In my last episode, I mentioned a woman who began a class with a scowl and then transitioned to laughing at my jokes. As my employer is becoming more and more obsessed with anonymity, I will just refer to her as (..). 

One reason I am alert for scowls in my classes, is that I have sometimes been accused of not “smiling enough.” I agree this is probably a grievous fault on my part. I like it better when people smile at me than frown at me; at least, as long as the smiles strike me as genuine and sincere and not the product of over-dependence on anti-depressants or the result of a phony and manipulative idea of “customer service.” So I should smile more often, but as I am not a friendly person, at least I am not a phony friendly person.

In fact, I may discover a special bond with the frowning person. We sometimes turn out to be especially compatible. In the first class, once I saw the scowling woman was not in serious uproar with me, I paid more attention to the woman who had lost much of her short-term memory.

A few days later, I met (..) again. She participated in three classes in one day at a different library.

We seemed to now have a “relationship” (platonic) going, so I asked her, “Last time I saw you, you were reluctant to tell me where you were from? Are you willing to tell me now?”

“Sure,” she said, and told me. She is not Japanese or Chinese, but comes from an area that might be loosely called in the “general neighborhood” of those two countries.


My wife is a small woman. my wife’s diminutive size bothers her in two ways. First, she dreams of being what she calls a “brute.” By this she seems to mean that she would like to have the capability of knocking somebody out who irritates her (as many people do) with one swift punch.

Second, her bosom is small; she feels herself discriminated against in our breast-obsessed society. She is not greedy; “I just want to be ‘normal-sized,’ she snarls. I have said to her on many an occasion: “If you lived in Japan or China, you would fit in perfectly both in terms of stature and of chest bumps.”


The interesting thing about (..) is that she doesn’t fit her apparent ethnic group. She is about 5’10” in height. Yes, she is slim and without excessive body fat, but she is big-framed and looks capable of defending herself well in a rumble. She also has a bosom of pleasing proportions to her height and build.

My classes are brief. I have found it useful to get quick assessments of my students as the class starts. Lately, I have been concentrating on the “extrovert-introvert” dimensions. “Some of you are extroverts and some of you are introverts,” I tell my classes. The introverts will tell me about themselves first; when I don’t abuse the first responders for speaking up, the introverts then consider it safe to take a small risk and cautiously reveal a bit about themselves.

In the first class of the day, I asked, “Extroverts, please raise your hands.”

(..) waved her hand vigorously, bobbed up and down, and generally called attention to herself.

I then said, “Introverts, please raise your hands. By the way, if you don’t raise your hand for either group, I know what you are, but I won’t tell.”

A few people cautiously raised their hands.

(..) waved her hand vigorously, bobbed up and down, and generally called attention to herself. I concluded: she is a vigorous extrovert and a vigorous introvert.


She is also a woman who seems to “contain multitudes,” as Walt Whitman so pungently described himself. From reading David’s blog, I have become aware that has multiple parts of his personality as a result of childhood trauma. He refers to them as his “alternates.” Although I was skeptical about this phenomenon when he first talked about it, I now tend to believe him. For one thing, some of his comments to me in the past seemed to have a strange tone to them; taking these as comments from one of his alternates makes some sense to me.

In evaluating (..)’s behavior and mannerisms, it occurs to me that she may be a person with alternate personalities. I have been working to “hook up” David with Truce (who currently resides in Australia), but perhaps (..) may be a better option; Seattle is less of a transportation challenge than Sydney. Does she have multiple alternates who could hook up with each of David’s alternates? More likely they would only have multiple ways to be incompatible. I will stay with my Truce plan.

(Most likely, I am just drawing bizarre conclusions with no basis in reality.)


(..) is also volatile. At one point a fellow member of the class asked her a perfectly innocent question. As part of her answer she said, “…yes, sir.”

The gentleman said, “I just noticed that you said, ‘Yes, sir’; were you in the military? I was in the military myself.”

