Monday, February 23, 2009
All on this earth must toil for their living, from the tiny wren to the mighty elephant. And yes, the lowly human also must toil to live upon the earth. So, here I am, a lowly human facing yet another Monday morning. It is a stone cold fact that I have faced a total of 2,194 Monday mornings since I began working at age fourteen. The overwhelming majority of those Mondays were mornings when I had to return to work.
Humans have invented cube farms to inhabit during business hours. At first glance they seem like an ideal solution but every word spoken, even whispered, is heard for rows around. All coughing and sneezing, and the germs, are shared equally. Eating and gossiping and conducting personal business are automatically amplified for all to hear. No company business is heard, especially something impacting your responsibilities - that sound does not escape into the cube farm environment, thus insuring you will be caught entirely off guard when reality hits.
Tall people have unfair advantage in the cube world. They can look directly down into your cube by merely standing up. Short people do have a mobility advantage by moving among the rows unseen by all seated employees.
Working in the modern cube farm, you often observe people popping up and down like prairie dogs through out the day. The movement of a big boss can be tracked from afar as all cube dwellers disappear in waves ahead of his progress through a given department. If startling news makes the rounds via email or word of mouth, cube dwellers are often observed popping up and down accompanied by calls of "What? What!"
Inhabiting the cube farms are the modern coworkers, the people you spend more time with than your own family - people with impaired personal hygiene; troublemakers; slackers; gossips; nosy nellies, and bastards.
The corporate environment that spawned cube farms is not a new structure, but in its current iteration, it sucks. The best and brightest do not rise to the top. In fact, it is often the worst who get promoted up the ladder simply to get them out of the way so real work can be accomplished.
Sometimes you are forced to work with people whose very existence irritates you. If you are not feeling strong and in control of your emotions on any given day, it is best to call in sick or take a vacation day rather than chance a kerfuffle with the cube farm's MIP, most irritating person. It can only go badly for you otherwise.
When every day at your job seems like another Monday, you know you should retire.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
All that exists on this earth is at the mercy of time. As humans we can sort through old photographs, marveling over the changes in our children as they mature. We can grieve over the days when our hair was richly colorful, not washed out to gray - or washed entirely from our scalps.
A man who has been like a father to me is nearing the end of his time. He is living on his own terms at this point, but his big heart is worn out. It beats now because he simply wills it to continue to beat. That is what the doctors say. The one thing time can not touch is who he is, and this good man I have loved all my life, is essentially unchanged. Still sharp witted and forever testing to see if you are paying attention. If not, the joke's on you.
Sorting through photographs today my entire life passed through my hands. Pictures of my parents before they met and fell in love. Pictures of my grandparents in their white haired retirements. Photos of my children as babies, toddlers, grade schoolers, sports stars, goof offs, and graduates. My daughter's wedding. Pictures of pets long since gone from this world. Photos of friends and family, and pictures of the men I once loved as a younger woman. Bits of time caught as an instant in two dimensions, proving that time exists if measured in the changes, the rising and falling of all things. Nothing stops the inexorable current of time.
I found several photos of my old dog Duke when he was a puppy. Not a fat little butterball puppy, but when he was about half grown, hanging out with his boy, my son. Smooth boy arms around a happy dog's neck - big dog paws across the boy's legs - wrestling on the ground - side by side in the lawn chairs - the dog playfully trapped between blue jeaned knees.
That old dog just spent three nights and days at the vet's with a life threatening obstruction of deer bones in his bowels. Each night when I came home from work, there was no old dog waiting, no silent best friend. There was no living alarm if someone or something unwelcome should come toward the house in the dark. No one to help tend to the horses but me. The coyotes likely marked all of his territory in his absence, those wild cousins he repeatedly warns away. Thanks to a dedicated veterinarian, the old dog is home now, and apparently not much worse for the wear.
A baggie full of medicines and instructions for a bland diet and strict orders to take all the deer parts away next time, and I think the old dog will be good for another few years. A few years.
