Archive for August, 2022


I’m pretty much the last of my generation. I was the youngest, so that’s as it should be. Both my much elder brothers are dead, all my cousins, so far as I know. Three days ago, brother Rod’s widow, Ginny, died at age 94.
She was fading to the end, not dreadfully, but mind and body had been exiting for awhile. The funeral’s on for next Monday, Linda and my 42nd weeding anniversary. That’s OK with me, a hidden tribute.
I’m listening to Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations” while I’m writing this, and I’m crying. It’s less for Ginny than the beauty of a damned near perfect album. I’m that way with music.
Ginny wouldn’t have liked Waits (though Waits would have recognized her). She was a classical-music person, but I see them as alike in a way – both beautiful, both who they are/were without excuse or explanation.
Rod didn’t like classical music (he’d get up at 3 in the morning to sing “Danny Boy” in his upstairs room), but he loved Ginny enough to leave her off at the Academy of Music in Philly to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra while he wandered the downtown streets. And at Christmas in the early years, he’d stand beside her to sing Handel’s “Messiah” in the Powelton Episcopal church. (Rod, like me, had no religious belief or inclination, but he had an enormous loving humanity).
Ginny was a tiny woman, well under four feet, but not a small person. If there was anyone who didn’t like her I never met this emotional reprobate. When you say someone is “sweet” (especially a woman), it flashes an unfortunate mushy vision. Ginny wasn’t like that. She broadcast love without making an embarrassing mess of it, and she didn’t bother loving those who didn’t deserve it.
She was beautiful in a contained way. When Rod discovered her, I was in my early teens. You didn’t see much of women’s legs in the ‘50s, but in the summer she graced me (and everyone else) with shorts. Well.
With Rod she did all the cooking (it was the way for most back then). Rod only made chocolate milk and coffee, which he timed with extravagant attention to his watch. She cooked him kidneys and whale steaks that she would never eat but never complained, despite the smell wafted to her.
They were married for 57 years by my computation. I know of no major or extended conflict. The nearest strain came during their move from their old (1825, roughly) mill-hand house in Rose Valley to their much larger place – both house and yard – in Mendenhall (an unheralded upper middle class suburban sidetrack near Kennett Square, itself noted for mushrooms and Longwood Gardens, a Dupont estate and tourist designation).
At the time, Rod complained of Ginny never settling on any of the territories they looked at. OK, that’s because she loved the Rose Valley house and didn’t want to move. Rod wanted to grow roses without restraint. I think he wanted that more than anything else in the world (even the keeping of snakes, his first love). As they searched, he rejected any house that was not accompanied by an expanded yard that could harbor innumerable rose bushes, while Ginny rejected any house where the doors were falling off the kitchen cabinets (that never registered with Rod).
So maybe their Mendenhall house was a compromise. I have to make an aside here, and I apologize for interjecting myself too far. That house rouses the most eviscerating hatred of a structure I’ve ever reacted to… the most poorly designed, most abominably constructed house I’ve ever set foot it. I was about to go off on an architectural tear, but it’s the wrong place. Quiet!
Ginny, in the last years (13 years after Rod’s death), every evening sat in the same place, where she faced, across the room, the TV or the array of those who who had come to visit, whether on the couch to her oblique left, or the chairs and rockers dragged forward from the sliding glass doors behind her, where, when no one was there, she watched and tabulated the appearance of birds.
Rod loved birds in a way I’ve never mastered. After retiring from Sun Oil R&D, he’d sit for hours at those sliding doors and document the avians he’s seen and in what number. He and our brother Vic placed bluebird nesting boxes along trails in an arboretum near them.
About three years ago (four?), Ginny invited my daughter Morgan and Morgan’s daughter Sammy to some live with her. Morgan, an archaeologist long established in Hawaii, had become disenchanted with the “awayness” of Hawaii and now had a job that could be consummated online, so she accepted. And supported Ginny in those last, declining years.
Ginny resisted the reality of decline, which put a burden on Morgan and Sam (who picked up much of the cooking, always one of her specialties) that I don’t think Ginny quite realized.
When not doing her archaeo-related work, Morgan was trying to juggle between Ginny’s assumptions of how things should be, medically and otherwise, and the realities of a lovely woman on the way out. I don’t know how Morgan did it, how she has continued to do it (now aided by her sister Erin, who has flown in from Arizona to help settle the after-effects of death). She brought in outside support that Ginny had resisted, found relief for Ginny’s constant arthritic pain that had never been treated properly, set up in-home hospice care that I can only vaguely comprehend.
Ginny lived through much more negativity than I would hope to: the death of her parents at an early age (car crash? – I’ve been clear), being raised by a domineering grandmother (a woman who curled my toes), the death of her only child (Roddy looked and acted like Christ should have) and Rod’s death from heart failure. But she never gave up – though I’m not sure whether “not giving up” is accepting.
Morgan now has a monstrously ill-conceived house to live in (OK, I shouldn’t say that, but I will) with Sam. Lind and I will meet with those who cared most about Ginny on Monday.
Did I love Ginny? I think so. I’m not good at loving people, even those close to me. Most who know me don’t realize this, not sure why. But Ginny was as much of a wonderful human being as any of us can be and so few of us are. That should be enough.
In “Georgia Lee,” Tom Waits asks, “Why wasn’t God watching, why wasn’t God listening, why wasn’t God there for Georgia Lee?”
No, I don’t believe in God. But he was there for Ginny.

