Friday, March 30, 2007

1191 Museum Day

Friday, March 30, 2007

Spent the afternoon at the Maritime Museum. Processed about 15 more membership renewals, and set out 24 reminders for April's renewals. I hate Lotus.

The staff went out to "the incredibly good soup place" for lunch. I was invited, but I knew they'd be gone a while, and I wanted to get everything done today because I wouldn't be able to get back in until at least next Thursday, so I asked them to bring soup back for me.

Clam chowder was on the list, so I asked for that.

When I think "clam chowder", I'm thinking New England, the creamy type. What arrived was Manhattan, which I have never liked. But I was hungry, so I ate it anyway.

It was incredibly good.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

1190 Plagiarism

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I am currently reading a novel (title and author don't matter) wherein the middle aged protagonist is suffering delayed anguish over having committed plagiarism in college.

It reminded me of my one (conscious) instance of plagiarism.

Fifth grade composition class, Ottawa, Canada, 1955. The last assignment of the year was to write about something very sad that we had seen or experienced.

I couldn't think of anything. That's really strange, because my life was full of sadness. My only conclusion is that I must have been depressed. Or shell-shocked.

I mentioned in a recent entry that I had lived in five different houses in Benton. Four of those five were between the middle of first grade, and a month into fifth grade. The first house was next door to the landlord. They asked us to move within a year. The second was an apartment next door to the landlord, and below the landlord's daughter's apartment. They asked us to move within the year. The third was one side of a duplex house, and the folks in the other half complained to the landlord, and we had to move within months. The fourth was the big stand-alone house, with an absentee landlord. We were there more than a year, until we moved to Canada.

The reason we kept getting thrown out was because my father screamed obscenities almost every evening, smashed things against the walls, and beat my mother and us kids. Neighbors didn't like hearing the crashing and screaming.

My mother maintained postal friendships with all those people until the day she died. I guess they felt sorry for her, but there was nothing anyone could do, and hearing it was just too hard.

So, there was that. But that was normal.

The pet Easter chicks grown to roosters we had in the big house? We kids were told that they had been sent to a farm, where they'd live with lots of hens and have fun. Then one day at dinner, we were served two little skinny tough chickens. We recognized them, even without their feathers.

So, there was that. But that was normal.

When we moved to Ottawa (my father was with the embassy), our house wasn't ready, and we lived in a different school district for several months, then moved again. I was in three different schools for fifth grade, and felt lost and unaccepted.

So, there was that. But that was normal.

I couldn't see the blackboard in school. I used to "read" what was on the board by watching the teacher's hand as she wrote. The school gave us an eye test, and then sent a note home to my parents that I had to have a formal exam. I came out at 20/400. Uncorrected, that's past legally blind. I got glasses. My father allowed me to wear them to school because the school insisted, but when I wasn't in school, he took them away and wouldn't allow me to wear them, because he didn't want me to get dependent on them. He wanted me to try harder to see. He'd test me, and beat me when I couldn't see, because I refused to try hard enough.

So, there was that. But that was normal.

We kids had no toys, and very little clothing, because every time we moved, non-essentials were discarded. Emotional attachment was not allowed. Anything accumulated between moves usually ended up smashed during a paternal rage.

So, there was that. But that was normal.

I couldn't think of anything sad to write about for the composition assignment. Maybe because sadness was so much of my normal life, I couldn't recognize any specific thing as sad. The "sad things" other kids were going to write about seemed so unimportant, not sad at all. Things that saddened others, well, they were things I'd just shrug off as minor.

The night before the assignment was due, I still had nothing. Nothing that had ever happened to me and nothing I'd ever seen, had been sad enough to bother writing about.

So I asked my mother. She mentioned a passage in a book she had read, where a child sitting on a school bus sees a dog get hit by a car.

So I used that. Word for word. Right out of the book.

I got an "A" on it. But I always got "A"s in that subject, so it didn't really feel like cheating. I felt only mildly guilty.

Until my parents got the letter that my composition had been chosen to represent my school in a district competition. I wanted to climb into a hole.

Then the letter that I had won the district competition, and my composition would be going to the all-city level. I wanted to pull the dirt in on top of me.

Then the letter that I had won all-city, and it was going to provincial level. I tried to stop breathing.

No more letters came.

I'm still waiting for the letter that says I'm going to jail.

I feel guilty because the second place winners didn't get to move up. I wish I knew why I didn't win province level. If it was because some other fifth-grader's composition was better, then it's ok. But if it was because some judge recognized the passage and disqualified me, then that means the school, district, and all-city second-placers might otherwise have had a chance to win.

