A Tire Mountain Adventure

Peggy and I climbed Tire Mountain today where, after eating, I had a terrible spasm in my lower back. After I was able to stop cursing and writhing long enough to explain the problem, Peggy gave me four ibuprofen, and we sat—or rather she sat while I lay—wondering how the heck I was going to traverse the five miles (8 km) of mountainous terrain between us and the van. I couldn’t have very well crawled, so I thought I might have to break into my emergency kit and make camp. She offered to go for help, but I was unwilling to pay for my rescue—or risk seeing myself on the nightly news. I fortified my courage with the recollection that people with far greater injuries have made it down far higher mountains in far worse weather.

The spasm eventually lessened enough for me to get up, and finally to walk. Peggy carried what few heavy items I had, and, with the help of my trekking poles, I was able to get down without too much difficulty, the trail being mostly smooth and not unduly steep. Lifting myself into the van proved a greater obstacle than anticipated, but I succeeded, and felt considerably better an hour and a half later when we got home. I then made the mistake of getting out of the van while it was still in the driveway. To my chagrin, I found that I could neither remain standing nor get back in.

I slowly lowered myself to the concrete, and started crawling toward the house. Peggy got a furniture dolly, but I couldn’t lift myself onto it, and was forced to proceed on all-fours. I finally reached the laundry room, but was stymied by the single step into the kitchen. I had no choice but to remain on my hands and knees while trying to divine a solution. Peggy was determined to either help me to my feet, or get the neighbors to do so; but I was far more fearful of other people moving me than I was of finding a way to move myself.

Since I had needed to go to bathroom for the better part of an hour, but clearly wasn’t going to get there anytime soon, Peggy brought a jar, removed my pants and underwear, and held my penis while I urinated. She knew that men shake their privates when they are done—so as to avoid drips—and she gamely attempted to do so on my behalf. She first squeezed it, then jerked it, and finally banged it against the side of the jar. By the time she was satisfied that the job had been done right, I was satisfied that I knew how a cow feels when being milked.

She then attended to other things while I attempted various gentle and repetitive movements, my thought being that if sitting still had stove me up, then exercise might loosen my muscles. I was finally able to ascend the step by crawling sideways with my legs drawn up. Once at the top, I couldn’t get off my side—even to resume crawling—and was therefore as bad off as ever except that I had summited one very formidable seven-inch step. With Peggy’s help, I was able to propel myself on my side like an inchworm until I cleared the doorway. I was now directly in front of the refrigerator.

Peggy, being quite hungry, proceeded to make herself a salad. I was simply amazed by how much cold air exited the bottom of the refrigerator every time she opened it, and the afghans she covered me with were inadequate to stop my shivering since I was naked from the waist down and lying on a cold floor. Not knowing what else to do, I continued to gently exercise my legs in order to limber my back. I kept thinking that I could pull myself along by my arms if I had a rope, but I could see nothing to attach one to. An hour and a half after my ignominious descent from the van, I finally reached a chair in the den, and with care and patience lifted myself into it. I continued to stretch my muscles, and was eventually able to stand, though not completely upright. I was quite pleased with myself, the moreso because I had long since needed to go to the bathroom for reasons other than urination. 

A hard choice, if it should come to that

The Supreme Court’s decisions regarding displays of the Ten Commandments was extensively covered this week. The public reacts to symbolism like toddlers respond to colorful toys. Meanwhile, I brooded over the eminent domain decision.

If I make my stand in the garage, I can die in the same spot my father died. My building preparations for the event would focus on two goals: (1) To hold out for a respectable amount of time, meaning sufficient time for the national media to take an interest; and (2) To insure that the police could not take me by surprise, preventing me from either killing myself or being killed by them.

Media coverage would be important because I would be giving my life so that my home could not be turned over to another person or group, and I would assume that most people would recognize I was in the right, and that my sacrifice would inspire others to take up where I left off. While I have no desire to die a martyr, I would choose such a course if the terms of my continuing to live were made untenable. I see myself as like those revolutionaries who started this country, for they were not men who were impoverished or enslaved. They were largely wealthy men who were unable to capture the loyalty of two-thirds of their fellow colonists until the war had been won. They were also men who had been pushed and refused to live with the indignity of being pushed farther. How can a life be worthwhile if it must be purchased at any price? What joy can there be in arising each morning and looking in the mirror at a man who will accept any degradation if only those who are stronger than he will permit him a groveling existence?

I have given much thought to whether I would actually attempt to kill a policeman, and have decided against it if possible. The people who I would like to kill, I could not kill if I decided to barricade myself inside my house, because I could not afford to risk being caught on the way home. This is how little confidence I have in my ability as an assassin. Such endeavors require a cooler head and steadier hands than mine.

