Before our difficulties began, one day as we were chatting, Kathy started to tell me about her “gentleman friend,” Mel. Mel came from a background similar to hers. He was the son of an evangelical Christian minister. In rebellion, he had turned to a life of “rock and roll and rebellion” (I translated this as engaging in sex, drugs, alcohol, and the like). Kathy told me that they were living together.

She told me that Mel was intelligent and sweet, but unable to get and hold a job. Apparently, he spent much of his time working out as a body builder. She knew he had the intelligence and charm to get himself a fine job (perhaps as a salesman), but he was entirely lacking in confidence in himself.

It was obvious that she desperately wanted him to propose to her and marry her. (Although she was not attending church, she still considered herself a “good Christian girl,” and living with a man in “sin” distressed her.)

Mel felt as a man he had to support Kathy. Actually, he was a fine “house husband,” a good cook and housekeeper. Kathy was fine with supporting Mel financially, but Mel was horrified at the idea.

She told me that periodically they would have a big fight and she would storm out and leave him, but then return.

I said, “This does not sound like it will work out. Perhaps you should just cut your losses and realize he is never going to change…”

At that point, Kathy astonished me by saying with some vigor, “No! No! I love him! I am not going to leave him.”

I was startled and decided to stop giving her advice. Looking back on the situation with perspective from years later, I now conclude that what Kathy (the evangelical feminist) wanted was, like Maria, a man who wouldn’t give her much shit. It was fine with her if she had to support Mel, as long as he let her wear the pants (so to speak) in the relationship.

Over time I actually met Mel a few times. He seemed like a pleasant, personable man. I could see no reason why he and Kathy would not make a fine married couple, but what do I know?

However, I figured that Mel would never break down and agree to marry Kathy. However, one week they made a trip to Nevada (not for gambling, but for what reason I don’t remember), and on her return Kathy surprised everyone at the school by telling us that Mel had married her in Las Vegas during the trip. As I had recently seen the zany Nicholas Cage film Honeymoon in Las Vegas depicting Cage as a reluctant boyfriend who finally breaks down and marries his lady love, I was struck by the peculiar coincidence. I could think of few people less similar to the characters in the movie than Mel and Kathy, but there they were, married on impulse, in Las Vegas.

Kathy told me after the marriage that after watching Mel with their dog, she decided not to have children. As I’ve always believed that 75% of the people who do have children should not, that seemed as good a reason for coming to such a conclusion as any.

About a year or so again I had an email exchange with Kathy. She and Mel are still married. She still likes to be in charge of everything, but she found a job at a community college where she prepares curriculum and seems to be in charge of enough stuff to keep her control urges satisfied. She said that she and Mel are still married, and he has become a minister (of what crazy denomination I have no idea) and satisfied his urge to be a preacher by marrying people. All in all seems like a happy ending for an evangelical Christian feminist.

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Kathy told me that her goal in attending Multnomah School of the Bible was to be a missionary in Africa and win souls for Christ among the heathens. However, as she neared graduation, she had an uncomfortable insight.

“I realized that the only way I could be a missionary was to either be the wife of a missionary or be a “go-fer” for a missionary. These were the only roles available for a woman in my church.”

In other words, somehow, Kathy had somehow succumbed to feminism, despite all her training and indoctrination against it.

Instead of using her divinity degree, Kathy got a job as a clerk in an office. As an intelligent, energetic and ambitious person, she quickly taught herself about computers and office procedures and rose to responsible positions. However, two main themes in her life were 1) fearing betrayal by people she trusted and 2) lacking respect for people less intelligent and perceptive than her telling her what to do. As she constantly feared betrayal, she would provoke people around her into betraying her, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we worked together, I saw her engage in this pattern.

 

At first, however, things went very well for Kathy. My boss, Tom, quickly recognized Kathy’s intelligence and ability, and, as did I, responded to her charm, which is considerable. Unlike Tammy, (the woman I described in my last post), Kathy does not play on her sex appeal in as strong and calculating way, but she knows how to make a very positive impression on people she meets, both men and women with her courtesy, intelligence, and desire to help people learn and succeed.

