Friday, June 24, 2022

THE BODY ON THE LAWN


A couple of days ago I resolved to engage in some serious weight-lifting and other forms of exercise.  Dr. Agarwal, my heart doctor checked me over, did an electrocardiogram and decided to change my blood pressure medication in order to reduce the swelling in my ankles.   He had said my heart was weak, but all he worried about was my ankles.  The logic of that escaped me and so I resolved to take matters into my own hands.  My diet was okay, but I decided to drink more water and less coffee.  I subscribed to a Harvard Medical journal which referred to a study that found that coffee drinking reduced heart attacks by 30%.  More specifically, coffee drinking of no more than 3.5 cups a day did that.  Also, the 30% benefit accrued whether the coffee was regular or decaf.  Espresso wasn’t mentioned.   For 4 cups and more the statistics didn’t hold up.  And so I resolved to drink no more than 3.5 cups of coffee a day, half of them decaf. 


Today with the temperature outside at 107 degrees I nevertheless noticed that my legs were stiffening a little from sitting too long at my desk and so decided to do some yard work.  There was one particular branch that was hanging down most precariously.  I feared that in a heavy windstorm it might cause the main trunk to come crashing down, so I got a saw which when two parts were connected would reach up that high.  I didn’t feel particularly dizzy, but my balance wasn’t good; so I moved about to find more stable footing and continued sawing.  I thought I was far enough away so that the falling branch wouldn’t hit me.  I wasn’t fleet of foot enough to dash out of the way.  When it came crashing down some of its branches came close to me, but I wasn’t hit.  I put the saw away, got a trash barrel and began cutting the smaller branches up, then hauling the barrel over to the main green-waste barrels.  


I didn’t feel bad, but it was hot so I went back up stairs to read for a while and cool off.  I made three or four trips like that out back, stripping the small branches from the main branch, putting the small pieces in a barrel, emptying that small barrel into the larger ones and sawing pieces off of the large branch.  


After tidying up I decided to unwind the hose and water the back lawn.  As hot as it was I could see the grass was suffering.


While watering I day-dreamed about the past.  I was definitely pushing myself.  I was feeling a bit light-headed.  I recalled one time in my twenties that I had a pain in my chest.  I didn’t know exactly where my heart was, but thought what I felt might be a heart pain and so decided to go jogging as a kill or cure investigation – I did that sort of thing back then.  Later on I told my Aunt Dorothy what I’d done and she said my heart wasn’t where the pain was.  I later went to a doctor who said my upper transverse colon was pressing against my diaphragm.  It wasn’t serious but he gave me some red pills saying that if they didn’t help he would give me some green ones.  I had only recently started work at Douglas Aircraft Company and had discovered the food trucks that were out front in the morning had the most wonderful breakfast burritos.  I looked forward to having one every morning.  But after I had chest pains, I reflected that they were spicy; so I experimented.  I quit eating a burrito every morning, and the pain went away.


Maybe I was doing something like that today, working hard in the backyard, harder than I had done in months, on a very hot day.  I didn’t think I was doing a kill or cure sort of thing, I just felt good – as far as I knew.  


I finished watering, coiled the hose up, went back inside and started up the stairs.  Jessica was waiting for me with a strange look on her face.  She sniffed my leg suspiciously.  Why did she do that, I wondered?  I continued on but before I turned the corner I noticed she continued to stare out back.  Maybe I had died in the back yard, I thought, and that is why Jessica was staring out back.  How would I know?  I walked up to my study and peered out at my lawn to see if maybe my body was down there.  I couldn’t see it, and then looked back behind me and saw that Jessica had followed me upstairs after all; so I probably wasn’t in the back yard.  But if I had been, that would have been a pleasant way to die, I felt no pain whatsoever.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Comments on My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

I read some place that this book was the top best seller some place for some period of time – didn’t pay close attention to where, and so downloaded and read it.  Coming from reading about the most recent mass murder and hearing from someone something along the lines of “guns aren’t the problem.  You will know this if you think about previous generations who had even more freedom with guns but didn’t have the problems we have now.  No, the problem is that we have produced children who are homicidal maniacs.  It’s our deteriorated parenting skills that are at fault.” I found myself wondering whether this whimsical serial-murdering couple might foster a few more homicides.  After all, the lazy teen-ager might think, why spend a whole bunch of time learning how to be clever enough to get away with killing four or five people, when you can get an automatic rifle and kill ten or twelve people all at once?”


The narrator-husband of “My Lovely Wive” is clearly no match for feminist serial killing wife, and so is perfectly willing to help her do whatever she likes.  He doesn’t quite meet her standard for faithfulness, however, and so eventually finds himself in her cross hairs.  


The ending seemed to me weak.  The author couldn’t resist a bit of cleverness which doesn’t in my view work, but perhaps most readers will find it amusing.  


Saturday, June 4, 2022

Adventures in old age

 After events early this morning, I imagined an ethereal voice asking, “Well, it was your wish to live well into old age; how do you like it now?”


Waking, feeling okay but not quite enough okay to go on a hike, I decided to take the dogs with me to Stater Bros.  Its not much of an outing for them, but they both treat it as one.  It was just a minute or two after 06:00 when Stater Bros opened.  I got one of the crippled slots as close as you could get, grabbed my walking stick which was on the other side of Duffy in the front seat, opened my door and started to get out, but realized I had not hung the crippled parking sticker (I don’t recall its formal name) on my mirror.  So I leaned over in front of Duffy, opened the glove box and attempted to slide the parking sticker out.  It slipped down into the glove box; so I scrambled around in order to get it.


And then Jessica saw her chance.  She squeezed through an opening next to the drivers-side front seat and the side of the Jeep and made it out into the parking lot.  I called her back to no avail.  There seemed to be an enticing smell in the nearby bushes that had her full attention.


