Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding or Maury

I wish I could give up television. When I was young, I could not watch television for weeks. I could live quite happily without a television in the house. Now that I am old and weak, I have tried to go without television, canceling the satellite subscription. It was like giving up cigarettes. All I could think of for days and days was watching television.

If I did not have television, I would not have to change the channel each time news of the royal wedding came on, which has been constantly, for weeks and weeks. I have nothing against English royalty or the handsome young prince marrying his true love. I hope the very best for the young couple, and their respective families, and for all Brits everywhere. I hope that by the time the young prince is King, the world will be a kinder, gentler place for all inhabitants of planet earth. But I will be so happy when the royal wedding is off television in America, at least another two or three weeks. Then instead of avoiding the Royal Wedding, I will be back to channel surfing to get away from drug companies touting their latest poison during prime time and the liability attorneys advertising the class action suits on behalf of the victims of those same drugs during sub-prime time.

My television addiction has reached such a low point that I admit I have watched Maury, a show that features young women angrily accusing a variety of men of being the father of their illegitimate children, and the young men vehemently denying the children. DNA tests put it all to rest - or not. I have also watched Judge Mathis, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, and Judge Alex. I have a big crush on Judge Joe Brown. He seems like a wise, contemplative man who is not racist or sexist, but why would a wise man have a day time judge show? Judge Mathis has some decidedly racial bias, and Judge Judy is an old fool. Judge Alex seems to be a smart enough guy and appears to have a compassionate good humor toward the steady stream of liars and dumb asses who come before his bench. He was a cop at one time. Maybe the petty grievances he presides over now for television are a breeze compared to what he once dealt with on a daily basis. This comparison is pathetic and illustrates the desperate level of my television addiction!

It gets worse.

I also watch Swamp People. I love hearing the nuances in the southern dialects of the Cajun folk who hunt alligators for a living. Several of the hunting teams are father and son. I have to say the toughest guy, in a host of truly tough guys, is Willie. He is the son of one of the best 'gator hunters, so he has a lot at stake as a man to live up to his father's expectations. But Willie only weighs 150 pounds. Standing in a low boat, in the swamp,with his bare hands on thin rope, he pulls eleven foot, thrashing, primordial 'gators to the surface and close to the boat. Some of those beasts weigh over 700 pounds. He puts up with his father's bossing and bad temper. He has been hit with shattered alligator skull more than once thanks to his father's badly aimed shots. The father does not have nearly the good eye for aiming as Willie. A small 'gator clamped down on Willie's hand this season. In my opinion, his father did not seem to be in any hurry to help his son. If there was an award for the toughest man in all of America, my vote would go the Willie the 'gator hunter, all 150 pounds of him.

Here is the worst confession of all. Sometimes when I can not sleep and nothing is worth watching on the other 119 channels, I watch Gem Television - the absolute worst television anyone could possibly watch. It is the television addict's equivalent of the street junkie, homeless and living in a dumpster from fix to miserable fix. There are no commercials because it is one big commercial of goofy, irritating people selling over-priced and mostly ugly jewelry for thousands of dollars. I admit that if I had money to burn, I would purchase a tanzanite ring or necklace. It is a blue gem stone, more beautiful than sapphires, a deep cobalt blue, usually surrounded by white diamonds and unbelievably expensive. Also unbelievably beautiful. Luckily for me, I do not have $22,000 to waste on a piece of jewelry. But if I ever win the lottery....

Well, it is that time. I must travel to the cube farm again today. I do not know if I can stand the happiness and joy in my life but at least the Royal Wedding is over!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Inescapable Red Neck Tendencies

I recently learned that the term "red neck" has a noble origin. Courageous coal miners literally went to war against the greedy, evil coal companies, to the point of violence and death. The miners striking against the company wore red bandannas around their throats. A journalist chronicling the violent struggle termed them "red necks". After learning of the martyred coal miners, I hate to call anyone a red neck any more because in the Kansas vernacular there is nothing courageous or good in the term.

