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Destruction By Complaint

August 17, 2017 Leave a comment

It’s a gorgeous day. As we roll along, the highway is lined on both sides with curtains of colour.Late September in Canada, and the raw forests of maple, poplar, and birch blast one’s eyes with a spectacular colours; elegant gold, loud yellow, and the dominant colour, blazing red.

We’re going to our country place for a weekend of riding our horses and playing in our swimming pool. Out of nowhere she says,

“I bet the sump pump has died. You’ll have to go down to the cellar to see if there’s flood damage.”

I have to tell you that’s ridiculous, we know the sump pump is in great shape. She had to inject a bummer into a splendid moment. It’s a need she has, to keep the atmosphere forever tenuous.

As we drove up the dirt road to our farmhouse, she continued her thoughts aloud.

“The roof might have to be replaced before winter,” she says, whining. I clenched my teeth and said nothing, although I knew that the nearly new metal roof was perfect.

“Don’t forget,” she said, “you have a dentist appointment on Wednesday.” I stifled the urge to tell her how stupid it was to magnify unpleasantness with unnecessary comments.

As you can imagine, such a woman is also frigid, and in her case, totally ignorant of the niceties of making love. A mature woman, she was awkward as a first time teen. I was shocked the first time. I wondered why she was so bland, when in all other ways she was bright and energetic – which attracted me.

We pulled into the broad driveway at last.

“You have to put a new lock on the front door,” she said, for no reason at all. At that moment, I asked myself a question I’d been avoiding. What am I doing here? She turned the happy, colourful weekend into a dreaded period of relentless whining.

She got out of the car and walked up the path to the front door. I got out from behind the wheel and walked over to the old Jeep I kept at the country place. She went into the farmhouse and I pulled out of the driveway.

I was thinking of how she had ground the lovely weekend into shit with her complaints. I was thinking of her overall coldness, and generally, nasty disposition. And I thought of the girl at the bank, who asked me out for coffee. I thought about the girl at the donut shop, who told me the time she got off work and asked me to meet her.

Fuck this, I thought. My life is being ground into crap by this woman who is supposed to love and care for me. To hell with her.

I returned to the city and drove to the donut shop. She was to be off work at nine. I met her outside the shop and took her to my place. We showered; we made love… good love, and listened to music while we cooked up a late snack. She asked if I was worried that his wife would walk in. I told her I hoped she would, because I’ve had it.

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Rituals

July 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Rituals organize our lives. We ritualize our days, and have special rituals for some days. Monday to Friday, we do our morning ablutions, maybe eat something, and hurry off to the job. Throughout the day, on the job, a ritual of productivity proceeds. The journey to the job and the return to home at workday’s end are also rituals. Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday might be rituals unlike the workday rituals, but rituals all the same. Those of us that embrace religion have even more rituals. It matters not which religion one chooses to follow, rituals will be a big part of it.

A young couple lived a neatly organized and busy life. They lived in a small bungalow with just two bedrooms. They planned to have a family after five years, when they could afford a larger home. The second bedroom was Richard Stern’s office, in which he worked on line for a large transportation company. Mona Stern, Richard’s young wife, was a tax consultant. She worked for a large accounting firm. She was a certified public accountant, and had risen to become supervisor over a staff of nine. It was one of several ‘cells’. The company found that ‘teams’ in separate cells were more productive.

Mona Stern enjoyed her rituals. She’d rise at six in the morning, go straight to the bathroom to relieve herself and to shower. She would wear the outfit she planned the previous evening. In the small kitchen, she would enjoy her orange juice, rye toast and coffee while watching the news and weather report on her tablet. After the weather predictions, the sports news came on. Mona turned off her tablet, put it into her handbag, and left for the walk to the office. It was five blocks to her place of business.

By eight o’clock, Mona Stern was striding happily along Acorn Road, observing the many small, neat bungalows similar to her own. Ancient Oak trees shaded the street until the next corner. The busy rush hour was under way on Charles Avenue as it was every morning. As on every weekday morning, Mona turned right and strode along the narrow sidewalk. Old industrial buildings encroached on the sidewalk. They were remnants of the industrial revolution and had stood empty for decades. Mona ignored the cars lined up at red lights. She enjoyed her walk every morning, and was comfortable in the familiar routine that she had been repeating every morning for five years.