I got out and looked about.  There was almost no traffic in the parking lot.  I called Jessica to me but she found something else to sniff.  My handicap (ah that is probably the name on the sticker) annoyed me.  This was the first time I’d dealt with a dog reluctant to get into the Jeep since I’d  earned whatever it said on that sticker.  


I opened the back rear door, rummage around in my hiking backpack, found Jessica’s leash, held it out to her enticingly, and she ran to me and allowed me to put it on her.  I then tried to pull her toward the back seat.  She resisted because we were on the right side of the Jeep and she always gets in on the left side.  And in the process she slipped out of her collar.  Jessica had been groomed the day prior and I hadn’t adjusted her collar accordingly.  When I put it on her back at the house I realized she could slip out of it, but decided I would fix it later.  After all, we were only going to the store.


In order to get her over to the left side of the Jeep I would have to coax her with the leash which was connected to the collar she could slip out of.  So I decided to lift her into the back seat.  Jessica then went into her sack of potatoes mode.  She slipped out of my grasped several times.  I didn’t think I could get her into the back seat without hurting her,, but failure wasn’t an option.  I had hold or her left front leg with my left hand and right rear leg with my right.  I increased my effort, fearing I might hurt her, but she didn’t complain and eventually she was ensconced in her usual position in the back seat.  I tried to remove her leash but she’d had enough of me for the time being; so left it on her.


While wrestling Jessica into the back seat, I knocked my hiking stick under the Jeep.  I squatted down, fished it out, and then stood up, puffing all the while.  I looked about to see if any of this had been witnessed by any of my fellow Stater Bros patrons, but the few nearby gave the appearance of not having seen a thing.  


After a few extra puffs, I believed I had enough energy left to make it, and so used the crosswalk that led to Stater Bros front door.  Some times cars drive fast past the front of the store, but I didn’t feel I could watch out for them.  My attention was completely devoted to the ground in front of me. I decided I’d rather be struck by a vehicle than be guilty of any more ludicrous activity I could be blamed for.  I did my shopping, made it back to the Jeep without further trouble, opened the back, glared at Jessica now resting innocently in the back seat, and noticed I had gotten the lettuce for bacon and tomatoes sandwiches but had forgotten the tomatoes.  I had also intended to get a roll of summer sausage but had forgotten that as well.  


Driving home I discovered I wasn’t comfortably in my own lane; so had to concentrate in order to stay there.  For this I justifiably blamed my blood pressure medication amlodipine which has the annoying side-effect, dizziness.  When I am out in the morning engaged in routine activities, I am not dizzy, but apparently Jessica and our morning adventures changed that.  


Looking around, I see that both Jessica and Duffy are still napping.  It is reassuring to see that one can be fatigued for reasons other than old age.


.  


Travis McGee on city violence

 I hadn’t read John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series in several years, and the other day I decided to read it (or some of it) once again.  In the second novel in the series (there are 21), Nightmare in Pink (published May 21, 1964), given what we are seeing in the news nowadays, MacDonald’s McGee seems especially prescient:  


“New York is where it is going to begin, I think.  You can see it coming.  The insect experts have learned how it works with locusts.  Until locust population reaches a certain density, they all act like any grasshoppers.  When the critical point is reached, they turn savage and swarm, and try to eat the world.  We’re nearing a critical point.  One day soon two strangers will bump into each other at high noon in the middle of New York.  But this time they won’t snarl and go on.  They will stop and stare and then leap at each other’s throats in a dreadful silence.  The infection will spread outward from that point.  Old ladies will crack skulls with their deadly handbags.  Cars will plunge down the crowded sidewalks.  Drives will be torn out of their cars and stomped.  It will spread to all the huge cities of the world, and by dawn of the next day there will be a horrid silence of sprawled bodies and tumbled vehicles, gutted buildings and a few wisps of smoke.  And through that silence will prowl a few, a very few of the most powerful ones, ragged and bloody, slowly tacking each other down.”


Sunday, May 29, 2022

Indeterminate destination

        

        Confusion led

        Me quailing down

        Hallways not of my

        Liking.  Nurses pointed

        One and the other.

I tapped  my


        Way down corridors

        Of their making,

        Taking me from 

        Joy a  few days ago

Unended.  Duffy and

        Jessica will wait

        

          As long as they can.   

          The gates crash

          Closed behind.  

          They’ll curl up at

          The top of the stairs

           And whine.

Friday, May 27, 2022

New Territory

         It’s eighty-seven and I’m

Pursuing doing as in all

The previous years not

Wanting to stop even now,

Even when my heart races 

Faster than a slow-moving

Star.  Wherever we are


There is no colliding, at least

Not yet.  My own good ear

Perceives a gorgeous crying,

Singing perhaps.  I try it

With my hoarse voice       

Which Doesn’t reach. 

It is once again night


So much here go frighten

The wary stranger.  There

Is no signal here. Static

Ratchets up when I cry

Out.  There are owls and

Something else peering

Down from all the trees.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Dying Before Covid


She would have been

An ideal candidate, 

Her feared morbidities, 

And no one longingly

Urging her to stay a

Few more weeks, More

Months.  She had


It is true the use

Of trickling morphine,

But after dialysis

She was lucid once 

Again, please spend

This final time

These few more


Weeks with me –

No frenzied pandemic

Smashing crowded beds

Against unwashed walls,

Just our smiling here 

At what we defiantly held

Onto as long as we could.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Grief


Is it grief for those one 

Leaves behind or grief

At leaving?  One eventually

Becomes the center of

Consideration, once removed,

By being ringed round by

Whichever eyes currently see.


One becomes with each 

Breath a narrowing of one’s

Focus.  I  for example

Have breathed her in

Though I can’t recall

Her in great detail,   

Susan when I first saw her.


But I was there breathing

When she breathed her

Last, and I just this last

Hour watched slides

Of Jessica a few

Weeks old tugging

To be free of her leash.

My particular war


There are no wounds

From my particular war

Unless you count

A damaged soul

In that strange land,

Unwanted by the actual

Folk we walked among.


