and methamphetamine – “speed” – deadly stuff, and highly addictive.
Sean’s tab turned out to be really pure LSD-25, the real deal, so he tried it. He’d heard all the hype about visions and suicides, but Lenny’s friend David had insisted that the pure stuff wouldn’t hurt anyone. Sean had researched the journals in the Hopkins Medical library, and that appeared to be true. The pure, unadulterated drug got pissed out of one’s system in short order. He wanted to see if this drug could really unlock his subconscious mind. At first, he had been disappointed. He could make images in a black-light poster on his wall appear to move, but there were no colored lights, no hallucinations of things that weren’t there. I think I see it now; most of this is hype. People see what they expect to see, he thought. This says so much about expectations, and self-delusion, he had pondered, thinking he understood a lot more about the world. Suddenly he had noticed that he was thinking a lot, non-stop. All at once, he seemed to be aware of different levels of thought. He was thinking about the Clinic, about friends, family, and school, all at the same time. He felt detached, felt as if he was observing his thoughts from a distance. This is interesting, he had thought. I wonder why people jump out of windows? Oh, yeah. The effects of LSD are like temporary insanity. So this is what it feels like to be insane. He felt like he was on the edge, that he could go either way – back to normalcy, or over the edge, trapped in his own thoughts. Insanity was actually attractive, in a sense. One could give up responsibility for one’s self, and the rest of the world could go hang. He got a phone call. “Sean, it’s for you,” Jeff yelled up the stairs. It was Sean’s brother Pat, a military cop home from Germany. Sean couldn’t figure out why Pat would call, especially now. He was having a hard time following the conversation. Pat said he just wanted to say hi. That was unusual, in fact, it had never occurred to either of them to call each other before. Sean told Pat he was tripping. Pat had been involved with drugs himself, and Sean had always suspected that the drugs Pat picked up readily in Baltimore to sell in rural Pennsylvania had been the trouble that had pushed him into military service. He expected Pat to congratulate him for trying it, that they’d have something in common now. However, Pat said, “Well you know, I don’t do that stuff anymore. I gave all that up in the army. In fact, I once busted my whole platoon for drugs.” Weird. Who is this guy? Sean wondered. “Well, you take it easy. I was just calling to say hi.” Sean was really puzzled now. If was as if he had called on cue. He couldn’t have known; I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do this. The drug lab? Nah. The deal with the lab ran like this: you wrote down the serial number on a dollar bill, and gave it to them with whatever drug you wanted tested. That was the only way to get people to trust the service. Then you called the lab later on and gave them the serial number. Sean had called from the Free Clinic. They couldn’t have traced the call to me, he thought. But that guy he spoke with, he had told Sean that the LSD was pure, more pure in fact, than anything he’d seen there. “Can you get some more?” the lab guy wanted to know. “Sean said, No. I don’t think that would be a good idea, and had hung up. It had made him nervous then, and his mind spun wildly now. Could they have a tap on the Clinic’s phone, traced the call to me, called my parents, and they’d called Pat?” Conspiracy theories and paranoia are common to drug users.
Sean was really getting tired of this already. He wanted to go to sleep, but couldn’t. He wandered around the house, looking at everything. He tried to study, but couldn’t concentrate. He’d think about the texture of his skin, and marvel at its complexity. He’d watch the patterns of light shift in the house. He’d feel lonely, then afraid. He’d feel nothing. In the light of dawn he went outside to watch the rain falling, feeling it thud against his eyeballs. Later on he marveled at the drops of water hanging onto each blade of grass. So much life in each drop of water! But, he’d had enough. When Jeff finally woke up, he asked him to help. Jeff gave him a mega-dose of vitamin B6, which didn’t help. It felt as if every cell in Sean’s body was on fire, and even a cold shower felt warm on his skin, but eventually he managed to fall asleep after the drug ran its course.
Well, anyway, that was why he knew that the woman in the Clinic that night was going to be alright. Most nights at the Clinic, things were pretty routine. It felt good to work there. Sean had spent two years buried in the physics lab, literally, for it was underground with no windows, few visitors, and no other regular employees. Contact with new people and new ideas was exciting.
One night, he was talking with a patient, Mary, who had brought a stack of the Black Panther Party’s newspapers with her. The Panthers, after the initial organization of the Clinic, had dropped out. They had decided to work alone, in the poorest, not coincidentally, blackest section of the city. He argued with Mary about the politics of violence that the Panthers represented.
“How can we become a peaceful society using violence? Would anything change if everyone had a gun? How could we defeat the government if it came to a real contest anyway?”
“You don’t understand. The police shoot and kill people in the Black community every day. They must be able to defend themselves.”
“But that still won’t change racism.”
“Sean, what I think you should do is come to a study group.”
And what a strange bunch that study group turned out to be! A research technician, a taxi-driver on the fringes of the Mafia, the wife of the Panther’s lawyer, an ex-prostitute who still stripped on Baltimore’s infamous “Block” to help support her family, a former cheerleader and debutante, and Ron, a neighborhood guy, and the only Panther in the group. They studied the ideology of the Panthers, a strategy of struggle based on the writings of China’s Mao Zedong. Sean learned of the Panther’s free breakfast and school for ghetto kids. The Panthers were also involved in trying to coax irresponsible absentee landlords into maintaining and repairing their rat infested buildings. Additionally, flaking lead paint was being eaten by children – they had a campaign going to eliminate lead paint and have the houses repainted. The group learned of Mao’s “Long March” across China and his efforts to modernize a backward country. Mao had wanted to organize the peasants, the poorest people, to improve their own lives, and such also was the philosophy of the Panthers. One day the study group was interrupted by a loud banging on the door. “Police. Open up.” They swarmed in like (dare I say it?) loose hogs. They dumped drawers, turned beds over, searched everyone, and refused to answer questions. They took Ron. “It’s not unusual,” Mary told Sean, “Happens all the time.”
Ron got out later, although they never found out what the cops had been looking for or why they took him in.
“We were lucky,” Mary said, “Sometimes they don’t bother to knock, they break the door down and come in shooting. A house down the street got raided once and the pigs shot two people. Later they said that they had made a mistake.”
“But didn’t the cops do anything for them?”
“They didn’t even offer to pay for the damages.”
“I don’t believe the police would do that. How could they get away with it?”
“Sean, you’re too smart to be so naïve. This is racism. This is how it affects people here. Many of the police are out-and-out racists. A black man’s life is nothing to them.”
Well, the study group would not be just idle armchair philosophers. They picketed jails in support of striking prisoners. Only their visible presence prevented retaliations against the strikers. “The guards must go. The guards must go. Stop racist attacks. Stop racist beatings,” and so on.
They attended trials and Sean saw, first hand, how poor people were railroaded into jail. Police crimes went unpunished, white-collar criminals stole thousands and were given petty fines, but a poor man who stole $28.75 with a gun was jailed for twenty years.
Then came the end for the Panthers in Baltimore. As a group, they were accused of the murder of a police informer. Sean joined a legal study group to help with the defense, and watched those trials. Those trials were the worst mockery of justice he’d seen. The paid witnesses would contradict not only each other, but themselves. Everyone was finally acquitted of the murder, but one man was convicted of conspiracy, for driving the car that was supposed to have taken the victim to the park where his body was found. That man eventually became the first inmate in the Baltimore City jail ever to graduate from college while in prison.
The study group kept going. Sean had a vision: the Vietnamese, Chinese, South Africans, Palestinians, Blacks and other working people of the world and the U.S. would unite in common struggle; they were in fact already beginning to do so. Freed of their daily struggle to survive, The Wretched of the Earth, as Franz Fanon of Africa put it, could rapidly take control of their own lives, just as Sean had been learning that people could take control of their own health.
