My take on the issues


I regarded Trump's election as a flip of the bird at the condescension of liberalism's most prominent faces, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I also saw in it an embrace of discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, homosexuals, transsexuals, and secularists. Because I too despise Obama, Clinton, and groups such as Black Lives Matter, I sympathized, yet I regarded a vote for Trump as like setting your child's head on fire to kill the lice.

I had these thoughts today because of a chain of comments between myself and a Georgia blogger (http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-world-is-not-ending-today-after-all.html), a chain that ended with him observing, sadly I thought, that Atlanta has become notable for its diverse cultures and religions. He would like life even less here in Oregon's Willamette Valley, because it is one of the most liberal, and least religious, parts of the country, although this isn't to say that conservatives and Christians don't abound. I didn't know how much they abounded until the "Make America Great Again" caps and bumper stickers started appearing during Trump's election bid. Sad to say, those who publicly supported Trump risked having their property vandalized, and one local man was even assaulted by a mob. Before moving to a liberal area, I mistakenly believed that being liberal meant being tolerant. After all, their bumper stickers read, "Honor Diversity."


I suspect that the few conservatives who read this blog regard me as a liberal, and that my liberal readers are sometimes offended by my conservatism. When we like someone, we want them to fit into our tribe, and this means that we must agree with them on important concepts. The purpose of this post is to present my views on current issues. You will find that I don't fit anywhere.

Diversity. I think it breeds disharmony, so I would prefer, in the interest of harmony, to live in a land that was overwhelmingly composed of people who trace their roots to Western Europe, which is to say, people who are as much like myself as possible.

LGBTQ. I'm fine with gays--I even like gays, and, yes, I think they are different from heterosexuals in ways other than who they sleep with. Transgenders? As many of you know, my father believed himself to be a woman, but I have no idea what influence that has on my attitudes. Suffice it to say that I want homosexuals and transgender people to have equal rights in every way, but I'm personally weirded-out by transgenders in particular. 

Hispanics? I don't want people sneaking into my country, although those who were brought here as children didn't sneak in, so they deserve special consideration. I especially resent the liberal equation of people who swim the Rio Grande with those who spend months or years working to gain legal citizenship. No country can maintain its identity if has open borders.

Women's rights?  I'm reticent about women going into professions that require explosive strength, and I'm especially leery of them going into combat, but I think that if we're going to have equality, it needs to be all or nothing, so I can hardly oppose women doing anything they want to do as long as they can pass the same tests as men. 

Abortion? I believe that people who equate a fetus with a human being are full of it, and so it is that I support the freedom to choose. While abortion is regrettable, I think it beats the alternative, which is to force the very women who are the least equipped to care for a child to either bear children or to face the possibility of death from botched abortions, while allowing women of means to spend whatever takes to get a safe abortion. When my teenage sister got pregnant fifty years ago, she flew from Mississippi, where abortion was a felony, to Colorado where it was legal. The trip put a strain on my parents' finances, but if there was ever a young girl who would have been a parental disaster, my sister was that girl, which means that the responsibility for parenting would have fallen to my already overwrought parents. I have another family member who raised not one but two of her unwed daughter's children after her daughter walked away. This is the price of illegal abortion. The children who are so parented are rarely well-parented, and the responsibility for their care is rarely paid for by those who would outlaw abortion. In fact, the very people who most vigorously oppose abortion also stand in vigorous opposition to government support for poor families.

Religion? If, as religious people claim, love was their guiding principal and their kingdom really wasn't of this world, no one would oppose them, but the sad truth is that religion perpetually wars against freedom and perpetually supports factionalism. Thanks to the power of religion, one-third of the world's nations have blasphemy laws, the penalties for which range from a fine (in Western Europe) to execution (in much of the Moslem world). Century in and century out, religion stands in unbroken support of hatred and intolerance. If, in the name of freedom and equality, you oppose religion's use of government to force sectarian values and practices upon the public, religious people will claim that you are persecuting them, and will take every means to silence you. As most religious people see it, there is no way but their way.

America's blacks. I don't regard the black race overall as making a positive contribution to life in America. In the sixties, their struggle was praiseworthy for its high ideals. Now, their primary struggle revolves around police shootings of black people, primarily black criminals. By making heroin dealers the poster children for their movement, groups such as Black Lives Matter cannot inspire the same public outrage against injustice that was aroused the world over by the likes of a young college student named James Meredith and a hardworking bus rider named Rosa Parks. I don't know why black Americans lag behind whites and yellows in every standard of success and well-being, but they appear to blame their failures solely upon white oppression. Since the masses of white people disagree, the accusation is a non-starter. I'm ashamed to say this because I it contradicts my belief that everyone deserves a fair trial, but when I hear of a heroin dealer being shot dead in the street, I just think to myself, good riddance, no matter what his race.

Creationism. The only people who believe in creationism (re-marketed as "intelligent design") are those who regard the Biblical account of creation as scientifically accurate. They insist upon--and often succeed in--having "both sides of the controversy" taught in school, but there are no "both sides." There is instead what science can verify versus what religion accepts upon credulity, aka "faith." The difference between evolutionism and creationism is the difference between astronomy and astrology. The more credence we give to pseudoscience, the harder it will be for us to compete in a world in which science works and religion fails.

The environment. Most of America's political conservatives are Catholic or evangelical Christians who argue that their deity wouldn't have created a world that man could destroy because such a world would place the power of man above the power of God. The result of their thinking is that if humankind can't seriously harm the environment, then humankind need take no responsibility for protecting the environment. Because this is "faith-based" thinking, evidence to the contrary is irrelevant. As for non-religious people who oppose environmental protections, they fall into two camps. The first are libertarians who don't want the government telling them what to do, regardless of the consequences. The second group are capitalists who don't care how many species we drive into extinction until it gets down to animals like cows and chickens that they can make money from. They likewise don't care how many people die in droughts, super storms, firestorms, and so forth, as long as they're not among the dead, and as long as they're making money. With them, it's money first, money last, and money in the middle. Laissez-faire capitalism was made by and sustained by such people.

Gun control. I am ashamed to live in a country in which 5% of the world's population owns 50% of its guns; a country that exports millions of weapons a year to criminals and to oppressive dictatorships like Saudi Arabia; a country in which 30,000 of its own citizen die every year from gun violence, and tens of thousands more are wounded. The Las Vegas shooter only made the news because his victims were white and because he ran up the average number of people killed in a single place in a single day. The supporters of "gun rights" point to the Second Amendment to the Constitution ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed") We're talking here about a document that was written when the only guns were single shot muskets that were tedious to load and relied upon relatively weak black powder. What's more, the stated goal of "the founding fathers" was to arm the citizen militias that substituted for a standing army. 

Prior to the recent mass shooting in Nevada, Congress was getting ready to pass legislation that would make it easier for people to buy silencers, not because honest citizens need silencers but because the NRA (National Rifle Association) is a white, richly-funded, physically threatening, one-issue lobby, that opposes any restrictions to gun ownership or to the types of guns that Americans can own. For example, the NRA supports the use of bullets that can penetrate police body armor; they favor selling guns to violent felons and to the criminally insane; and they think that everyone should be able to walk the streets with guns on their hips or hidden in their clothes. They even argue that the answer to gun violence is more guns, their argument being that this will enable the good guys to whip out their guns and shoot down the bad guys before the latter can hurt anyone. Because this solution is nonsensical, it is my belief that the NRA simply doesn't want to admit that it values gun ownership over human life. I also believe that it only wants all of these guns so that white people can protect themselves against black people, and so they can wage war against their own government if that government tries to take away their guns! They're monomaniacs, at best, and I think it pleases them to know that black men are fourteen times more likely to be shot than are white men. 

Am I out of issues?

