I received an instant message this week from the wife of my bi-polar brother, telling me that today is his birthday. I felt as if I should call him, but could not find their phone number. I do not like to talk to him, because he seems too much like me, except worse. So I guess I must be half-polar?

I got her to send me the phone number and reluctantly tried to call. Their phone said, “We won’t take a phone call from you.” Evidently our phone blocks caller-ID and their phone won’t talk to such phones. Not only is my brother bi-polar, but his phone is as well.

I sent my sister-in-law an email describing the problem.

One of the great themes of conservatives in America is “Family Values.” Family values seem to have trouble with getting lost. People start out walking the Appalachian Trail and end up in Argentina. In the case of my siblings, we live as far away from each other as we can. One brother lives in Maine. One sister lives in Vermont. (That seems close, but they are separated by a continental divide.) My bi-polar brother lives in Missouri. This is known as the “heartland”; appropriate, as my brother had a heart attack years ago.

The final sister lives in California, where she belongs to a fundamentalist church full of Hispanic and Vietnamese people. As they probably cannot understand what she is saying, they probably smile at her and nod a lot. As her only way of “conversing” is an endless monologue, this probably works out.

My barely extended family is rather extended this week. My granddaughter took her mommies to Chicago to see her dad. Her dad’s mom lives in Oregon. Her co-dad’s stepfather is a Methodist minister in Connecticut but will retire to Colorado. When my daughter visited their Colorado vacation home in the mountains, she became ill with altitude sickness. Random Granddaughter’s mom’s parents are divorced and live with new spouses in Virginia. My wife and I live on an island because we are hermits.

RG seems to be a young genius. If she is, it is because the wiring diagram in her mind where she keeps track of her family values is so complicated she would need to understand calculus to make sense of it all. Her family values are probably so valuable I should set up a Swiss bank account for her as a birthday present for her when she turns six next year.

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A while back, at David’s request, I told the story of how I met my wife, hugely embarrassing as the story is. I promised to tell the story of how she threw herself out of her house when she turned 18 and didn’t speak to her mother for a year.

After I had been going out with my wife to be, she told me that she was going to San Francisco to spend time with her favorite older brother, a bohemian artist whom she idolized at the time. (In the long run, things did not go especially well for him, but that’s another story.)

I think she was not sure she wanted to see me any more, so she left the impression she might not be coming back to Los Angeles. However, I sometimes drove “accidentally” across the route I knew she walked to and from high school, and sure enough I one day saw her walking home from high school and stopped to talk to her, telling her I had accidentally driven that way. I learned that without telling me, she had returned home from San Francisco.

I convinced her to go out with me again.

I began to spend time at her house with my wife to be and her mother. I worked diligently at sucking up to her mother. It was not easy to do for two reasons:

1. Her mother was a very difficult and insecure person.

2. My wife to be, now in adolescence, had begun the difficult process of finding and expressing her own individuality as a person.

Her mother had many admirable qualities. After her divorce, working as a secretary, she had, by herself raised and supported five children. She was a splendid cook and mistress of many other household skills, which she taught to my wife.

However, her mother was full of resentments and grievances. Just as I am the oldest of my parents’ five children, my wife is the youngest of her parents’ five children.

Each of my wife’s siblings had left the nest already, not always on the friendliest of terms, leaving their mother feeling angry, unappreciated, and lonely. As my wife had been a very obedient and unchallenging child, her mother had come to depend on her, the youngest of the five children, for a feeling of security and success as a parent.

Also, her mother had a bit of a drinking problem. I don’t think she was an alcoholic, but she tended to drink more than she should and usually became more and more angry as she became intoxicated.

Often I would have dinner with my wife to be and her mother. Her mother was a splendid cook, and tended to interpret people eating and appreciating her food as appreciating her, so she would offer me more and more food.

At these dinners, my wife to be would offer some innocent opinion and her mother would take serious exception and they would bicker and snarl at each other as I sat in uncomfortable silence.

A focus point of these arguments became my wife to be’s black pants. These events occurred before the word “hippie” came into wide usage, so her mother used the word “beatnik” to describe depraved children rebelling against their parents’ values. The black pants symbolized in her mind how her daughter was rejecting her values, much as children today reject their parents’ values with piercings and tattoos.