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Demons of the Thinking Mind

Linda and I have been watching a Netflix series called “How to Change Your Mind,” about the resurgence of interest in using psychedelics to reverse or alleviate various mental aberrations such as OCD, depression, anxiety, etc. Last night, they were covering MDMA (Ecstasy), interviewing various experimental participants who, in the main, had quickly – and radically – discovered love for humanity and the world.

This sort of announcement, much as I support the use of psychedelics, always sets me off. Why? Getting ready to slough off into sleep (my hour best suited to thinking clearly), I decided to try to pinpoint my response. 

Mostly, I thought at first, it’s the woo-woo aspect of tossing the word “love” around like a verbal whiffle ball. But looking deeper, I realized that I just don’t want to “love” the world. What I want is to understand the world, to know it. 

All right, we’ll never quite encompass “reality,” because we can’t agree on what that term means. But I’d like to great as close to an understanding as possible. Because to me, knowledge is the ultimate, perhaps the only worthwhile justification of existence. If we’re here for any reason (though of course we aren’t), it’s to know – to examine, discover and use, in whatever way, the basic construction of life and the universe.

*   *   *

A suggestions for a banner for the Pennsylvania senate election, directed at dear Dr. Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”

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I’ve had a recurring fantasy of the Hare Khrisnas cavorting down the street (“like drunker marionettes,” as a fellow carpenter once described them), singing, “Horrid Christians, horrid Christians, horrid Christians, horrid Chris-is-tians…”

*   *   *

Confusing signs put up along the roads up here, far in advance of actual roadwork: “Fresh Oil and Chips” and “No Pavement Markings.”

In the first case, I’d like to like to change the signs to either “Fresh Fish and Chips” or “Fish Oil and Chips.” As to the second: Should we also note, “No Elephants on Road”? And what might the unlikely term “pavement markings” convey to someone from out of state? I picture a vehicle hauling a 10-foot-diameter revolving drum that prints “FUCK YOU” on the roadway every (roughly) 31.416 feet.

*   *   *

I recall the sign above the road as you drive into Philadelphia International Airport:

“Ceiling height 13’ 8” ”

Beware low-flying planes?

*   *   *

Why was the vacuum cleaner invented?

Because nature abhors a dirty vacuum.

 *   *   *

T-shirt suggestion for MAGA supporters who advocate revolution: 

“I am revolting!”

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A recent dream: I’m not me in this dream, though I’m the interior character, seeing the world from the inside as a personal self. Possibly it’s a scripted episode and I’m an actor? I seem to be a Black man. Some harm has been done to my daughter (the harm was noted in the dream, but the early parts are lost in the mist so I can’t recall what it was), and I have to confront/attack the person responsible. I go to this person’s house or workplace and viciously attack. I’m attacking a woman, though I think the harm was done by a man. By the end, she has become a white tiger and I’m breaking or trying to break the tiger’s hind legs.

Looking back, I don’t see any connection to my current life, any meaning in the actions, or even any elements springing from the preceding day’s activities, which is unusual for me. What, if anything, is it telling me?

*   *   *

Almost every poll or questionnaire I’ve seen drawn up to determine what people are thinking concerning current situations not only includes obvious inherent biases, but its subtle arrangements (the sequence of questions, the terms used, their grammar, etc.) would appeal differently to differing group or individual assumptions.

So… thought I, applying whichever advanced AI languages or algorithms social media have been using, couldn’t most of these polls or questionnaires be fed into an AI to identify at least the most obvious biases? You can’t predict every ridiculous reaction that every individual will have, but at least eliminate the most glaring errors.

*   *   *

I don’t drink coffee (can barely stomach the smell), but for those of you who do, one of my rare social/corporate suggestions:

Boycott Starbucks! 

Their anti-union and anti-worker positions have become truly repulsive – not only firing workers for unionizing, but even closing outlets that support union activities. They’ve become as vicious and evil as the coal industry and robber barons of the 19th century, a truly trash outfit.

Tea’s marginally better for you anyway.

*   *   *

Any and all of the above depends on my and your personal outlook. We are each separate entities, and there’s damned little generalization of outlook that pertains across the human race or its subdivisions, however you slice them: not by race, by sex, by gender, by religion, by occupation (or lack thereof), by national origin, by previous condition of ineptitude.

There are statistic leanings within all of these groups, but how far (and even which way) we each lean is individually determined, usually by factors we can’t fully identify.

*   *   *

Now let me get tack to whatever the hell it is I should be doing, before I turned (retch!) philosophical.

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