A Sunny Morning

It’s a simple thing, but after what seems like weeks of rain, a sunny morning is a realy big deal. When I was a kid, I used to hear people say, “If you don’t like the weather here in Maine, wait five minutes.” There is a lot of truth in that most of the time, but not so much lately. Unless, that is, you insist on maintaining clear distinctions between and among all the kinds of lousy. Over the past few weeks, our local weather menu has offered the following:

  • Cloudy and cold
  • Cloudy and humid
  • Cloudy and hot
  • Foggy, damp and cold
  • Fog and drizzle
  • Intermittent rain
  • Steady rain
  • Torrential rain
  • Thunder, lightning and hail
  • Coastal flooding
  • High ozone
  • Particulate pollution

So a sunny morning is a treat. Actually, was a treat. A nice morning made me so damn lazy that it took me all day and into the evening to get back to this little rant and finish it.

Flash Flood Watch

A flash flood would just about put the cap on our almost-kinda-sorta summer. With the exception of a single day here and there, the whole summer has been gray and wet. The National Weather Service now tells us to expect 1-2″ of additional rain over the next 18 hours or so.

radarNow, I know for a fact that there are other places in the country that could really use some of this water, but no. We’re gonna get it all right here on the southwest coast of Maine.

Weather radar tells the story. That bit of nastiness offshore from Portland is probably what I begin to hear booming in the distance as I write this.

The lawn I was proud of back in the spring has been soggy for so long that it is beginning to give itself over to moss and broad-leaf weeds. The backyard we worked so hard to prepare for summer has been just about unusable. No one has been in the pool for close to two weeks.

And to think that not that long ago I was whining because commitments of various kinds were filling up the summer so that the camping trip we talked about back in the spring wouldn’t happen! Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so bad not to be huddled in a sodden tent. Marge and I did that for a week decades ago. It’s nice to have had the experience because it makes a good story, but once around is a lifetime supply.

As for flash floods, I saw a real one in Oklahoma in about 1976. The house we were renting was built on a slab and had a slider into the back yard. As rain fell at something like 10″ per hour (!) the water built up against the side of the house so that the glass door looked like the side of an aquarium. I spent a busy half hour shoveling water out of the garage. I don’t need to see any of that again either.

No Offense? Sorry, I’m Offended

These days I let most things go by that I used to stop and argue about, but a few things can still wind me up. At the top of the list is the way people sometimes say “No offense…” in order to escape the consequences of a supremely offensive remark.

What got me started on this was a little sidebar in the current issue of Newsweek. The story involves a few drunken Serbs holding forth in a suffocating cafe in New Belgrade. The conversation as recorded is basically in praise of Radovan Karadžić, the Serbian nationalist leader who was arrested last week after 13 years on the run from the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

Remarks around the table consist mostly of that special blend of bullying, bigotry and noxious self-pity that is business as usual for Karadžić supporters. I skimmed over most of it because I’ve heard it all before, but then my eye caught something that I couldn’t ignore.

A drinker known as Misko, speaking nostalgically of Karadžić, says to his American interviewer, “One educated Serb is more precious than a million educated Americans. No offense…”

No offense? NO OFFENSE? Sorry, Misko, you crossed a line there. Actually you crossed a million lines, one for every American you slandered with your self-aggrandizing delusion. Do you expect to get away with it just by asking that we not be offended? Put another way, how much better than you, who neither forgive nor forget anything, do you need to have us be?

Leaving New York

I’ve finally calmed down enough to write this story. On July 1st we drove down to NYC to help Elizabeth pack up her stuff and move back to New England. The trip was a pretty typical New York horror story, and an expensive one at that, although the drive down to the city was uneventful. We spent the evening of the 1st helping with packing and cleaning. So far, so good.

The next morning, which was actually Elizabeth’s birthday, she and I went to pick up the U-Haul truck. The first surprise was the cost. The online reservation said $770 (outrageous enough in itself). This turned out to mean $900 at checkout. But there was nothing to be done. We needed the truck. It was too late to get one elsewhere.

Since Elizabeth was the one renting the truck, the people at the rental place needed to see her drive it off their lot. I followed her back to her apartment and parked my car. It was only 9:30 a.m. and we were ready to start loading the truck. I figured we’d be headed north by 1:30, 2:00 at the latest.

