Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's raining it's pouring the old man is...

I have mentioned before how important music is to me. This morning I was listening to my Peter, Paul & Mary Around the Campfire CD while having breakfast. When they sang “Light One Candle” I found myself tearing up. It was a combination of the words –

"Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn’t die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemakers’ time is at hand

Don’t let the light go out
It’s lasted for so many years
Don’t let light go out
Let it shine through our love and our tears."*

- and the stirring music, with all the voices singing (PP&M were joined by the New York Choral Society) that made it so ... for want of a better word ... uplifting. Music has that amazing power to rouse us.

And immediately afterwards came the hauntingly beautiful “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” I like the Kingston’s Trio’s version as well, but the PP&M version has the benefit of the ineffable sadness of Mary Travers’ falling voice on “Oh, when will they ever learn?” And of course, we don’t learn. Or rather, too many of us don’t learn.

And then I was treated to the delightful cheerfulness, and silliness, of three of PP&M’s children’s songs in a row. The one entitled “Inside” soon had the kids in the audience singing along on the chorus – “Inside, inside, that’s the most important part, inside, inside, that’s the place you have to start, inside, inside, that’s where you find the heart of the matter” – and after singing about pies (you don’t know which one you’ll like best if you eat just the crust), and birthday presents (you can’t know which will be your favorite ‘til you unwrap them), PP&M sing about every boy and girl being special – “just how we know I’ll bet you guess...we took the time to look—” a tiny pause and then all the kids called out “Inside!” I saw the concert that this was performed at a number of years ago, on the PBS station in Abilene, and it was delightful, seeing all the kids get into singing “Inside, inside, that’s the most important part...”

My CD moved on to the next song and I was listening to the charmer, “The Marvelous Toy,” with all the sound effects (“it went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped and whrrrr when it stood still. I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.”)

And finally, in “Right Field,” there was the triumph of the little kid who’s always stuck out in the aforementioned hinterland in baseball games, because he’s slow and clumsy, until one day when he comes out of his usual daydreaming to find everybody yelling and looking at him – “they point to the sky and I look up above, and a baseball falls into my gloooove.” Big burst of applause from the audience, and this solitary listener laughed out loud. PP&M’s children’s songs make children, and grown-up children, feel good about themselves, and the world.

So thank you, Peter, Paul and Mary, for all the lovely music you’ve put out there in the world, and for brightening my breakfast on a grey, rainy day.

*Light One Candle, Peter Yarrow, c1983 Silver Dawn Music

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Exercise for the mind

Watching The Brain Fitness Program on public television (which is the only television I get, since I don’t subscribe to cable or satellite T.V., and the PBS station is the only one my rabbit ears pick up), I learn that the secret to keeping the brain, i.e., the mind, in good shape as one ages is, basically, learning. And more than learning new information, learning new skills, learning, and performing, new tasks.

Exactly what most of us resist doing, as we age. I’ve had to learn to do many new things in my current job and, I fear, have more often hated it than not. Actually, I’ve never been crazy about learning how to do things, though I have always loved learning new information. Technology, especially, has been the source of endless frustration and hissy-fits on my part, though I have done what I had to do, because one does. But according to the brain fitness experts, it is exactly this kind of attempt to master new tasks that maintains the brain’s neuroplasticity, which is needed to keep one not only mentally astute, but engaged in life, hopeful, even cheerful.

I can see this. I have watched myself becoming less and less engaged over the past few years, less and less inclined to put myself out at all, in order to do something. I found myself a cozy, comfortable little house, where all the irritants of previous domiciles had pretty much disappeared, and I didn’t want to leave it to go “do things.” Granted, the main reason I do so little these days is lack of discretionary funds, along with the lack of someone to accompany me, and a distressing lack of physical energy, both mentioned in earlier Notes. But stirred into the mix is a lack of interest.