In the next block, an old building that had been a garment factory was to be transformed into luxury apartments, with the high ceilings and huge windows as selling points. The fact that there was a change taking place along her route after five years was just a bit unsettling. It altered the routine walk to work.

There were pickup trucks along the curb. Rubber cones were guiding the heavy traffic into one lane, around the trucks. High up on the roof parapet, people were installing a heavy beam to project out from the building. It was needed to create an elevator of sorts, to carry up workers, equipment, and materials. Mona was annoyed at the traffic clamour, and hastened her pace, to escape the irregularities.

At that moment, the rooftop workers faltered in their job. The beam dropped, slowly rotating top to bottom. It did not hit the sidewalk lengthwise. End first, the beam struck the old concrete walkway, pierced it like a piecrust and buried itself two feet into the ground. It hit the spot where Mona Stern had been, a second before she hurried to get away from the cacophony of car horns and engine roars.

The blasting sounds of the beam demolishing the concrete right behind her startled Mona. She jumped and turned around to see dust and particles swirling around an eight-foot tall steel beam. A nearby worker asked if she was okay, but Mona didn’t answer, she just strode on her way to her office. She used a quicker pace than her usual, ritual stride.

Throughout the rest of her day, Mona Stern struggled to do her work on the Dominica and Bolivar account. She struggled to stay focused while she assigned her team to various parts of her employer’s largest and most profitable account. The dropped beam, and the vast repercussions that might have come had it hit her, invaded her mind. She sat at her desk and analysed the routine that she knew so well. She began to question the wisdom of so regular a routine. Perhaps a change of situation, rather than a predictable routine, would be safer and perhaps beneficial. Mona resolved not to follow her usual, routine stroll home.

The office closed at four-forty-five. Mona Stern took the time to leave her files in impeccable order, her desk clear and the tools of her profession alongside her computer keyboard. She left the building moments after her staff and coworkers departed. In her normal routine, she would turn left and stride the route home. On this occasion, Mona turned right out of the building and strode in the direction away from home, husband, and fallen beam.

With no preparation and little thought, the young woman strode as far as the train station and boarded a train because it was leaving soon. Mona Stern didn’t care where the train was going; she just needed it to be free of routine.

At the point where the train journey terminated, Mona left the train. She attained an apartment, a professional position, and a new life. She fell in love with a co-worker that fell in love with her. They moved in together. Meanwhile, the young husband back home was frantic with worry. It seemed the authorities could not find Mona because she changed her name to Rose Kroll.

Rose Kroll, formerly Mona Stern, lived with her new husband in a neat bungalow within walking distance of her office. Her new husband began to work from home designing furniture. Every morning Rose showered, enjoyed orange juice, rye toast and coffee while watching the news on her tablet. When the weather forecast ended and the sports news came on, Rose Kroll left the home to walk to her office.

The Lisper of Bright Street

June 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Bright sign

The row houses that line Bright Street were built in 1898. The front of each house was built with beautiful clay bricks, laid with precision by skilled stonemasons. They are not large houses, and most became homes for people who worked in the surrounding industries.

After 100 years of devolution, the homes were on the cusp of being demolished. A real estate developer with a bit of imagination bought up the whole street, in 1998. He brought the homes up to date, with beautiful interiors and contemporary utilities, and offered them for sale. Of course, the close proximity to the business district and public transportation made them very desirable to young management professionals.

Bright Street

Milo Coccio was One of the last people to move into a home on Bright Street. His unit was between homes owned by single women; Jennifer Dodge on his left and Lana Munroe on his right. They first saw Mr. Coccio on a Saturday morning, when he was moving in. Milo sat beside a woman who was driving the minivan that pulled up in front of his new home.

Jennifer Dodge was sitting on her small porch in the morning sunshine, reading Senator Al Franken’s book, ‘Lies and Lying Liars Who Tell Them’. She was slight in build, with pale skin and blue eyes behind dark glasses. She wore white satin pyjamas under a matching robe. She watched with interest as the woman and Milo Coccio carried boxes into the house. She assumed they were a couple.

