Category Archives: Sweetwater

The Myth of Bootstraps

There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump (OHM) supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.

I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.

But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things the OHM says is causing poverty; and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?

No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?

All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Myths brought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that  memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.

…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,

James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States. 

His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”  The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…

…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.

As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple… 

…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity. 

Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work. 

The above hits the high points without getting into the meat of the episode, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,

In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.

This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.

“You had a population that wanted to cling to those things because it justified them not sharing.” – Jack Frech Athens County welfare director

As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.

The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is; I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.

“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.” – Thomas Paine Agrarian Justice The Writings of Thomas Paine pg 331

The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.

I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.

Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?

The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations now. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.

Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.

We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of  the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.

Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.” 

Personal responsibility or paying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way.  Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.

While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.

The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. This was important above all things; maintain the illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status. That illusion kept me working.

Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the peirced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty that has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,

Listening to the people who attempt to defend their affinity for the Orange Hate-Monkey in the podcast isn’t helping. Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years. The fact that the researchers on this podcast are so divorced from the truth of the matter, that the reality-disconnected people they have been interviewing actually turned out to be the ones who had the last laugh, that they got their American Psycho candidate on a collision course with the White House, in the face of the researcher’s own blithe belief that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the presidency, isn’t helping with the surreality of this moment in time.

I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time my mom made the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.

So mom remarried. He was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.

Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.

The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.

When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.

For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.

This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,

Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.

I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.

I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.

It’s not about IQ… it’s the context you inhabit

In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?

With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.

Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility that happily ever after might ever occur.

“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Martin Luther King Jr.

It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.

It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.

In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.

With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.

Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.

In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.

It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.

There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.

Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.

Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.

When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.

With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

This brings me full circle. From bootstraps to bootstraps. How can you lift yourself with your own bootstraps when you have no boots? Casey Gerald asks that very question in a TED talk that I favorited over a year ago. I love this talk. It makes me cry and laugh and cry.

“The gospel of doubt does not ask that you stop believing, it asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe.”Casey Gerald

Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly.  We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real. 

Coping With Dysgraphia

For Gregory

When I was a senior in high school I had a friend who would borrow one of the novels I carried everywhere with me and casually doodle the most amazing cartoons on the flyleaf. His cartoons were better than the things published in MAD or Cracked. My memory of that time may be a bit hazy now, but they were better to me then. Funnier. I marveled at the effortless way the pictures just came out of his hands, at his ability to draw, to write. It struck me as such a wonderful gift, to be able to take a pen and have it just make the lines you wanted to make and to make only those lines in the ways you saw them in your head.  Freehand artwork, freehand writing, is almost magic in my eyes.

They didn’t have a word for my disability when I was in school. I was never quite like the other children. Teased frequently, I hid in books and stared at my desk, afraid of catching anyone’s eye lest I be subjected to more derision. I didn’t know what made me different, but I knew that I was different all the same. The teasing I was subjected to originated with my second grade teacher who thought it would be a good idea to have the other kids torment me to make me write faster.

In my mind the first and second years of elementary school seem to blur together. It’s hard to separate one form of abuse from another. One of my teachers thought that teasing me was the ticket to getting me to perform. The other one thought that daily corporal punishment was it. Both were dissuaded from their delusions by my parents. The corporal punishment stopped, but the teasing continued until I moved away from that town. I wasn’t to be free of the hangups that this teacher’s cruel methods of instruction inflicted on me until well into adulthood. To this day I remain a public school skeptic largely because of my experiences in school at the hands of the children and this particular teacher, evidence of just how much damage one wrong idea can inflict.

My problems in school were bad enough that the school insisted my parents take me to see a specialist. We went to see the same diagnosticians in Denver two times; once in second grade and again in 5th grade. The school insisted that there was something wrong with me; it wasn’t the teacher, it wasn’t the other children. There was something wrong with me. So my parents paid for the doctors and paid for the travel, and off we went on what was a grand adventure from the perspective of my seven year old self.

I remember the experience because it was such a rare occurrence to be in another place. The Rocky Mountains around Denver were about as different from the grassy plains of Kansas as you can get. It was the first airplane flight I could remember, and it made me love flying. I have a great love of Colorado largely because of the experiences I went through in Denver on those two visits.

The doctors were nice. They gave me various tests. Handwriting tests, drawing tests. Clearly they were looking at motor control in the manner after the time (late 60’s early 70’s) trying to figure out why I couldn’t write well. Writing really hurt. It still hurts. The stupid pencils never went where I wanted them to go. Lines were never straight. Letters were never legible. Cursive? Cursive was a practice in slow torture. Every assignment in school made me suffer in silence; unable to write and yet required to write. Homework went undone. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I literally would grow tired from the constant pain of writing and simply pass out on my homework.

My mother doesn’t remember the word dysgraphia being used at the time, but what I was suffering through was distinctly dysgraphic in nature.

I loved to read. Reading and writing are two completely different exercises in the mind. The words would sometimes get tangled up in my head, but the places I could go while reading were so much better than the reality I was facing that I just soldiered on through the occasional confusion. But writing? I flunked a semester of english my sophomore year in high school because half of my grade would be based on a term paper I would be required to write long-hand. The subject of the paper that was selected for me was of no interest to me. I asked the instructor for a different subject more than once, only to be told I would write the paper and to stop arguing about it. In one of my first acts of rebellion I flunked the class rather than spend a week or more in agony only to have the paper rejected because it couldn’t be read.

I have never taken notes in class. When told to take notes I would write a few lines and stop (a trick I learned early. If the page is blank the teacher will notice and scold you) Notes were pointless. By the time I had written down the first sentence I’d have missed the next three sentences. What I learned to do was listen and absorb so that I could repeat what was said almost verbatim, at least briefly. Eventually I learned to synthesize the information internally and was able to rapidly apply it to new problems without ever having to write anything on paper.

I only recently learned that the ability to synthesize data internally is itself a special skill. Most people cannot remember things, cannot apply knowledge, without writing these things down.

Few of my teachers believed that I could do this, that I could absorb and apply knowledge without first committing it to paper. They especially didn’t believe it because I failed so frequently to do anything demonstrative in front of the class. I was afraid to write poorly and so would take far too long at the blackboard to be able to demonstrate anything to anybody.

Even though the specialists who tested me in fifth grade issued written instructions, specific to each teacher about the challenges I was facing learning in a classroom environment, the instructions were discarded as lending favoritism to a child that the school teachers and administration frankly thought was the problem in the first place. My mother was livid at the time and still gets angry talking about the subject. Did they know how much all of this testing cost? Paid for twice out of my parent’s own pockets? At the insistence of the school? Testing and findings to be discarded as too much trouble to institute, to much trouble to turn into a different teaching model?

What they did instead was slap a label on me. They called me slow.

I carried that label with me from second grade through seventh grade. The label and the torment only stopped at that point because I moved away from my hometown in Western Kansas for a few years; and when I came back to Kansas for my sophomore year of high school it was to a different town, Garden City, and to a different school. I never did spend any significant time in Leoti from that point forward. My nostalgia for the place I long considered home is leavened with ambivalence and rebellion. Rebellion against the label slow.

My sophomore and junior years of rebellion in Kansas and the custody of my father got me sent back to Texas and my mother. The all too familiar plight of children caught up in divorce. Shuttle diplomacy and holidays with the other parent. Custody battles and missed child support payments. From Leoti, Kansas and slow to Stinnett, Texas and rebellion. Garden City, Kansas and missed opportunities to Sweetwater, Texas and make the best of what you have left.

My senior year of high school in the late, hot Texas summer of 1980. My friend and his artwork were also transplants to the town and the school. Since we were both new, we decided to navigate the terrain together. Watch each other’s backs. The counselor lined out the required classes we would need to finish the year and graduate. He and I would be in organic chemistry together. A class we both found so boring that I would read and he would doodle on my books. We also had a few other classes together.