Whether we live a few more days or weeks or years, we can only live one second at a time. How to find eternity in that tick of time? I wish I could hug that smooth armed boy once again and tell him how dearly I love him and will always love him beyond time. I wish I could hold close my beautiful daughter dressed in the lace of her wedding gown for just one more second to say how beautiful she has always been and will always be. I wish my dog was still young. I wish this good man who looked after me as a child... I wish he was a young cowboy again forever, his gentle arm around his smiling wife, his old raw boned ropin' horse still alive, nickering softly at the gate for him.
I wish time was not the thief it is.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
He took 80% of the family income and left me with 100% of the bills. A few days after he left, for good measure, the furnace broke during the coldest weather in years. Luckily there was a wood burning stove so I learned how to split wood then. If wood is frozen, it will pop right in two, much like I imagine a spineless, lying coward of a polecat husband might...
It was not always easy, but my daughter and I made it just fine. As my heart healed, and my finances healed, my life opened up in ways I did not expect. I eventually realized my husband's departure was a mighty blessing, setting me free to live my own life.
Once all the bills were paid, and my finances were squared, I was able to save money, something impossible during my marriage. I could dream of things I had never been able to seriously consider ever before in my life. One of those dreams was a Harley Davidson. My own Harley Davidson.
As my savings account grew, I talked more and more about getting my own motorcycle. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, tried to talk me out of it. I was not big enough to ride. I could not maintain a Harley on my own. A Harley was too expensive to own.
"Get a Honda," everyone said.
"No flippin' way," I said.
Ah, but if you focus on something sharply enough, you can get what you desire, your dreams come true. That is how reality works.
In the little bank where I deposited my pay check every other week I knew everyone on a first-name basis. I had never had even an accidental over draft. I deposited into my savings out of every pay check. I did not owe a dime to anyone on this earth. When the time came, when I found a good used Harley with less than 3000 miles on it, the loan officer refused to give me a loan, even though I had more than enough for a down payment. "Buy a refrigerator," he said with a cheesy smile. I just looked at him.
I got a loan from another bank and took my money out of the little bank. The loan officer overheard me closing all of my accounts because his desk was close to the teller windows. Looking sheepish, he intercepted me leaving his bank. "Someone must have given you the money for that Harley."
"Yes, I got the Harley, and once I've learned to ride it, you will see it parked right across the street every day." I was cool but inwardly I was jumping with glee.... GLEE!
(Glee - noun 1. Open delight or pleasure; exultant joy; exultation.)
The first solo ride took place on gravel lanes in a small graveyard, where there was not much of an audience. Each time I would drive a bit further along the country roads until I was brave enough to drive on the paved (and busier) roads.
I remember well the first day I felt confident enough to drive around Lake Shawnee, east of Topeka. Everything went well and I was on the way back to the garage when I inexplicably lost my nerve. I pulled over into the mouth of a gated drive way and stopped the engine. I was in a panic for no reason. I did not want to ride that big motorcycle alone. I could not handle it. I would get killed by some idiot turning left in front of me, leaving my daughter alone in this world. Every fear I ever felt in connection with riding motorcycles, every reason not to ride, assailed me as I sat in dry-mouthed panic.
When I look back at that moment, it is one of several cross roads in my life. I could have locked the bike up, walked to the nearest phone to call someone to come get me and the motorcycle, and given it all up. That is exactly what I felt like doing. As I sat there, thinking of how much and for how long I had wanted my own bike, a calm came over me. Left-turning drivers be damned. I was going to enjoy riding my own Harley Davidson. I had earned it. I started the engine and rode on.
I made several rules with regard to riding. Since I was a single mother, I vowed to never ride and drink, not even after one single beer. I did not break this vow until my daughter was well into high school, and I had been riding for a lot of years. Even then, it was only a few times, and only one drink. I rode with a very hard-drinking crowd, so I likely remember a lot of things the others do not recall now - or wish they did not recall now.
