Sunday, November 27, 2005

War, Thanksgiving and the Gym

A couple weeks ago Julie and I decided at 5:30 p.m., in order to rest up for the Friday night dance, to take a 30 minute nap. Two hours later, when we woke up, we were too groggy and sleepy to want to even go dancing. So much for thinking that youth still exists in us. However, what I’ve been finding since we’ve set our clocks back an hour is that it gets dark so early, like by 5:00 p.m., that it’s night already; by 6:30 it feels like it ought to be close to bed time. I’m having a hard time adjusting to night starting so early in the evening.

A week or so ago we went to see “Good Night and Good Luck.” I liked it. I had read a couple different reviews of the movie that had stated that the scope was too narrow, that it focused on Edward R. Murrow as a hero, when he had actually jumped on the bandwagon that had already started rolling, that it wasn’t forceful enough. I thought that all the critics were right; but, what was so chilling, was how McCarthy had America riled up such that people were turning each other in. What is even more chilling, no, downright frightening, is how Bush/Cheney are getting Americans pitted against each other, just like McCarthy did. If you’re not for Bush, then you’re against America. That’s what is really so scary.

Last week a co-worker sent out a broadcast email expressing sadness over a Haverhill youth who died recently in Iraq. He pointed out how America was in this mis-guided war that was causing our youth to die unnecessarily. I saw him in the hallway and expressed my gratitude that he had had the courage to speak his mind. He told me that people had called him an asshole and that others had said his remarks were inappropriate and that he should keep his thoughts to himself. I thought that was really sad. It’s hard for me to believe that anyone can support a war, especially an unjust one. We need more people to speak their minds in order to stop this senseless dying.

The other day I heard an ad on the radio to get youth who were going to apply for college under federal loans to also register for the Selective Service. I almost swerved off the road when I heard that. Are we getting ready to re-institute the draft?

Last night Julie and I watched, first time for either of us, the movie – “Wag The Dog.” While it was listed in the menu as a “comedy,” I found little about it humorous. I found it to be downright scary. For those of you who don’t know the story, the president of the USA is up for re-election and things are looking bad. He had sex with a girl (read Monica and Bill) and so his numbers were looking bad. In order for the public to be re-directed from his miscues, his handlers created a war with another country. Using Hollywood, the handlers created mis-information, dis-information and even outright lies to mislead the American public into thinking that the US was in a war and, as we all know, you don’t want to change leadership in the middle of a conflict.

Isn’t that what we have now? America is in Iraq and the Bush Administration is doing the same things as were presented in the movie to make the American public think that we need to support a war that somehow is supposed to make our country safer. The reality is, I think, is that it’s all to keep his administration in power. We live in sad times. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I just don’t see how anyone can support a war that’s been proven to be one that was started, and continues, for all the wrong reasons.

On an altogether other level, I just finished reading “The Samurai’s Garden,” by Gail Tsukiyama. It’s a wonderful book about a youth who contracts tuberculosis while in college and goes to his Chinese family’s summer home on an island off Japan to recuperate. While there for just over a year, he has experiences that while both happy and sad, serve to guide him into adulthood. The book is set in 1937-38, during the time in which Japan invaded China just prior to WWII. The book is a timeless piece of literature and I recommend it to everyone.

At the moment I’m reading Larry McMurty’s books on the Berrybender’s. I’m finishing up “By Sorrow’s River,” and sometime during the week will start its sequel, “Folly and Glory.”

I decided to spend Thanksgiving up here in Mass. I just didn’t want to drive for 7 hours each way over the most-traveled weekend of the year. To me, it’s safer to stick close to home and off the highways during the times I call amateur hour. It’s the time when people who don’t normally do long distance driving are out on the road. They become dangerous, both to themselves and to others around them. I guess you could call them Sunday drivers, too.