It would seem that what is happening is my brain is getting stiff, along with the rest of my body. Loosening it up – or maintaining its plasticity, as the experts on the T.V. program kept saying – would presumably help to loosen up the rest of me, would help me regain some of my youthful enthusiasm and adventurous spirit. I should add that if somebody said come on, let’s go to Italy, or Nepal, or Finland (even with the America-inspired school shootings they’ve had lately), or western Canada, or Montana, or you-name-it, I would be ready in a shot. There is still nothing I would rather do than travel. But...just to give you one small example...I had registered to attend a meeting sponsored by the Maine Democratic Party in Lewiston last night. Angus King, a former governor of Maine, was going to talk about Barak Obama’s energy policy (one of the women I work with said ‘Barak Obama doesn’t have an energy policy,’ but that’s what I wanted to find out). Wednesday is the day of the week I am able to leave work earlier. I could have come home, taken a little nap, gotten up and had a bite to eat, made the 40-minute drive to downtown Lewiston for the meeting at 7, gotten home 9-ish. But it didn’t happen. Once I was home I just couldn’t make myself go out again, couldn’t face those two 40-minute drives, one after dark (when I don’t see well). I took a three-hour nap instead. This is not being engaged.

This is despite all that wrestling with technology I've been doing for the past couple of years. So maybe you have to be interested in the tasks you're learning, for it to be really beneficial? Maybe I need to take up...step dancing? Skeet-shooting? Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Real tomatoes

Well, I’ve done my part to carry on the autumn traditions. I stopped this past weekend at a farm stand and bought my annual pumpkin, which is perfect and which I’ve named Sunny (I always name my pumpkins, and I keep them until they rot on me, which is true of everything I acquire. Stuff lives with me – and moves with me – ‘til it rots/falls apart/dies on me), as well as a lovely acorn squash, and some enchanting cherry tomatoes.

The place I stopped at was on the other side of the river. On this side the road that runs along the river is a heavily traveled, house-and-business-lined thoroughfare connecting three small towns (Gardiner, where I live, Farmingdale, and Hallowell, where I work) to the “big city” (population about 18,000) of Augusta. On the other side of the Kennebec the houses and businesses are pretty much limited to the Augusta end; in short order you’re driving past fields and farms. And traffic tends to be much lighter. Every now and then I take that route, rather the one I take at least twice every day. There’s a bridge at Randolph that leads back across to Gardiner.

McGee’s Vegetable Stand was very neat and attractive, painted a deep barn red, with pumpkins lined up in front. I caught a glimpse of it as I went zipping by, and immediately slowed – here was a chance to get my autumn pumpkin! At someplace more interesting than a supermarket.

I was very pleased to see the sign that said “Honor system – please leave money in slot on door.” Initially I thought this meant slot on door of nearby farmhouse, but I saw no slot on either of the visible doors, and the man coming out of the house showed me that one end of the produce shed was actually a door, lying on its side...with a slot in it.

One reason this honor system pleased me was that it’s nice to see places and situations that still rely on such a thing. But also, I had only recently been thinking about farm stands and honor systems, probably as the result of passing a house on the outskirts of Hallowell that had a few vegetables sitting out on a little cart, with a sign. I had thought how most people would probably play according to the rules, but all it would take was one unscrupulous person who made off with the contents of the box, to ruin the system for everyone (especially the farmer).

And then, voila, here was a farm stand operating on the honor system. McGee’s has at least solved the problem of that one-in-a-hundred dishonest person making off with the money, but of course, people can still take produce, and leave no money. But I suspect that most people who would bother stopping at a farm stand are not the kind of people who would do that.

This little transaction of six or seven minutes gave me a great deal of satisfaction. It was nice to know that I was “buying local,” helping out a local farmer, in my small way. And the place was so pleasant, with lovely produce attractively displayed. And for me it was something out of the ordinary, though others may stop at every farm stand they see. And finally, I liked doing my part for the honor system.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The other side of the aisle

Having commented on the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I feel I should do the same for the Republican National Convention (RNC). I actually watched more of the latter than of the former, since I wanted to hear what the opposition was saying.