If I had it to do over, I guess I could write about that.

1189 Bits

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dinner last night with Mensa - Roman, Marmot, Angie, and me, the Chinese restaurant in Rhinecliff.

Piper had said that he'd call me and leave a message as to how his lady's surgery went, and he didn't. Didn't call today, either. I don't know what to think of that. Because I don't know what to think, I didn't call him, but I might tomorrow.

Not having cable, I am blessed with soap operas, grungy-sensational talk shows, and "judge shows" all afternoon. You see why the TV is on only to mark passage of time.

The up-from-the-ghetto male judge seems to deal in lots of auto accidents and unpaid rent. The pretty Cuban lady judge likes contract cases (marginally more interesting than most) and cases involving animals, and the delicate Black lady judge has a lot of paternity cases. Those are the ones that really jerk my chain.

The woman has dragged the man into court to force him to acknowledge his child. It's treated as if the guy now has an opportunity to "prove" the baby can't be his because the woman is such a tramp, and we are treated to fifteen minutes of him smearing her. It's going to end up with a DNA test - we all know that. He doesn't need to open his mouth. The public smear is not necessary. Disgusting.

I guess that's the "pop smear test"?

I may have to get cable.


If I get cable, I can get off this miserable dial-up connection. Today it dropped every three minutes. I have it set up to automatically redial, and believe it or not, today about 1 out of 5 redials produced the "all circuits are busy" message. Another 1 in 5 got a busy signal.

My main email account is on AOL, and AOL doesn't wait patiently when the line drops like all the other ISPs. Instead, AOL shuts itself down! It's been difficult to check my email today. I start AOL, sign in, open the mail, click on an email, the line drops, and I have to start all over. Repeat from "I start AOL...".


1188 Is This Really a Deal Breaker?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I find it surprising that people don't seem willing to compromise, or to believe that the other will compromise. I figure you both have to decide whether you love and can get along with the other person more than you like your stuff, or more than you dislike their stuff.

I'd throw out everything in my house for the right person. (Well, almost everything. Compromise always goes two ways.) I hated Jay's living room furniture (brown and gray plaid upholstery? Yuck!) and he disliked mine (a huge beige sectional), so we just started replacing everything with things we both liked. It's called "working together".

Are there really people who can't do that? This article says "Yes", I guess.


Rabbi's wife

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

1187 Kids in Danger

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Rabbi and Roman both work with troubled kids, so that's been a topic of conversation this week. Roman's "kids" are in their late teens, and already into gangs and drugs, and many had been court-ordered into the program. There was a frustrating incident Monday that has Roman thinking it's time to quit. I wondered if maybe the county is getting to these kids too late. Aren't there any programs to get to them younger?

When I lived in the St. Louis area, I worked with a police department childrens' program. The staff consisted of a cop and a social worker. The cop was a big Norwegian doofis. Everything went over his head. I think he was selected because he would be nonthreatening. The social worker was a skinny hyper guy in his early twenties who was total hippie (this was 1971-ish), who always carried an aura of lingering marijuana smoke. His girlfriend helped out occasionally. She was spacy, never seemed connected to the here and now. She often wore nothing but a tiny unstructured bikini. When it got wet, the string ties stretched, and the little triangles of the top drooped to her midriff, and she didn't seem to notice or care.

With two males on staff, they decided they needed a female, so I volunteered. I was in at pretty much the start of the program.

The kids were from 11 to maybe 15 years old. They were good kids as far as I could tell, but they came through the juvenile court, as kids who were in danger of falling off the rails. Most of them didn't seem to have much of a home life, no guidance. They were pretty worldly for their age.

The county had acquired a dilapidated old abandoned house in an industrial section of a suburb (non-payment of taxes), and turned it over to us. We put the kids to work renovating it. By the end of the summer it was looking pretty good, with an "Our House" sign over the door. It was a safe and welcoming place the kids could go after school and on weekends, and the kids had a feeling of accomplishment, having "built" it themselves.

We took them on field trips on weekends. The one that stands out in my mind is our first camping trip.

There were several planning meetings. The kids were responsible for most of the decisions. The agreement was that the adults would stay out of it. The question came up about co-ed tents. The cop and I weren't too happy about the idea of cohabitation. The three of us had discussed it earlier, knowing that the subject would come up. It could go three ways: We could establish a basic ground rule (or two, including drugs and alcohol) which would be enforced, we could establish ground rules which we would pretend to enforce, or we could stand back and have no influence whatsoever. The hippie was in favor of no interference, and he was in charge, so that was that.

