Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Summer Solstice Eve Skies

A small thunderstorm between me and the sunset.

As nearly as I can tell, this is pouring rain on Alma, Kansas.

The colors of summer:  red, yellow, orange, blue and green.

These spectacular rays did not show up in the photo very well.  The mystery is that they are in the east - at sunset!
Color enhancement shows the anticrepusclar rays much more clearly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Confessions of a Human Bein'

For the last several nights I have fallen gratefully into my bed and slept like the pious old woman I am (in my imagination). I have slept on the bare mattress and the bare pillows because the clean sheets are laying atop the dryer, on the other side of my enormous mansion. It would take safari preparations to make it all the way to the utility room - just steps from the refrigerator where I can be found throughout the day and oft times in the night. My mother would NEVER have slept on a bare mattress.

Truth be told, I think the mattress is beautiful. It is red and very fancifully embroidered in pink, lavender and silver. I do not mind waking up to the art nouveau busyness of it. Most of the time I make the bed the same day I wash the sheets but sometimes I do not. Sleeping on a bare mattress is not a habit but it happens and I always feel guilty. Just a tiny twinge of guilt regarding the lesser sin of sloth. It is a gram of guilt on the scales of my life. (Disclaimer: I will not discuss the metric tons of guilt of my life here so do not be disappointed.)

Everyday there are small things that get added to the dark side of that scale, like cussing around people who do not cuss. Using politically incorrect words as terms of endearment to my children... and the dogs, and the horses. The darkest, most vile PIC words are reserved for the machinery that fails when I am trying to get work accomplished.* Well, that's a lie. I do not believe I have EVER regretted cussing - even when I got my mouth washed out with soap. Cussing is the rhythm guitar of language. It is not essential but it is necessary.

I allowed my young son to keep a one hundred dollar bill he found on the street but I never made the effort to return the money. That one bothers me enough that I need to make amends for it but have not decided how to go about it. Maybe drop a hundred dollar bill on the same street? I should have taught my son by example but he was so excited that he found it. (Who wouldn't be?!) It was next to an older man's foot and my little son said, "Excuse me, sir, but is that your money?" My daughter was there. She said the guy would have lied and claimed it if my son had been alone. After a brief visible internal conflict, the guy admitted it was not his money. I could have turned it in to the police or advertised in the local paper but I simply let my son have the money.

I did not take my faithful and beloved old dog in to be euthanized before the end. He was eating and drinking and getting around, but visibly declining in health and suffering. I cooked special food for him for the last four months of his life. I had it in my head that if he stopped being able to get around, then I would take him to the vet. He was clearly determined to stay on his feet. Maybe he knew that was the metric I was using to make my final decision. The last day he was not doing well at all when I fed him supper. Later in the evening I called for him to go into the garage because it was going to rain. He came one last time, but then he could not walk any longer. I tried to lift him so I could get him to shelter but I saw that he was dying. I stayed with him where he had fallen, my heart broken, guilt and regret crushing me. I will always be sorry and I will always be guilty for that... and for an entire lifetime of decisions and actions and other stuff but I know I am not the worse human being on the planet. I am not even in the bottom 50% in this lifetime. Guilt is a good teacher and a mighty brake on the human ego and willful spirit but oh, it is burdensome.

On second thought, sleeping without sheets sometimes should not even be on the scale of guilt and regret - not even a gram's worth! Fuck sleeping without sheets.

*How could I fail to mention the monstrous cussing technology elicits?! I will probably go to hell for that.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Learning to be Retired

It has been a fairly easy transition from working full time to being entirely free to take a nap whenever I want. Or stay up late. Or binge watch Netflix to my heart's content. I am still processing the fact that I may never "have to go" to work again - ever. At least in this lifetime!

My last year at work, I tried to be conscious and clear about what I was doing and what was happening. I personally reflected on those long years that truly flew past at an incredible rate. I recalled the wonderful things about my career - the good friends, the work itself, the accomplishments. There were some very satisfying achievements in those decades. There were a few devastating disappointments. It was a lot more fun to go to work before I became supervisor - and I was a supervisor for a very long time.

