Thursday, December 10, 2009

White Out!

Since you know I now write from Buffalo, you must know what I'm talking about when I say "white out." Or maybe I mean that stuff we used to have on our desks way back when we used typewriters. There used to be jokes about blonds painting their computer screens with whiteout to fix typos. I guess blonds (and machines) don't do metaphors.

In a real whiteout - not the kind right now where there's an undifferentiated white fog blowing across the parked cars - your brain loses the ability to orient you and you can walk in circles getting nowhere just like some people did in our great blizzard of '77.

I've been moving from a house to a much smaller apartment these past many days, which has meant sorting lots of stuff and sending lots of stuff to the dumpster or the Goodwill (actually, AmVets, Salvation Army, St. Vincent dePaul, spreading things around a bit).

It surprises me somewhat that every little thing I grab elicits some familiar memory. Even the tiniest little oddball screws which I'd thrown into the oddball jar can sometimes remind me of the thing it came from, and the process I was involved in, getting it out. It makes an interesting trip down memory road to move. Like total recall at death, but a little more spaced out.

Some of the stuff is big, like the wetsuit and SCUBA regulator which I just tossed into the scrap heap. I'd actually squeezed myself into that wetsuit one last time not all that long ago, trying to rehabilitate my diving memories. My buddy and now business partner got me into it on a kind of dare. And it was really fun, until the regulator valve seat - which I'd repaired the way I do everything - blew. I actually did laugh all the way to the surface, but I didn't make a fool of myself since the water covered up the guffaw.

I must have long since gotten over any fear of drowning I should have (the time my life did flash before mind's eye). I seem pretty cool about making a fool of myself too, and that used to really paint me into a corner.

Throwing that stuff out was easier than you might think. Those memories aren't going anywhere - I mean they're pretty well fixed - and if I were to want to try SCUBA diving again, I think the equipment has evolved quite a bit since my day. Not to mention cracking rubber and flaky - literally - regulator valve seats.

Still, it's really hard for me to scrap the actual hardware, each piece of which was carefully machined. And the rubber wetsuit which I'd scrimped and saved for. Ordinarily, I keep these things around for those just-in-cases where I might be able to repurpose them. But there's no room anymore.

All through the house-move there have been things which pop into my head which I still have clear and present use for. And I can't place them. I've learned to stop searching because everything is so scattered around, so I tuck the item away in my head, metaphorically, feeling reasonably confident that the thing will turn up at some point where I least expect it. It usually does.

Like this morning, remembering a sweater which is definitely in my current ready-to-wear collection, and I have absolutely no idea where it could be. The piles have been reduced now, and there just aren't that many places. So suddenly, again, I'm thrown into a kind of paranoia that it must have gone out among the bags and bags of rags and clothes that I've repurposed to some other person or sadly, to the landfill.

Except that I'm pretty confident I was more careful than that, flailing through the stuff and making triage decisions. Scrap/recycle, donate, keep. It was easy when it was a matter of size, or utility, as with the SCUBA stuff. But lots of little things still only exist in mind's eye. Oh well, I'll get over it.

Some things I just can't get rid of. I tried to give my boat away, and lots of people fell in love or so they said. But at the end of the day, they all decided one by one that they just couldn't swing it, and so it's back to me. Puts me in mind of my yesterday's post about marriage - I guess there are some kinds of falling in love which just overcome common sense entirely, and some kinds which go too far in the direction of fantasy. I probably should have put a price-tag on it, which would at least have limited me to the folks who can afford to live out fantasies.

And there are some other things which I still need to buy. For me, the experience of walking the aisles at Target, say, is like walking in a snowstorm. If there's some particular thing you need, a spice rack say, or towel bars, there's almost no real way to know which of the bejillion aisles to start with. And there's no real way to know if the thing even exists anymore.

The apartment is small, and I have space along the cupboards above the sink for spice racks of the sort that you used to see all over the place. Now, should these be near the kitchen gadgets, the closet organizers, the bathroom equipment? You might think you know, but I can almost guarantee that if you do it's because you have become an expert shopper, which I'm not.

Each time I go to a place like Target, I have to reorient myself to what they mean by housewares, say, as opposed to home-improvement. Bathroom towel racks are in among the towels, but the kitchen ones aren't in among the blenders. In the end, I either buy something which has similar utility but only the vaguest family resemblance to what I was looking for, or I walk away in a state of dizziness.

I have a magnetic towel bar now, which sticks to the refrigerator instead of the simple swinging dowels which used to be so common at every corner hardware store.

And the magnetic towel bar got twisted beyond recognition in the process of liberating it from its packaging. Now the packaging was recylcable carboard, but a whole hell of a lot sturdier than the sheet-stainless which looked so thick when packaged. I know you're picturing me yanking and pulling, but really it was simple trompe d'oeil and my body was doing my thinking for me. It really looked like the balance was all in the other direction. It was meant to.

Now I do have to say that this really pissed me off. Not just the ruined stupid towel rack which cost way too much, but the time it took searching for it and then not finding anything even vaguely similar to what I'd wanted. And no people around to simply ask where they stock such things.

