Saturday, May 29, 2010

Things that happened this morning

The dog leash broke, right at the corner of Arnaud (which is an alley) and Faet.  Pickles came across something invisible in the road she wanted sniff of, gave a tug and I found myself holding a leash with no dog attached.  The latch had pulled right out.  Pickles did not realize she was loose, however, or she would have made a break for it and had a great time.  I was able to secure her again with no problem, but I thought walking a mile or so like that back home might be an issue.

I called Patti Anne, who promptly got lost looking for me.  The street I was on, Faet, is one of those that is in several non-connecting sections, apparently.  Very European.  It was warm, so Pickles and I were hanging in the shade, rather than venture out to the corner in the bright, bright, sun.  But Valdese is not that big of a town, so I was eventually discovered without too much trouble.

Patti Anne's mouse died - her computer mouse.   It had lasted several years.   So I ran down to the computer shop on main street to buy a new one.  I had to wait for a few minutes because Ron, who owns the shop, was talking to the policeman in a really cool unmarked Dodge Charger.  Someone passed Ron a bad check for a pretty good sum of money, and he was none too happy about it.  So we commiserated about that for a minute or two - and I paid in cash.

Then I "lost" my cell phone.  It was just a confusion thing.  Turned out it was in the vehicle.  But then I came within an inch of putting it thru a wash cycle - which would have made the 3rd phone I'd done that to this year.  But I caught it in time, so all is ok. (Please don't tell Patti Anne!)

It's been pretty calm since then.  And I think we're going to get some Chinese. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Punchlines for jokes I can't remember

I remember some punchlines, but can't remember the jokes.  Usually if you want to tell a joke, and you know the punchline, you can create a joke that fits.  Kind of like figuring out the ending to a story you want to write, then writing the story to make it work, except coming up with a joke to fit a punch-line is usually a lot easier.

So here are a few punchlines I remember.  I don't remember the jokes that went with them.

  1. Look at the schmuck on that camel!
  2. Boy Superman, when you get drunk, you're a real bastard.
  3. It's a duck! Yuck, yuck, yuck.
  4. Radi-o-o-o-o-o-o  (this was screamed by a penguin sliding off an igloo, that's all I remember)
  5. It's a nick-knack Patti Whack! Give the frog a loan!
I can't think of any others right now.  It's a very warm day, and my mind is moving slow.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Floating Dogs

I finally finished that Kafka short story, "Investigations of a Dog".  38 pages of hard, tortuous reading.  A 38 page fictional examination of the psyche of a somewhat bohemian, slightly alienated, extremely curious, sociable against his will,  and a very 19th century dog.

Like most Kafka stories, there was something bizarre in it, something that flies in the face of reality.  And like the typical reality based (usually) human that I am I try to rationalize it.  This came when, without any apparent provocation, the canine protagonist began describing floating and soaring dogs.  I closed the book and closed my eyes and thought, here we go again.  This took me back to a Kafka story where one minute he was at a party, then some how he's on a footpath running up a small hill with a friend on his shoulders.  In both cases I don't know how it happened.  

My great urge is to go back a few pages and see if I missed anything.  This rarely works.  So this time I didn't.  I just cleared my mind and accepted it.  Floating dogs.  Dogs soaring thru the air.  Dogs who's arguments, philosophies and science were worthless, maybe because you couldn't understand anything they said, or maybe because they never touched the ground.   Just let it go - in this story there are dogs in the air.

Several pages later though, I had a revelation.  Someone else may have had this revelation earlier, I don't know.  But at some point in the story it became apparent that our protagonist did not differentiate between the species - everything was some type of dog.  The soaring dogs were birds.   I can't describe the relief I felt when I realized the author wasn't describing Bischon Frises floating amongst the trees.   He was in the mind of a dog, describing how a dog saw birds.  Big sigh of relief - I finally understood something.