The last five years were the worst. Enormous change in process and software dealt a mighty blow to much of what had been fairly efficient and successful systems, some of which I had worked long and hard to establish. Those changes plus enormous changes in management personnel and structure pushed people far out of their comfort levels. An enormous influx of younger people was truly a breath of fresh air but also brought about a culture clash of sorts. There were so many older employees and so many young employees that people were not speaking the same language. Older employees were subtly disrespected and their decades of knowledge were not valued. Younger employees were making changes without understanding all the ramifications, bringing much chaos. People were unhappy, insecure, upset, angry and stressed. All the normal work that had to be done coupled with so much change was enormously difficult. It served to drive many employees toward retirement earlier than they had planned. However, by the time I left, the tide had turned and people were adapting, learning to efficiently accomplish their work despite the burdensome changes. The new employees will eventually become old and face being replaced with newer versions and the circle will be complete. The company will survive and continue to flourish. (I have met many of those young employees and they are the cream of the crop!) But those last five years of my career were difficult and not fun and that is a good thing. Otherwise I may have continued to work. Retirement is much, much better!

It has only been a few months and while I am certainly conscious of the fact that I no longer have a job, there are lifetime habits and thought processes that are taking their sweet time to die off. The idea that I "better get to bed" is no longer relevant. Most of my early childhood memories involve my formidable resistance to taking naps and bedtime. Then puberty hit, followed closely by adulthood: sleeping became desirable and valuable and rare. Now taking a nap whenever I want is wonderfully restorative. It is delicious! The only thing that would make it better is if I was napping on a floating mattress in the turquoise sea beneath the tropical sun.

I have not even scratched the surface of retirement. There are some things that have not even occurred to me yet. This could be the best time of my life after all. I have an allowance, my own car, no curfew and I do not have to get up and go to work on Monday morning ever again. No one is the boss of me!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

How I First Came to Believe in Ghosts

Like most Americans, I was raised with the firm belief that there is no such thing as a ghost. I honestly did not believe. When my good friends, who were living in the upstairs apartment of this old house, told stories of inexplicable happenings, I thought they were simply embellishing things for the pure and entirely justifiable motive of entertainment, for the sake of a good story. I never considered that they were sincere.

When my best friend Karl moved away to school, my little daughter and I moved in to his former bedroom, sharing the apartment with our friend Kevin. It is hard to imagine the spaciousness of the upstairs floor by looking at this house from the outside. Two sizable bedrooms, a large living room, a dining area with a full kitchen, and a bath. There was also access to the roof. It was the early 70's in a college/military town, and that much floor space for such a low rent was a mighty bargain. In the living room, there was a wall mural of a sunrise in the psychedelic style of the late '60s. On an adjacent wall, there was a 48" high completed portrait of a long haired hippie looking straight ahead, which gave it the disconcerting illusion of looking directly at you wherever you were. Next to the completed portrait, there was a similar face blocked in with plain areas of color minus any detail, and last was the bare bones pencil sketch of a third large face. People assumed the completed face was that of the ghost haunting the premises, so the painting and the spirit were named "Aqualung". The story was that the artist had lost his hand before he completed the three portraits. The artwork was so well done that despite an unknown number of tenants, no one had ever painted over the portraits or the sunrise. The decor was decidedly "hippie chic". The artwork and the story of the unfortunate artist added to the charm.

The night I moved in, I had just completed unpacking our very meager belongings then sat down on the foot of the bed for a cigarette. My roommate sitting next to me, said, "I wonder how long it will be before Aqualung let's you know he's here?" I snorted in light derision. I loved my friends but I sincerely did not believe their stories. I sincerely did not believe in ghosts, either. As soon as those words were spoken, from within the closet to our right came three sharp, distinct, loud, unmistakable knocks. Knock. Knock. Knock. Kevin was laughing and I was incredulous. It sounded exactly like someone had rapped their knuckles on the wooden panel in the old closet door - someone with physical knuckles and plenty of muscle power. Freaky.

It was a very active spirit and I soon had no choice but to believe. So many inexplicable things happened. Kevin owned a large English sheepdog, and Aqualung tormented that poor dog. Daisy would be sound asleep, curled up and snoring in the middle of the living room floor when something would startle that dog into instant wakefulness. She would startle awake and jump to her feet at the same time. She would look around but there was never anyone near her. We witnessed this often.