Patriotism was the big theme of the convention (its official slogan being “Country First.”) While the DNC concentrated on what was wrong with this country -- the watchword there being “Change” – the RNC concentrated on the valor and sacrifices of our servicemen and women, past and present, with the thread always leading back, of course, to John McCain’s service record. I have absolutely no problem with honoring and thanking those people who serve in such a way that the majority of us don’t have to, but I didn’t see how all this had anything to do with a presidential campaign. And I thought way too much time was given over to McCain’s POW experiences. I don’t think there’s anyone in this country who doesn’t acknowledge McCain is a bona fide war hero. But does that automatically make him good presidential material?

Very interestingly, the big night seemed not to be the last night, when Senator McCain spoke, but the night before, when his high-energy running mate made her highly effective speech (my, but the crowd did love her). One statement of hers really got me: “And I have never been ashamed of my country.” This, presumably, was in response to Michelle Obama’s controversial statement months ago that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of her country. But...our treatment of the Indians doesn’t make Governor Palin feel the least bit ashamed? The fact that for many years (until government stepped in) we were working children as young as five years old 12 hours a day in factories – that isn’t something to be ashamed of? Or our treatment of blacks prior to the civil rights movement of the 1960s? Our incarcerating during World War II thousands of loyal American citizens who happened to be of Japanese extraction doesn’t make the governor feel the tiniest twinge of shame? Or the fact that right now millions of Americans avoid going to the doctor because they have no medical insurance, and if a medical catastrophe strikes it can completely ruin a family financially...this is something to be proud of?

It could be argued that Governor Palin wasn’t around for, and therefore had nothing to do with, most of the “shameful” situations I mention above. And therefore, she has no reason to feel shame for them. But...what if she had been around then? As many people were, who objected to, were ashamed of, and fought against, the conditions I’ve cited. And who were, without exception, demonized by the status quo. Would Governor Palin have been able to feel ashamed of her country then, at least of some of the conditions it was tolerating? Or what about the last situation I mention above, the health care situation in this country, this “richest country in the world.” Isn’t that condition shameful?

I’ve always had trouble with the “my country right or wrong” attitude, and it’s all-too-often accompanying attitude, well, if you don’t like how things are, go somewhere else. The United States, for all its wealth, power, physical beauty, and yes, warm-hearted, generous, hard-working people, has done plenty of lousy, bad, shitty things, just like every other country has. And, like others of my ilk, I don’t think a willingness to point out when the country is doing something unacceptable indicates a lack of patriotism. What it indicates is an acceptance of the (very American) idea that things can always be made better. And should be.

As to other speakers, I did think Rudy Giuliani got in some good hits about Obama’s “present” votes in the Illinois state legislature. That’s the kind of real information I like to hear about candidates (and I’d say it’s pretty damning for Obama). But then Giuliani got snide. As Sarah Palin was snide. Oh, preserve me from snide. (And isn’t it amazing, my Spell Check knew how to spell Giuliani.)

I was very impressed with Mike Huckabee as a speaker. He was not snide, but relied on affecting personal anecdotes to get his points across. For example, his description of how poor his family was, when he was growing up, followed by the statement (which got tremendous applause, and rightfully so): “I’m not a Republican because I was born rich, I’m a Republican because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to save me.” He is way too conservative for me, but I like the man’s style.

And that’s enough about politics for a while. Everybody vote.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Crime wave

Labor Day weekend my car was spray-painted. Sitting right outside my house, in my nice neighborhood. Fuck Black Cars was the elevated message (silly twits. The car is dark green.) I was moderately miffed when I discovered this little act of vandalism, which was when I went out to make my garbage run on Sunday night (see Note of June 10, 2008). However, the next day, when I went out to wash the offensive message off, I became really disheartened when I discovered it wasn’t written in the egg-based substance I had thought it was (what would make me think such a thing? I suppose because it was yellow), but rather yellow paint. As in difficult to get off, especially off the trunk of the car, without taking the car paint with it.

