Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Love is Hard

Leaving town very early in the morning, heading to CT, so decided I'd check out some local news before shutting down the computer, packing and hoping the Olympics can put me to sleep early so I'm nice and perky at 4:00 a.m. You know the only reason I have a 5:50 a.m. plane is that it's the least expensive one leaving town tomorrow.
Alas, checking the news, I see John Governor Hickenlooper and  author Helen Thorpe are separating. Might be sad because they are Governor and 'First Lady,' but separation seems better than one or both of them slutting or sleezing around town. Just saying. Pretty gutsy to put your pain out in the public this way.
Separating with civility, and I suspect, a great deal of sadness. I'm sad and I don't even know them as a couple, sad that love is so damned hard.
Several friends have commented that Hickenlooper looked and sounded dazed and befuddled when interviewed during the movie massacre. Well, of course. Add a couple of devastating fires to the summer and a separation...who wouldn't be dazed?  Wishing them all well, and hoping not to see reams of psychological analysis about why they are separating.

On a cheerier note, lots of good news from the Olympics. Hard not to be a body watcher in all of this -- men on high boards in bikini type bottoms - mankinis -  and tight butts twisting and turning in the air. My, those muscles are looking good. Each and every body competing in whatever sport looks strong, so strong. I truly can't conceive of trying so hard and for so long to be so good at something. Don't begin to understand the psychological discipline, the guts it takes to fall off a balance beam or vault and get back up. Have to love all the contestants (oh, that love thing is so much easier from a distance, isn't it?).

Interesting number of ways various people negotiate time and television so they can see events 'live,' not look at the scores during the day, or peek at a preview. Don't know what it all says about differences between people who want to catch the scores first or wait for their own personal prime viewing. Probably not much.

When I get back in contact, I'll share some updates from that Camino del Chimayo group making its way from Denver to Chimayo. Quite an adventure. Pounding the path, finding the way so others can follow in years to come.  For all of us - it's one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Old and the New

Why study Algebra?  I don't know. We always did...back in the old days. An article in yesterday's NYT suggests that maybe algebra is just too big a gatekeeper these days to serve any significant purpose. The article suggested it's not a cultural or class thing...but it's often the last hurdle, apparently, that sends someone out the door of high school and into the streets.  And, apparently, for those who do muddle through high school algebra, far too many community colleges are left with a clean-up job, having to offer endless numbers of remedial courses to get students over the algebra obstacle.
Why study algebra? When have I used algebra in the last 20, 30, 40 years?  Can't remember. for some of us, maybe using algebra, squaring all those x's, y's in and our of parentheses was never the point. Maybe learning a way of thinking was the point.
I think all the folks who make money making money,  derivative kinds of people, use algebra, but maybe I'm wrong. Economists? Mathematicians? Scientists? Hope so.
What would change if the majority of students were exempt from algebra and could take electives? Do you think courses in entrepreneurship or branding one's self would produce more Steve Jobs and Bill Gates types? Somehow I think it might be better to stick with algebra.
Old fashioned.
Speaking of old fashioned, I just wrote a long letter (on computer, but with 'handwriting' font) for my granddaughter who is entering the stage of double digits this week. Ten. 10. Finished with single digits.
Thinking about the algebra question and being old fashioned or just for the sake of it type of person made me realize: I don't know if Emma reads cursive. I know they practiced writing in cursive, so she must read some things in cursive, but I don't know how much. In another ten years will she still be familiar with cursive letters. Now that is making me feel old-fashioned, for sure. Onward.
If you follow women's soccer, you'll know another one of those old-fashioned mini-battles is a brewing.
This generation's women's soccer media star, Hope Solo, is tweeting nasty commentary about last generation's super star, Brandi Chastain. Surely you remember Brandi, who scored the winning penalty kick in the 1999 World Cup,  Brandi, who pulled her shirt off, fell to her knees, raised her hands, and stunned the world with the kick and then found herself gracing the cover page of Sports Illustrated shirtless, full of joy. That Brandi.
Brandi, new commentator for NBC and women's soccer at the Olympics. Brandi's said some negative things about this year's team and Hope is feeling her team's being dissed.
It's 'hey Brandi, move over and shut up until you understand the game' tweets from Hope. She's over hearing about the old...those who paved the way...  Out with the old, in with the new.
I understand the 'get out of the way, it's our time in the sun, our time to make a mark.'  Alas, I also understand the 'why can't you be thankful for the way that we paved, the bruises we endured, to give you your time?" Been on both sides.
That transition time between the old being phased out and the new establishing isn't always pretty, so we have to figure out how to be grateful for the shoulders we've stood on, be ready to keep moving, and, finally be the shoulders holding someone else.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Actually had some raindrops fall this afternoon. Lots of thunder; little rain. Little rain; little cobs of corn. People talk of a drought, but if we were truly in a drought, would we still be watering the parks, parkways, golf courses, and lawns? I have no idea who prioritizes water usage, and am sure happy I'm not in charge.
I think it's probably pre-drought here in CO with every breeze carrying small particles of dirt in through the screens and open doors. Yes, I do use the air-conditioner, making me another one of the power grid grubbers, but I try to temper my use.
Grateful I'm not a farmer, relying on drops of rain to sustain my crops. Thankful to the farmers who do all the hard work to nourish us all. A drought is the last thing they need.
But there were water hoses down the street last night. First there was a helicopter, circling round and round...and then round again. Making it difficult to hear the non-news on television. Come to find out, the helicopter was circling because there was a garage fire up the street, with some sort of rumor or suspicion that it was a meth lab. Not sure what the helicopter could have done. Once I learned that Quebec and 6th were blocked off I walked to the fire. Garage was completely gone, and fire out, thanks to the firefighters. Apparently no-one was hurt. Nothing in or on the news about the fire. Just smell of smoke left in the air.

