Want a Corona? No, thanks.

After yesterday’s blueberry pancakes (marking that it was Sunday), Bob took a long bike ride on his new electric bike. I tidied up.

Knowing that visitors are verboten, we have let our house become a sort of workshop and garden center. The porch is repository for anything from the outside: mail brought there by our gloved hands, Amazon deliveries, and food (purchased at the Co-op’s curbside pickup) all stay there for a day before being brought inside. A large cooler holds those food items that need refrigeration. Excessive? Perhaps, but I really don’t want to catch this thing.

In the afternoon, we did some gardening. It was a beautiful day, and the seedlings from our little indoor “greenhouse” were happy to bask in the sun. More of the garden was forked over, and the electric fence was refurbished and connected to the other electric fence that has been keeping the nearby beavers from building the equivalent of Hoover Dam behind our house. Critters beware!

Meanwhile, about 320 miles to the south of us, our granddaughters were making the best of their own isolation. They love to draw and paint, and now Eve, the 6 year-old, has begun to write poetry:

Be as strong as a mountain pushes down on the ground.

I am trying to be, Eve.

Time Recaptured

Friends in early childhood were situational, and they weren’t really friends; you met them in the park or in other places your parents took you. Eventually you were old enough to venture out on your own, and then you could “make friends” with other kids in your neighborhood (this was before the world was such a scary place that real play was replaced by parentally arranged “play dates”). Again, initially you had location in common – which, as I think about it, has always been necessary to starting a friendship.

Eventually you were discerning and actually chose your friends. In your teens they were kids you “fit with,” people like yourself; later perhaps you became friends with someone because you admired them and in some way perhaps you and the friend enhanced each other. Lovers and friends were more distinguishable then than in this generation, although throughout history and even in my youth (when the earth was still cooling) it was wise for lovers to also be friends.

Friendships most often seem to be killed by distance and time, or rather, the lack of time.

Lately I’ve been making friends from a distance. The Internet has removed that once-essential first step of friendship, Location. The irony of this is that while I have made a number of new virtual friends (some of whom I eventually got to know personally), the Internet has also reconnected me with a number of far-flung old friends from various periods in my life, friends who had been “lost.” Yesterday I received these wonderful lines from one of them:

I’ve never felt pressured to write
By anything you’ve said or implied.
But yes, there is an urgency about it,
Brought on, no doubt, by my own sense
That time has been lost
And that writing is the only way
To try to make up for it.
It’s simple – the more I send,
The more I get back.
And therein lies the time recaptured.

Well said, old friend. How delicious is the recapturing!

Our Children’s Children

Today my husband and my four-year-old grandson built an elaborate tower of blocks. Their building was many stories tall, and on it they perched hard rubber farm “amals,” matchbox cars and a couple of old Fisher-Price Little People. It was an impressive structure and they delighted in its construction.

After completing it, my grandson picked up one of his small, metal, toy airplanes and “flew” it into the building, knocking blocks, amals, cars and people asunder. He laughed with childish pleasure at the destruction, obviously thinking it was a pretty good joke on Grandpa (and that they could now repeat the shared enjoyment of creation).

Stunned, I asked him if he thought that airplanes ever really fly into buildings. “Yes,” he said, “in New York City.”

So many of us once thought we could make the world a better place. So many magnanimous speeches contain the words, “so that our children’s children may have…” I am now one of those who knows a child’s child, and this is his milieu: a world where hatred and mass murder (although not yet understood for that) has become the play of pre-school children.

What Would Elvis Do?

I saw Elvis today. He was changing a tire in the WalMart parking lot. I tried not to stare because that is such a dumb thing to do when you see a celebrity, but it was hard to turn away, so I didn’t, and when he returned my gaze, I spoke. It’s not every day you get to talk with The King, and besides, he’s a southern boy, and I’ve been wishing for someone to explain what people from down in those Red States are thinking.

I started with some chit-chat, hoping to break the ice in a friendly sort of way. “How’ve you been?” I asked. Elvis sneered a little, but it was a kindly sort of sneer, then he told me how hard it’s been to find a decent job. He’s worked the fast-food places and now WalMart (where his part-time shift had just ended). The problem was health insurance and retirement, but he said he prays it’ll all work out and he buys lottery tickets, and it is nice to work with other retirees who are also trying to make ends meet. Anyway, he thought we all should have to sacrifice when the country’s at war.

Emboldened, I asked what he thought about that war. “I’m all shook up,” he replied, “but we gotta take the war to the tarists or they’ll take it to us.” I handed him a lug nut. “Are you worried about North Korea testing a nuke?” I questioned. “Are they near Iraq?” he responded.

There was a bit of dust on his blue suede shoes, and his hip seemed to swivel half a turn as he stood up, sun glinting off his flag belt buckle. My focus shaken, I fumbled for words but finally blurted out, “Why’d you stop singing?” He stared me in the eye, this time the sneer a bit more menacing. “I’ve got family values now,” he snarled. “What do you think would happen if I got up in front of people today and did the moves I used to do? Gays’d be all over me. My mama didn’t raise up no fool. A-wella-wella-wella what would Jesus do? I’ll tell you: he’d get a job at WalMart and he’d be sayin’ God bless America.”

And with that, Elvis turned and got into his Chevy. He’d have roared away, but he forgot to lower the jack.