Anyway, the protagonist was trying to get at the nature of what it was to be a dog, in a scientific manner.  He decided a dog's nature was all wrapped up in food, so that's where he conducted a lot of his experiments. After all, according to dog science, if one "had food between his jaws, all his problems were solved, for the time being". He wanted to see if his "incantations and singing" had any effect on if he received food or not.  He was very confused about exactly how food appeared, and wanted to nail that down.   He failed.  He could not escape his dog-ness, and it tainted every observation and every experiment he did. 

It'll be awhile before I read another Kafka story.  But I'm sure I will sometime in the future.  I'm drawn to them, even though I know they never do me any favors.

Monday, May 24, 2010

How Pickles Got Her Name

The title is a little misleading.  Just be aware.  But I'll get to it.

Sunday, we went to a flea market (swap meet in some parts of the country) near town, just off an exit on I-40.  I approach these things differently now than I used to.  Used to, I was always looking for something I could pick up cheap to resell, either in our booth or on eBay.  We don't rent a booth anywhere anymore, and we're much more specialized on eBay these days, so I wasn't really looking for resell items.  I was hoping to find some books, cheap.  And I was disappointed, because besides some cook books, which are bit lacking in the plot department, there weren't any.

This is not a big flea market, but still it had space for twice as many vendors as were there.  And there weren't that many customers either.  Some of the vendors who were there had given up and were packing their stuff away.  I can feel for them, it's hard to sell people random stuff.  Even when it's cheap.

Near the end of the market was a person selling live chickens and roosters & Patti Anne wanted to go look at them.  So we did.  They were packing their chickens up - it was getting hot but a lot were still out.  And this is where I get to the title.

In 2008 we went to a flea market in Jamestown, NC, just on the other side of Morganton and much larger than this one.  There were a ton of animals for sell there, from Chihuahuas to Pit Bulls.  Some were people who just had puppies they needed to find homes for, but a lot were puppy mill types I'm pretty sure.  We were walking past them when we saw this black and white dog stuffed into a chicken crate - the same size we saw at the flea market yesterday.   She had no room to move, period.  She could not even stretch out.  I was afraid the dog had been abused, and would not make a good pet, but Patti Anne has a better heart than I do, so she asked the man about it.  This guy looked like he came straight out of the mountains, but he assured us that the dog was healthy & could walk and stuff like that. He warned us that she was likely to pick up stuff and carry it away (and she does). He didn't want any money, he just wanted to give her away.  He said her name was "Pickles".  So we took the dog, who seemed to be scared to death.  First thing we did when we got her home was give her a bath, because she was caked in red dirt.  She was about 9 months old, and the next day we got her to a vet for shots, because as far as we could tell she had never had any.  Later that month we had her spayed.  The "free" dog cost about $400 the first month.  That month we had to get her used to riding in a vehicle,  to being in a house (she was afraid to go in at first), used to stairs, housebreak her (took about 3 weeks before she was 100% housebroken),  used to walking on a leash and so on.  It took some work at first, but it's turned out ok.  Just her getting a little older helps - she's not near the puppy she once was.

So, Pickles got her name because that's what that old guy at the Jamestown Flea Market said it was.  She recognised it so we never changed it.  I don't know if we're the best dog owners in the world, but she's part of our little family now, she gets exercise, knows basic obedience commands (sit, stay, not so great about coming when called though), gets enough to eat, and has a safe place to sleep at night.  She thinks she's a "good" dog and a pretty dog, and we don't tell her any differently.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reality Check

I lay in bed, an unwilling participant in the earth's rotation as manifested by the room getting lighter.  The birds had started singing a while earlier, not in the least concerned that the earth was rotating.  They just knew it was time to sing.  My mind raced.  It's not readily apparent that my mind sometimes races - you'd almost have to be married to me to know that. But sometimes it does.