Speaking of drought, try as hard as various people and organizations can, there is no drought of news about the Aurora movie massacre. I'm sure CU would like the whole story to go away, but it won't. All the gag rules in the world won't stop some of the news getting out before it is 'managed.' Apparently the alleged murderer was seeing a psychiatrist/professor on the CU Anschutz campus. Talking the talk with his shrink, and walking the walk right over to the internet to get his weapons and SWAT-suit for protection. She probably won't, but if I were the psychiatrist, I'd want to get myself out of Dodge.

Blogs and reports from London all looking good. Going to sit right down tonight and do some couch participation in the feel-good Opening,.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sun Spots

Sun spots - that's what I call those little splotches that parade around as pre-cancerous rough spots on the body. Decided to get mine checked out before heading to the Rhode Island beach in August. Sort of like confession - clear out one batch of sins before accumulating the next.

Two weeks ago when I made the appointment I couldn't get into the Kaiser clinic close to me, so took a chance on the one in Aurora. Landscape has changed just a bit since I made the appointment. So has business. Apparently, hardly anyone is shopping in the Aurora mall where the cinema is. No business for the retailers. It's probably as safe as it will ever be at the Aurora mall - or any mall - today, but we're all pretty irrational and fearful when these things happen. Of course, the multiplex movie theatre is still closed. Can't imagine the sadness in that clean-up job.
Across the street from the mall, however, is a memorial set up for the victims of the movie massacre....flowers, candles, gifts, crosses. Lots of people and news trucks hanging around. The voyeur in me wanted to stop and listen to what people were saying to young children and to one another.
But time and road construction woes were against it, so I continued on to Kaiser. The new health clinic is situated so one can see the memorial from one side and the court room from another. Talk about being in the middle of things.

After twenty or so zaps from the pre-cancerous spot blaster (administered by an extremely competent P.A.), my voyeurism was also zapped. Drove right by the memorial, still wondering what the news reporters were hoping to hear and what the visitors to the shrines were saying. My guess is there were lots of prayers.

My only other comments for the day have to do with the Olympics...and no, it's not about Mitt Romney. Shutting my mouth on that one. BUT...how about the gaffe where the flag of South Korea was shown on the big screen as the North Korean Women's Soccer team was being announced? An hour's delay and an apology, along with the right flag, and the North Korean women came back and played...and won their game.  Wonder what the person responsible for that political faux pas is doing today.

Hey Patrick, thanks for the call out - I'll take two weeks of Olympic diversion for sure!

Think it's time to order another couple of those long-sleeved shirts with sun screen, insect repellant and unpleasant people repellent. One can never be too safe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sports Relief

So...the alleged murderer at the movie theater allegedly sent a notebook to a psychiatrist at CU Med School with a stick figures shooting others; the notebook allegedly had been sitting in the mail room for a week.  This news came from FOX, and not that I doubt Fox News, but I'm sticking with the three "allegedly"terms interspersed in the above sentence.
And the President of No. Korea allegedly has a wife. And who knows what is alleged and what is not in Syria?
And Pennsylvania. You know, that little state of Pennsylvania? It surely grabbed all the headlines available this week - Joe Paterno and Penn State; the Philadelphia monseigneur on his way to prison for protecting a sexual abusing priest. IF that's not enough for one state in a week, how about the Voter ID Law and the alleged misuse of that?
Lots of suppression, repression, oppression in Pennsylvania.

But the factual story is that the Olympic Games opened before the Opening Ceremonies. Opened in Glascow, Scotland with the US Women's Soccer team thumping France 4-2. A good beginning.
I love women's soccer, and am crazy about the Olympics. Four years ago, as crazy as I am about USA Women's soccer, I have to say I loved watching the Japanese women emerge with the Gold. Something to bring home to a devastated country.
I'm also not at all a big USA type who won't buy it if it isn't made in the USA by 'real' Americans (whoever they are); I line up with the global citizenship folks. Still the ritual of medal counting, the rituals of preparation, the technology wars all make for some national pride. 
So looking forward to watching races judged by such small differences that I don't even know how to write one of those differences. I love the human search (and often disappointment) in looking for perfection. Perfect Ten. Perfect, Perfect.  I know the judging isn't always perfect, and we have the boxers who will tell you that story.
Gymnasts, archers, rowers, wrestlers - love them all for a week.
Looking forward to Opening Ceremonies this weekend and looking forward even more to not being engaged by the politics of politics. Sports Relief.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ride, Sally, Ride

Sally Ride. Scientist, engineer, tennis player, lover of Shakespeare. Role model, mentor, professional.
NOT a celebrity, no paparazzi following her. Took her first official Challenger ride in '83; another one in '84. When The Challenger exploded in '86, she was named to the Presidential Commission that investigated the disaster. Dazzled folks with her ethical stance., Stood by the whistle-blower. Stood by the truth. Spent her short life dedicated to science and to making science accessible, especially to girls.

I hesitated to post this article, because there's the personal slice of info... you know, the stuff that interests people more in who she was than what she did. On the other hand, the article reminds us of the importance of giving freedom to people to just be. I know there will be disagreement about this, and someone will be asking Anderson Cooper for his thoughts.

I thought about summarizing the article, but couldn't decide which details to keep and which to leave behind.
Science. Space. Sally.  Thanks for the ride.

Posted at 12:13 PM ET, 07/24/2012

Sally Ride didn't want to be a gay icon

Sally Ride showed Generation X girls the sky’s the limit — literally.