This is small town rural Texas, education isn’t something they spend a lot of money on. In the Kansas high school I had attended the previous year I had automotive mechanics and welding and a virtual smorgasbord of other classes I could have picked through if I had wanted to test my abilities in other areas. In small town Texas I essentially had two elective choices; metal shop and woodshop. Home economics would not be offered to boys. There was an FFA group, but animal husbandry was not my thing even if we had a farm to raise animals on (we didn’t) When we were unimpressed with the first two options, the counselor did admit that they also had a typing class and technical drafting. These were clearly choices she didn’t think anyone should be interested in. When we went around to talk to the various instructors to see what we might be interested in, I had an epiphany.

An epiphany in the example drawings from the drafting class. Drawings that illustrated how to build things. I had been a model builder for years by that point, but it had never occurred to me that someone had to draw those assembly instructions. It was the drafting equipment. The drafting machines, boards, lead holders, straight-edges and triangles. The realization dawned on me. I didn’t need fine motor control as long as I had an edge to guide the pencil. I could focus on pressure and distance and not worry about direction. Writing? Slow, painful, tedious work; but block lettering gave me the ability to finally be able to communicate what I wanted to say clearly. Leroy lettering guides kept the hands moving, forming the correct shapes.

My mother could not believe I wanted to draw when I came home from school that first day. After everything I had been through, the problems I had writing and communicating all my life. Writing, she told me, was something I always wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories. She would write things down that I asked her to, and then I would meticulously copy each character onto another page. But drawing? She couldn’t figure out what the attraction was. If that was what I wanted to do, she wouldn’t stop me from doing it.

An appreciation of Kenneth L. Zonge

It was another senior class that finally showed me how to write painlessly. Typing. I knew touch typing would be a useful skill because I had already seen my first computer keyboard.

My uncle, Kenneth Zonge, was a genius. No two ways about it, the guy is hands down the smartest man I’ve ever met by several orders of magnitude. Smarter than I am by about the same distance. He did early research into electronic mapping of rock strata, using computers to analyze the data and produce results that would tell miners where to dig for various minerals. His company Zonge Engineering and Research still does work in various fields in countries all over the globe. Back in the mid-seventies we went to visit him on a family trip, and he wanted to show off his portable computer.

Still looking for an image of
the “Red Baron”

The computer was built into a suburban; as in, it filled the entire inside of the vehicle aside from the driver and passenger seats. You had to open the side doors to get access to the input and output terminals, sitting outside the vehicle in the Arizona heat. As kids the science went right over our heads, but I do remember that he could type on a keyboard and the computer would print the clearest, most precise letters I had ever seen. It talked back to him. He played a text game for us and we were completely blown away by it.

Presented with the chance to learn how to touch-type as a senior, I took advantage of it. IBM Selectric III’s seem clunky and slow now, and error correction was a pain in the ass. But in the 80’s, for me, it was like being given access to electric light for the first time. I could type whatever I wanted on the keyboard and it would produce exactly what I wanted it to say almost as fast as I could think it. I had never had access to anything like it before. I asked to be able to do my homework in the typing lab, it was so much easier to just type it than it was to write it. I knew I’d never be able to afford a machine of my own, but if I could just be able to work in an office, there would be machines in the office I could use.

The pieces of my future were falling into place before me, whether I knew it or not. My intense interest in architecture could be accessed through drafting for architecture. My inability to write could be bypassed by access to a typewriter. After a year of drafting in high school, and a twelve month technical course at the local campus of TSTI, I took my label slow and my newfound tools and went out into the land of design and construction. Went out into the business world and was almost immediately flummoxed by the fact you have to sit still in an office. Sitting still drives me absolutely nuts. Give me some decent shoes and rugged clothes, and I’ll spend all day for weeks exploring every inch of ground around me for whatever can be found. I never really thought about it; but I imagine being cooped up inside revisited the torment of school, being asked to engage in rituals I found painful and to gauge facial expressions I found confusing at best, incomprehensible at worst.

Maybe I need the physical stimulation to make the mind work.

In any case, the first barrier to office work wasn’t actually the writing and drawing. No, the first barrier was getting over my own internal loathing of sitting still. That took years, longer than it took me to learn to type or to draw with precision. Eventually I learned to tap into what is commonly termed as flow now; and I could draw essentially effortlessly for hours at a time, longer and better than my peers. I had to be more dogged, more persistent. I had to be because I was slower than they were. That is an unpleasant, unavoidable fact.

My hand drawing production rate was much slower. However, because I had to take time to make sure the lines were exactly right, my drawings were also generally of better quality. This is not bragging, this is me relating the feedback that I got from dozens of years of work in the field. Yes, Anthony. Your drawings are beautiful. Can you turn them out faster? The same old label of slow coming back to haunt me.

“You are slow, Anthony.” Sounds like stupid in my ears, and it is meant to sound that way. Yes, I take longer to get there, but it will be worth the trip unlike some draftsmen I won’t mention. That is the line that ran in my head in response. I had to bite that retort back more times than I can count.

I learned to crib graphics as a method of timesaving. I would type or have someone else type notes and affix those transparencies to my drawings. I would draw details in such a way that I could duplicate them easily using a Xerox machine, or wholesale duplication of sheets of work. The whole industry of architecture was undergoing a change as I underwent these changes, but it was the echos  of “you’re slow, Anthony” in my own head that made it imperative that I cut every corner I could in order to turn drawings out as quickly as possible.

In the end, I did it.

Not because I got faster at hand drawing than anybody else. No, all of my peers can sketch rings around me. They always have been and probably always will be able to draw rings around me. The few times I’ve ever had to draw anything by hand in the field I was embarrassed to do so. My contractor friends, men who trusted my drawings implicitly, were always careful to assure me it would be fine; but I know just how childish my scribbles looked.

They were bad, and it was a barrier that kept me from advancing in the field of architecture. More than once I was offered promotion to supervisor or manager and I always balked at it. Why? Because supervisors and managers draw freehand right on the paper, and the draftsman just takes what they draw and cleans it up. I was really good at the clean up part of the process after years of practice. I was never going to be good at the freehand part. That was not something I would be able to do, and deep down in my heart I knew it was a barrier that I could not cross.

What changed things for me was the early exposure to computing at the shoulder of my beloved uncle. The exposure that made me understand the power of computers.

When you draw something in the computer, it can be duplicated endlessly without degrading the copy. The digital world allows you to be able to replicate whatever work you’d done previously by simply copying and pasting. Drawing guides are built in, so shaky handwork is irrelevant. The initial precision was the determining factor of replicability, and I had honed precision to a fine art already. It was just a matter of mastering the new tools.

Since I couldn’t get my employers to see the vision of my uncle’s suburban filled with computer gear, I took it upon myself to enroll in courses at Austin Community College so that I could gain access to contemporary PC’s of the time (386‘s probably) while the motor control problem makes me a klutz with hardware, software is just a matter of understanding the logic of the system in a way that allows you to utilize shortcuts built into it. Classes in programming were more than I wanted to deal with at the time, and programming itself means little to me still, but breaking security barriers on the simple GUI’s the school used at the time was child’s play, and I spent a year learning how not to get caught doing things with the computer that weren’t allowed, while learning the reasonably simple (for an experienced draftsman like myself) drawing exercises that I had to produce in order to pass the class.

When the classes were done and I felt prepared for what I saw as the inevitable future, my employers threw me a curveball and bought into a CAD program other than the one I had trained for. While I had spent a year learning AutoCAD, other CAD programs had made inroads in the architecture field and my employers purchased a program called CADvance and hired an operator from outside the firm to run the system.