I remember once when I was 10 years old or so, my father posed the famous question to me: if a tree falls in a forest and no one was there to hear it, did it make a sound.  I said, of course it does.  He laughed, shook his head and said no, it doesn't.  I immediately thought, and I'm not making this up, "ok, we have two definitions of sound".  I didn't say this to my father, because I was 10 and I thought it best not to.   But I had had occasion to hear a tree fall, and it made a sound.  I saw no reason why it would not make a sound, even if I was not there to hear it.  It created the waves or disturbance or whatever, and had someone been there, they would have heard it.   However, if you define sound as something that has to be heard or recorded by a human in order to exist, and no one heard it or recorded it, then I guess it didn't. 

At age 10, and maybe still, I fell in with the group that held objects which had physical properties retained those physical properties, even if I wasn't aware of them.  For example, we have a very large Mulberry tree in our field of a yard.  When I look at it, I see it and I know it exists.  If I turn around I don't see it, but I'm reasonably sure it still exists.  When I look again, it's still there.  Furthermore, other people are aware of it.

There are others that hold the view that reality is created by consciousness, and without consciousness, there is no reality.  I don't know if they'd go so far as to say that Mulberry tree no longer exists when I turn my back on it, but they might, and they might be able to prove it mathematically, at least at a level they can understand.   I can see their point to an extent.  For example, there are a lot of people on this planet and I've never seen and never will see or meet the vast majority.  I don't know their names, their appearance or anything about them.  I am not conscious of them,  I have no proof that they exist.

Reality is a continuing stream of thought with me.  I've got lots more to think about, from the brains of birds who don't care about the earth's rotation to the possibility that on a very small level at least, a physical entity can be in more than one place at the same time.   I'll think about it later tho.  Right now, I'm hungry.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

If you don't mind, I don't matter

At 1:36 AM this morning I lay awake with a bad headache.  A storm was moving through, so I watched reflections of  lightening bounce off the bedroom walls, and listened to the thunder.  It was very warm, and the lightening & thunder seemed quite close.  Slowly it moved further & further away, I did not hear any strong winds or rain.

I don't get headaches very often, and when I do, it's usually not bad.  This one was painful.  So I stayed there, not moving, hoping that calmness would make it go away.  I had nothing else to do but think, so I thought. 

Why are people the way they are?  It's the old nature vs. nurture argument.  I know the way I am (mostly) but I can't always tell you why.  I'm sure there are genetics involved that predispose me toward certain types of behaviors.  The fact that I think about this stuff sometimes, being one of them.  It also seems reasonable that if my parents had different values, raised me in a completely different place with different experiences, I might be a different person.  Perhaps even think differently.  I don't know.

A long time ago I was friends with a person who lived a very structured life.  At 2 PM every Sunday, it didn't matter what was going on, he was going to check the oil and fluid levels on his car.  And I'd think, why no earlier or later, and why Sunday?   Also, whenever he mowed his grass, he'd drain all the oil out of the lawnmower into a large glass container, then add it back when he mowed again.   Where did he learn this stuff, what was it about him that made him do stuff like this? And this was just two out of dozens of examples of a life structure that I found odd.

I'm not like that at all.  Ask anybody.

Some people are slightly manic - always on the go, always feel that have to be doing something to fill up their days.  Sitting still is like death to them.  Sometimes I wish I were like that, because I'd get more done, or at least more useful stuff done, perhaps.  But I'm perfectly content to sit in a chair and stare into space lost in daydreams or useless introspection.  In fact, that is my natural inclination.

Many years ago a person came into the periphery or my life through no choice of my own. He was from an older generation, very quickly ascertained that I didn't play golf, didn't hunt, and could live my life quite happily without ever touching a power tool. In fact to me, a power tool would very quickly equal a missing finger or worse.  He pretty much thought I was worthless and didn't mind letting me know.  

But I knew better.  I had an education, had learned a foreign language, had a son who loved me, had completely re-invented myself career wise after I got out of the Army, and had the income, house and property to prove it.  I liked photography, I liked reading, I liked riding around and looking at things. But most of these things were intangible, they weren't things you could hit with a stick.  Or a golf club. 

I pretty much thought he was an asshole, but I was too nice to tell him that.