In this Oct. 7, 2009 file photo, former astronaut Sally Ride speaks to members of the media. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - Associated Press)
We could do anything boys could do and sometimes better. If we wanted to go into space, our gender couldn’t — and wouldn’t — stop us. If we studied hard enough and trained our brains, the glass ceiling could be shattered.
Amid all the girl power that Ride taught women, one barrier the first American woman in space chose not to break was sexuality. When she died on Monday at age 61 from pancreatic cancer, it emerged that Ride had a partner. As one friend on Facebook wrote, in jest, “That lady astronaut was gay.”
Yes, Sally Ride, a theoretical astrophysicist, American hero and feminist icon, was a lesbian.
She had a partner for 27 years. According to some news reports, Ride didn’t keep her relationship secret. Perhaps not, but the world certainly didn’t know about it. Most of us learned that tidbit of Ride trivia when her obituary was written.
Ride lived a quiet life, a throwback to another time not so long ago; when someone’s personal life wasn’t splashed all over television or Facebook. There’s a reason it’s called “a private life.”
Ride’s partner was Tam O’Shaughnessy, a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University. She and Ride wrote several books together, and O’Shaughnessy was also chief operating officer and executive vice president of Ride's company, Sally Ride Science, where girls receive encouragement to learn about engineering, math, science and technology.
When she became the first woman in space, she was married to astronaut Steve Hawley. They divorced in 1987.
He said in a statement on Monday, “Sally was a very private person who found herself a very public persona. It was a role in which she was never fully comfortable. I was privileged to be a part of her life and be in a position to support her as she became the first American woman to fly in space.”
She didn’t have an easy ride into space amid media scrutiny. Some reporters back then in the 1980s asked her if she would wear a bra into space. Others asked if she planned on having children. Ride hated that she was asked such sexist questions at NASA news conferences while her male counterparts weren’t.
Ride may have tolerated ridiculous inquires in the quaint ‘80s, but the decade also shielded the shy astronaut. She wasn’t politicized or trending on social media. If she was married, we didn’t obsess over it like we would now in a celebrity-obsessed world. We didn’t become oversaturated with tales of Sally Ride, but we did take a lesson from her.
In death, Ride has already become politicized. Progressive and gay blogs are lamenting the fact that O’Shaughnessy will not receive Ride’s federal benefits because of the Marriage Act (DOMA) and blaming Republicans.
Ride obviously didn’t want to be a gay icon. If she had, she could have easily sit down with Oprah or Ellen and told the world about her sexuality, her private life and her love for O’Shaughnessy, who she had known since she was 12.
Instead, Ride lived in a world where we should all live, a place where we celebrate someone for her accomplishments and not her sexual orientation.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.”

Monday, July 23, 2012


The condensed version:

Long ago and far way, my now deceased brother was in prison. He never physically harmed anyone besides himself, but the bag of emotional harm was spread wide and far.
In this midst of the talk - no, the plea - for someone to help us understand what happened in Aurora this past weekend, it's been hard not to think of my late brother.

No doubt he was brilliant. Troubled. An early, lifelong alcoholic with charm and wit to win anyone over.
But he had his ways. I have a letter he sent me from prison explaining why he kicked me off his visitor's list. In retrospect, he was probably right -- I took his imprisonment as my opportunity to tell him how to live his life.
The letter explains that he has more important things on his mind than listening to me. He had to categorize mimeographed (that's how long ago)  copies of letters he sent to various people so he could remember which persona he had put on for whom. The letter ended with 'that ought to be enough psychological information to keep you busy for a while.' He traded well in irony.

As I'm sure you might figure out, there's a far longer story than the two paragraphs above. But the old, yellow hand-written letter reminds me how fragile our knowledge is when it comes to what makes people think or behave the way they do. Even when we hear the alleged truth, and have the 'truth' confirmed by experts, I just don't believe we ever know. Maybe in the future. But not now.

So, off that thought that's been replaying in my mind and on to Penn State. Good move on he part of the NCAA - fast, decisive, final. I, for one, find it immensely rewarding to know that athletic directors, university and college presidents, and trustees around the country will spend some summer months, before revenue-generating college athletics begin a new year, talking about power, authority, and priorities. Time for the university shape-shifting to begin.

If you're wondering how I managed to connect the Aurora theatre massacre and the Penn State sexual assault crises, it's all about reason, the irrational,  thinking, motivation, power, ego, immortality. Not saying one is like the other. Just saying we have a lot to figure out.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Naming of Parts

Oh, spent a day and a half in the mountains with friends - no news, no television, no anything except the news we brought with us. Actually couldn't see a person or a house anywhere, anytime from the land where our friends live. Just mountains, valleys, antelope, deer, hummingbirds. That's it.
But I'm back to prime time, surrounded by print, voices and paper with details on the killings and injuries at the midnight Friday showing of Batman at the Aurora theatres.

Sure the media from around the country went home, unhappily, because the robot took care of the wiring and explosives at the alleged killer's apartment. Damn, no explosions, no more horror, nothing to report. Alas.

One side note - for anyone left believing that people have the right to bear or bare weapons, rifles, shotguns, handguns, killer guns, any kind of guns in the movie theatre, ballgames, symphony, traffic jam - shame on you. Shame on you for justifying the right for people to buy four guns and multiple rounds of ammunition on line. I'll give you hunting, if I must. Licensed, Registered, Accountable guns for hunting. Not happily, but I'll give it to you. Guns for every day wear? Shame on you.

Now the search is on for WHY?  What made this man (allegedly, this man) kill and shoot almost a third of the audience in a midnight movie?  Why?

We want the naming of parts to begin. Name and claim. Capture it. Encapsulate it. Looking for 'gotcha.'

Already heard and read why he is or isn't bi-polar, depressed, afraid of failure; already heard the discussion of just plain crazy and/or clinically psychotic. Schizophrenic, psychic split, affective fill-in-the- blank syndrome or disorder. Parents? Mom must have done something wrong...and where was that dad...? Can we name them? Was the alleged killer bullied, detached, shunned, bedeviled?  We know what happened. Now we want to know why. Where is the answer?  Desperate for a reason, for some rationale, we grasp on to one expert's or the others diagnosis. Not much of a prognosis here.

While we all receive some comfort, some feeling of being all right in the world when we are given an explanation, what good does the explanation or diagnosis do?
Will it make the people already categorized with the same diagnosis feel better?
Will it produce new medications?
Will the naming of parts prevent the same thing from happening in the future?
Will the naming of parts save anyone?

Hard to think about all of this without conjuring up a sacred poem:

 Naming of Parts

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have the naming of parts.