Tom quickly hired her and she quickly proved to be one of the best teachers in our “school.” [We were well separated from the rest of the University; both geographically and in how we functioned, so mostly we thought of ourselves as a separate school, like a little community college in Portland.]

Every class we taught was “graded” by the students, who submitted a feedback form, rating the class on a scale from 1-5, on about half a dozen points having to do with the quality of the class. Although I was and am fairly conceited about my teaching ability and about my ability to recognize and improve my teaching flaws and correct my failures, like all the other instructors I read the student feedback carefully. As far as I could tell, Kathy and I were the two highest rated instructors in the program.

I found this fascinating in that our teaching styles were quite different. We sometimes sat in on each others classes. Sometimes this was to learn a program we didn’t know. In large classes, the program provided “teaching assistants.” Once in a while one of the full instructors would help out as a TA.

My style of teaching is varied and improvisational. I am constantly trying new approaches and experimenting. I am very responsive to student requests. For example, one day I was teaching a class for a group of employees for the Internal Revenue Service. I began by making jokes about how much people hate and fear the IRS. I noticed a passing university employee staring at me in alarm, apparently fearing that I would be audited and arrested on the spot.

I quickly learned that the requested topic for the class (assigned by a supervisor who was not present) was not what the group of employees actually wanted to learn. I knew something about the topic they wanted but did not have a class prepared. I improvised a class on the spot. Later, I got a letter from an IRS department head expressing appreciation at how well I had met employee needs. That was an illustration of how I functioned when I was working at my best.

The down side was that I was (and am) easily distracted and impulsive. Sometimes in an effort to better meet students’ needs I would go off on a wild goose chase or get in deeply over my head. My willingness to improve and fly by the seat of my pants drove some students crazy.

Kathy, on the other hand, was a person who functioned entirely by depending on careful analysis and preparation. Once she had mastered a topic, she planned her classes practically to the minute. As I walked by her classroom, I would hear her voice, look at my watch, and joke quietly to other teachers, “It’s 11:15 am. I now exactly what she is going to say right now, because it’s on her schedule.”

Students loved her organization, confidence, knowledge of her subject. On the other hand, when circumstances were not entirely under her control or events were not going as she planned, Kathy tended to panic.

I remember once, she was teaching a database class, a topic where she was expert and my knowledge was skimpy. Microsoft had just released its first database program. Students were clamouring for it. The program was full of bugs and constantly crashing. I went into the classroom to assist Kathy. She was practically distraught. She wanted to cancel the class. In her mind, if the program crashed while she was teaching, the students would blame her personally, not Microsoft, who was releasing software not ready for prime time, nor the University of Oregon Portland Center, who was offering a dubious and unready program to satisfy student demands.

I said to Kathy, “Just tell the students, ‘We know you really want this class and we are offering it even though we cannot guarantee that the program will run without crashing through the entire class. If it crashes, we will give you your money back or a free class at a future time when we can make it work.’”

“No! I can’t do that. It’s completely unprofessional! They will consider me as a person who does not know what she is doing and is not fit to teach!” Kathy lamented, practically in tears. “I can’t get up and say something like that to a room full of students!”

I said, “I will do it for you. I will take full responsibility. Since Tom [the director of the program] is not here today, I will tell them I am the ranking staff member here and if someone is furious and irate, I will take all the heat. I will tell them I am the senior staff member in the absence of the Director.” [This was more or less true.]

Eventually, Kathy let me make a brief introductory statement to the class while she cringed in the back of the room. I explained that we really wanted to meet their need for a class on this program, but we could not guarantee it would run through the entire class without crashing. The students (who were for the most part already very computer-experienced and used to the typical ways in which computer hardware and software fails all the time) mostly shrugged.