So, I went over to Julie’s and had Thanksgiving dinner with three of her sons and a friend of one of them. My contribution was to make homemade cranberry sauce (using locally grown cranberries) and also a roasted vegetable dish (cubed sweet potatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, onions and garlic sautéed slowly on top of the stove, with oregano, basil, fresh lemon, pepper, and dill added as seasonings). Julie made turkey, whipped white potatoes, stuffing and, for dessert, pecan pie and a multi-berry pie. It was gooood. The day was relaxing and comfortable. We ate on Julie’s new dining room table that she had just bought from Ikea.

Ikea opened its first store in Mass. in early November. There has been one in Connecticut for a few years, but it’s too far away for most folks who live close to Boston to travel to. The Ikea just opened here in MA is located in Stoughton, which is about 30 min. away from Watertown. Julie, her son, Barrett and I drove down there last weekend to check it out. Barrett ended up buying a bed and Julie a dining room table. I think both of them did really well. Me? I bought Dixie glass water and food bowls to use at Julies.

Victor, Barrett’s friend whom he met while tutoring him in English (ESL), ate dinner with us. Victor ended up in Boston about 2 years ago from a refugee settlement camp in Uganda, where he had lived for almost 4 years. Back in 1999, when he was 15 and living with his family in their native Sierra Leone, he was awakened early one morning by the sounds of gunfire. Rebels had just broken into his home and were murdering his father, who was the nation’s elections supervisor. Victor jumped out of his bedroom window and ran off into the woods to hide. From his hiding place he saw the rebels lead his mother and his five other siblings off. The rebels had been especially looking for him, since he was the oldest son. Fortunately for Victor, they never did.

Victor was eventually re-located to a camp in Uganda where he safely lived and worked as a farmer until he was 18. After that, he came to the US as a political asylee. Currently, he lives outside of Boston and works in an organic grocery store.

During dinner I got information about his mother and father and decided, without telling him, to try to find out if his mother had ever made it to America. A friend of mine has a business finding people and I thought if she lived in America, he could find her. Unfortunately, a nationwide computer search using a couple different databases failed to turn up any trace of anyone anywhere in the US with his mother’s name. Only God knows what happened after that day in 1999 when Victor watched, from his hiding place in the woods, the rebels march his mother, brothers and sisters away, away from him, leaving he and his bullet-riddled father behind.

It’s really a sad story; fortunately, Victor is a wonderful guy. He is bright, cheerful, polite, hard working, and is endeavoring to make the best for himself in life. He is truly a good person. Though she didn’t raise him long – his mother raised him right.

At the moment things seem to be going well for me, and also for Dixie, the Airedale dog. Dixie continues to be okay. Last week I gave her a bath and a haircut. This week it’s been downright cold, with temperatures going down into the teens at night, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. Yesterday afternoon it was about 25 degrees outside yet she waded into the stream over at Beaver Brook reservation to get a drink. In a couple weeks I have to get her over to the Vets for her annual booster shots for different things.

Professionally, I’m doing well. The Virtual Gateway training I’m doing continues to take me around the state. Recently I’ve been down to Plymouth, over to Marlboro and out to Pittsfield. In December I’ll be going up to Haverhill and down to South Weymouth, wherever that is.

Last week was my birthday. I guess I’ll have to go in and change my profile to reflect now being a year older. I had a nice birthday. My granddaughter sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone; my one sister and her husband did the same; my other sister sent me a card. The folks in my unit at work gave me a cake and a card. Julie got me a warm up suit for when we go to the gym and she also got me some accoutrements for my car. It’s a shame she couldn’t get me electrically heated car seats.

My oldest daughter, Beth, is buying a house and putting down some serious roots in North Carolina. I’m glad I’m able to help her out in this endeavor, as I think she’s doing the right thing. She’s just passed her realtor’s test and is now able to sell real estate in North Carolina. I think things, for her, are looking up. Jasmine, her daughter and my grand-daughter, seems to be doing well, as well. J’s taking tap and ballet and will start school next fall. She’s also going to be 5 in December. The little baby’s growing up. So what do you get a five year old?

I’m edging my way back into karate. I’ve started doing kata again when going to the gym. I try to go three times a week. Julie and I push each other to go. Once I get there and am using the machines, I’m glad I’m there. It’s getting there that’s such a struggle.