Later, the books described

Far flung decisions and

Ravaged fighting miles

To the North – something

Still going on in modern

Minds.  Mine to revisits 

What I saw, time to time.


The sun glinting

Some days when the 

Yellow Sea came crawling

Though our barbed wire

Fence.   We would stand

There not exactly denying

What we had wrought.

Passing


I am alone now and see

No one has remarked the 

Others’ passing –

The next in line

Understands the time

For discussion has

Passed. I have not

Heard the bell toll 

Recently. Perhaps

I’m next. I look

Out at the mist

Is it merely that -- 

I revert back past

Current beliefs and


Peer-driven conclusions

To what I remember,

Though it’s  no longer 

Anything to say

Any more than

One more

Passing day.

Old Man Dreaming



It is night here everywhere.

The mountains crumble.

Debris thrusts upward

Followed by molten steam.

Meanwhile I lie here 

Dreaming.  It’s no good

Trying to stay awake.


The windows rattle.

The door shakes.  Groans

Accompany one dream

Segueing into another.

Time passes along side

Fragmented words uttered:

By people long dead.


I throw my blanket aside

And rise up gasping.

A sliver of the last 

Bit recalled, I roar

Aloud. Jessica and Duffy

Rise as one, amazed.

There is no end to dreaming. 

Back Ache III


I’ve made a paper 

Boat and sent it sailing

The rising seas.

As it sinks, I send

Another.  “What an odd

Thing you do,” an old

Man pausing told me.

“It could have been

Darts or Mumbly Peg,”

I thought and he’d

Say the same.  It may

Rain before I reef my

Main and the remnants

Of my tale.


I’ve been about it 

Many years and have

Premises but no

Conclusions, paths,

Perhaps some soggy

Enough to lead me 

Down to Doggerland.


Back Ache II

  

These stones, though,

Others say, were wrought

With skill that today is

Beyond us – not finding

Tools not made of bronze

Are perhaps still many 

Meters down in Doggerland.


Plato invoking his 

Forms has also told

Of cities beneath the

Sea, beyond the Pillars

Of Hercules.  Diving

Into such murk above

Those vague descriptions


We have yet to find

What we’ve been seeking.

Meanwhile Russia seeks

Its warlike past with

Modern weapons, but not  

With soldiers like those

Raised in ancient Greece..

Meanwhile, here in the West

 I've been following the war on YouTube.  The Ukrainians have mounted a stirring defense and are being applauded by Western nations.  They claim to only need regular replenishment of their weapons and ammunition in order to drive Russia completely out of most of territorial Ukraine.  Much of the Eastern part is inhabited by Russians and Russian speaking Ukrainians.  Samuel P. Huntington years ago in his Clash of Civilizations wrote about this.  He thought that Ukraine would be split up with the Eastern part becoming part of Russia and the Western part becoming forever independent, but he thought it would happen peacefully and logically.  Since his day, however, the view is growing among anthropologists that our species is much more warlike than was previously thought.  The idea of peaceful little scavengers has given way (to a significant degree) to a blood-thirsty ancestry not above eating our fallen enemies.  At one point around 40,000 years ago, during the Cro Magnon period, we went on a rampage and wiped out all competing species.  Huntington missed out on our current view of our species.


Francis Fukuyama in his overly optimistic The End of History and the Last Man thought that Western economic and political systems being so much more efficient than anything else out there would soon pervade the entire world and history, the sort of history involving war, would end.  However, the second part of his thesis involved the risk of autocrats, dictators, leaders whose egos would drive them to start wars for their own ego-centric reasons, and Putin seems to fit that pattern.  And the last men with weak chests and weak wills "may" let them get away with it.  In Putin's case the "may" may have turned to "will."


The historians who have studied Russia describe Russia’s well-deserved paranoia.  Danger historically, even before Napoleon came from the West.  Russians would be driven further and further to the east until the invader’s supply lines became exhausted and then they would retaliate and drive the enemy from their land.  But if their close-by buffer states side with the potential enemy, then the Russians when they are invaded might not have the necessary territory to retreat to. 


We hear mostly about Russian dissidents and soldiers unwilling to fight, but Putin has a lot of support among Russians, and they are as paranoid as he is.  We in the West insist that we have no interest invading Russia, but each year the Russians celebrate the time when the last invasion (Hitler's) was defeated.  There is no longer a Hitler anyplace in the West as far as we know and so we think Putin's paranoia unjustified, but the Russians who lived through the last invasion and their children find the steady encroachment of the West, albeit peaceful from our point of view, threatening. 


On the positive side, the Russian paranoia won't risk nuclear war.  They love their land and have always depended upon their armies -- traditionally not very competent at the beginning of their wars, but as they are winnowed while being driven further and further to the east, the soldiers who remain become super-soldiers well capable of defeating the enemy.  Why should they resort to weapons which could destroy large parts of their homeland?  They don't need to. Their land armies will take care of them. 


Once again, the Russians have begun poorly, but if they don't succeed in reacquiring their Communist era buffer states, they'll settle for what they have -- for now -- and then work on correcting the flaws in their soldiery, tactics and weapons.  They are not interested in World War Three, but later on, if the future gives them some other opportunities, they'll attempt to inch their borders westward once again.


As to what we in the West ought to do.  I think we're doing it.  The Russians may have their paranoia, but it isn't ours and our democratically based economies aren't comfortable with nations which have psychological problems, however historically deserved.  We in the West see no need for Putin's Russia to attack its neighbors.  Why don't they become as peaceful as we are -- as we prepare for war?  We know we have peaceful intentions, but at the same time we will not tolerate nations who start wars and are well prepared and positioned to crush them in warfare -- which we are extremely good at, by the way. :-)



Saturday, May 14, 2022

Tuomainen's The Man Who Died, a few comments


I finished Per Petterson’s Men in my Situation and while I was critical of the Amazon reviewers who didn’t go much beyond saying the novel was “sad,” I just admit that it was at least that.  I recall years ago when I was in college, my aunt Dorothy worked in a nearby potato chip factory.  Her husband, Frank, had died of a stroke and didn’t leave her much to live on; so, she had to work.  At one point I was reading a lot of Kafka.  We had many interesting literary discussions before Uncle Frank died, but later when I tried to interest her in Kafka, she told me her life was depressing enough.  She didn’t want to add Kafka to it.  If one is studying literature, then one cannot avoid studying a novel just because it is sad.  But if one is reading for pleasure, then one can be more selective.