So when cohabitation came up, of course all the boys and a few of the girls voted to allow it, and that was that.

A few days before the trip, three girls came to me, and asked to speak with me privately. We went into a side room and closed the door. They told me that the boys had divvied up the tents among themselves, and were now divvying up the girls. The girls were under tremendous pressure to agree to share a tent with a boy, and they didn't want to, but didn't know what to do about it. "Bobby wants me to go with him, and if I don't I'm afraid he'll be mad at me."

I told them to pass the word. As many girls as possible should show up tomorrow evening, and we'll have a girls-only meeting, and we'll figure this out. The next night ALL twenty girls showed up. It was great. They discussed it, and they all, no matter how they felt about any particular boy, they all agreed that they didn't like the way they were being pressured, the way they felt they had no choice, and they weren't going to lie down and take it.

We came up with a secret plan.

To the boys they said "How sweet of you to ask, but I can't promise. We'll see what happens."

Comes the camping trip. On arrival at the campground (not an official campground, just a patch of woods), the boys rushed to stake out their territory and set up their tents. I was amused that they all spread out in the woods, far apart from each other and far from the campfire.

The day was filled with building a latrine, games, cooking for 45 over a fire, the usual stuff. Some of the girls gathered leaves and pile needles, which they placed in piles around the fire pit, "to sit on". There was a pond, and some kids decided to go swimming. I was suspicious of the pond - it was rimmed with black mud, always a bad sign, and sure enough it was full of leaches, so that led to some more fun. I was amused that the hippie's girlfriend's bikini top had drooped again, so that her breasts were covered with leaches. She suddenly snapped back to the here and now for a bit.

Late evening, after the hot dogs on sticks and the marshmallows, the boys started dropping hints and heading for their tents. The girls wanted to sit around the fire a little longer. Finally it was just girls. We looked around, and here and there through the woods we could see lonely boys sitting in tent doorways, in the glow of a lantern or candle or flashlight.

One of the girls looked up at the sky, and marveled at how beautiful the stars were. The others chimed in. Someone said how nice it would be to sleep out here, under the stars. Everyone else agreed that was a wonderful idea. They pushed together the piles of leaves and pine needles they had gathered earlier, and covered them with some huge tarps they just happened to have brought "just in case" (we had also brought poles for a canopy in case it rained), and piled on some blankets. All twenty girls slept that night together in a heap, in the middle of camp, under the stars. Not one girl went to a tent.

It was wonderful. I was so proud of them.

1186 Comments on "Sleeping Beauty"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I print the archive at the end of the month because, after all, this IS my diary. Someday in my dotage I'll read it all to remember who I was.

I got some comments on the previous post, to which I responded. The comments don't show in the straight archive, so they don't get saved. These I want to save. These are my sisters. So I'm duplicating them here. Have patience.

ally said...

i have self-image problems from not fitting into the general idea of beauty. my mom always quantified my looks as "you WOULD be cuter than so-and-so's daughter if ..." never a "you are beautiful"

i am more comfortable in my skin nowadays, but if i had some support in my youth, i think i wouldn't have been so insecure.

12:06 AM EDT

Becs said...

Same here. None of them men in my life have told me I was beautiful. This just reinforced everything that was said to me in my childhood about my looks. My grandfather told me I was built for comfort, not speed, when I was no more than 10 years old.

I actually had to make my fella say I looked nice when we went to a formal dinner.

So I'm there with ya, sister. And I absolutely believe now that beauty is also about how you project yourself.

6:12 AM EDT

~~Silk said...

Becs - from our short meeting, I'd say you project yourself as strong, confident, and decisive. I have decided that's how you are. So oh yes, projection works.

Ally - My mother never complimented me or my sister on anything, not once, on appearance, skills, talents, or accomplishment. What we remember was cats dragging stuff in, dog's breakfasts, sacks tied in the middle, and "you can do better". Our mother was objectively very beautiful, at a time when beauty was all a woman had, and I think now that she saw us as unwelcome competition, a reminder that she was getting older.

Both - I think sometimes men see a relationship as a power struggle, and telling you that you are beautiful is a threat to the power balance. Like if you believe you're beautiful, you might start thinking you can do better than him.

11:32 AM EDT

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

1185 Sleeping Beauty

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I have been badly used by many men. I have been well and truly loved by a few. Well, maybe even several. I've been lucky.