But the bigger question that I so nicely digressed from is, as always, why?  Is it nature or nurture?  In the movie "Trading Spaces", Eddie Murphy is taken from a very lowly circumstance and turned into valuable professional, all so someone (was it Don Amechi?) could win a $1.00 bet.  The bet was that anybody, given the proper training and environment (and I assume reasonable intelligence) could become a top notch trader. In the movie, that turned out to be a case, it was nurture over nature.  But it's just a movie, so it doesn't prove a thing.

I don't know which is more important or which is more dominant.  And I'll never know, and I don't suppose it much matters.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Oh man, not Kafka again

I ran out of stuff that I wanted to read, so I picked up my copy of Kafka short stories.  I opened it up almost, but not quite, at random to a story called "Investigations of a Dog".  I stared at the title for a long time, with some trepidation.   I checked to see how long it was, just to see what I was in for.  38 pages of small print.   38 pages of challenging reading.  I was tired, I was looking at this while in bed, and I wondered if I really wanted to do this to myself.  Did I want to put myself through this? 

I figured why not.

So I started reading.  By the second page I found myself going back and re-reading portions of the first page, just to double check my understanding, to make sure I hadn't missed something.  It is not light reading.

I don't know what it is with my run-ins with Kafka through the years.  I'm not sure why I've kept that book.  Part of the reason is I take it as a personal challenge, I think.  I will not admit that I cannot get thru, and understand, any piece of literature that is written in English, no matter how difficult.  I don't have this problem with people like Faulkner.  Heck, I don't even have it with Hermann Hesse, I've read both Siddhartha & Steppenwolf and maybe a few other things he's written.   Just Kafka.  Why is that?

Of course I'm reading translations.    I'm not sure if Kafka wrote in German or Czech (I should find that out), but what ever it was, it was the 19th century version of the language.   To do it justice, the translation should reflect that, and it sort of does.  There are long sentences, lots of clauses, lots of passive voice writing, not lending itself to any kind of college Freshman Composition class.   So it's hard to read from that perspective. 

Also, its difficult to read because it's just so weird. You have to discover what is going on, and I find myself going back and re-reading because I either have trouble believing what I'm reading, or I lost the flow of the story somehow.  This story, for example, is being told from the point of view of an apparently alienated, decidedly bohemian dog.  And as the reader, I know nothing more than what the dog knows, nothing more than what the dog sees or experiences with his other senses.   I know what the dog thinks, I know his opinions, and it is not easy to follow.  The dog describes things in a way most humans wouldn't.  Kafka is a very, very good writer.  But at the moment, I have no idea where the story is going.

Everything Kafka has ever written is like that, at least to me.  I've had this book for years.  I guess I'll keep it and force my way thru a story every now and then.

He wrote a story about a man who woke up and found that he was a huge insect - his most famous, probably.  He wrote another about a man sitting at the gates of heaven for years, afraid to ask permission from St. Peter to enter (I think).  That one was a parable, and I'm still shaking my head.  He wrote one about building the Great Wall of China, and after reading that I remember thinking, yep, that's pretty much what it was like being in the Army.

I'll read some more tonight.  But I suspect I'll spend a week at least on those 38 pages.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dog Identity Crises


Ever since I looked online a couple of years ago, I've been telling anybody who asked, that my dog Pickles was a Bluetick/Lab mix.  

I ran into a person who agreed with the Lab part, but not the Bluetick - he insisted that Pickle's is a Blue Heeler.  He said he had raised & trained Blue Heelers, and she had the markings.

A Bluetick Coon Hound & a Blue Heeler are two different animals.   But surprisingly, when they are mixed with other breeds, things can get confusing.

Pickles is smaller than either a Lab or a Bluetick.  She is a moderate to high energy dog (despite her appearance in the picture), extremely alert.  She has a very good and resounding bark - not quite the quality of a Basset Hound maybe,  but you won't ignore it.  She is basically friendly, though that is not always apparent to strangers. 

In the words of a little girl in the Food Lion parking lot, she's "all ticked up".   Her ears are Lab-like, but her body markings arent.  She has the one large black spot you can see in the picture, and a smaller one near her tail that you can't see.  She get's a lot of looks, because she looks like a dog that might be good at something.