As for my fortress, it would need to be reasonably sturdy (re-enforced concrete would be better, but multiple layers of plywood might have to suffice) to reduce my vulnerability to a direct assault after an attack with tear gas or concussion grenade. It would also need to have an upward angling door close to the floor (or even beneath the floor) just large enough that I could crawl through it and seal it, so it couldn’t be flattened with a battering ram or pulled away with machinery—at least not before I could kill myself. The walls would require closable apertures (wider at the back than at the front, to see through, shoot through, and get air through. Since I could not prevent gas from coming through these same apertures, I would need a gas mask. Naturally, I would need a supply of food and a toilet (maybe a narrow pipe leading to a wider hole beneath the floor.

When I consider my plans and whether I would really pursue them, I ever run into the obstacle of having a wife whose property and fate are so linked with mine that I could not bring danger to myself without bringing suffering to her. The heroes of the American Revolution had families, but this did not prevent them from risking their lives and fortunes, although I don’t know how they brought themselves to do so. The sentiment, “I could not love thee half so much loved I not honor more,” never held sway with me: I would feel damned either way if I was forced to choose between honor and family. If I elected the former, I would not live at all; if I chose the latter, I would have to live with anger and humiliation. I would anticipate choosing the latter as the only loving option, and also as the choice that would reflect the direction of my responsibility. If I were alone, I would react very differently, the choice not being whether to respond violently, but how to best use violence to avenge myself and to inspire others.

Another thought that comes to mind when I consider taking a violent stand is that I am unlikely to ever be faced with eminent domain. The hotel, if it is built, might go up on the other side of the fairgrounds; or an economic downturn might eliminate the possibility. It could even happen that years might pass before it was built, and we might actually want to move by then. On a scale of realistic fears, eminent domain is low, but the magnitude of a fear is determined not just by its likelihood, but by its horror.

No more property rights

The Supreme Court ruled last week that local governments can seize people’s homes and businesses and turn the property over to private developers (Kelo et al v. City of New London, 04-108). Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a dissenting opinion:

“Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. ‘That alone is a just government,’ wrote James Madison, ‘which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.’”

I happened to turn on my computer and learn of the ruling within minutes of it being issued. I sat in shock, having known that the case was before the court but never imagining that the court would contradict my very definition of America. I listened to radio and television all day, switching from one station to another to discover the extent of the nation’s outrage, but was chagrined to learn that what struck me as cause for revolution, scarcely registered on the country as a whole. The proposed flag burning amendment was considered worthy of yet another daylong discussion, whereas only NPR even made mention of the Supreme Court decision. I am surely a mutant to a decidedly unintelligent species.

Free speech is worthless unless the speaker succeeds in raising sufficient support to intimidate politicians (a feat that requires money and status). Until then, the merits of his arguments and the persistence of his presentation are ignored. Property, on the other hand, is important because it gives the individual a measure of control and self-determination. By making my property available to whomever can generate the highest tax revenues, the court has effectively made it possible for the city of Eugene to sell my property to the highest bidder. I don’t say that the city will take my land and give it to the owner of a True Value Hardware Store, although this very thing happened to a homeowner in Arizona. And it is unlikely that my house will be torn down so Ted Turner can put up a parking garage, even though this was the case in New Jersey. But I might very well face a similar fate, because my house sets where the city wants a hotel that would serve the county fairgrounds.

Now, I am free to wonder if and when the axe will fall, free to decide how many more dollars and hours I want to put into improving my property. I am free to wait for the city to appoint advisory committees to hire feasibility experts. If their reports are favorable to the ears of the city, I am then free to take whatever money I am offered based upon the recent selling prices of similar properties in my area, no matter that the market is up or down, and no matter that there are no similar properties in my area. After deciding what it will pay, the city will send a policeman with a condemnation order telling me when I am free to leave so bulldozers can sweep away my years of work.

I suppose that, when all is said and done, the leaders of even the best governments spend their taxpayer financed careers looking for ways to take power away from taxpayers. Individuals come and go like fireflies, but bureaucrats are forever, weaseling, manipulating, and strong-arming; doing things in the name of government that they would never dream of doing in their private lives. Alone, they won’t put a gun to my head to take my property, but they will do it for government and sleep soundly afterwards. This is not because government is wiser or nobler than ordinary people, but because it relieves its minions of personal responsibility. They, in turn, can assure those whose lives they disrupt—or destroy—that they are just doing their jobs, just following the orders of the legislature or the city council. In any event, no actual person is to blame; it’s the system, it’s city hall. Soldiers are dying everyday so I can be free to rant all I want against governmental unfairness, but I had better be damned sure to be out before the wrecking ball arrives, or I will be killed (impersonally, of course); and that would be a shame because such deaths look bad on page 19-C of the local paper, and because they throw the builders off schedule.