A book buying celebration


A work by F. Hopkinson Smith
I went to the doctor last week for my six week check-in (which was a week overdue) and was told that I’m doing better than most. I hadn’t known how worried Peggy had been because she had the misguided notion that I would worry if she told me, although I don’t remember an occasion on which I took-on her fears. Only after leaving the doctor’s did she confess that the knee’s continued swelling and heat had concerned her greatly.

Brian (the surgeon) suggested that an exercise bike might be beneficial, so we went to Sears where I spoke with a 20-year old salesman who said that, when he was fifteen, he had undergone one of the ten post painful surgeries (in terms of recovery). It was necessitated because his ribs were turning inward and would have killed him had he not had a metal plate inserted and spent a month flat on his back. Then I celebrated the good report by going to St. Vinnie’s and buying seven books. I rarely buy so many, but they had been moved from the rare book room into the main part of the store where I was able to get them for under $5 each and after that to Costco where, because I was using a cane and wearing a compression stocking, a woman who was anticipating a knee replacement approached me with many questions. But enough of all that, because I want to tell you about the seven old books I bought in the hope that, if you don
’t already, you too might come to love old copies of old books.

(1) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970). I read this book twenty years ago, but was thinking just last week that I wanted to re-read it. The German edition appeared in January 1929, and my English edition was published in November of that same year. By its release, Little, Brown, and Company had put out seven editions (presumably, all in English) and fourteen printings. My copy is inscribed “Merry Christmas, 1929. From Mabel to Paul,” leaving me to wonder if Paul had fought in The War to End All Wars.

The store had two copies from the same printing. The other was sent to the States from war-torn Saigon, with the inscription, “Read to Understand.” The preface to the book reads: “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war.” I’ve read those words twice since I got home, and I’ve cried twice. How is it that I ever entertained the stupid, stupid belief that war makes men when the truth is that it
’s more likely to break them!? I suppose it was because my culture glorifies war, war, and more war, always in the name of peace, although I suppose it’s possible that testosterone also played a part.
 
(2) Harold Bell Wright (1872-1944) is best (and most infamously) known for The Calling of Dan Matthews, which is about a preacher who, like Wright himself, left the ministry to save his integrity. The book I bought today is Their Yesterdays from 1928. I first browsed this same color illustrated copy three months ago, but passed it up because it seemed too spiritual. I don’t believe in omens, yet I can’t say that finding the same copy of the same book meant nothing to me, and it’s also true that much of what he says resonates—for instance: “He had said to himself, ‘When I am twenty-one, I will be a man.’ He did not know then that twenty-one years—that indeed three times twenty-one years—cannot make a man.” I suppose it’s common for boys to pick an age at which to expect manhood. I remember that, at age seventeen, I saw a 19-year-old male mentioned in my local newspaper as “a man,” an concluded that my 19th birthday—at the latest—would be the day that I would wake up feeling different. When nothing happened, I advanced the magic number to twenty-one, and when it too failed, I looked pessimistically to thirty. At 68, I still feel like a minor fraud when I call myself a man, there being too much weight on the word for it to ever be achievable.

(3) The Workers East (1897) and (4) The Workers West (1898) were by a economist named Walter A Wyckoff (1865-1908). Wyckoff was so wealthy that his butler saw him off—in July, 1891, when he  set out walking with old clothes upon his back and without a penny in his pocket. He traveled America for eighteen months, taking day laborer jobs as he went, and writing eloquently about his experiences. This was not a rich man’s lark, but a profound effort to understand the lives of the poorest of the laboring class. One of my two copies of the set is gloriously illustrated, and the set itself had at least two previous owners. The inscription identifying the first owner reads, “Here’s to this little world of ours, which is not growing worse to women, like you, who are doing their best to make it better. V.J. from Tom S. Dec 10,1910.” The second owner was Air Transport Local 1881, IAMAW, Burlingame, CA.” Because the U.S. postal service only instituted zip codes and two-letter state abbreviations in 1963, the second listed owner must have come along decades after the first, which makes sense given that air transport would have been unknown in 1910.

(5) A 1945 edition of Richard Wright’s 1937 book Black Boy. Wright (1908-1960) was from my part of Mississippi, but, because he was black, I only heard of him after moving to Oregon and happening upon his book Native Son at St. Vinnie’s. (I also discovered Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man at St. Vinnie’s and found grim humor in the fact that, given my hitherto complete ignorance of his existence, the title seemed to prove the book’s thesis.)

(6) The Guest, 1946, by Christopher LaFarge (1872-1944). I hadn’t heard of LaFarge, but was intrigued by the book club insert’s promise of a book about a sixty year old “spinster” who lost her grip on reality after her servants abandoned her during the approach of a hurricane.

(7) Light that Faileth (1891) by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). I’ve never read Kipling, but I have read Jack London, so when I learned that London was a major fan of  Kipling, I decided to read him too. One period reviewer wrote that the book had, “a man-loving [surely a euphemism] and misogynistic undercurrent” and was, “…a metaphor for the failing gallantry of 19th-century man confronting the new woman.” My literary idol, Margaret Deland, was among those responsible for creating this subspecies, only to bemoan the fact that some members of her creation were behaving in ways that she considered coarse, if not trashy; that the exalted concept of ladyhood was being lost; and that men were starting to treat women with the same crudity with which they interacted among themselves. One-hundred years later, the word lady has been lost from our language, and the only time I hear the word gentlemen is on the evening news when a cop is referring to a criminal as such. For example; "After strangling Ms Smith, the gentlemen proceeded to kill her dog..." My copy of the book was owned by an Ada Johnson, and how I wish I could talk to her about it!



I want books that long dead eyes read, upon which long dead minds reflected, and into which long dead hands inscribed, because they allow me, in some small measure, to feel that I’m gazing into those eyes, discoursing with those minds, and touching those hands. They penetrate to my soul, and to hold them is to hold the sacred. New books are like new houses in that in that their faces are blank and their souls in infancy. Without them there would be no old books, and the factual ones are often superior, but I’m glad I have little need of them. No matter that new books cost ten times more, I would feel like I was slumming if I walked into a new book store.

As for the authors themselves—as opposed to individual copies of their works—many of the titles I buy are either unavailable new or they’ve been reprinted in paperback, xeroxed editions that I abhor. Without old books, my life would be impoverished. I would still have Mark Twain and Conan Doyle, but I wouldn’t have Margaret Deland and F. Hopkinson Smith, although both were famous during their lifetimes (Smith for his art as well as his books). It’s commonly believed that authors who deserve to remain famous will remain famous, but in my experience, authors are like clothing fashions, the difference being that clothing styles often come back around while, once they’re lost from memory, literary work are rarely rediscovered.

Bobbing for Spiders and Other Critter Tales


Daddy's Little Huntress
I didn't grow up calling a tabby cat a tabby cat. I grew up calling a tabby cat a brindled cat. Peggy, well-traveled Air Force brat that she was, considered this but another example of rural Southern backwardness. I recently pointed out to her that American authors who wrote between the Civil War and the Great Depression (such authors constitute most of my reading), commonly use the word brindled.

Peggy is an arachnophobe, so there is hardly a day that goes by but what I don't have a new opportunity to display manly gallantry by facing down spiders while she screams, "Don't let it get away!" and then, "It's going to get away!" When it doesn't get away, she implores, "Are you sure you killed it?" followed by, "Is it really dead?" followed by, "Are you sure it's really dead?" Because I deny her the indulgence of getting me out of bed to kill spiders, she is forced to either do the job herself or to enlist the help of our ferocious huntress, Scully. Scully is SO ferocious that she'll throw her whole body at a gnat. She's a cat possessed, and regularly leaves the boys standing back with their eyes wide and their ears back as if to say, "We're all crazy about killing things, but this chick's SCARY CRAZY!" 