I also vowed to never let anyone work on my motorcycle. Harleys were notorious for breaking down, needing a lot of maintenance that required a knowledgeable hands-on owner-rider. But I had a different logic about them. They were the best motorcycles in the world. The reason they broke down all the time had more to do with all those owner-riders who only thought they knew what they were doing. If I could not tweak it, fine tune it, or fix it myself, I took it to the Harley shop. The only time I was ever stranded was when I ran out of gas.
Over the years, I rode as much and as often as I could, to every place I could ride. I loved it, and I especially loved riding alone. Getting out on the open road, having control of a big engine effortlessly powering you down the miles is a singular pleasure. It sounds corny, but there is an opening into the experience of riding, where the highway is felt through your hands and feet, where the engine knows where you are going. It feels as if the road is alive and coming to meet you. And though I was never reckless, even at eighty miles an hour, you can roll the throttle and there is always more power in a big twin engine. Riding a big motorcycle, you can outrun just about any worry, at least for a little while.
Unfortunately, there are a LOT of other people you have to share the road with when you ride a motorcycle. And you have to interact with them. There is a certain amount of social intercourse required, like it or not.
If I was riding with any of my male "biker" friends, no one dared to say a thing to me. But a woman alone seems to upset a certain type of man. I will not repeat the worst things ever said to me at stop lights. I just laughed at whatever they had to say and hoped if my bike ever did break down, one of those creeps would not happen by.
The funniest things ever said to me were comments from black people. Black guys would pull up beside me, the widest smiles in the world, and carry on quite charmingly. When I laughed at them, it was because they were funny. I assume their masculinity was not threatened in any way by a woman on her own Harley. Black women were always friendly to me as well, even if it was their male companion who was carrying on. They often asked all about my motorcycle, how I learned to ride, always friendly and I always enjoyed encounters with them.
Often when I rode to work in the mornings, there was a contingent of guys waiting for the bus in the downtown area. I did not understand it, but those "highly successful" characters would always shout and hoot at me. I ignored them. "Get a job, Fools!" I always thought angrily.
One of the bike's two previous owners had customized the kick stand arm, bending it quite deeply, making the bike lean far to the left when it was parked. When I first started riding, I sometimes had a hard time setting the bike up if it was parked on a left downward slope. It was a lot of weight to push uphill. In those days it was legal to park in the empty triangles caused by mid-block street crossings. I always parked in one in front of the downtown Walgreen's diner windows, (to gall the cheesy banker). I was having a hard time getting my bike off the kick stand one afternoon, but I knew what I was doing. Some man sent his little daughter out of the diner to give me a message. "My daddy says that bike is too big for you!" the little girl informed me in her most bossy little voice.
"You can tell your daddy that I'm just fine," I told her. The adrenaline from the insult surged through my blood and I sat my bike up as if I was six feet tall instead of five feet one inch. Indeed.
As time went on, the fact that the bike leaned so far over was an advantage and I became quite strong handling "Old Blue".
Of course, I was still young in those days, and quite snobbish about riding a Harley. Anyone who rode something else was just not in the same league of motorcycling, in my opinion. One thing Harleys do well is to vibrate everything loose. I was on 24 Highway north of Topeka, making a left hand turn, when my motorcycle died, right in the turn. Narrowly avoiding dropping the bike, I managed to not get run over from either direction. I was pushing my dead motorcycle across the lanes of traffic, trying to get out of everyone's way. I was very embarrassed. My shining savior was a middle aged guy dressed in plaid golf shorts, riding a moped. He came buzzing up and cheerfully helped me push my motorcycle out of harm's way. Bless his big plaid heart! I thanked him profusely, and would have given him a hug, but he mounted up on his massive moped steed and zipped off into the sunset before I could get my arms around him. Who was that plaid man, I asked myself.