If Ted Turner had persuaded the city to condemn my home so he could build a parking garage, I would take it very personally. I would blame him, and I would blame the mayor and any council members who went along with him. I would also blame the secretary who typed the order, the police officer who delivered it, and the contractor who demolished my house. My problem would not be who to blame, but who to kill since I would be stopped before I killed them all.

Of course, I speak as a fanatic, a hothead, and I probably wouldn’t harm anyone anyway because I have both a wife and a life to consider. But this is where I get confused. Is life a thing to be clung to regardless? Apparently, the government is also confused. On the one hand, it has gotten 1,729 American men and women killed in Iraq for a cause that makes no sense to me, while on the other, it has fought vigorously for the “life” of a brain dead woman along with the “lives” of test tube fetuses that would be destroyed anyway. Compared to war, snuffing Ted Turner would make perfectly good sense because it would be a direct attack on an egregious predator and oppressor. In war, directness is seldom the case. My countrymen have killed the youth of many nations, and their youth has killed our youth, not out of hatred or because one or the other was evil, but because governments ordained the killing.

I offer this as another example of individuals performing horrific acts because government claimed the power to relieve them of personal responsibility. I would suggest that this is not an ethically defensible position, and this is why the assassination of someone like Ted Turner would be an act of virtue and economy. War is like burning down a house to get rid of the roaches; assassination is targeting nothing but roaches. How much nobler is that man who takes personal responsibility for a justifiable assassination than is that soldier who kills strangers in war. The former knows that his own defamation and destruction are insured, while the latter anticipates honors and benefits.

These were some of my thoughts after I read the court’s verdict, but there were others. For example, I recalled that I am expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag at lodge, and I can no longer do that unless I substitute, “…the country for which it stood for “the country for which it stands.” I thought of America’s soldiers, and I knew that I no longer consider them my soldiers; and of America’s police, how they are no longer my police. Both have become the arm of an occupying force. I also felt relief, because, having lost connectedness to my country of origin, I am less concerned for its welfare. So what if illegals flood the borders and rob us of our culture and language? So what if terrorists set off a dirty bomb in Washington? I will grieve for the innocent dead, and I will regret whatever economic cost I incur, but I will not view it as a personal affront to something that is precious to me.

I experienced such feelings because property is my most intimate possession. For the government to take away my right to be master of my home and the little parcel of land upon which it sets constitutes such an intimate and degrading incursion that it would lead me to seriously question the value of my life if I acquiesced.

Simply put, I don’t know if I could in good conscience allow it to pass without resorting to violence. I would reflect on the fact that I have already lived a good many years, and that surely it would be better to die at sixty while fighting for something I believed in than at eighty of a stroke. The rub, as I have said, is that I have a wife; also, the worst has not yet happened, at least not to me, and I can’t honestly say what I would do. I can but say that I would equate surrender with weakness.

Social angst

I wince under the irony of the fact that I consider most people so vapid that I can scarcely tolerate them, yet I want them to enjoy their time with me. Most of my social interactions result in a net loss, for not only do I not enjoy my companions; I rarely learn from them; I don’t feel bolstered by my part in the interaction; I don’t believe my companions enjoyed my part in our interaction; and I even feel a loss of self-respect due to my failure to socialize in a mutually gratifying way. My need for society is analogous to my need for religion in that both are unabating and unrequited.

Somewhat in my defense, I have observed that if you record a conversation—or a speech, lecture, or sermon—and play it before an audience—no one but your family will voluntarily watch it. The situation is almost as bad if the conversation, speech, etc. is heard directly, but the act of recording it removes the listener from any semblance of a give and take relationship, causing the emptiness of content to become obvious. I suspect therefore that most people truly are as boring as I perceive them, and that any interest they appear to possess must be attributed to their relationship to their listeners.

As a boy in church, I was called upon from time to time to address the congregation. I was stricken by how bored and distracted my audience looked until I observed that the audience looked the same no matter who was speaking, and I concluded from this that I might indeed be boring, but at least I was no more boring than anyone else. It is still true that I don’t long to excel as a speaker or a conversationalist (such goals overtaxing my credulity), but only to equal some imaginary average. Even this I cannot do except on those occasions when I am drawn to someone for information (as when I am talking with a botanist or geologist), or when a person is gifted at drawing me out and affirming the worth of what I offer. I realize that the approval of people in the latter category can not usually be taken personally, because their interest extends to everyone. Like Will Rogers, they would say they never met a man they didn’t like (a claim that would hardly have astounded me more had the speaker been a woman who said she never met a man she didn’t sleep with).