Last night my horse was out of the pasture again. She was at the barn eating hay to her heart's content, as many bales as she could reach. I have a good fence and good gates and wondered how in the world she had escaped this time. After luring her back into the pasture with peppermints, I searched for the escape route. I started with walking the fence. I found a very large tree branch fallen across the wire. I heaved it off the fence and to the other side, then repaired the top wire as well as I could with my bare hands, but there was no way she got out there.

Eventually, I got to the far southeastern corner of the pasture. There I found the gate opened wide and on the ground. I was instantly angry. In the first place, my pasture is clearly posted for no hunting. I need to add no trespassing signs as well! As I struggled to untangle the barbed wire gate, straighten the bent wires, and stretch the gate back to its original size, I was boiling mad that someone had the audacity to trespass on my property in the first place, and to be ignorant enough to leave a stock gate open in the second place.

As I was working, I was composing signs to post on the gate:

"If You MF'ers Leave This Gate Open Again, I'll Hunt You Down"

"If You SOB Hunters Leave This Gate Open, I'll Blow Up Your Truck"

"Leave This Gate Open Again, They'll Never Find Your Body"

I was so angry but in the wide open spaces of a beautiful spring evening, with my normally snotty horse being quite companionable and curious, and the old dog snuffling around for rabbits, I just could not keep the rage going. Farmers and ranchers have this problem all the time. They could post even more militant signs, I am certain.

My horse could have been on the road and been killed or injured. Worse, a human being could have been involved, possibly hurt or killed as well. It is usually not a small accident when livestock is in the road.

Born and raised in Kansas, I know full well that I have red neck genes - and not the noble coal miner red neck genes, either. I am inundated with red neck tendencies, steeped in them. I have spent a lifetime attempting to rise above it but it only takes an open gate for that heritage to come flaming to the top. It is why I do not own a gun.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Things I Do Not Understand, Einstein

Admittedly, there are more things I do not understand than things I do understand. The yawning chasm of ignorance stretches off into infinity for most human beings, myself in particular. I assume that if an amoeba and a tree and an elephant each have what they need to survive as a member of a given species, then I have a reasonable chance to survive my statistically expected lifespan as a human. Even though I am not the smartest person alive, I will survive because most human beings survive. But, if only me and two other people were on the planet right now, our odds of surviving would not be high - especially if the main survival skills of the three remaining humans were heating food in the microwave, watching television, and showing up at the cube farm every day. Those are my main survival skills. If my two companions possessed better skills, they would have to kill me for being an enormous liability to the survival of the human race. I would not like it, but I would understand.

Sometimes I consider what the world would be like if all humans were as smart as Albert Einstein. I do not know if he was the smartest human being who ever lived. Maybe he was just the most original thinker. His journey toward the theory of relativity began when he wondered what it would look like to catch up to a beam of light. Some how human beings evolved from running for their lives across the African savanna to an underachieving university student/patent clerk doing time in the earliest iteration of the cube farm. From hungry lions to the Theory of Relativity. Anyone else think that is downright funny?

Today, I had occasion to visit another modern office building filled with more cubes. Nice people but utterly depressing to find more institutionalized cube farmers. It is true that we can not all grow up to be Einstein or movie stars or professional football players or President or marry the Prince of Wales. In the western world most of us grow up to be cube farmers, staring at computers all day long, tending our data. Is this somehow Einstein's fault? Maybe. If our ancestors had not outrun the lions, the lions would never have evolved to cube farms. That much I do know.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Living In the Drain

At last, it rained - a good rain that filled ol' Duke's food dish to the top. I do not know the equivalency of dog dish to inches of rain but I estimate it over three inches. That is my best guess based on how loud the creek was Friday morning. I like the sound of the roaring creek. That is, I like the sound of the roaring creek when I know I am not in danger of being trapped by a flood.

