A valid test

The Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College Test of Intelligence, Personality, and Sexual Desirability

Directions: Answer all questions with either a yes or a no. Do not answer the same question more than once to inflate your score.

1) Do you question whether talking films were really an improvement?

2) Do you go to bed at night anticipating your morning coffee?

3) Do you laugh so hard that you cry over things that other people don’t find funny?

4) If you were your dog, would you want the person who you are to be your master?

5) Do you identify equally with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?

6) Do you make up songs and sing them to your dog? If you don’t have a dog, do you make up songs and sing them to other people’s dogs?

7) Do you plan to give generously to charity, but only after you’re dead?

8) Is your wife glad she doesn’t understand you because she worries what it would say about her if she did?

9) Did you develop an inferiority complex because your shrink didn’t treat you for free for the privilege of writing you up in a professional journal?

10) Did you spend some of your happiest moments working in tight places like attics and crawlspaces, places that scare the bejesus out of almost everyone you know?

11) Is your idea of a really good time digging holes in your backyard in the hope of uncovering Atlantis, or at least a mastodon fossil or an arrowhead?

12) When you are through digging holes in your backyard, do you clean and oil your shovel and tuck it in for the night?

Score eight and one third points for each yes answer. Score zero for each no answer. A score of 100 means that you are smarter than God and more personable, desirable and moral than anyone else in the whole world. A score of less than 100 means that you are a hopeless twit. Put your answer in the blank following this paragraph, replacing the answer of the person who sent you the test. Only send the test to the person who sent it to you and to other people who you think are as smart, attractive, and personable as yourself. Otherwise, you risk being the subject of bitter envy. If you don’t believe that this is a valid test, you clearly scored less than 100.

My score:100

Baxter stays over

Baxter had to stay at the vet’s last night following surgery for bladder stones. We thought we could provide better care of him at home, but the vet wanted to keep him drugged, IV’d, and catheterized. Bonnie not only didn’t miss him; she seemed happy he was gone. If the situation were reversed, Baxter would have spent the evening sad and dismayed. He’s a cuddler, and would snuggle up to Bonnie if she would let him, but she gets up and walks away. Her callous disloyalty angers me, but I can hardly hash out issues with a dog. Instead, I spent a lot of time last night playing ball with her. I also gave her an empty gallon jug. She gleefully attacked it until it was barely recognizable.

Bedtime came, and I fantasized spending the night in the vet’s parking lot so as to be near Baxter. Peggy automatically got out his chicken flavor toothpaste. Baxter loves having his teeth brushed. He thinks its some kind of weird treat, so he goes into the bathroom ahead of us each night, and licks as much toothpaste as he can from the brush.

The legalities of healthcare

Peggy said that her recent fetal monitoring workshop (like all her workshops nowadays) focused heavily on avoiding lawsuits or at least making your behavior look good in the event of a lawsuit. I suppose the general public thinks that this fear of being sued keeps healthcare providers on their toes, but the truth is that working in a climate of fear creates an emotional distance between providers and their patients and hinders proper care in other ways as well. In Peggy’s specialty, for example, it results in a lot of unnecessary C-sections because doctors want to look like they did everything possible for their patients even though much of what is possible is also hazardous. C-sections, after all, are major surgery.

I suspect that some of the fear that nurses and doctors carry with them everyday (especially after they’ve been sued a time or two) partially accounts for the dehumanizing quality of modern medicine. Only those who have been sued can imagine what a nightmare it is, for only they have been through hundreds of hours of depositions, trial rehearsals, and testimony, that endlessly rehashes a few moments of time that were heartrending even if no one was in the wrong. And it can go on for years, destroying your reputation and costing you everything you own.