Seated on her front steps smoking a joint, Lana Munroe saw the couple moving in too, but she could see the family resemblance and assumed they were siblings. Every item that she could see, from the van to the house, was a man’s item. She saw no female items going into the house. She wondered why a big, good-looking man was moving into a carriage trade home all alone. She assumed he was either divorced or gay, although he showed no sign of gayness, but that doesn’t really mean anything.

The next morning was warm and sunny. Lana was seated on her steps smoking a joint, just as she had been the previous day. Milo Coccio stepped out onto his small porch.

“Welcome to the neighbourhood,” Lana called out happily.

“Thank you,” said Milo. He turned and went back into his home. Lana put the remainder of her joint into a coffee can and left for her job at the soda bottling plant, just a few blocks away. As soon as she was gone, Milo took a folding chair onto his porch and sat in the sun. He looked at the separate homes across the street, and envied them their garden.

Jennifer Dodge was sweeping her porch when she saw Milo.

“Good morning,” she said. “I’m Jennifer, welcome to Bright Street.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m Milo.”

“Nice to meet you, Milo,” she said. “If you need anything, a cup of sugar or something, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you,” said Milo.

“You don’t have much to say, do you?” said Jennifer.

“No,” said Milo. “I am embarrathed by my thpeech impediment. Don’t be offended, but I’d really rather not be asthed to thpeak.”

Lana and Jennifer formed a pact. They would work together to get Milo Coccio out from behind his self-imposed wall of silence. He should get from society the kind of life a handsome, single man should have, lisp or not.

Too Damn Lucky

May 23, 2017 1 comment

The birth of a new person creates a considerable disturbance in the lives of the parent(s) and other people. Some newborns have the misfortune to be born into a dysfunctional family, or an impoverished family, or to a drug-addicted hooker. Those people come into society already in a deep hole, out of which they must climb. They must, to rise within their environment until they can escape it. It’s a forbidding quest.

Some people, myself for instance, are born into poor families that intend to not stay poor. We lived above a corner ‘smoke shop’, my parents, my grandparents, my uncle and me. I was surrounded with love and protection, and had no idea I was poor. I was comfortable and well fed.

My father was smart and ambitious, and by the time I was four, we lived in a lovely little house, outside of downtown. It had a front lawn, a back yard, a concrete driveway and a cute garage. My mother had roses growing up the sides of the garage, and a blossoming cherry tree in the middle of the yard.

My father had been partners with his brother in a small, downtown lunch counter. After a year or so, The Second World War came along. My father took a job in a scrap yard. After he learned the ropes, he bought a classy suit and a pickup truck. Mornings, he would put on the suit, look great, and go out to manufacturers to buy their scrap metal. At midday, he returned home, ate lunch, put on work coveralls, and returned with the pickup truck to fetch the metals he’d bought. He then sold the load at a profit, to an established scrap yard. Soon he had a scrap yard of his own, with cranes and trucks and railway sidings. Stuff was happening.

Then came a large home, cars for my father (Buick), my mother (Pontiac), and me (Corvette). Also, a lakefront cottage, and several boats. We had rowboats, speedboats, sailboats, and my father’s large cruiser. I don’t know how dad did it, but I was certainly a beneficiary.

After a while, he sold his scrap business and started a lumber business. He was a restless man, always seeking new, unlikely challenges. After the lumber business, he became founding president of a new department store chain. I didn’t benefit so much from that plateau, because I was grown up, out of the house, and getting my own life going.

All my life, I’ve been too damned lucky.

How Much Life is Enough?

May 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Editor’s note: Amitai Etzioni is a sociologist and professor of international relations at George Washington University and the author of several books, including “Security First” and “New Common Ground.” He was a senior adviser to the Carter administration and has taught at Columbia and Harvard universities and the University of California, Berkeley.

(CNN) — No one has come out yet and explicitly suggested that old folks like me (I am about to turn 83) should be treated the way the Eskimos, as folklore has it, used to treat theirs: put on an ice floe and left to float away into the sunset. We are, however, coming dangerously close.