The battery cable had vibrated loose and all I needed was a Phillips screw driver. I saw two linemen and a tool truck about a block away. I walked to where they were perched on the pole, asking if I could borrow a Phillips screwdriver. They were hostile, and just stared at me. I asked them again if I could please borrow a screwdriver, explaining that the battery cable was loose. One guy said they did not have any tools. The other guy said he would have to call his supervisor. I guess they were union guys...
I eventually borrowed a screwdriver from someone else and was on my way.
My daughter rode with me when she was young. She seemed to be proud of her mother's motorcycle, and loved to ride with me. We never ventured too far from home, though. I was always extra careful and hyper-aware when she was riding with me. People simply do not drive their cars and trucks with the safety of motorcyclists in mind. The most aggravating thing drivers do is to look directly at a motorcyclist and then pull out directly in the path of the oncoming bike. One day my daughter and I were riding along a four lane street in Topeka. I noticed a truck pull up from the left, and something told me to watch it. Sure enough, it sat at the intersection until we were too close for it to safely pull out, then pulled right into our path. I had already started slowing down, so it was not what anyone would consider a real close call, but close enough that it made me mad. I sped up and came along side of the driver's side. An old guy in overalls was driving, and apparently his son and young grandson were in the truck with him. His window was down, so I asked if he had not seen us. I had to shout but I did not ask in a mean or hateful way.
He instantly became angry and yelled there had been plenty of time for him to pull out in front of us and who the hell did I think I was?
Oh, the shouting match was ON!
We drove along, side by side, shouting and trading insults. I yelled that he did not own the road and that he was a bad driver. He became absolutely livid and was cussing me as if I were a dog.
We were coming to a stop light and I told my daughter to get ready to run to safety as soon as I had to stop. I did not know what that old fool was going to do. As we came to a halt, amid the other cars in the turning lanes, the other drivers all got an earful. I did call him an old s.o.b. because by then I was so angry at all the names he had called me in front of my daughter (and his young grandson, I might add). He was so mad that he did not even realize what he was saying. He actually called me a god damned nigger. I could not help myself and just started laughing, really laughing, right in his face. Was that the best the old bastard could do? I looked around at the shocked faces of the other drivers, sitting there on that beautiful spring morning, and shook my head. They seemed to be waiting for me to get off my motorcycle and shoot them or something. I patted my daughter's leg and told her not to worry, and soon we were on our way. I have never forgotten that old man. What a jerk.
The worst thing that ever happened when I was riding, the closest I have ever come to being in an accident, was another road rage incident. On an impulse buy, I had purchased a little hamster for my daughter. I had the box zipped up in my leather coat and was on my way home. The light changed to green. Out of habit, I looked before I pulled into the major intersection. Apparently, that fraction of a second delay really ticked off the driver behind me, and he laid on his horn. What a jerk! Almost reflexively I flipped him the bird. Wrong move. He instantly became enraged. He roared up behind me and at the last possible moment, veered to the right and veered back to the left, trying to run me off the road. Then he sped up, pulling into my lane and slammed on his brakes. He did this for over a mile. I kept moving because I thought he would run over me if I stopped. I was afraid for my life, but some how I stayed calm and searched for a safe way to escape that maniac. Finally, I guess he got it out of his system and drove on, and I was able to make a left hand turn and get away.
He was driving an orange two door Monte Carlo with a black vinyl roof. I memorized his tag number and remembered it for years afterward. He was a nice looking young guy and believe me, if I had ever saw him again, I would have punched him right in his face, regardless of the consequences. I called the police as soon as I got home, my voice still shaking, my knees weak. I was transferred around and left on hold for so long that I finally hung up. I had no faith any action would have ever been taken. I was just glad the hamster and I made it home. I never, ever again flipped off another driver again, no matter what.
I do not understand why there was often such malice directed toward me when I rode my motorcycle. I wondered if all those white guys thought I was a lesbian. Maybe they thought I was a "biker chick" and therefore did not deserve even the minimum of respect. I have always wondered how bad it would have been if I had been a lesbian biker chick? Bigotry is an ugly, evil thing. When I dared to stand up for myself it truly enraged those men.