Going to court is like going to war in that right and wrong are irrelevant. Courts are about public relations; courts are places where the only thing that matters is how much money you have to spend on the cleverest lawyers and the most credentialed witnesses. To make things worse, really bad people have an invulnerability that really good people lack because really bad people have no ideals to lose. Really bad people never had the faith that, if you do your best, others will respect you for it and you will come out okay. Really bad people can remain unmoved in the presence of a baby that will never live a normal day; whereas really good people feel sickened and guilt-ridden even when they know it wasn’t their fault.

Medicine, regular and otherwise

Peggy and I spent Thanksgiving on the coast with Bob and Mary Pat. I was thrilled to discover that one of their other guests was a doctor because I had never socialized with anyone of higher rank than a postal worker. And even he was a retired postal worker, a fact that made me lose all interest in him just as if he had been a retired president whose only claim to fame was that he used to have the power to annihilate the world.

Since the other doctors I have seen asked for a list of medications, I began going over mine, but he changed the subject. Nonplussed, I didn’t speak to him anymore, and I folded my arms and turned my back every time he spoke to me. Only later did I reflect that he might have been a gynecologist or a pediatrician. I didn’t think of this sooner because whenever I have gone to a doctor, he or she was the right kind of doctor 100% of the time, so I naturally assumed that this would always be the case.

No matter. My regard for doctors has dropped appreciably over time. I still regard them more highly than lawyers but, like lawyers, they are often clueless, disrespectful, impatient, and more interested in my money than my welfare. Years ago, there was a public outcry for doctors to provide holistic care, but specialized medicine is where the biggest money is, so that is where most doctors have gone. No one has a doctor anymore. He has one his nose, one for his knee, and one for each of the other parts that are bothering him. If this is not good enough, if the patient also wants a doctor that cares about him, he will need yet another doctor, yet his psychiatrist will no more look at him as a whole person than will his podiatrist.

Instead of doctors, we have ever more specialized technicians. This would not be so bad if the technicians were at least effective, but it is still true that most people who go to a doctor either get better, get worse, or stay the same; and that the percentages of each are not greatly different than if they had stayed home.

With such thoughts in mind, I researched alternative therapies for my arthritis. When I met an Ayurvedist socially, I looked up his alma mater and several other colleges of Ayurveda on the Internet. I found that there is no governmentally required certification, that diplomas are issued after months instead of years, and that Ayurvedic instructors typically boast of being “skilled” in things like astrology, numerology, and homeopathy. The same is true of most alternative schools. People who consider scientific research to be unrelated or even inimical to truth scare me even more than regular doctors do.

Baxter is to have surgery tomorrow for bladder stones. I never take a dog to a vet but what I wish he or she could doctor me too. Vets take the time for a thorough examination; they act like they actually give a rip; they are not pretentious; their charges are reasonable; they provide estimates; they call you back if they are unavailable when you call them; and they take the time to explain what is wrong and what can be done to fix it. What’s more, no dog has a different vet for every part of his body, yet I see no reason to think that their care is inferior because of it. In fact, I rarely take a dog to a vet but what the vet helps the dogs; whereas I rarely take myself to a doctor but what I come away the same or worse, but in any case poorer.


My Manly-Man Cracker Recipe

9 cups flour (I combine a mixture of whole grain flours with a half-cup of ground flaxseed)

1/2 tsp salt

Appx 3/4-cup oil (less oil = stickier dough)

1/2-cup honey (more or less according to taste)

2+ cups warm water (warm water mixes better). Add slowly, and vary the amount as necessary. You want a dough that is uniformly moist but not so wet that it sticks to everything.

This is a big recipe and can be halved. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to make.

There aren’t too many ways to ruin a batch of crackers (1 burning them, 2 making the dough so wet that it sticks to everything, 3 making the dough so dry that it is crumbly), so feel free to experiment with the ingredients, and remember that the first two problems are correctable.

I use a Kitchen-Aid mixer, and add the ingredients in the order given. Hands also work well for mixing the ingredients, but a spoon is a hard way to go. I flour the dough as I roll it out, and I cut it into squares to save time and trouble, but you can use a drinking glass to cut it into uniform rounds if you prefer. I sometimes roll sesame seeds into the top of the dough.