She said, rather coolly, “Yes, I was in the military.”

The gentleman, with natural curiosity, asked her about her military service. Her face immediately froze into a stiff mask that communicated I’m not even giving you my name, rank, and serial number, much less any other information.


She took three classes from me during the day. After each class she remained in the classroom to ask me some technical computer questions; I in turn asked her some impertinent personal questions which she answered not only freely but in a spendthrift fashion; we gradually got to know each other.

The interesting feature of our on-going all day conversation was that my mental picture of her changed as the day progressed. In the morning she would tell me one thing about herself; in the afternoon, the story would change, and change again by the evening class; not in the sense that she had been lying about herself, but in that new layers and depths and perspectives revealed themselves to me.

If I were a talented writer of fiction, I might be able to use her as the nucleus of a short story of surpassing brilliance. As a mere and very ordinary blog memoirist, I will simply reveal the final story as best I can.


She told me that she had worked for a hospital for twenty years and then lost her job. She is now taking free computer classes to help improve her job skills. My impression is that her job in the hospital had not been a highly skilled one. She berated herself for not taking the opportunity to improve her skills while she had been working at I don’t know what, but it was probably more as a custodian or cafeteria worker than as a doctor or a nurse. [Truth eventually turned out a little differently than I thought, but not shocking.]

She told me that she had recently been divorced. At first, I had the impression that she had decided to divorce her partner for a typical husband-type offense, but as they day went on, she explained that their marriage had been perfectly happy (or so she thought) for twenty years, until one day he told her he no longer loved her and was moving out.

“Mid life crisis?” she wondered.

She also told me that she had an 18-year-old son living at home. He doesn’t have a job (“He gets jobs, but then he loses them,” she told me.) Son lolls around the house, probably takes illegal drugs, sleeps until noon, refuses to help with household chores, hangs out with disreputable friends, and so on, she lamented.

At first, I thought she was completely fed up with her son and was desperate to get him to move out and support himself, or at least leave her alone.

“I called the police,” she said, “and asked them to talk to him.” The cop took her son outside and talked to the boy. He then brought the son back in and said, “There is nothing we can do. It is your problem.”

“I hoped the cop would at least scare him,” she lamented, “But my son didn’t care. He just laughed about the cop. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who can help me.”

It became clear to me that she in fact loves her son greatly; rather than wanting him out, she just wanted to help him.

“I go to church every day and pray for him,” she said.

She said she comes to a library every day and takes every computer class she can. “It keeps me busy and takes my mind off my troubles,” she said. I was beginning to understand why she frequently scowled. As I said at the start, she is a woman who has not been physically injured (as far as I can tell), but who has been severely buffeted by psychological vicissitudes, caused by her fervent desire to do the right thing.


(To be continued: this mini novel is still continuing and developing)

Assaulted Spirit

August 26, 2008

In a series I call with some effrontery my mini Canterbury Tales, I have described meeting a man paralyzed in a youthful accident involving street racing, meeting a woman brain-damaged in an industrial accident, and had a tale related to me about a man brain-damaged in a bungled contract killing attempt.In this tale, I relate a story about a person who has suffered not physical damage, but severe psychological assaults.
It takes some set up.

I use a lot of humor in my teaching. Over time, I have developed routines that work pretty well, both in making students laugh, in getting them to relax, and in conveying useful concepts, such as the desirability of arriving on time for a class. My humor is edgy; although I am fairly careful, occasionally I make a mistake. If I realize I have done so, I apologize profusely. Most people seem to take it in strike; they just say, “Oh, that’s Random; he’s an elderly idiot; don’t mind him.” One day, a student will shoot me because I offended his or her culture.