Hoval calculator and measuring stylus

Side note. It’s nice to know I was actually behind the times when I started my evangelizing for CAD and computers in the architecture sphere. I found this article over at Reanimation Library on Boyd Auger’s 1972 book, The Architect and the Computer quite interesting.  Quite interesting that in 1972 the trend towards digitization was this apparent to anyone, even if they were really only promoting the products they had created to digitize documents.  I really do hate to think that something that I thought was apparent was invisible to everyone else. Clearly, not everyone.

Undaunted, I simply learned the far more straightforward command parameters for CADvance. The process took all of three days and I was already (unbeknownst to me) as fast or faster than the outside help my employers had hired. I mastered his system and improved on it before realizing I wasn’t going to be going anywhere in that firm and made the move to another firm. A larger firm that used both systems I already knew.

It was about the time that my new employers adopted a third system Microstation and I mastered that program (with the help of the Wife’s student software discounts, her then ongoing pursuit of an MLIS and her still invaluable proofreading skills. Love you too, dear) and then started helping my co-workers become proficient with this new third system that I began to realize that I wasn’t the slowest person on the floor. In the middle of a monologue of self-criticism about streamlining some process or other, the co-worker I was talking to stopped me cold to inform me that “you know you are the fastest draftsman on the floor, right?” No, I hadn’t known it until he pointed it out.

Liberation from false constraints, from labels you never wanted, never accepted is a feeling that is hard to describe. Hard to fathom. I will be eternally grateful to my friend and coworker who pointed this fact out to me. It was years of additional work understanding just what it meant to not be seen as slow and stupid. To not have to push back against a negative view, a constraint you internalized and never let go of until long after everyone around you had stopped holding the view and instead were puzzled by what continues to drive you to be faster.

A recurring argument that I had with a few of my supervisors and fellow architects (back when I had a license, back when I was one of them) was the common belief that people aren’t in nature when they aren’t working on a 2D paper surface. The misguided notion that the synthesis of ideas requires a fixed medium (paper) and a writing implement (pencil) to engage the creative brain.

Future architects are explicitly told by some college professors that they “cannot design in a computer environment.” This false limitation being taught to so many students appals me to my core. It invalidates everything about me, my experiences, my pain and trials and eventual triumph. Is it a good thing that I never went to college to learn architecture? Had I followed the traditional route, embarked on a master’s degree in Architecture, I might have had this additional bad information to wrestle with and put behind me. Computer design is wholly artificial and so it can’t be a place to design in.

Hogwash. 

If I accepted this falsehood as truth I would never have embarked on my journey in the first place. I’d be just as disabled and just as hopeless, but with no belief that I could ever be more than that. Paper and pencil are natural to the people who find them natural. If the characters will not flow from you hands using them, find some other medium to express yourself in. All of them are natural. Do what you can do and never apologize for having to take a different road than everybody else. None of them know what experiences you have, what disabilities you will have to cope with. What gifts you might have hiding inside.

This is the end of the story of Coping With Dysgraphia. It only gets me to the middle of my architecture story, a story I still haven’t told fully; beginning, middle or end. That story will have to wait for another muse, another time. My parting thought on the subject of dysgraphia is, I wish I could remember what the subject of that term paper was that I refused to write way back when. When I was a sophomore in Garden City in 1978 flunking out of english class. I could write a whole book on the subject now with the tools we have today. I wonder what kind of story that would have been then if I could have simply been able to do what I do now?


Listening to The Hero’s Journey TED radio hour inspired me to put this story into words. Specifically it was the story of Ismael Nazario who was convicted of a crime and sent to Rikers as a teen. There but for grace go I. The difference that the color of your skin can make. 

Blizzard 2016

Tiny snowflakes fell like radioactive jewels. The streets were deserted. Electric lights were few. Cars were abandoned alongside the road. As I crossed the Beltway, I could see hungry zombies roaming the empty streets below.  

I was followed briefly by a State Trooper, but when he saw my Alaska plates he waved me on with a brave thumbs up. Godspeed, Northman!  

Andrews AFB was dark, the great warbirds frozen in rigor mortis on the ramps beneath a load of snow at least an 1/8th of an inch thick. 

– Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

Watching Weather Channel coverage of winter storm Jonas today, myself.  Like Jim, I am amused by the panic that most people seem to be swallowed by when the weather becomes less than optimal outside.  He posted this video of Jimmy Buffett’s tribute to enduring cold weather as an afterthought;

Living in Austin for the last twenty years, I have learned to be cautious when the weather is anything other than warm and sunny. If it rains here I stay home. If it ices here, I stay home. These people are nuts on ice and water. If it clouds over and starts to rain, Austinites slide off the roads by the hundreds. Blows my mind.

There was a common joke that circulated back in the years I lived in San Angelo. “There are only three things in West Texas that can kill you; the weather, the animals, and West Texans on ice.” I remember riding shotgun in a friend’s car during a pretty impressive snowstorm, traveling back to Sweetwater from the TSTC campus that was just outside of town. The snow was packed across the road, with drifts on the sides of the road. This journey sticks in my mind because it had never occurred to me that some people did not know how to drive on slick surfaces before. I looked over at the speedometer and noticed he was doing 50+ on snow, no snow tires, chains, etc. I commented that he might want to slow down since it was slick. He applied some brakes (never apply brakes on slick surfaces) the car started to spin gently sideways. Brakes applied in full locked mode, we continued to spin until we were traveling backwards down the highway at 50 miles an hour. luckily we hit a snowbank and stopped before hitting anything else.  We did make it to our destination, eventually.

I grew up in Kansas, learned to drive in Kansas. In Kansas the snow starts falling in September and continues falling off and on until April. We had blizzards in Kansas like the one currently hitting the Eastern coast pretty much every year.  Somewhere around this house I have pictures of the Wichita County High School in the 50’s, snow drifts up to the second floor of the school. Learning to drive in Kansas involved driving in snow and ice conditions, pretty much constantly.  Following a snowplow through rural Kansas in order to get to a city with a commercial center was a pretty common occurrence.  I tell you all this so that it is clear, I’ve seen snow. I’ve driven in snow.

Sitting in traffic in my brand new car, small child strapped into the car seat behind me, I have watched while the vehicles around me literally bowl over other cars already visibly stuck on an icy overpass. Watched while people attempt to escape their cars on the bridge, only to slide headlong under the car because the surface is that slick.  That day I waited patiently for traffic to clear, idling my way home on back roads as soon as I could get away from the demolition derby that was occurring on the freeway. That is Austin when there is the slightest amount of precipitation on the roadways, much less when there is an actual freeze.

Snowman from the blizzard of 2010

There are times when I will venture forth in inclement weather here.  Specific events that I know will keep most people off the roads.  We had a snowstorm that actually stuck to the ground in Austin back in 1994ish. There was snow all over the roads across the city. With the snow visible I knew that most of Austin would roll back over and go to sleep, so it was probably safe for me to venture out and enjoy a relaxed drive to work for a change.

It was the most pleasant commute of my working life. The city was abandoned, as far as I could tell. Not a vehicle to be seen on the freeways, the side roads, anywhere. I just sipped my coffee and idled the 3 or 4 miles to work. The most troubling part of the trip was the steep downhill on 19th street to the Lamar Blvd. intersection. Knowing there would be no stopping on that hill, I just kept it in first gear and let gravity do all the work.  I did see several vehicles abandoned on the uphill side of the road (poor souls, I thought) then I turned right onto Lamar and idled into the office parking garage.

I got more work done in the 6 hours it took for the snow to melt and the rest of Austin to make it out to work than I probably did the rest of that week. The rest of the office marveled at the daring exhibited by venturing out on snowy roads. “How did you do it?” they asked. “Just another day’s commute where I grew up” I replied. Didn’t even have to follow a snowplow, so it was easy.