Last week, Peggy woke up first, and found the kitchen occupied by a spider that, in her eyes, was the size of a small grizzly. She implored Scully to kill it, and Scully said, "No problem, but I'd like to bob for it first, and proceeded to drop the spider into her water bowl. After she had batted it around for awhile, the spider finally succeeded in climbing upon Scully's nose whereupon Scully slung her head from side to side and sent the spider flying. Because it was too soggy and discouraged to "play," Scully then gobbled it down.

It takes a man to do this to a cat
When Brewsky was a young cat, he was so stubborn that I lived in awe of how far he would go to get his way even when he surely realized that I was going to out-stubborn him. For instance, when Peggy and I got out of bed, Brewsky would want to continue sleeping. I would indulge him a little, but the fact was that I wanted to get the bed made. I would eventually put him on the floor and proceed to make the bed, or at least try to make the bed, the problem being that he would jump back in before I could get started. His record for doing this on a a single occasion was twelve. Yes, of course, I could have put him out of the room, or scolded him so severely that he wouldn't dare cross me, but I enjoyed the contest. When the bed was finally made, I would put him back in, and we would share a little schmooze.

Wendy, 1977-1994

When we lived in the country, we had a little black schnauzer named Wendy. Sometimes when she was asleep on the porch, I would sneak off into the woods and call her name. Because I had thinned the trees, I could see her from quite a distance as she jumped up excitedly and started searching for my track. After she found it, it was a small matter for her to come to the tree I was in, but once there, she NEVER thought to look up, but would instead go round and round the tree trying to figure out where I went next. She would eventually give up, and not knowing what else to do, follow my scent all the way back to the house and start out again. When that didn't work, she would do sweeps that took in several acres. Eventually, I would sneak down from the tree, and we would share a joyous reunion.

The older Wendy got, the more she went from being submissive to standing up for for what she considered her rights. For example, she would balk at giving up her seat next to me in the car. The day came when Wendy completely refused to give her seat, even to Peggy. When a human tried to get in anyway, Wendy would push against him or her with all thirteen pounds of her schnauzerly might. I mostly left it up to my passenger to deal with the situation, but when a man whom I had just met asked if he should sit in the back, I made her move, although I believe that, in most situations, non-humans should be shown the same consideration as humans.

In Mississippi, we lived fifty miles from Peggy's parents (her father had by then retired from the Air Force), and would often go up and spend the night. They didn't want dogs in their house, and I didn't go anywhere without my dog. In summer, I felt good about making Wendy a bed on their patio because flea season in Mississippi is no joke. However, Wendy would have been miserable outdoors on a mild night in winter, and her very life would have been endangered on a cold night in winter, so Peggy's parents grudgingly agreed to let her stay in the laundry room. She interpreted her confinement as punishment, and remained in a state of near frantic despondency through every visit. If I had it to do over, I would have given my inlaws a choice between either allowing Wendy into the den--which opened into the laundry room--or of Peggy visiting them alone.

Later on when we lived in Minneapolis, I dutifully put Wendy's coat on and took her for a walk everyday in winter although she so hated going that she would run up to the front door of every house we passed hoping someone would let her in. If I had that to do over, I would only take her walking on windless, sunny days.

Despite the fact that Peggy has since come to adore cats, she used to be a self-proclaimed cat-hater, and was even plagued by dreams of being pursued by demonic cats. One rainy wintry day, a wet, shivering, and hungry mother cat came to Peggy in distress (during her cat hating period, cats regularly sought Peggy's companionship). I don't remember the details, but suffice it to say that, "cat-hater" though she was, Peggy did what she could to help that cat and her kittens. If Peggy had said, "I'm not going to help that cat because I hate cats," I would have wondered how this woman who I married all those many years ago could have been heartless all along without me knowing it.

Wendy and me
Wendy visited more states than most people. She hung-out in communes, witnessed a lot of sex and drug use, regularly flew with me in my small Cessna, spent her days at construction sites when I was a re-modeler and on roofs when I was a roofer. We hitchhiked together, having the misfortune one wintry day of having to walk most of the twenty interstate miles between Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Tallulah, Louisiana. When Paul Winter invited his audience to howl at an outdoor concert at a former Shaker community in New Lebanon, New York, Wendy joined in, but when Paul signaled that it was time to stop, Wendy didn't get the message. People who were seated nearby smiled as they watched her throw herself into her music, while people at a distance craned their necks trying to determine who was being rude.

Wendy loved Peggy, but she only felt secure with me. One day, I left her and Peggy at a friend's home while I drove to the store. On my way back, I met Wendy walking up the road looking for me. A few months earlier, she had done the same thing when I left her with some other friends, but Peggy hadn't been there that time. Despite her devotion to me, if I--or anyone else--tried to pet Wendy, she would move just out of reach and lie back down. I had imagined that the only dogs that avoided the touch of humans were dogs who were afraid of humans, but Wendy wasn't afraid of people (cats were another story). That said, she took a long time to become friends with people despite the considerable effort that a lot of them made to hurry her along.

Bonnie. Soft name. Hard dog.
Our last dog was a blue heeler named Bonnie, who, like Wendy, didn't make friends easily. However, Bonnie did something that Wendy never once did, and that was to bite people. I was out walking with Bonnie one day when a woman who was working in her yard came over and asked if she could pet her. I warned her that Bonnie would bite, but like many people, the woman took my warning as a challenge. She asked if she could try to win Bonnie over with bologna, and I said, sure, but I didn't think it would work.

The woman looked at me like I didn't know much about dogs (she had probably heard the saying about a dog not biting the hand that feeds it), so she got a piece of bologna and tore it into small pieces, which Bonnie happily took one at a time from her hand. When the meat was all gone, the woman slowly reached out her fingers in the direction of Bonnie's head, and I could hear Bonnie's teeth clacking together a millimeter short of the rapidly retreating hand that fed her. That woman looked as if she couldn't believe what had just happened, but no one could win Bonnie over that easily, although she was extraordinarily loving around people she liked. I've had many dogs over the years, and I always told myself that I wouldn't keep a dog that would bite, but not only would Bonnie bite, she would bite me, yet if I ever adored a dog, Bonnie was that dog, partly because she had a pronounced sense of dignity and a pronounced intelligence to go with it. More about her later.

Progress Report, Smoke Report, Surgical Error Report, Kasha Report


Three weeks post knee replacement, I've gone from using a walker, to two crutches, to one crutch, to a trekking pole (an adjustable walking stick with a strap), to no aid at all around the house. Instead of working out three times a day for twenty minutes, I work-out almost continually throughout the day (as I write this, I'm flexing and straightening my knee. My major goals for the first six weeks are achieving a normal bend in the knee (120-degrees) and being able to completely straighten the knee. Last Friday, my bend was 105, which was good, and I was three degrees from achieving complete straightness.

Yesterday was house-cleaning day, and I excitedly anticipated being able to help, but after two and half hours on my feet, the knee started to swell (more than it is normally swollen), turn red, and feel hot. The PT said that I could expect swelling to be a problem for two or three months, and, of course, it negatively impacts my therapy goals. There's nothing I can do for it but to lie around for hours everyday with my knee elevated above my heart, and ice packs draped over my knee. It's enough to drive a person crazy. At this point ALWAYS feels like the stiffest knee that a normal person ever had in his life, and it NEVER stops hurting, but it's not pain that's through the roof. One good thing I can say about the pain of exercising is that it was many times worse when I started than it is today, and that by itself is enough to keep me motivated to work-out. 

Until a few days ago, the only outdoor walking I did was to and from the car for my physical therapy appointments. This was because the smoke from the many forest fires (I live in Oregon's Willamette Valley) has been so bad that people are advised to stay indoors. Fortunately, Peggy and I have air conditioning, something that not everyone here has because really hot days are rare--or at least they used to be. 