I meet a lot of people from around the world. I encounter names unfamiliar to me in spelling and pronunciation. I ask how to pronounce their name and practice saying it a few times. I ask where the name comes from. Generally, people are happy to tell me. I never know where this is going. A few weeks ago, I encountered a name that struck me as unusual. As usual, I asked him how to pronounce it and where it came from. He told me that it came from Nepal. I said (this is true), that a friend of mine had gone trekking in Nepal. She and her guide fell in love, even though he spoke little English and she spoke little Nepalese. They are now married, living in Portland, and have two children.

In the next class of that day, the gentleman from Nepal sat down; evidently I had not offended him so much that he avoided taking a second class with me. A woman with an unusual name sat down next to him. I asked her the usual questions. “I am from Nepal,” she said.

I asked (in some astonishment), do you know each other? I do not get that many people from Nepal in my classes; the odds against their taking the same class and randomly sitting next to each other strike me as great. They immediately began chatting in Nepali.

I asked them, “Do you both speak the same dialect?”

They said, “Yes.”

As I have no tact, I asked, “Are there any clashes or feuds between different groups in Nepal I need to worry about, or will you get along fine?”

They told me they were fine, so I left them to their conversation. For all I know they are married by now, or have decided never to have anything to do with each other again, or both.


In the same class as the brain-damaged woman, a woman sat in a back row with a scowl on her face. I notice scowls at the beginning of a class and watch the scowler carefully. The computer she was trying to use was malfunctioning and refused to let her log in. Her scowl deepened. I moved her to a computer in the front row and helped her log in.

Her name was unusual to my eye. I asked her how to pronounce it, practiced a few times until she said I was getting it correct, and then asked where the name came from. She scowled even more at me and said, “Asia. That’s enough; leave it at that.” I figured I was in deep doo by then.

Nevertheless, I continued with my introduction and with telling jokes. All of sudden, the scowling woman laughed uproariously at one of my jokes. Surreptitiously, I looked at her with astonishment. It was as if a switch had been pulled; she was now cheerful and engaged. I breathed a sigh of relief. About that time I became aware of the problems the woman who had lost much of her short term memory and stopped worrying about (..) as I shall call the woman from Asia.

[To be continued]



What to Do About David

August 22, 2008

We need to figure out what to do about David.

It’s not like it’s brain surgery.

Well, OK, yes, it’s exactly like brain surgery. David was abused as a child. His poor brain broke into various pieces he calls “alternates.”

He found a brain surgeon who is painstakingly sewing the pieces back together. Everybody wants to help but it’s really something you should not Try at Home. Here is my Prescription.

It is worth what David (and you) paid for it.