Poke holes in the rolled dough with a fork (I hold one in each hand); otherwise, the crackers will have air pockets. Bake at 325°, preferably on cookie sheets that have an air space in the middle (this kind of sheet helps prevent burning the crackers on bottom. I have been tempted to bake the crackers at a lower temperature (say 125°) to try to re-create the toughness of hardtack, but have never had the patience to watch them.

Flip the crackers once or twice during baking. Move the top cookie sheet to the bottom and the bottom cookie sheet to the top when you flip them. This will help prevent burning. I suppose it takes about 25 minutes to bake a batch, but I never time it. I do check on the crackers every three to five minutes—more often as they get closer to being done.

Thick crackers naturally take longer to bake than thin ones. Thick crackers tend toward chewiness; thin crackers toward brittleness. I remove some crackers from the cookie sheet ahead of others because the ones on the edge cook faster. Don’t wait until the crackers look really brown, or they will taste burned. Spread them on a countertop to cool and harden. I freeze them but have kept them for two months without any refrigeration (when traveling).

To Portland and back

Peggy had a workshop on fetal monitoring in Portland Wednesday, so we drove up on Tuesday and stayed in a motel. She had hundreds of pages to read in preparation but, as usual, procrastinated. If I postpone something important, it is only because something else is more important, and not because I decide to clean my closet for the first time in ten years.

She passed the test only to have to come home for a dental appointment the next day. Tests, dentists, and assigned readings are three of the four things Peggy hates most. Writing is the fourth, and her “Message from the President” for the Oregon State Button Society Newsletter is due today.

We left Portland after dark during heavy rains and winds gusts of 53 miles per hour. All ten lanes on I-5 looked like one big parking lot so we took side streets, but they were little better. When we finally got out of the city, another driver took umbrage with me over who was entitled to be in a certain lane, and he followed us until I pulled over so Peggy could pee in a jar that we carry. When he veered in behind us and jumped out of his car, I thought, “Isn’t this just perfect? The wind is howling, the ruts in the interstate have turned into rivers that thunder against the fender wells, Bonnie is shivering in terror, my night vision is so bad I can hardly see the road even on a good night, the windshield wipers are working their hearts out to no avail, we just spent two hours going twenty miles; and now some fool is going to shoot us.”

I hastily left him standing in the storm and just as hastily took the next exit. Wouldn’t you know it, there was nothing but trees at the next exit, but fortunately he either didn’t see me turn or decided that killing us wasn’t worth a bad case of pneumonia. I always take a gun camping, but this experience made me vow to take it to the city as well.

Some interesting facts that I picked up on our trip:

By the third trimester of pregnancy, the embryonic fluid is nearly one-third urine.

A fetus’ heartbeat can reach 500 beats per minute, but it is very, very bad when it does.

Nurses sometimes test fetus reactivity with an instrument called a vibro-acoustic stimulator. This is basically a mechanical voicebox that sends 85 decibels of racket directly into the fetus’ ears, scaring the fetus so badly that it makes every effort to leap from the mother’s abdomen. (I told some friends about the device, and they asked with shocked expressions why nurses would do such a thing. The truth being pretty mundane, I said, “Mostly they just do it around Christmas time when they’ve had too much to drink.”)

Earth days were twenty-one hours long during Cambrian times. Due to the friction of water on the ocean floor, the days have been slowing by.002 seconds per year. Eventually, the earth will stop rotating and the same side will face the sun all the time. If the sun is on my side, I would anticipate an increase in property values. If it is not, the entire year will be like an Oregon winter.

100,000 women were raped by the Russians during the invasion of Berlin. 10,000 of them died, mostly by suicide.