Kathy then began teaching the class. Although the software was shaky for the duration of the class (about 6 hours over one day), it never actually failed completely. The students were enormously grateful for the fine job she did that day.

 

I was also fairly confident in dealing with difficult and hostile students. I attributed this to having been a high school teacher for about ten years. Adolescents are by nature difficult and hostile. I regarded the adults in our classes at UO as fairly pliable and easy to control. As I had been teaching for much of my career in a “diverse” high school with a variety of races, religions, and general nuttiness, I was fairly comfortable in dealing with diverse groups. Probably I overestimated my capability in this regard, but in general I was more relaxed in dealing with hostile students than my fellow teachers.

One day Kathy taught a class where a black man accused her of not providing him with enough attention and support. I wasn’t there, but I suspect I would have been more comfortable handling this situation after having experience with teaching a few hostile black gang members in my classes in high school. Again, Kathy was mortified; horrified that anyone would consider her prejudiced.

However, Kathy soon began to play out her betrayal dramas. In our classes, there was never quite enough work to go around for all the teachers. Each teacher would have his or her “turf”; classes they considered their property. Other teachers were not supposed to teach turf classes unless there was so much work to go around that the “owner” would say, “OK, you go ahead and teach that section.”

Kathy and I shared the Microsoft Word classes amicably enough, but trouble arose in the area of databases. Kathy and a teacher named Richard shared the database classes. Richard was a friednly and easy-going person, but he began developing a new database class. Kathy (with little justification) began to regard Richard’s work as “stealing database classes” from her.

It’s always easier to see other people’s flaws and errors than our own. I could see that Kathy was provoking a “betrayal drama” where she would get herself fired. My efforts to tell her to calm herself down were not well-received. We never had a complete break, but our friendship cooled considerably.

During the period when our friendship was having difficulty, Kathy told me, with some asperity, that I was too willing to go along to get along, and that I should stand up for myself more and compromise less. As a person who was usually in trouble for arguing with bosses and on the verge of getting fired, I was rather bitterly amused to receive such criticism.

I met Kathy, the second evangelical Christian feminist, when I was teaching computer classes for the University of Oregon. This is an extremely misleading sentence because it makes me sound like a professor of computer science teaching advanced classes for future nerds. In fact, these classes were short, ungraded, no credit classes akin to community college classes taught in Portland, Oregon, about a hundred miles from the main UO campus in Eugene, Oregon.

Anyway, in those days I was younger, smarter (though not by much) and sort of “tri-lingual” in that I taught DOS classes, Windows classes, and Macintosh classes. I was teaching a Microsoft Word class for the Macintosh computer when I met Kathy, one of the students, about ten years younger than I, pretty without being bodacious. As the class proceeded, it quickly became clear to me that while a few details of the Macintosh were unfamiliar to her, in general she knew as much or more than I did about Microsoft Word. At the end of the class, she stopped to chat with me a bit. Given her obvious intelligence and knowledge of the program, I wondered a bit why she was taking the class.

When she asked about the class and about our program, fairly quickly became apparent to me that she was trolling for a teaching job. [As I got to know Kathy better, I realized that the reason she was trolling for a new job was that she knew she was about to get fired. At the time, she was office manager for a well known market research company in Portland. In my checkered working career, I was usually in trouble and conflict with my bosses, but Kathy outdid me by a few light years in this regard in her tendency to get into battles she could not win with her bosses.]

I explained that I was not the person who hired for our school, but advised her that if she provided a copy of her resume, I would pass it on to my boss. Up to that point, Kathy had been confident and self-assured in manner and projected smooth professional self-confidence. All of a sudden she seemed embarrassed and diffident and reluctant to let me see her resume. However, when I pressed a bit she reluctantly handed me a nice-looking and well-prepared curriculum vitae.

