Thursday, July 27, 2006

Walking the Line

Courtesy of Netflix we just had the chance to see "Walk the Line". We thoroughly enjoyed it on many levels. As you probably know by now, Reese Witherspoon won last year's best actress oscar for her enactment of "June Carter Cash"...a role she was born to play. She nailed it in so many ways. In the final credits you can hardly tell the difference between her voice and the real June's voice. She is such a sweet "southern lady" both in real life and the one she plays. Joaquin Phoenix was also nominated for his role as "Johnny Cash" and they say he learned to play the guitar and sing for the role. He certainly had all his mannerisms down. My wife said it must've been hard for him to play the "adictive parts" especially because in real life his brother(?) River Phoenix died from an overdose.

"Among the pantheon of great country singers, Johnny Cash may just be the most enigmatic. James Mangold's film distills Cash's transformation from man to icon -- from his hardscrabble days on an Arkansas farm to Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. where he finally found a way for his talent to come into its own." His story resonates with me probably because of my roots with my father in rural Kentucky, coal mining country. As a child I visited my grandparents and his home in Wallinscreek, Harlan County. I saw them work the garden and chase a chicken around the yard for our dinner. I remember the wonderful morning bisquits and gravy; the nights on the front porch swing and catching fireflies. We listened to Cash's kind of music before his time. I rarely if ever heard my daddy sing it but his brothers and sisters did, all 10 of them. It was a sweeter, slower time where you got to go barefoot all summer and try to "smoke" "life everlasting weed". He caught and fried frog...legs for us. They tasted "just like chicken".

My first recollection of listening to a Johnny Cash hit was on the small radio always on in the basement/repair shop of the old Glendale Memorial Hospital. It had to be in '56 or '57 just before I graduated from H.S. I had gotten a "Maintenance Man Helper" job there after school because it was near to my house. Muriel Hanson's dad was the administrator there and he went to the L.A. Covenant Church where my folks knew him. I'd have various "clean-up" task in the shop or out in the rooms. The maintenance men, whose names I've forgotten, were country music fans and just had it on in the background. I was atuned to music/singing because I was in the school choir and madrigal singers. This was different music, not "sacred", kind of a "no-no" secular music for our family. What I remember was his distinct baritone sharpness and twang when he sang..."I walk the line"...and..."ring of fire" ("far" as he pronounced it) It had a catchy beat, infectious and easier to do a repetitive task to. One of my most memorable tasks was when they gave me a "hacksaw blade" and I had to go to each bed, table, cart etc. in the hospital that had casters (wheels) and pull that blade along the axles on either side and get out the accumulated gunk and hair and then clean it up. Yuk! Now that I think of it, not good, but then, it was a job and "great experience" for "future jobs and references" (Yes, that job got me an orderly job at the Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago while was a freshman at North Park) Again, our former pastor's wife, Mrs. Honnette was a nurse at that training hospital where the nurses were so young and demonstrably "loving". Anyway, early on I learned one meaning of "walking the line" by all the jobs and bosses I had. If you didn't "care" and do what you were told or expected to do, ie. "walk the line" you were out. I think I only got fired once, selling shoes for C.H. Baker, but then I quit. That was one of the main problems Johnny had, "walking the line"...(eventually it was the cell line in prison...and his big hit album from Folsum Prison) His was not only job related but wife, family and girl friend related. Just once in the movie did she "June" refer to his not "walking the line" or wanting to. His love for her and her eventual friendship and love for him is what saved him. They went on to have a long marriage, children. He died just 4 months after she did in 2003.

It is my belief, contention that many a good, successful man and/or marriage is because of the support of a "good woman". June Carter Cash was that to Johnny, but also a "teammate and friend" (first) He had a load of guilt in his life because his older brother, the favored one, was killed in an accident when he wasn't there. (off fishing and making up songs) His father never forgave him of that and so Johnny couldn't forgive himself. It took June and the Carter family and their "religion" to get him "right" This is what I mean by a "good woman". That was what was "right" back then. Even now, I think that the love and support of your life's mate and lover is "what keeps you going" through the rough spots. You've got to know that they are there for you no matter what. We all have our "flaws" and "hard to love" parts and that's why it is so important to "go the extra mile" for each other, ie. "in sickness and in health" Betty and I are doin' fine with this. Bob!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gnats, Mice and Smiles