Hitler died at age 56, so I’ve beaten him at least—hooray! I’ve also beaten Dan Blocker (43), John Candy (43), David Janssen (48), Steve McQueen (50), Marty Feldman (49), Michael Landon (54), and Robert Urich (55), all of whom died of natural causes. Every person I beat puts me one ahead. Ahead of what, I don’t know, but it feels good.

If, instead of driving, we had flown home from Portland in the little Cessna we once owned, we would have needed to fly 53 miles per hour into the wind merely to stand still. At that speed, we could have landed without the wheels rolling.


I lost seven pounds in six days this week through fasting and a diet of raw fruits and vegetables. Two hours divided among a sauna, a steam room and a Jacuzzi yesterday didn’t hurt either. I look gaunt, but I sleep better when I weigh less, and I hope the loss will help my knee as well. Unfortunately, the short-term effect is that I feel cold, weak, and shaky.

I have a hard time going at something slowly. I overdid it at yoga and got tendonitis, so I figured that, well, I’ll look into spas and water exercises—you can’t hurt yourself at that. So, what do I do? I sweated so much that I couldn’t remember a good friend’s name. Hell, I couldn’t remember my own name. I actually signed my old name to a credit card receipt. “This is what senility will be like,” I thought. “I will end up arguing with nurses about what my name is, and they will be right.”

When a person changes his name, he doesn’t think about what a drag it will be when he’s so old that he forgets the past fifty years. States of being in which a person loses his concept of personal identity fascinate me endlessly because I think they must be close to what death is like. I simply cannot conceive of complete non-being.


Bob and Jean, a couple in their fifties, came over last night for the first time. They smelled of marijuana, but I made no mention of it, although I have not had any for fifteen years and would have liked some very much. Bob carried a cloth sack, and in that sack was a bottle of Wild Turkey. I drank my last strong liquor about the time I smoked my last marijuana. Delicious! Peggy tried it and squinched her face predictably. No more drank she, and none drank Jean who sulked the entire evening—something to do with Bob we assumed.

Bob said they had recently ended their friendship with another couple because the man drank too much. Here he noticed that the level of whiskey in my third glass had dropped by an inch, so he added another three. As Bob became ruddier, friendlier, and more enthusiastic about everything in the entire world, I wondered if his complaint had concerned the quantity the man drank or how he behaved under its influence. “Oh, man!” he exclaimed joyfully and repeatedly as Peggy showed him her button collection, and as he sidled from the far end of the couch to a position just short of my lap. I made the decision that I was not going to awaken with a hangover, so my infrequent sips became smaller as the evening progressed. After our guests left, I emptied the whiskey that remained in my glass into a jelly jar for later and grieved that Bob took the bottle.

I learned through my readings about the Himalayas that there are cultures that condone hard drinking but deplore acting drunk. This was news to me, my heaviest drinking having been done as a teenager in the company of other boys who believed that acting like fools was the raison d'etre of the drinking experience.

By the time I was in my twenties, my liver was showing enough wear that I rarely drank anything, but I numbered three alcoholics among my close friends. One was Lynn, a skinny, barrel-chested man who, according to his doctors, was already long overdue to die of emphysema. Lynn and his wife came over one night to play cards, and he brought along a fifth of whiskey. He emptied it by himself in the space of three hours without showing much effect. In fact, we were still playing cards when he dropped like a rock onto the floor. After he was loaded into his car and driven home, I thought to myself that here was a man who could hold his liquor. I admired him for that, having made a fool of myself on too many occasions.

Last night, I realized after my second sip of whiskey that a fellow like myself who is unaccustomed to drinking anything more than a small amount of weak wine could get drunk on Wild Turkey before he knew it. I resolved to avoid this but knew that, in any event, my days of using liquor as an excuse for acting like a fool were over.

The secret to slowing down

I’m not getting the trike. I’m just not. Too much ambivalence. Everyone thinks I should, and I know that a person needs to jump in there sometimes and take a chance on something, but I’m not doing it this time.