                                                                          Henry Reed

Friday, July 20, 2012

Camino Time

Got up this morning to post on yesterday's events, but got diverted by an e-mail from my brother Garrett in DC. It was the 'Are You Okay?' title that got me. And that's when I learned of last night's movie shooting at a midnight showing of Batman in Aurora CO.
Went downstairs to get the paper, but nothing in The Denver Post, which had been put to bed way befoe midnight, I guess. Back to the computer and on to the Washington Post to learn that twelve people were killed, fifty injured. A suspect has been caught. The news reports are filtering out through the Post, NYT, and the on-line Denver paper. Who knows if we'll ever know why and how this happened, or understand the motivation and mind of the killer. More horror and sadness, more bewilderment at who we are.

When the morning began I was primed to fill you in on the final stages of Winter Pilgrim's Camino del Norte to Chimayo. After an official blessing at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Denver this Sunday morning, the pilgrims will head off to Littleton and then seventeen more days of walking to Chimayo. The mass (in Spanish, I believe, is a 8:00. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is at 1209 W 36th in Denver. Should be a grand event, watching the priest, Ann, and the other pilgrims head off on the journey. If you aren't interested in the church service, try getting to the church itself a little after 9:00 to see the people of the church handing off their intentions and prayers to to the pilgrims. An event worth attending, for sure. See you there.

If you want to check out the camino plans, go to caminotochimayo.blogspot.com.
At some point, I want to capture Ann's journey of organizing this pilgrimage. The work, planning, details of finding water spots, places to sleep, arranging for food, negotiating with churches along the way - Ann has done it all. The maps are almost complete. The conches - the scallop shells long associated as the symbol of the pilgrimage, came, via Ann's mother, straight from a fish shop on the shores of New Jersey. I sat with Ann yesterday, pulling ribbon through the holes she had punched into each shell, making sure each pilgrim will have the traditional symbol on his or her backpack. None of that 'ye of little faith' around Ann. It's all about faith and conviction, with the hard work needed to keep faith alive.

Oh - and check out Mixed Tastes at MCA in Denver. Best tag team lectures you'll find anywhere. More on that next week. Have to pick the two cherry tomatoes that come each day on my plants and then off to the mountains to visit with friends.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grazed and Glazed

Just looked at yesterday's post, and realized I did go on a bit here and there. I think I write the way I eat: I am a grazer.  I eat breakfast. I graze in the late morning and again in the early afternoon. The graze glaze overcomes me in the afternoon once in a while. If I'm home alone, there's no real dinner, but a couple of grazes. I live with a man who thinks it's only civilized to have dinner - real dinner with protein, vegetables, and other good things. Conversation. Relaxation. I'm all for it, so join in. Even on those days, however, I'm a glazed grazer.

 But I'm beginning to realize that I'm a writing grazer. A small plate of Boy Scouts (still too big to swallow), another about being a grocery store clerk, here a bit, there a bit....Sometimes I engage in graze writing because I don't know enough to go into depth.  For instance, I'd like to write about Syria and Assad's inner circle. But every article I read is about another of Assad's inner circle being killed or disappeared. So I don't know if it's a big circle and hard to notice who's missing or if we're close to the Cheese standing alone. That's it for Syria today.

Mitt Romney's taxes? I don't even want that food put in front of me.

Nelson Mandela's birthday. So sweet, so nourishing, going to graze those Mandela cupcakes until I am sugar-glazed. I've been to the prison site, been to Mandela-land, and always take a Mandela helping.

I so admire the writers who go for full-course writing. Just finished Girl Gone, in awe of the author's ability to serve up the past and present, the upside down cake with aplomb.

Glazing and grazing on a hot summer day. What are you doing?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Running the Numbers

After my claim yesterday that I only knew the invisible police traffic-ticket givers, this morning I had the experience of seeing four human officers in action, and just one radar car officer in his back seat.
Driving down Speer I spied a police officer standing near a bush with a megaphone in her mouth. Oops, not a megaphone at her mouth, but a camera in front of her eye.  Two blocks later, another police officer pulling over the ne'er-do-wells going 40 in a 30 zone. Lots of traffic, so one can't truly speed. But enough pullovers to slow the traffic down, into one lane, with drivers simultaneously cursing the police for causing the traffic jam and praising whomever for not getting a ticket.
On the return drive up 6th Avenue, I spot two police cars with two cars pulled over. More tickets. Again, Sixth is pretty busy, so 'speeding' is a bit of an exaggeration for what the drivers are doing. I know, there are laws and laws are too be obeyed.
Maybe I'm just a bit touchy from the 'rules must be obeyed' experiences from yesterday, and maybe I should feel fortunate that the police in those areas only have to collect revenues, not criminals.

BUT...what about taking a revenue break and sending those officers to London. Seems they could be fully, gainfully employed now and through the Olympics. Why not some police-sharing in London if the need is there? I can't imagine preparing security for anything as large and symbolic as the Olympics.
I hate to even bring up the image, but if you watched the Olympics in Munich 1972, you know the horror that can occur. And forty years later, who knows what technology has wrought?
Personally, I think Security in London will just be about getting people, including athletes, where they want or need to be in a reasonable time frame. Having lived in London for a while, I know transportation moves a lot more slowly than here. Not bad - just adjustments in psyches will have to be made.
Wish I were going to be there....

Not much to say about the presidential election these days because no-one is giving us much to say. My brother Garrett had a brilliant idea - signs and stickers saying Obamacares - but got no response from the O-team. The idea is copyrighted, right here. If I had a printing press, I'd be rolling them out now.

Speaking of politics, whoever told those Egyptian women about Monica Lewinsky? Seriously. How many years later, and Hillary has to be in the political and atmospheric heat of Egypt and get shoes and chants of Monica thrown at her?  This incredible woman deserves a ten-year sabbatical at a spa that allows no television, news or twitter.

