Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Party bus

The bus was a few minutes late and unusually full when I boarded it this morning.

I soon discovered why: our bus had picked up passengers from another vehicle that had broken down, and our driver was determined to get her bus back on schedule. As we barrelled toward the business district, stuffed to the gills with twice the normal number of commuters, all struggling to remain upright or not be catapulted out of our seats, I had to check now and then to make sure Keanu Reeves wasn't at the wheel.

It was a wide ride.

It could have been fraught with fisticuffs as well, but it wasn't. In fact, it was party time. Perfect strangers of every imaginable stripe smiled and shrugged as they elbowed, jostled and hung on to their neighbors or rearranged themselves to let others disembark. A newly boarded passenger paid his fare, startled briefly as he turned to see the scene before him, then squeezed into a crevice and wished everyone on board a blessed day. Even Carmelita, the no-nonsense driver, was chatty. The good-will aboard was palpable.

I'm not so starry-eyed as to believe such conviviality would last indefinitely if we'd been stuffed in the bus any longer than the time it took us to get downtown. But my jolly ride to work this morning did more than give me a great start to the day. It gave me hope that we can, now and then, all just get along.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

This is when it's great to be in the moment

This walking trail -- where trolley tracks used to take people to work downtown and back home again when our neighborhood was developed in the 1920s -- is about a half block from our house. It's where Mr. James and I go walking every day. (It's also where I slipped on the ice and broke my wrist last December, but we'll ignore that for now). My camera doesn't do it justice, but trust me, it's quite wonderful to walk amidst the splendor Mother Nature sends our way, however briefly, at this time of year.

I probably wouldn't go out and enjoy this nearly as often -- maybe ever -- if Mr. James didn't require a daily constitutional. He's more focused on the squirrels than the blue sky and colorful leaves that enchant me, but I definitely have him to thank for the experience of these moments.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


There's a lesson I clearly remember from 4th grade social studies about the value of free speech in America. In my mind's eye I can still see the textbook illustration of two guys with patriot-looking hair and knickers, apparently in heated conversation in a 1700s style Town Square. Next to that picture was another depiction of the same two fellows shaking hands.

It wasn't the illustrations so much as the teacher's comment about them that made such an impression on me. One of the things that makes living in America special, she said, is that here people can express different points of view and not get jailed.

Can disagree about things, and still be friends.

Cut to today. That social studies book is probably out of print, and the point it tried to make seems sadly out of style.

Our local newspaper this morning carried a story about vandalism of presidential candidates' yard signs. It seems in some areas, signs are taking a beating from both sides of the great political divide. Mostly they're just being snatched out of yards - one fellow found his Obama sign folded up and stashed in a sewer, the story reported, and a McCain supporter said she's had to replace 20 signs so far.

But more pernicious, the story noted that several Obama signs have been spray-painted with hammer and sickle symbols or the letters "USSR," while McCain signs have been covered in black or marked with swastikas.

We all have different interpretations of what constitutes the American dream, but the concept represented by those long-ago textbook illustrations - of the freedom to speak your mind and not be bludgeoned (or spray-painted) for it - is high on my list.

From the news article, it appears there are at least a few like-minded citizens out there.

"I would think we could behave more civilly," one was quoted as saying. "Our country is not going to solve any problems with this back-and-forth."

"It breaks my heart to see the country so divided," said another. "Someone's going to win this election, and we're going to have to work together."

Call me gullible, but I refuse to believe either of the candidates themselves personally sanction the hostility their campaigns seem to be engendering. Rally rhetoric and slanderous robo-calls aside, I believe they both are good men, well-intentioned, genuinely want to serve the country and its citizens. They just have different ideas about how to go about it, and they're passionate about their point of view. Just like those two guys duking it out, at least verbally, in my 4th grade social studies textbook.

I also believe that when the votes are counted and a winner is declared, both men will put country first and behave accordingly. They may not exactly shake hands and go off for a beer together, but they'll seek some scrap of common ground to start working on the considerable problems we face as a nation.

They may never be friends. They may not even be particularly cordial. But I think they will be civil.

It's not them I'm worried about. It's the rest of us.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kitchen, before and after

I don't really have good "before" pictures of my kitchen. I never took pictures of it over 27 years because it its physical presence was sufficiently awful, I saw no need to have any additional evidence of that. Then on the night before demolition, I couldn't find the camera.

But it happens that the contractor took pictures -- mostly of plumbing and things he documented for bidding and planning purposes, so most are not very instructive as "before" pictures. But there are a couple that offer a sense of the horror that is now in a dumpster somewhere. The rest will just have to live in our memories. Or not.

I would hope you can tell which images represent "before" and which are "after", but just in case they're not self-evident -- the old kitchen departed this life with red walls.