After reading a Petterson, I decided to seek out something less sad.  And inasmuch as the news has been full of Finland’s decision to join NATO, I decided to read a Finnish novelist.    I selected The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen.  There was an indication that he wrote novels less sad than Men in my Situation.


Someone might think, with a title like that, that I should have looked further, but I knew nothing about Finnish novelists and this novel was the first one I came across in my Amazon search.  As it happened its subject matter was somewhat serendipitous.  My oral surgeon, before performing the latest procedure decided to have me get concurrence from my primary physician that my heart would withstand whatever anesthesia he intended to use.  A Nurse Practitioner unclear about why I was there Said, “your blood test is completely clear.  Why are you even here?  And it degenerated from there.  My son hears better than I do and was interpreting what the nurse was saying.  He became quite upset with her before we were done.  I was made to understand before we left that I was old and therefore ought to follow all their rules and probably shouldn’t risk having the anesthesia under discussion.  The Nurse would let my doctor make the final decision, but she certainly wouldn't approve it. 


Thus, having been confronted with my own mortality, I began reading The Man Who Died.  The man, Jaako, is only 38, but he is being poisoned.   His doctor tells him he has been poisoned over a considerable time period and will die perhaps in a few days, maybe a few weeks.  So Jaako who is majority owner of a Mushroom processing and selling business intends to find out who is trying to kill him.  He almost immediately finds that his wife Taina is having an affair with one of their helpers, Petri.  Also, she is trying to gain control over the business; so, he becomes convinced that she, who prepares his meals every evening, is the one who is poisoning him.  A rival Mushroom business has set up a building a short distance away.  Three shady characters are responsible for it.  Two of them, one after the other, try to kill Jaako, but by good luck, they are killed instead. . . Perhaps they have been poisoning him.  He isn’t sure.


Tuomainen is an entertaining writer and despite Jaako’s impending doom the novel isn’t sad.  Also, there are many philosophically clever insights about mortality throughout.  I was cheered by the time I finished.   Jaako is still doomed at the end, but alive.  His poisoning is in something like remission, if that is even possible.  Agatha Christie new a lot about poisons and several of her murderers were poisoners, but if I recall correctly, she would describe the poison used.  Tuomainen merely lists several poisonous plants and mushrooms and implies a concoction.  


I had the impression that Tuomainen used humor in all his novels, but at the end of The Man Who Died are the “acknowledgments” in which he writes, "The Man Who Died feels like a turning point in many ways.  After writing five very dark books – albeit all very different from each other – ranging from the dystopia of The Healer to the icy north of The Mine, I started to feel that I needed to change things up a bit.  More than a bit, to be honest.  I told my agent this.  I think I also told him I needed to laugh a bit.  His response: go for it.”


The Main Who Died was published in Finnish in 2016 and in English a year later.  If Tuomainen continued in his resolve to use humor in The Man Who Died and subsequent novels, then I have Palm Beach, Finland (2017), Little Siberia (2019), and The Rabbit Factor (2020) trilogy to look forward to.  If I read all of these, am still alive, and managing to still enjoy Tuomainen perhaps I’ll try some of the novels from the period in which he was “crowned . . . the King of Helsinki Noir,” maybe just one to test this matter.



Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Further on Per Petterson's Men in My Situation


Petterson offers this hint about the men in his situation on page 10: “I could see them all in my mind’s eye, their cars parked in places like this along roads and streets, by bus stops, in garages and driveways, with men in my situation, half lying half sitting in their seats with their coats and cars pulled tight around them, trying to doze off for a few hours alone and finally being gathered up in the dark of night by soft hands and soundless winches, hauled together in long rows, one after the other, bumper to bumper, button to button, headlight to tail light, in a fellowship ranked by the man’s age and the brand of the car, as if waiting for the last rites, for oblivion, sleeping in a fetal position, their unshaven cheeks against the cold backs of their hands, barely breathing in the cold darkness.”


Comment: It seems strange that so many Norwegian men find it appropriate or even possible to spend so much time sleeping in their cars, imagining as I do that it is often very cold in Norway unlike here in California where I don’t recall ever sleeping in my car in that fashion.  Arvid had perfectly good places to sleep in his apartment, but for a while after Turid left him, he wasn’t comfortable enough to sleep unless he went outside and got in his 1979 Mazda.  


One of the reasons for Arvid’s breakup with Turid is described on page 20: “I had always traveled downtown with Turid to meet other young adults we knew, communists and poets, trade unionists, welders and lathe operators from . . . but then it slowly ebbed out.  Turid turned and found new friends who did not become my friends.”  


Comment: Although later on Turid after some emotional disaster that isn’t explained with her friends calls Arvid to come out to a bus station and pick her up, which he does.  She tells him that he is the only person she has, but by this time she no longer has him.  He shocks her by telling her to keep her life away from him.


He clearly blames her for the break. She ebbed away from the intellectual friends Arvid wanted to be close to and finds “colorful friends” she finds friends more suited to her.  They disappoint her in some unexplained way and she is ready to come back to Arvid.  Apparently, even though she moved out and divorced him, she believed she could always get him back if need be.  But she waited far to long for that. By then it was far too late.  Even if they were both soon to be, more or less, without friends, he no longer wanted her back.