In reality, in the U.S., few people were willing to talk, much less walk, the same direction. People still talked about racism, injustice, poverty, and war as if they were campaign slogans. Not much seemed to really be “a changing”, after all.
Panthers all over the country were attacked in their headquarters by police who always claimed that they were “responding to an unprovoked attack.”
The War ground on. “Dick Nixon before he dicks you,” was a popular slogan. Nevertheless, Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon used the promise of ending the War to win election for a second term. His “secret plan” had meant escalation: the mining of Haiphong Harbor, the carpet bombing of Vietnamese cities and farmlands, and illegal “incursions” into Cambodia and Laos.
There was only one thing to do, Sean believed, Destroy the U.S. government, the war machine, and all entrenched institutions that perpetuated war, human indignity, and destruction of our Earth. But that was not only improbable, but stupid. Even if such a thing could be brought to pass, what would emerge? How could petty dictators be prevented from setting up local kingdoms? How would we insure the quality of life that we hoped would be everyone’s birthright? No, that was not a solution. As much as he hated to admit it, Sean knew governments were necessary just to maintain civilization and protect everyone’s rights. Obviously the world’s present institutions are inadequate to prevent war, injustice and poverty, but what would replace them? And how? I can’t see a solution. No one is ready to agree on how a better society would function. Sure, no racism, sexism, or nationalism. No war or poverty or injustice. That was the goal only. How could it be brought about and maintained?
In the meantime, until solutions could be found, Sean decided, I will disagree, I will protest, and I would keep on keeping on at the People’s Free Medical Clinic. That place is my only real hope for the future. I will defend it against all attack.
Sean really enjoyed decision making at the Clinic. Once a month they all ate together, doctors, nurses, staff volunteers, and neighbors. Everyone had a say in policy making, but first they shared their potato salads, rice, squash, homemade bread, casseroles, beans, meatloaf, Quiche, or funny little Swedish meatballs.
When you share your food, and your stomach’s full, most disagreements seem petty. Arguments among friends have resolutions. They found funding, doctors and supplies. Patients found them. They made their presence and their ideals known. Word got around the city. The Women’s Center, separate but connected to the Clinic – physically and politically – had founded a city-wide network of consciousness raising groups, and published a widely read magazine: Women: A Journal of Liberation, dealing with alternative life styles, social change, and sexual politics.
They had contacts in all the hospitals. Sean found that he could make referrals with every assurance that people could get the treatment and support that they needed. Some patients joined the Clinic staff, and others joined them on buses to demonstrations.
On a practical level, the clinic staff went door-to-door, asking for monthly pledges of fifty cents or a dollar to maintain the Clinic and pay the rent. It worked. But the greater part of society seemed unchangeable to Sean. What could really be done to revolutionize the way our country, and the world, operated? That question would follow him everywhere he went, from Baltimore to North Dakota to Oklahoma to Arizona to Florida and about thirty-five other states in the nation. He was anxious to see and learn more about how people were living and coping in the rest of the country. But where to go and how? My part-time job and student loans barely keep me alive. I didn’t want to quit school, now that I’m finally a full-time student, and I would certainly need money to travel. I’d tried hitchhiking to Chicago once. What a disaster. You could kill a whole day just waiting for a ride.
He remembered why he’d gone to Chicago. He’d met a woman at the Clinic once, Marilyn Gans. She was pretty and friendly. She volunteered at the clinic, and wrote for Women. After a dinner and meeting at her apartment for the patient advocates, Sean had stayed to help her clean up, and they fell to talking until the storm hit. Baltimore had suddenly been hit with another one of the tail ends of a hurricane, and flood waters had risen quickly around the city. The streets were all overflowing with water, and the emergency warnings took over all broadcasts on radio and TV. Everyone was ordered to stay off the streets and indoors. Sean and Marilyn just stared at her TV in disbelief. Sean had seen bad storms before, but never heard warnings like this. Marilyn had told him to stay the night, so he did. She had made a bed for him on the living room floor with sheets and blankets. “You’ll have to stay in here, OK,” she asked. “Can I trust you?” she wanted to know. Sean promised. He had no intention of getting into trouble with the clinic or the Women’s center. She said “goodnight” to him from her bedroom. Sean was in love again. He liked her a lot, even though he hadn’t known her before that night. He enjoyed talking with her, liked the way she looked. He said, “Goodnight Marilyn”. But then, he said, “I wish we could sleep together.” There was no reply, and Sean wasn’t expecting one. He turned on his side, ready to sleep. They had stayed up for hours, watching the storm sweep down the streets, and talked, and talked. Sean was dead tired. Suddenly, Marilyn was there, under the blanket next to him on the floor. Sean was excited. She said, “Let’s just hold each other, OK?” So that was what they did. Sean noticed she had a short top on and cotton panties. His erection felt painfully unused.
Marilyn contacted Sean a few days later, asked him to help her take a group of kids on a field trip. She was a teacher, and Sean had told her how much he liked being around kids, how much he missed his brothers and sisters. But Marilyn was polite and reserved with Sean. He didn’t know how to pursue this relationship. The constant talk around the clinic about Women’s liberation, and sex roles, and male domination had confused him. He held back, waited to hear from her again, but she went back to Chicago when the school year ended. She told him to come visit. That was why he had gone to Chicago, even though he had little money.
He had finally started walking, hitchhiking at first, through Maryland and a bit of Pennsylvania. When he arrived in Ohio, he found himself stuck. All around, on the concrete and guard rails of this huge intersection of highways were written things like, “This place sucks! No rides! Been here three days!” etc. He was there an entire day. He struck up a conversation with a younger guy who showed up. Bill was an ex-marine from Iowa City; he said he had lied about his age to get in early when he was 17. They read the graffiti, decided it was hopeless, and then walked across the entire state of Ohio. Bill had all his belongings in a paper bag. He said he’d had a fight with his wife and had just thrown stuff in a bag and walked out one day. He was on his way home now. He was packing a huge bottle of black pills. Sean asked him about those. “Oh, they’re not speed,” Bill said, “These are something called Texedrine, with a T, and they’re not harmful.” Sean passed on those at first. He and Bill walked into a diner one night and drank all the free coffee they could get. When the waitress stopped being friendly they left the diner and tried to sleep around back, but they were too wired from the coffee. They decided to just keep walking, but Sean was losing steam after a while, so he took some of Bill’s pills. After finally passing the Ohio state line into Indiana, they were picked up by a trucker who told them a grisly story about dead long-haired hitchhikers being found along the highway. He said they had been castrated. The trucker let them off in front of a barber shop. Bill had a buzz cut, but Sean had long since grown his hair long, and wore a big, green, floppy hat. He’d realized that his long hair was a factor in not getting rides, so he had tucked it up inside the hat. Inside the truck cab he had taken off his hat and exposed the long hair.
They walked through cornfields all day and into the night. They were shot at outside of Gary, Indiana, as they walked along a dark road past a never-ending cornfield. Sean had been walking behind Bill. Bill stuck his thumb out to try for a ride when they noticed lights coming up behind them. The response was a loud explosion that lit up the inside of a VW beetle, which had slowed down, and Sean saw a streak of light bisect the space between him and Bill. The VW sped off as fast as one of those could go. They kept walking until they were exhausted and slept right on the shoulder. A sheriff woke them before dawn; wanted to know what they were doing, said they couldn’t sleep there. They had to keep walking. Eventually, Bill took the road for Iowa City, and Sean made it to Chicago.
