We had 47 at the lodge installation last night, one of them black. Ed is only the fourth black person I have known in Oregon, and the only black Odd Fellow (making him odd even among the odd). I don’t know how much of it is due to him being black and me having a Southern accent, but when we are in the same room, we can’t stay away from one another, and I keep thinking that what I would really like to do would be to give Ed a big long hug. I tell myself that I should think of him as just another person—like a well-tanned white guy—but I keeping looking at how black he is, and thinking that I miss black people.

When I’m around Ed, I feel like a part of me is missing, and that Ed fills the empty space. He’s my black fix. What he gets from me, I don’t know. He’s from Pennsylvania, so I can’t remind him of home. Maybe he listens to my drawl, pictures Klan robes in my closet, and wants to figure out what I’m really about; not that we talk about any of this. Mostly, I don’t talk at all except to ask questions while Ed describes his various health problems. A person’s medical history is not usually a subject that makes me hang onto his every word, but when that someone is Ed, I can’t get enough. He could be reading the phone book for all I care.

If there’s a lot of emotional stuff between black people and white people in this country, there is probably a good bit more between Northern blacks and Southern whites. I can’t imagine Ed listening to me speak without my voice bringing up feelings that he doesn’t have everyday; and I can’t look at him without wishing from the bottom of my heart that history had been a lot different. Half of Mississippi is black, yet the racial division in which I grew-up was such that they might as well have lived in another country. Even when I had black friends, our friendship was like a tiny point at which two opposing lines momentarily came together and that had nothing to do with our real lives.

After lodge tonight, everyone retired to the dining room for a feast of pies, cakes, cookies, candies, donuts, cupcakes, and….fried chicken. Guess who brought the chicken? Forty-seven people at a dessert feast, and one guy brings fried chicken, and that one guy just happens to be the only black man present! If I knew Ed better, I might have teased him about this, but I would have my toenails ripped out before I would risk causing offense. If I were to hurt Ed, it would break my heart.

I'm mostly ignored

A newspaper photographer came out today and took pictures of Peggy and me walking up and down the sidewalk. I had written to the Lane County Regional Air Pollution Authority two months ago to raise hell about the emissions from old vehicles (many of the worst are Volkswagen vans festooned with environmental stickers) that plague us when we walk to work. When a reporter decided to do an article on air quality, she came across my letter, interviewed me on the phone, and sent a photographer.

We had to give some thought to whether we wanted our picture in the paper. We are private people, and our photo will add nothing important to the story. It will only show what two people who don’t like breathing foul air look like. That said, a human-interest angle might inspire readers to learn more.

I’ve also been raising hell with the city about car camping, and am trying to get the same reporter interested in that. We’ve had one fellow on our street for three weeks, and no amount of complaining has brought a response. The cops did force a camper to move earlier this month, and the man egged our house in retaliation. Becoming politically involved is supposed to instill feelings of empowerment, but I am more often reminded that I am of so little consequence that no one thinks it necessary to answer my letters or return my phone calls.

Zula is gone

Zula died last night, alone in her apartment. I had the oddest feeling when I got the call this morning because, until this week, I never spoke with Zula except at potlucks. She made a favorable impression on me at those events, so when I heard she was dying, I regretted that I had not made an effort to know her. Uncertain of whether a visit would be welcome, I sent a card instead. Later, I asked Zula’s friend, Mabel, if Zula would welcome a visit from me, and she unhesitatingly said yes. I had apparently made as good an impression on Zula as she had on me. Now, two visits later, she is gone. I can but be grateful that our lives touched at all.

I joined the lodge fourteen years ago, and I already imagine that ghosts outnumber the living at our meetings. I can but wonder how it must feel for people who joined fifty years ago. They don’t seem to take death as hard as I—indeed, they appear to accept it with shocking casualness. The brother who informed me of Zula’s death was one of her longtime friends, yet he spoke of his garage sale right after describing the position in which her body was found.

Grange Halls

I visited Zula Kickbusch again today. She was less alert than on Sunday, and remembered nothing of my previous visit except that I was there. We spoke of her childhood, of my parents’ death, of her love for her retirement complex, and of her readiness to die. She said she felt tired from the toxins building up in her system, so I avoided challenging subjects. When all is said and done, what would be the point anyway? What might an aged woman teach me about the approach of death? I can be inspired by her dignity, and that is a great blessing to be sure, but we all stand before a wall that we can neither see over nor around. When the day comes that a hidden door opens to us, we go on alone, and have no more communication forever with anyone on this side.

I also drove to the small town of Elmira to help install their Odd Fellow officers. So many of the members have died that the lodge sold its two-story lodge hall, and rented a space in a rundown Grange. Most of those present today were in their eighties, and I reflected that the Elmira lodge would soon be a forgotten part of history.

I have only been inside two Granges, and found them pretty much alike: naked fluorescent bulbs, dirty bathrooms, badly made plywood furniture, cardboard boxes stacked along the walls, and almost nothing of beauty. The corner of the secretary’s desk in the Elmira lodge was patched with duct tape that looked like it was applied years ago.

