Monday, May 07, 2012

40 Years of Diabetes

Last month made 40 years of diabetes. Whew, it's been quite a ride, including heart disease, dialysis and a kidney transplant.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain is the 30-year-and-then-some project of Leonard Knight. He painted a three-story-high hill and added onto it with adobe and bales of hay. Complete with grottos, chapels, tunnels, painted trailers and vehicles. The main theme is God is Love. Unfortunately, Leonard was recently taken to a nursing home, so I missed meeting him by just a few weeks when my son and I visited just before Christmas.

This was also the case with St. Anthony's, a Catholic Church in Pittsburgh that I visited in November (the most relics next to the Vatican). The Irish nun who led the tours of the church and its collection had just been taken to a retirement home a few days before I visited. I guess this is telling me I need to go to these obscure places as soon as possible before the generation that still thought of doing anything "out there" dies off.

Here are a few photos of Salvation Mountain. What a fabulous place. Unfortunately, with no caretaker, I suspect vandals and souvenir hawks will soon be "having at it." Such a shame. It's a magical place, a very rare place in today's homogeneous, rush-rush, gotta-have-the-latest-electronic-gadget world. Someone with a real vision--not to make money, but to manifest his inner world in the outer world. A dying breed, sad to say.

Insights Into Mom More Than Two Years After Her Death

I recently sorted through my mother's 2003 and 2004 taxes, since tax forms older than seven years can be tossed. I looked through every page because I wanted to shred any papers that had her name, former address, or Social Security number on them. Three things struck me about what I saw, the first of which is rather mundane, but the latter two which are tragic.

1. She preferred paper clips to staples. There were hundreds of paper clips, many of which held together only two tiny pieces of paper. I wondered why she did this. I can only think that an elderly woman with thin skin could easily be cut by the end of a staple and not so easily with a paper clip.

2. Following her retirement as executive director of the Girl Scouts of Racine County, she continued to make donations to the local council and the nationwide organization. She had worked as what would be called the CEO-CFO from March 1969 to mid-1985. Sixteen years. She really gave her all to that job, and the stress took a big toll on her. Yet when she died in December of 2009, I could not get anyone currently working at the Racine council to care. I told the then-executive director that I was very willing to write an obit for any e-newsletter that went to members and volunteers. I said I was sure that there were people who would remember her and appreciate knowing what had happened to her. I said if only for historical purposes, she might be interested. Dead air on the other side of the line.

The contribution receipts that I came across in my mom's taxes reminded me of this exchange over two years ago. The message came through loud and clear: You can work your tail off at your job, but when you die, no one from your former workplace is going to care. So, as always, make sure this is how you really want to be spending your time, because in the end, very few if any people will remember or appreciate what you did during your career, especially if you die long after retiring or moving on to another job.

3. On the top of copies of tax forms my mother sent to the government was written "your copy" in my mother's handwriting. Not "my copy" but "your copy" as if she were handing these form to another person. She often addressed herself in the third person in letters to me, but I can't remember seeing this odd use of the second person singular before this.

This strange way of addressing herself is further confirmation of something I've known for a long time about my mother: She was not present in her body. Rather she was coping as best she could without a definite sense of self, always looking outside herself for cues. Her addiction to pain meds during the last 10 years of her life only made this state all the more acute.


A few interesting things about these newspaper articles:

* The use of "Mrs." and the use of "Mrs. Eugene (Arlyn) Siehr"--as if her first name was her husband's first name and then misspelling her first name on top of it! A time when women were designated by their husbands, not by what they were doing on their own out in the world.
* She retired on my birthday--July 31.
* The reporter thought fit to provide her home address.
* She did in fact work for the Girl Scouts of the USA in interim executive director positions in Hibbing, Mich. (Upper Michigan), and Grand Junction, Colo. As such, she was what would now be called a turnaround manager, as she took councils that were struggling financially and got their houses in order.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Like a Guard in a Prison Watch Tower

On Christmas Eve around midnight, I went out to spread good cheer and magic throughout my neighborhood, ringing sleigh bells and bringing little gifts to the doors and car windshields of strangers and friends alike. If a child happened to be up at that time, he or she would have heard the bells and thought that Santa was passing by. I also handed out my little packets of goodies to passersby, whatever it was they were doing at such an hour. Attached were notes asking them to be extra good in the coming year, because the world needs all the goodness it can get. Ho, ho, ho, Santa.

I put together gift bags for two women I've befriended, both of whom are single and without family in the area. Bags full of treats and things like scarves and mittens that they could use. To deliver one of these I had to pass through Rose Park, which is in the middle of a large roundabout. The park is separated into quandrants by east-west and north-south sidewalks. The sidewalks are well-lit, whereas the rest of the park is only dimly illuminated. So, given that it was late and I was alone, I did the prudent thing and walked through the park on the north-south sidewalk in the bright light.