One of the things I really liked about the trike was that it was so relaxing. I get tense on my bike because I can’t seem to slow down. Every time I go somewhere, I wonder if this is going to be the time that I wreck. The trike won’t go fast. It’s like a car that wouldn’t go over 85 in its prime, and its prime was twenty years ago. By comparison, my bike is a zephyr, and how can you hobble a zephyr?

Easy. GEAR DOWN! So, I put my big gearshift in second and my little gearshift in third, and, voila, I have a two-wheeled trike. Now, I can cruise around in the rain (I love cruising around in the rain) and actually see the fall colors and actually hear the patter of raindrops on my helmet. Like with the pain, I need to relax around my bike. I’ve got to relax around my bike. It’s really time that I tried something different because I’m hurting worse and in more places all the time, and I can’t ignore the fact that this just really/might/probably/could mean that I’m doing something wrong, something that I have the power to change.

A new approach

I awoke this morning in pain and had the same thought that I have been coming to a lot lately. Namely that the secret of dealing with pain is to stay relaxed. Whether its physical pain or emotional pain, pain increases anxiety, and anxiety increases pain. If I can get off the roller coaster when the pain first hits, I can spare myself this frantic buildup of negativity. Just let the pain be. I can’t stop it anyway, so why make it worse?

Gotta relax…go lightly…roll with the punches…stop running from it…stop blaming myself for it…stop feeling sorry for myself because I’m not strong like my father…stop wanting it to go away so I can wake up normal…look for the good in it…let it make me better…say that it is what it is, and that I’m more than it…say yes to life and not just to feeling good.

NWS wit

The rains continue. I get weather warnings that flash at the bottom of my monitor and that won’t stop flashing until I click on them (like Baxter who won’t stop barking until I go to the door even if he is barking at someone on the other side of the street). I just got such a warning and while scanning the list of areas that are in danger of flooding, I found Willamette Pass. Willamette Pass is a mile high, is bare of snow, and has no streams. Either some wit at the National Weather Service thought it would be funny to add it to the list or I’m about to be under a mile of water.

A trike, possibly

I tried out a trike today, and came very near to buying it on the spot, but said I would get in touch tomorrow. My main concern is storage since it is 6’ long x 2’wide x 4’ high. Just getting it in and out of doors and gates would be a challenge.

Trikes are relaxing conveyances because you don’t have to balance them. They also attract friendly attention. Women on the bike path looked at me on my red trike and smiled, but it wasn’t the kind of smile a man in a red Ferrari would get. I suppose a man could rob a bank and make his getaway on a trike without the cops taking any notice. Riding a trike is like owning a small dog in that it’s hard to look ferocious. Rambo on a trike? The Terminator walking a Chihuahua? Maybe if I wore crossed cartridge-belts or did like Captain Kidd and stuck lighted matches under my hat (my helmet, actually). Another advantage to trikes over bikes is that if you stop and talk to someone, you have an instant seat instead of a useless object between your legs (the bike, I mean).


The day feels charged with anticipation. The weather radio confirms this with high wind warnings, high surf warnings, and flood alerts. Twelve inches of rain are predicted for the Coast Range, and some of Washington has already been declared a disaster area. I asked some elderly neighbors if our street had ever flooded. They said no, but the land across the street is barely lower, yet it is in a flood zone.

The dogs run alongside as I bike around the 60-acre fairgrounds once or twice a day. This gives me a little exercise, and it gives them a lot. We usually go after 5:00 when the dogcatcher gets off work, but I didn’t dare wait today. Everyone else had the same idea. We passed dogs, bikes, toddlers, a man in a wheelchair, another man pushing a grocery cart, and dozens of ordinary pedestrians—a veritable obstacle course of people, critters, and machinery. Carpenters were at work beneath the entrance to the Lane County Museum, glad for the roof, no doubt. The smell of sawdust and the sound of hammers made me nostalgic for my father. We had some good times together, going to new jobs every few days or weeks.