So now that I’m (starting to get) back in shape, I’ve added my kata to the exercise mix. So far I’m back to doing 12 of the 15 basic kata, also doing one advanced one (Wankan). I expect to get the other three back into my repertoire soon. I’ve decided to work the basic fifteen and just add two more, Wankan and Meikyo. My expectation is to then do those 17 kata until I’m unable to physically perform them anymore. It’ll give me something to do as I get old and in addition to dancing, walking, reading and otherwise fooling around.

I remember there was a time when I never thought I’d ever stop doing karate. Then, after a colonoscopy, a hernia and a vasectomy, I sort of got away from it. Of course, having been involved in a relationship that forced me to make choices didn’t help, either. Now I know that Hanshi Lent was right: Karate will get you through times that you think you’ll never get through. Maybe it’s the discipline, maybe it’s the feeling of having something that keeps you sane in insane times, maybe it’s the working off of all the frustration of life; maybe it’s having a sense of self-control when everything around you is seemingly out of control; I don’t know, maybe it’s all of that. However, I know that now that I’m back to doing it, I’m getting back some inner sense of serenity. It’s a discipline; it’s a dance; it’s a way of life. Now, if I can just get off my big butt to get started………

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sunday Morning Thoughts

Coffee at hand, hands playing the keyboard, I'm sitting here on Sunday morning at Julie's computer. At the moment she's in bed, sick with something that's making her feel somewhat nauseous and head-achy. I'm not too far behind, feeling a little sick in the stomach, with a slight headache and a raw throat. Dixie, the Airedale dog, seems to feel about the same way, too. She didn't even want to get up and growls when I get too close. I gave her the rest of Julie's breakfast. She wouldn't even get up to eat it; I fed it to her while she was lying down. Then I brought her water bowl over to her so she could take a drink. Had no interest in getting up.

The weather up here in the greater Boston area this past week has been crazy. It went from, last week, down in the 40's during the day to the 30's at night to a rainy spell that raised the temps. up into the high 60's, then dropped them down again. Yesterday, the morning was cold and raw then the sun came out and it warmed up into the 60's. Outside it's now cold, damp and raw. It's no wonder we're sick.

We went to the swing dance Friday night and danced to The Peter Hostage Situation for about an hour. I felt too bad to go on much longer than that. The next day, yesterday, I slept most of the morning, only taking Dixie out to the courtyard to relieve herself. I found some DayQuil and loaded myself up on that and also took some Ibuprofen later that made me feel somewhat better, at least for a while. I was able to get my laundry done.

Last night Julie and I were supposed to go to a black tie swing dance affair hosted by a non-profit agency up in Lowell. We didn't make it. We watched a little of The Thornbirds, which, on some cable channel, was showing the mini-series in one long swoop. We watched about 3 - 4 episodes; Julie had read the book so she filled me in on the rest of the story before calling it a night. Richard Chamberlain, as the cardinal, father of Dane, who drowned before becoming a priest himself, was the lover of Rachel Ward's character. I bet the Catholic's loved that. Now that I think about it, Richard Chamberlain, who's gay, played a Catholic priest who became a Cardinal and fathered a child by a woman who was married to someone else. I think maybe the mini-series should become mainstream again. Stir things up a bit.

I just got finished reading "Seabiscuit: An American Legend. It's a wonderful book. Details the most dramatic comeback in all of professional sports for all time. Even though Seabiscuit is a horse, it's the kind of story that would motivate anyone in sports, or any competitive career, to try to get back on top of the game just one more time. Fortunately for Seabiscuit, and Red Pollard the jockey, being older and coming back from a career ending injury, had the kind of finish that only seems to happen in fiction. I haven't seen the movie (yet) but the book was great. It's a book for all generations to read and enjoy.

Before Seabiscuit, I read "The Kite Runner." It's another book I would recommend to everyone. Written since 9/11, it is a fictional account about growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970's, emigrating to America and then returning to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Taliban. It's a thought provoking book that stays with you long after the book's been finished.