I went to a funeral after I wrote the above, and I reflected upon what I had written as I interacted. Since I possess so little hope of either pleasing or being pleased by others, the best I could think to do was to be kind and to at least appear interested (as opposed to talking about myself, as is my habit). I have heard it said that we eventually become that which we pretend to be, but I have not found it so. Maybe the reason is that I am not kind enough, kindness being a haphazard endeavor for me. It is a virtue that my native empathy, combined with my considerable intuition, enables me to excel at when I think of it and resolve to do it, but these prerequisites are often lacking. It could also be argued that I expect too much of others—and of myself—and this might be true, but it can only lead to a resignation akin to that of putting up with an old dog that can’t help but piss on the carpet.

One of the reasons I prefer to write rather than to converse is that talking is so nearly effortless that too much is said, whereas writing takes time and dedication, and thereby encourages depth and conciseness. It also eliminates distractions and allows me to proceed at a slower pace. If my speech were as personal and profound as my writing, people would consider me peculiar and not know how to respond; but if my writing were as shallow and desultory as my speech, I could fill pages without saying anything of interest.

The first time in a long time

My Odd Fellow’s lodge secretary called today to ask if I would be willing to take his job. The irony of most organizations is that, if you are a non-attending member, they don’t ask anything of you, but if you attend even a little, you are expected to assume more and more responsibility. This was the main reason I stopped attending my Masonic lodge.

Speaking of Freemasonry, I went to lodge tonight for the first time in years. My home lodge has since combined with another lodge (due to falling membership), and the other lodge meets but a few blocks from my house. I only recognized one of the brothers, but this was enough to enable me to avoid an investigating committee. No matter what such a committee had asked, I probably wouldn’t have known it, my memory of Masonry being so fuzzy. I took my membership card, and I remembered the distress signal that is supposed to bring all Masons within sight or sound to my aid, so I knew that the two together would get me in.

A story that came down through my father’s family has it that one of my uncles from the Civil War era was about to be executed by the military when he inadvertently gave a Masonic sign that inspired an officer to save his life. After the war, he became a Mason and went all the way to the 32nd degree. My father, who knew almost nothing about Masonry, was most impressed by this achievement, because he thought it came as a result of hard work and dedication. Well, not really. Only the first three degrees require a lot of memorization.

The applicant learns the material by hearing the answers from men who volunteer to teach him, and then repeating those answers until he gets them right. His only written aids are books that contain the first letter of every word. When he becomes proficient, he is tested in lodge. When he finishes all three degrees, he is a Master Mason and can attend the basic unit of Masonry, the blue lodge. Afterwards, he can—if he chooses—go into the York Rite or the Scottish Rite (or both), the former being for Christians only, and the latter being for any Mason.

Masonry has a rich mythology and symbolism. In fact, there are books that contain nothing but Masonic symbols. As for the mythology, most of the blue lodge work centers on the building of King Solomon’s temple. I don’t respect tax-and-spend kings and the monuments they erect with their ill-gotten gain, but the stories were interesting.

Mostly, I was happy that the Masons still make a man work to get in, because the Odd Fellows have relaxed all such requirements due to their desperation to attract new members. The problem is that few of the new members in my area give a damn about the fraternity. They come for their initiatory degree so they can gain cheap access to the Odd Fellow campground on the coast, and we never see them again. I’ve railed against admitting them, but mine is a lone voice—my brothers maintaining the hope that, at some point, they will attend lodge.

Not a potty dance at all

The ophthalmologist said I am in the clear. My eye and the top of my head still hurts, but not terribly much.

I have been off Zoloft for two or three months now, and am hopefully done with the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. Peggy was initially happy that I can enjoy music again, but she hadn’t counted on how different our tastes had become. I like reggae and other forms that I don’t even know the names of. Yesterday, I was dancing to American Indian music while I worked on a project, and either the music or my dancing drove her from the house. She says my every dance looks the same, and that they all look like a potty dance. Since I am part Indian, I argued that this is just how “my people” dance, and I threaten to report her to the authorities for committing a hate crime.

The aftermath, desert ghosts

I served my thirty minutes on jury duty today, the defendant deciding at the last moment that he wanted a trial by judge. I left city hall as pleased as if I had escaped an encounter with a poisonous snake, so much did I dread the judge’s and lawyers’ questioning. The judge himself came to the jurors’ room to dismiss us. I watched him looking around as he spoke, and imagined him trying to decide which one of us was the son-of-a-bitch who sent him that provocative letter.

Peggy and I took a three day weekend to camp in the Oregon desert this week. I never saw a desert until I was grown, but I thought I knew all about them from cowboy movies, their chief features being perpetual heat and drought. On this trip, we were snowed upon as we crossed Santiam Pass into the "rain shadow" of the Cascades; were hailed upon the next day as we scrambled up Gray Butte; and were sleeted upon the third day on Grizzly Mountain. I wore my long johns the whole time and slept in my clothes beneath three blankets. I don’t mean to complain, the trip having been a good one—as are all our trips. If the precipitation was a nuisance, it also served to intensify the fragrance of sage and juniper, surely two of nature’s most sublime scents.