It's still a small galley kitchen, with an even smaller, inefficient breakfast nook that couldn't come out (unless we wanted to spend $30,000 more). But at least it's a fresh start.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sometimes, the moments suck

Today wasn't the best of days for moment-dwelling.

This morning, we learned that a coworker who had been in intensive care after being hit by a drunk driver over the weekend had passed away. She was 44.

About an hour later, my daughter called, in tears, to tell me that a high school friend fighting cancer had received bad news - the disease has spread to her brain. She'll spend her 32nd birthday next week in the hospital.

Gather ye rosebuds, indeed. And while you're at it, make sure the people you care about, know it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gather ye rosebuds. EOM.

It's a perfectly gorgeous autumn day in my town. Brilliant blue sky, balmy temperature, just the right hint of breeze, leaves just beginning to turn colors, a few falling gently like a soft rain. In fact, this beautiful day follows a happy string of equally fine days, somewhat unusual in a climate that is just as likely to bring either blazing heat or bone-chilling cold.

So what was I thinking as I took Mr. James for his morning walk? Was I relishing the fresh autumn air and the sweet perfection of nature around me?

Of course not. "We've had too many beautiful days," I caught myself thinking, as usual looking ahead and projecting future doom. "Better enjoy it now, because there will be hell to pay this winter."

At which point I looked down at Mr. James trotting alongside me and realized it was time to take a lesson.

He was thoroughly happy. He wasn't worried about January. He doesn't even know January is around the corner, but when it comes, he'll deal with it then. In the meantime, it's not too hot, not too cold, there's plenty of stuff to sniff, this crazy lady at the other end of my leash is taking me for a longer walk than normal, life is good.

Of course, he also doesn't have to deal with January's heating bill, or the ugly numbers enclosed in the 401(k) statements that are about to hit our mailbox, or the project I'm behind on at work.

Balance is as much a virtue in moment-living as it is in pretty much everything else in life, so it's not entirely bad that I contemplate the future. For instance, if I wish to be able to pay January's heating bill, I'd best get that late project finished, or those winter moments will be unpleasant to live in.

But when it comes to something like this beautiful day, which no action on my part whatsoever can affect, I should take my cue from the dog and just gather the rosebuds, metaphorically speaking, and deal with what tomorrow brings, tomorrow.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

wts ths wld cmg t

A year or so ago, I was a volunteer tutor at the local literacy council, trying to help a middle-aged man learn to read. It was an eye-opening, humbling and infuriating experience which deserves greater discussion, but I will save that for another time. The context in which I bring it up now revolves around the new language emerging from the technology of text messaging, which I find as indecipherable as the sentence "Bob and Pam got eggs at the store" was to my reading student.

This week, a friend at work discovered the following comment posted on a blog as part of a discussion about downloaded music:

thr's nthr ptn fr hnst flks wh wnt t spprt thr fvrt rtsts clld cds. ts nt d- y cn by th prdcts y ctlly lk nd ppl tht crt ths prdcts cn mk lvng.

Anyone who reads web forums or peruses comments posted in response to online news articles is aware of the sad state of spelling and grammar in America today. And after trying to explain to a man who can't read why the "e" in the sentence about going to the store for eggs is pronounced three different ways (one of them being not at all), I can appreciate attempts to simplify English, which has to be one of the most confounding languages around. I before E except after C or pronounced A as in neighbor and weigh, or any of a hundred other exceptions....

Add unintended typographical errors, and it's a wonder any of us can read anything.

But "thr's nthr ptn fr hnst flks wh wnt t spprt thr fvrt rtsts"? Have vowels been rendered irrelevant in this brave new world of online communication? Is Vanna soon to be out of a job?

Is this progress?

Between the two of us, my colleague and I interpreted this sentence to be as follows: There's another option for honest folks who want to support their favorite artists, called CDs. It's not downloading (still not sure that's what the d is for) - you can buy the products you actually like and people that create these products can make a living.

I hope the person who posted this "simplified" statement used the time he or she saved for some noble purpose, because it sure took a chunk of my day trying to figure it out, and I'm still not sure we got it right.

I find it interesting that the truncated spelling of what I presume to be "support" and "actually" retained the double consonants, which would have been my first choice to cut; clearly, I don't know the rules of this language.

I will happily grant you "donut" rather than "doughnut" and "catalog" over "catalogue," and I'm willing to let the ancient sport of diagramming sentences recede into history. But I'll go to my grave believing vowels and punctuation still have a worthy place in our language.

I guess that means next time I'm at the literacy council office, I'd better ask them to find a tutor for me, because if ths s th w v th wld m gg t hv t st vr.