The smoke has been SO bad of late that there have been days when the sun never appeared; we couldn't see the nearby hills; and we could even see smoke by looking toward the shrubbery in the backyard looked smoky. Peggy taped cardboard over our bathroom vent fan; laid towels along the bottoms of doors to the outside; and avoided opening outside doors if she could help it. Picture a bad air day in Beijing, and that's what much of Oregon looks like. Peggy has had bronchitis and an ear infection from the foul air (she was prescribed steroids and is much improved), and many people are wearing masks. We get some smoke from forest fires almost every year, but this is record-breaking, and it has been going on for over two weeks. Fortunately, it has gotten some better during the last few days due to a front moving through. We even had our first rain in months, although it only lasted a few minutes. Every summer here is a drought summer, but as with the heat, the droughts are getting worst.

Once all the steri-strips fell off so that my incision was visible, my physical therapist (Kasha) pointed out that the incision was crooked (she thought this was a lot funnier than I did), and indeed it looked like what you would expect if a drunk man with palsy tried to draw a straight line seven inches long. I knew that Brian didn't have palsy, and after much reflection, I eliminated as untenable the possibility that a sex kitten of a nurse might have goosed him during surgery, and this left me with but one inescapable conclusion, namely that Brian had operated on me at 7:00 in the morning while drunker than a skunk, and that he had put my new joint in upside down and backwards. I knew this had to be the case because if the situation were otherwise, he wouldn't have been chewing gum to mask the alcohol odor, and I would be able to straighten the knee completely. Also, when I bend it, it would bend in the back like a normal knee instead of in the front like a bird's knee. I think that the best option at this point is for Brian to replace the right knee too, and to put it in upside down and backwards, so that it will match the left knee. Naturally, I would expect him to do this for free. It's a sucky situation, but I'm sure it happens all the time, and I don't hold it against him. Actually, it reminds me of a funny story.

If you've had surgery at either of the local hospitals in the last thirty years or so, you know that the surgeon will come around and put a mark on the spot where he or she is going to operate. He will do this while you're still awake, and you're expected to verify that he's marking the correct place, the goal being to avoid the embarrassment that comes when doctors operate on the wrong patient, amputate the wrong leg, perform hysterectomies on ninety year old men, do tummy-tucks on four year olds, and other fox paws (fox paw is French for fuck-up). As many of you know, Peggy spent her last 24 years as a nurse in an OB unit that was devoted exclusively to labor and delivery patients. Word came down one day that all of the doctors would be forevermore expected to mark the abdomens of all of their C-section patients in order to insure that they (the doctors) wouldn't do something embarrassing like removing a woman's ring fingers. The doctors considered the new rule too stupid for words, and the nurses backed them, so it was soon discarded.

But back to Kasha. I liked her quite well when we met, but she's an avid cyclist, and when the smoke became bad enough that biking was making her throat hurt, she became so despondent that I started to dread seeing her. She would bitch about the smoke; about not having air conditioning at home; about her gym being closed for servicing just when she needed it most; about her difficulty with getting a baby sitter; and about injuries from old bike wrecks; but especially about being unable to ride her bike. I was one appointment away from either having a serious talk with her or simply going to another therapist when she immediately turned herself around and became as good a therapist as I had thought she was when we first met. I even told her after my last session that I had enjoyed working with her, which surely isn't something she hears much from knee replacement patients because these sessions are painful. She looked like she could have cried, and I went away feeling very glad that I hadn't fired her before she could pull herself together.

Come and Gone

Sacred Heart Hospital
"O, the joy! Oh yeah, uh!" Explorer William Clark upon reaching Oregon's Pacific shore in 1805.

We got up at 3:30 on Thursday morning for the 7:30 surgery. The anesthesiologist and the surgeon, Brian, visited me as I lay in bed in the holding area. The anesthesiologist was mellow; Brian, intense as ever, was chewing his gum violently. If he hadn't come well-recommended, I would have suspected that whatever brains he was born with had been displaced by testosterone. I said that it was time for him to work his magic, and he gave me the best reassurance imaginable, "This isn't magic; it's carpentry.

I received my spinal in the OR where doctors have replaced their masks with what look like helmets. I could hear the saw and smell the stench as Brian cut through my bones. Then came the hammering of metal, and I remembered his carpentry allusion. 

The recovery room nurse said that the hospital regularly books more people into surgery than it has places to put them, but that if I were lucky, a room might open up later in the day. If I wasn't lucky, I would have to hope for a better tomorrow.

Three and a half hours later, a room opened up. The labor and delivery rooms (where Peggy used to work) are spacious and have good views of the McKenzie River and the Coburg Hills, so I expected the orthopedic floor to be the same. It was not. My room was so small (not to mention dingy) that workers were forever having to move some things around to get to other things. An outside wall blocked any view lower than the tops of the nearby Coburg Hills.

The pain was intense, and Brian had gone on vacation without following through on his promise of extra narcotics. When I colored the air with expressions of indignation, the powers that be decided to give me 30 mgs of oxycodone at once each morning and an additional 10 mgs every three hours round the clock. A pharmacist dropped by and said I was at risk of respiratory arrest from what she considered an ungodly amount of narcotics. I assured her that she was wrong, and she went away sulking. That night, a 10 mg Ambien, a 45 mg Remeron, a 5 mg Flexeril, and various other drugs were added to the oxycodone, and I became so shit-faced that I didn't know I was in the hospital.

A few hours after surgery, a physical therapist had me walking (with a walker) and doing flexibility exercises. The next day, I attended my first joint rehabilitation class (two of them a day), and walked the loop that circled around the orthopedic floor (there was even a board on which to advance your magnet every time you completed a loop). While in bed, one machine circulated cold water around the surgical site, another machine massaged both legs in the direction of my heart, and the bed itself had a barely noticeable massage function that increased circulation and prevented bed sores. 

The day after surgery, my temperature hit 38.2 C (100.7 F),  my knee swelled to half again its normal size, and I wasn't getting nearly enough laxative to allay the narcotic-induced constipation. When I said that I hadn't pooped since the day before the surgery, I was given a dose of ExLax. When that didn't work, I opted for a suppository, but the result was more worthy of a housecat than a man. By the next day (two days after surgery), my temperature was normal, but I felt like I had a five pound weight on my chest. I hated to mention it to the Nurse Bridget, because I didn't want pandemonium to develop over something that I really didn't think was a problem. Prudence won the day, and Bridget immediately called her supervisor. When Bridget told her that my color was good, that the pain didn't radiate, and that it felt more like pressure than actual pain; she was told not to worry. An hour later, I felt fine and said I wanted to go home. My total time in the hospital had been 56 hours.

The first thing did when I got home was to exchange greetings with three mystified cats. The second was take a couple of sodium docusates, drink a lot of water, and eat a lot of prunes. A few hours later, I had that long awaited bowel movement, but it didn't amount to much, which was just as well because lowering myself onto the pot took so long that I ended up pooping from a standing position. This very scenario had been a concern of mine at the hospital where I told Nurse Bridget that I'm a refined person, and that refined people rarely take dumps on the floor. 

My embarrassment brought to mind an experience Peggy had when she was a new nurse with a dying patient who was having bout after bout of diarrhea, each of which hit him so fast that he was unable to wait for a bedpan. His last words were repeated apologies to Peggy, and she has never stopped regretting that she was unable to find words that would have enabled that man to die in peace. If she had said what she was thinking, she would have told him that it was an honor to attend to the needs of a man for whom she felt such affection and respect. She couldn't say this because she had only met him that day and because it would have represented a greater act of intimacy than her need for professionalism would have allowed. I can but say that the workers who served me best while I was in the hospital were the ones who seemed vulnerable.