Marilyn invited him to stay with her at her parent’s home. They fed him three different kinds of meat at the first meal he had with them. Marilyn said that her parents had been in a concentration camp, and that afterwards they had developed this need to have tons of food available all the time. Both were now overweight, but Marilyn was thin. Sean went to a theater group she was involved with, and learned to play basic percussion, as part of an effort to involve people in music and theater. She asked Sean to stay in Chicago, but she wouldn’t kiss him, wouldn’t sleep with him. She told him he could get a job there. Sean didn’t want to live in Chicago. He still liked Baltimore, “What would I do here?” he asked her. She told him he could probably get a job in a record store she knew about. Sean didn’t want to do that. After that, Marilyn told Sean she had things to do, so she couldn’t show him around the city anymore, but she had a friend, Amy, who could. Amy kept asking him what his intentions were with Marilyn, and did he want to come back to her place. Sean realized that Marilyn was dumping him, and had set him up with this girlfriend of hers. When he saw her again, Marilyn had wanted to know, “So, how’d you get along with Amy?” It was clear to Sean what was what. Sean counted out his remaining money, and found out he could afford to take the train home to Baltimore. Marilyn drove him to the train station, and asked him one more time if he’d stay and get a job there, but Sean said no. They promised to write.
Sean wasn’t about to try hitchhiking again, especially without a specific destination in mind.
Posted in 1970s, Life, madness, medical, My Life, politics, race, relationships, Writing | 5 Comments »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 4, 2008
One thing the 1970s is known for is the beginnings of large-scale environmental awareness and activism. Sean, through his readings, was aware that the planet was in danger, from pollution of air and water, from overpopulation, from fallout from nuclear testing, from ozone depletion, and from the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, possibly leading to a hothouse effect. The envelope of air around Earth is very thin in proportion to the size of the world, but few people seemed aware of it. He’d read Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, Gordon Ratray Taylor’s The Biological Time Bomb, Dr. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, and excerpts from the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth. Sean decided, first off, that he wasn’t going to father any children. Perhaps he would adopt. A moot point unless he found a woman to share his life with. In the meantime, he decided the least he could do was have as small an impact on the earth’s ecosystem as possible. He decided to get a bicycle.
Bike (bique) is French slang for penis. He wasn’t aware of that when he first bought the new ten-speed. He rode it home from the store, much to the consternation of his body, which totally freaked out. He had to snatch a nap on the City High School lawn. It had been a long time since he’d ridden one.
His last bicycle had disappeared when he was thirteen. Sean heard that a few of his rowdiest classmates had been stealing bikes in the neighborhood. Sean decided to confront them. “Hey, Marconi. I hear you know a thing or two about stolen bicycles?” “Yo, Emmet. So, you lost a bicycle. We’ll look for it.” Marconi tried to look serious for a moment, but smiled at his two buddies on either side of him. Sean didn’t have any proof, and he had already learned from his dad, by way of negative example, not to assume guilt. “You sure you don’t know anything about it? A Bendix two-speed?” “Look, Emmet, I’ll keep my eyes open for it, OK?” “Sure. OK. Let me know if you see anything.” This was before Sean’s confrontation with his dad, and it was a good thing too, because, not only was Gino Marconi much larger than Sean, but his friends were tough. Sean would have had the shit kicked out of him. I was stupid enough to leave it leaning against the store; I guess I deserved to have it stolen. His father had gotten the Bendix Aviation bicycles for him and his brother through an employee discount. Sean didn’t dare ask for another. Eight years later he was lying on the grass, wondering if he’d have to walk home again.
His brother John, a year younger, had been the first to learn how to ride. He was also the first to date. He was already married, and had fathered a child. John drove a car. Sean had failed to learn how to drive one, and couldn’t afford one anyway. You might say Sean was kind of deficient in many skills, especially social skills: no home life, no wife, no lover. He worked in a Physics research lab, buried underground, sitting in a chair behind the x-ray equipment he operated. He spent most of his evenings taking classes at the university he worked for. He was not athletic, had never participated in sports, and hadn’t ridden a bicycle in too many years; his muscles were rebellious. Before long, however, that bicycle became his constant companion. Shortly before he bought it, he had quit his full-time job to attend school outside the city, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His boss had agreed to let him work part-time after school and Saturdays. The first day he rode it to classes was a killer – ten miles in rush hour traffic across Baltimore City. After that, he rode the twenty mile round trip every day, and enjoyed it. He was getting stronger. He felt more alert, more alive. He pedaled to the theater, to movies, or to local demonstrations. He didn’t have much of a love life, but he sure had transportation.
He could go anywhere on a bike, and he wondered just how far he could go. To California? Canada? He might need to do that yet. Could I afford to go? I want to travel, to see the country, other states, other cities; to swim in clean rivers, and walk through mountains, canyons, and forests – that would be my version of happiness.
Choking on fumes, greasy air, and soot, however, he fought his way through herds of buses, semi’s, beetles, caddies, mustangs, and ‘vettes. He crested a small hill one morning and saw clear road in front of him. An electric current surged through him as his thighs orbited the pedals of his Schwinn Suburban. Warp factor seven, Scotty. Cool morning air caressed his sweaty forehead and ripped tears from his eyes. On his left he noticed the metallic beasts slowing. He thought he must be overtaking them. I’m good at this, he crowed to himself. Then, there was a gap in front of the beast next to him. A white whale was pointed right at him! Trapped within, the look of panic on the face of the whale’s prisoner mirrored his own slack-jawed expression. He felt air beneath him. He knew he was airborne, but his eyes didn’t focus on anything as he spun high through the air. The car had made contact with his foot first, and he had kicked up and forward down the hill. He had time to think, as people oddly do in times like that, I’m gonna die. All these cars; I’m going to get crushed. I guess I won’t make it to classes today. What? where? who? slipped through his barely conscious mind when he came to rest. There were no answers available. Up. I need to get up. As he started to lift his head, he couldn’t imagine where he was. In a sudden panic, he realized he didn’t know who he was. He felt like he was dreaming. A name, I must have a name. I’d better just lie still, maybe I’ll wake up. But, there were vague noises, and voices, somewhere.
“What about him?” penetrated his haze. He strained to listen.
“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s dead.”
Me! They’re talking about me! Of course – the car – an accident. Am I hurt? He forced his eyes to open. He saw a typical blue-grey Baltimore sky above him.
“Don’t you worry about it none, Miz Penny. I saw the whole thing. It wasn’t your fault. I’ll testify to it.” He turned his head slightly; saw a group of black and white men clustered around a well-dressed white woman about 10 feet away on the sidewalk. The men, wearing coveralls and carrying lunch pails, weren’t looking his way. Time seemed frozen. No one moved. Even traffic, backed up behind the red light about a block away, had stopped.
He had been bicycling for over a year already, every day, so he rolled onto his feet, catlike. He felt like a ghost rising from a forgotten grave. He tried walking, but one leg was weak; it seemed to not want to hold him. He limped towards the crowd, who turned as one man to look at him. The woman noticed. She ran out to him.
“Are you alright?”
A quick “No!” was all he could manage. Waves of pain were spreading up his leg with every step.
“Here, you come sit in my car.” He sat on the spotless white upholstery and she left him there. The pain in his foot was throbbing now. He eased his leg onto the seat, and lay down. He was staring at the plush interior of the snow-white Continental when a fireman appeared in the doorway. “Are you hurt?” No, I always sleep in Continentals, Sean thought, angry that none of the firemen had come over before. “Do you need anything?”
“My foot hurts, a lot. I don’t think I can walk on it. It’s already swollen.”
“Hang on, I’ll get you something,” and he disappeared, back across the street into the firehouse. He came back with a plastic bag that he pulled onto Sean’s leg.
“What’s that?” Sean asked.
“It’s a temporary cast. Here, I’ll fill it up.” Fwoosh, and the bag stiffened. “Is that any better?”
“A little – yes – thank you.”
“You should go have this x-rayed. Where do you want to go?”
“Could you possibly take me to the closest place, please? Soon?”