We stopped at a small cemetery near where a town used to stand. Oh, but I love those little ghost town cemeteries. What touching reminders they are of mortality with their marble tombstones commemorating the importance of “my darling,” or “the light of our lives” to people who are themselves buried and forgotten. They lie there together beneath the scrub, among barren mountains that they would have looked upon everyday of their lives just as I now look upon them. The brevity of it all! the anonymity! How little we matter; no, we matter even less than that before a sightless universe. Such a wonder is it all, to come, to go, and there be no reason for either, not the least point in us having happened.

I am surviving shingles better than I could have hoped. My sickest day was Monday of last week when I was too ill to walk more than a few feet, yet I was able to climb a mountain on Monday of this week. My left eye aches and feels scratchy, and the top of my head itches, but I consider my ordeal to be but a hint of what I might have suffered. I see an ophthalmologist tomorrow to be sure my eye remains infection free, but I will be astounded if he finds anything.

The nature of shingles

Shingles information from the FDA:.

People who have had chickenpox (varicella zoster) in their youth can develop shingles (herpes zoster) in later years. During an acute attack of the chickenpox virus, most of the viral organisms are destroyed, but some travel up nerve fibers along the spine, and lodge in nerve cells where they may lie dormant for years. A decrease in the body’s resistance can cause the virus to reawaken decades later. It then travels back down the nerve fibers to the skin’s surface.

Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, upset stomach, and a rash of small fluid-filled blisters on reddened skin. The pain can be intense and is often described as “unrelenting.” The rare and most dangerous form infects the eyes, nose, and face.

Occasionally, the rash will appear as a single spot or cluster of spots on the tip of the nose, called Hutchinson’s sign. This means that the ophthalmic nerve is probably involved and the eye may become affected, possibly causing temporary or permanent blindness.

Most people are surprised by how ill they feel with shingles. This seems out of proportion with the extent of the skin involved. Depression is often a feature of shingles, as in many other viruses. You may need up to three weeks off work.

Many experience a complication called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This term refers to pain that is present in the affected area for months, or even years, afterward. PHN is difficult to treat. Described by sufferers as agonizing, excruciating, and burning, the pain can result in an inability to perform daily tasks of living, and lead to loss of independence and, ultimately, depression and isolation.

I’ve had all these symptoms except PHN, and have seen three doctors this week, the last an ophthalmologist who verified that I have Hutchinson's sign, and said that the eye infection will appear in about a week if at all.

I only had one day when I was too sick to do anything. That was Monday when I spent four hours in a crowded clinic for a follow-up to Sunday’s eye exam (a follow-up that I now know was unnecessary since it’s too early for an eye infection). I went to bed when I got home but hurt too much to sleep (I didn’t want to take pain pills) and kept thinking about all the things I needed to do. I got out of bed three times to work on one project or another but was too weak and muddled to get organized.

Today, I awakened feeling pretty good and set out to run several hours of errands, but came home after thirty minutes so weak that I was afraid to drive. During those thirty minutes, I went to three businesses and must have seemed like an idiot to the proprietors since that was how I was treated. At the tire company, I couldn’t make the exasperated man understand where the tire was supposed to be mounted (he said I kept contradicting myself). At the bank, I asked to use a phone and was told to use line three. I kept hitting numeral three instead of line three (much to the annoyance of the woman on line one), and someone had to come do it for me. Now, what kind of people have to be shown how to use a phone? Multiple choice: retarded people? people with dementia? shingles’ sufferers?

I know that such limitations will pass, yet I also know that they are a harbinger of what awaits me as I grow older.

Petrified wood and a case of the shingles

We just took a three-day camping trip to the Kalapooyas where we would have hiked some new trails had snow not blocked the road at 5,000 feet. We backtracked for miles, thinking we might cross the crest another way, but a fallen tree blocked that access. We shredded a tire on a piece of basalt on our descent, and Baxter barfed on the bed while we changed it. We washed our bedding in a mountain stream, but couldn’t get the stink out, so resolved to live with it. My left eye began to hurt like hell from what turned out to be shingles, but—not knowing what it was, or that it could cause blindness—we decided to live with that too.

The roads blocked, we scrambled up steep rocks as an alternative to hiking. I love the challenge of bushwhacking and scrambling as much as Peggy hates it, so I was surprised that she was keen on both scrambles. We reached the top of the second rock and looked off its 500-foot summit just as lightning began to strike at the rate of three per minute, which both exhilarated us and inspired us to descend like people pursued.