The Grange members’ laziness had resulted in one asset. When they bought a gas oven, they left its wood counterpart right where it sat. With a little more energy, they might have hauled it to the dump. I can but hope that my experience of Granges is not representative. I have never been inside an ugly Odd Fellow lodge or an ugly Masonic lodge. Some have fallen victim to neglect as their membership dwindled, but even those are like ruins that hint of a former grandeur.

Tonight, I go to the regular meeting of my IOOF lodge. Tomorrow, I will drive to yet another small town to install its officers, and then my job as district deputy grand warden will be at an end.

The Masons just never felt right

I attended my Masonic lodge tonight for the second time in nine years. I didn’t recognize anyone, but one person remembered me. If he had not, an examination committee would have been formed to verify my membership, and I would have been hard-pressed to answer their questions. I remember the distress signal that is supposed to bring all Masons within sight or hearing to my aid, but I couldn’t have so much as named the titles of the various officers or pointed to their stations in the lodge. I would have probably been admitted anyway since I am on the membership roll, but my embarrassment would have been considerable.

The lodge I attended tonight swallowed up the lodge I originally joined, nearly all of its members being dead. That lodge was initially composed of railroad workers just as other Masonic lodges were composed of members of other trades or professions. By the time I came along, few of the railroad men were living.

I was made secretary after my predecessor died, served for a year, and rarely attended lodge after that. I joined the Odd Fellows first, so the Masons just never felt right. My experience was like that of a kid who is taken out of the only school he has ever known and enrolled in another. The fact that the two lodges are similar only made my discomfiture worse.

Oil, diamonds, and treasure chests

Today, I visited Zula Kickbusch, a 90-year old lodge sister who is dying. She was alert, cheerful, and under no delusion that she will survive. Indeed, I got the impression that she is eager to get death out of the way. Whether this is because she is weary of life or expects to awaken in heaven, I cannot say. She had other visitors, so I couldn’t question her as I would have liked.

I came home and dug some more in a hole in the backyard. I started the hole three years ago simply to see what things were like down below. I stopped at five feet, partly because of the stubbornness of the clay, partly because of Peggy’s objections to having a pit in the yard, and partly because I would have needed to enlarge the opening to go deeper. I had hauled the dirt away, so I refilled the hole with a mixture of compost and basalt. Last week, I resumed digging for no better reason than I started the first time. I was excited to find mussel shells at the four foot level, and I left off today at 64 inches.

Now, I find myself in the same dilemma I was in three years ago. If I enlarge the hole enough that I can work in it, I either have to store the dirt or haul it away. I could store it with the thought that it would only be temporary, but digging through the local clay is no easy matter, and I would expect to keep going until stopped by water at around fifteen feet. Such a depth would require that I shore up the opening, and I can’t justify such measures for no practical reason other than the prospect of finding oil, diamonds, or a treasure chest.

It's not all on us

I felt relieved some years ago when I learned that our planet has already undergone many mass extinctions, and that—contrary to what I was told—we really don’t have the power to destroy life on earth. True, we have the power to destroy much of it, and to alter nearly all of it; but past mass extinctions were followed by the burgeoning of new evolutionary forms.

Another thing that I was comforted to learn was that, no matter what we do, the earth is doomed in the long term. This doesn’t excuse our mistreatment of our environment, but it does take the total onus of screwing it up off our shoulders because, ultimately, we can’t be good enough. We can’t be good enough to make the people we love healthy and happy, and we can’t be good enough to save the earth. Seasons come and seasons go, and nothing lasts forever.

The closest thing to family

I counted 32 at tonight’s Odd Fellow installation of officers. This was a third of those present at my first installation 14 years ago. Of those 32, only three were younger than I. The women wore formals, the men black suits. Afterwards, we sat down to a wicked dessert table.

My lodge is the only organization of which I am a member that encourages largess of spirit and, other than Peggy and the dogs, it is the closest things I have to family. My parents are dead. One sister hasn’t spoken to me in twelve years, my brother in decades, and my other sister only writes occasionally. My polyfidelity group fizzled. The Family of Choice Network that I founded also fizzled. I became disenchanted with communes, religion, and co-counseling. My friends died or moved away from me—or I from them. Now, the likelihood is that I will bury most of my lodge brothers and sisters. I have already put away quite a few.

Statistically, I have 21 years left, and I can’t help but think that I should be doing more with my time. I have lived like a kid who was graduating from school with no idea what to do with himself, and now my life is more than two-thirds finished.

My first hike since surgery

Saturday, we hiked an old roadbed to the top of a nameless mountain that I will simply list as Sec17 Twn20S Rng01E Willamette Meridian. The last 150 vertical feet were too rough for my knee, so I waited in an abandoned quarry while Peggy and the dogs summited. Andesitic rocks of blue, green, brown, black, gray, and lavender, lay beneath a gun metal sky and within a circle of snowy mountains, making this, my first trip into the woods since January, a precious event. I spotted my old friend the snowbrush—Ceanothus velutinus.