I think lots of people enjoy shopping. They don't mind wandering the aisles, and discovering things they never knew about. Impulse buying, maybe. I know I have to keep myself in check when I see something I'd like to have. "Stay focused Rick, you have no funds nor real need for that, just get what you came in for." And then I still end up with something not quite useful.

Anyhow, I should really just make free and ask my shopping-expert peers. Except they all seem to be loudly talking on their cellphones. "Grace is love and . . . " some formula I can't remember, though I really thought I would. The woman kept repeating it like a mantra to whomever she was talking with, and then pretty much held a worship service while shopping. It sounded like a kind of math lesson. Then the other likely prospect was negotiating the delivery of a CPAP machine for her husband, who seems to take it personally that he snores too loudly.

I hate the fact that there are stores I have to drive to, even though I live in the most walkable area of Buffalo. There are no local hardware stores, and some of the most basic basics are hard to find. I'd hazarded out to lay in some groceries before the whiteout storm which has been realized this morning.

Well, I suppose that back in the day we all had little dowel towel racks because some enterprising merchandiser put them in front of our faces at the local store, and we all thought we needed them. And then pretty soon we found them useful, until suddenly they weren't. Or they just started looking ugly and out of style.

I have all my books now in stackable legal bookshelves inherited from my Dad's law practice after they got water damaged during a fire. I think the legal booksellers provided these back in that day when the books were leather bound, and had to be oiled every year. Later on, pages would be added to looseleaf books as the laws would change at an accelerated pace and with proliferating words designed, I can only guess, to meet specific hostage requirements for specific representatives without naming specific names. Pretty soon no law office could possibly be large enough to have a complete set of books and it all went online.

Pretty soon my bookshelves will be for decoration only too. You know, after I get my e-reader for Christmas because it's so freaking obviously the gift of the season for folks like me who read a lot.

But these bookshelves do remind me somehow of those spice racks I couldn't find. I think they also must have been distributed right along with the spices. But these days it's like trying to find one of those cheap and simple Melitta coffee filter cones which are all you really need to make a perfect cup of coffee. You can find a million of them packaged up in some sort of gadgetry to heat the water and send it through. At almost any price you wish. But you can hardly ever find just the cone, especially when you really need it.

Well, and so what's this all about? Why do I keep writing like this? Why do I keep rambling about among all the things which pop into my head depending on where I am and what I'm doing and what's the state of the weather?

For one thing, I think that's what blogging is. It's somewhere between writing a letter and writing an article for publication. It's fun and rather low impact. But I also find that it clears my head. It makes some shape of my life.

Now I'm certain that for many of you, were you to try it out, you'd find that it would give you better direction, sense of purpose, clarity about your decisions. For me, as you can tell, it just puts me further up in the air.

I trimmed my life partly because I'd thought I was moving to Seattle. But even trimmed, I don't think I have anywhere near the funds to move the remainder that far. And pulling a trailer on a VW with 300,000 miles already on it doesn't seem the greatest idea in the world.

The boat was supposed to be trucked tomorrow, but the trucker tells me that with this wind and lake effect blowing snow, there's something like a snowball's chance in hell that it's going to move. The house was supposed to close this week, but I'm sure the weather now will provide cover for whatever the hell's really going on among the lawyers. It was supposed to be last week, and the week before that, and etcetera, and now I'm going to have to kite another month's mortgage for a cold and empty space I no longer occupy but still heat and insure!

I suppose I should get pissed off, but they say that in Buffalo if you don't like the weather you should just wait a minute and it will change. That's not exactly true, since I hardly think the sun is coming out today, but if you limit your expectations properly, it really can surprise you. Many's the time I've been in the middle of Lake Erie and been surprised by what the weather came up with contrary to the broadcast expectations. That plus its shallow depth explain the record-book number of shipwrecks. Which explains my one-time passion for SCUBA diving in case you wonder why anyone would dive in water you can't see through.

I'm pretty sure true midwesterners have a completely different mindset. They can see the weather coming at them for days and days. And those who live in sunny California. They must actually believe that there's nothing they can do wrong which putting a cap on taxes wouldn't fix.

We actually tried simple-minded here in Buffalo back when we were "Talking Proud." It doesn't really work so well California, and you should get a clue.

Hey, I'm pretty OK with where this went today. I know you think I shouldn't be. More rambling, heading noplace in particular. But I did get out what I mean to do by writing. These words are like the stuff I've been triaging. Each one resonates with its use and usage. Each one comes to me as though by random chance. And I slog my way through them as though swimming through dark polluted waters, or trudging through a snowstorm.

Wondering what shape will resolve itself from the whiteout, and hoping that it's not some scary form like that white cadaverous huge sheephead which nearly caused me to swallow or spit out my SCUBA regulator back when I was junior Diver Dan. Or the taillights suddenly flashing an impossible stop along the blizzardy highway.

There's nothing new to any of this except the 'me myself and I' which makes this writing so narcissistically lousy compared to the real thing. But, well, it's not as though I'm trying to get paid for it.