After his separation from Turid, Arvid sought a time of one night stands but they didn’t begin well.  The first woman he went with seemed intellectually suitable.  She loved Mahler before Arvid knew him, but she was more experienced in the way of one night stands than he was and he took offense at her.  “Right before I closed the door behind us going into the flat she lived in, it felt imperative to look back to where I’d come from, which for the most part now lay in ruins . . . I turned into a pillar of salt.”


Comment: While I didn’t have any one night stands after breaking up with my first wife, I did go out with a few women, mostly from work.  I was looking for someone I could be serious about and so did not turn into a pillar of salt.  Arvid though was more resolute.  It didn’t work out for him with the Mahler lady, but it did with subsequent ladies.  Nevertheless he wasn’t comfortable with that life style even though he sought mood help from what he deemed appropriate novels, John Berger’s G, and a book about Casanova’s exploits are mentioned.  


A step up from one night stands was to obtain a “mistress.” While visiting his parents’ graves he noticed a woman standing alone by a recently dug grave.  He imagined she was the mistress of the recently deceased who waited until the legitimate family left before paying her respects.  “The mistress had stopped on the footpath.  When our eyes met, she didn’t drop her gaze, and so it was I who had to yield, as usual.  I looked a the stone again.  What little I was trying to hold together, fell apart.  I took the satchel, and then got up. . . She could have been my mistress. I thought.  But I didn’t want a mistress.  Or maybe I did, but it was too complicated, it was too late, my heart is not in it . . .”  The do keep looking at each other and so strike up a conversation, but Arvid seems more interested in finding out if his guess about her was correct than getting together with her himself.  


Comment: One of the Amazon reviewers wrote that while the story of Arvid was sad, at least he had his daughter Vigdis by the end of the novel.  That reviewer was addressing the matter of Arvid’s sadness, but it isn’t a satisfactory conclusion to the novel if that is all one has, an end to sadness because Arvid has the prospect of the renewed good relationship with his daughter.  Yes, that is a good thing for him to have, but he also needs a relationship to replace the one he had with Turid.  One-night-stands won’t do it, neither will the acquisition of a mistress.  


At this point, I’m reminded of Allie Sherlock’s relationship with her father.  Her mother died when Allie was I  nine, and when Allie was eleven she told her father, Mark, she wanted to busk.  Mark was indulgent, learned how to support her with camera gear, setting up a Youtube channel, protecting her while she sang, driving her the two and half hour distance between Cork and Dublin.   Allie  was Vigdis’s age when Petterson wrote the ending to Men in my situation.  I don’t have any special knowledge about Allie and her father beyond watching Youtube videos of her singing from time to time, but their relationship seems very good.  Also, it seemed that Mark was very friendly with some ladies closer to his own age.  Then too Mark seems much better balanced than Arvid and not at all given to panic.  Also Allie seems better balanced that Vigdis.  When Allie began singing at age eleven she seemed vulnerable and diffident, but by the time she was sixteen she was confident and in charge of her surroundings.  Vigdis at sixteen is far behind Allie at that age and may never equal her, but Petterson is encouraging us to believe, I assume, that Vigdis, will soon turn into a mostly normal girl through her continued relationship with her father.


Men in My situation, a review

 


Last night I finished Men in My Situation by Per Petterson, published in 2022.  I didn’t initially understand the title, because Arvid Jansen had experiences and was engaged in activities that didn’t seem common.  But now that I’ve finished it, I do see some commonality.  There are differences, but to some extent I also am a man in Arvid’s situation and so at the end can identify with him.


Arvid came out of a blue-collar environment and educated himself through reading – something my grandmother did and encouraged me to do: Books are out there on whatever subject you are interested in so you can, if you are smart enough, read whatever you like and become whatever you want.  I took my grandmother’s teaching to heart and even though I did go to college I was reading alongside what I was being taught, whatever I liked.


Arvid chose to become a writer.  He admits to being successful, beyond what would have been achieved if he’d taken a job in keeping with his blue-collar background.  A consequence of that choice was that he had educated himself beyond his family and friends, which is a form of alienation.  My own background was similar to Arvid’s.  I was raised in walking distance of the Wilmington part of the Los Angeles harbor. My parents and the parents of everyone I knew worked in some relation to that harbor.  My father was a lumber-carrier driver, which I did for a while part time during my college days.  My stepfather was a truck driver and got me into the Teamsters Union where I could work part time out of the Hiring Hall loading and unloading trucks on the docks.  


Then, as was the case with Arvid, my education qualified me for something beyond my blue-collar background.  A difference however was that when I entered the engineering department of Douglas Aircraft company there was a break with my past.  I no longer lived amongst or worked with the people who worked on the docks.  Arvid and I had become interested in the matters we read in books, books of little interest to the people we were raised among.  Arvid, however, became a writer, and until he became so successful, he could move away, he had to stay amongst the people he was raised with.  He had to endure the alienation commensurate with his intellectual interests. 


As happened to Arvid and most of us, perhaps, our initial marriage-partner-choice turned out to be bad.  Even though I married my first wife after three-years in the Marine Corps, I was only 20 when that happened.  What happened next was different.  Arvid gravitated toward a life of one-night stands; whereas I found someone who was very different from, and much more suitable for me than,  my first wife.


Arvid and I were separated from our kids at some point, but, except for the youngest, my kids were grown.  My son stayed nearby and while my daughters, live out of state, Utah and Idaho, I talk to them regularly by phone.  Arvid’s wife Turid denied Arvid any further contact with his children after he had a driving accident and injured his eldest child, Vigdis.  There is a heart rending conclusion when Turid turns Vigdis over to Arvid with instructions that he is to admit her to a mental institution.  At first he intends to comply, but with Vigdis standing next to him, he can’t do it.  If not that he is supposed to have her examined by a psychiatrist, but by this time Vigdis, is in the more agreeable presence of her father, and is coming out of her funk; so Arvid and Vigdis decide to spend the day driving.  One concludes that Vigdis’s “problem” was her inability to accept her mother and her mother’s friends; which Turid concluded was a result of mental instability, but once Vigdis is in the more rational presence of her father, she becomes her old self.  Arvid does not always make the right choices, but Vigdis understands him and can work with what he does and who he is.   