Compared to the pain that I live with and the pain that followed my three shoulder surgeries, the pain from this surgery just isn't that bad. I was told to expect hell, but my primary feeling is joy as I prepare to get on with my life minus one source of pain. My ignorance of how little pain normal people experience had at times caused me to suspect that I was simply a woos, but now that my vision has cleared, I say to you that I really do suffer. To the knee replacement fear-mongers in particular, I would scream, "What! You call this pain?" While I suppose it's possible that I'm so stupid that it takes days for pain in my knee to register in my brain, I am nonetheless optimistic.

Today is Monday, so I'm only four days post-op, yet every time I do my exercises, I see improvement. I just hope I can resist my desire to push myself too hard too fast. Brian said it would be six weeks before I could mow the lawn, but while I was out the backyard just now watching the solar eclipse, I thought to myself, "Hell, I could mow today."

The Day and the Hour Rapidly Approach


Men Sleeping in the Rain, Green Park, London, 1902

"It was a welter of rags and filth, of all manner of loathsome skin diseases, open sores, bruises, grossness, indecency, leering monstrosities, and bestial faces. A chill raw wind was blowing, and these creatures huddled there in their rags, sleeping for the most part, or trying to sleep....It was this sleeping that puzzled me. Why were nine out of ten of them trying to sleep? But it was not till afterward that I learned. It is a law of the powers that be that the homeless shall not sleep by night." (Jack London, from The People of the Abyss)
 
I've had one other joint replacement--my left shoulder--and am astounded by how different the required preparation has become. I got ready for that 2011 operation by going to a surgeon who looked at my x-rays and gave me a date for the procedure. A week prior to that date, I underwent blood tests, a brief visit with an anesthesiologist, and maybe an EKG. Here's what I have to do this time around:

In June, I had my first visit with a surgeon who looked at my x-rays and proposed a total knee replacement. A few weeks later, I spent an hour with my assigned "care coordinator." Ten days after that, Peggy and I attended a required two-hour joint replacement class. This Monday, I spent a combined ninety minutes with a medical assistant, a phlebotomist, an EKG technician, and an anesthesiologist. Today, I have a preparatory visit with the surgeon. So there you have it--many things to do, many people to see, many assigned exercises that I'm in too much pain to do, and a large binder of reading materials. I feel more unnerved than informed by all of this because it makes the surgery seem like a big deal, which it is, of course, but I could do with a few less reminders.

Before I had my first shoulder surgery, I made the mistake of watching the procedure on the Internet, and what I learned was that I have NO desire to ever again watch a surgery for which imagination alone will suffice. You might wonder why I am SO scared, and I've asked myself that same question. Aside from the risk of stroke, infection, weeks of pain and disability, and the failure of the new joint to bring relief, the thing that bothers me most is that I feel like a genetic weakling because so many parts of my body hurt so much, and because only one of the bone-related surgeries I've had (carpel tunnel) brought me significant relief. After this knee replacement, I'll be having elbow surgery, and then there's the likelihood of more shoulder surgeries. Even if I am so fortunate that these things help, I'll still live with significant back pain, and I'll still live in fear that my narcotics will be taken away. Ergo, I have no hope that I will ever be without pain and disability, and the fact that I'm about to do something that, for a couple of months, will add to that pain, makes me tremble.

On the bright side, I recognize that there is cause for hope based upon the skill of my surgeon and the advanced state of knee replacements. I tell myself that this surgery is just one more thing of many things that I have endured, or will endure, and that my life is a bowl of cherries compared to the lives of millions of creatures.

I'm a lover of Jack London, who made a career of writing about--and photographing--human misery, and who himself endured great pain toward the end of his forty-year life. I read him now partly because I need perspective, and I get it from reminding myself of the many millions of people who were--and are--far worse off than I due to the fact that they had no money, no safety, no shelter, no healthcare, little food, no loved ones, and no cause for hope. Compared to the misery of the humans and other creatures with whom London came in contact during his travels around the world, my problems are minor:

"From the slimy, spittle-drenched sidewalk, they were picking up bits of orange peel, apple skins, and grape stems, and they were eating them... They picked up stray crumbs of bread the size of peas, apple cores so black and dirty one would not take them to be apple cores, and these things the two men took into their mouths and chewed them, and this between six and seven o'clock in the evening of August 20, the year of our Lord 1902, in the heart of the greatest, wealthiest, and most powerful empire of the world." (op. cit.)

How I Got Here



I'm 68, and spent my first 37 years in Mississippi, most of them in the vicinity of Brookhaven, a town of 11,000. By 1983, I was so fed-up with the heat, poverty, ignorance, provincialism, and my own sense of alienation, that I started looking for a new home. Because my biggest problem was loneliness, I spent most of the next two years visiting communes. Tension at home became high because of my almost constant traveling and my near constant womanizing, and Peggy also objected to my use of marijuana (for which people went to prison back then) and the occasional hallucinogenic.

I wanted her to accompany me on my repeated eight week forays that took me as far as New Hampshire to the north, Colorado to the west, and numerous places in-between, but she was unwilling to give up her job. She did fly to a few communes that I liked. One was in Richmond and another in Denver, but my favorite was a 35 person commune in New York City. It was called The Foundation for Feedback Learning, and the people there embraced me as I had never been embraced.

Although I visited a number of rural communes--including the 1,400 person The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee--I wanted to live in a city, and what better city than New York City? I was to New York City in general, and to the Staten Island commune in particular, like a duck to water. Because my accent immediately advertised where I was from, I had expected New Yorkers to hate me just as I knew that Mississippians would have hated them. I was instead treated like a lost rube who needed protection, not just by the people in the commune, but by the people I stayed with in Greenwich Village (lower Manhattan) through a travel organization called Servas.* The first person I met when I got off the train in New York was a black taxi driver from Alabama, and even he treated me, a white Southerner, like home-folks.

Unfortunately, Peggy felt unsafe in the grungy city, and she had no interest in the hours and hours a day that the people at the commune spent bearing their souls around a huge table and giving one another what could be uncomfortable "feedback." While we decided what to do next, Peggy joined the Traveling Nurse Corps and was offered a three-month stint in a cardiac telemetry unit at St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno, California. We loaded our Ford Tempo and moved into an apartment provided by St. Agnes in April, 1986. We loved Fresno until the 115-degree summer heat arrived. Being skilled in various building trades, I had planned to work as a house painter, but I hurt my knee so badly while playing sand volleyball with the Fresno Sierra Club that I spent all of our time there recuperating. It is that knee that I'm finally going to have replaced in August.

We had previously visited the town of Eugene, Oregon, and would have moved there had there been a job opening for Peggy. The attraction of Eugene was its cool summers, its liberalism, and its reputation as a paradise for people who were looking for alternative lifestyles, i.e. communes, open marriages, and group marriages. I concluded that a group marriage would be even better than a commune because everyone would be more intimate. I had been lonely all my life, and I thought that if I could be close to enough people, I would never be lonely again. 

About the time that Peggy's job ended in Fresno, a permanent opening came up in the intensive care unit at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene. She got the job, so we left the Tempo in an acquaintance's driveway in Eugene and flew back to Mississippi to gather our belongings. We made the move in a U-Haul truck, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly except for the evening that we crested a hill south of Amarillo and slammed into a load of brush that must have fallen off a pick-up. Right away, we smelled anti-freeze, and Peggy started to pull over. I told her to keep driving until the motor started to overheat, and we were able to reach a truck stop.

I had more friends in Eugene in a month than I had in Mississippi after decades. It was still a hippie town back then, and a person could literally make friends walking down the street. Moving to Eugene seemed downright exotic for a country boy from the Deep South. One of my first realizations was that everyone I knew had moved here from another state. When I told one of my new friends (a newcomer from the Bay Area) that Eugene was the first town I had lived in that had a good library, he thought I was joking, his basis for comparison being San Francisco. 