I'd thought I was going to write about "cronic," a term - I now gather - for hi-grade weed. About how difficult it is to look it up on the Internet, because the search engines all helpfully substitute chronic, whose meaning I already know, thank you very much. And then there are a lot of auto dealerships out there, for some reason, called "Cronic". I wonder if they're as embarrassed as we are at by what pikk means in Nobel country. Oh hell, my name could have been Dick, so who really cares, eh? I mean the Pulitzer prize people should be embarrassed by their name, as should Nobel, Carnegie, and maybe even Bill Gates.

Just don't try contacting me at dick@pikk because computers, remember, are really literal, no matter how funny you think the combo is. I really should have been born a blond, don't you think?  I mean, metaphorically speaking.

OK, so you're going to think I'm making this up, but out my window this very minute, I see blue sky. No shit, honest!

And our President is headed over to Norway now to pikk up the prize he says he doesn't really deserve. He's already insulted the King by suggesting that he might have more important things to do than dine with him. I suppose anybody could use a spare million dollars, but something tells me he doesn't quite have the degrees of freedom right now to do with it what you and I might like to. I'm sure that whatever he does will be whatever is required by public opinion.

And he'll be blamed for that, you know, as if he doesn't have a thought of his own.

The guy who clued me in to the meaning of cronic urges me to stay in the mainstream where I belong. Yeah, I'm pretty whitebread, and will likely get swamped when the real storm comes, or so he suggests. This fellow is one of the few I know who actually does transact business across the color divide, and friendships and no, I'm not talking about dealing cronic.

I've got a hell of a lot of learning to do. But at least I'm not obsessing about the weather. Well, not the way you do. I mean I'm plenty worried about global warming, and I don't need any jokes about how more hot air is not exactly the solution. I'm working on it. I mean, the solution really is in and through and by words.

The solution is as simple as a metaphorical reversal. Where God comes down to earth, in just the simplest sense that we stop making an abstraction real. Where we take all that unbelievable talent, skill and training which we deploy for the purposes of driving and of shopping and use it for something actually useful.

Of course that would mean end-runs around a system which elaborates laws for the purpose of rendering up all the veto power of every single senior representative. That would mean people letting go and breathing; getting in touch with qi, a nicely untranslatable Chinese term you all think you understand.

Those kung-fu movies which show the impossible skill [kung-fu] of martial artists attempt to depict the results of endless training which gets your mind out of the way of what your body has been trained for. And your body learns to move in ways as if by accident, out of the way of blows, or more absurdly, of speeding bullets.

That kind of kung-fu training is at least as difficult as are the moves for ever greater control which we in the West still try to master. Finally turning over the matter to some machine which can be calibrated to near perfection. And still the bullets find their way into innocent flesh.

OK, true confessions. I actually did just watch Terminator Salvation, where the Governator made a cameo appearance. I'm pretty sure it was just his likeness, a kind of avatar of virtual reality, for which he maybe donated his royalty to some PR-friendly cause. Then I watched Red Dawn, making good on an old promise to the right wing of the family.

Neither of these is very good in the highbrow sense of cinema. But they do just fine to express the plot I'm scripting. Ideological machine-think is the thing we should be fighting. And just as soon as we relax our grasping grip on all the things which we think will make our life better, or last a few hours longer, just that soon our collective efforts can turn, as though catalyzed, into something as much more human compared to how we act now, as is my pikk is from my thinking heart.

At the moment, we all have fallen for the silly and ideologically based notion that the more we consume, the more the economy grows and the more likely it is that we can have full employment again. And yet the number of our fellow citizens who remain in a state of "food insecurity" now numbers a percentage of us far larger than any conscionable profit margin. Some 30 million is what I hear.

Clearly, the pinnacles of success keep getting sharper and steeper, while the puddle at their bottom is over peoples' heads. What if, and this makes a really really big if, we actually did let everyone in to hospitals who needs them. What if food were as free and cheap as public education. What if death were not so scary when its time comes around, and so people would not grab after those last few months which cost such a huge part of what we spend on healthcare. What if the mega-profiteers were not controlling all the conversations?

Isn't it possible that we could find a better way to organize ourselves? Where each of us might have a chance at matching wits with things that interest and excite us? Utopian, perhaps, but this change requires no particular ideology. It just requires each of us to let go a little and to share. It requires each of us to sidestep the emotional quality of money, say, and let it flow in directions not dictated so much by want. Well, depending on how you use the term.

I'm guessing - it's really just a wild guess - that the economic system would look a lot like capitalism, written very small. That all the monopolies would be, by consent and decree, government monopolies. And that life would get a lot more interesting than it is now with us all interacting with and by and through all sorts of silly widgets.

P.S.   Always the bigger fool, it took more lily-white snow for me to overcome my mental color divide and realize there actually is a hardware store within walking distance. Of course between shoveling, walking there and nearly losing my ears, and returning, the sidewalk needs shoveling again as if I'd never touched it. And there was this really nice, um, blond lady who evidently knows hardware who directed me to everything I've been looking for. Except the spice rack. She helpfully directed me to Target for that. I guess we all have our blind spots.

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