We had planned to camp for three nights, but rain sent us home after two. We didn’t mind since we were tired from scrambling, and my eye was hurting worse all the time. On our return, I found numerous pieces of petrified wood in a road-cut, along with charred wood and wood in various stages of petrifaction, all twenty feet down in a pile of rhyolitic ash. The growth rings were as sharply defined as if the trees had just been cut. I suspect the ash came from nearby Mount Mazama (now Crater Lake) because of its depth. Along with the wood were stones of varying sizes and compositions that predated the ash and were blown skyward with it during the eruption. To see a pile of volcanic debris rising high above my head in a road-cut without even knowing how deep it stretches beneath my feet, inspires me to awe. Furthermore, to find wood—both charred and petrified—in that ash and to speculate that, if it did come from Crater Lake, Indians would have witnessed the explosion, adds to my awe. I felt as if I had come upon the scene of a long ago battle, the artifacts of which now lie in peace and stillness, their repose disturbed only by distant thunder and the splatter of an occasional raindrop.

I felt so bad when we arrived home that I’ve spent two nights sleeping in a chair to alleviate the pressure in my head. The rash only appeared last night, and Peggy diagnosed it as shingles. I did some research, and was sufficiently frightened to drive to Urgent Care this morning before it even opened. The doctor prescribed a painkiller and an anti-viral agent, and told me to come back tomorrow to verify that the infection hasn’t spread into my eye. The pain resembles that of a bad bruise in the eye socket itself.


I turned Peggy’s small garden with a shovel today, which might have been a mistake given how weak I am. My eye is swollen half shut, and the rash has spread to my upper forehead and eyelid. I feel sicker than I have been since the last time I had the flu. I read that the pain can become excruciating, which makes me very glad that I have access to medical care, and can afford $200 prescriptions along with Sunday and Memorial Day doctor visits.

I just ate for the first time today (at 8:00 p.m.), and feel as if I might have trouble keeping it down.

Upon stopping anti-depressants after nine years

The radio played Tina Turner today, and I remembered the month I spent in a Richmond, Virginia, commune at which I was the only straight male except for Lee who was dying of a brain tumor. The year was 1984, and AIDS was just becoming big news. I knew a lot of gay men, many of whom thought the disease was a government hoax to make people hate homosexuals.

Tina Turner was popular among homosexual men and often appeared on MTV. I had never seen MTV until my stay in Richmond, and I was quite taken by it. Some other gay men—in Atlanta—had introduced me to different kinds of gay bars earlier that summer, and I was quite taken by them too. I was at an age and had a body type that appealed to gay men, and I was flattered by the considerable attention I received, but I was never sexually tempted, for which I was very glad when the death toll began to climb.

I thought of all those dead guys today as I listened to Tina Turner, and I was overcome by sadness. Just then, the sun broke through the clouds and glinted off the top of a chain link fence, and I was so touched by its beauty that I had to choke back tears. I had thought my transition from Zoloft was complete since I seemed to have gotten past some hard days, but now, all of a sudden, I am so deeply touched by so many things—sunlight, music, memories, the utter strangeness of existence—that I can scarcely keep from crying. There are a lot of feelings that I haven’t felt for a long time, and I am struck by the fact that I had forgotten I had ever felt them.

If someone saw me crying over sunshine on a fence, he would think I was losing my mind. I can but reflect that normalcy is, by definition, nothing more than whatever is commonplace, and not a condition that is necessarily better or worse than any other condition.

Schopenhauer and Spinoza, a brief comparison

I took a hard fall in a parking lot while running with the dogs last night. My elbows took much of the impact, but my upper abdomen still felt as though someone had driven his fist into it. I lay audibly gasping for air and wondering what to do. I remembered that Houdini had died from peritonitis after a blow to the stomach, and I wondered which of my organs might already be spurting blood.

After finally catching my breath, I stayed on my back in the drizzle inventorying my body parts. Bonnie sniffed me with concern, while Baxter barked at an approaching stranger. I expected the man to help, but he was drunk and probably accustomed to waking up flat on his own back in parking lots.

I reflected that, just moments before, I had said goodbye to my lodge brothers, and was hurrying home to watch a PBS program about terrorism in Europe. Now, I felt quite alone in an uncaring universe. Not that my dogs didn’t care, or not that most people wouldn’t care, but that the universe is unaware of itself as a whole or of the state of its parts. Schopenhauer defined the force that is the universe as blind yet driven. He called this drive will, and he believed that it propels the behavior of people in the same way that it propels trees, rocks, gravity, weather, and all other things. He argued that the real source of all movement lies behind the scenes, invisible and as soulless as the waves that batter a shoreline hour after hour, millennia after millennia. He considered existence pointless, life a mistake.