This isn't politics, but it's pitiful. The Boy Scouts. Two years of discussion, and gays not allowed. Nope.
Dangerous, aren't they, those gay folks? Imagine a lesbian mom trying to be a cub scout leader. Ban her, throw stilettos at her. Shame on all those tricksters. Can anyone say Jerry Sandusky? Penn State? Catholic Church? Has anyone taught those Cub and Boy scouts about pedophiles? Shame, shame. Run the numbers, guys.

But, on a more inspiring note, and speaking of incredible women, I've read a bit about Marissa Mayer, new CEO of Yahoo. Think she was at Google twelve years, first female engineer and one of first 20 employees. She's 37 and having a baby in the fall, just in case she thought she'd have downtime at Yahoo.
Brilliant, savvy, human, compassionate...I love everything I've read about her, but I especially love this from CNN's list of 11 great things about her. Here's to No. 8.

8. She can make working as a grocery clerk sound glamorous. She told the Los Angeles Times about her high school job working the cash register: "I learned a lot about work ethic from people who had been there for 20 years. They could do 40 items a minute over an eight-hour shift. I was pretty routinely in the 38-to-41 range. I was pretty happy about that. I have a good memory for numbers.
"At the grocery store, you have to remember to charge $4.99 a pound for grapes and 99 cents a pound for cantaloupe by typing in a number code. The more numbers you could memorize, the better off you are. If you had to stop to look up a price in a book, it totally killed your average."

Huh? I had the exact same experience in high school, working at the First National in West Hartford, CT Center. First National is long gone, but not the experience. The harder-to-please customers always came to my line because I was the quickest at the numbers. It was a little sketchier back then, not so much remembering the number codes, but the division seemed to get the other clerks down, as did giving out the change. Had to figure out the "If 89 grapes cost 42 cents, how much are 14 grapes?" kind of thing. 
Even today, when I pay cash, and try to make it easy by giving a twenty dollar bill and a quarter for something that costs $8.20, some cashiers just stare at me. What is this? I've even had to explain it. I know, I know, nobody has to know that sort of meaningless info anymore, but habits die hard.

So, I always figured, no matter how hard things got or how many years I added to my lifespan, I could always get a job working the cash register in a grocery store. Times do change.
Every time I scan my items at Safeway, I am reminded of the one job I thought I'd always be able to do. Now, I'm part of the crowd eliminating the position. You think Marissa Mayer might hire me?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Take it to the Bank

Sure. Easy to say.
That's what I was doing this afternoon in the 96 degree heat - trying to take some papers to the bank for signature. Chase Bank on the corner of 1st and Detroit in Denver. Cherry Creek North. I needed a money order, two papers notarized, and one paper signed along with two photos signed by the bank manager certifying that I was Sheila Wright.
The certification signatures were for my application to attain Irish citizenship, so I can be a dual citizen.

The Certificate of Identity says one of the following must sign this certificate:
Member of the Clergy - don't have one
Medical Doctor - a tad busy trying to keep ovarian cancer patients alive
School Principal - alas, suspect they are all long dead
Bank manager - a winner for sure!
Lawyer - don't really have one. Should I?
Police Officer - mercifully, don't know one, other than the invisible radar ticket man
Magistrate/Judge - haven't been before one since my divorce in 1976

I get one paper notarized, am allowed to withdraw money for a money order, can't get my grandfather's death certificate from 1942 notarized (don't blame them).

BUT.... I also cannot get the bank manager to sign the Certificate of Identity.

I've been banking at the same J.P. Morgan Chase bank for eighteen years. Probably been in the office 200 times. All my CO mortgages, including the one I have now, are at Chase. I know the good Mortgage Man, Scott.
Checking account, savings account, visa accounts, money market all at Chase. Chase never has a certification problem withdrawing $996.40 per month from my checking account for mortgage payment.
No problems at all.

The assistant manager's screen shows all my accounts, the manager has my license to drive in his hand, and I have two photos of me taken ten minutes ago at Kinko's in my hand.

But the bank manager at Chase tells me this afternoon they he cannot sign a Certificate of Identity or sign the back of the two photos. It's against JP Morgan Chase rules.
 I look him in the eyes and say, "Do you know me?"

He doesn't quite look back, but says, "Of course, I know you. But that's not the point."

"Well, if that isn't the point, what is?" I ask.  Murmer, murmer, shuffle, shuffle. Rules. Rules. Phone call confirms the Rules. Apologies. The assistant manager is mortified. It's not her fault, I tell her as I walk out.

I try Wells Fargo, where the bank manager doesn't know me, but does see that I am the same person, in the same clothes, as the photos (now taken over an hour ago). He too has my driver's license in hand.

"Sorry, we don't sign Certificates of Identity anymore. We had trouble with them."

"What kind of trouble?"

"I don't know, that's just what I have been told. Against the rules.:

"Well, what would you suggest? I don't have a lawyer, judge, doc on call or school principal."

"Just go to the police station and I am sure someone will sign."

Me again:  "Being unfamiliar with cop stations, can you tell me where one is?"

"Oh, I have no idea."  End of conversation. License back in my hand, I am off to the other side of Cherry Creek. It's not any cooler now and no shadows in which to walk.

I find a branch of a major bank, find the bank manager, we go over the form and she signs the form and the photos of me (pretty soon they'll be outdated).  Ten minutes. Savvy, organized, to the point.
I want to give her a shoutout and another shoutout to her bank, but I'm afraid she may get fired for doing something responsible and reasonable. But I know where my accounts are going.

Oh so powerful Mr. Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, just by the infinitesimal chance that one of your minions is reading this and passes it on, here's my note to you.