Many decades ago someone chose this naturally round and flat spot next to the clear spring waters of a prairie creek to build a home. It is a beautiful location, sheltered by the high banks and tall trees. I fell in love with the place as soon as I walked onto the property. After I became intimately familiar with the lay of the land, I realized my house was positioned literally at the drain of the valley. The creek flows in from the east, loops south to north, then makes a 90 degree turn back to the west. It periodically escapes its banks and scours over the entire yard. Over millennium, the creek produced an alluring flat building site.

In addition, there is a steep ravine that drains the mile-wide southern slope of a ridge of hills. Water runs off the slope into a natural ditch on the north side of the road, then plunges into a large culvert at the top of my driveway. From there, it spills down a rocky cut and beneath the drive through two large drain tubes. The force of the water spilling from those tubes has cut a pool about fifteen feet deep on the west side of the drive.

Lastly, the pasture east of the house has a long east-west drainage that enters into the ravine just north of the path to the barn. The entire valley drains right where my house sits. Luckily for me, it has only truly flooded once or twice since the house was built, and that was before I moved in. However, my trash cans were carried away while I was at work one day two years ago. I could see from the flattened grass that the creek had been out of its banks that day. I have since roped my trashcans to a tree and resolved to build a house on higher ground.

When it rains even a little, the creek rises. When it rains a lot, the creek becomes a roaring, dangerous current scouring the stream bed clean, exposing Permian Sea limestone and fossils. When it rains really hard and I can hear the rushing water over the thunder, I head for higher ground - just in case. I have spent the night sleeping (poorly) in the front seat of my truck, parked at the top of the drive. Once out of the banks, the current would be too dangerous to walk in, so I err on the side of caution. It is simply the reality of living in the drain.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Disasters and Time

Dedicated to the sacrificial Japanese Utility Workers bearing now the full weight of ignorance in the human race.

Sometimes the disasters reported via my television screen are so unimaginable that I find I cannot relate in a personal way. That does not mean I am not horrified by what I am seeing, or that I do not feel great compassion for the victims and survivors. It is so far out of my personal experience that I can set the emotion aside and easily carry on my daily life. I feel ashamed sometimes when I examine this in myself. The ability to disassociate from terrible news is how human beings continue to allow utilities to build nuclear reactors along earthquake faults - to build nuclear reactors in the first place. There is no excuse.

Countless of the world's great cities are built on the shores of the oceans, in danger of tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes. Millions live at the foot of volcanoes. Human beings can be excused for this dangerous lack of urban planning. Our history is exceedingly short and incomplete compared to the long, slow history of the living earth.

Have these disasters always occurred at this rate, but world communication has only now reached a level that we know of them instantly and entirely? Has the human population so expanded in numbers and land area that an extreme disturbance anywhere on the planet damages people? Is there a natural resonance within the earth, the solar system, or the galaxy, some cyclic upheaval the earth survives but the nascent human race is experiencing for the first time? Maybe all of these reasons and more that have not yet occurred to me.

It is not the end of time, not the end of the earth, but maybe the end of human beings. I suspect a huge number of humans will be leaving the planet the old fashioned way in the foreseeable future. I hope it is not unanimous.

Man-made and human disasters will not only greatly diminish the human population, with much suffering and pain, but we are also destroying other beings that have the unlucky fate to share the planet with us. From epic oil spills, to indestructible plastic trash accumulating in the oceans, burning fossil fuels, pouring toxins deep into the earth's water tables, and destroying nature at unprecedented rates, we are dooming ourselves. The earth and the animals and the plants can survive without us, but we cannot survive without them.

How can we possibly allow continued operation of nuclear plants? Each reactor on the planet produces hundreds of fuel rods each year. No one knows what to do with those spent rods. They can not be used to produce electricity but remain lethal to all living things. They remain lethal for hundreds of years. Should no other earthquake, hurricane, terrorist attack, equipment failure, or human error never again cause a nuclear disaster, the prolific production of radioactive fuel rods alone is creating a poisonous and dangerous legacy that will outlive the human presence on this planet.