I agree with him until his conclusion. Whether life is good or bad is subjective; because a purposeless, insentient universe would be incapable of error. Spinoza said that all that is must be as it is, and he called all that is “god.” Worship, to him, meant embracing reality. Spinoza was expelled from his synagogue for atheism, although he was later referred to as “god-intoxicated” because he lived in continual awe and worship. This is where he differed, positively, I think, from religions in which worship offers a payoff to the worshipper.

Spinoza’s worship was as natural and unerring as leaves moving with the wind. He could have worshipped as fully while lying on his back in a parking lot as while listening to a symphony. His was a happier outlook than Schopenhauer’s, although their basic interpretation of the universe was similar. I think that Spinoza came as close to living a life of beauty as is possible. He could have risen high in academia, but chose to spend his life grinding lenses for the intellectual freedom it offered.

Mountain climbers versus couch potatoes

I broke my coffee carafe this week, and spent a couple of distraught days going over my options. I finally narrowed the field to two: buy a used one at Goodwill, or a new one at Bi-Mart. After more agonizing, I decided on the latter. I went to the store like a kid getting out of bed on Christmas morning, selected a Hamilton Beach five-cupper for $15.97, failed to find one in a box, asked the clerk where they were, and was told they were sold out.

Naturally, I fell to the floor tearing at my hair and clothes while screaming, “This is the worst day of my life! How could you do this to me?” I expected an outpouring of sympathy, but the teenage clerk walked backwards until she bumped into a display of Valentine’s candy, then stood board-rigid with her hands over her mouth. So much for customer service.

When I got to the check-out with my other items, the clerk there inquired cheerfully, “Did you find everything alright?” I’m never sure whether this means, “Was everything in good condition?” or, “Did you find what you wanted without having to look for it?” Neither applied to what I had suffered, and I was too shattered to speak anyway. I merely handed her my credit card. She too looked at me strangely. Her lips began to move, and she finally made me understand that I had given her my library card. I thought that, yes, it is indeed a strange world when a man needs a different card everyplace he goes.

I sometimes think I would be better off if I went through life devoid of clothes or luggage, but am stumped by the problem of whether to carry my various cards in my mouth or my butt crack. I couldn’t talk the first way, and couldn’t sit the second, making it necessary to shift them back and forth.

On my drive home, I reflected that I had never heard of anyone wrecking a car unless he was in a car, and I decided that I would be safer if I quit driving, in fact quit going out altogether because, even if I’m not in a car, someone who is in a car might run me over.

I then remembered that most accidents happen at home, so I also questioned my safety there. Since I could hardly afford to stay in motels all the time, this only left the option of a tent, but then I wondered if whatever I lived in wouldn’t be counted as home. With this in mind, I decided that I should probably stay in my present home, but not move around much and certainly not climb ladders. I could sit in my chair and read or watch TV. Then I thought about the importance of exercise, and was stumped.
I’ve been reading a book by Beck Weathers, a mountain climber who lost his nose, one hand and part of that arm, and four fingers off his other hand while climbing Mt. Everest. I don’t mean that he misplaced his body parts, but that they froze and later fell off except for the arm, which had to be amputated due to the fact that big body parts don’t drop off cleanly the way small ones do. The big ones get infected, and the infection keeps moving higher until it becomes systemic, and that’s pretty much the end of the road unless your doctor stumbles across the right antibiotic in time, and this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Beck Weathers was on one antibiotic or another for more than a year because even though he had his arm amputated, he kept getting infections.

Anyway, he said he was still glad he went to Everest, and that he would do it again even if he knew about all the body parts he would lose because, as he said, a risk free life isn’t worth living. I’ve read that a lot, but maybe this is because I read so many books by mountain climbers, and maybe my choice of books is influenced by the fact that mountain climbers have an easier time getting published than do people who spend their lives sitting in recliners. I have no idea why this is so, but I believe that my observation is accurate because I have never read a book about a man who did nothing but eat tuna sandwiches and watch soap operas.

I, for one, would prefer his life’s story to that of Beck Weathers because I like tuna sandwiches, whereas I’m not much on mountain climbing. Of course, tuna—especially albacore—contains high levels of mercury, so it’s better to switch over to sardines from time to time for health reasons, and to make life more exciting. The key to a good life seems to be getting some excitement but not too much.

Beck Weathers and I obviously differ on how much excitement is enough. I would never want to redo something that cost me even one part of my anatomy much less a sack full. My idea of a good time is to dig holes in the backyard just to see what’s down there. Unfortunately, Peggy is not supportive of my adventures just as Beck Weathers’ wife was not supportive of his, although I suspect that Peggy would change her tune if I were to mention climbing Everest as an alternative to digging holes in the yard. If she didn’t change her tune, I would assume she had a life insurance policy that I don’t know about, and that would bother me. I would wonder if all those accidents that happen in the home aren’t really murders committed by women with big insurance policies, women who knock their husbands’ ladders out from under them.