One Hard Look
Small gnats that fly
In hot July
And lodge in sleeping ears,
Can rouse therein
A trumpet's din
With Day of Judgement fears.
Small mice at night
Can wake more fright
Than lions at midday;
A straw will crack
The camel's back-
There is no easier way.
One smile relieves
A heart that grieves
Though deadly sad it be,
And one hard look
Can close the book
That lovers love to see.
Robert Graves
I like this poem. It is from my "Poem a Day" book. It first reminds me of the time that I got a real live mosquito or gnat caught in my ear and it buzzed around in there until it got tired and was stuck in some wax. It was another hot night in July, like now. My dad had just finished our new room addition, a den and my bedroom. This way my sister could have her own bedroom. I was so excited to sleep over in my knotty-pined corner that I didn't care that there were no screens on the window there yet. I kept hearing a high-pitched whine by my ear. I slapped down to my ear on the "sound" and suddenly it was much louder. I stuck my finder in my ear to get it out but that gnat was too far down the canal. I called my parents and they didn't really believe me and sort of humored me. The next morning, after little sleep, I was in no shape to go to school so my mom took me to the doctor's office and he pulled parts of it out with his elongated tweezers. It all seems rather funny now, but at the time I know I was not too amused. I still have very sensitive hearing. ie. the TIVO hum bothers me in our bedroom.
This morning I was hand-watering in our shaded area by the back AC unit. There was a little dead mouse. Haven't seen one of his kind since we "mouse-proofed" the garage last year. We were gettting about one a week in our traps until Roy, our brother-in-law came over and added an inch or so to our secondary garage door. He had the tools and the know-how, plus he could squat down low to adjust it. I've heard of rodents that get into people's walls and attics and scurry around at night especially driving everyone mad. That hasn't happened yet. I did sell a house to a lovely old couple who found out that they had a skunk and her babies trapped at the time of construction in their attic and then died there. My company put them up in a motel for more than a week while they "gutted" the house and attic. We did have a dead opposum and her babies in our old garage in Claremont. Lots of fun!
I've always enjoyed smiling at people, especially strangers. Mostly I do it just to see how they'll react. Will it be a half smile with just the mouth or will it include the eyes? As teachers, we used to do it with our students in the hall in passing. It was especially effective with certain ones we all knew were having problems in class or at home. Of course there was also that "teacher look", a "Hard Look" that usually conveys disapproval and reprimand. With some students that would be all you had to do. No words of warning need be spoken. A raising of the eyebrows, brief eye contact...that would do it. By now, I don't even need to do that with my "Better Half". She can just sense, and so can I, when something is not quite right. Then I'm reminded of ol' Rumpole of the Bailey, "She who must be obeyed" and my expression suddenly changes to a "Soft Look" and or word. Forty-four years of practice and love will do that. Bob!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Don't "Click"

You're looking at all the TV remotes I currently have in my house. Do you think I need a "Universal"? Yes, our TV viewing has changed over the years and I think it has had an effect on our lives...probably not for the best. Tivo is mostly to blame. It is true that we don't have to watch our favorite show on "their schedule". That's good. However, we now can "pause", "fast-forward" and "rewind". This is especially good for skipping the commercials which seem to be increasing in number and length. It is also handy to replay something you missed especially if you didn't hear it distinctly which is also becoming more of our problem. The problem is...lately we have caught ourselves thinking and even wishing we could do the same...with "real life" situations and especially movies. Now this could be scary. Lately, we have even wished that we could "fast-forward" through some really challenging parts of our life. Let's get the pain and discomfort over with. Let's see a real "tragic" situation better itself. Is this wrong? Is it mephistophilline?(?)
This is the topic of the last movie we saw, "Click". It is barely more than a sitcom and not one of Adam Sandler's best. (not like Spanglish) It has its cute/funny parts and is very predictable. He is an overworked dad who is so frustrated that he can't spend more time with his son and family that he wishes for (dreams up) a "universal remote" for his life. You can imagine what follows, all the special-effects etc. He eventually learns a lesson about the importance of living his life as it comes and trying to cope and understand it with compassion and kindness. There were times during the movie that I even wanted to "fast-forward" the action and get to the point. But I was stuck in his process and predicament. I couldn't even "Bob".
The same was true for Karen Armstrong whose autobiography I just finished. It was fascinating and I could hardly put it down. A National Bestseller in 2004, I read the paperback my sister sent me for my birthday. She is so thoughtful, considerate and knows a book. It was just what I needed at this time in my life. "The Spiral Staircase" - My Climb Out of Darkness. The title and organization (chapters) of the book refer to t.s.elliot's poem "Ash Wednesday I" as a metaphor for "life's journey":
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because i do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renouce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
I pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still...
This is only one part of the poem where we watch the poet painfully climb a spiral staircase. This image is reflected in the twisting sentences of verse, which often revolves upon itself, repeating the same words and phrases, apparently making little headway, but pushing steadily forward nevertheless.
This is from Karen's preface and introduces her extraordinary life so far. She put herself in a convent at 17 hoping to "find God, her faith". After 7 years and many shocking incidents she left the "habit" behind and went on her own search, losing her faith and belief in "God", Christianity and herself. She studied at Oxford but her thesis was rejected. She found out she had been suffering from a form of epilepsy. She tutored an epileptic. She taught high school English Lit. She starred in several TV series about St. Paul and the Middle East. She wrote "The History of God" and several other bestsellers (which I have ordered) I just saw her on one of the recent PBS programs on religion. Out from all of this she remains rather solitary and on her own. She is learning compassion and stillness as suggested by the poem above. Her recent works are very cogent to the currently tragic situation of the Middle East, ie. Israel vs. Hezbola, Lebanon etc. She is inspired and inspiring to many I am sure and especially me at this time in my life.
Interestingly enough, the last spiral staircase I saw was in the Vatican Museums from one floor to the next. It is more of a ramp that curves back on itself with historic pictures along the sides. We took the elevator. Bob!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Wobble Bob