I read many of the Amazon reviews of this novel, and the frequent one-word summation was “sad.”  In modern hermeneutics which I take to include literary criticism, the text is not complete in itself.  The reader is part of the critical process.   Criticism of this novel, one would hope, could advance beyond the word “sad.”  


If we consider our species, for most of it we didn’t live beyond the age of 30.  To become 40 was to become an old man or woman.  Perhaps we are not emotionally equipped, most of us who are in Arvid’s situation, to stay in one relationship beyond the age of 35.  Petterson ends his novel when Arvid has reached the age most hunter-gatherers are at the end of their lives.  We men in Arvid’s situation now experience a period of sadness when our initial relationship, but no longer (for most of us) our lives end.  But inasmuch as our lives don’t end as well, for most of us, that sadness isn’t perpetual.  We learn from it, if we are rationally disposed, and make better choices in the future.  Will Arvid do that, make better choices in the future?  His 16 year old daughter will, if she is truly mentally stable as Petterson suggests at the end of his novel, will want to marry when she is 20.  She will then make the same mistakes that women in her situation will.  Perhaps by the time her mistake becomes clear, her father will be in a more stable relationship and thus be a stabilizing influence.  Perhaps her breakup before she is 40 will be easier than Arvid’s, for surely as a species we must be learning from all those previous breakups round about.  Or, perhaps Arvid and Turid’s breakup has been so traumatic for Vigdis, that she will wait until she is in her late 20s or early 30's and then marry wisely.  Some people, I’ve read someplace, actually do.






Monday, May 2, 2022

Preferences


Why do I write poems

You ask?  Why does Jessica

Chase her tail? Perhaps 

To get the blood warm

For a day of watching 

Squirrels out back.

One can see one


Or the other and be amused.

She and I might take up

Something else, chasing 

A ball, reading a novel.

Someone overseeing us

Might smile at our 

Industry.  We wake


Each morning and set

About our business, not

Usually justifying our efforts

Beyond our doors, though

Earlier there a cat upon

Our porch and

One of us barked. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Latest variation


Boosters should be used to propel

Our ships into outer space.

I’ve glowered at the monitor

Warning me of the debris

Threatening all paths, though

Inadequately described.

I don’t exactly hide


But what is out there anyway?

The air available

Is not adequate for

Much beyond the end

Of the block, the end

Of all blocks, the 

Plague people toll


In the morning news.

“No fear” my tee-shirt

Also says as I stand,

Blind fold in my back

Pocket, unafraid for 

The morning news swears

They use rubber bullets.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Dog behavior has nothing to do with their breed, recent test results imply

 


https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/28/science/dogs-breed-behavior-genes.html


I thought the above referenced study based upon DNA analysis was interesting.  I am glad scientists round about are interested in learning about our symbiotic companions.  I did think the statistic about pure bred dogs behaving in accordance with the breed tradition, that is, what the breed was intended to do, was rather low, but in thinking it over I have no personal experience that would even enable me to advance an anecdotal argument to its contrary. 


After reading the article I read the comments from the responders to the article.  They were all over the place, but the most valid criticized the anecdotal nature of information provided by those who paid the $175 to have their dogs DNA checked.  Responders to the article thought such people extremely untrustworthy making the study of little value.


In the case of Ridgebacks, my anecdotal response wouldn't have anything to do with what the Ridgeback was originally intended to do, the hunting of lions.  Probably few people living today have any experience with that attribute.  The secondary attribute, probably the reason most Ridgebacks were purchased, and a reason still valid today was farm and home protection against wild animals and human intruders.  I haven't seen the questionnaire, but I wouldn't know how to answer the question, if this is one of their questions for the Ridgeback, "would your Ridgeback protect you and your property?"  That is something that has never been put to the test in my case.   I do believe that Trooper was sort of tested.  We were hiking in the mountains when he was seven months old and some mountain bikers came racing down the trail towards us.  There wasn't room for me to get him off to the side.  There was a drop off to the left and a steep incline to the right.  I braced for impact.  Trooper however knew exactly what to do.  He went into combat mode and gave an enormous bark/growl.  I never knew those bikes had such good brakes.  The two racers got off their bikes, and making sure I had hold of Trooper's collar inched past us with their bikes between them and Trooper.  I didn't like those guys racing down hiking trails endangering whomever,  and so I gave Trooper an appreciative pat on the head and we hiked on.  Trooper did that same sort of thing  two other times that I recall: a jogger on a dark night and someone running through a parking lot toward a store.


Sage did that sort of thing on three occasions that I recall.  Ginger and Ben seemed too friendly to ever do anything like that.  I dog sat a Ridgeback that seemed timid.


I don't know how any of that would bear upon my Ridgebacks willingness to protect me and my property.  When any delivery person or cat comes up on my front porch, my non-Ridgebacks go berserk.  The Ridgebacks would rarely join in.  But any dog who will bark will probably deter the casual intruder where I live.  Would Susan's 12 year old 23-pound Schnoodle or my 6 year old 45-pound Irish Terrier protect me.  I doubt the Schnoodle would.  Maybe Jessica would if I was actually being attacked, on the floor, bleeding out, but I'm not sure. 


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Jorie Graham, Samuel Huntington, Victor Davis Hanson and Danny Vendramini

 


In the current issue of the London Review of Books I read the poem Time Frame by Jorie Graham.  Never having heard of Graham I took the first line, “The American experiment will end in 2030 . . .”  After reading the poem I looked her up in Wikipedia: “Jorie Graham (nee Pepper, born May 9, 1940) is an American poet.  The Poetry foundation called Graham ‘one of the most celebrated poets of the American post-war generation’ . . . She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1996) for The Dream of the Unified Field; Selected Poems 1974-1994 . . .”  Thus, she inadvertently qualifies as part of my desultory interest in (major) award winning writers.  