Greece in Perspective

This was the piece I was working on before writing Sidelined by Illness.  It is important enough that I felt I needed to post it belated as it is.  Or maybe it is still current. In any case…

When I was in high school and later in trade school, I sacked groceries after school as a way to help the family.  It was common in those days (1980’s) for high school students to have jobs on the side, and it was common for children to start working as soon as they showed interest in work, if not being forced to work simply to feed themselves.

We were a poor family. My mother was on her own at that point, had been on her own for several years. Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. Mom was trying to get an education at the time, living in what would loosely be called ‘campus housing’ (Avenger Village next to what was then TSTI. An interesting history if you are into that) so the 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

Which wasn’t much. It was also typical back then for women to leave college once they had found a husband, sexist as that statement might sound; but women weren’t expected to be wage earners, bread winners. They were expected to be mothers and housewives and to put up with whatever their husbands asked of them. So mom started a family with no real job skills of her own beyond the ability to raise children, and when she finally refused to put up with dad’s behavior she was on her own with 4 kids and no skills.

We interrupted her education again, but she never complained about it. She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

I had already had my first job by that point, my one and only experience with fast-food work (a job you couldn’t force me to do again) if you count work that dad found for me to do the fast-food work was my 3rd job, having worked off and on in his gas station for change to buy comics and sodas with, and then worked in the fields hoeing weeds with a one-armed hispanic friend of my fathers (he could work faster with one arm than I could with two and 20 years less mileage on the meter) but in any case I was no stranger to having to work to get the things I wanted, so back to work I went, paying for my own car as a senior, as well as feeding the family whenever I could afford it.

Which wasn’t often, and not often enough.  There were many days where there simply wasn’t enough food.  Oh, we never really starved, mother was sure of that. We survived on government issued milk and cheese, bread when we could get it.  Proud as my mother was, she wasn’t willing to turn away a hand-out of perfectly good food.  She wouldn’t take food stamps (to this day she refuses them, looks down on people who take them) but she would work at almost any job that was offered. As I said, sometimes three or four jobs at once. So we didn’t starve even if we didn’t have much adult supervision.

So here I was working at a grocery store, often hungry, my job being to haul people’s groceries out to their cars for them, making minimum wage.  Rumor has it that in other states bag-boys (as we were called) got tips. Not in Texas.  In Texas you only tip the cute waitresses and the bartenders who give you a little extra alcohol in your drinks. You certainly don’t tip uppity teenagers who carry your groceries for you.  Teenagers should learn to work hard, because hard work is all you can look forward to in this life.

Part of my job was cleaning the store at closing time (I can mop a floor clean enough to eat off of to this day) Part of that job was taking out the trash at the end of the day. Boxes went into the recycler even back in the bad old days, but there was always trash generated during the day that had to be taken out.  Sometimes in this trash there were unopened containers of food. Being an innovative lad, I would arrange things at the end of the shift so that I could drive around back and pick up the food that I deemed safe to eat, and take it home to my family.

That was, until the new night manager took over. The night manager took an instant dislike to me. He knew I was a poor kid, up to no good.  Set the manager against me so that I was watched specifically to be caught setting food aside.

There was a brand of cookie that came in paper bags back then (even more now) No matter how many times the night stockers were told not to open the boxes with box cutters, without fail, they always opened them with box cutters and slit the bags open. This happened so routinely that if the staff wanted a quick snack, there was always a bag or 10 laying around that the stockers had made unsellable by cutting the bag. Of the 20 or so people working in the store who knew this, I was the only one specifically targeted for reprimand for setting the cookies aside.

Starting at about that time, this petty little modo would check to make sure that I destroyed all the food deemed unsellable. Slice open the milk jugs. Shred the bread bags. Whatever it took.  If people wanted food they would have to buy it through the front door.  No one was getting free meals from the dumpster at their store.

This is the mindset of the average working-class American, in a nutshell. If you want anything, you work for it. If you don’t work for it, you starve. If you can’t work for it, you will starve even sooner. Handouts are for layabouts and slackers; no one who takes a handout is worth anything in life.  Sick people are different; but sick people get better.  That poor soul in the wheelchair, we feel sorry for him, but we don’t give him more than enough to keep him off the streets.  We certainly don’t give layabouts enough that they can survive on without work; and if they do work their benefits are cut off.  If you can work you don’t need any help.

You might well ask at this point What in Hell does this have to do with Greece? The title of the piece is Greece in Perspective.

Yet another person on Facebook blocked me over this difference in perspective.  No amount of reasoning with this person was going to break through her preconceived notions of the unworthiness of those layabout Greek people. No recitation of facts concerning the equally ruinous nature of US policy; of our loophole filled tax structure, underfunded and understaffed taxing authority, the low tax rates that the wealthy enjoy (if they pay any taxes at all) Nothing would dissuade this person from her single-minded determination that Greece should be made to suffer for its peoples laziness.

Never mind that an entire country cannot be compared to one person, whose laziness might or might not be determinable just by looking at them. Never mind that wealthy US business firms instructed Greek authorities on just how to cheat the system, the same firms that then later had to go begging to the US government for bailouts (which shouldn’t have been given in my estimation) in order to avoid the same penance that the Greeks are now willing to go down in flames over rather than pay.

Because they can’t pay. Because Greece isn’t Germany, in the same way that Germany isn’t the US, and that whole regions and political entities cannot be summarized in the behavior of a single individual.  Because you can’t get blood out of a stone no matter how hard you squeeze it.

Sometimes people really can’t provide for themselves.  Sometimes lazy people really aren’t lazy at all; sometimes the seemingly lazy lay-about really is sick.  Laziness is itself a survival trait, a reward for not expending energy the body might need to go that one last inch to get to water.

The final straw for me on this subject was when an acquaintance of mine described his daughter as lazy, because instead of going to college and following the track he had planned out for her, she got married and had a child.  Her husband is working, risking his life in the military. She’s working even if she doesn’t have a job.  She’s raising a child, and that is the hardest work of all. Lazy isn’t the word to describe this person.  You can question her intelligence, but not her willingness to struggle with life.

Sometimes the demands placed on people are just too high. Looking at Greece today we would be better served to remember Germany right before World War Two, rather than dismiss them as that slacker kid who mooched off of you back in college. The missed opportunity of all missed opportunities. Watching the suffering of the German people under the debt burdens laid on them following World War One, the rest of the world could have had pity and eased the burden, given them hope.  Instead we hardened out hearts and forced them to do the thing that made sense to them, empower the only man and his political party that gave them hope.

Shall we descend into war and chaos? Or will we be more like General Marshall? General Marshall who, after the destruction of World War Two and understanding that hopelessness was what motivated the Germans to such desperate acts, proposed what became known as the Marshall Plan.  Altering from that time forward how victors treat the vanquished.  Or so we should hope.

A bit of perspective, to brighten your day.

“The cost of war is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones.” – General George C. Marshall.



Forbes

As it turns out, Greece is not populated by layabouts and ne’er-do-wells. They actually have the most working days per year of any of the European Union nations, according to statistics,

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that workers in Greece put in an average weekly shift of 42 hours, even more than Germans who only manage 35.3. 

So willing to work harder than most of the rest of the people in Europe, just not rewarded at the same rate as the rest of Europe. I wonder where I’ve heard that before? As usual, the people who do the work are rewarded the least. The people who hold the investments make all the money. Just FYI, it looks like Greece is no longer out in the woods financially. So I guess that is good news.

The Wife

(This was originally posted here. I’ve edited and expanded it a bit)

“Doesn’t she have a name?”