Dear Mr. Oh So Apologetic Jamie Dimon of J P Morgan Chase Bank on the latest and largest Chase faux pas:
 Yes, you shot yourselves in the foot. Yes, you made a blunder. Oh, the blunder will cost more than $5 billion? Tsk, tsk,  Jamie Dimon.
Your mea culpas were well done sir...almost award winning. What's a small bite of humble pie matter in the long run?
How is it your managers of my accounts can't certify that I am who I am - by virtue of actually recognizing me as a long-standing client? How'd you all certify those 'blunders'? Who certifies all the greed that causes billions of dollars in blunders?  I certify that I am Sheila Phelan Wright and I posted this. Even if you don't recognize me. Please deposit my ill will immediately.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Olympic Fashionistas

So people are irritated - maybe more than irritated - that the U.S. Olympic team uniforms are made in China.
The uniforms are Ralph Lauren designed and donated. It's one of those ironies that could have been avoided, but none of the Olympic Committee figured it all out. Makes one wonder what they all put in their re-cycling bins or how much water their gardens get. I think it's called Paying Attention.  Mindfulness, as our Buddhist friend say.
I'm not much of a nationalist - don't do the chest thumping, fist pumping USA is #1 stuff. I don't know if someone's Toyota is made in Japan or the USA. Just not into keeping score of such things.
BUT, the Olympics is about keeping score. Yes, and yea! for the first two women to compete from Saudia-Arabia; love the Jamaican sprinters, and the American swimmers. The list goes on. It's a counting time, even down to the most micro-flash of time that can be counted.
So maybe, just maybe, Ralph Lauren might have upped the sponsorship by having the clothes made in the U.S.  The material - who knows? OR maybe, just maybe the clothes are being made in China from materials that come from the USA. The 'made in' is an old trick. Looking for some of that extra precious virgin squared olive oil made in Italy? For the right price you can find it. Just check where those virgin olives were grown...often far from Italy's shores. Made in x by people from y with products from z.
Cotton field from Texas supplying factories in China with cotton. Nicaraguans carving out handmade wooden gifts from Costa Rica. Follow the bouncing ball.
For great insight into the complications and activities, I'd suggest Travels of a T-Shirt by Pietra Rivoli. She traces a T-shirt in this global economy with great wisdom.  A good read.

So let's let that slippery, slippery slope alone.

I take my offensive elsewhere. It's the design, the statement, the US branding of the Olympic clothes that bothers me. I understand the red, white and blue. But does everyone have to wear a uniform that is right out of the preppy handbook? Want to see more of those U.S. Olympic outfit lookalikes? Hit the New York Times Style section on Sunday, Vogue Magazine or any other prep-prevailing zip code. Just a little too Mitt-ish, too yacht club, too 'I don't worry about wearing white because I never get my hands dirty' for me.

But those Lauren fashionistas must know something I don't know. Maybe the illusions of wealth, prestige and power are more important than I think. Even old-fashioned, must be an American tourist in Khaki's style or semi-sagging pants would be a more accurate portrayal.  And the beret? Are Ralph and friends paying homage to the Green Berets or giving thanks for the Statue of Liberty? Or is it just preppy, study abroad cool?
From the runway to the highest step on the podium.
Burn ‘em! Lawmakers outraged US Olympic uniforms are made in China - The Washington Post

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Meet Thelma

Let me introduce you to Thelma. Thelma of the brownish-red hair, ever so casual trendy hair style and classy outfits. Make-up always subtle, lips colored and lined perfectly. A prolific writer, Thelma doesn't miss a beat, a nuance, a sly remark and can banter with the best of them. She does not suffer fools gladly. A violinist, playing in one of the symphony orchestras for which one has to audition, she practices several times a week. Reads everything worth reading, and doesn't start the day without perusing the New York Times on line. Gifted. High spirited. Adventurous. Had wanted to go to the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Grand Lake this week, but wasn't sure she could do all the hiking and keep up with everyone in the mountains.  Thelma is 92.
That's right - 92 years old. Married 70 years. A New Yorker. Taught piano and violin. One of the first Suzuki teachers. If you know Maude of Harold and Maude, Thelma has some of that Maude spirit.

By e-mail, Thelma had  invited Roscoe and me, my friend Andrea and Dee for dinner at her place last night. We had all met Thelma in various writing classes or theatre workshops. Along with dinner, held in the dining room of her building, we were to meet her husband Bernie. Jokingly she said, "Oh Bernie likes younger people, so I want him to meet you all." (It's been a long time since I've been one of the younger people.)

What I knew about Bernie before meeting him: He was a CPA and had owned a music studio in New York. Thelma and Bernie, no surprise at all, had gifted children and grandchildren, musical talent in abundance.
In the past several  years, Bernie had been suffering some bouts of forgetfulness, etc., so he and Thelma agreed he would take a room in the Assisted Care section of the place where they live. He would get all the care and attention he needed. Thelma would live in their Independent-Living apartment in the same building, and they would continue to be together. Knowing Bernie was in good care, Thelma went off to the Aspen Music Festival. While she was gone, Bernie insisted the caretaker give him the key to his real apartment. Moved himself back in, and was there to greet Thelma when she returned. Unassisted, they're back in their original apartment. Bernie is 93.

Bernie was at the table, half way through his salad, when Thelma brought us into the dining room to sit with him. After introductions she said, "Bernie, these people have heard a lot about you."

"I don't give a damn" was his reply.

And so it went. Thelma ordered his meal, and periodically he would ask, "Why am I sitting here?" Thelma would touch his arm, smile and reply, "we're waiting for our dinner to come."  He didn't say much more - he did ask Thelma who was paying for the dinner, but that was about it. She smiled, said nothing.

Finally, she decided he had been at the dining table long enough and helped him walk to the lobby and library of their living place.
She returned, sighing. "It's so hard to watch someone you knew at his best decline and become another person. Bernie was a beautiful man and still is. He's stubborn, but so am I. He responds to our grandchildren more than he does to anyone else. He has a form of dementia, but not Alzheimer's."
Before we returned to talk about what we were all writing, she turned to me and said, "Did you read the NYT on-line article about Alzheimer's this morning?"  I had, and we talked briefly about the research.
We moved from that topic to the music festival in the mountains she'll be attending soon. Staying in a house with sixteen other people.