  • 1) David will not become happy. Life sucks, so few of us will become happy. David just needs to get the sucking down to a manageable level so his life doesn’t sound like a toilet that is sucking round the clock.
  • 2) This is really #1. The brain surgery. I’ve read about surgeons doing a painstaking operation like a heart transplant that takes hours. Brain surgery like this takes months if not years. About forty other people keep sticking their hands in to help out. Did you at least sterilize your hands?
  • 3) David needs a career. Although he would like to be a great musician and a great writer, in the meantime, he can be a Culture Coach because his taste and sensitivity is better than yours. In fact, his taste and sensitivity may be so rich it may be fatal.
  • 4) Nobody will pay him to be a Culture Coach. So we need to raise some money. This should become a group project to pay him what he needs and deserves to be paid. I think we should have a bake sale to raise money for his new career.
  • 5) David needs a lady friend. The odds are difficult, so let’s break it down. There are about 7 billion people in the world. Half have penises. As Kingsley Amis once said in one of his books (inexact quote from memory) “A penis is an interesting object; unfortunately, it is attached to a man. Men are not very interesting.”
  • 6) So let’s take it down to 3 billion. Let’s say 80% of women are wrong age or have some equally obvious disqualification. Round it down to about 600 million.
  • 7) Let’s say 500 million are attached to somebody. (Often by a penis.) We’re now down to about 100 million.
  • 8] David is very peculiar and difficult. He will be so even after his brain surgery. Assuming his brain surgery is successful (doesn’t kill him outright), he will still be 100% incompatible with 99.9999 percent of the 500 million eligible women. This takes us down to about 500 women on the face of the earth who will be only 99.9999% incompatible with David. (I am leaving Mars and Venus and Mercury out.)
  • 9) Rather than letting you waste your time trying to find one of those 500 women I have located one for you. Her name is Truce and she lives in Australia except she really lives in England, though at the moment she is traveling to England or Bangkok or Stockholm or something. She is elusive, but we sort of know where she lives. In the meantime, as she is traveling, she doesn’t know that I am talking about her and scheming against her.
  • 10) Truce is as difficult as David, so that is how I know they are only 99% incompatible.
  • 11) We will have to have a jumble sale as well as the bake sale. (“Jumble sale” seems to be the British equivalent for a “garage sale” in America. “Bake sale” seems to work in either place, but I don’t know.) In any case, we will need to raise enough money so they can visit each other once a year, screw like crazed weasels, and then fight like crazed weasels. Once they start to fight, we will then separate them send them back to their respective countries for a year until they miss each other again. Repeat each year. Truce wants a child, which is OK, as long as she keeps it away from David.
  • 12) During the time between mating, they will blog about how miserable they are, thus entertaining us in the meantime, making all the sales and fund raising worth the trouble.
  • 13) OK, I am an idea person and a big picture person. It’s up to the rest of you to do the actual work.
  • Usually I make the font size in my blog bigger so David can read it. I am not making this bigger, so David will miss how I am scheming, just as Truce will miss how I am scheming while she is in the air. We have a few minutes to pull off the scheme while their attention is elsewhere. Get cracking. I don’t know how the Brits say, “Get cracking.” I am cracked. Save me a biscuit from the tea sale.

RG Returns

August 22, 2008

My wife said, “I talked to Random Daughter.” I listened with interest. The barely extended family had been traveling for a couple of weeks. Random Granddaughter, a serially unfaithful grandchild, had been visiting other grandparents. Mommy (birth mother) has a mommy and step-father in Virginia, and a daddy and step-father in Virginia. Sperm donor [dad] has a partner who has a mom and dad in Colorado One can never have too many grandparents. They had returned several days ago, but as well-behaved grandparents, we had avoided calling and say, “Well…well…well?” We waited for the “kids” as we call our daughter and daughter out of law to call us on their own accord at their own time.

“RG had a good trip.” RG has been diagnosed as an introvert, although she often looks extroverted at               preschool. She considers other four-year-olds as fun companions. She considers five-year-olds through eight-year-olds as exciting role models. Anyone older than that she considers as “adults.” Adults are occasionally useful, but mostly uncooperative, boring, tiresome, tedious, and irritating.

“RG handled all the activities and contacts with the other grandparents quite well. She was cheerful and cooperative.”

OK, I thought, what is she really up to?

My wife is much happier now that she is not working now. Her chief activity in life is what she calls “puttering.” She gardens, bakes, volunteers at the organic farmers’ market. My wife’s puttering would exhaust the ordinary person.

RG is in between preschools. We are taking care of her next week. I have to work on Tuesday, so Mrs. Random is on her own on that day.

“There must be something wrong with me,” muttered Mrs. Random. She feels an obligation to be a perfect Grandma. She doesn’t know what a perfect Grandma would be like, but she knows she is not her.

“I am supposed to look forward to spending time with my granddaughter, but…”

“Don’t worry so much about entertaining her,” I said. “Although she is only four, and not genetically-related to you, she inherited your tendency to putter. You have been puttering all your life. She is only a little kid, just a little more than a baby. She’s just figuring it out. When she looks bored or restless, just leave her alone for a bit. She usually figures out what she wants to putter with if you give her a little space.”

“Mommy suggested RG might want to come spend a day at our place on the island. I’m just not sure about it. She might get up tight without her mommies around.”