Yes, she does. Thanks for asking. It’s just that there’s this minor detail of her not wanting me to refer to her by name on the blog, or when I reference her in other online forums. Probably doesn’t want her name associated with her like the name “Margaret” has been associated with an amazing ability to argue about anything. I started calling her the wife because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way (several years ago in a previous working life) So, being the considerate person that I am, I’ve used no other reference for her since. She has always referred to me as her significant other, which I find clever and cute at the same time. Probably why we are still together after 26 years.

That is the difference in 9 years passing (the time since I first wrote this narrative, and now) I no longer think that the 3 years before we tied the knot matter that much anymore.  The proverbial “I can’t remember when we weren’t together” moment has occurred for me. I know those moments existed, and that they mattered at the time. My life is now defined by the beautiful woman I’ve been married to for over a quarter century. Defined by the two children we’ve raised together. Well, not really children anymore. One of them is an adult, but we can’t seem to get her out of the house (teasing you, don’t bridle) the other is in high school.  That fun age.  Does this mean that I’m old?  The children keep me young. That is the truth. They keep me young, while reminding me just how old I really am. Reality is a bitch like that.

Twenty-six years ago today, we got married. Well, actually, that’s not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. The wedding was planned by several friends. It was beautiful, right up to the point following the kiss, when they realized that they hadn’t planned how to exit the arbor we were in. “Weddings over, see you at the reception.”

Did you notice the ‘arbor’ reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. Not much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. But still, it did rain on our outdoor wedding.

My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony. In their tuxedos, on the way to the wedding, they stopped for donuts. Of course, there was a delay getting the breakfast, so they were late. The-soon-to-be-Wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (remember, moving next day?) I was instructed to aim for his head (brother or best man, who knows?) when opening champagne later that day.

When my brother was married a few years later, we wrapped their wedding present in donut boxes. I don’t think either one of them appreciated the joke.  The Wife and I laughed for weeks.  Joy is in the ears that hear, or maybe revenge is a dish best served cold. Like donuts.

Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. Her garter fell off (more than once) and had to be retrieved, so that it could be removed properly at the reception. I could go on, but I’d like to save some blackmail material just in case I might need it.

We met four years prior to that day. Like most people, we met at work. We both drove test cars. Yes you read that right, but it’s not the job you think it is, trust me. Every tire on the road today was tested on the route that we drove. From San Angelo nearly to Del Rio and back; and then North of San Angelo to Robert Lee and back. Some of the most tedious work I think I’ve ever done. Convoys of four cars, maintaining correct 4 second spacing, traveling at a dead level 55 mile an hour rate, for 8 monotonous hours 5 days a week.  If I can point to a job that broke me of my love of driving, it was that job.

My best friend at the time drove lead (the car in front, the guy in charge) on the convoy that I drove tail on.  (how we ended up working at the same place at the same time is a story in itself) Some of the areas we drove through were pretty remote…

[One night, down on the Devil’s river, we came across a jeep that looked like it had been on the loosing end of a bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etc. On another night we came across a wreck in the clearing stages. Car hit head on with a tanker truck. As I’m sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go, the cop wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. Won’t be forgetting either of those nights.

At least I never hit a deer. The wife hit three. Well, technically she ran over one that jumped onto the road in front of her and fell down, got hit by one that ran into the side of her car while she was passing, and then actually hit one in the test car she renamed ‘rocky’ because they had to wedge the headlights back in with rocks so that she could make it back to the shop. Ask her about the cow sometime. That’s a funny story]

…And since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly; and if you were the lucky one you were stranded with a broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you. Some of us were a little edgy about this situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them. I didn’t want to hassle with a gun myself, so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.

Well, my buddy who ran the convoy got to talking one night and discovered someone that I needed to meet. Our follow-on teams lead driver had a larger version of the knife I carried, and she knew how to use it. The next night, he takes me over to introduce me to her as we are trading cars at the end of the shift. She whips out her knife with a gleam in her eye (have I mentioned that I’m a bit skittish around knives? There was a reason I didn’t know how to use it) and proceeded to flip it around and demonstrate how you gut your opponent with one smooth motion. All the while grinning like the proverbial cat with the canary.

What did I think of her, I hear you asking? She scared the living shit out of me. I thought I was a dead man. If I ever got away from her, I was not going to be looking back. I told my buddy as much afterwards.

Never did manage to get away from her. Drove in her convoys a few times after that when one of her drivers failed to show up. San Angelo is not a big place, so we ended up running into each other outside of work as well. So I married her instead. True story.

26 years ago today, babe. Happy anniversary.

The Wife

(This was originally posted here. I’ve edited and expanded it a bit)

“Doesn’t she have a name?”

Why yes, she does. She just doesn’t want me to use it here. Probably doesn’t want her name associated with her like the name “Margaret” has been associated with an amazing ability to argue about anything. I started calling her ‘the wife’ because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way (several years ago in a previous working life) So, being the considerate person that I am, I’ve used no other reference for her since. She has always referred to me as her ‘Significant Other’, which I find clever and cute at the same time. Probably why we are still together after 25 years.

That is the difference in 8 years passing (the time since I first wrote this narrative, and now) I no longer think that the 3 years before we tied the knot matter that much anymore.  The proverbial “I can’t remember when we weren’t together” moment has occurred for me. I know those moments existed, and that they mattered at the time. My life is now defined by the beautiful woman I’ve been married to for a quarter century. The two children that we both simultaneously love and want to kill. Yes, two children. One of them isn’t much of a child anymore, but we can’t seem to get her out of the house (teasing you, don’t bridle) the other is in high school.  That fun age.  Come to think of it, that isn’t much of a child either. Wait, does that mean I have adult children?  That I’m old?  Bullshit, I’m not buying that.

Twenty-Five years ago today, we got married. Well, actually, that’s not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. The wedding was planned by several friends. It was beautiful, right up to the point following the kiss, when they realized that they hadn’t planned how to exit the arbor we were in. “Weddings over, see you at the reception.”

Did you notice the ‘arbor’ reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. Not much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony; none of us had breakfast, all were famished. They stopped for donuts, there was a delay getting the breakfast, they were late. The-soon-to-be-Wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (remember, moving next day?) I was instructed to ‘aim for his head’ when opening champagne later that day.

[we wrapped ‘his’ wedding present in donut boxes when he got married a few years later. I don’t think he ever appreciated the joke, myself]

Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. Her garter fell off (more than once) and had to be retrieved, so that it could be removed properly at the reception. I could go on, but I’d like to save some blackmail material just in case I might need it.

I start our time together from the first moment we met driving test cars rather than the wedding day. Yes you read that right, but it’s not the job you think it is, trust me. Every tire on the road today was tested on the route that we drove. From San Angelo nearly to Del Rio and back; and then North of San Angelo to Robert Lee and back. Some of the most tedious work I think I’ve ever done. Four car convoys, correct 4 second spacing, dead level 55 mile an hour rate of travel. For 8 hours.

My best friend at the time was ‘lead’ (the car in front, the guy in charge) on the convoy that I drove ‘tail’ with.  (how we ended up working at the same place at the same time is a story in itself) Some of the areas we drove through were pretty remote…

[One night, down on the Devil’s river, we came across a jeep that looked like it had been on the loosing end of a bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etc. On another night we came across a wreck in the clearing stages. Car hit head on with a tanker truck. As I’m sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go, the cop wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. Won’t be forgetting either of those nights.

At least I never hit a deer. The wife hit three. Well, technically she ran over one that jumped onto the road in front of her and fell down, got hit by one that ran into the side of her car while she was passing, and then actually hit one in the test car she renamed ‘rocky’ because they had to wedge the headlights back in with rocks so that she could make it back to the shop. Ask her about the cow sometime. That’s a funny story]

…And since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly; and if you were the lucky one you were stranded with a broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you. Some of us were a little edgy about this situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them. I didn’t want to hassle with a gun myself, so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.