If Graham’s “Time Frame” is a current poem, I can imagine its pessimism deriving from fear of China’s surpassing the U.S. economically, of Covid’s refusal to be extinguished, and of Putin’s seeming maniacal interest in defeating and incorporating the Ukraine.  

The other day I watch the UK Youtube Telegraph channel interview of Victor Davis Hanson who is “guardedly optimistic about America’s future”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+victor+davis+hanson+most+current&docid=608027108675027864&mid=2689B6EC5ACB91BE40D62689B6EC5ACB91BE40D6&view=detail&FORM=VIRE


The elements about which Hanson is pessimistic are associated with American movements which strive to overturn traditional governmental elements.  He didn’t sound fearful of China, Covid, or Putin.  I am merely guessing here, perhaps Graham is fearful of something else in our environment, but I took her poem to be about the major current elements alarming a major number of Americans.  

As to China, while they won’t match the U.S. militarily by 2030, they do have an interest in “reacquiring” Taiwan.  I have that in quotes because the Communist government never held Taiwan.  The nationalist government which opposed Mao Tse tung was driven from the mainland and established itself on Taiwan.  The U.S. has since that time supported Taiwan’s independence.  And since that time the Communist mainland has denied that it is independent.  However, the mainland has not so far mustered the boldness to attempt an invasion of Taiwan.  Will Russia’s invasion of Ukraine inspire Communist China to become equally bold?  If I were a Chinese Communist, I wouldn’t find Putin’s boldness inspirational.  His Ukrainian goals have in the very least dwindled.  Also, it isn’t just the U.S. that Communist China needs to worry about.  Japan is rapidly arming itself “just in case,” as is South Korea but perhaps South Korea will only act if North Korea supports China in an invasion of Taiwan.  Other nations in the region such as the Philippines might be a threat to China if the war against Taiwan was drawn out and dwindled as the Russian war against Ukraine seems to have.  Perhaps Russia will ultimately claim victory over some part of the Russian-speaking eastern segment.  But it seems unlikely that something like that could be carved out of Taiwan to satisfy Communist China.  So, Graham, worry about China if you like (if that is one of your worries), a lot of people are, but some of us are not.


As to Covid, I have been hiding out like a lot of people.  It is all the congestion out there that annoys me personally.  I would hate to be hospitalized in the midst of it.  I don’t feel especially vulnerable despite the warnings that mostly old people and those with compromised immune system are most at risk.  If one looks into their definition of “old people” one finds the assumption that most old people have underlying symptoms that make them especially vulnerable.   But here I noticed (from the Wikipedia article) that Graham “addressed human frailty and family challenges in her 2017 book Fast.  Aging, sickness, the decline of her parents, as well as her own cancer diagnosis pockmarked this slim volume.”  

I looked up the ages of Graham’s parents.  Her mother, Beverly Pepper was a famous sculptor who received several awards and died at the age of 97.  Her father Curtis Bill Pepper was an American journalist and author who served during WWII in army intelligence in both the British and American armies.  He died at age 96.  Here I am, at age 87, fancying that I have already done my duty as an example of longevity to my children but inasmuch as I am not feeling in any immediate risk of demise, 96 or 97 seems quite a satisfactory time to shuffle off my mortal coil.  Furthermore I would think it rude if any of my children were sad over my “aging, sickness and decline” if I made it all the way to 96 or 97.  However, after giving the above summary of Graham’s Fast some more thought, it was probably the case that her parents didn’t have easy deaths, and if that were true then indeed she would have been challenged.  [All this after not having read Fast, or any of her other poetry, but I just now order her most recent collection, Runaway: New Poems as a form of apology.]

In regard to Putin’s adventure after about 55 days, I recalled Samuel P. Huntington’s comments in his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, copyrighted in 1996.  He considered the relationship of Russia and Ukraine.  He thought it likely that Ukraine might be split with the eastern segment sticking with Russia and the Western becoming independent. “If civilization is what counts . . . violence between Ukrainians and Russians is unlikely.  These are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships for centuries and between whom intermarriage is common.  Despite highly contentious issues and the pressure of extreme nationalists on both sides, the leaders of both countries worked hard and largely successfully to moderate these disputes.  The election of an explicitly Russian-oriented president in Ukraine in mid-1994 further reduced the probability of exacerbated conflict between the two countries.  While serious fighting occurred between Muslims and Christians elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and much tension and some fighting between Russians and Baltic peoples, as of 1995 virtually no violence had occurred between Russians and Ukrainians.

“A second and somewhat more likely possibility is that Ukraine could split along its fault line and two separate entities, the eastern which would merge with Russia. . .”

Huntington saw the conditions correctly, but he failed to anticipate the war which would occur 26 years after he published his book.  He envisioned a peaceful resolution of the Russian/Ukrainian conflict.  I’m reminded here of the thesis of Danny Vendramini’s Them and Us: How Neanderthal predation created modern humans (published 2011).  There is scant evidence, but traditional anthropologists assumed Neanderthals were peaceful hunter-gatherers and were eventually overcome by bad luck, bad weather and the more aggressive homo sapiens who had the help of dogs.  Those theories aren’t contradicted by any of the evidence.