I thought about it. I said, “I think they have a point. Four is still pretty young to run away to Grandma.” When my daughter was three, she would periodically threaten to run away to Grandma. She was very disconcerted and irritated when my wife and I would start laughing hysterically and offer to help her pack her bags. (My mother was a depressed and oppressed ditherer and my wife’s mother was an angry but noble and hard-working drunk.)

RG’s grandparents are just a couple of cranky whackos on an island who shoot bunnies. Time enough for RG to become disillusioned with us.

This reminds me a bit of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I hope everyone will forgive the presumption of my saying so.

Yesterday, I didn’t bring a lunch to work, though I usually do so. At certain times, my department gets very noisy, and I find it difficult to work and counter-productive to complain. I decided to go out for a late lunch. As I walked down the steps which lead across a “protected” stream and then to a shopping center, a fellow employee (but not in my department and not someone I know) was sitting on the steps, smoking a cigarette.

I don’t smoke, but I felt cordial, so I said in a friendly way, “Smokers have become outcasts in today’s society.”

Vicky (or so her name ironically turned out to be) replied in a friendly and cheerful way, “Everybody else is sitting inside, while I am sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air.”

We fell into amiable conversation, and I ended up telling her about meeting the paralyzed person glad that he was not brain-damaged and the brain-damaged woman a couple of days later. Vicky in turn told me a story:


“I once worked in a restaurant. Another person, brain-damaged, worked as a dishwasher. I learned his story. At one time, he had been a very brilliant man. However, his wife hated him. She hired a contract killer to shoot her husband. The killer’s shot  to the head did not kill him, but he had lost most of his intelligence and now could only work at a menial job such as a dishwasher, and even there, the owner of the restaurant made allowances so he could keep his job.

“However, once in a while, only for a few moments, a few flashes of his old brilliance would emerge and for a few moments he would speak with great intelligence and insight on some topic. Then he would slip back into his usual state as a person who only functioned at a very low level.

“After that experience,” Vicky concluded, “I learned to be very appreciative of what I have.”

A Death in the Blog

August 20, 2008

Several years ago I began participating in a large blog/discussion area site hosted by World Magazine, an evangelical Christian publication. As I am not a Christian (or any other kind of religious believer), my participation on such a web site is peculiar. I am peculiar. It’s probably genetic. My wife evidently comes from another planet, known as The Planet of the Chickadees. My wife and I were able to mate, producing a Toad (my daughter’s childhood nickname, which we still with her permission use). In turn the family has grown to include Random Granddaughter. We don’t know her species yet.  We are waiting to see what emerges from the chrysalis. This is genetics you never learned in school. In fact, it’s genetics about 200 years ahead of Watson and Crick.


At times I found myself getting irritated with the World Magazine community, especially in regard to the topic of homosexuality. In one of my piques of irritation, I started a blog of my own. A few of the Christians participated. Early in my blog, I encountered David Rochester, and we began reading and commenting on each other’s blogs. For me, and evidently for him, our interactions have proved interesting, entertaining, and at times inspirational. We have similar problems from growing up in dysfunctional families, so we find much to talk about.
Over time, a blogging “community” has grown up, mostly inspired by David’s interesting and entertaining posts. I have participated in the David’s cluster/community and also had a little sub community of my own including at all times a few conservative Christians who enjoy reading and commenting in my blog, even though it probably endangers their immortal souls.
The cast of characters has varied over time: some of the active Christian participants include Pauline and Renaissance Man (who have their own excellent blogs), Cameron (whose husband Tim, a minister, has an excellent blog as well). Other Christian participants include Pete (who sent me tay berry bushes which are doing fine), mommy, Janie (whom I have not seen here for a while) and perhaps other infrequent lurkers. Spectrum, who has an fine blog educating people about muscular dystrophy, a disease she knows too much about as she suffers from that ailment, is also a strong Christian, but not a World participant.
I have exchanged emails with some of my blog participants, including some of the Christians. One of my most active correspondences took place with Vicky, who was known with the screen name “VS” at World. We talked about our children and our grandchildren and our spouses. Vicky asked me if Mrs. Random and I had been hippies. Sort of, but not much, I told her. I think she had been something of the hippie sort, but she became a born-again Christian as a young adult and remained so perhaps she was a “Jesus freak,” though I don’t’ think of religious believers as “freaks.”
She kept trying to convert me (in a good-humored way). She was tolerant of my tolerance with my daughter’s relationship with another woman. Vicky did not consider it a justified move to reject children because of their sexually unconventional relationships. She told me that her son lived with a woman (without marriage) and had a child in that relationship.
Vicky never revealed to me (or just about anyone else in her online life) that she was engaged in a long struggle with breast cancer. In that respect she was a very private person. She lived longer than her doctors thought she would, but she died not long ago. I learned about it on the World magazine website. She was a valued and appreciated member of that virtual community.
 Her contributions to my little blog were pertinent, spunky, witty, forthright, and always welcome. I will miss her participation.