Well, my buddy (who ran the convoy) got to talking to other leads one night and discovered someone that I needed to meet. She had a larger version of the knife I carried, and she knew how to use it. The next night, he takes me over to introduce me to her as we are trading cars at the end of the shift. So she shows me her knife with a gleam in her eye (have I mentioned that I’m a bit skittish around knives? There was a reason I didn’t know how to use it) and proceeds to flip it around and demonstrate how you gut your opponent with one smooth motion. All the while grinning like the proverbial cat with the canary.

Honestly? She scared the living shit out of me. I thought I was a dead man. If I ever got away from her, I was not going to be looking back. I told my buddy as much afterwards.

Never did manage to get away from her. Drove in her convoys a few times after that when one of her drivers failed to show up. San Angelo is not a big place, so we ended up running into each other outside of work as well. And so I married her instead. True story.

25 years ago today, babe. Happy anniversary.

Battlestar Galactica: What Re-Visioning Really Means

I’ve been threatening to write this entry for quite a while now. I survived a section of my teenage years by clinging to the show, Battlestar Galactica. I virtually lived for the weekly distraction of…

“There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. They may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…”

Hearing the fanfare that begins after those words still gives me a chill, even after all these years. I can’t explain it. Something in the show struck a cord; and I watched, spell bound, every week, even though we only had a 12 inch black and white TV set. The knights didn’t wear shining armor, the barbarians did; but there were damsels in distress, and gentlemen who rode in (literally, a few times) to save the day. There were gunfights and space battles, nearly every week. I loved every minute of it.

The movie that was made and used as the pilot was one of the few films that I paid to see more than once. (Sweetwater, Texas at least had a theatre. I had to go to the next town to watch a film when I lived in Kansas) I had several T-shirts for the show. I watched Galactica 1980! My favorite scene in every A-Team episode is Dirk Benedict (Starbuck) recognizing the Cylon during the introduction, and I promptly left the room after that bit. I hated the A-Team (it was too juvenile. My little brother watched it) I just loved that bit, though.

I’m offering this up as proof that I am a true fan of the original show; and I feel the need to do this because I’m about to admit to something disturbing.

I love the new Battlestar Galactica. Yes, I know, it has nothing at all to do with the original show. Yes, I know, they’ve taken character names and situations and twisted them around in ways that the original authors would not have conceived of, perhaps even approved of. It’s dark and complex, and it’s content can be both disturbing and titillating at varying times in the same episode. You have to think about the show if you want it to make sense.

And, once again, I hang on every minute just to see what happens next.

So many of the concepts that were used in the original show were fumbled and poorly executed. Baltar was simply a card board cutout villain. There was no realistic attempt to explain why the the Cylons would ever place him (a human) in command of a Basestar. (Never mind that they killed him in the movie, only to resurrect him in the series) In the New BSG, Baltar is a brilliant, twisted, cynical, amoralist; someone that can be easily seen dancing his way in whatever direction that survival dictates. And, indeed, the price of his survival has nearly been the extermination of the remainder of the human race several times now.

All of the characters have flaws, and strengths. There are no knights, and very few gentlemen. Admiral Adama (played by the extremely talented Edward James Olmos) being one of the few. If there is a weakness in the show, it’s a lack of any truly great male leads other than Olmos. Apollo, while admirably independent of his father Adama, is too brittle to be truly likable. Colonel Tigh is a drunk. Lieutenant Agathon is, well… pussy whipped (how would you describe a man who whines incessently about not being with his girl? One who not only does everything that she asks, but adopts it as his personal cause? Like I said…) By a Cylon. It’s a little embarrassing. I get a kick out of watching Doc Cottle smoking his way through his scenes. It’s priceless. Of course, I remember him as Dutch from Soap, so there’s a level of unintended (?) humor there for me. There’s also Lt. Felix Gaeta who, while he’s still suffering from blindly following Baltar onto New Caprica, is definitely a gentleman in every sense of the word.

From Imgur h/t to IFC

There are most definitely no damsels in distress. Recasting Starbuck as a woman was perhaps a stroke of genius, even though most fans of the original show point to that as the greatest failing of the new show. Starbuck is still Dirk Benedict’s Starbuck, but this time played by a woman. Hard drinking, gambling, fighter jock with an attitude and ability. A strong female character in a lead position, on the front line of battle. Katee Sackhoff will never have the charm that Dirk Benedict could project, but then she doesn’t need it either. What she lacks in charm she makes up for by diving into trouble headfirst, only to come back out smelling like a rose.

Then there is the President (Beautifully played by Mary Mcdonnell) the Grande Dame of the fleet. She is the figurative mother of the remainder of the human race. Protective of the lives under her care, even to a fault. And Boomer/Athena/Sharon (Grace Park) The other male character from the original show recast as a female; and not just a female, but a female skinjob (a tribute to Phillip K. Dick there. He refers to the replicants in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as skinjobs. Something that was picked up in Bladerunner, the film based on the book) a Cylon agent that doesn’t know it’s a Cylon.

In fact, the show is replete with strong female characters, something that was sorely lacking until the very end of the Original BSG, with the introduction of the daughter of Admiral Cain.

Which brings me to another reason I’ve been obsessed with the show for three seasons; I never can tell which character or storyline from the original show that they are going to play (or prey) on next. The Battlestar Pegasus and Admiral Cain sail into the New BSG in much the same way they did in the original series. But from that point onward, the stories radically diverge.

In a story arc that has developed since the beginning of the series, Baltar gets the chance to earn the hatred that is simply his by default in the original series. And every week is a surprise, a twist on what we thought we knew about the world of BSG.

This week’s episode is a virtual case in point of all of the above. Torture. Genocide. Honor, truth and devotion to duty. Deception and betrayal. Very real questions that we should be seriously discussing in the here and now. Fully developed characters that make decisions based on the traits that we know they have. No holds barred, all the flaws exposed.

Just like life on the edge should be.

The New BSG is everything that the word re-visioning connotes. It is a reworking of familiar characters and stories in a way that you would never have seen them before. As such I have nothing but praise for the series; and I hope that my liking it doesn’t spell disaster for the show,
as it has for virtually every other show I’ve watched over the years.

I’ll just keep watching, wondering what’s next.


Author Unknown

October 5, 2015: The Wife posted this image to my Facebook wall a few weeks ago. Then in a moment of synchronicity I stumbled across this old entry on the subject of BSG on my blog.  An entry that I had completely forgotten I had written.

I started to append some closing statement about the series finale being disappointing and blah, blah, blah; when it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t even remember how the series ended. The last image I had of it in my head was the burned out cinder of Earth.

So I went hunting around trying to find a copy of the series and finally resorted to having the disks shipped to me via Netflix.

What amazes me about memory is how things you think you remember really aren’t the way you remember them.  I noticed this first with many of the shows I watched as a child.  Watching them as an adult I was shocked at how different the experience was.

Case in point, rewatching classic BSG.  The religion angle that I thought was so novel about the revisioning was actually very heavily in the classic show, but it was pretty well muddled up with the contemporary christianity of the time.  The Classic episodes were actually better in some aspects than I remembered; and at the same time cringingly naive about so many subjects that the revisioned show just blows right through without a second thought.

Rewatching the last half of the final season of the new BSG, I realized that I had merged several episodes together in my head, and that the burned out Earth that I saw as the end of the show wasn’t even in the part of the season that I watched, although the characters refer to it repeatedly.

I was struck by how circular the final moments of the show try to be, actively pantomiming what the viewer subconsciously does while watching.

All in all the time I spent rewatching the ending on disk was well spent and more enjoyable than watching it on live television while it was airing. This is because several of the episodes on disk are uncut versions with additional scenes (and I’m a secondary audio junkie, confirmed) I’m going to have to acquire a copy of both Classic BSG and the new version. I see a BSG marathon occurring at some point in the future. 