As I glanced at her education, I was struck by her degree: in divinity from a Portland college: Multnomah School of the Bible. I was slightly familiar with this school. It’s an extremely conservative, very devout evangelical Christian college. (A quick web check shows it is still going strong and now rather dubiously labels itself as a “university.”)

As we talked, and as I got to know her over the next months, Kathy told me something of her background. She had grown up in Northern California, a child of very strict, very devout evangelical parents. My impression is that she was a very obedient and devoted child who accepted what her parents and her church told her wholeheartedly. She apparently felt her entire purpose in life was to worship Jesus and to convert non believers to conservative Christianity.

About the time she was a pre-teen, her father abandoned her mother and ran off with another woman. As far as I could parse as I got to know her, Kathy’s immediate response to her father’s betrayal and hypocrisy was to double or triple her devotion to God and Jesus–perhaps blaming herself for the failure of her parents’ marriage–but on a deeper level, she developed a deep fear of betrayal and a passionate reluctance to trust anyone else or depend on anyone else.

(To be continued)

Then I met Maria. She was a social studies teacher; she was very interested in international relations; she traveled the world. She was intelligent, and dark and pretty in a Southern European sort of way. Her parents were from Croatia.

She was also a fierce feminist. Neither Kip nor I were over the top sexist pigs, but occasionally we would make piggy joking remarks, and Maria would take us severely to task.

However, Maria also had a charming, wry, self-effacing sense of humor. She told me once about going to the Portland Zoo with her mother and father. The lions were “getting it on,” at the time. She was telling me about how conservative her Croation mother was.

“My mother turned to my father and me in bewilderment, and asked what the lions were doing,” she said.

I didn’t ask if she knew how she was conceived with a mother in such denial about the facts of life.

In high school, Maria told me, the quarterback of the football team had chosen her to be his girl friend. To me, Maria was attractive enough that I could imagine that happening, but Maria indicated she was surprised and shocked when football star woo’ed her. In any case, apparently, after that experience, Maria had decided she was oppressed by dominant males.

At the time I met her, she had a gentleman friend, named John. John was very intelligent. He was a professor of Internation Relations at a university in the Portland area. He was distinguished. He specialized in the Middle East. When Henry Kissenger was Secretary of State, he hired John to be Assistant Undersecretary of Something.

Maria told me, “Every so often, John has an ‘audience’ with Secretary Kissenger. He hates these meetings.”

She told me, “I picked John for my boyfriend because he is not very demanding. In fact, I picked him because he just doesn’t give me any shit.”

Maria also made it clear she was not big on the institution of marriage, as it was mostly a way for men to oppress women. Maria’s sister was married, and she made it clear she did not particularly think much of that relationship. She indicated she had no intentions of marrying John or anyone, ever.

The next summer, Maria and John went on a trip around the world. They were serious about not being “tourists.” Every so often, I would get a postcard or a photograph from a country such as India. They rode as regular passengers with ordinary Indian citizens  on trains with the people across India. They did not want to be seen as “ugly Americans” by riding in separate compartments with the other American tourists.

A few days before Maria was due to return from her trip around the world I accidentally encountered (new to me) somebody who knew Maria. During the conversation, she said, “Maria and John will be arriving at the PDX (Portland airport) in a few days. I am going to meet her there. I am looking forward to meeting her husband.”

I said, “Maria is not married.”

She said, “Yes, she is. She got married on the trip.”

Flabbergasted, I said, “Maria told me that she intended never to get married.”

She replied, “I don’t know about that. All I know is that Maria and John got married on the trip.”

When Maria actually got back, she wore no wedding ring and said not a word to me or Kip about being married for a least a month or more. I think we never said to her, “I thought you were never going to get married.” Somehow she “merged” the fact that she was married into our working relationship without every making it apparent that her views on marriage had changed.

Eventually, she and John had a couple of children, and bought and remodeled a large house in Portland. I believe my daughter and her partner and I visited them once at their house and met their children.