I do not know what to do about this - any of it. No one else knows what to do about it either. I hope someone, somewhere has a few good ideas while there is still time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dreaming of Bob Dylan

The other night I dreamed I was young, carrying my poetry in my hands. I did not know my destination, and neither the time nor the place were familiar. As I walked past the little shops and homes on the street in that unknown world, a young man appeared and reappeared, cheshire-like and smiling. He kept tugging on the poems, teasing me to hand my poetry to him. He was charming but I resisted. He looked nothing like Robert Zimmerman, and he was not Bob Dylan yet (or any more), but I knew who he was.

Last night I dreamed of Bob Dylan in present times. He arrived on a bus and was already across the way when I waved my camera at him. He paused for a picture but my camera failed and he did not wait.

According to Wikipedia: Joni Mitchell described Dylan as a "plagiarist" and a "fake" in a 2010 interview in the Los Angeles Times. The woman who sang "we've got to get back to the garden" must have lost her sense of humor. Bad form, Roberta Joan Anderson.

Also according to Wikipedia: "Because Dylan was widely credited with imbuing pop culture with a new seriousness, the critic Nik Cohn objected: "I can't take the vision of Dylan as seer, as teenage messiah, as everything else he's been worshipped as. The way I see him, he's a minor talent with a major gift for self-hype."

A minor talent could not sell his music for five decades and counting. More than three thousand musical artists would not want to record a minor talent's songs. Who spells his name "Nik", anyway? That is what school girls do - experiment with different spellings until one seems just right to write in glitter on their notebooks.

I do not know why I would dream of Bob Dylan. Perhaps he is my muse - a gravel voiced, hard minded, old dude - a long way opposite of handsome. His poetry is not even beautiful to me, but I get it. I genuinely get it and love it. No matter what, Dylan continues doing what was in his heart to do, and it has always turned out well for him. Doing what is in our hearts to do turns out well for everyone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Random by Design

Have you ever noticed when you are grocery shopping, or in a large crowd like Worlds of Fun, or a big concert, you sometimes cross paths with the same people? Sometimes you see the same people at every turn. I believe there are reasons beyond the surface for everything under the sun. Sometimes it is quite obvious that you are simply shopping at the same rate as someone else, but other times, there is more.

Last night I was almost finished with my weekly 5 pm footrace in the local Dillons when I steered my cart into a long curve around a fresh fruit display. Luckily, I was to the right because a tall black haired woman, dressed in black, with three black haired children in tow, was coming around the bend at the same time. She was taller, younger, in a bigger hurry, had more people on her team, (though I could probably take that baby on), and she was in "go" mode.

It did not bother me. I know how hard it is to work, run a household, raise children and do the shopping, all while ol' what's-his-name is doing whatever. After I checked out and was heading for the door, the warrior amazon woman with her three children barreled through the exit, cutting me off once again. It was not entirely rude. Another two feet and it would have been rude. I followed her and her children out the door and witnessed a little family scenario that tweaked the heartstrings.

The warrior woman dropped her keys in the cross walk where the after-work traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, was heating up. Everyone was impatient. Her older children, a girl and a boy, scrambled to pick up the keys for their mother. They had a minor tussle over who was to hand them back to their mother. They were trying to help. Each wanted to be helpful to her.

She was in no mood for it and shouted at the children, far too loudly. "I said give me those keys!". Being a mother myself, I know she really wanted to say, "I said give me those keys, goddamn it!" Which I probably would have said to my kids if I had been in her place and in her mood.

The older children were behind their mother, and they were crestfallen. The little boy especially was hurt, hanging his head and resolutely trailing after his mother. I truly wanted to give him a hug and tell him to toughen up. Getting along with the powerful women in his life is not going to be easy. Better he learns it now.

I also wanted to give him the hug I should have given my own son when he was little and I was too busy and distracted to see him clearly. An ache in my heart made me consider driving all the way to Lawrence, Kansas just to hug my adult son. I wanted to tell him how sorry I am for every time I hurt his little boy heart. He knows his crazy mother well, and would take it in stride, but I did not do it.