Hours later his roommates came and helped him limp, bruised and sprained, out of the hospital. The neglect and lack of concern in there had vindicated his contempt for establishment medical practice. “Don’t you have insurance? Can you pay for this visit? Sign here, and here, and here.” And then, hurry up and wait. Lie there alone until they’re ready. Listen to the children crying, one of them with a head wound, another with a broken arm. Smell the antiseptic. Watch people ignore everyone. On the way home, Sean had his roommates stop at the Free Clinic to get some crutches. It seemed he had only sprained the upper part of his foot, and gotten some nasty-looking bruises. When the bill came from the hospital, he was amazed to learn that they were charging him for crutches! But ‘Miz Penny’ paid the bill, and sent him a check for a new bike.
Of course, it wasn’t all the hospital’s fault. There were very few doctors in the poor neighborhoods for people to go to, so people used the emergency rooms as their family doctor.
That was why the People’s Free Medical Clinic has been founded. That was the reason why such a diverse group of people, including Black Panthers, women’s libbers, and war protesters had worked to start such a place. The Clinic stood for socialized medicine. But, there was also draft resistance advice, birth control counseling, and the obligatory V.D. screening and sex education. There was a commitment to humane health care, community control of the Clinic, and the redefinition of the doctor-patient relationship.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m checking your lungs.”
“Yeah, but why do you do that?”
“I’m timpaning. By tapping on you like this, I produce sound in your lungs. I can tell by the sound where there’s fluid.”
“What does that mean?”
“That would mean that you have an infection of some kind.”
As a patient “advocate”, Sean’s job was to interview patients, find out why they had come in, and if anything else was bothering them. Advocates encouraged patients to ask questions of the docs, and followed their progress through the Clinic. No one was ever lost in a shuffle of bureaucratic paper.
“Mr. Stefans, did you get everything taken care of?”
“Sure. But you know, he gave me these prescriptions, and I don’t know which one to take once a day and which to take three times.”
“Let’s go back and ask him.”
“Oh, no. I don’t want to bother him.”
“No bother. That’s what he’s here for.”
“Hi Lillian. All squared away.?”
“Yes, thank you. Can someone take me to my appointment at the hospital tomorrow?”
“I’ll arrange it with the day staff right now.”
“Can you tell me when my test results will be in?”
“We should have them by this time tomorrow night.”
“Am I covered by Workman’s comp?”
“Let’s find out.”
“Is there anything else?”
“No. Yes, I do have a sorta problem.”
“I don’t know if I should talk about it.”
“Would you like to talk to a counselor? Everything you say is confidential.”
“No one can find out?”
“Absolutely no one, not without your written permission.”
There were interesting counselors at the Clinic. Supervised and trained by psychiatrists, and then by each other, the “People’s Counselors” helped people open up and express their angers, frustrations, and pain. There might be only a simple physical need to be remedied or there might be something more.
“Have you thought about using birth control?”
“I can’t, my parents don’t believe in it.”
“Do you want to get pregnant?”
“No way! Not for a long time, at least until I’m twenty.”
“I’m so mad I could scream!”
“Why don’t you?”
“Scream? It’s OK?”
“Sure, would you rather be mad?”
The basic philosophy of the People’s Counselors was that it was not always the patient who was fucked up, but society itself. Unreal expectations, peer pressure, media-created role models, and laws against “victimless” crimes drove people into self-depreciation. It was radical, it was revolutionary, to just help people without judging them.
The counselors, staff and volunteers at the Free Clinic worked hard, hoping to renew a society of, by, and for the people. They questioned everything. Does the nuclear family form the basis for repressive authority? Are male and female roles only learned, conditioned behavior? Is competitiveness the root of war? Is bisexuality the future of sex?
Could we create a society in which war was impossible? Could a racist, sexist, patriarchal, avaricious, hypocritical society become one loving caring family? Sean juggled all of these questions and more, hoping to understand why the U.S. was at war, why people got into fights, why people killed each other, why there was so much violence in the world.
He was not a counselor, but one night he found myself pushed into it. For some reason, there was no one around to help a woman freaking out from some drug, presumably LSD. She was agitated, depressed, and could hardly speak for crying.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“There’s nothing with you, you’re just having a bad trip, that’s all.”
“That’s all? That’s all? Why do I feel this way? Help me. Help me. Help me.”
Someone put their arm around her, and Sean took her hand.
“It’s OK, really, you’ll just have to wait for the drug to wear off.”
“Sometimes it takes up to fourteen hours.”
“Oh god, no. I can’t. My parents! Why do I hate my parents?” she sobbed suddenly.
I’m blowing this, I’m in over my head, Sean thought. “Look, you probably don’t hate them.”
“Yes I do! I thought I loved them, but now they hate me.”
“Why do I feel this way? Make it stop.”
“We’ll try. OK?”
Eventually, she was alright. People with more experience in those things took over.
Sean went upstairs to the empty childcare room, grabbed a broom and swept it. He got the wet mop and filled a bucket with hot soapy water to wash the old wooden floor. The kids played on that floor. He was mostly trying to stay busy. LSD. He was remembering his own experience.
Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, family, Life, madness, My Life, Writing | Leave a Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 29, 2008
November 15, 1969: 500,000 people, protesting The War, march by a barricaded White House in which the President watches football.
December 1, 1969: The first draft lottery since 1942 affects the lives of 850,000 men aged 19 through 26.
April 30, 1970: President Nixon announces U.S. invasion of Cambodia, a fait accompli, considering that incursions into Cambodia were by then routine.
May 4, 1970: National Guardsman, “only following orders,” kill four and wound eleven student demonstrators at Kent State University.
May 15, 1970: Two Jackson State students are killed by police who riddle a dormitory with automatic weapons fire, following protests over discrimination and the Kent State killings.
March, 1971: Lt. William Calley is found guilty of the premeditated murder of 22 unarmed civilians at My Lai, Vietnam, but is paroled shortly thereafter.
Death stalked Sean’s thoughts. Not only were U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese dying, but U.S. students were being shot and killed. It began to look as though protest was not only ineffective, but deadly. So far Sean had been lucky, the draft had passed him by, and he wasn’t in jail. He’d marched in demonstrations, and spoken out against The War. Nothing had changed, but the excitement of protest had been exhilarating.
Imagine agreeing with half a million other people all assembled in one place! At the ‘69 demo Sean had been to, he’d been swimming in a sea of people. The crowd had swelled from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. There had been entertainment between the speeches, and that time the Broadway cast of Hair performed, and Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, and even the Beach Boys sang and denounced The War. Kathleen was there for that one. She and Sean were too far from the stage to see much, so Sean offered to put Kath on his shoulders, as many others were doing. She accepted, much to Sean’s shock and delight. The feel of her legs in his hands was incredible. Her mound pressed against the back of his neck. It was hard to concentrate on the speeches, but the music was fantastic. Most of those people had marched thought the D.C. streets: working stiffs, college students, high school students, feminists, civil rights workers, unionists, and children in baby strollers, chanting and shouting around the Nixon White House. It had been surrounded, barricaded with bumper-to-bumper D.C. transit buses. Nixon had been freaked out! That was the biggest anti-war march of them all. Not even Johnson had drawn so many people to D.C. President Johnson had been running the War when Sean had first gotten involved in protest. His administration had increased spending on social programs and the War. There had been good legislation passed during his term of office, so there had not been the tremendous backlash of hatred that Nixon was now enjoying. Nixon wanted to broaden the War, increase military spending, and cut domestic spending.
So there was the feeling that the protests were ineffective. Neither Johnson nor Congress had ended the War. The Nixon government seemed to think that people who opposed the War were naive, misguided, and of no consequence compared to the silent majority, who wholeheartedly supported their government. There were some people, seeing only the ineffectiveness of marches and lobbying efforts, who said, “Bring the War home.”