While I'm thinking about it, two weeks ago my cell phone died. Dead. Radio Shack would only send it out for repair. I got it back 11 days later with a note saying that it was dead beyond life. Okay, I said, you guys sold me the phone and the 2 year contract, so make good on it. Oh no, they said. You'll have to go to a Verizon store and see if they'll help you. Even though Radio Shack is an authorized dealer for Verizon and gave me my original (now dead) phone, they can't replace it. They couldn't even fix it.

You know, having a cell phone is somewhat akin to the advent of the FAX machine. Before we had them nobody cared. Now that we have them we can't do without them. I've had a cell phone now for about 3 years. Instant communication. All of a sudden, not having one for 12 days made me feel disconnected, almost as though I was in isolation. It's a weird feeling. One one hand, not having one is liberating and makes you feel like you're an individual who may or may not want to be located. On the other hand, having the sense that if something were to go awry and being able to communicate in an instant, gives one a feeling of security and a sense of being connected. It's a strange and disconcerting conflict. To be in touch or not to be in touch, to be constantly available or not, to be tied to the damn machine almost whether you want to be or not is not a question, it's a bitch.

Anyway, Radio Shack had this phone for two weeks before they let me know that within one hour of having received it they knew they couldn't fix it. I took the phone over to Verizon, since it was less than a year old and therefore still under manufacturers warranty, and they replaced it in 30 minutes. Gave me a new one. Pissed me off no end.

Radio Shack, when I originally signed up for the two year plan, wanted me to take out an extended service plan, for which I would have paid about $60. As it turns out, when the phone died, they wouldn't have been able to do anything about it, anyway. I'm glad I didn't take the extended plan. Verizon, when I got the new phone, told me to take out an extended manufacturer's warranty plan, at $1.99/month, when my original plan expires, so as to cover the new phone.

All in all, to some extent, I wish cell phones had never been invented.

Work wise, things are going well. I'm still involved in traveling statewide to train service provider agencies on the Virtual Gateway. I've been to Hyannis, New Bedford and Taunton in the south of the state; to Lawrence, Salem and Danvers in the north; to Pittsfield, Easthampton and Worcester in the western part of Massachusetts; and, in Boston, to Dorchester, Mattapan and Cambridge. I'm pretty well versed on where places are.

About a month ago I was involved in a fender bender. This car made a turn in front of me and then stopped. As it had just started raining, the road was slick and, when I hit the brakes, slid into him. I didn't damage his Honda CRX at all; I did a tad over $1500 of damage to my car - new hood, grill and head light. The other day I got a letter in the mail from State Farm saying that I am being assessed a "surcharge" on my insurance for next year due to the accident. It will probably amount to about $200/year more for car insurance. Needless to say, I'm beside myself about it.

Just before the fender bender, I read where Massachusetts drivers have been determined to have the worst driving records in the country. My neice, Gabrielle, calls Massachusetts drivers Massholes. Now I understand why.

It's a state law to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. However, a lot of drivers will stop for a pedestrian crossing the street anywhere. Others won't. Driving behind someone in an urban area is a crap shoot.

Then, the roads up here are old, not laid out well, not marked well and not contiguous. In Boston itself, many of the streets go off on a diagonal; others are somewhat circular. Very few go from one end of the city to the other without at least changing their name once or twice. The rub is, the name of the street you're on may well change but there are no street signs that tell you that.

When I had my accident, it was in Waltham; no, actually it was in Newton. The intersecting street, Albemarle, did not link up directly on the other side of Crafts,the street I was on. So, the driver who pulled out in front of me and stopped actually just wanted to go across the intersection but the intersection wasn't contiguous and so he made a turn in front of me and stopped because he had to turn left in order to continue to cross over Crafts. There wasn't any on-coming traffic but he stopped nonetheless. Masshole. The upshot of it all is that it's my fault and now my insurance has gone up.

Oh well. I didn't mean to start railing. I guess it's the weather. I don't feel well. It's Sunday. I'm tired of feeling sick. It's cold, raw and rainy outside. A nice day to stay in and hang out. As it's a football day, I may have to go out and rent a movie.