Monday, September 5, 2011

Some differences, Blogblather and Lawrence


My cats have fleas by the millions.  They cry to go outside, but I won't let them because if I do, the fleas will feast on me.  I'm selfish that way.  My ex once said I was selfish.  That startled me.  Lazy?  yes.  Unambitious? you bet.  Immature? of course.  A drunk Irishman? comes with the territory.  A back-slider?  No way, I've never attempted reform.  I've suspected at times that there are some things in life that should be taken seriously, like maybe if someone is in very desperate straits you should take time to listen to their story and commiserate, but if you too are having trouble feeding yourself, well then, shouldn't he/she listen to your story as well instead of just walking off?   And you call me selfish?  The down-and-out are the most selfish people I've ever met.  All they can think about is getting something to eat or a quart of beer.  I'd go with the beer if I were them.  But, of course, my culture requires me to preach: "Now don't spend this quarter on beer or wine.  Get something to eat.  Something good for you."

I'm not selfish, I tell you.  I give to street people when I can.  It's true that I've always been a very poor provider -- in the world's eyes -- but only because I've pursued the chimeras of my imagination rather than doing the world's bidding.  "You men only exit for two purposes," my ex would shout.  "To stir the gene pool and provide for the pool you've made." Everyone must deal with the world on its terms.  And one of its primary terms is economics. And for us economics means: Money, money, money." 

Nonsense.  We create our world.  I recognize the laws of physics, but that's it.  All else is our own reality, wrested from the gestalt of our experiences.  I refuse to be an apparatchik of the American version of Western European Capitalism -- not because I put myself before all else, but because I must wrest from my own experiences the reality of me.  It's because I am a world unto myself.  I am life.  I am what life is about.  Is it selfish to be yourself?

Yes, of course, all I know is the American version of Western European Capitalism.

OK, then, yes, I am selfish.  I cheated my children out of a Harvard or Yale or Princeton or Stanford or MIT education just so I could enjoy my life.  And I apparently cheated my ex out of a happy, fulfilled life.  Well, that's the breaks.

OK, moving on.

Intimations of my mortality grow with every work day.  My work is very physical, very contortionistic, often very hot, sometimes very cold -- always very dirty.  So how come I love it so much?  I don't know.  It's a bare bones survival the way I work it.  I have zero capital -- it's all cash flow which means I'm racing to the bank every day to cover checks I'd written the day before.  Sometimes I don't make it.  I must have spent a thousand or more dollars this year in bounced check charges.  Awful, awful.  But still I love it.  It's me against the world.  My son, the artist, works with me now.  We're still trying to work out the relationship : )   So yes, I work at things I love that leave me in poverty because I'm so business-wise stupid and that is selfish.  I am selfish, goddamnit, and proud of it.



You touched on some provocative matters . . .

If I recall correctly, we came from similar blue-collar backgrounds . . . so why are we so different. We weren’t always. Back when I was in college and for several years after I went to work at Douglas Aircraft Company I was a flaming liberal . . . well perhaps not flaming. I was after all working at a job requiring a security clearance. I used to debate a member of the John Birch Society. He left Russia as a child during the Revolution and thought that fighting Communism was mandatory. During our last few debates (before he was laid off) he was considering (he told me later) whether he should turn me in to the Douglas Security authorities as a security risk but concluded that I was just another harmless “dupe.”

One reason for a difference is our religious backgrounds. You were raised a Catholic which encourages the acceptance of Church authority. I was raised a Protestant which encourages Bible Study as a way to “grow in grace.” That emphasis upon study originated with Luther and Calvin who used the Erasmus NT text to check what the RC authorities had been saying. But the Reformers went far beyond a mere corrective, they set in motion a process that could not be kept within the boundaries they set for themselves. If every man is “his own priest,” then whatever he understands from Scripture may be as valid as what that fellow up their preaching from the pulpit is saying. There is still only one Roman Catholic Church, but the Protestants have been dividing like amoebas ever since.