And indeed, the truck was just about loaded at 1:30, when a parking spot opened up right in front of Elizabeth’s apartment. I went to get the car while Marge stood in the parking space trying to convince other drivers not to take it.

After about five minutes, I was back. I couldn’t find the car. I had been so sure I’d parked just around the corner, but I suddenly wasn’t so sure. Elizabeth came with me and we took another look around the neighborhood. Nothing.

By then I was pretty sure once again that I’d parked where I thought I had. Suddenly Elizabeth remembered that her landlord had warned her about a spot around the corner that was the location of a pretty much secret crosswalk. She and I walked to the spot, and I suddenly knew that was where I had parked. The “crosswalk” was “marked” by a depression in the curb on the other side of the street! I wish I were making this up, but I’m not.

“You’ve been towed,” Elizabeth said. Great.

I can’t do justice to the part of this story that pertains to getting the car back because Marge took care of that. It took nearly three hours and cost $300. At the hands of the NYPD, Marge was subjected to rudeness, indifference, veiled threats, bullying and meanness of spirit (apparently for its own sake). It’s not so much that the behavior of New York’s “finest” was unprofessional as that it was subhuman.

For the five years that Elizabeth lived in NYC, I was willing to suspend judgment on the worst stereotypes of New Yorkers. The folks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, however, did their best to prove the stereotypes too kind and forgiving. Of course, they don’t care what I think. It will, however, be a long, long time before I visit NYC again for any reason, and I will never drive there again. The old rule applies here: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

The upshot of our being mugged and shaken down by the NYPD, of course, is that we didn’t actually head north until about 4:00. Rush hour traffic in New York has to be seen to be appreciated. Frankly, Boston drivers are considerably more aggressive than anything I ever saw in New York. But for temper tantrums and raw hatred of everyone else on the road coupled with an odd personal insecurity that just seems to make them angrier, New York drivers have no rival.

In fact, I once asked Elizabeth, who has driven a lot in both cities, what the difference was between Boston drivers and New York drivers. She thought for a minute and said this: “Boston drivers want to defeat you; they give you the finger and yell ‘F*ck you!’. New York drivers hate you, but they’re a little conflicted about it. They give you the finger and yell ‘F*ck you, awright?’ They need that little bit of affirmation, but no, it’s not all right.”

Anyway, as we left NYC, Elizabeth was at the wheel of my Maxima, leading the way out of the city. I was driving the UHaul behind her, sometimes having to follow her so closely that I couldn’t even see her brake lights. It was terrifying and exhausting.

As soon as we reached Co-op City, traffic began to slow down ominously. From there, it took two and a half hours to get to New Haven. Three hours after that, we reached the Massachusetts state line. Distance covered to this point: 140 miles. Time elapsed: six hours.

We finally got back to Portland at about 1:00 a.m. Total travel time: nine hours. Average speed for the entire trip: 34 mph. It was the longest time the drive from NYC to Portland ever took us. In the two weeks or so since that God-awful drive, I’ve come to a few conclusions, foremost of which is that if Elizabeth ever decides to live in NYC again she’s on her own. Dad already gave.

Air Quality Alert

The owners and operators of and lobbyists for those nasty coal-burning factories and power plants in the midwest just can’t seem to hold onto the idea that prevailing winds in North America blow from west to east.

This self-righteous amnesia enables them to remain enthusiastically innocent of the fact that the crap the coal burners discharge from their tall, tall smokestacks usually ends up in the air we breathe in the northeast. This is on my mind because we are enjoying a spell of it here in Maine right now.

Whenever our Congressional delegation tries to raise awareness of the prevailing wind (a phenomenon the ancients knew well) midwestern senators, representatives and assorted bloviators are shocked, shocked they tell us. Why, they’ve never heard of such a thing! Surely it can’t be true! Who would manipulate the EPA for purposes so nefarious? Immediate action is called for. We need to…form a committee to look into it.

Later, perhaps years later, copies of such a committee’s report would be used as toilet tissue in the cloaking room.

fish head...By means of this political two-step, hang-wringing public concern coupled with cold-eyed indifference as a matter of policy, the northeast has been short-changed on the benefits of the Clean Air Act ever since its inception.