The Weathermen, formally part of the Students for a Democratic Society, hoped to start another American revolution. They called attention to local infestations of the war machine by bombing them. It didn’t seem like such a bad idea to Sean. ROTC, Dow Chemical, and weapons research labs sure seemed to deserve it, and burning down a branch of the Bank of America made sense – the bankers were financing and profiting from The War. But Sean didn’t want anyone to get hurt. Wasn’t he opposed to war? to violence? to the settling of economic and political differences by short-lived military solutions?
Sean really liked the SDS chants though, things like: “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war.” There were others too, people who supported a North Vietnamese victory. They had chants: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, N.L.F. is gonna win.” The N.L.F., as Sean understood it, was an organization of people in South Vietnam who opposed their own corrupt government and were collaborating with the North. More and more, it appeared, the Vietnamese were fighting a civil war not unlike the US’s own, and the US was not welcome in Vietnam.
Anyone who opposed the U.S. government was alright by me, Sean thought, but he wasn’t about to join any of the crazies, not yet. Sean saw what the cops did to them, and how little difference it made. The real power, he thought, lay in the ability to organize people of diverse backgrounds, having different ideas, into one solid block of opposition to The War. Sean sure as hell didn’t know how to do it.
Many people had answers. Some of the socialists wanted to see more mass demonstrations: “Power to the people!” The Communist Party, America’s bogeymen, called for more participation in electoral politics, especially within the Democratic Party. The Communists’ influence was already weak. By asking us to keep on believing that we could reform the Democratic Party, they alienated themselves totally from the anti-war movement. Other groups wanted to form “The” workingman’s party, but couldn’t agree on who would head it. Every little group knew that they were the only ones who could “lead” us to victory using “the lessons of history.” Some of these weirdos had split off from one group, formed their own “correct” group, and spent most of their time and energy just attacking each other. No strategy, no coalition, no party was allowed to accomplish anything for long. Every proposal was argued to death.
“This meeting is being run by men, I’m tired of male planning.” “The meeting is not addressing the issue of discrimination against gays.” “We can’t stop war and injustice until we change ourselves.” “This is wrong, Lenin said….” “Marx said….” “No he didn’t, what Marx really said was….” “Trotsky….” “Mao is the only true socialist.” “You say you’re for a labor party, but you’re all middle class kids.” “Only the ‘oppressed’ can lead us.” “Only a Party of trade unions can win.” “Only women can get us out of this mess.” “You’re all racists.” “I object to using Roberts’ Rules of Order.” “I object to making decisions by consensus.”
People objected to the clothes people wore, to the food people ate, to the way they lived, and the way they worked. “You support the system of injustice and war by consuming.” “You can’t change the system, you work for it, you benefit from it.” Sean knew he had to do something, but what? Beats the hell out of me, he thought.
He went to a different kind of demo next time he was to D.C. Several groups had called for a C.D., a civil disobedience, in celebration of May Day – an international distress call, a pagan celebration of spring, and also a working peoples’ holiday in other parts of the world. May Day had begun in the US, but few knew it. Using Gandhi’s technique, the streets of Washington would be blocked, and bring business-as-usual to a halt.
Sean couldn’t find anyone else willing to go to D.C. this time. There was more of a risk involved. Few people seemed willing to risk arrest as Gandhi and Martin Luther King had. Sean asked around the Free Medical Clinic that he volunteered at, but no one was going among the people Sean knew. The people in his night school classes said that they couldn’t take time off work and miss school too. Some political “activists” claimed that the whole thing was just a schoolboy adventure. Even Sean’s own brother John said that Sean just wanted to get arrested. Eventually Sean took a Greyhound to D.C., and the Greyhound people there told him what bus Sean needed to get to the park by the Washington Monument. There were thousands of people there already, and a sound stage was being set up.
Once again, the performers were there. Music blared out a rebel beat all the first day and night. Words of protest bounced off Washington’s monument and rippled the Reflecting Pool at Lincoln’s feet. Lincoln sat listening, as usual. There were planning meetings and strategy sessions with all the usual bickering, but in spite of those who wanted to take over the planning, and those who wanted more violent actions, they managed to agree to block streets in an organized fashion. Sean would go with a Washington-Baltimore group to a specific street at 7:00 a.m. Monday. We will shut D.C. down, and force the business-as-usual war machine to listen to us, Sean thought. On Saturday night he listened to the familiar sounds of rock’n’roll, and slept peacefully, knowing that he was with good people, and that he might be able to affect the course of The War. The police had other ideas.
May 2, 1971: 242 people arrested at antiwar camp.
Dawn catches most people asleep, but not the police. Squad cars drove across the grass forcing sleepy people out of the way. Paddy wagons gobbled up everyone who didn’t run fast enough. Night-sticks were swinging. Sean got the hell out of there.
Some were able to regroup, later on that day, in safe-houses, churches, and empty offices. Many people were afraid to use the phones (wiretapping was so common) so runners carried messages around. Everyone was determined. The vote, no, the consensus, was to proceed as planned. No one knew exactly how many people were left. Whereas previously there had been groupings by affiliation, as from a certain church, city, state, or other organization, now there were simply groups, groups large enough to block a street each. Sean hooked up with some people who worked out of a church office that what used as a command post. He saw the runners coming and going. He felt like he was in a war zone. He couldn’t find out much. Some runners reported that people were going home, some said that people had been arrested, and he heard speculation that everyone was being hunted down; that the police were searching everywhere, and that we were all going to be arrested just to keep traffic flowing. It was depressing, exciting, and unreal at the same time.
Next day, a cold grey D.C. morning, Sean and so many others advanced – by foot, thumb, bus, or van – to designated streets. The police were waiting. Sean stood, with others, on a corner looking at the police across the street. He crossed the opposite way with a large group, and the police followed from corner to corner, with their riot helmets, tear gas, and clubs. But everyone obeyed the traffic signals! It was clear, however, that the cops weren’t going to let the streets be blocked. Some people elected to stay behind to keep the cops busy. The rest ran up the block and jumped into the street. No one knew if the vehicles would stop. People, especially union pickets during strikes, had been run over before. The cars did stop, but then police began rerouting traffic. They found ourselves blocking empty streets.
Now, from up the street, Sean saw dozens of little white motor-scooters, with the men in blue. He waited with the others for the clubs to start swinging, but the cops would just ride straight on to spook them. They held on, for a while. Then the cops got the idea to come right at them, and, if they didn’t move, to brake and slide sideways right into people. That broke the line. People traveled up the street in groups, and the cops followed. Sean watched one cop, whose activity defined him as a “pig”, tap a guy on the shoulder from behind, and squirt Mace into his eyes when he turned his head around. Someone stayed to help the poor guy but got a club across his chest. Both were arrested, probably for assaulting a police “officer”. Sean kept going. The police stopped every once in a while to make arrests, but Sean managed to stay ahead. There were no contingency plans, so they were forced away from the main streets. Then more cops showed up, and they began chasing people down with their scooters. Sean took off running, pulling trashcans off the sidewalk into the street as he went, hoping to slow ’em down, and keep the streets closed a bit longer.
Elsewhere, streets remained blockaded when not enough police were available, but within an hour, the Mace, clubbings, and arrests cleared the streets. Sean wandered the sidewalks with one large group until he saw a transit bus pull up fast. Helmeted police jumped out and started clubbing people with the biggest night-sticks Sean had ever seen, four-foot riot batons. Sean saw people go down, but there was nothing he could do. Sean spotted Phyllis, from the Free Clinic at home, running the wrong way. Sean grabbed her hand and ran down an alley. The police were waiting on the other side, but at least the riot batons were behind. As they came out of the alley there were fifteen to twenty people leaning against the wall being searched. There was a cop directly in front who calmly asked them to stop and motioned them off to the side. Sean and Phyllis just stood and watched.
“Phyllis, I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Neither did I. But Carole was coming, and I came with her and some other people from the Women’s Center.