There was so much to love about Eugene that everyday was a wonderful new adventure. In Mississippi, if I wanted whole grain bread, I had to bake it, and the only flour I could find was wheat, while Eugene had several whole grain bakeries and numerous alternative grocery stores that carried grains like spelt and teff that I had never heard of. And instead of summer days being humid and 95 F (35 C), they were more often 75 F (24 C), and if I was out early or late, I needed a jacket. Everywhere I looked, I saw beards, tie-dye, long hair on both sexes, and Birkenstocks. Rather than supporting the war in Vietnam, demonstrators in Eugene had occupied university buildings and burned the draft board. Instead of the only radio stations being commercialized Top 40; Eugene had five commercial-free stations that played everything from talk, to rock, to reggae, to Big Band, to Baroque, and so on. Indeed the inspiration for this post came from listening to a program of classic rock while I did yard work on Saturday (Nazareth's version of "Love Hurts" put me in instant tears, and I hadn't heard "Pictures of Lily in decades).


Within months, Peggy and I moved from a tiny apartment, to a duplex, to owning a house, but within two years of coming here, we "married" a woman named Vicki (our wedding included a ceremony, a cake, and a reception). I had met Vicki during my first summer in Eugene when we both worked at the University of Oregon, but she had since moved to Minnesota to pursue a doctorate in sociology. Meanwhile, Peggy was in pain from moving all of those unconscious patients around in the intensive care unit, and requested a transfer to labor and delivery. When Sacred Heart refused, she started looking at other employment options. I didn't want to move to Minneapolis, but with Vicki there and Peggy able to get an immediate job in an antepartum unit at Abbott Northwestern, I felt that I had no choice. We put our Oregon house on the market, bought another house in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, and loaded our belongings into a 24-foot Ryder truck behind which we towed our car.

We arrived in Minnesota in late October, and the first snow fell within the week. I remember driving on a freeway in Minneapolis while imagining that no one really lived in such a shitty climate, but that the whole existence of the city was a joke on me. I don't mean to say that I believed this, but it does illustrate my astonishment that anyone would choose to live in a place that got so cold that a daytime high of zero (-18 C) came to seem downright balmy if the day was windless and sunny. Really cold was -20 to -30 F (-29 to -34 C), which was so cold that I would put on a coat to take the trash out although the garbage can was ten feet from the door.



Vicki and I soon began fighting constantly, so two years after leaving Eugene, Peggy announced that she was going back to Oregon, and I could come if I pleased. The decision was a no-brainer. Peggy flew back first and moved in with two friends, and I flew out a little later to house shop. After finding a place, I returned to Minneapolis and continued to live a hellacious existence with Vicki until the Minnesota house was sold. I then rented another Ryder truck, which I loaded and drove alone.

If I had it all to do over, I would most certainly leave Mississippi again, but I probably wouldn't move 2,500 miles to Oregon, because that much distance makes it impossible to remain close to friends and family, watch nieces and nephews grow-up, and so forth. I miss the South, and while I wouldn't want to live there, I would like to visit. Living in Oregon means being in one corner of the country, and far from the rest. It's not so remote as Alaska or Hawaii, but it's in that direction. Finally, the Eugene metro area has more than doubled in size; gangs have moved in; and although pot is now legal, meth, crack and heroin have displaced acid. Whole Foods and Costco have overwhelmed the little alternative stores; and instead of the lead story on the local news being a house fire, it's more often a murder. 

On the bright side, there has been a peace demonstration in Eugene every single week since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, and even though I haven't attended a protest in years (I used to go weekly), I take inspiration from the fact that Eugene has thirteen peace groups, forty-four environmental groups (including chapters and agencies), several atheist groups, and thirteen LGBT groups as well groups that support the rights of nonhumans.** Such things are like the 40-million year old mountains that surround Eugene (Eugene Skinner, the town's founder, compared the town's site to a bird's nest) in that they make Eugene the special place that it is. Last week, the area held its annual Country Fair (envision full-tilt freakishness)***, and the month-long Bach festival started in June. As with Eugene's opera, ballet, and symphony, these are things that I value though I never go. 

A new poster a year

When I moved here, I found people who believed that there was something unalterably radiant about Eugene in particular, but to a lesser extent, the whole of Oregon. One of my new friends said that if I hadn't already felt the magic in the air, I soon would. Everyone who came here wanted to shut the gate behind them for fear that Oregon would become like the places they had fled. It was an era of billboards and bumper stickers like the one at the top of this post, and an organization called the John G. Baine Society that did its utmost to keep new people out--as did Oregon's "environmental governor," Tom Mccall. Eugene tried to limit industry and outlaw big box stores. The town was no less naive than I. 

Despite its growing problems, Oregon is still a good place to live in a world that contains fewer and fewer good places. From my perspective, if an area doesn't have one fatal flaw, it's likely to have another. If it's not the heat, it's the cold; if it's not the standard of living, it's the boring topography; if it's not too few people, it's too many people. The worst thing I can say about my part of Oregon--the Willamette Valley--is that it has become too crowded, that its winters are long and drizzly, and that it doesn't have a long recorded history because it was only settled in mid-1800s. or evidence of past inhabitants. On the plus side, temperature extremes are rare in Eugene; Oregon was inhabited by humans as long ago as 15,000 years; and we lived but an hour's drive from places in which we might not see or hear another person for days. Although we're but a ten minute walk from the heart of downtown, we regularly see raccoons, nutria, and Great Blue Herons; our neighbor just put up a fence to keep deer out of her garden; mallards often land in our front yard; we've seen wild turkeys in our backyard; and, in some years, river otters inhabit the canal across the street.

Oregon has more square miles in public lands (both state and federal) than most states have square miles. I can reach a Pacific Ocean beach (every beach in Oregon is owned by the public) in an hour; be hiking in the Old Cascades in less than that; and the high desert that occupies two-thirds of Oregon is but two hours away. Oregon's climate ranges from mild to Arctic; its precipitation from desert to rainforest; its elevation from sea level to eleven thousand feet.

Epilogue (as the screen read when The Fugitive ended****)

Peggy and I still live in the house that we bought upon our return from Minneapolis in 1990, and we'll be celebrating our 46th anniversary in December. When I looked Vicki up a few years ago, she was Dr. ___ and living on the East Coast. As for the NYC commune, my web search showed that it still exists, although the name the commune goes by differs from its non-profit business name, which is what I knew it by. Some of the people whom I knew are still there: http://ganas.org/ .

Peggy used to keep an Ashleigh Brilliant card on the fridge. It read, "Believe it or not, my life is based upon a true story." Our lives are less exciting now; we have fewer adventures to look forward to; and less energy and optimism with which to live on what we and our friends used to call "the cutting edge of the psycho-social frontier." It's a time for reflection, gentleness, and living at the speed of our cats, because god knows we've been through enough craziness and drama. We both have some regrets, and I certainly made many mistakes along the way, but I couldn't see down a road that I hadn't yet taken. Wishful thinking combined with idealism will do that to a person.

* https://usservas.org/
** http://getinvolvedineugene.com/ 
*** https://www.oregoncountryfair.org/
**** http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056757/?ref_=nv_sr_2

A wee little surgery


I’ve seen so many orthopedists over the years that I’ve lost count. Yesterday, I went to a new one for my left knee which has bothered me since 1986, after a game of beach volleyball. I came away from that game with a Baker Cyst (a fluid-filled sac on the back of my knee) and was in so much pain that I could only walk slowly and with a limp for weeks. The limp went away, but the Baker Cyst often swelled to the point that it was visible. By 2006, my knee hurt so much that I had a surgical meniscus debridement, which didn’t help and during which (I was awake) the surgeon broke my heart by suggesting that I give up hiking. I’ve since been on various NSAIDS, had innumerable steroid injections, two series of orthovisc injections, and a RFA (radiofrequency ablation). I’m now to the point that I don't even take short walks, and even with that, I'm limping by evening each day.