Of those men who loved me, whom I could believe, none ever told me I was beautiful. Obie said I had beautiful eyes. Guy told me I had a beautiful mind. Jay said I had a beautiful soul. I took it all with a grain of salt because they loved me, and their feelings had little to do with beauty. There were others who loved me, but never mentioned beauty of any kind. They didn't have to.

In my youth I had a fantastic body, if you could overlook the powerful legs, but I dressed in clothes that were too big for me, because the body brought me nothing but grief. As far as my face went, I would allow myself "cute", but I never went even so far as "pretty". My nose was too big, my teeth too yellow and crooked, and my skin too marred and scarred for beauty. Not to mention the thick glasses. I came nowhere near the accepted pattern. These days I still don't think of myself as pretty, but I do think I look pretty darn good for my age.

At the reception Sunday evening, The Rabbi, on his visiting rounds through the tables, crouched next to my chair and said, "You've changed, but you're still beautiful."

In college we were just pinochle buddies and friends. There was no boy-girl relationship. I respected his faith and general good-person-ness, and he respected my mind, but when I wrote my autobiography for Daughter, in the college section, I never mentioned him, because there was nothing that stood out as "a story". BUT, he is the only guy to ever tell me that I was beautiful, in a "this is a fact" way. It was just an offhand comment one day, but I remember it, because no one had ever before said it and meant it. Or since. Not anyone I could believe, anyway. It's unlikely he remembers. (By then, my mother had convinced me I looked like "something the cat dragged in", and I had no reason to doubt her.)

When he crouched next to my chair on Sunday and said I was still beautiful, I responded that the first step in looking beautiful is to believe you're beautiful. He thought about it a minute, and agreed.

So, I had diner with Roman this evening. I told him the above, that The Rabbi was the only man to ever tell me I was beautiful, as part of another story, and Roman got agitated. He insisted that he also had told me I was beautiful. I said no, never. In fact, I told him, he once said to me "I think you think you look better than you really do."

He was aghast. He insisted he never said that. That he couldn't have said it because "it's not the kind of thing I would ever say!" But he did, and I told him I remember his exact words, because they hurt so much. He still insisted he never said it, because he does think I'm beautiful. He said he'd always thought I was beautiful.

I didn't know that.

To tell the truth, I'm not sure how to take it, because he really did say the other, an offhand comment in his kitchen one morning. Maybe I took it wrong. Maybe he was referring to something I was wearing, that I didn't look good in it.

On the other hand, sometimes I think he has a split personality or something.

It's obvious I'm going to have to learn to say "What do you mean by that?" around him, because so often what I hear is not what he meant. Like the time he told me my hair looked dry, and I felt bad and started using oil treatments, and it turned out that he meant my hair was always fluffy, never oily or stringy looking, and he liked that.

I'm too quick to hear criticism.

1184 Home Again

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

[Later edit - I Googled "'Green pepper' mango", and found out it's a coal miner, northeastern Pennsylvania thing. I come by it honestly. See, scroll down to the green comment.]

I'm home.

The ceremony and reception were beautiful. There were probably close to 200 people. They had a full-fledged wedding, their children and grandchildren were the attendants. Flowers everywhere. Their colors were peach, cream, and brown.

The reception was at a fire hall, which was also sumptuously decorated, candles and flowers, chocolate, peach, and cream candies in bowls on the tables, and the absolutely most beautiful wedding cake I've ever seen. Photos when The Rabbi sends them.

They did all the work themselves, which I found amazing. Mrs. Rabbi (note - he's not a rabbi, he's a Methodist minister. "The Rabbi" was his nickname in college, because of one incident, but it stuck because he taught us a lot about how we should "be") even cooked all the food!

It was obvious that they are well loved. They've had some legal and financial problems over the past two years, one of those dramas that people can get caught up in through no fault of their own, the kind of thing where "friends" fall away rapidly. It's a tribute to them that they still have so many who love and support them.

I had one of those "small world" moments. There's a couple, E and B, whom I see often at Daughter and Hercules's, in central New Jersey. E is Hercules's best friend. They were roommates in college. I walked into the fire hall, and directly in front of me, at the end of the nearest table, the first people I saw, were E and B. I walked up to them, and we all three said, in unison, "What the hell are YOU doing here?!" Turns out B works with Mrs. Rabbi. Of course, E had to immediately call Daughter and tell her. Small world.