Little do they know......

Personality wise, she's always on the alert.  Constantly looking out windows, going from one to another, and barking at anything that comes close to our property, especially people and other dogs.   She seems to track things, if she catches a sent she wants to follow it, and she follows it on the ground.   I've not seen any herding characteristics, but I wouldn't know them if they kicked me in the nose.  She has a LOT of energy - the walks I take her on, no matter how far, are mere child's play for her.   I was used to being able to outlast dogs on long walks, but I cannot outlast Pickles.

So now I looked online again, and I've seen Blue Heelers with body markings similar to Pickles.  The head is much different, but some of the body's look very close.  I'm starting to join the Blue Heeler camp. 

It doesn't matter.  Pickles is our dog, she's part of the family, and she's a mutt.  But it gives me something to talk about.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Weekend Trip

Howdy from a relatively HUMID North Carolina, & the pun was indeed intended.  This is going to be a long, rambling post, with no particular purpose, so just know that going into it.  Won't hurt my feelings if you don't have the patience.

I took a quick trip to Kentucky last weekend, to visit my father, who is just shy of being in his mid-80s.  He'd spent Thursday night in the hospital, and when I showed up on Friday I could tell he wasn't feeling well.  I wasn't feeling well either, I'd managed to hurt my back somehow a couple of days earlier, and it was getting difficult for me to navigate on my own two feet.  By Saturday, my father was moving around a lot better than I was.

My father joined the Air Force when I was 7 years old.  Until that time I'd spent my entire life in Knott County, Kentucky - specifically Hindman and it's environs.  And I'm absolutely positive I sounded like it.  But in the summer, shortly before my 8th birthday, we packed up and headed out to Altus AFB in Oklahoma.  We said our goodbyes to grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.   My mother was sad and excited at the same time, and I didn't have a clue.  Completely clueless.  Before the next school year started, I'd been to Oklahoma, out to Arizona, on to California then back to Oklahoma.  After Oklahoma, I'd find my self in Montana, Germany, & Colorado, then back to Kentucky for some college, then off again, all over creation for a long time.

Anyway, I remember driving down a dirt road from my Uncle's house, with him and my cousin standing there watching us leave.   The next time I'd see my cousin, who was also my best friend at the time, he would be dead.

Maybe if everybody examines their life, they can find a point where there is a dividing line.  Where things were one way before and another way after.  Or maybe most people cant.  But I can, and it is very stark, and very real, and I didn't realize it for years and years.  But looking out the back window of the car as we drove on that dirt road down the hill, seeing my uncle and cousin standing there looking quite sad as we left,  is the major dividing point in my life.  That exact moment.  Before that things were one way, after that things were another.

Actually, when we left, we were taking part in a large migration out of Eastern Kentucky.  The area had been losing population for years, and continued to lose for years afterwards.  We joined the herd.  Eventually the area lost it's congressional district, and was gerrymanded into a couple of others.

Before:  I was very young.  I was part of a large extended family - I still don't really know how many first cousins I have, but it's a lot.  A large segment of them were my age, and we played and played and played.  I had aunts and uncles who I thought were all grown up, but in reality they were kids, teenagers.    In a place like Knott County, if a grown up didn't know you, they'd always ask "Whose yore Daddy?", I'd tell them, and suddenly it was like I was a member of the family, because everybody knew either my father's family or my mother's, in most cases both.   I felt very secure, no reason not to.

After:   I didn't belong anywhere, and the longer it went on, the less I belonged, even in Knott County.  The natural shyness (or bashfulness as they were more likely to say) I exhibited before, became much more pronounce after.

I had my first brush with death when I was 5 years old and my great-granfather died.  I'm going to date myself a little here - this was a man who was born in 1860, and lived long enough to pretty much scare me to death.  It was the mustache more than anything - it was a long, thick, 19th century mustache.   He was a lawyer, had at one time been the county attorney, and always wore a suit.  He was very stern, or at least seemed so to me. He scared me to death, and when he died just short of his 99th birthday, I didnt understand why people were upset.  I didnt understand why they were digging a hole to put grandpa in.  I didn't know what death was.