Those of you who recall my three shoulders surgeries, might suspect that I’m a fan of surgery, and indeed I used to be. “Have a problem—cut it out and get on with your life,” I thought. And indeed, that philosophy worked for the first ten or so surgeries that included the removal of anal polyps, oral cysts,  tonsils, and a whopping neuroma on right thigh. Carpel tunnel repair was a breeze, the first surgery on my nasal septum didn't cramp my style, but that changed when it had to be redone at the Oregon Health Science University in Portland as a part of a massive surgery on my sinuses, turbinates, and septum. I had insisted on remaining awake for every surgery but the tonsillectomy. Then the day came when a surgeon took a biopsy of an osteonecrotic cervical vertebra by putting a scope through my throat, and she said there was no way she would do it with me awake. My combination hernia repair and lymph node biopsy was no fun either, and when the doctor refused to give me adequate narcotics, I went down to his office without an appointment and sat there until he did.

Then came those three shoulder surgeries that included such strange sounding elements as subacromial decompression, supraspinatus repair, biceps tenodesis, humeral head resurfacing, and a partial joint replacement. I was in such pain prior to these surgeries that I had to sleep sitting up with ice packs draped over my shoulders, and I was in such pain after them that I had to sleep sitting up with ice packs draped over my shoulders. I wasn’t even allowed to lift a toothbrush for the first six weeks after these surgeries, and nothing over five pounds for the next six weeks.
The recovery time was between six months and a year, yet my shoulders still hurt so much that I worry that I might have to return to sleeping in a chair. 

So, I’ve lost my faith in surgery as a quick fix. In fact, I'll never again go into surgery with overwhelming confidence that I’ll emerge alive. After all, the odds of dying from a clot, a nosocomial infection, a pierced organ (a risk during shoulder surgery), a medication error, or the incompetence of any one of the scores of people who have the opportunity to kill me are significant.(https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/medical-errors-are-third-leading-cause-of-death-in-the-us).

The new doc is tall, muscular, and dripping with testosterone. In Peggy’s words, “He’s full of himself.” Indeed, he needed a mop to clean up his arrogance. He walked briskly into the examining room, took my hand, and stood staring into my eyes as if sizing me up, but sizing me up as what—a man? A patient? I was already upset over a fight with Peggy about a missed highway exit, and feeling like a weakling because I’ve needed so many surgeries. This meant that I was hardly in the mood to deal with a doctor who seemed to regard himself as my overall superior about a problem that I’ve had since he was a lad, but since I had waited for months to get in to see him, I had to do my best. It helped that there were things about him  I liked. For instance, he introduced himself by his first name (Brian); apologized for being late; agreed to my requests (more about them later); is highly rated on the doctor-rating sites; and did his fellowship in adult joint reconstruction at the Anderson Orthopedic Research Institute. I considered his profanity unprofessional, but it certainly went with his macho shtick.

After a brief exam, Brian proposed a full knee replacement. I was agreeably surprised because, since I was a new patient, I had expected the same-old-same-old: a steroid shot, a prescription for an anti-inflammatory, a referral to physical therapy, and the words, “We’ll talk again in a couple of months.” 


I made four requests of Brian: that I could remain awake during surgery; that he would give me a steroid shot to help tide me over until August when I’m ready to have the surgery done (which is the earliest he can do it anyway); that he give me whole lot more post-surgical narcotics than I’m already taking (he said he would double the amount for the first six weeks); and that he give me a prescription for a brace. He agreed to these requests, but I didn’t get the brace because the one they had wasn’t as good as the two that I already own (I’m an hardcore hoarder of medical devices).

Brian is my second orthopedist this year. The first was Alex, and Alex advised against surgery because, as he put it, “Your arthritis just isn’t that bad.” Since this contradicted what every other doctor had said (ten years ago, one had even told me that my knee was in such bad shape that it might collapse out from under me), I asked Brian what he saw in Alex’s X-rays that might justify Alex’s opinion. “Nothing,” he said. “Then why would Alex say it?” “Because he’s unwilling to take on difficult cases.” “Me difficult—but why?” Because you’ve been in knee pain for a long time, because you’re in pain from other sources, and because you suffer from depression.” Such factors could put me among the 5% of knee replacement patients who surgery doesn’t help. 


I try to cheer myself by being grateful that I at least have access to surgery, there being millions of people and other animals who have no choice but to suffer until they die, and some of them will die sooner rather than later because their problem makes them unable to support themselves. Yet, I'm tormented by the knowledge that I'll be going  from being unable to do many of the things that I would like to do because I have a bad knee to being unable to do them because I have an artificial knee. That is why I've waited so long to have the replacement, that and the knowledge that in a mere ten or fifteen years, I would have to have the replacement replaced, and that there would be less hope that the revision would work as well. Brian did have good news on that score. He said that the two metal parts of the joint would last me a lifetime, and that the plastic part should last for many years after which it can be replaced in ten minutes. Maybe I did well to put the surgery off for all of these years, but I sure do dread it now. I suppose it makes sense that past surgeries would leave me less fearful of additional surgeries, but the truth is that they make me more fearful. I think of them as like playing Russian Roulette.

Death in Oregon, Asininity in Europe



Jeremy Joseph Christian
Three men had their throats slashed on a commuter train in Portland (100 miles up the road from where I live), last weekend while trying to diffuse a situation in which two teenage girls--one black, the other white and wearing a hijab--were being insulted by Jeremy Christian. Although the train was crowded, only these three spoke up, and two of them were killed.

I'm no fan of Ayn Rand, the atheist writer who has inspired right-wing religious Republicans, but I've read several of her books. One of the questions she raised was: why should a person die for a stranger? Yes, why? What is the rationale for depriving your loved ones of your existence by dying for someone about whose nature you are ignorant? Although we praise those who risk their lives, which of us would even give a kidney for a stranger?

One of the men who died had four children. Was it right for him to deprive his children of a father? Would it be right for me to deprive Peggy of a husband?

Fifty years ago, I saw a man beating another man with a pistol. When I yelled, "Stop!" he turned the pistol on me, and I ran. It's not a decision that I have regretted.

I would guess that, out of every hundred people who die for a stranger, nearly all are young men, suggesting that evolution has arranged things so that the impetus to jump into the fray falls upon those who are the best able to come out alive.
Ayn Rand 1905-1982

A major downside of dying for someone is that it eliminates every other good thing a person might have done in life. The people whom I most respect aren't the ones who die for something, but the ones who live for something. For instance there's my blog buddy (http://catwomanflix.blogspot.com/) who has devoted her life to rescuing cats. Instead of praising Jodi for her sacrifice in spending her time and money on cats, and her heroism in crawling under abandoned houses and setting live traps in bad neighborhoods, most people contemptuously call her "the cat lady." This points to another thing about heroes: to win human approbation, they must help humans. Another misgiving I have about those Portland heroes is that I respect few of the people I know enough to die for them, so I'm hardly keen on dying for a stranger....

Maybe I would die for a child--particularly a child I knew--because I don't have a lot of years left to live anyway (call my thoughts about this a matter of economy, if you will). I would imagine that most people feel "programmed" to protect children without regard to either person's gender. But where the protector is male it's "women and children first." When I reflect upon the behavior of the men on the Titanic, I'm struck by the thought that all of those men who, it would appear, deemed their lives as less valuable than women's nonetheless denied legal, social, and political equality to women....

1 of 1,000s of Jodi's rescues
I heard a black woman on the radio say that the men who died in Portland wouldn't be receiving much praise had they been black. If the children they died protecting had been white, I suppose this same woman would have said they wouldn't have died for black children...

The only difference--within myself--that I can image had the men been black would be that their deaths would have countered my image of black people as criminals based upon the fact that the only black people I see on the local news are athletes and criminals, and even then, the athletes are often on the news because they got in trouble with the law. Because of this image, it's easier for a black person to make a favorable impression on me because I so much want to think well of blacks that I cling to their every act of virtue.