While I haven’t kept in touch with her, I have looked her up on the web a couple of times. She has become president for a while of an organization promoting international relations in the Portland area. Apparently, she and John are still married. (Happily, I hope.)

To this day, I remain bemused and rather entranced by the memory of the woman who was such a strong feminist that she kept it a secret when she got married.

I don’t know how much longer I will keep posting on my blog. However, there are stories I always meant to tell and while I am still alive I will maunder on about them to my three or four readers…David, Trucie-woo, Waxing Strange, perhaps Pete, though I don’t know if he is still reading. Mommy? Not many left. Before I get to the first feminist, I will talk about the science fiction high school class we taught.

First, I met with the vice-principal, My Ylvisaker. Later, I learned that Kip referred to him (with genial good humor) as “Mr. Evilseeker.”

I had been laid off from my job as a high school teacher in Seattle. Angry, I vowed to leave the state and we drove to Oregon. I visited Hood River. Fortunately, they didn’t hire me. It is a cold and dangerous place.

Then I visited Tigard, a suburb of Portland. Mr. Ylvisaker told me their alternative education program, Alternative Futures, needed a replacement teacher. It was clear that he had no idea where he would find someone strange enough to fit in with the other two teachers, Kip and Maria. It only took me a few minutes to communicate that I was weird enough.

He said, “We also have a “mass media” program. Can you teach that?’

I didn’t tell him that my wife and I had given up on television, and thought it healthier to raise a child with books instead of the tube. I silently vowed to buy a television set.

Then I met with Kip, an engineer from Tacoma who became a high school math teacher. In those days, engineers made blueprints by hand and pen rather than with CAD programs on computers. Kip not only printed well, like an architect, but Maria and I agreed that when Kip  wrote on the chalkboard, he displayed “happy writing.” Just a few lines on the board cheered up the entire classroom. We never figured out how he did it.

Kip introduced me to his cats. I learned that he and Maria and a journalism teacher had created a program called “Alternative Futures” to prepare young people for a changing future. I later learned that Kip had fallen in love with one of his students, Karen. It is a big no no for high school teachers to diddle their students. I knew one teacher who was fired for kissing a student. However, as one of my fellow male teachers said to me once in the teacher’s room, “When I look at those fresh young female bodies, I am terribly tempted. However, when those fresh young female bodies open their mouths and speak to me, all temptation disappears.”

The year I arrived, Karen was gone. She had traveled to Ecuador to learn Spanish and do good deeds. Everyone knew that Kip and Karen were in love, but they didn’t cross the lines. When I met Karen, later, she was cute, but no bodacious. In fact, I realized, Kip had fallen in love with her mind, though I am sure he liked her body well enough. She started college; Kip got her father’s permmission to “court her;” eventually they married. I think I attended the wedding. I lost all touch with Kip.

To be continued…

Chipmunks are very cute. They are cuter than rats. Nobody considers rats cute, so nobody minds if we put out rat traps. Some people consider squirrels cute, but quite a few people spot them as rats with furry tails, so they are at some risk of being shot. Also, squirrels have a lot of attitude, and scold a lot.

My former hairdresser’s father-in-law was so irritated by a scolding squirrel that he grabbed a rifle and shot at a scolding squirrel in a tree just outside his house. unfortunately, he shot through a window he thought was open but he had forgotten the window was closed. Naturally, that was entirely the squirrel’s fault that his window was shattered, The squirrel even lived to scold another day. Perhaps it was a female squirrel, now that I think about it.

Not every land has chipmunks. As far as I know England and Australia have no chipmunks, though at least one pet store in Australia sells them as pets. Beware!

There are lots of chipmunks in America, and a few in Siberia, who wander south to lands like Japan and Korea, perhaps to escape the Siberian tigers and the snow leopards who probably think they make nice snacks, rather like the lynx David once observed.

Chipmunks are very cute, thus in great demand as cartoon characters. Chipmunks eat raspberries and blueberries and boysenberries, thus the Friendly Neighbors and the Randoms trap the chipmunks with rat traps. Once the trap is sprung, they are no longer cute. They are dead rodents.