Most have left, some are lingering

The bad news is that Peggy drained 35cc’s from the back of my knee last night and, again, didn’t get it all because she didn’t want to risk going too deep. The bursa is as swollen as ever today, so I went to a pharmacy and stocked up on needles. The bursa on the front of my knee is also grotesquely swollen, but doesn’t hurt as much.

The good news is that the physical therapist pronounced me ready for walking uphill if the ground is even. I passed his every test, and am working as hard as he will allow. After complimenting me, he complained about his many patients who won’t work at all. Their doctors send them through course after course of therapy during which their conditions actually worsen. I have no patience with such people because the world is full of those who would give anything to have their opportunities.

The surgeon said that a lot of people in my condition would scarcely notice their limitation because they were so inactive anyway. By contrast, I would see little reason to live if my activity level were permanently and severely limited. If I should go blind or become unable to get about under my own power (if only in a wheelchair), suicide would be on the table as an honorable option.

I went to Coburg tonight as a part of an Odd Fellow officer installation team. The 128-year old lodge has its original fir flooring, and I thought of the many feet that had stood on it, most of them are in the nearby cemetery, dividing the brotherhood into those who have left the lodge and those who are still lingering by the wood-burning stove.

Jewel-like beads

Peggy filled a 25 cc syringe with fluid from my knee last night, and still didn’t get it all. I couldn’t sleep for the pain, and called the orthopedist today to ask what the swelling means and what I should do about it. His aide put me on hold as she relayed my question to the surgeon, who was standing right beside her. She returned to tell me to cancel my physical therapy appointments and stop exercising for ten days, words that hit me like a brick.

I asked to speak to the doctor directly to get more information and to avoid the pitfalls of relayed messaging. She said he was busy doing other things even while she spoke to him on my behalf. I persisted and the great man himself came on the phone and, after a few ill-tempered remarks, told me that exercising would not delay my healing, but would only serve to reduce the pain caused by the over production of synovial fluid. Since he had assured me prior to surgery that the fluid would not return, I asked what I could expect now that it had. He said he would give up doctoring and move to Las Vegas if he could predict the future—a remark that showed where his values lay.

It rained so hard today that I only took one bike ride with the dogs. I have run errands on my bike for years, but rarely taken it out for pleasure, and my present leisurely routine has served to remind me that biking can be an enjoyable activity. As I rode tonight, I noticed that the front tire was catching the streetlights at an angle that made it look to be spinning backwards even as it threw off jewel-like beads of water toward the front.

It takes a challenge to make a hero.

Peggy and Walt are skiing, and I am trying to decide whether I want to be on my feet long enough to shop. If, like most of the world’s people, I lacked the leisure for proper healing, this recuperative period would be a trial indeed. I am taking two half hour bike rides a day, and the pain of the first thirty or so pedal revolutions is like uncoiling a frozen garden hose. At 5:00, I do my prescribed exercises. Otherwise, I spend much of the day with my knee iced and elevated.

I don’t like weekends. Peggy usually works; the stores are crowded; and my regular radio talk shows aren’t on. Ironically, I prefer weekend radio, but it throws a ratchet into my world’s predictability. Change might be the sauce on life’s menu, but I ordered my baked potato plain. With that thought in mind, I will drive over to Harbor Freight for excitement, and to buy some casters for a seat I want to make so I can sit while doing work for which I have always knelt.

One of my coming jobs is re-roofing the den, and I haven’t figured out how I am going to handle it since something strikes me as vaguely ill advised about using a wheeled seat on a sloping roof. Peggy’s well-intentioned suggestion was to hire a roofer, but she has no idea what that would mean. I have already been forced to give up my plans to climb mountains this summer, but I am by no means willing to give up the work I love and by which I justify my existence.

I am trying to regard the obstacles presented by my physical limitations no differently than I regard the obstacles presented by any other part of a job. For example, I have never been good at vaulting from the ground to the rooftop, and have used ladders to overcome my deficiency.

I am on the mailing list of a mountain climber who lost both legs when a boulder fell on him. Instead of giving up the activities he loved, he used his disability as an inspiration to excel. Some people perform greater feats handicapped than they would had they remained normal. It takes a challenge to make a hero.

At least I won't be drafted

I had a good birthday, having received money, flowers, cards, phone calls, dinner out, and a banana pudding. Some people who I would have liked to have heard from didn’t call, but I am loathe to complain since I forget everyone’s birthday but mine and Peggy’s, and I even forgot mine yesterday until she mentioned it.

Birthdays are surely a singular event in that they are so eagerly awaited in childhood and so passionately dreaded after age 29. The only good I can see in being 57 is that there will never be a war so terrible that anyone will think to draft me. This might seem a small recompense, but I well remember the years I spent avoiding Vietnam.

A lodge brother told me that he joined the Navy in World War II because the movie All Quiet on the Western Front left him with a horror of bayonets. Another showed me a magazine photo of himself wading ashore at Normandy. His best friend had just drowned after being pulled under the waves by his equipment.

I thank veterans for their service, but I never ask for details. The first time I thanked an entire group was at my Masonic Lodge; the occasion being the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. The room became so quiet that I feared I had caused offense. After what seemed like a long time, someone said that, in all the years since the war, no one had ever thanked him for what he had done.