I could tell you more, but hope this introduction helps you feel as if you've also met Thelma. Everyone should meet Thelma.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Harold and Maude

 Short blog today. Guest blogger Robert Wright. Fits right in with the walks we've been taking down various memory lanes. I have those images, memories, scenes that I worry about re-visiting. Fear of disappointment.
Other times the strolls are well worth it. Hope this jogs some good memories for you today.

 For the first time in well over 20 years I watched Harold and Maude last night with Mari Elena.  The reason I hadn't watched it again over the years was because I was always afraid I would not be able to handle watching it emotionally.  Also, I had this fear that the movie, like some of the pop culture from my youth, wasn't necessarily as good as I recalled all these years later.
But it was on "On Demand" cable, so we watched it.  I really had a lump in my throat the entire time, what with that great soundtrack from Cat Stevens, the great plot and Maude's gems of wisdom, not to mention the utter hilarity of the scenes.  In other words it was just as great as I remembered it. 

 It was almost hard to watch, in an enjoyable/emotional way, for reasons I am not even quite sure.  I couldn't help but think there were some seeds planted in me in that movie, of independence, irreverence and an attempt to embrace the good things in life.  What a great movie. What a great memory.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Birds of a Feather

There's a thread here from yesterday...the pleasures of reflecting on books that were of great influence led me right down nostalgia alley to the graveyard of great teachers. I'm sure it's a graveyard because I thought Miss Clark and Mr. McEvoy were ancient back when I met them. Miss (no Ms. then) Clark and I met when I was in fifth grade; Mr. McEvoy and I became acquainted when I was in seventh grade.
Of course there have been others, many others, who sustained my love for learning, for knowing more, for being in awe of the mysterious. I wouldn't have found Chaucer or Yeats without those professors. Too many Conard teachers to name. Wouldn't have pushed on through that dissertation without Dr. Brazziel at UConn.
But Miss Clark and Mr. McEvoy were different. They cut to my core, my very sense of  self and identity.

Miss Clark taught fifth and sixth grade English at what was then Batchelder School in Hartford CT. Urban kids. Most of us were sons and daughters of working class parents. Irish, German, French, Polish, Italian and a few Greeks. A few of my friends lived in one-family houses, but not many. We were mostly two- and three-family house dwellers. On the fringe of our 'neighborhood' was Charter Oak Terrace, the first low-income housing project in the U.S., or so I've been told. Dorothy Swider and the Peterson twins lived there.
School was important to our parents, so, for the most part it was important to us.
Miss Clark taught us to diagram sentences. Way back then, verbs, adverbs, prepositions mattered. I'm sure anyone in Miss Clark's diagramming classes, regardless of where their lives wandered, never said 'My brother and me.' Never.
 'Nothing would ever be more important to our educations than mastering diagramming,' was Miss Clark's mantra.

I loved diagramming those sentences. The more complex the better. I was a pro. Could have grown up to be a professional sentence diagramming champ. Miss Clark liked me.
But along with sentence diagramming and academics, I started to love doing some of the things that the soon to be too-cool -for-their-own-good kids loved to do. Things like climbing a hill and throwing stones at cars passing by, telling jokes in the hallway, pretending not to care about school. I think I was the only pretender in the group.
One afternoon Miss Clark called me into the classroom to talk. She started off with the 'you are so smart,' 'are you having trouble at home,' gig that teachers do well. After a while she stopped talking. Looking me straight in the eyes she said, "Birds of a Feather Flock Together. Pick your flock carefully."
Knocked me out. By the following year, we had moved to the suburbs. Think my parents took a good look at the future, and decided to flock to the land of better birds. I never saw Miss Clark again, never thanked her, and never forgot her.

As life would have it, in our new home we were in the very early housing developments in West Hartford. The Cape, split level and ranch home type of development. Up the hill were the WASPS; we were the middle-class working families in this locale.
For whatever reason, I signed up for Latin in 7th grade as my one elective. Walked into Mr. McEvoy's class first day and waited for him to arrive. In he walked, looked at all of us and said, 'please rise.' We did.
He gave a brief introduction, and told us to take a seat so he could tell us the class rules.

Rule No. 1: He would treat us as adults; therefore, he would call us Miss or Mr. X.  We would call him Sir or Mr. McEvoy.
Rule No. 2: You must decide now if you want to be a serious student of Latin. In my class, any grade below 80 is failing. Why? Because anyone studying Latin is going to college. Anything below 80 in college is failing (those were the days).  No-one else in this junior high will study as hard as you do in this class. Choose another class if you don't want to work hard.

As you can probably figure, little Miss Diagramming Whiz loved Latin and was good at it. No-one, even my college graduate mother, had ever mentioned college to me. Never. But I was going to college.
Most of the students in class that first day stayed in Latin; all of us did well. Oh there were crazy stories about Mr. McEvoy. He looked sort of Asian to us. Then someone said the army had changed his face so he could be a spy on the Japanese in WW2. Talk of his spying and knowing Japanese and multiple languages filtered through the hallways.
AND...when Mr. McEvoy had lunch duty, he walked around and made us eat everything we had taken, while giving little talks about starving people, etc. Well, that was our proof that he had been a spy in the war. He spoke about starving children with absolute authority.

Truth be told, those same restless hormones, rebellious spirit, 'I don't care' attitude followed me to junior high. I came by that attitude honestly and have the ancestors to prove it. As prankish minds would have it, my three friends who didn't take Latin and I decided one week that we would all wear black on the following Friday and that we would not finish our food, regardless of what Mr. McEvoy said.
We wore black, didn't eat all our food. The principal let Mr. McEvoy punish us for our refusal to follow directions and/or follow the rules. His punishment: We were to stay after school and pick 100 dandelions (from the roots) from the Sedgwick grass. I think we used forks from the cafeteria. Finally finished, we brought the dandelion weeds in a bag to him. That's when I learned that our dandelions could make soup for a whole village in the starving world.