“I don’t know. We were walking down the street, and the police started grabbing people all of a sudden.”
“Weren’t you blocking traffic?”
“Hell no. We tried it earlier, but they chased us off. We hadn’t even gotten to our designated street yet.”
“Where is everyone else?”
“I don’t know. Somebody said, ‘Run,’ so we ran. People went in every direction. I lost track of Carole.”
“What do you think is going to happen to us now?”
“I wish I knew, I just want to get out of here.”
“Well, nobody seems to be paying any attention to us, let’s go!”
“OK.” They started to move away.
“Where are you two going?” the calm patrolman asked.
“Well, we haven’t been arrested, we’re leaving,” Sean said.
“Get back here.” Still more people were brought over and searched. They were arguing with the cops about The War. “Won’t you join us?” “Please join us, together we could stop The War.” The cops asked: “Would you support us when we ask for higher wages?” “Of course,” was the immediate reply. The cops laughed, and everyone relaxed a bit. Another bus finally pulled up, and the cops made us get on it. It was an ordinary bus. Everyone found out how to open the windows because the little sign said: “Push Here in an Emergency.” Sean saw people jump out of a bus in front of them, and Sean wanted to do the same, but Phyllis wasn’t going for it. Sean didn’t want to abandon her, so they rode along, flapping the windows like wings and calling out to the people we passed: “No more war! U.S. out! Stop the killing!”
The destination was a football field. What was this? Sean wondered. As it turned out, the jails were full. There were about two thousand people herded into that field, surrounded by a fence, a ring of National Guard, and a ring of cops. We’re that dangerous? Sean wondered.
A large group of people did try to bust out. Sean remembered the chain-link fence bent and sagging to the ground with their weight. The police moved in, past the Guardsmen, and beat them back with tear gas and clubs. No one tried that again. Everyone on the field got the gas. Most couldn’t see for awhile; the fumes were so intensely acrid that Sean shut his eyes, trying to squeeze the obnoxious irritant out. The police didn’t trust the Guard, so they increased their strength. One Guardsman said to Sean: “I don’t know if they’re guarding you or us.” He told him that many of the guys like him had joined the guard in order not to be sent to Vietnam. “We’re with you, hang in there,” he said.
Phyllis had found her friend Carole, so Sean wandered around trying to figure out what was going to happen. A meeting (of course) was called. They found tarps, ordinarily used to over the field, and constructed a tent, using a goalpost as the support. They met in the tent, but, naturally, couldn’t agree on a plan of action. No one knew what was “going down” anymore. More of the tarpaulin was ripped up and used to build privies for the women, and trenches were dug to carry waste to the rear of the field. The Guardsmen lent them shovels, and a water tap was available. They begged the guard for cups and canteens to get water, after it got muddy and slippery around the tap from hundreds of people trying to run water into their mouths. When night came many people were huddling together for warmth and comfort. Sean was desperate for a little physical and human warmth, so he sought Phyllis out. Sean liked her and he hoped to use the occasion to snuggle up with her, at least. When Sean found her she was with some smoothie, a stranger, who had his arms around her and was taking her to a small tent he’d made – so that she could warm up. “Oh, God! I want to be warm,” she said, and snuggled up against him. How the hell had that happened in the short time I was in the meeting? “Me too,” Sean said. The guy, Bruce, said, “I’m afraid there’s barely room for two, but you’re welcome to use my space blanket.” Phyllis had her hand in Bruce’s. “Thanks,” Sean mumbled. I suppose I should be grateful, he thought, but he wasn’t. It had turned into a lousy day. The main tent was full by then, but Sean found a space behind it where there was some shelter from the wind, and he managed to grab a few zees – it was a good blanket.
Around midnight the lights Zapped! on. Amazing how noisy those floodlights are in the still of the night. The buses were back. They were being moved out. It was pitch dark past the floodlights, and no one could see anything with those things blasting sleepy retinas. They were herded onto the buses, packed in like cattle. There were no families or press around. Sean was scared. No one knew what the government would do. Sean and most other people conjured up nightmares of concentration camps, or worse. After all, hadn’t the U.S. government rounded up and imprisoned Japanese-Americans during the last war? And, hadn’t Nixon and Agnew called peace activists traitors to America? The buses drove away. Sean tried to get back to sleep, but that’s not real easy to do standing up. Sean couldn’t see where they were going, and he wasn’t much relieved by the sight of a huge fortress-looking structure. It turned out to be Washington Coliseum, and they were taken inside. Everyone was exhausted, and tried to sleep on the concrete floor. The Guard finally brought in wool blankets. The police did nothing.
May 3, 1971: Using tear gas and night-sticks, police arrest 7,000 antiwar protesters in Washington, D.C., including 1,200 who are arrested while legally assembled on the Capitol steps.
As daylight penetrated to the deep floor from up above the bleachers, they were awakened by shouts. More people were being brought in! Some had been released from jail. Most were people who had heard of the bust from them, and joined them in the streets that morning. They got a standing ovation, with cheering and singing. Sean was totally freaking amazed. No one had any idea how many people had been arrested. The news media spoke of only a few hundred busts. Clearly there were thousands. Every D.C. jail was full. People sang songs and told jokes and wondered what to do. The police came in with bullhorns. They said that anyone could leave, if they admitted to resisting arrest – a felony! The entire assembly split up into three groups, discussed the “offer”, and passed word back and forth (easy to do in those crowded conditions). The consensus: “refuse to cooperate.”
Later, after Sean ate two of the several thousand bologna sandwiches that suddenly showed up, the “offer” changed. Now, they were promised no felony charges would be brought, but the arrests would be misdemeanor charges only! Another meeting followed, and the huge group rejected that plan too. A few people left, but Sean figured that was their right. He looked everywhere for Phyllis. He liked her a lot; they were both volunteers at the People’s Free Medical Clinic in Baltimore. She had an infectious smile, and wore thick coke-bottle lenses. They worked as patient advocates, people who stayed with a patient through their visit, to explain things, ask questions, take medical histories, and follow up before the patient left. He and Phyllis made sure that patients asked questions of the doctors, got explanations of treatment, and were given treatment options. As advocates they received frequent group trainings, and had even gone on retreat together to Assateague Island, camping among the wild ponies. Sean found her very attractive.
The A.C.L.U. lawyers finally found out where everyone was and began negotiating with the cops. The Guardsmen tossed Frisbee’s back and forth with the protesters, carried messages for them, and even brought them chocolate bars (talk about feeling like a POW) until their Commander caught them at it. He forced them all to stand at attention. Sean heard it start and he joined in: “…sit down. Let them sit down.” All three thousand or more chanted: “Let them sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down.” In fear of a riot, for that is how the media reported it, the Guardsmen were allowed to sit back down in the bleachers. Victory! Sean thought, and felt better.
Of course, no one else was allowed to sit in the bleachers. People wandered aimlessly around, ate more prison-fare bologna sandwiches, and tried to get messages in and out. Sean finally got access to the phones, so he called his boss to tell him that he couldn’t make it to work. Sean’s boss asked him where he was. Sean told him, but he didn’t seem to believe him. “I heard about a ruckus in Washington where some people got arrested. You weren’t involved in that were you?” Sean told him that the police had been arresting everyone on the streets, and that he wasn’t sure when he’d get back to work. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “No,” Sean told him, “I don’t think there’s anything you can do now, but the ACLU is trying to help get us out of here.”
People sang, some people performed roving plays, and some chanted. Someone got the idea to do a round with om. Sean joined in a continuous ommmmmmm that was maintained for over an hour by having large groups start at different times. Feels great! Sean thought, and such cooperation! The effect was mesmerizing – there were at least 3000 people jammed into that place. Another night passed in this way.