After realizing this was going to take more than a pan of water with Mr. Clean added, I went back into the house and called the police. Of course there was nothing they would be able to do, but I felt they should be informed. You wouldn’t bother in a big city, where the police are busy with the murders and the rapes and the muggings and the break-ins, but in relatively crime-free small-town Maine, attention was more likely to be paid. Maybe there had been a string of spray-paintings. Maybe I was part of a pattern. Or might be the start of a pattern.

The fellow who came out was 1) my idea of attractive and 2) very nice. Properly sympathetic. “Really nice,” he says with acerbity, of the message. He tells me two things that make me feel a tiny bit better. One is that he’d noticed that a For Sale back up the block had also been spray-painted. And the other is that they’ve occasionally had trouble with this kind of thing when there have been games at the ball field which sits at the end of my street. I had had the uneasy feeling that I might be being singled out, since my car sat right beside the three cars that go with the house next door, all of us with our rear-ends to the street, so equally vulnerable to violation, but only mine was violated. But relief that it probably wasn’t a matter of me having a secret enemy (like my next-door neighbors on the other side? Whose howling, barking dogs, shut up in the house for 10-12 hours a day, I’ve called the police about more than once? The thought did cross my mind...), was almost immediately replaced by the sinking realization that the little creep(s) who did this could do it again, anytime.

However, my immediate problem was the writing on the back window of my car. I really could not be driving around with Fuck Black screaming at people (the Cars part can only be read if you’re standing near the car, looking down at the trunk.) I didn’t know what to use, thought of paint remover – obviously not for the trunk, but maybe for the window? – called first my landlord, to see if he had any, but he wasn’t home (never a landlord when you need one), so called the one of my staff who owns a home, and might possibly have such an item in her possession.

“I have paint thinner,” Barb says. I figure it’s worth a try, so drive to Hallowell (the back way, so as to be viewed by as few cars as possible), to Barb’s house, where she produces a paint scraper she found while waiting for me. The paint scraper actually proves quite efficacious at removing the paint from the window, though it takes a while. So we forget about the paint thinner. Barb digs around in her house some more and finds a much smaller scraper that she uses to help me, and the two of us spend maybe 45 minutes scraping away yellow paint. I’m deeply appreciative for her "being there for me,” as the cliche goes.

I’ve now asked several people for suggestions as to what to do about the trunk. I can’t afford to have it repainted. Acetone, like nail polish, might take the spray-paint off, one fellow suggests. But yes, it might take some of the car paint off, too. Another of the patrons at the library suggests trying a rubbing compound (what’s a rubbing compound?). And yet someone else makes the suggestion that I buy some spray paint in a color as close to the muddy green of my car as possible, and do the repainting myself. “Or paint it all yellow,” he said, with a wicked grin. “Then you wouldn’t have to worry about it not matching.”

No, all I have to worry about is its happening again. But what am I going to do, sit out on my tiny front porch every night with my firearm in my hand? I think not...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


This evening when I went to the supermarket, there were large pumpkins sitting out front, waiting to be purchased and whisked home to sit on someone’s front porch. On September third! Surely it’s entirely too early for this. But there’s no question that once Labor Day is past, Maine goes into autumn mode. We’re still having warm days, but the humidity of deep summer has lessened (though it will undoubtedly rear its ugly head a time or two before disappearing altogether), and the evenings are pleasantly cool. There is even one tree on my commute to work that has been displaying more and more of its autumn foliage for several weeks. Obviously it’s got a gene loose, but any day now the other guys are going to hit the color switch, and things will start happening. And the season that is many people’s New England favorite will be in full swing.