Madder Than a Dry Duck

August 18, 2008

Last night we had the Friendly Neighbors over for dinner. As my wife gets very tense just before company comes, we only screamed at each other once. Just as we were calming ourselves, or maybe drawing breath to start yelling at each other again, the doorbell rang, ten minutes early. (They had been a few minutes late once, the time my wife had been preparing a soufflé; so now they worry about being late.)   As we opened the door, I invited them to watch the special entertainment we had prepared for them, called “Fighting in front of your guests.”

They updated us on their chickens and ducks. One of the chickens is injured. As best they can tell, it has a leg which is either broken or dislocated. They have prepared a field hospital for it, and they are providing loving and tender care to see if it survives. (I presume so they can eat it at a later time.)

 I suggested they purchase a small chicken wheelchair for it.

 Another of the chickens fell into the duck pond. Mrs. FN found it up to its neck in water. She rescued it quickly. “A wet chicken is very heavy,” she complained. She dried it off with a towel, put it in the sun to dry out and fight hypothermia, and worried that it might not survive. However, the next day it seemed to be making a full recovery.

Although Mr. Friendly Neighbor drained and cleaned the pond; since the chicken fell in, the ducks have refused to get into their pond.

I suggested this was something like the “color” line of the old days of segregation. “We just don’t get into pools where chickens have been swimming,” the ducks say firmly.

 I expect to see mass chicken splash-ins any day now.


Speaking of Brain-Damaged

August 16, 2008

A couple of days after the episode with the man in the wheel chair who was grateful that the accident in his youth from foolishly riding in a car “street racing” at over a hundred miles an hour had only paralyzed him and not caused him brain damage, I was teaching another class at another location.Everything in this story and the previous story is true. I am not a good fiction writer.

In class #2, one student kept pressing me to explain certain details over and over. She was a woman who seemed to be in her 50s, about the same age as the man in the wheelchair had been. She was pleasant, friendly, alert, and spoke coherently and intelligently and seemed to be in good shape physically for her age. She was a little intense in her questions, but not unpleasantly. Eager students are something teachers like.

At the start of a class, I tell the students, “The class is free. However, if you are unhappy at the end, I will give you double your money back, as we want you to be happy with your experience.” The students look pleased with our guarantee, as it demonstrate how sincere we are in wanting to please them, and also that I am a very serious person.

I continue, “However, if a student arrives more than 10 minutes late, I charge the late-comer $200.” I lower my voice and speak confidentially. “If you help me take the money from the student, I will split the money with you. I split the money with you so you won’t narc on me to my boss. Also, I should mention that the guarantee doesn’t apply to students late to class.”

When a student does arrive more than 10 minutes late (as often happens), the other students look at the late-comer with anticipation to see what I will do. I greet the late-comer pleasantly and help him or her catch up with and merge into the class activity. One of the other students will say, “But you said you would charge students who arrive late $200.”