You, reacting against authority, “refuse to be an apparatchik of the American version of Western European Capitalism.” I on the other hand felt the need to study. A turning point for me was when I read Marx’s actual complaints against “Western European Capitalism” and how WEC over the years capitulated on virtually all of them. We have tolerable work weeks, reasonable opportunities to gain and hold jobs, living wages, protection against the more egregious Capitalistic crimes and excesses – not a perfect match for all Marx’s idealistic dreams to be sure, but if Marx were alive today would he have bothered with a Communist Manifesto? I doubt it.

I was still enough of a Liberal to feel uncomfortable “climbing” into management. I would have needed a completely different background to do that. I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and the equivalent of a sergeant in Aerospace. Sergeants may have some people working for them from time to time, but they are not officers. They are not management. They do the work.

After I got back from Korea, I was stationed at 29 Palms during the summer! It was there that I first began to wonder whether I wanted to stay in the Marine Corps. I joined for a war, not to do ridiculous make-work things during peace time; so, like a good Protestant (sort of) I went to the base library and read Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus and learned that one needs to view the world in terms of what one cannot change (such as the weather and Capitalism) and what one can change (such as whether I wanted to stay in the Marine Corps or get out and go to college).

I worked out of the Teamster’s Hiring Hall as a “swamper” while I went to college. I had the G.I. Bill, but it was pretty skimpy; so I arranged my classes either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (and worked loading and unloading trucks Tuesday and Thursday) or took classes Tuesdays and Thursday (and worked M,W,&F). I was working in those days with the American version of “Workers of the World.” I kept my Teamster membership current long after I went to work at Douglas just in case things didn’t work out there.

Maybe I too robbed my kids of educations at “Harvard or Yale or Princeton or Stanford or MIT.” I didn’t find “engineering” that difficult but I had a chip on my shoulder. How far would I go along with what “management” wanted. I had one foot in Douglas and the other in a Master’s program at night thinking I would probably prefer teaching college. With such an attitude, and starting out way down near the bottom because my degree was in English and not Engineering, I was not making much money, albeit more after a few years than some of the professors I still spoke to. But however much it was, it wasn’t enough for my spendthrift ex-wife who dearly wanted me to climb the corporate ladder so she could outdo the Joneses. We never did outdo them.

At some point I became an engineering dinosaur – I knew some things better than anyone else which meant that my superiors needed me to get “the job” done, and it also meant that they had to tolerate the chip on my shoulder. . . . which meant that by contrast with you I worked long enough to get a Boeing Pension and now live fairly comfortably in San Jacinto taking my dogs for runs at the river and taking photographs; although I’ll probably get back to debating Liberals and Leftists once photography becomes boring.

So my current living is not “bare bones,” but my son’s is. He worked as an electrician in the housing industry until the bubble burst and his wife at age 40 ran off with an 18-year-old. My son salvaged enough for a trailer and custody of his son. Now he works as a handyman and lives hand-to-mouth just as you do. I have become one of his “clients,” but he does good work and has others. He was offered not so long ago a job as an electrician for one of his formers bosses, but he wasn’t being offered as much money as he was making as a handyman. Also, he discovered that he loves being a handyman. He regales me with tales of how some dolt of a home-owner was about to do something really stupid and he rescued the situation to the undying gratitude (but not all that much money) from the home owner. His son (my grandson) works with him as well, but just until he graduates from high school, after which he intends to join the Marine Corps.

I will be 77 years old next month and am not feeling “intimations of my mortality.” Or if I do I don’t recognize them. I have no major health issues that my doctor is aware of, and the minor ones (stiff neck, back & headaches) are the same ones I’ve had since I was a teen-ager. However, it is depressing to read a history and discover that most of the people I’m reading about died before reaching my age. My son predicts that I will not die from any disease but that I’ll be run down by a truck late at night while walking the dogs. As a consequence I’ve resolved to remember to look both ways – as long as I can.

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