This is not only a new, multi-function clock for me but a new concept of survival. I'll have pictures of it here when I figure out what's wrong with my piece of crap, Kodak share ware. Ever since I down loaded umpteen million pixels of cruise pictures it hasn't responded to any transferring commands. I get so frustrated with these electronic gagets and yet I'm hooked by them too.

On my recent birthday outing to Victoria Gardens to see a movie that was only showing there ie. Lake House; we stumbled into a Brookstone and were attracted by the come-on poster in the door. With any purchase you got a Wobble Bob-5 Function Alarm Clock. It was kind of cute, egg-shapped with a multi-colored, back-lit, digital readout. The sales clerk informed us that all we had to do was buy the batteries and we'd get the clock for around $12.00. What a deal! We ended up getting some neat leather slippers with tempur-pedic soles, memory foam again. Couldn't resist that. That store and Sharper Image always suck me in. Can't pass them by in the malls. I guess it's like my ownership of the remotes in the house; just have to have them to tinker with.

This clock now virtually runs my life. Not only does it have the accurate time in blue; it has the room temperature F in red. I've set the alarm clock, in magenta for our daily meditating time as a reminder. In case I forget the day and date, that's in yellow. Then the count-down timer is set for 20 mins. in green. Again, that's for meditation. The alarm beep is so high pitched only I can hear it ie. dog ears. Now here's the wobble part. It doesn't light up unless it gets nudged. Then it wobbles and stays lit. This stops the timer alarms too. Just fascinating! Being egg-shaped (metalic, unpolished, smooth silver in color) it is quite modern looking on our coffee table. I just found out my daughter-in-law also has one. She took it to China and was all the rage.

I like the way it rights itself when disequilibrium is introduced by wobbling. This happens to me too, daily almost. I now not only bob, I wobble. I've observed myself. Mostly I react it with humor or a wry comment. Then I usually take stock and decide what reaction is called for...maybe none. These can be all the way from life's little frustrations and pet peeves to major goading and ego challenges. Meditation usually figures into the wobbling equation. Time to process and let it be. Financial concerns are minimal now and leave some wobble room. Having been a victim of fraud twice so far this year, I watch my account like a hawk and have a very close relationship with my bank. My CFP has had lots more action lately as he/they help us plan our retirement. There has been some wobble there too. Family worries and concerns continue as seems to be=par. Lots of wobbling and bobbing are needed here. Love is the underlying support and force with these on-going concerns. We want the best for our loved ones ie. their independence, happiness, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. They are wobbling too. Grandchildren are now so precious and wobble-worthy. Living, full time now, with my life-long love just gets better everyday. We wobble together so well since we almost know what the other is going to say or do before it happens. Lots of loving humor, a form of wobble, I think. Bob! (this post is totally composed of my own thoughts and opinions and I make no claim as to their authenticity or veracity; ie. just musings from an addled mind that has bobbed and wobbled much too often)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"Born on the Fourth of July"

It just seems appropriate that I make some comments here about the day ie. Independence Day. I do have feeling for the day even though we won't be celebrating in any of the more popular ways today ie. barbeque, picnic, concert, family gathering, parade, live fireworks etc. We have done all those in the past and enjoyed them greatly. We have fond memories of a number of 4ths, picnic blankets, games etc. But, this day will be a more quiet, an introspective Independence Day where we will comtemplate that, Independence.

I have an email service or two that sends me current topics daily. Knowledge News and On This day...both had appropriate offerings. I'll pass those highlights along in case some of my vast readership doesn't receive those downloads. The great patriotic song, "America the Beautiful"was published in "The Congregationalist" on this day in 1895. The poem, then, was written by a Wellesley College English professor, Katharine Lee Bates to commemorate the Fourth of July. In Wisconsin, where our sister, her husband and family are celebrating the 4th, it is Indian Rights Day. In 1776 the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. "America" was written by Dr. Samuel Francis Smith, was sung in public for the first time in Boston on this day in 1832. The 49 and 50-star flags were unfurled on this day in the consecutive years of 1959 and '60 in Philadelphia. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966 on this day. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point officially opened on this day in 1802. Construction began on the Erie Canal to connect Lake Erie and the Hudson River on this day in 1817. "I got a mule her name is Sal..." And, Henry David Thoreau began his two-year simple living experiment at Walden Pond, near Concord, MA on this day in 1845. Casey Kasem hosted American Top 40 on the radio for the first time on this day in 1070. And NASA's Mars Pathfinder became the first U.S. spacecraft to land on Mars in more than two decades on this day in 1997. Other things happened that weren't so patriotic.