(Random Granddaughter gets to wear transfer tattoos that wash off after a few days. I don’t know if this little indulgence by the mommies is meant to inoculate her against getting real tattoos when she gets a little older. I don’t know if Anne Elise will reject them or end up with her body covered over every square inch of skin with real tattoos by the time she is 15.

On the other hand, I don’t know if there is a similar way the mommies can let her have “pretend” piercings in her nose or such now.)

As my future wife neared the age of 18, I helped her buy a Citroen (the cars my family adopted at the time following the lead of my eccentric uncle Donald), and began teaching her to drive. I don’t remember the exact sequence of circumstances that precipitated the crisis. It involved her getting a “learners’ permit” to prepare for taking her drivers’ test. She did not have auto insurance yet. Her mother refused to let her get a learner’s permit.

Up until that point, I had been a quiet and polite observer to many scenes of bickering and argument, desperately trying not to alienate her mother. As this disagreement escalated into hysterics, I lost it. I told her mother what I thought of her. Finally, we stormed out of her mother’s house. At that time, I was still living at home with my mother.

(I had flunked out of college at the University of California at Berkeley a couple of years earlier and was attending a community college in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles to restart my college career in the college equivalent of kindergarten. Also, my father had died recently, so I was the “head” of my broken and incoherent family.)

With no other place to go, I took my wife to be to my mother’s house. I explained the situation to my mother and asked if my wife to be could stay at our place until the situation was sorted out. My mother, always complaisant agreed.

We were sitting around awkwardly a couple of hours later, when there was a furious pounding on my door. I opened it to see Mrs. Random’s mother and one of her brothers, L. L had just left the navy. He was always the “responsible” one in her family, eventually becoming a corporate lawyer.

At this time her mother demanded that Mrs. Random come home. She refused. At this point her brother seized her and began dragging her out of the house kicking and screaming. I remember thinking (in a absurd and ridiculous fashion) This is just like a scene from an overwrought Italian movie.

 

Medical Update

June 24, 2009

I had a “senior moment” and left a faucet running and flooded the kitchen floor, almost destroying our house.

I went to vist my doctor afterwards for my medical checkup at at the age of 65.

My doctor said, “You are in good shape for 65 years of age, except you have the prostate of a 70-year-old and you are “pre-diabetic.”

“Am I coming down with Alzheimer’s Disease?” I asked him. This is not a rhetorical question. My genetics are bad in this regard. My mother died of Alzheimer’s and my father’s oldest sister is institutionalized with it.

He gave me a quick test. He asked me a few questions. He said, “This sounds like a dumb test, but I have had good results with it in screening people for signs of dementia. You seem to be doing fine. My advice is to get lots of physical exercise nd spend a lot of time solving puzzles and exercising your brain.”

Our old treadmill became obsolete and the motor can not be replaced. This makes me furious. We bought a new treadmill. It is something of a science fiction treadmill. Using a chest monitor (which is creepy to put on because it feels ice cold), I can now set the treadmill to adjust itself (by incline and speed) to keep my heart rate in the training zone for my age and to calculate how many calories I am losing as I stride while listening to the good news about Iran and North Korea. I now feel like Dr. Spock on a workout or Captain Kirk working to save the universe from the bridge of his star ship.

I have set a date to have sugery on my cataracts. Yesterday, I went in to have my eyes measured.

First I had to sign a consent form. The eye sugeon’s assistant (who was very friendly and positive) explained ten or so terrible things that might happen to my eyes, such as glaucoma, nerve damage, etc. After explaining each danger, she said, “I haven’t seen that happen to anybody for years, though.”

I said, “I will try not to break your string of success.”

The eye surgeon’s assistant did three tests on my eyes. The first test was very simple. I now forget what it measured. The second test was more complicated. It measured the curvature of my eyes.

The assistant said, “We now have more modern tests than the one I am using, but the doctors don’t trust them, so we are sticking with the same test we have been using for years.”

The third test was very challenging. I had to lay back in a chair so I looked at the the ceiling while the assistant bathed my eyes in fluid under little cups and used sound to measure the depth of my eyes. The assistant said, “This is a very modern test. It has changed six times since I began using it.”