I say, “Another thing about me I should let you know is that I lie a lot.”

This little routine serves several purposes. 1) I satisfy my frustrated urge to be a comedian. It it easier to use a captive audience. 2) I help educate students (many of whom are very casual about arriving on time) that they should make an effort to be on time because it is rude to everyone else, without going into a big berating lecture about it, like a serious teacher would do; 3) the “I lie a lot” line serves as a useful line I can use again for many types of problems that come up later in a class.

Back to the class I describe. I explained that the address of a web site is called an URL. “URL stands for ‘You are lost on the Internet,’ though technical people will tell you it stands for ‘Uniform Resource Locater.’ I suggest you just call it an ‘address.'”

I had the students try out a few addresses. I watch to see if they are making mistakes in typing their URLs and I discreetly help those who have difficulty. Sometimes they have difficulty because they don’t know how to type. Sometimes they have difficulty because they are learning English. Sometimes they have difficulty because they are careless. (I am a careless person as you can observe when you notice little typing and spelling mistakes in my posts and comments. My wife is a very careful person. She often points out to me when I am being careless. I love her anyway. This is how people remain married for 43 years, which we will reach in November if we don’t kill each other first.)

I ask the entire class, “What happens if you make a mistake when you dial a long distance number?”

After they tell me what happens when they punch one wrong button while dialing–unpleasant people yelling at you over the phone—I explain that making a tiny mistake when typing an address-such as using a comma instead of a dot-gets you to a wrong address where the your computer will insult you with error messages.

Anyway, the woman in the class started repeating questions over and over, with slight variations. They were good questions and I could have talked about them for a while and given interesting answers. I wrote the questions on the white board. I said to her, “If I answer your questions now, the other people in the class will be unhappy. If I don’t write the questions on the white board, I will forget to answer them and you will  be unhappy. If you remind me at the end of the class, I will answer your questions in more detail and people who are not interested can leave and ones who are interested can stay and listen.”

As the class went on, she kept asking questions over and over. I answered them as politely as I could and tried to keep the class on course as smoothly as I could without being rude to her.

During a class I will ask students what kind of work they do. I do this because they are intelligent and capable people with many skills and much knowledge. If they don’t know much about computers, they feel embarrassed and awkward during the class.  I point out that they are on my “turf”; if I were on their turf, I would be the one who feels embarrassed and awkward; it’s just a matter of context.

I asked the woman what kind of work she does. She said, “I was a computer consultant. I was very expert with computers. But I had an accident.” I didn’t get the details of the accident, but the gist of it was that she was involved in a serious industrial accident that almost killed her and left her brain-damaged.

She continued, “The main effect of the brain injury is that I damaged my short-term memory. I understand information when people explain it to me, but then a few minutes later I forget the information again.”

I asked, “What do the doctors say about your condition? As they optimistic that your condition will improve?”

She said, “I also suffer from severe diabetes. My doctors tell me that the medications that might help me with my mental condition will interact with my diabetic condition and probably kill me.” She told me this in a fairly cheerful and pleasant way. I was getting depressed, but I tried to remain cheerful and upbeat.

I said, “I tell all my students that the main thing they need to do to learn the things I tell them is practice over and over again. This is known as ‘drill.’ It is a boring but necessary part of learning. For example, if you are learning a musical instrument, you usually have to practice scales.

“This is true for me as well-I don’t learn anything unless I practice a lot. It may be that this will help you as well. If you drill a lot–you may have to practice ten times as much as the average person, but the basic idea is the same.”

I went on, “I am not an expert on brain functioning, but my understanding is that the brain benefits from exercise just as the other parts of our bodies do. If you practice and drill a lot, it will probably help you with your recovery…”

At the end of the class, she thanked me and shook my hand. I don’t know if what I said about brains recovering better with lots of “exercise” is really true (I think it is), but I doubt it will hurt and it might help. Also, having a positive attitude and goals and encouragement probably help with recovery as well.