Imagine the outcry if Maine’s seafood processing industry, as a matter of entrenched public policy, began flying its wastewater, heads, tails, shells, skins and guts to Ohio and airdropping them indiscriminately there.

Good morning, Akron! Kersplat!

Hellooooooooooo, Cleveland! Sploosh!

If a protest arose, our senators and representatives would have a ready response: who would manipulate the FAA for purposes so nefarious?

Anyway, have a nice day, Ohio. I imagine the skies are clear there. Not so much here—although this lobster is tasty.

AdSense Nonsense

I signed up for Google AdSense and inserted it in the left column of this blog mostly just to see what it would do. For the most part, it has been surprisingly astute at picking up keywords in my posts and supplying related ads, and in a year or two I may receive my first $10 check.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, I have been seeing ads for a presidential candidate whom I do not support-the candidate of a major political party to which I do not belong. I am a Democrat. My candidate is now Obama. Yet my candidate and party do not appear in the ads.

Dark suspicions insinuate their way into my mind. Is the other party bidding high on Democratic keywords, so that if I write Democrat I get R********n? Is Google’s revenue algorithm trumping its relevancy algorithm?

Or maybe it’s just that the keyword is politics, and the Dems aren’t buying ads that fit the space on this blog. If that’s the case, please wake up, o glorious party of my choice. You can’t use the Internet just for raising money. You have to spend money here, too.

A Patch of New Grass

It’s a simple thing, but I’m enjoying it a whole lot more than I expected. We reseeded part of our front lawn about a month ago, and the grass has actually come up. For experienced gardeners, this isn’t much. We, however, are people who can’t keep a house plant alive. This is no joke and no lie. We have managed to kill philodendrons.

new grassBut so far the grass is a success. My home office window overlooks the front lawn, and as spring inches closer to summer I am thrilled to watch the yard become greener and greener.

It is, however, a private pleasure because to so many people I know it seems either like not much of an accomplishment or like the wrong accomplishment. On one hand, our across-the-street neighbor has redone his entire lawn in a weekend-long process that involved a small bulldozer. By comparison, our little project is modest indeed. On the other hand are people who suddenly seem to think every square inch of arable land should be turned into a 2008-style Victory Garden.

This is owing to the skyrocketing cost of oil and gasoline. The dystopian view from which such gloom and hysteria proceed is that by next winter the first clear signs of the cold, dark and famine that the future holds will be apparent and unalterable, as utilities wink offline, grocery store shelves stand empty, and travel (read “escape”) becomes impossible (see “cost of oil” above).

I’ll admit to the possibility that I’m playing grasshopper in a real life-or-death unfolding of the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper. But I think that possibility is, as we say, vanishingly remote. I’ve been through this before. I am, after all, old enough to remember the Arab Oil Embargo.

Anyway, I loathe gardening. The old man made me help with his vegetable garden when I was a kid. He grew a lot of stuff I didn’t like (radishes, beets, something called Jerusalem artichokes) and working in the garden was always an invitation to get a sunburn while being eaten alive by insects. The bugs somehow mostly left the old man alone, but they always loved me.

The peas, green beans and sweet corn from that garden were delicious—but no better than stuff from the local farmers’ market, and really no less expensive if time and labor are held to have any value at all.

So, the long and short of it is that I won’t start gardening any time soon, but I really do like to look at that grass. And I’m not yet done patting myself on the back for getting it to grow.

Osama Who?

This morning’s paper contained a brief story about a new book by former White House mouthpiece Scott McClellan with the jaw-breaking title What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. As described, the book reminded me of a posting I wrote five years for a private blog. Here it is in its entirety:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
—Rudyard Kipling

I’ve done pretty well, I think, in keeping politics and the news of the day out of this blog. But enough is enough. You have to wonder if anyone in Washington has ever talked to anyone in the Middle East? Have they ever spent five minutes listening to an Afghan or an Iraqi?

In 2001, we heard a lot about Osama bin Laden, but a lot less about him lately. Our guys couldn’t find Osama, so we went after somebody thumbing his nose at us in plain view. The Russians could have told us about Afghanistan, but apparently our leaders had no questions. The thousands of Afghan refugees living here in the U.S. could also have told us a lot, but apparently there were no questions for them either. At some point, our government pretty much quit looking for Osama and started gunning for Saddam instead. We’ve heard all sorts of reasons for this that may play like beautiful music to the Republican faithful but not so well for the rest of us.