A lot of people in Maine have vacation homes they call camps, though you and I would probably call them cottages or cabins. These are not usually fancy, and sometimes are only about an hour, maybe a couple of hours’ drive away. Their owners will often go up for a weekend, or a few days at a stretch. Folks are now starting to shut these up, and return to home base. This, too, seems way early to me. But life in Maine is so tuned to the seasons. Summer is the time to spend time “up at the camp.” Autumn is the time for pumpkins on the front porch (I always get a little one, and it sits inside my house), visiting apple orchards to pick a bag or two of McIntoshes or Cortlands. (I love to do this), and politics (Maine folk are very involved in local politics). Winter is the time for skiing, snow-mobiling, and shoveling, shoveling, shoveling. This last I do not love, but Mainers of all ages do it, grumbling about it while looking upon it as one of life’s givens. And spring is the time for grumbling about how long the winter has gone on, for rain and mud, for the coming of green, and flowers, for gardening. And then it’s summer and it’s time to open up the camp.

By the way, I recently realized that I made a mistake in my Note ‘And where were you born?’ I said that all the people who know me are five other people away from knowing one another (me being the first of the famous six degrees). But of course, they’re really only one person away from knowing one another, that person being me. Good grief. I’m surprised no one called me on this. But then, maybe no one’s reading...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Politics as usual

When I first announced this blog to family and friends, my friend Clifford – who was one of my father’s oldest friends (they’d known each other since seventh grade) and thus, clearly, of a very different generation – begged me to please stay away from politics. As might be expected, he and I differ considerably in this area, but I know what he meant. Who needs a lot of ranting about politics, when we all have our own opinions on the topic anyway, and are not likely to be swayed by a few paragraphs in an online blog. People who read politically-oriented blogs are usually reading “rants” that agree with what they already believe.

But I feel compelled to say something about the Democratic National Convention. I support Barak Obama – like many people, I want something as different from the past eight years as possible, and besides promising change Obama is very smart, articulate, seems to be good at collecting good people to advise him.

But. I was really rather put off by the convention, especially by the final night in the football stadium. It all smacked too much of “showtime” for me.

I didn’t watch every minute of the convention, but I certainly watched more than I ever have before. In general, I’m not interested in lofty speeches – talk being cheap and all – and I’m not much interested in spectacle. So political conventions have never had an allure. But in this case I wanted to see who showed up, who had what to say. I admit to being impressed by the couple of turncoat Republicans they trotted out, who announced that, despite being loyal Republicans, they were voting for Obama. I don’t really intend that to be as snide as it may sound – I’m all for people voting for the individual, not just slavishly following party lines.

I was also impressed with Obama’s wife, but I pretty much hated the little video on her, hated the fact that there was a video on her. In fact, this was part of my objection to the convention as a whole: it was all one big, carefully directed and edited movie. (I also hate the fact that there is so much emphasis on a candidate's family. We're electing the person, not the wife and 2.3 kids. But this is not just an element of the Obama campaign; it's across the board. Think how many people didn't vote for John Kerry because they didn't like his wife.)

I missed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech, which I regretted, and regretted even more missing Joe Biden’s speech, since I know very little about him. I was surprised by the huge, lengthy ovation that Bill Clinton received, and would like someone to explain it to me. I voted for the man twice because I preferred his politics to those of his opponent, but at the personal level I think he’s proved himself to be a real sleaze, and a dishonest sleaze at that. So why does he seem to be so popular? (P.S. More than once during his speech I muttered, “this guy is good, he’s good.”) I sat through several Regular Joe speeches, by people who had found that working hard and playing by the rules does not necessarily insure that ones life is secure, and therefore I am voting for Barak Obama.

Which actually takes me to my biggest problem with the convention, and maybe with the campaign in general. The suggestion that, with all the things that are wrong, all the problems the country is dealing with, Obama is our Savior. If the man gets into office, he won’t be able to accomplish many of the things he wants to; he certainly will not be able to bring about miracles. That’s the reality of politics. Why do people persist in believing otherwise? Or insist that a candidate assure them otherwise? Barak Obama has proved, in his meteoric rise, to be a savvy politician, and someone who knows how to inspire people with hope. He is not God. Think how disappointed people are going to be when that fact is brought home to them.