Vendramini, using the same evidence assumes that Neanderthals, eaters of more meat than their omnivore cousins found it convenient to raid homo sapiens for food.   Neanderthals were initially the apex predators and not like the more peaceful homo-sapiens.  Neanderthals were so successful in eating and/or raping homo sapiens that the later was almost wiped out.  The survivors composed of homo sapiens/ Neanderthal hybrids managed through important changes in their evolution to survive.  Vendramini argues that Neanderthals were hairy, more like chimpanzees.  Something remarkable had to happen for homo sapiens to become relatively hairless.  The disguised estrus of humans, the fake breasts (always seeming to be full of milk) of our women to make them seem to be always nursing, confused the apex predator Neanderthals.  Also we became fastidious about our scent, being relatively hairless helped with that so that the always-hungry Neanderthals couldn’t smell us,  hunt us down and eat us.  Our history with the Neanderthals was such that when we became the apex species, roving bands of cro magnons hunted Neanderthals to extinction.  Whether one accepts Vergamini's arguments or embraces the idea that war-like homo sapiens killed off peaceful Neanderthals, it is inescapable that we homo sapiens like to fight.  Years ago the thesis that we were scavengers and not hunters was popular, but that idea has been largely discredited.  Few scholars, if any, believe that at the present time, but perhaps when Huntington wrote he held that view.  He was as we see wrong.  Russia and Ukraine are solving their conflict in the traditional homo sapiens fashion.  We in these modern times, as a species, don’t seem to be able to accomplish wars of conquest (despite our modern weapons) as successfully as our ancestors did in the past.  

To return to Graham’s poem, there is a political sense in which the “American Project” could end in 2030, if Hanson’s fears our realized and the American constitution and form of government are modified such that they conform to the ideals of those on the “revolutionary” (to use Hanson’s term) left.






Thursday, April 14, 2022

Back Ache

 Civilizations prior, we scoff.

Where is the evidence

Of fast food and oil drilling?

Why doesn’t Linear B

Have words for fatigue

And Post Traumatic Stress?

Look though we might we know


Of no vaccine for any

Ancient disease, and all

Those heaps of stones

We do see will go on 

Crumbling as our ships

Reach Mars and Jupiter’s

Moons.  No prior people,


Real or imagined

Have conceived our

World we are quite sure 

Having inspected their 

Caves, fondled their

Bones, and rummaged 

Through their DNA

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Mourning Dove

  22-04-03   Mourning Dove 4-11-22


The windmill picked  

Up speed.  No one knew

What this wind held.

I raised my hand,

Standing there

While I could.

So much had blown away.


In that night with

Windows trembling,

Gusts shoved my curtains

Aside.  I stood as long

As I could and heard

While leaves rushed

And time faded


The doleful tolling, 

Counting the species

Routed by fire,

Ash and biting

Wind.  The witness 

On my back fence

In the morning, mourned.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

A promise



“Promise me you’ll be fine.”

Behind a hiding smile

I said I would.  Should

I have told her lying

Was my forte, a quiet

Word to drown what

I understood?


She was of soft heart

And I of brooding mind:

The silence sometimes

Weighed her down,

Or did it me?

Age takes the random

Moments, leaving me


Behind like

A bird on a roost

Forgetting where I 

Left the eggs.

Are they still somewhere

Waiting for my hand?

Are they fine?

“Oh My Goodness”


“Oh My Goodness” 

Was passing away

Those passing days:

The way she saw

Our days, each day

Wearing away.

I walked my wet 


Bike through our doorway.

She sat inside on the floor,

A mystery in hand, smiling

As she saw my smile

As I passed on through 

To the space out back.

I set aside the dripping


Boots, the sodden

Gloves, the streaming

Jacket seeing her looking

At last at the evidence

I’d left on her floor,

Hearing her “Oh my 

Goodness” once more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Villages of Dreams

 Some time ago I bought the paperback edition of Republic of Dreams – Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960, by Ross Wetzsteon, copyright 2002.  I liked its encyclopedic nature and eventually bought a hard copy, but several times in venturing a few more pages, I give it up.  In the realm of dogs, each one enthusiastically begins life pretty much like all its ancestors, learning pretty much the same things anew.  It is true they can be trained, like the Belgian Malinois I’ve been watching in the Seal Team series, but this learning can’t be (as far as I know) passed on to the Malinois’ descendants.  Humans are a bit like that, but they think they (some of them) are creating something immortal.  But we notice that subsequent generations reject what the previous ones produced.  They in turn value something they consider “more advanced.”

The Bohemians of whom Wetzsteon writes can be excused for their overweening pride because they had no understanding of our (homo Sapien’s) history.  Maybe we have “progressed” into the species we have become especially during the last 200,000 or 300,000 years.  Then perhaps in the last 15,000 we have become something new, something clearly relatable to the abandonment of our hunter-gatherer past and the living in villages.  Perhaps we already had the ability to advance that the leisure of village life enabled.   In any case, 15,000 years is a very short time for our village-dwelling species to have advanced to a point where it can declare: this art is good, and this is not – except in very temporary terms.  They should more precisely say “this seems good and that seems not good to us here and now.”  That would leave open to the next generation to declare something different good and not good.  And given a few more generations, perhaps they would have the perspective to understand how temporary their judgements were.

We have no difficulty accepting advancements in technology, for example the technology associated with fighting wars.  What I am seeing portrayed in Seal Team is far beyond anything we had when I was in the Marines in the early 1950s, but a modern warrior would be unlikely to look down upon the warriors of, say, our Civil War.  Courage and resourcefulness are appreciated even while we recognize the limitations imposed upon them by not having the more technologically advanced equipment that we have today.  That same sort of understanding has not been developed by artists who fancy that their art is more advanced (superior) to what was considered good art in previous generations.  And by “art” I have in mind literature – both novels and poetry.  

When we think of sculpture, we can hark back to Greek achievements in stone and admire the results.  Changes have occurred; whether modern results are “more advanced” than achievements by the Greeks I’ll leave for others to debate.  In music, what we call “classical” or orchestral is still appreciated, in all available periods, by afficionados.  In regard to “songs,” perhaps judgements that apply to literature or poetry might apply to songs as well.  Famous old songs are appreciated by older people more than younger, it would seem.   Songs and the way they are sung change from generation to generation.  Young people who value the “latest” songs merely frown upon songs valued by their parents without claiming “their” songs to be more advanced . . . at least it seems that way to me.  They simply “like” the new songs better than the old, and about comparisons in terms of “likes” there can be no argument.