How could American policy makers at the highest level not know that there is a ferocity in the Middle East that is alien to the American sensibility. The Afghans possess it in abundance, and apparently the Iraqis have it as well. It seems as if the folks in the White House thought that by now both Afghanistan and Iraq would be pretty much like Indiana, settling in for a summer of picnics and baseball games. They don’t seem to realize even now that these people do not want to be like us. They may have hated the Taliban in Afghanistan—they may have feared and loathed Saddam in Iraq—but that doesn’t line them up to become Western-style democracies.

As prior posts to this blog have made abundantly clear, I am not a particularly religious person, yet I am praying daily that some sort of useful insight will reach our national leaders. Naturally, I’d like to see some of them hung up to dry, but I’d really settle happily for a change of course in U.S. policy for the Middle East.

Attention President Bush: If you won’t listen to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, if you won’t listen to seasoned diplomats the world over, if you won’t listen to any living person who is not a member of your inner circle, will you at least drag out your old sophomore English lit anthology and read a little Kipling? I doubt that you actually did much reading back then, but you might learn something from it now.

On the Whiteness of My Legs

A foot of snow still blankets most of our back yard, but I find myself already thinking about the spring ritual of opening the pool. I knew nothing about swimming pools when we moved into this house in 1996, but I had to learn fast. Here is the most accurate definition I know:

swimming pool n., a hole in the ground which you must repeatedly fill with money.

You can take a lot of that money out of the equation by doing your own pool work, and that is what I have learned to do. The summer sun is very, very bright in our back yard. And it’s hot out there. As the weather warms, I will probably find myself whining repeatedly about what a pain in the backside the pool is.

Our back yard is a great place to have a pool, however, and that’s probably why we’ve kept it going through the years. Without the pool, that back yard would be pretty much useless. And so I have learned the job of pool boy.

Yet the law of unintended consequences has dogged my pool maintenance efforts from the start. It’s my legs, you see, and the tiresome remarks about their color I am called upon to endure. It’s hot in the back yard. I wear shorts when I’m working on the pool and a bathing suit on those rare occasions when I actually step into the pool. When I’m in the back yard in the summer, people can see my legs.

Yeah, my legs are white. What do you want from me, people? I’m a white dude, OK? I talk like a white dude, I dress like a white dude, I look like a white dude. White man has white legs! Who knew? Hold page one above the fold!

The bleached and bloodless hue of my legs nonetheless draws repeated comment. And it’s not just family members and close friends. Several summers ago, I caught an African-American woman of my acquaintance staring at my poor, pallid limbs. Like a fool, I felt the need to confront her about it.

“Georgia,” I said, “why are you staring at my legs?”

“Don’t seem like even a white man need to be that white!” she replied, placidly.

On the Fifth Anniversary of War

I wrote what follows in August of 2003, when it seemed the Iraq War had already gone on too long, when it seemed inconceivable that five years after the invasion our government would still be following the same delusion with the same blind devotion.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

Vachel Lindsay

I spent half an hour the other day talking with a veteran of the Korean “police action.” Now more than 70 years old, he retains that melancholy loathing of war that veterans of all wars should be able to understand and that Vachel Lindsay captures forever in his image of the ghost of Lincoln. walking the earth in his native Springfield, Illinois, unable to find rest until the world is at peace.

In the twenty-first century, wars are begun and waged by leaders who don’t have much trouble sleeping. The place in their hearts where wisdom and compassion should reside is filled instead with icy certainty that no amount of death, sorrow and human misery can dislodge. In their view of the world, it doesn’t matter how badly one is in error, so long as one is never in doubt. Religious men all, they pray to a tiny, bellicose God, a God much like themselves.

It wasn’t that way for Lincoln or for his God. Lincoln was a giant in a role now filled by a stunted moral bankrupt. The Civil War broke Lincoln’s heart, even as he knew where his duty lay and somehow found within himself the resolve to do it.

These days, the ongoing war doesn’t trouble our President’s easy smile. His face is unlined and his gaze steady, even as more and more young Americans are sent off to die in Irag, a country most of us could not readily have found on the map a year ago.

Meawhile, the ghost of Lincoln sadly walks. The old veteran and I share something of his sorrow.