Halfway through, at the central gazebo, a voice rang out, "STOP! You are in the park illegally. Your photo will be taken." Or something very similar to that. I wasn't afraid, only surprised. I felt as if I were in a prison camp movie, you know, when the prisoner is spotted by the guard in the watch tower, the spotlight is shown on the lone man, and the machine guns open fire on the poor soul. That was the tone of the voice, and at least to my mind, it sure seemed as if the voice were issuing from somewhere above me.

I, of course, did not stop but kept walking. How silly to stop in a park at midnight, one o'clock, when a man's voice calls out to me. No way! I half-expected to be shot. That's the creepy feeling the voice instilled in me.

On my way home, I again went through the park. Again the voice and the flash of a camera, taking a photo of Santa. How ridiculous if I were sent the photo with a fine. I can see the headline: Santa Fined for Spreading Christmas Cheer.

I went back the next day to see if there are any signs giving park hours or stating that it is against some city ordinance to be in the park after sunset. I took photos of the signs that are posted, but none of them state anything about the illegality of being in the park after dark. So how is someone to know?

Let me get this all straight: If you are engaged in criminal activity, do it in the dark areas of the park, away from the cameras, so there will neither be a photo record of what you are doing nor will any passing patrol car be able to see what you're doing. You, criminal, are free of surveillance. But if you're a law-abiding citizen, just trying to get through the park as quickly and safely as possible, and therefore passing through the well-lit areas, your photo will be taken and you'll be treated like a criminal.

Doesn't this perfectly sum up the philosophy of the police state: Let the criminals do what they want because they, like the government, breed fear in the populace. And scare the shit out of law-abiding citizens so they'll be too scared to confront the government.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

More of Slab City

Please see yesterday's post for the back story on Slab City, California.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Slab City

For about 20 years now, I have wanted to visit Slab City and Salvation Mountain, located east of the Salton Sea in the southern California desert. (I'll write about Salvation Mtn. in another post.) A week and a half ago, I finally went. So very glad I did. Both are the kind of place you're going to see less and less of as the world becomes more controlled and more uniform. These are places that are certainly not for the conventional and the rule-oriented. These are the last of the free spirits. Perhaps the last free places left in the US.

Slab City occupies a tiny portion of the 631,345 acres on which Camp Dunlap was housed during World War II through the mid-'50s. Opened in 1942, the military installation was dismantled in 1956 and returned to the State of California in 1961. Somewhere around that time, the first civilians started moving in, in their recreational vehicles, trailers, and camper trucks. Slab City gets its name from the slabs of concrete that once served as the foundations for military buildings or driveways of one sort or another. Few are left, and most residents have their rigs on the desert floor, not on concrete. Some of today's residents are snowbirds, people from northern regions who want to escape the cold winters. Some are long-term residents who put up with the harsh summers. There's no electricity, no running water, no local government.

The people who live in Slab City are resourceful, friendly free spirits. They've got at least one trailer converted into a library, three clubs where residents can pay $20 for a year membership and get free coffee every morning. Internet service is $10/month, though it was a bit unclear how that system works. Residents bathe in a natural hot springs and either pay to have water delivered to their private water tanks or go into town (Niland's about three miles away) to get water from the store or gas station.

I had read that Slab City was deep in trash, but Aaron, who went with me, and I sure didn't see that. We saw the usual rusted metal and abandoned vehicles that you see in any remote enclave. Nothing more, nothing less. I didn't see any human or dog waste and no garbage. I wonder how order is maintained out there, seemingly without any police protection. I wonder how the retirees and others on fixed incomes who live there keep the druggies out.

I'm sorry that my photos of Crow, his mules, and his dog don't do them justice. When I first spied him and his crew walking down the road, I felt as if I had entered a time warp. He looked like someone who might have strayed from Pancho Villa's band in the late 1800s. He told me his camp was nearby and that he's been living with his mules for "12, maybe 15 years." He makes extra money by walking the 40-some miles to the Walmart in El Centro, where, for a fee, he poses for photos.

Two of the most remarkable things about Slab City are the abandoned water towers, one painted with corporate logos and dinosaurs, the other with animals in kama sutra poses. The former has a panel composed of colored shot gun shells with the message "Killing for God," a tribute to religious fanatacism. Both works of art give you the idea of the anti-establishment feel to the place.

The pet cemetary was touching. I can only imagine how much these dogs, cats, and rabbits meant to their human friends, many of whom, I'm sure were living out here alone.