I went back to Latin class the next day, ashamed, very ashamed. No phone call to my parents, detention, principal's office - just dandelion picking.
Several days later, Mr. McEvoy called me after class. Terrified,  I started mumbling apologies. He looked me in the eyes and said "Birds of a Feather Flock Together. Just remember that."

Monday, July 9, 2012

To Read or Not to Read?

Just to finish up on the Circus Fire: The music that played during the fire was Stars and Stripes Forever, over and over. Apparently, everyone associated with the Circus knew the band would play Stars and Stripes if there were an emergency. That makes perfect sense. Good planning. The band played on. But then it found its way to playing Old Black Joe by Stephen Foster. Saturday I googled oldblackjoe youtube and the following came up on my search: Black Pussy Ghetto Girls, MomBoyset, Black hoe sucking a dick. Lots more black hoes. Lots more. Tried Old Black Joe (words separated) and came up with the song. What was that search engine thinking? Tsk Tsk.

But moving on to the present day ever too early this morning I clicked on the Washington Post news only to watch the video of the Afghan woman, accused of adultery, being shot in the back by members of the Taliban. Sitting, dressed in all white, the better to see the blood, I suppose, waiting for death amongst the cheering men. It's not a new story; it's an old tale, told too often, and allowed to happen all too often. Made me think of all the kind and thoughtful Muslims who will be tarnished by the trigger of the Taliban. Evolution sure takes longer for some than it does for others.

It was the second cup of black coffee that jolted me from the execution to the lottery. Shirley Jackson 's The Lottery.  From there it was just another gulp to the Hunger Games. All this before 7:00. What's a mind to do?
Remember that old, old yellow pages, 'Let Your Fingers Do the Walking'? Well, I did...but went to the computer instead of the phone. I figured I wasn't the first one to make the Lottery-Hunger Games connection, and I wasn't. Read a couple of articles and then decided, as I had read - skimmed - The Hunger Games months earlier I should re-read The Lottery. I  Clicked on Classicshorts.com where Shirley Jackson's short story promised to be and up came the following: 'Someone objects to this story being on Classicshorts.com, so it has been removed.
Someone objected to the story? 'Objection denied,' I wanted to shout. Objecting to just about everything I had read or thoughts this a.m, I left it all behind and went on with the day.

But, of course, it didn't all get left behind. I thought of ignorance, illiteracy, and evil. And I thought of all those influential books that opened my mind, helped me get a glimpse into psychology before I even knew the word. Classics, I guess.. Children/Young Adult classics. The Lottery, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace. Preparation for The Stranger, Othello, and The Great Gatsby. The list goes on, transitioning into more complexity through the years. It wasn't all high road stuff. Comics and magazines made their marks also. The Baltimore Catechism. Weekly Reader. True Romance - all bouncing off one another.
What would it be like to be illiterate, to not read or be read to, to not have the privilege to see the complexities, the perspectives, the nuances of being in the world? What would it be like to grow up memorizing someone's rules instead of thinking one's way through a story?

Early this morning, watching the hideous video of the woman's execution, I didn't imagine this post would be about the value of literature. All the reading in the world won't truly explain, for me, why people's heads get cut off, why a woman is shot in the back, or why we seem to have some primal need for scapegoats. But it helps.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Circus Fire 1944

Three years old, spoiled, sweet and saucy, I sat on my mother's lap in the car on that sizzling July 6th when my parents and I set off for the grand circus in Hartford CT. I'm sure the windows were rolled down while my parents smoked their Chesterfields. My seven- month old brother Shaun, in his blue basket in the back seat of the car, was on his way to Nana and Mary's for the day. Originally, we were all going to the circus, but the heat was a deal-breaker for the baby.
"Going to be a dandy," said my mom after climbing the stairs to Nana and Mary's third floor apartment, handing over baby Shaun for the afternoon. Ever so young was I, but not too young to appreciate having my parents to myself for a special adventure.
Special it was.  168 people killed and 700 injured of the 6,000 who were trapped in the big tent ablaze. Records show that the inside of the big tent had been waterproofed with paraffin wax and gasoline - a deadly combination.
We've been through a siege of fires in Colorado this summer, and every photo of uncontained flames reminds me of July 6, 1944.  The hazy sky today in Denver is a result of fires in Wyoming blown by winds in to CO.
Hard to imagine the skies in Hartford on the eve of the that fire in '44.

What do I remember or what memories have I constructed of the special adventure that turned quickly to tragedy? There's no clear line between memory and stories told so often that they become memories. And as smart as my parents thought I was, I doubt my memory chip was cataloging and categorizing the details. But this is what's in my memory box:

Elephants, lions, tigers parading in a circle to triumphant music.
The Flying Wallendas up above.
A big bang and cloud of smoke.
The music continues.
My father jumping down the bleachers and my mother throwing me to him.
Pushing, shoving, weaving through a slit in the tent side. Legend/truth has it, a boy scout slit the canvas with his knife and saved hundreds of us.
My mother, father and I clutching hands hard enough to hurt. 
Walking forever to find our car, and then it being too hot for anyone to open the doors.
Finally making it back to Bristol, to look up and see my grandmother and aunt on the porch of their third floor home, waving and crying.
Everyone sobbing and hugging. Baby Shaun crying in his basket.
Meeting Sandy Wakeman at Girl Scout camp and learning her mother had died in the fire.
Thereafter, my mother only sitting next to the exits at the movies or theatres.
Years later, learning my brother Garrett was convinced that the scar on the back of his neck was from a cut that occurred when he was thrown by my mother to my father at the circus fire. He hadn't been born at the time of the circus fire.
 Decades later, meeting my neighbor George Emerson, whose father had taken the famous photos of Emmett Kelly at the fire.
Learning from Garrett's memories that trusting the details of my memories as a three-year old might not be absolutely accurate.

Happy to be here to tell the story, whatever factual truth it contains. The feelings, the emotions are truthful. That's good enough for me.

              Circus Fire
Emmet Kelly, world-famous clown,
carrying water bucket to help put out the fire.

The big tent burst into flame as the music played.