I still have the roster for the previous class. Perhaps I should call up the paralyzed man and say, “You know what you said about being grateful you weren’t brain damaged? Good thinking!”

As I was thinking about writing my second boring explications about my not very good science fiction, I thought first about the Mad Max movies starring Mel Gibson.I consider it quite likely that human civilization will collapse as we run out of resources such as oil, and as human tendencies to kill each other and generally act stupidly and cruelly rises to the top like very spoiled cream. Mel Gibson is a nut case, and the movies are not particularly “realistic” about what might happen to us, but they convey a certain flavor of human monstrosity as it has appeared throughout history.

Then I thought about the postcard I got from my daughter. What will happen to my granddaughter as she grows up in her coming not very brave new world? I don’t know. I am glad that she was able to walk over a mile up a hill without whining and pee in a scary outhouse without uttering a peep at the age of four years old. This may be a good sign that she will be able to do what she needs to do when she is twenty or thirty and Grandpa won’t be around to hold her hand.

(If Grandpa is still around, he will be hiding his decrepit old self under the bed and clutching his air rifle.)


I am working with a volunteer who is not yet 18. I have to supervise her when she teaches because that is our (sensible) rule about younger volunteers.

When we started working together, I said, “Most of the young volunteers I worked with have been very disappointing and unreliable, so I am quite prejudiced against young people. However, if you prove me wrong, I will treat you accordingly. Can you deal with that?” She calmly said she can and so far has broken through my stereotype.

So far she has been turning out fine. I demonstrated several classes to her, and then said, “I must be boring you to tears. I have to be present to supervise and observe, but I will let you teach a class. Which class do you want to teach first?”

She picked a class. I then asked, “How do you want me to participate? I can be quiet and leave you alone, or I can help out if I see something?” She said it would be fine if I commented when I saw something.

When the class started she was doing fine, so I left her alone. Someone came late (a common problem) so I merged the late arrival into her class. Then another person, in a wheelchair, arrived late. I put him in a separate area and started preparing to merge him, but then realized he was in a different space, so I decided to work separately with him and let the volunteer teach the class on her own because I could see she was doing fine.

Wheelie and I started working together, and after a bit I realized that he had some special goals (which were outside of the class topic), and as we were working separately I could concentrate on his needs and goals. His main interest seemed to be motorcycles.

As he had made a couple of comments about his situation I could see it was not a sensitive topic to him, so (in my too old to be tactful manner) I asked him what had put him into a wheelchair. His story ran something like this:

“I am 51 years old. My accident happened when I was twenty. Some friends and I were racing our cars. We were doing over 100 miles an hour–I was a passenger; I wasn’t driving—when we left the road and flipped our car several times and I was trapped inside. My friend was ok except for a few cuts, but I was paralyzed.” He told the story with amused and nostalgic good cheer, obviously aware that it was an interesting and engrossing story. “I could easily have been brain damaged from the accident; I am quite fortunate that I was only paralyzed,” he told me. This was an outstanding example of a person able to “look on the bright side” of a situation.

His main interest was looking up “trikes” on the Internet. Of course, he wasn’t interested in tricycles such as Random Granddaughter rides but in three wheel motorcycles. We looked up Harley Davidson trikes and Honda trikes and similar vehicles. It was obvious that he had learned nothing from his accident, realized that he had learned nothing from it, and looked forwarded to engaging in trike races at dangerous speeds. I showed him how to look up information on the Internet. It was obvious that he could not afford any of the trikes he was lusting after, but he dealt with his frustration in his typically cheerful and philosophical manner.

One of the participants in the class was his girl friend. As the class broke up, he told her what he had learned about using the Internet. She beamed proudly, they both thanked us, and left the class in a good mood.

I should learn something from meeting him about being more cheerful and less sorry for myself than I typically am, but I won’t. However, I am cheerful about that fault in myself.