Because I so hate Islam, Peggy asked if I would have been less likely to speak up because one of the girls was wearing a hijab. Although I deplore hijabs (which I see as a sure symbol of gender oppression), the fact that one of the girls was wearing one wasn't the issue. The issue was that they were children who were being abused by a depraved bully. Speculating about what I might have done is an irresistible impossibility because I cannot know. All I can know is that, while I don't want to die for nothing, it doesn't follow that I wouldn't die for anything.

Ever the asshole
In other news... I was so outraged by Donald Trump's boorish behavior in Europe (my opinion of Trump is such that I rather think he would have approved of the behavior of the Portland bully, although he would have been too self-serving to have killed anyone himself), that I wrote to a newspaper in Montenegro. At least I tried to write, first to one newspaper in Montenegro, and then to every newspaper in Montenegro, but not a single email got through. I offer this letter as example of the kind of thing that I often do, and that might even, over the long-term, have more impact than martyrdom. In any event, it makes me feel better to do this kind of thing than to not do it.

"I am a lifelong citizen of the United States, and I live in Eugene, Oregon. I am writing to ask your forgiveness for an incident in which the childish man who represents my nation to the world shoved aside the man who represents your nation to the world. Neither I nor most of the people of my nation voted for Donald Trump, yet his boorish behavior reflects negatively upon us.

"After witnessing the campaign which put Trump into office, combined with the months he has been in office, I have come to understand Donald Trump fairly well—it’s easy to see the bottom of a shallow puddle—but what I don’t understand is why Dusko Markovic didn’t object to Trump shoving him aside as if he were a dead limb on a unwanted shrub. As if that apparent acceptance of his relative unimportance were not bad enough, Markovic added, “It is natural that the president of the United States is in the front row.”

"Sad though it is for the people of my nation to be represented by a brainless narcissist like Donald Trump, is it not also sad for the people of your nation to be represented by a man who fails to speak up when the dignity of his nation has been offended?"

I become an apprentice pipe smoker


My first foray into the world of tobacco came in 1961 with an L&M (the brand advertised on Gunsmoke) when I was twelve and camping alone in the backyard. Then came snuff and chewing tobacco, both of which made me so sick that I wondered how anyone persisted into addiction. In college, a pipe smoking friend persuaded me to try a pipe, but when I couldn’t keep it lit, I gave it up as a bad job. I had no such problem with cigars, which I ordered by the box from Tampa, Florida. For reasons unremembered, I eventually gave up cigars, and have rarely touched tobacco since.
 

Six weeks ago, I returned to pipe smoking in the faint hope that it would help me get off tranquilizers (which I never liked). I spent the first week looking for my Dr. Grabow (a brand of pipe made in North Carolina) and two more before I overcame my aversion to leaving home enough to visit The Briar Shoppe where I bought some cherry-flavored tobacco and other supplies. I immediately lost my new tamper, and spent the next three weeks using a screwdriver. My pipe relaxed me better than Ativan, and I seriously needed to relax because the Remeron was driving me up the wall. It's also true that, by the time I took enough Ativan to make a difference, I had to struggle to remember my name.

Yesterday, I got low on tobacco, so I went back to The Briar Shoppe for another fix. My first salesman was scheduled to work that day (I try to avoid new people when old ones will do, so I had asked him when he worked), but he wasn’t there, and the fellow who was there charged me double for the tobacco. When the store's owner couldn't figure out how to issue a Visa refund, I suggested that she give me a store credit. I did this partly to be agreeable and partly because I figured she might give me more than was owed, which she did.

Peggy and I agree that smoking indoors is obnoxious, but she doesn't want me to smoke in the garage either (I'm bigger and could beat her up, so I don't know why this should matter). When I complained yesterday that I had gotten cold smoking outside (the high was 55-degrees F.), she said I could smoke in the garage, but I thought it would be better to smoke outdoors for a few months and re-evaluate the situation in the fall.


Peggy is also concerned about the health effects of smoking and, in expressing them, she astounded me by saying that pipe smokers inhale. This isn't normally true, but pipe smokers are still more prone to oral and esophageal cancer. It's also true that I take so many drugs that I anticipate juggling between risk and benefit, so I'm less concerned on this score than she is.

As with many things that a person gets interested in, my interest in pipes has caused me to come up with questions that I never thought to ask. For example, as a boy I only knew three pipe smokers, two white and one black. The black man, Cleo Kelly, bought Prince Albert (the Milwaukee's Best of tobacco) from my parents’ country store, but what did the white men smoke?


I knew one of the white smokers from church, and also through his son, Jack, who was my age. The father's name was Edward Tousinau and, as I just learned, he’s still alive, although he would be awfully old by now. Like all of the pipe smokers I’ve known, "Brother" Tousinau seemed removed from the concerns of ordinary men. He would fire-up after services while chatting with the other men in the churchyard and because my church condemned tobacco, it was a bold move. Maybe Brother Tousinau didn’t care because he was already in hot water for another mortal sin—Freemasonry. 


I enjoyed watching Brother Tousinau pull his pipe from his suit-coat pocket and go through the ritual of getting it loaded and lit, and I noticed that others felt the same, not that Brother Tousinau seemed to notice. I concluded that other men respected him because he had the guts to go his own way in a church that shamed weaker men into conformity, but maybe I was projecting. I sometimes visited his son at home and was enthralled by the pipe-rack that set on a table beside his father’s recliner. Because I was a boy who craved ritual and loved intellectualism, Brother Tousinau impressed me greatly.

The other white pipe smoker I knew was a cop named Leroy Smith whose daughter I was sweet on. Unfortunately, my friendship with Kathy fizzled because her best friends were horses and, despite being a country boy, the closest I had ever come to a horse was through movies and TV. The first time I got onto one of her horses I pulled back on the reigns so hard that the horse went into reverse--right through a fence. Must I admit that I was humiliated?

Cleo Kelly was my only black friend's father. Because of his race, I didn't call him mister, but found him too forbidding to take a chance on Cleo. Like other pipesmokers, Cleo was quiet and thoughtful, but I never regarded him as intellectual because I knew he wasn't. I thought he looked down on me, and the only time I even remember him talking to me was when we crossed paths in the woods one day. I was out shooting whatever non-human life that moved, and he was on his way to my parents' store. He said that my long-barrelled .12 gauge would knock me on my ass, and I hated him for it. 

I wanted a quotation to accompany this post and, after much thought, settled on the following. Reading it again just now after the passage of many years, I was mortified to discover that it contains no mention of a pipe, but since it accurately describes my own pipe-smoking reverie at the close of day, I'll include it anyway. It comes at the end of Thoreau's chapter in Walden entitled "Higher Laws."


"John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, after a hard day's work, his mind still running on his labor more or less. Having bathed, he sat down to recreate his intellectual man. It was a rather cool evening, and some of his neighbors were apprehending a frost. He had not attended to the train of his thoughts long when he heard some one playing on a flute, and that sound harmonized with his mood. Still he thought of his work; but the burden of his thought was, that though this kept running in his head, and he found himself planning and contriving it against his will, yet it concerned him very little. It was no more than the scurf of his skin, which was constantly shuffled off. But the notes of the flute came home to his ears out of a different sphere from that he worked in, and suggested work for certain faculties which slumbered in him. They gently did away with the street, and the village, and the state in which he lived. A voice said to him—Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle over other fields than these.—But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither? All that he could think of was to practise some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever increasing respect."

If life doesn't contains more than what we find here, maybe death does. Who is to say?

About the photo: My Dr. Grabow is up-front. The other pipes and the pipe stand are a $21.50 acquisition from Ebay. Why, yes, the wall really is pinkish/lavendar, pink being my favorite color.