A carpenter/handyman need never starve. Last week, for example, the fitting that held the drainpipe to the kitchen sink corroded in half, spilling a sink full of dishwater into the cabinet. A journeyman plumber wouldn’t want to take such a small job, would need two days to get to it, and would charge a bundle. A handyman would do it for a pittance and stay for coffee. It’s like the difference between a doctor and a nurse practitioner.

Interesting numbers

A fellow comes across some interesting numbers while reviewing his insurance and investments. For example, my odds of living to age 85 are dead even (or maybe I should simply say 50/50), and I have a 10% chance of reaching 97. Being the kind of person who sees the glass as half empty, I plan to arrange my finances so I run out of money and groceries the night before my 85th birthday.

If I don’t die in my sleep that night, I will peruse the help wanted ads the next morning. If nothing works out, I will return to college on a scholarship and get a double major in livestock veterinary and girls’ volleyball coaching. Maybe at Oxford. Or else Vassar. Or even Oral Roberts. If the university of my choice gives me any flak about anything whatsoever, I’ll point out that I’m deaf, blind, dreadfully old, confined to a wheelchair, (which will all be more or less true by then), and I’ll also say that I’m half black, that my name was Lois before the operation, and that I plan to sue the hell out of them on 49 counts of discrimination.

To give another example of interesting numbers, the tax appraiser increased the value of our house by $61,513 this year over last. We should be able to sell out, buy a smaller house in a saner market with the extra money, and keep the $163,201 that the house was worth last year. Would I really take the money and run? Yes! By all means. I’d go farther south; get out of the damn rain. But then there’s Peggy to consider.

Peggy plans to spend the remainder of her life right here, and there is much to be said for that. The main thing to be said for it is that people who are prone to changing houses and employers are generally poorer than those who stay in the same house with the same employer. If not for that, I would be less agreeable. There’s nothing that increases my ageeability more than self-interest. Otherwise, I’m contrary on principal.

Stuff, lots and lots of stuff

Peggy and I got rid of some stuff this week. I parted with the last two boxes of my rock collection, and we both got rid of some dishes and cassette tapes. Maybe we’ll find more to get rid of when we clean house today. I like getting rid of stuff. I like it a lot. Sometimes, I wish that I could get something back, but all of life is a risk and to some extent a burden, and owning stuff is one of its biggest burdens.

I don’t mean to say that I’m anti-stuff because I think of my stuff as my friends, and I feel like a traitor when I let any of it go. But at the same time, it tortures me to keep it. For example, I would be lying in bed at night thinking about my rock collection, and it would feel like a heavy weight on my stomach. Still, like I said, it also hurts to let stuff go. In the case of the rocks, I had built my collection over years of exploration. This is why it works better for me to never own a lot of stuff to begin with.

My father couldn’t get enough stuff. He erected large buildings just to keep his stuff in. It was mostly junk—literally, as in broken toys from dumpsters. After mother died, he got really serious about his stuff collection, and it grew so much that he could only move through his house by way of passageways between piles of mildewed rags, magazines, and forty-year old electric bills.

I figured his stuff must have made him feel secure, as in, “the cold cruel world is howling out there, and me and my stuff are nestled snugly in here.” I’m the opposite. If there was a flood, I would want less stuff to sort through as I prepared to move to high ground. Or if there was an earthquake, I figure I would have less of a mess to clean up if I didn’t own so much. Such thoughts also dictate the kinds of stuff I want. Food, water, guns: good. Knick-knacks, furniture, rock collections: bad. Then too, just as I can’t love a lot of friends well, I can’t love a lot of stuff well. It’s the difference between the six trees in my yard and the thousands of trees in the forest; or the difference between the kid who gets five presents for Christmas and the kid who gets fifty presents for Christmas.

I observed the latter kind of kid opening presents. She could only enthuse so much, and she could only love so much, and she passed her limit with half her presents still unopened, and collapsed in tears. I wondered how this would affect her attitude toward stuff as she grew up. Would she buy more and more of it without ever feeling that she had enough; or would she turn away from stuff and toward drugs, overwork, or religion?