Steele Penny Pub & Los Lonely Boys

This is a blog entry I’ve been threatening my brother with for a long time. I just can’t put it off any longer though, not with The Stones playing in town tonight; and opening for The Stones (perhaps the oldest and still most popular rock band actively touring these days) one of the newest bands to hit the charts, Los Lonely Boys.

Last week they were featured at Austin City Limits Festival, and this week they are opening for The Stones. They’ve hit the big time, these three guys from San Angelo, thanks in no small part to my brother.

Why my brother? Let me tell you a story…

There was (and still is) a little place in San Angelo called the Steel Penny Pub, one of the few places in that town where you could go to get good cold beer and great live music. My brother opened the venue with the intention of creating a place for his band Hazytrane to play, only to discover that the demands of owning a business took up too much time for him to continue pursuing his own musical career. Not too long after starting the Pub, his band folded up and went their separate ways. The lead guitarist became a lawyer. I still can’t wrap my head around that transition.

What he did instead of featuring his own band was to look around for another house band to fill the void that was left where his band used to be. What he found was Los Lonely Boys. Even though (as this article notes) they were underage at the time, Russ gave the boys the job, and they honed their already impressive skills playing several nights a week at the pub.

I would really like to say “I heard Los Lonely Boys at the Steel Penny Pub” but I was a professional architect working in another town, and I didn’t have time to fool around with music in those days. Somehow I managed to miss all of their performances there. Luckily for them, Willie Nelson didn’t. While in town for a show of his own, Willie stopped by the Pub and heard Los Lonely Boys for the first time, and recognized their talent right away. Within a few months they were playing at festivals and concerts alongside Willie Nelson, and not too long after that their first album debuted.

…And the rest is history. Heaven (not my favorite song on the album, but definitely a very catchy tune) reached the top ten, and stayed there for 18 weeks. My brother handed over management of the Pub to his business partner, and went on the road with Los Lonely Boys as their road manager for nearly two years. It was quite a ride.

I finally got to see & hear Los Lonely Boys play at Antones here in Austin, early in their first tour. I’ve never seen anybody play guitar like these guys can. If you get a chance to see them live, you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t take the time to go see them play. Live is the way to experience most music; and live is without a doubt the best way to experience Los Lonely Boys music. You just won’t know what it’s really like until then.

The last time I saw them was in the largest ever attending crowd (30,00 plus) for the Town Lake summer concert, which they turned into a concert video.

And they are opening for The Stones tonight. I know where my brother is going to be. Wouldn’t mind being in his shoes tonight, not one bit.

The Wife

“Doesn’t she have a name?”

Why yes, she does. She just doesn’t want me to use it here. Probably doesn’t want her name associated with her like the name “Margaret” has been associated with an amazing ability to argue about anything. I started calling her ‘the wife’ because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way (several years ago in a previous working life) So, being the considerate person that I am, I’ve used no other reference for her since. She has always referred to me as her ‘Significant Other’, which I find clever and cute at the same time. Probably why we are still together after 20 years.

I say 20, she says 17 (I’ve said 20 for two years now. I’m preparing myself for the shock of it) Because “the time before we got married doesn’t count”. Not in her book anyway. In her book it all began 17 years ago today. Seventeen years ago today, we got married. Well, actually, that’s not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. The wedding was planned by several friends. It was beautiful, right up to the point following the kiss, when they realized that they hadn’t planned how to exit the arbor we were in. “Weddings over, see you at the reception.”

Did you notice the ‘arbor’ reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. Not much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony, hadn’t had any breakfast. There was a delay getting the breakfast, they were late. The-soon-to-be-Wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (remember, moving next day?) I was instructed to ‘aim for his head’ when opening champagne later that day.

[we wrapped ‘his’ wedding present in donut boxes when he got married a few years later. I don’t think he ever appreciated the joke, myself]

Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. Her garter fell off (more than once) and had to be retrieved, so that it could be removed properly at the reception. I could go on, but I’d like to save some blackmail material just in case I might need it.

I start our time together from the first moment we met. Driving test cars. Yes you read that right, but it’s not the job you think it is, trust me. Every tire on the road today was tested on the route that we drove. From San Angelo nearly to Del Rio and back; and then North of San Angelo to Robert Lee and back. Some of the most tedious work I think I’ve ever done. Four car convoys, correct 4 second spacing, dead level 55 mile an hour rate of travel. For 8 hours.

My best friend at the time was ‘lead’ (the car in front, the guy in charge) on the convoy that I drove ‘tail’ with. (how we ended up working at the same place at the same time is a story in itself) Some of the areas we drove through were pretty remote…

[One night, down on the Devil’s river, we came across a jeep that looked like it had been on the loosing end of a bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etc. On another night we came across a wreck in the clearing stages. Car hit head on with a tanker truck. As I’m sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go, the cop wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. Won’t be forgetting either of those nights.

At least I never hit a deer. The wife hit three. Well, technically she ran over one that jumped onto the road in front of her and fell down, got hit by one that ran into the side of her car while she was passing, and then actually hit one in the test car she renamed ‘rocky’ because they had to wedge the headlights back in with rocks so that she could make it back to the shop. Ask her about the cow sometime. That’s a funny story]

…And since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly; and if you were the lucky one you were stranded with a broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you. Some of us were a little edgy about this situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them. I didn’t want to hassle with a gun myself, so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.

Well my buddy, who ran the convoy, got to talking to other leads one night and discovered someone that I needed to meet. She had a larger version of the knife I carried, and she knew how to use it. The next night, he takes me over to introduce me to her as we are trading cars at the end of the shift. So she shows me her knife with a gleam in her eye (have I mentioned that I’m a bit skittish around knives? There was a reason I didn’t know how to use it) and proceeds to flip it around and demonstrate how you gut your opponent with one smooth motion. All the while grinning like the proverbial cat with the canary.

Honestly, she scared the living shit out of me. I thought I was a dead man. If I ever got away from her, I was not going to be looking back. I told my buddy as much afterwards.

Never did manage to get away from her. Drove in her convoys a few times after that when one of her drivers failed to show up. San Angelo is not a big place, so we ended up running into each other outside of work as well. And so I married her instead. True story.

20 years ago today, babe (yes, I know, 17) Happy anniversary.

First entry – Life with Meniere’s

This was an entry on the Menieres.org Journals page, which has been down for awhile now. Thought I would roll this (and other musings) into the blog I keep meaning to create, and finally have created. I’ve appended the historical entry with my current musings on Meniere’s and life. Been hanging out on the forums a lot lately, guess that brings it to the forefront. Anyway, this is ‘my’ Meniere’s.


It was the muffling of sound that I noticed first, like I had a blown speaker in my head instead of in my car. This was in 1987 [actually, after further musing, I’ve come to the conclusion that my first vertigo attack was in 1983-4, when I lived in Abilene. I just didn’t know what was happening to me then, and it didn’t repeat until 1987] I was in my late 20’s and still deeply into music. If it wasn’t the constant ringing, then it was the echo chamber effect, a distortion of sound that occasionally made conversation difficult. Allergies, I thought. Allergies that are making my ears give me problems. I tried everything to get rid of the ‘pressure’ in my ears. The sauna worked best, at that time I had access to one. I would sit in that little wooden box until I couldn’t stand it anymore, but the ringing and distortion would be temporarily eased by it. I also had some luck with hot showers, but that treatment brought on my first few vertigo attacks, I just never understood what they were.