Sean still hadn’t found Phyllis, so he curled up in a wool blanket and tried to sleep. Some crazy guy ran around half naked, danging his penis and balls in women’s faces where they slept. A roar of disapproval echoed around the collesium, and he was gone. Next morning they were offered a new deal. Who’s in charge here? Sean was not the only one wondering. If they allowed themselves to be “processed” – fingerprinted and photographed – they would not be charged. Sean was ready for that. It wasn’t a bad deal, despite the contradiction of being booked without having been arrested, but no one would be charged with a crime.
Some were against it, pointing out the contradictions, and wanting to maintain the “revolution”. A group calling themselves “Weatherwomen”, presumably a split-off from the “Weathermen”, who were a splinter group from the nonviolent Students for a Democratic Society, argued against it vehemently. They passed word around that some of them were wanted by the F.B.I., and that we had to help prevent their arrest. They actually screamed at the crowd to stay, but they’d had enough. No one knew these people anyway. They could have been police agents. There was no more to be gained by staying. At least people knew what had happened. A vote was taken and it was agreed to leave. Sean managed to find Phyllis again; her friend seemed to have disappeared, and they stayed together for the rest of “processing”.
It turned out to be a real gas. People borrowed each others clothes and hats, and painted mustaches on each other. Sean borrowed Phyllis’s thick glasses and they both stumbled through the lines. People with P.O.W. tattooed on their foreheads with magic markers signed their names as Mickey de Mouse, Donald Q. Duck, Tricky Dick Nixon, Ho Chi Minh, Mao ZeDong, John Hancock, or even John Mitchell, the U.S. Attorney General who had illegally ordered the mass arrests. The F.B.I. got everyone’s fingerprints, but a judge later ordered the records of the illegal arrests destroyed. No one was left in jail, and no one had been seriously hurt.
Sean’s boss had been understanding, after he’d heard the whole story, so Sean still had his job. Public opinion had changed. Day-to-day organizing, in churches, in synagogues, in PTA’s and labor unions, was finally beginning to pay off. The end of The War would come soon, or the Government was in serious trouble. Sean saw only two options for his future: jail or Canada.
Posted in 1970s, Life, madness, My Life, politics, Writing | 3 Comments »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 29, 2008
“Leaving home is a kick, you know? kind of like summer vacation? Only it’s no more screams, no more fights, no more parents’ dirty looks,” Sean had told Lenny a few weeks before he would graduate from his high school. Lenny had a new job teaching, downtown, and a new apartment nearby. Sean’s part-time job was only eight blocks from the apartment. He could leave home now, and he was gradually shifting his books and clothes into Lenny’s new place.
“So when are you moving in?”
“Just as soon as I graduate.”
“Have you told your parents yet?”
“No. Why should I?”
“Well, I don’t want any trouble with them. You are kind of young, Sean. And you told me how they run your life.”
“Don’t worry about it. I looked into it. There’s not a damn thing they can do if I have a job, and I start full-time a week before graduation. I’m really looking forward to this.”
“Won’t you miss home?”
“Are you kidding? What’s to miss? An old house with bad plumbing? Holes in the walls? Freezing in the morning because the heating oil ran out again?”
“What about your parents? Won’t you miss them?”
“No fucking way, Lenny. I think they’re crazy. You should have heard some of the fights they had: cursing each other, throwing things, breaking things.”
“Kind of infantile, huh?”
“You said it. I couldn’t see much difference between them and the younger kids.”
“Don’t you love them?”
“No, I don’t care anymore. I’ll miss my brothers and sisters, but I don’t want to ever have to go back there once I’m out.”
“Well, you’ve gotta go back there now. Do you want some help?”
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine this way, moving things a little at a time. I don’t want to get into a fight right now.”
“Hell, Lenny, I’ve got finals coming up.”
“For high school?”
“Hey, it’s a good school.”
“From what I’ve seen, public education sucks.”
“Maybe so, but I’ve got a job already, at Johns Hopkins, in a Physics lab.”
“Well, don’t forget the rent. I hope you can give me some money soon. I have to have it by the fifteenth of every month.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t be such a worry-wart. I’ll have the money. Look, I’ll see you later, O.K.?”
“Sean. Wait. I was planning on going down to David’s tonight. Don’t you want to come with me?”
“Can’t. I told you I’ve got finals. I’ve gotta study.”
“I’ll help you.”
“With Chemistry? Analytic Geometry? You teach English!”
“Oh, you’re right,” Lenny laughed. “Well, when are you coming back?”
“I’ll bring some more books down tomorrow or the next day.”
“How come you have so many books? I thought your folks didn’t have money?”
“I stole most of ’em, one or two at a time, and I flipped burgers for the rest. See ya later.”
“Yeah. See you,” Lenny said, but he was thinking about keeping his dresser locked.
Steve didn’t have much money. His new roommate worried him. The guy’s only eighteen. Can I trust him? We’ll have rent and bills to pay. What if he won’t pay his share? I want him here, but I sure can’t afford to keep him.
Lenny was not the most stable of people himself. Sean didn’t know it, but Lenny had almost not finished college. His relationship with Henry had almost destroyed him. Henry had quit school and disappeared. Lenny hadn’t taken enough pills to die, but the psychiatrists had helped. Now he was getting by with weekly outpatient visits and a little help from his Thorazine pills.
Oh, well, at least Sean’s good looking. Maybe he’ll come around. Things are looking up, Lenny thought, as a smile brightened his face. I hope he doesn’t get drafted.
Lenny didn’t have to worry about the draft. He was eighty pounds overweight and the letter from his psychiatrist had assured his 4-F (last to be called) status.
Sean passed his exams. His parents looked forward to the graduation ceremony, but Sean didn’t want to go. He wanted to just grab his diploma and join the real world. The more interested they were, the less interested he was. It’s just another dumb ritual, he thought. He had read about the protests and boycotts of college graduations over the war and other things.
“What do mean you’re not going?” his mother asked.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Since when do you decide? This is your graduation. It’s important to you, to us. You have to go.”
“I have to go? No I don’t. Not anymore.”
“Not anymore? As long as you live here you do what we say.”
“I don’t live here anymore.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m moving out.”
“You’re not going anywhere. Your father will talk to you.”
Mr. Emmet took Sean to the cellar to “talk.” There had been a lot of spankings, whippings, and lectures down there, so Sean wondered what kind of talk this would be. His father preceded him down the narrow stairs. A small piece of old linoleum flaked off a stair onto the concrete floor below. Sean was acutely aware of the damp smell of the cellar, ducking his head to avoid the ceiling joists at the bottom of the stairs. His father turned around to face him. Sean almost didn’t recognize the look on his face, but then he remembered. That look, I saw it before. Yeah, it was the way he grinned when he gave me and Paul that cryptic birds-and-the-bees talk.
“What is all this about your leaving? Where are you going? What are you going to do?”
“I have an apartment, and my job is full-time now. I’m moving Saturday.”
“Saturday? You can’t go just like that.”
“You’re the one told me to go.”
“What? Me? When?”
“You said, ‘If you don’t like it, get out,’ so I’m going,” Sean said, defiantly, but ready to duck.
“What?” Mr. Emmet asked, more puzzled than angry. Then he snapped. “That? That doesn’t matter. Uh, you know your mother doesn’t want you to leave. This will be real hard on her.”
It didn’t matter to Sean. His mind was set, but he agreed to go to the graduation. What does it matter, he thought, I’ve won. In two days I’m out of here.
On Saturday Sean was up and dressed faster than he had gotten up in twelve years of the same routine. He threw a tie around his neck, adjusted the two ends and let his hands take over tying the knot. I can do what I want, go where I want, stay out all night, Sean thought, as he pulled the longer end over the other, and up and over, and around the left loop, and behind the right side. And I don’t ever have to talk to them again. He pulled hard on the almost completed knot, wrapped it all the way around the front and up the back and then down through the front of the knot. He pulled it tight. “Aw, shit,” he yelled – the wide front end was too short.