“We used to just guess about the depth of eyes, but now we measure it it very precisely. There are 12 different lenses the doctor can use as replacements. He uses an algebraic computation to choose the the best ones to use for your eyes.”

When Random Granddaughter starts studying algebra, I will tell her to pay careful attention if her careet goals have changed from being an artist to being an eye doctor. When I was in school, I passed algebra, but I seldom use it now.

I have to ask my doctor what I am supposed to do to keep from being pre-diabetic to being fully the real thing.

I recently wrote about a surfer who survived a “close encounter” with a great white shark. I recently learned that the great shark followed him home and ate him.

As this scientific study explains, great white sharks stalk their victims like serial killers.

2009 Garden Report

June 14, 2009

Peonies
Peonies
Half Ripe Strawberries
Half Ripe Strawberries

A lurker to my blog site asked how our garden is doing. We have peonies. We have strawberries. What more does one need?

RG Visits

June 8, 2009

RG had a spendid visit, going to the beach, refusing (as usual) to eat her lunch at a pleasant restaurant, and picking the neighbors’ strawberries (with their permission), collecting eggs (with their permission) and petting the neighbor’s chickens (at their request).

The most fascinating snippet of conversation I have ever overheard in my life. (OK, my life is dull. Dull is sometimes good.) Overheard at the gymnasium as I was getting dressed in the locker room after taking a shower.

 

Gym member #1: “A friend of mine once saw a 16 foot great white shark.”

Gym member #2: “Oh? Where was that?”

#1: “He was surfing off the Oregon coast. He was just getting ready to ride a wave, looked down–the water was very clear that day–and below him he saw the shark.”

#2: “Did it have its jaws open?”

#1: “No. It was just swimming below him. Then he caught his wave and rode it in to the beach. He said that for the rest of the day he just stayed in shallow water close to the beach.”

#2: “He stayed in the water? If I saw something like that, I would be on solid ground a mile away from the water and wouldn’t go nearer to the ocean for the rest of the day.”

Indeed.

Sunday, child genius Random Granddaughter is coming to visit. As she does not have a driver’s license yet (as far as I know), I presume she will bring the mommies along. Mrs. Random and I always like to see Mama (my daughter) and Mommy (her out of law partner) along with her little highness (though she is not that little, already being tall enough to play center on a kindergarten woman’s basketball team).

After she announced at the age of five that her career goal was to be an artist (apparently displacing her goal at four of becoming a triple threat fire chief, railroad engineer, and ferry captain), I came up with an artistic commission for her. As I am not very close to my siblings, either geographically or emotionally, I cannot say for instance how old any of them are. However, I still remember the birthday of my brother B (who lives 3000 miles away in Portland, Maine) as well as the birthday of my sister D (who lives a hope skip and a jump away from brother B in Vermont, where she is head librarian of a small library) though they are not close at all for reasons I will not go into.

My other brother J is a little closer in Missouri, though beyond hope emotionally as he is bi-polar. I don’t want to go there as I am close enough already to that mental state. My other sister, P, lives even closer in California, and beyond beyond hope emotionally as she is a “born-again” religious fanatic and a narcissistic monster. I live next door to being a narcissistic monster myself, so I certainly don’t want to be any closer to sister P.

Brother B is about three years younger than I am. I thought to myself, I did not even wish him happy birthday for his 60th birthday. What a terrible big brother am I!

Through the mommies, I asked Random Granddaughter to create a birthday card for my brother in time for his birthday of June 2. A couple of weeks ago an envelope arrived in the mail, inside another envelope. The inner envelope which contained a couple of butterflies painted on it, was sealed. A note from my daughter said that neither she nor Mommy had seen the card as RG had painted it and sealed it into the envelope.

I sealed it in a fresh container envelope and mailed it to brother B in Maine. I emailed him a warning that he was about to receive a birthday card that no one had seen, so I was not sure it was decent and appropriate. A few days later he emailed me back that he had received the card and it was quite decent and appropriate.

I should tell him to hold onto the card and pass it on to his grandchildren (as yet unborn), as once RG becomes a famous artist, even her pre-kindergarten works will probably sell for millions of dollars at auction.