Still, I don’t know if I should play it safe by leaving Peggy because, if she hasn’t killed me yet, it’s probably a good sign that she won’t—or at least that she isn’t planning on it. Then there’s the possibility that I might need her to call 911 someday if I do fall off a ladder. I heard of a cat calling 911 by hitting speed dial, but I don’t know of any dogs having done so, dogs apparently preferring to carry notes in their mouths, the problem being that if I could get to pen and paper, I wouldn’t need a dog to deliver what I wrote. This makes the continuation of marriage an asset if not an actual necessity.

Dari-Mart goddess

I saw a clerk in Dari-Mart this week who I took for a goddess. Her image has plagued me ever since, but she is no more than twenty while I am 55 and married and would be at a loss what to do with her if I had her. Ah, but she was beautiful. I can but grieve that the years have gotten by me. Sometimes, I wish that I had been more adventurous, although I cannot say that I would have been better off. I am content enough on my good days—those being the ones on which I am enjoying my work and am not obsessed by some woman I saw in a store.

Women have ever been the bane of my existence. If all the moments I spent lusting after one woman or another was added together, they would amount to years of pain and frustration from which absolutely nothing good has come.

When I ponder the nature of woman, of how frail she is and of how soon she loses her beauty and returns to the same dust from which I arose, I see that the esteem in which I have held her is a function of hormones and psychology rather than something innate to her being, yet it has taken me decades to reach this awareness, and even now I can scarcely believe it. I might liken myself to a man in the desert who is drawn to a mirage. Although he recognizes it for what it is, his desperate thirst makes it almost irresistible. He can but remind himself again and again that to expend energy on it would be disastrous.

The importance of subtle observances

My body jerks when I sleep. Last night, my jerkiness entered a dream. In the dream, I was at Jackie’s house for dinner and was being introduced to a roomful of people. I had expected to meet one or two, but was startled to find fifteen, all of whom were young adults that I had no interest in. I thought it ridiculous to even be told their names, but social formalities required that introductions be made and that I respond with feigned interest, so I gritted my teeth and smiled. I also began to jerk. I knew that this would mark me as either having a seizure problem or a psychological one, either of which would throw sand into the delicate bearings of the social mechanism and embarrass my hostess. I resolved to stifle the jerks. My resolution awakened me, and I lay in bed jerking almost out of control.

After the worst ended, I lay thinking—as if for the first time—about how set our social rituals are, both in form and range. For example, one could absolutely wreck an introduction simply by standing a foot too close, because unaccustomed proximity implies aggression, sexual interest, or insanity. To one from another planet, such customs might appear so subtle as to be unimportant, but satisfactory social relations apparently hinge upon the proper observance of subtleties more than upon grosser behaviors. I know very well that I wouldn’t sniff a new person’s genitals, but eliminating lust, nervousness, or boredom from my voice, demeanor, and sweat glands, is a far greater challenge.

The necessity of believing that we deserve to exist

When I think of those in Indonesia who lost their families, their possessions, and been themselves injured, the question is not whether they can survive but why they would want to survive. I can understand those in the Nazi camps who threw themselves upon electric fences, but am pressed to understand those who made every effort to live as long as possible no matter how miserable their condition or grim their prospects.

Can either choice be rationally defended, or does it simply come down to individual differences? Certainly the survivor-types are better able to carry on the species, but can even this be rationally defended? That is, can a case be made that our perpetuation is preferable to our extinction? I don’t believe it can, but this does not deter us from trying; as a species, we have no choice in the matter.

Is all happiness but an escape from pain?

Peggy is skiing with friends. The Willamette Pass temperature was nine degrees when she left, that alone being sufficient to make me glad to stay home. Add to that the $35 lift ticket, and I am very, very glad to stay home. Next, add my aversion to noisy ski lodges, my near phobia of snow, and my unwillingness to risk life and limb sliding down steep hills on slick planks, and I am practically apoplectic. It would appear that happiness can arise from what doesn’t occur as well as from what does.

Schopenhauer argued that all happiness is but a respite from pain. Eating sweets, having sex, and everything else we do in our pursuit of happiness aims to satisfy a hunger, therefore it isn’t sex or chocolate that makes us happy but rather the cessation of our craving.

I think his argument is well evidenced in addictive behavior. Drunkards don’t talk about how much they enjoy getting smashed but of how much they need a drink. Their enjoyment, such as it is, is like that of one who rubs himself to scratch an itch. I know of nothing more satisfying than a good long pee when I am desperate, but the degree of my satisfaction is directly related to the intensity of my need; and I consider it likely that all human behavior is so predicated. If it is, good would seem to lie in reducing our needs rather than in fulfilling them.