I must admit that this life really appeals to me. Living off the grid, removed from government and corporate intrusion. A genuine sense of community and shared vision. If only I didn't need so much healthcare, I believe I'd be heading for Slab City right now.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Caroling for Brandy, 2011

In general my fellow humans are a puzzlement to me, and caroling brings to the fore one of the many things I just don't understand about most Americans--why they buy into the Madison Avenue (advertising) BS about commercialism and unbridled spending. So many Americans say they hate Christmas because they HAVE to buy so many gifts and because it's so materialistic. Well, it's never been that way for me, and I live in the same country as they do. Caroling to strangers costs nothing, and it spreads far more Christmas cheer than an iPod or store gift card can ever hope to do.

Last year caroling for brandy was put on hiatus because of my kidney transplant surgery. But this year the tradition resumed on Friday, December 23, 7 p.m. We had seven carolers and three passersby who joined us--a first.

Othman had just finished his catering job, so he didn't take the time to go home and change but came in his tuxedo. Handsome as usual but a bit chilly, so I lent him a coat. I told him he was the Lebanese Oscar Wilde. He chuckled and said, "Oh, thanks, Heidi, now people have two reasons to hate me--Arab and gay." I reminded him that Wilde was an engaging personality as he is, and very intelligent too. Gay was certainly not his sole attribute.

Every year the energy is different because we've had as few as three carolers and as many as 10. Also, we go to different houses every year. Always the houses of strangers, unlike every other caroling group I've ever been in that just wants to carol on the doorsteps of people they know. What fun is that? One of the interesting things about our caroling for brandy is that we never know what lurks behind these strangers' doors. Perhaps wonder and awe. Perhaps anger. Perhaps indifference. One never knows.

Though we did receive beer at one house and spiced rum at another, drinking was not the main event. Three of us asked for water instead. Except for one guy who told us to go away and a woman who asked us to leave because she was putting her kids to bed, everyone else was positively thrilled to see us. It was downright magical for many of our listeners. That's such a wonderful feeling, going about and spreading Christmas cheer to unsuspecting strangers.

One groovy redhead in a metallic Egyptian princess mini-skirt invited us upstairs to her apartment. A small gathering was underway, complete with a life-sized manager against one wall. We attempted to place Rasputin in Baby Jesus' crib with the woman's cute, elfin daughter, but he wanted none of that.

I had two "Stille Nacht" solos. "Silent Night" in German. I am forever asking Othman to learn "Silent Night" in Arabic, but so far no luck. And Aaron and some of his buddies could surely do it in Spanish, but they don't.

Next year, folks, listen to your inner voice. Don't follow the herd. Ask everyone you know not to buy you gifts and let them know they're not getting gifts from you. Instead ask them to go caroling at the doors of strangers. Or come up with a loving, giving idea of your own. You might just begin to really enjoy the season.

Friday, December 09, 2011

My Kidney's First Birthday!

Yesterday was one year since my kidney transplant. Hooray! Life without nightly dialysis and a foot or so of tubing sticking out of my mid-section is so wonderful.

My neighbors, Janet and Dana, and their dog, Arrow, greeted me at my doorstep early yesterday morning with a present for Pinky, the name I gave my new kidney because the surgeon said that when he placed it in my body it "pinked up." Janet was part of the donor chain that involved four patients and four donor, none of whom were matched to their friend or family member but who were matched to a stranger. So, Janet donated her kidney on my behalf to someone in Virginia, and I received a kidney from a woman who was not matched to her husband but she was to me. Her husband received a kidney from a man in Pennsylvania who simply wanted to donate to the next person on the list. The person in Virgina's friend or family member (we never heard from him/her) donated to a man in San Francisco. Thereby four lives were saved, whereas just a short time ago, we would have died for lack of a compatible donor. What a beautiful chain of life.

So, Dana and Janet gave me this beautiful, pink glass and glitter seahorse. It is so me! I have it hanging from a lamp next to a window so it can catch the sunlight.

I also happened to have an appointment with my dear nephrologist, Dr. Butman, yesterday. I brought wine glasses and a small bottle of Martinelli's sparkling apple juice to the appointment. Unfortunately, in my excitement, I dropped the Martinelli's bottle and it shattered over his office floor. Aw, oh, well, the spirit of celebration was in the room nonetheless.

So, Pinky, congratulations on making it through your first year. Many, many more to come.


About Me

Southern California, United States
Perhaps my friend Mark summed me up best when he called me "a mystical grammarian." I am quite a mix--otherworldly, ethereal and in touch with "the beyond," yet prone to being very precise and logical, when need be. Romantic in the big-canvas meaning of the word, I see the world as an adventure, as a love poem, as a realm of beauty and wonder.

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