My next brush with death came about 3 years later,  when we were in Oklahoma.  It was the May after we'd left Kentucky, and one evening my mother got a call from her brother, who tearfully told her that my cousin, his nephew, had drowned.   I heard the words but they didn't sink in - nobody said dead.  I was in 8 year old complete denial, surely it was possible for someone to drown and not be dead.  My father was at work, either my mom or my brother called him, I'm not sure, and within a couple of hours we were on our way to Kentucky.

My cousin drowned in Troublesome Creek, a body of water that is 99 miles long and flows into the Kentucky River I believe.  Most of the year, it is probably ankle deep in the area where he drowned - but in the spring it can get very high, and can be very dangerous.  They were visiting his uncle who ran a service station across the road.  It took me decades before I realized the terror of that afternoon and early evening.  My cousin must have felt terror, pain and absolute panic in those moments before died, struggling, but not able to get his head above water.   His parents, ready to leave, couldn't find him, probably at first felt irritation.  As time when on they started feeling panic too, I'm sure.  They probably checked the houses up the hollow behind the service station to see if he was playing up there.  And as time went on and as it began to get later, the horror of that flooding creek must have become more and more of a reality.  At some point I'm sure the police were called, at some point they dragged the bottom of the creek (I don't know if these were people trained, or just local people volunteering to try to find him), and at some point they found his body.  His parents, who went for a visit with a very active and intelligent 7 year old son, went home childless.  I don't know how they dealt with it.

I'm not just throwing "intelligent" around, either.  In one of the country's poorest counties, my cousin's parents had advanced degrees in education from the University of Kentucky.  My cousin was learning to draw and paint, and I have a feeling could read well above his grade level.  Anyway.

No one knows what happened, no one saw it.  But my cousin was dead.  And I was in complete denial about it all.  But how does an 8 year old deal with a 7 year old's death?  Probably by being in denial.

Later that summer, after school was out in Oklahoma, my parents decided it would be a good idea for me to learn to swim, and signed me up for lessons at the town swimming pool.  It was very reasonable, except I was terrified.  I had (and I guess still have) an unreasonable terror of being in water over my head.  The instructors, who were nice people but were probably only high school students, could not do a thing with me.  I thought they hated me, but on the last day (about 5 days or so after I started), they sat down with me and talked to me,  said things to make me laugh, gave me some chocolate cake, and talked to my mother and that was the end of the swimming lessons.  It took me decades to link my cousin's drowning with the terror I felt in that swimming pool. At the time I didn't make the connection.

Decades after my cousin's death, I have not forgotten.  He was less than a year younger than me, and I wonder what his life would be like.

Knott County has changed a lot in the decades since my father joined the Air Force.   I mean the topography.  A lot of the mountain tops have been blown off for strip mining (or surface mining as the operators prefer to call it).  I think there is probably flat land now all the way from Hindman to Hazard and beyond in both directions, and Knott County & Perry County have no business having that much flat land in them.  But that's the way it is.  Strip mining pays well, but it's a hard, dangerous business, both for the people and for the land. 

Go to google & type in Knott County Kentucky, then look at a satellite image of it.  You'll see a lot of green rugged looking terrain, but you'll also see a lot of gray (or light brown) patches.  Those patches are mountain tops that no longer exist.  They are mountains that have been flattened, valleys that have been filled in, creeks that have been buried, and on and on. Every one of those mountain tops had a name. The operators will tell you that it's a good thing, that when the mining operations are over, there's land available for economic activity that didn't exist before.  And they aren't wrong.  But I can't help it - it's very ugly, and I don't like it, and it's a very high price to pay.

So anyway, I visited my father, visited my cousin's mother (his father died 2 years ago), visited my brother, and some more cousins.  Everbody's doing fine, just a little older than they used to be.