For a short time, we also had 3 black cats. As typical of cats, they would quietly arrange themselves around the room, resting on the backs or the arms of the couches. Many times all three cats, from their 3 different locations in the room, would silently and inscrutably watch something only they could see move through the room. Watching the cats calmly regard something we could not see travel through the room, all three of their heads moving in perfect synchronization of speed and direction was freaky indeed.  This also was a common occurrence.

The cat food was purchased in bulk and kept in the pantry off the kitchen. The doorknob had long been lost, so a butter knife shoved into the square hole allowed us to open the door. You had to twist the knife like a doorknob in order to open the door. There was no halfway on that door - it was either shut and latched, or it was visibly ajar. I was at the dining room table one afternoon, quietly smoking a cigarette, my mind in neutral. The three cats were stationed in a semi-circle outside the door, sitting on their haunches, their tails wrapped around their feet. They were patiently staring at the door. I too happened to be looking at the door. It was flush into the doorjamb, which meant it was latched and the only way to open it was to twist that knife. Right before my astonished eyes that door swung wide open. The cats all looked at one another and proceeded to calmly walk into the pantry, jump lightly into the big bag of food and enjoy an afternoon meal.

Aqualung seemed to delight in giving non-believers a chill. A guy I was seeing at the time absolutely did not believe any of our stories. He thought we were full of it. During the early preparations for a New Year's Eve party, I was getting something out of the refrigerator. The disbeliever was leaning against the door leading into the living room. He was facing directly at the stereo set-up, just a few feet away. It was the 70's and everyone had component stereos with a tuner, a turntable, enormous speakers - and the whole array was full of lights and dials. If the units were on, there was no mistaking it because all the lights would be glowing on all of the electronic units. I said, "I wonder if Aqualung will come to the party?" The disbeliever snorted, just exactly the way I did the first night I moved in. Right in front of our eyes, that stereo came alive with lights, blasting music loudly through all the speakers in the living room! I was laughing because the look on the disbeliever's face was priceless. He was stunned. He simply could not believe what had just happened. I admit, it gave me a chill, too, though by then I was used to strange, inexplicable events.

It was a day or two after our New Year's party when my roommate and the disbeliever and I were sitting in the living room, listening to music. We were all very quiet and all very much appreciating the music, very mellow as we would say back in the day. The album had come to the end and in the silence, I heard the most terrifying inhuman moan I have ever heard in my life. It instantly horrified me, sending chills up my spine. I was not looking directly at my roommate, so I thought he had made that sound to scare me. I was instantly angry! "You son of a bitch! That is not funny!" He was laughing so hard at my reaction but he steadfastly denied making the noise. The disbeliever, sitting right next to me, did not hear anything at all and was entirely baffled as to why I was cussing my laughing roommate. He kept asking us to explain! To this day, I do not know if my roommate Kevin made that sound. He has always denied it. To my knowledge, he had never played a trick like that at any other time. (No one needed to fake strange occurrences in that apartment!) The other thing is that I do not know how a human being could make that sound anyway. It was unlike anything I have ever heard before or since. It was terrifying.

Eventually I found another place to live, and Kevin's Army tour came to an end so he returned home to Wisconsin. I once went to visit the fellows who rented that place next, and they were full of stories. They were not happy about the things that happened there. They were disturbed, in fact, but I had to laugh. I knew exactly what they were going through.

Fast forward several years. Karl and I were housemates in an entirely different town, and on our way to Arkansas in a van with a group of scuba divers taking their first open water dive for NAUI certification. It was a long ride to Beaver Lake, Arkansas so there was time for a lot of discussion. Karl and I were talking about the things that happened in the haunted apartment. One of the women scuba divers suddenly spoke up. "I know that apartment! It is haunted! We knew the guy who lived there. He was an artist and he hung himself in the closet." Karl and I were entirely stunned. To run into a person who knew the facts of that place - years later and miles away - was like independent, third-party validation even though we did not need it. We had both lived in that apartment and knew exactly the strange things that happened there.  The coincidence of someone in that random group of people knowing about that particular apartment was crazy.