When I got my cart of groceries back to my truck, who was parked beside me in her big black SUV? None other than the tall woman and her three children. I tried to stay out of her way. She might have backed over me and claimed it was an accident. She drove away with her three children all securely and safely strapped in, the groceries stowed in the rear.

I wished we lived in a society where I could have offered her a hug. She needed it more than her little boy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cave Woman's Continuing Adventures

It's always something. Some irritating, costly, demoralizing malfunction, break down, damage or disappointment. Nothing tragic or truly horrible - just enough aggravation to keep Cave Woman's protruding brow furrowed in a permanent scowl. For the last month, it has been the case of the undead water softener.

The drain pipe shared by the washing machine and the water softener began leaking for no reason. At first, a bucket beneath the offending pipe was sufficient for laundry. Eventually that was no longer a solution so Cave Woman began washing clothes just down the road at Cave Girl's house. (Planning to build a new home this year, C.W. refuses to invest money in a house slated for demolition.) But the mystery of water on the floor was eventually traced to the mindless and relentless water softener, a true puzzle of alien dials, arcane push levers, and ticking dials. It stopped processing water through the salt bin and simply began draining gallons of water every day at the same time. There is only one electrical cord and when that was pulled, it did not stop the ticking or the running water filling the bucket faster than it could be emptied, so Cave Woman assumed it was not the correct electrical cord, though she could not find another likely one.

Each day has been a struggle to find the correct combination of timing to allow intervention in the mechanical processing of water before it filled the bucket and caused another mopping chore. Last night, in desperation, the face plate was removed from the control panel and a green wire unhooked from what was assumed to be the timing controls. It appeared they stopped ticking. Poor, stupid Cave Woman. She believed she had triumphed over the terminator water machine and went to bed happy. Stepping in cold water this morning on the way to the bathroom reminded her that Cave People must try harder.

Angrily, C.W. assaulted the @^% #@!!~ $ +)^%#** controls, pounding on them with a screw driver - to no effect. Using her finger to poke into a nest of strange and alien flat wiring sent a mighty blast of electricity into Cave Woman's right index finger. It still hurts, but that evil alien water zombie is finally dead. It is unplugged now from its electrical source and the timer is no longer wired together. If it starts draining water again, Cave Woman is going to smash the whole thing with a big freakin' rock. Electricity bad. Rock good.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Horse Dentistry

My neighbor, the owner of five horses, asked me to come to her barn to meet the area's new mobile veterinarian, a man who specializes in the care of horses. So, I did. I witnessed the spectacle of horse dentistry for the first time. The doctor and his assistant made it look easy, though there were horse drugs involved. Easy for the horses and easy for the humans.

You would think it would take a lot of apparatus to grind down the points and hooks on a horse's teeth, but it requires a surprisingly meager supply of torture implements. There was a stainless steel contraption that held the horses mouth open, and fastened in place with two nylon straps. That allowed access to the back teeth. For the front teeth, it was a simple length of space-aged plastic pipe slipped behind the front teeth, like a big fat bit, which held the front teeth apart so they could be smoothed.

The piece de resistance was an electric drill with a very long stainless steel shaft and a grinder disc about an inch in diameter at the end. It took hardly any time at all and no one was kicked or bitten or tossed into the dirt. Not a single horse was roped or whipped or beaten or even frightened. Afterward, the horses stood quietly with drooping eyes until the drugs wore off, then turned into the pasture to graze. With newly evened teeth, they can grind the tough grass more efficiently and derive much better nutrition.

It would be better for all living beings if our biology was better designed, but things are imperfect and often need some form of help. With such care to their teeth, horses can live better lives. They only have to belong to someone willing to pay for such services on their behalf.

Kansas State University is a veterinarian school with a good reputation for equine medicine. Beneath his overalls, the good doctor wore a sweat shirt of the school's distinctive purple with a large white "KSU" emblazoned across the chest. I found that endearing but he may have only been wearing it because it was old and horse dentistry is messy. Humans treating horses kindly is a recent invention in this mean old world. A middle-aged man wearing his school's colors while gently tending horses made me feel good. It is proof the human species is evolving.