Fashion Rant

Once there was a time when you could buy blue jeans from LLBean and they were tough and would wear for a couple of years of what I do every day. My jeans have been pee’d on by a turtle, jumped into a swamp to rescue my elderly dog, collected seven pick-up truck loads of stones from a local quarry, built several buildings and they’ve been in messes that required a respirator for their occupant. They get scraped by hay bales, garden dirt gets ground into them, stove-wood tears them, sparks occasionally burn holes in them. They are on a first-name basis with horse manure, and they play with a four-year-old. You could accurately say that all of my clothes are “distressed.”

These days – if you are a woman – you try to buy a pair of LLBean jeans, and they want to know what kind of “wash” you want: stone wash, acid rinse, steep for twelve years in goat urine, or just given a gentle dragging behind an environmentally friendly hybrid car for six weeks. Needless to say, these damned things don’t last hole-free for more than two turns in the wash. It seems that consumers want to look like they do actual physical WORK!

What’s a wizard to do? Well, maybe I’ll go over to Doris’ Fashion Nook in Amish country just outside of Rennselaer Falls. That’s where the lumberjacks shop, because that’s where you can get Carhartts and work boots. But do they have size 6 petite? I repeat: what’s a wizard to do?

The Mouse that Roared… or, the story of COLAF, the Coalition On Low Altitude Flights

Never underestimate the power of reason or the strength of small numbers of wise and reasonable people.

In the 1980s, the Air Force hatched a plan to fly B52s at an altitude of 300′ on a racetrack loop over the North Country. About 300 planes/month would have passed directly over my home, emitting a deafening roar and raining down stinking, unburned fuel (because at enough throttle speed to keep them in the air at that altitude, essentially they were flying with the brakes on). We stayed home on the morning of the first three flyovers, and I sat on our front steps and wept.

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Many people gathered to try and find a way to stop this, but ultimately it was the actions of perhaps two dozen who EACH played a role in convincing the Air Force to abandon the plan. A couple gave their savings; one became an expert in plane identification by exact model# and reporting violations to the various military airports and powers – who often didn’t even know what was flying; two traveled to Boston and hired an attorney who had previously done work for the air force; one wrote press releases weekly or more often; someone else figured out that the width of a closed fist held aloft and aligned with the plane’s wingspan could determine its altitude; three dressed in their best and drove a borrowed BMW to a meeting with Gov. Cuomo in Gouverneur, N.Y.; one, a Vietnam vet, stood up for his belief that these flights were wrong; a local pediatrician spoke of the health and safety issues the planes would pose; others researched alternative routes and altitudes the would move the planes higher and away from homes. NEVER DID WE SAY THAT WE DIDN’T WANT THEM TO FLY (well, yes, we certainly all didn’t want them to fly, but we knew it was smarter to say, “All we want is to be certain that this is safe…” because we knew it wasn’t).

On the steps of the county courthouse, following a meeting with Air Force personnel, one, a Major Bravo – yep, that really was his name – admitted that since these planes were designed to fly at extremely high altitudes to carry nuclear weapons, flying them at 300′ was essentially, “Going at full throttle with the brakes on.”

The flights were moved higher and farther away, and you probably never heard or saw them. We – each of us in COLAF – were given the phone number of an A.F. commander whom we could call any time a military plane strayed or was a problem. And Major Bravo was one of the attendees at the beautiful island wedding of one of our mice that roared.

Thank you David, Peter, Margaret, Sue, Ginger, Doug, Paul, John, Bob, (and a few others whose names now escape me).

 

Epilogue

Quite by chance, while curiously checking on the size of a college I once attended, I learned that the guy I dated and dumped during my first year of college has become richer than God and is on the college Board of Trustees. He was an engineering major who subsequently went on to face active duty in Vietnam, then returned to enroll in and graduate from Harvard Business School. His career has been characterized by taking the helm of at least four MAJOR corporations when they were struggling. As C.E.O. of each, he successfully turned them around, using six noble principles that he espoused (the first one being the importance of diversity). This was a guy who came from a working-class NYC family. His father, disabled in middle-age by arthritis, was an abusive alcoholic. His mother worked a blue-collar job as the sole supporter of the family of four. This former boyfriend’s  incredible success is simply unbelievable – and wonderful.  I am very happy for him.
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There is only one other person who would be as gob-smacked as I was by this discovery:  my friend since that freshman college year, Leslie. Only she ever knew the dirty details of my dramatic and self-centered bust-up with this guy, because what I did hurt her as well.
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Leslie and I have always kept in touch, most recently when we spent a couple of days together in Montreal, but I have not heard from her in what seems like a couple of years. I had to call her, but I was pretty sure that I didn’t have her current phone number. A search of the Internet revealed this:  Leslie died very unexpectedly from food poisoning while vacationing in Cancun.  I had been laughing hysterically at the incredibly unbelievable success of the ex-boyfriend, even for awhile thinking that he must have made it up and sent it to the college alumni association as a joke; I was hit broadside by the death of my friend.
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If I may be a bit crass, it’s like the tale of the Catholic Bishop who scored a hole-in-one while playing golf when he should have been in mass.  The archangel told God about it, and felt that God should punish this Bishop severely, but God replied, “He’s already been punished. Who’s he gonna tell?”
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Yes, who am I going to tell?  Those kind ears that forgave me so long ago can no longer hear.  How we would have laughed together at the irony and the deserved fortunes of that guy we once knew. But this is part of what growing older is about. Sometimes the promising stars from your youth fade; sometimes those friends who were undistinguished soar. And sometimes friends you have always taken for granted leave.