A recent study by Dr. Alvin C. Kwok and his colleagues finds that surgery is common in the last year, month and week of life. Eighty-year-olds had a 35% chance of going under the knife in the last year of their lives; nearly one out of five Medicare recipients had surgery in their last month and one in 10 in their last week.

Nobody doubts that some of these surgeries were necessary. But major medical and ethical figures argue that they reflect our reluctance to accept death or let go, the surgeons’ activist interventionist orientation and the way the incentives are aligned.

As the surgeon Atul Gawande put it in The New Yorker: “Our medical system is excellent at trying to stave off death with eight-thousand-dollar-a-month chemotherapy, three-thousand-dollar-a-day intensive care, five-thousand-dollar-an-hour surgery. But, ultimately, death comes, and no one is good at knowing when to stop.”

It remained for Daniel Callahan, an influential bioethicist and co-founder of the prestigious Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institute in New York, to take the next step. In a May article in The New Republic, Callahan (with co-author Sherwin B. Nuland) argues for a cease-fire in America’s “war against death,” calling on us to surrender gracefully; Americans thus “may die earlier than [is now common], but they will die better deaths.”

Focusing on care for the elderly, Callahan and Nuland warn that our present attitudes “doom most of us to an old age that will end badly: with our declining bodies falling apart as they always have but devilishly — and expensively — stretching out the suffering and decay.” They hence call on us to abandon the “traditional open-ended model” (which assumes medical advances will continue unabated) in favor of more realistic priorities, namely reducing early death and improving the quality of life for everyone. They further advocate age-based prioritization, giving the highest to children and “the lowest to those over 80.”

The journalist Beth Baker summed up this position: “After people have lived a reasonably full life of, say, 70 to 80 years, they should be offered high quality long-term care, home care, rehabilitation and income support, but not extraordinary and expensive medical procedures.”

Baker’s interview with Callahan reveals one reason this line of argument should be watched with great concern: Once we set an age after which we shall provide mainly palliative care, economic pressures may well push us to ratchet down the age. If 80 was a good number a few years ago, given the huge deficit and the pressure to cut Medicare expenditures, there seems no obvious reason not to lower the cut-off age to, say, 70. And nations that have weaker economies, the logic would follow, should cut off interventionist care at an even younger age. Say, 50 for Guatemala?

Above all, age is the wrong criterion. The capacity to recover and return to a meaningful life is the proper criterion.

Thus, if a person is young but has a terminal disease, say, advanced pancreatic cancer, and physicians determine that he has but a few months, maybe weeks, to live (a determination doctors often make), he may be spared aggressive interventions and be provided with mainly palliative care. In contrast, an 80-year-old with, say, pneumonia — who can return to his family and friends to be loved and give love, contribute to the community through his volunteering and enjoy his retirement he earned with decades of work — should be given all the treatments needed to return him to his life (which in my case includes a full-time job and some work on the side).

We should learn to accept death more readily; we should stop aggressive interventions when there is little hope; we should provide dying people with palliative care to make their passing less painful and less traumatic. Such a case may not just be that of an elderly person succumbing to a terminal illness — it can be that of a preemie born too early to survive, a youngster following a car wreck, a worker following a tragic accident. We should learn from the Eskimos — they long ago stopped abandoning their elderly just because they got “too” old.

06. THE LAND OF MILT AND HONEY

May 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Chapter 6

Milton Korn sat in his cramped studio, staring at the unfinished canvas on his easel. He was unable to get clear, his vision for the painting, and it was almost frightening for him. He’d never before had the real world interfere in his private, creative world. For the first time, a melange of thoughts pressed his creative mind aside.

His thought batted back and forth, like a badminton bird over a net. One moment he’s consumed with concern about his bold assertion to Honey Freed. He could easily afford the 100 acres, with money left over to build a studio. His mind pulled from thoughts of Honey and wandered through visions of the property. The Maple forest on the southernmost 12 acres was a rare enclave of mature trees that had not yet been cut into lumber. If he was owner… co-owner… he could protect those ancient beauties.

Would Honey Freed also be a tree-hugger, or might she be mercenary, and wish to turn the trees into cash. Hopefully, she would share Milton’s ecological interests. If not, perhaps he could help her to understand its importance.