With so many people there, I'd had no time to talk to The Rabbis, other than in the receiving line, and his tour from table to table. When people started leaving, I asked the daughter if they could use another pair of hands cleaning up, and she said that would be nice, so I stayed and filled garbage cans. There had been little nylon bags filled with wildflower seeds at each place (Love Grows), and a lot of people didn't take them, so I ended up with 45 of them. I'll plant them in my woods and on the bank, and send a picture when they bloom.

Cleaning up took like two hours, and gave me a chance to spend some time with the couple.

Something very odd happened that's still bothering me. I'll probably approach it later.

The next morning I left the hotel at 10:30 am and headed for home. The sky was very cloudy, 53 degrees. The weather report said rain in the late afternoon and evening. I wanted to take a detour and visit Ricketts Glen if I could, but not in rain. I wouldn't be able to visit much more than the first falls, but that's where Jay's ashes are, so that's all I needed. I decided to make the decision when I got to Bloomsburg.

At Bloomsburg, it was still 53 degrees and cloudy, so I struck off northeast, headed for the falls. When I got to Benton, I stopped for lunch at the Cozy Corner. The Cozy Corner was an ice cream parlor 50 years ago. I used to get ice cream or a hot dog there when I was in fourth grade.

I had another small world experience in the Cozy Corner. The waitress was telling some tourists what was on the garden cheese steak, and she said, "... and mangos." The tourista was surprised, "Mangos? The fruit?" The waitress got flustered, and struggled to remember the other name, "Oh, yeah, peppers. Sweet green peppers. We call them mangos."

My mother always called them mangos. I didn't know any other name for them until I went to college, and I still think of them as mangos. I'd never before met anyone else who called them mangos, not that I was aware of, anyway.

I've driven through Benton a few times in the past two decades, but hadn't walked the streets in more than 40 years. I decided to walk the few blocks of the main street, and try to find the house we'd once lived in.

Over the years, and three of my father's transfers to the area, we had lived in five different houses in the village. I had on prior trips located four of the houses, but not the fifth, and that one was the best. It was the largest and nicest house we'd ever lived in, with a wrap-around porch, an impressive circular staircase, and a glass "conservatory" on the side. It was on a northeast corner on Main street. There was a long sidewalk, with umbrella trees (mulberries trimmed back to the trunk every fall) on either side.

As I walked, I studied every corner house. I know that in 50 years there would be changes, but none of the houses looked at all possible. It's not like it had been torn down and replaced, none of the houses was less than 80 years old. The sidewalks were all very short, too short for the umbrella trees, but then I realized the street must have been widened at some point. Only one house had a conservatory, but the rest of the house didn't feel at all right.

That's sad. That's the house where we had the roosters. Aunt Irene had given us chicks for Easter one year. A year later, my mother was walking around muttering "They're supposed to die! They aren't supposed to grow up!" They slept in a shack out back, and otherwise had the run of town. They used to follow us everywhere.

I passed "the doctor's house", the only brick building in town, and remembered Lady. Lady was the doctor's fat old white English Bulldog. She sat on the doorstep all day, and when someone stopped at the end of the walk, she'd waddle slowly down the walk, then, schnuffling and schnorting, she would close her eyes and present her head for scratching.

Lady was the old-style bulldog, with a huge chest that bowed her front legs out and almost useless tiny hindquarters. Today's bulldogs have real hind legs. All my life I've had a fondness for toads. I've paid kids to catch toads for me, so I can install them in my garden. Yesterday, for the first time, I realized that I like toads because they remind me of Lady.

I headed on up the road to Ricketts Glen. Now, I'd seen no snow anywhere. As I approached the Glen, I noticed snow in sheltered spots. When I got to the Glen, I had to climb over a 3-foot snowbank to read the "NOTICE!" The falls trail was "closed to all except experienced ice climbers", who had to register at the park office. Minimum equipment required included crampons and rope, and "ice axes are highly recommended."

Hmmm. I should have known. I've seen the trail sheathed in ice from the mist from the falls, forty years ago, before there was even a real trail. It's impressive, and scary. And very beautiful if you can get to it. The ice probably won't be gone until early May, if then.

I walked to the beginning of the falls trail anyway. The path was packed snow that had thawed and refrozen to the point of ice. Very slippery. The bridge over the creek was festooned with yellow "do not enter" tape, as were several points up the falls trail. So I stopped, looked up the creek, and shouted "I love you, sweetheart. I'll be back later", and left.

I got home about 6 pm.