All in all, owning and riding my own Harley Davidson was quite an adventure. It was an accomplishment, a personal victory. That Harley, Ol' Blue, was a symbol of the freedom I had worked so hard to achieve in every area of my life. Not least, it represented financial freedom. Once that bike was paid off, I used it as collateral for every major purchase I needed to make after that. I eventually had such great credit that I was able to purchase my own home with no cosigner.
It meant that my broken heart was eventually healed. I rode that Harley away from all that old heartache, right into more heartache, but that's another story. I got a small understanding of the senseless anger and hatred some people harbor in their hearts. I became an excellent defensive driver, successfully staying out of every inattentive, angry, or incompetent driver's way. Best of all, I had fun. It was simply fun riding that bike when I was young. It was the best time of my life.
Post script: Thank you, Shawn Hastings.
There is an older cemetery in Butler county, located across the road from the little Cumberland church, south of Augusta. The old settlers, early to arrive in Butler county on my mother's side of the family are buried there.
There is another cemetery located on a hill top with a view of surrounding prairie where other members of the maternal side of the family are buried, but I do not remember the name of that cemetery, nor how to get there. I only recall visiting there once.
When my time comes, I hope I am not buried with the rest of my family. It is getting "crowdy" in the Douglass cemetery, especially in our corner. I know it would make it easier for visitors to find us all clumped up there together, but honestly, who makes the rounds?
I want to be buried in a small, township cemetery somewhere, hopefully in the Flint Hills, far from any town. I hope it is so far out that eventually the cemetery will be forgotten and reclaimed entirely by the prairie. I want to sink back into the earth, the secrets of my life taken by the soil and wind - the difficult noise of living a human life forever stilled. My spirit might then be free to roam with the memory of the buffalo and the Indian hunters, the rightful owners of the prairie - those past shadows that somehow sifted into my heart and soul, never giving me peace in this lifetime.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Though my good friend Ken is a world traveler, he has adopted Kansas as his home for the last twenty-five years. He is an excellent artist, making Native American flutes and drums, and has published a CD of his own flute music. Follow this link to hear "Coyotes in the Orchard"
(This is information taken directly from the CDBABY web site about "Coyotes in the Orchard"):
Native American Ken Lopez crafts the traditional flutes he plays. An artist and musician, Ken is a world traveler and Vietnam Veteran. He has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, and at the University of Hawaii in a cultural exchange with Hawaiians and Maori, among others. He performs across the country and in Central and South America helping to promote cultural exchange between other tribal peoples.
Ruston Slager is an extraordinary improvisational musician, a surfer and an artist. He has the rare gift of creating spontaneous music. Already a stand alone artist making his own music when Ken and Ruston met, it was clear that creating music was something they were going to do together, and it turned into a great first CD.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Our friend and elder, Mr. Leonard McKinney penned this poem.
My son and Leonard are Prairie Band Potawatomi. Leonard told my son "We are hard headed. Prairie Band Potawatomi are hard headed. That is why we are still here."
**** Published at the request of Mokasha ****
Friday, February 6, 2009
* * * *
Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon
the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up
to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from
as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon
He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at
every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon
it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest
motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and
all the colors of the dawn and dusk.
For we are held by more than the force of gravity to the earth.
It is the entity from which we are sprung, and that into which
we are dissolved in time. The blood of the whole human race
is invested in it. We are moored there, rooted as surely, as
deeply as are the ancient redwoods and bristlecones.
From the book:
In The Presence of the Sun © 1992 by N. Scott Momaday
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
A beautiful prairie stream in early summer.
I love the stark clean lines of the winter prairie.
The black lace of bare trees spread before a glowing sunrise and sunset is a daily reward for living in Kansas.
The harmonic rise of hills is a silent melody I have always loved.
Sorting through photos recalls the greening landscape of spring.
As beautiful as winter is, the cold wears on the spirit and spring is always welcome.