Milton forced himself to stop beating around the bush in his head. What about Honey Freed. She’s smart, a successful professional, tall, and too goddamn gorgeous for Milton, he thought. He would have living quarters adjacent to his studio, on a wing of the house far from Honey’s quarters.

He envisioned separate basic bathrooms for each of them, conveniently connected to their living quarters. Each would have a sink, a toilet, and a medicine cabinet. There would be a mutual bathroom, with a spacious Jacuzzi tub and shower, mirrors and so on. They would make a schedule between themselves, as to when the central bathroom priority was for Milton or Honey.

As for Honey Freed, she had less time to muse on the proposal than had Milton. She was busy with pre-production meetings, casting sessions, and all the other complications in producing commercials. When she at last got home, at 2:20am, she began her analysis of Milton’s suggestion. She had come to think of it as, “The Korn Roast.”

She tossed her clothes on the floor, and stepped into her shower. As the warm water flowed softly over her body, she didn’t need to think about the property. She had been enjoying it in her mind for months. She had to think about the romantic aspect of sharing a home with a tall, good-looking, successful artist.

Honey imagined that they’d design the home together. They could have their rooms across a hall from each other, just for safety. They could have animals, and let them be free to wander in the Maple forest, and frolic on the open pasture. She hoped that Milton liked the idea. She felt certain that he’d want to keep the forest safe and whole. If not… it would be a problem.

Both Milton Korn and Honey Freed slept well, with visions of their possible partnership in the country. Milton dreamed of beautiful light in his studio, and the peace and quiet in which to paint. Honey saw herself in farm clothes, caring for horses, Scottish Highland Longhorn cattle, lamas, goats, and dogs. Lots of dogs.

Within a week, if Honey decides to accept Milton’s offer, they’ll be negotiating joining lives, while they don’t even really know each other. They are each very intelligent, and will be aware of the inevitable problems they will have to overcome.

05. THE LAND OF MILT AND HONEY

May 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Chapter Five

 

Milton Korn had never had any interest in cars. He didn’t actually like to drive. On this occasion, with Honey Freed doing the driving, in an Alpha-Romeo Spyder, Milton began to feel in a unique mood.

The make of car meant nothing to Milton, but the beautiful design and the luxurious leather upholstery gave him a feeling. He had never felt any feeling from riding in a car, but on this occasion, he had feelings.

The top was down, and the wind noise made conversation uncomfortable, so Honey just drove, and Milton sat and thought. He began to think about Honey, and her car. He was comparing the character of the car with the character of the woman. If she is successful, and can choose any car she’d like, and she chose this example of understated elegance, perhaps she is not superficial or false.

The road was wide and smooth at first. When Honey took an exit off the Autoroute onto a two-lane, the surroundings became interesting. Broad fields of corn, hay, and soybeans lay like blankets across hundreds of acres on both sides of the road.

Before long, Honey turned off the secondary highway, onto a dusty dirt road. This road led them away from the open, cultivated fields. They drove through the cooling shade of huge Maple trees that lined the small road. As they emerged from the grove of hardwoods, Honey tuned up a long, dirt driveway that led up to the top of a large hill. Honey stopped there and got out of the car. Milton followed suit. They stood together and looked out over the grassy fields.

“Where’s the house?” said Milton.

“There is no house, yet,” said Honey. “I’m going to design and build my own, if I can ever get to own this place.” She pointed out various features of the land, and said that she wants her home to be on this hill, where they stood together.

“Do you want a partner?” said Milton.

“God, no!” said Honey. “I want to be free.”

“So do I,” said Milton. “This is a great spot. If you change your mind about sharing, I’ll put up the money and you could repay me your half.”

“Geeze, that’s a serious temptation,” said Honey Freed.  “I have to think about it.”

“I have to decide where I’ll go if  you decide to take this on alone, so please try to decide soonish,” said Milton Korn.

“Within a week, okay?” said Honey.

“Okay, thanks,” said Milton. He stood there and visualized  what it would be like to have a home and studio in this environment. He thought about buying this place out from under Honey. The acquaintances each had to make a hard decision.