Some interesting people were born on the 4th of July: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Stephen Foster, Calvin Coolidge, Rube Goldberg, Louis Armstrong, Mitch Miller, Ann Landers, Neil Simon. The Arts are truly represented. I read yesterday that Cohan, of "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" fame, (the musical) and where"...born on the 4th of July"...came from was actually born on July 3rd.
Three of our Presidents died on this day: John Adams, 2nd President in 1826, Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President, on the exact same day as John Adams above and James Monroe, 5th president in 1831.

Having taught school for so many years and mostly 5th grade, I had more than my share of the subject. Social Studies in that grade in Calif. schools is The U.S. (4th is Calif., 6th originally was South America and then it was switched to the World and ancient history). So we did plays about it, memorized poems about it, sang/learned songs about it. Most every Flag Day (June 14) we were in charge of an assembly out by the school flag where we did all the honors and sang, "Your a Grand Ol' Flag".("where there's never a boast or a brag") I taught when we still had to start the class day with the Pledge of Allegiance. In later years we had those who didn't participate but I asked them to stand. We even tried, one year, to learn it in Espanol...bad idea now to be P.C. They all weren't happy or proud times ie. in class, with the TV on when Kennedy was Assassinated and when the Shuttle with a teacher aboard exploded. Both times I had to explain to the class through my tears.

I got an email from an old friend about the meaning of the Flag draped coffin. Having been through that with my dad's flag, I thought it was very interesting. I had taught how to fold the flag respectfully but had never thought that each fold had a meaning. By the way, I don't know the source of this but it gives you something to think about: The reason for the 21 gun salute at military funerals is that's the total number you get when you add 1776 across individually. When the flag is taken off the casket it is folded maticulously 13 times and that's not to represent the original 13 colonies. Oh no...(?)
1st fold, in half long ways is the symbol of life
2nd fold, long ways again is the symbol of the belief in eternal life(?)
3rd fold, first triangle, honors veterans departing the ranks still living
4th fold, first triangle fold over, in God we trust in times of war or peace
5th fold, triangle fold over, Stephen Decatur, "Our Country...right or wrong."
6th fold, triangle fold over, people's hearts and their saying of the pledge
7th fold, triangle fold over, tribute to the Armed Forces and their protection of our flag/country
8th fold, last stripe triangle fold, into the valley of the shadow of death...?
9th fold, first triangle into the blue field, motherhood, devotion/development of character
10th fold, second triangular fold in total blue, fatherhood, giving his sons and daughters/defense
11th fold, third triangle in field of all blue, all stars, God in the heavens...?
12th fold, fourth triangle of all blue, eternity...?
13th fold, makes a square before remaining flap is tucked in, "In God We Trust"
When complete it looks alittle like a soldier's hat and reminds us of the patriot's hats who originally fought for our country. So the Star-Spangled Banner is a symbol of our country, its liberty and freedom. Kind of a strange shock to me that our congress recently had to vote on the legality of the symbolic burning of our flag and only one vote kept it from being a crime. That is extreme freedom to take a liberty don't you think?

What is a Patriot? days? Many definitions exemplified by the actions of those who volunteer to protect and serve our country I'm sure. Knowledge News gives us the example of William Livingston in 1753, a lawyer, militiaman during the American Revolution, New Jersey's first governor and essayist. In the "Independent Relfector"he wrote: "He is a Patriot who prefers the Happiness of the Whole, to his own private advantage...the Public Welfare is his object, whose zeal, chastised by reflection, is calm steady and undaunted..." ie. no narrow partisan, no party propagandist, no pursuer of pork...setting aside personal and local interests. Duty to Country is the highest to the Duty we owe to a Supreme Being. Livingston goes on to say that Love of Country without action isn't enough. Patriotism requires service --love and labor. Mental labor too. Serving the common good requires deliberation, thinking hours that lead to constructive efforts as opposed to knee-jerk responses. Disagreements are allowed. The common good is no monlithic truth. It is a constant negotiation among the different and often conflicting ideas of the community. Livingston even points to a patriotism of protest, noting that when the country's leaders go wrong, the patriot morns for their vices, and exerts his abilities to work a reformation. Thomas Paine pointed out in 1777..."All we want to know in America is simply this, who is for Independence, and who is not?" For me, this still rings true today. Bob!This is me a year ago. Laguna Life Guard Tower/Flag
You see why we're not known for our photographic expertise.