Peggy does stuff well. She owns a lot of it by my standards, but not so much that she can’t dust it all within an hour or two. When I complain about how much we own, she says that her friends comment on how empty our house seems (“Hey, Peggy, when are you going to start decorating, ha, ha, ha”). But if you took all the households in America and determined their average stuff content, this would not prove that the average household had chosen well. The common way is not necessarily the best way, and, even when it is the best way for most, it isn’t the best way for all.

Then there is the environment to consider. All our stuff was a part of nature until we reshaped it. Few people seem to have an ethical problem with the amount of stuff that gets reshaped, or to wonder if our desire for the created doesn’t imply a rejection of the natural—as if we live against the earth rather than with it. We even take the earth’s bounty and remake it into Disney-like copies of nature—things like cuddly grizzly bears and fluffy cobras.

I think about how the U.S. population has doubled in just 38 years, and how our stuff has probably quadrupled in that amount of time, and I think to myself: “My god, how much is enough? Will we keep going until there is nothing left that we can remake into something that, in most cases, we don’t actually need?” I have known couples who bought new houses because they needed more room for their furniture. Such houses are farther out of town and require a longer commute and a later retirement. I detect both superficiality and immorality in this, but if I said as much, they might reasonably retort, “Who are you to tell us how to live?” Well, who is anyone to tell anyone how to live (or any number of people to tell any one person how to live)? The absence of an acceptable answer causes many problems.

Peggy and I can’t even settle the issue in our two-person household. I feel lost in our 1,451 square foot house with its two baths, three bedrooms, and double garage, while Peggy considers it smallish. I reflect upon how little most of the people in the world own (most of them being in the Third World and lacking the means to own much), and I am embarrassed by how lavishly we live. Peggy regrets their poverty but doesn’t consider it related to us.

For me, it’s not just the size of our house, but the amount of energy it takes to sustain our lifestyle. My countrymen wouldn’t be dying in the Middle East right now if not for our overuse of energy, and this makes every ounce of petroleum burned into an ethical decision. For example, food that is flown-in requires more petroleum than food that is trucked-in, and therefore increases the number of people who must die. I think it would be possible to come up with a life-to-gallon ratio, something like 1/60th of a life for every 500,000 barrels of oil.

I am reading a book by a man who became obsessed with reducing the number of his belongings and the size of his dwellings.

“I started hanging out with rock climbers, dirt bags, and train hopping hobos of all kinds who dwelt in ragged tents for most of the year. Then for a short, albeit uncomfortable time, I went so far as to have only a bivy bag for shelter, which consists of nothing but more than a tough nylon sack that protects your sleeping bag from the elements.

“Then one humid night as I lay sweating under the stars on Catalina Island off the coast of southern California, I asked myself, ‘When will this all stop? When I’m wandering completely naked and alone with absolutely nothing to call my own?’” from Radical Simplicity by Dan Price

Dan’s wife left him when he moved into a teepee, but Peggy and I have stuck it out by agreeing thatneither of us can have what we want. This has also prevented us from exploring enough options to know what we want. I can but wonder where I would be if left to my own devices. Am I more like a flower that was prevented from opening, or more like an animal that was saved from falling into a hole and starving to death? Thoreau said this about the matter:

“No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles.”

But then Thoreau had neither wife, dogs, nor even a parlor fern, although he did have a rock collection.

“I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and I threw them out the window in disgust.”

He didn’t say whether the window was open.

I’ve never had such clarity. Whether for good or evil, I have never even approached it. My every bite, my every thought, and my every step are weighed down with ambivalence. If I were of a superstitious bent, I might speculate that this is why Thoreau completed his life’s journey at age forty-four while I burden onward upon failing knees at fifty-seven. I would not be the first to suggest that they are best who die soonest.