Then I thought I was having a recurrence of ear infections related to allergies that had plagued me as a child. This was what I told the doctors that I would go see on a seasonal basis, and they obliged me by prescribing me allergy medicine; or antibiotics if I happened to be extra convincing that day. I popped antihistamines trying to relieve allergic reactions (sort of the right track, I guess) I’ve tried nearly every one on the market, none of which really had or still have any effect. I finally settled on Pseudoephedrine and Guafenesin, which I took nearly everyday for several weeks at a stretch, They seemed to be the only things that worked predictably every spring and fall when my ears would start acting up.

In retrospect, it seems odd that I just stumbled across what is a common treatment for the disease I now have been diagnosed with, Meniere’s. I probably would not know what it was now if I had not been diagnosed with high blood pressure a few years ago. One of the things that they tell you when you go on the blood pressure medication is “do not take Decongestants, especially Pseudophed”. So I quit, even though I knew the fall and spring season would be hell.

They were. In fact, it was a hell I had never even come close to experiencing before. I couldn’t make the world hold still, sometimes for several days. The disorientation was bad enough, but the vertigo was disabling; and it just got worse. The attacks would hit me from out of nowhere. I would just have had a good meal, or I might just be holding my head the wrong way and the world would just take off spinning. I discovered Bonine about that time and I still carry Meclizine everywhere with me. I went to see my first ENT about that time as well, a totally useless individual who ran rather expensive tests on me, and then told me there was nothing wrong with me. Great, just the answer I wanted.


I love the Internet. If you want to know something, and can find your way to a search engine, you can find what you are looking for. The internet is quiet if you want it to be, too. Nothing that you need listen to other than the ringing in the ears. So I searched. One condition kept popping up that matched my symptoms. That couldn’t be it though, surely. My wife thought it was the blood pressure medication, but through experimentation we determined that there was no real correlation between the two.

Fall rolled around again, and with it the serious vertigo attacks (This was 2002) attacks that had gotten so bad that I occasionally would end up passing out next to the toilet on the bathroom floor, like some teenage kid who didn’t know what his alcohol limits ought to be. I decided to go to a different ENT (Ear Nose & Throat, for the uninitiated) one that a friend had recommended. I had determined that I was just going to discuss symptoms this time, and let him confirm what my suspicions were. After running through virtually the same tests that I had been through before, he asked me “have you ever heard of Meniere’s disease?” OK, so I was right then.


I went through some sinus surgery over Christmas. Corrected a deviated septum, and they cleaned out the sinus passages to see if that reduced my allergic reactions. It seems to have worked somewhat, although the disorientation still bothers me on occasion, the serious vertigo attacks are becoming fewer now. The ringing and the pressure remain, however. I could go see a neurologist, I have a card for one currently in my wallet. It’s something I’m thinking about. I think I’ll go to an allergist first, I’m certain that if I can just get the allergies in check, the other symptoms will fade without the need for further surgery. Maybe it’s just a dream, however.

Anyway, I’m turning 40 this year. Still don’t know where the time went. Music is harder to listen to now, but I still plug in the odd disk and give it a listen over the tinnitis. I have to turn my right ear to conversations now, the left ear is nearly useless. I occasionally wish it would just stop working altogether, I would probably hear better then. I wonder if Van Gogh was a fellow sufferer sometimes. I could imagine doing something nearly as nutty as he did, just to get the ringing to stop.

I’ve been meaning to write this for some time now. I hate having to rely on somebody else when I ‘should be’ able to get by on my own. Needing to write this down and post it felt similar to me, needing somebody to know what I was going through, so I didn’t do it. But I sat down tonight and WANTED to write this, so I did.

I hope somebody out there gets something positive from this. You aren’t alone any more than I am. I have friends and family that are looking out for me (the wife seems to be too protective sometimes) so I try not to worry. But I wish it had been ‘just an ear infection’. I wouldn’t wish this disease on anybody.


Today, October 26th, 2005 –

Created this Blog. Pretty good day today. Don’t know why I think that. The Wife lost her job last night. We did oversleep this morning. I slept with my good ear against the pillow and was consequently unable to hear the alarm this morning. The children got off to school OK, the Wife is back in bed asleep, and I’m up here (as usual) in front of the square headed girlfriend, typing my little fingers off. At least the world isn’t spinning today.

Couldn’t say that yesterday. Yesterday I couldn’t stand up without nearly fainting each time from a “near vertigo attack” (the world snaps and starts to spin, but I focus on a single point until it goes away, or at least recedes) at least a full attack didn’t surface. Can’t say that for most of the rest of this year. Started out well enough. I had a job, I had an employer whom (I thought) understood my limitations, I had taken the time to explain Meniere’s to him, and what I thought set it off, and the fact that I might miss work, sometimes a couple of days, and that I would do my best to make it up. I’d been there about 9 months in February when he called me into his office to inform me that he was letting me go because “I was sick too much”. (NEWS FLASH, I think I know this!) This was the second employer to use this reason in letting me go, in about as many years. I decided that I would not seek another full time employment position, and would instead take on the odd contract job that I might be able to land. Unfortunately there hasn’t been enough of that work.

Not that I’ve felt well enough to pursue much work this year. I have had more attacks this year than any year since I started keeping track. I was down with constant dizziness and occasional vertigo for 8 weeks this summer, which is something that has never happened. The few times that I have worked have been restricted by an attack at some point during the term of the contract. That’s not good. When someone contracts time sensitive work to you, they don’t want to hear about medical problems.

So here I am. Holidays approaching, no work in sight, wife not working at the moment, retirement money almost gone. But, I got up today and wasn’t dizzy. I’m going to go walk the dogs and enjoy the sunshine. If I come back and I’m still not dizzy, life is good. We’ll see.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Postscript

Loneliness is the worst part of suffering from Meniere’s. I generally don’t need much attention, and even I find myself craving conversation. I might go a whole month with just the family and suddenly the urge to run out and talk to people becomes almost overwhelming.

This is understandable.  As much as we like to pretend we are inviolate individuals, we are actually amalgams, a sampling of all the influences we are exposed to each day.

Being alone too much is destructive to the human animal. Go out and find people you can trust, if your family isn’t supportive or attentive, and spend time in their presence. Don’t wither and die alone, please.

I mentioned Menieres.org at the beginning of this post. That site has long since ceased to be updated. But it isn’t the only resource.  I would like to just mention a few that I am currently spending time on;

Facebook.com/Meniere’s Resources which is associated with menieresresources.org I’ve been aware of this group for awhile and only recently found them on Facebook.  I got sideways with a moderator in that group and so we’re no longer on speaking terms.  Probably just as well.  I’ve had enough chirpy, syrupy optimism to last me for awhile now.  However if that is your thing, drop by and say hi. Nothing but love, as the saying goes.

Facebook is where everything seems to happen these days, so it is no coincidence that there is more than one group for Meniere’s there. The other one I frequent is called Spin Cycle.

Reddit.com/Meniere’s – On a whim I decided to see if Reddit had a Meniere’s group and they did. Not a lot of posts there, but if you post a message you’ll generally get an answer within a day.

There is also a G+ group for Meniere’s, but there isn’t much traffic on it that I’ve noticed.

I do have a treatment regimen that I follow. I detail it here.  If you want to do your own research and decide what is right for you, I highly recommend the Meniere’s Disease Information Center. Don’t let their critical writing style put you off, they’re just trying to adhere to a proper level of skepticism when it comes to treatment claims.  Everyone can profit from applying a little critical thinking to the problems they face.

A friend and fellow blogger has put together a decent list of resources here.  Drop by and say HI! to him as well.

I describe how I got disability here.  If you suffer from frequent vertigo and are unable to work full time on a regular basis as I was, then disability is just about your only option in the US.

The text of the page Me, Architecture and Meniere’s Disease stands as record of how I came to suffer so many symptoms while pursuing my dreams of an architectural career. A dream which has sadly come to an end.  I keep hoping I’ll find another pursuit, or find a way to get back into architecture, but productivity and concentration remain limited and elusive.