“You’re gonna be late for your own graduation,” his mother yelled up the attic stairs.
He pulled the tie apart, and slowly, fixedly, re-tied the knot. He tucked his shirt in, grabbed his rented black jacket, and ran down the stairs – sideways, in order to give his feet maximum purchase on the crumbling narrow boards – fingered the attic door lintel and swung through the gap. From there, he jumped the rest of the stairs from the second floor three and four at a time, grabbed the railing post and swung onto the hallway floor.
As soon as he and his parents got back from the ceremony downtown, they were going to give him a ride to his new apartment with the rest of his things. He was ready.
No one talked on the way down, except for Mr. Emmet’s ritualistic cursing of all other drivers: “Where’d you get your license, in a box of crackerjacks? Horn works, try your lights. Idiot! Learn how to drive,” etc. Sean was used to it, only this time he was as anxious as his father to get somewhere – he wanted to get this over with and finish moving.
He found his seat on stage and looked around. There were four hundred and ninety-one other guys on stage, and four hundred and ninety of them in black suits. One guy came in a white suit, all the way from the white tie down to his white shoes. Now that was an idea, Sean thought, better than not coming at all.
Baltimore’s Mayor Tommy D’Alessandro gave out the diplomas. Principal Burkert had the people stand up who were going to college; over half the class stood. Then he had the people stand who already had a job. Most of the rest stood, except for Sean, who didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore.
Mr. and Mrs. Emmet brought their son back to their house. He left his diploma on the table in the hall while he ran up the stairs to gather his few remaining clothes and books. The small roll of paper looked out of place with all the family rollar skating trophies and medals. Only Sean had rejected the competitions. Trophies and medals weren’t sufficient incentive for Sean. The endless hours of practice and travel hadn’t interested Sean in the least, and his school work had required endless hours of study, just to graduate. Somehow Paul did both, but Sean had struggled through his courses, even repeating his junior year.
“This is all your fault,” Mrs. Emmet accused.
“How do figure that? You’re the one that spoiled him for so many years. I’m surprised he had the balls to do this.”
Before they could continue, Sean came down the stairs with some clothes, a few books, and an old suitcase that once belonged to his maternal grandmother. She’d died when Sean was two. He didn’t remember her, but the suitcase was still good, and the stuffed animal she had bought for him before she died was in the case. His father took it out to the car, and they drove silently to the apartment on Twenty-fifth and Calvert streets. The buiding was old but well-maintained. Not far away the city was already tearing whole blocks of dilapidated slums down.
They carried his things up the two flights of stairs – against his protests – and looked the place over. He was anxious for them to leave.
“I guess this is it,” Mr. Emmet said.
“Call us sometime,” Mrs. Emmet urged.
Sean just nodded his head. His mother moved to hug him, but he backed away. “We’d better get going,” she told Mr. Emmet, and they left. Sean was elated. That was easy, he thought, This is all easier than I thought it would be.
“Welcome Sean, I see your parents brought you.”
“Yeah, yeah, they insisted.”
Lenny carried the suitcase to Sean’s bed in the small bedroom. “You know,” he said, “You don’t have to sleep here.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean I have a nice king size bed out there. We could both fit easily, and then we could use this room for storage.”
“Uh, no thanks, Lenny. I like it just fine in here.” Aw, hell, what have I got myself into now?
Posted in 1970s, family, Life, My Life, relationships, Writing | 1 Comment »
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 17, 2008
“Wash your own clothes,” Mrs. Emmet had barked out one day. “And you know how to use the iron,” she had told John and Sean, “You know I don’t have time anymore, not with five other kids to take care of. Six, counting your father.” Sean understood the logic in that. After scorching a few shirts and putting extra creases in his pants for a couple weeks, and mopping up the suds, which had the annoying habit of leaking out the top of the washer, he had learned how to do those things. By the time he was in high school, he was pretty good at it.
As he ironed his pants one morning, Sean realized that he sort of enjoyed the work, enjoyed the time spent in the meditative removal of wrinkles from his clothes. He had come to enjoy any repetitive task for the peace he found in concentrating on something other than his parent’s demands, his grades, or his endless obsession with things he could’ve done, or should’ve said, or should not have said.
He could love his parents more. He should never again sin against God. He should study more. He shouldn’t have written love notes to the girls in his fifth grade class. Not only was that embarrassing to have them read to the whole class, but his father brought out the leather strap for that. He shouldn’t have talked in line – he had been dropped from serving mass as an Altar boy for that.
He knew now that the boys in grade school had teased him no more than they teased each other – if only he’d not felt so insulted, he might have had some friends. He worried about everything, this morose boy with downcast eyes. He was afraid of people, even to the extent of crossing the street to avoid having to speak to someone, or even look at them. He knew he’d say something for people to laugh at. Always straightening his shirt, adjusting his pants, or combing his hair, even in his dreams. He used to have nightmares of being chased, or falling into bottomless holes when he was younger, but as he got older his nightmares were about his shirt not being tucked in, showing up in class barefoot, or being altogether nude in public.
Damn, this knee’s torn, he noticed, and yelled up the cellar steps: “Mom, have you got anymore of those patches?.”
“What patches?” she yelled back from the kitchen at the top of the stairs.
“You know, the one’s you iron on?”
“I think so, look in the box on my sewing machine.”
He ran up the stairs, found the packet of patches, and jumped groups of stairs back to the ironing board. He was going to be late for school if he didn’t get going. None of the gluey strips of cloth matched his pants, but he found one that was the right color. Damned things, he thought, When I wanted a corduroy patch I couldn’t find one. Now I’ll have to use one on these pants. It’ll have to do. At least it’s the right color. He carefully placed the patch over the center of the tear, and meticulously pressed the iron around the edge. He pulled the pants on, shut the iron off, grabbed his lunch, ran out the door, across the street, and down the hill to the bus stop. A bus was just pulling away.
Damn it. And John’s gone. He must have been on that bus.
Sean’s brother John had started high school the year after Sean, and since then the years of being inseparable had yielded to the pressures of socialization. John had found new friends, been invited to parties, and even gone on dates. They didn’t talk much anymore, as John was seldom home. The entire family, including John, but except for Sean, roller skated every weekend and one to two nights a week as well. They were either at roller-skating lessons, practices, or contests in three states (his parents had been Tri-State champions). It was not something Sean wanted to do, so he was often left at home to study. Studying, however, had it’s upside. Sean got to stay in the peace and quiet, to study. Nerds back then didn’t have video games, or Internet, or role-playing games, but they had books, coin collecting, and science kits. Sean loved to mix chemicals up to see what would happen. For awhile, he kept a jar of piss and spit and fingernail clippings and hair. The results were disappointing. With real pure chemicals though, he didn’t do much better, often just creating smelly and/or smoking goo. It kept him entertained though.
John combed his hair down, a la Beatles, and even found a part-time job after school and summers on a PC-board assembly line. He never said how he got the job, or where to go, but many years later told Sean that all he would have had to do was to have gone to a place downtown and applied, but he had never mentioned it. Both kids had worked together with a snowball stand for a few years. It made money, but only enough to buy a few pair of socks, or candy, or books, or things like that. They had tried, unsuccessfully, to sell magazine subscriptions door to door. They had both worked at the same hamburger place. Sean liked that job, not for the pitiful amount of money it brought him but for the free food. He was spending increasing amounts of time in the attic by himself (hence the human waste experiment). He read a lot, of course, and studied. He also discovered masturbation. He told John about it, but John had spent his freshman year going to a pre-seminary high school out of state and had learned about it from those guys. Once, they tried doing it at the same time. (If seminary students did it, why not?) It was exciting to discover this fun fact about their penises. “How high can you shoot?” John asked. “Pretty