A few days ago, Mrs. Random and I went into town on a few errands. In particular we needed to get a new land line telephone. Out ancient telephone was putting out a lot of static. The last time Random Daughter called she expressed a lot of concern about the static. I hope she realized that the static is coming from the phone and not from her dad.

Although we are now old fogies, Mrs. Random and I both own cell phones (mobile phones). However, mobile phones don’t work on our five acres. They don’t work because there are not enough cell phone towers on our part of the island. There are not enough cell phone towers because people who want to preserve nature would rather look at hills covered with fir trees than at cell phone towers. The cell phone companies build towers to look like hills, but the preservationistd are not happy with imitation hills.

Anyway, we needed a new land line telephone, so we found ourselves in a store owned by Radio Shack, a company I once worked for for a bit, part time. (You don’t want to know. However, we parted ways peacefully, not always the case in many of my jobs.)

While we were examining cheap wired land line phones, a woman in her fifties came into the store in some distress. It took a while to make sense of her ravings, but eventually we realized that she had seen a chipmunk in our truck. Puzzled, my wife and I followed her outside, where she pointed at a chipmunk’s head . Actually, it was under the truck with its head pointing out through the grill under the hood. Indeed it looked very cute. It was obvious to us that one of the many chipmunks on our property on our five acres in the woods had crawled up into the engine and hitched a ride into town.

One of the employees, an agreeable and helpful young man in his twenties, offered to catch the chipmunk and free it from the truck.

“No!” cried the woman in distress and indignation. “Don’t touch it or handle it any way!. It doesn’t live here!” Obviously, she was worried that the chipmunk could not survive in town.

It was clear that the woman was very sentimental about chipmunks. What she wanted us to do was drive back the five miles to our property so the chipmunk could safely dismount and return to its nest.

I politely thanked her for her concern and we went inside and bought a new phone (which seems to work fine).

I did not tell her that when we returned home we would set out a rat trap for the cute chipmunk. Actually, when we got home we examined the engine of our truck carefully using a flashlight. There was no sign of the chipmunk. I presume it had dismounted in town. I hope it followed the woman home. Obviously, they deserve each other.

The Friendly Neighbors are not home right now. They are traveling in Germany on a church tour visiting religious sites with fellow church members. They are very religious and kindly people and they do many good deeds on a daily basis. However, the Friendly Neighbor is 1/4 Sioux Indian. One of his ancestors was Crazy Horse, a famous Sious Warrior. This may account for his skill and fierceness in hunting creatures who consume his berries, such as bunnies, chipmunks and robins.

When the Friendly Neighbors return from their trip I will tell them story of the chipmunk and its ride to town under our truck and the concerned woman. I am fairly sure they will be as wickedly amused as I am by the entire incident.

January 28, 2010

As I mentioned in a comment on David’s blog, I had a conversation with my Aunt Henriette a few days ago.. I learned from my cousin that she was in the hospital for two days because her heart is calcified. I suspect that she is close to dying, but she will not admit she is failing until five minutes after she expires, which is perhaps the best approach to take to the matter.

My aunts, like my grandmother, were/are all tough, narcissist broads, and about as difficult to knock off as Rasputin.

After the usual awkward conversation about diet with my Aunt Henriette, who considers herself an expert on health care and who wanted to go over what supplements I take and so on, I changed the subject (not sure I wanted to be prescribed to by a dying woman) and began to explore my roots.

As a child, I detested my grandparents and my parents, so I mostly avoided asking about or learning about my ancestry. Henriette is still alert and articulate.

I know that my mother’s parents were Ukranian Jews (though in those days everything in the area was considered “Russian,” I think), but I didn’t have much of a picture of my father’s roots. In passing, I got an interesting perspective on the toxic roots of my childhood and my parents.

In terms of ancestry, my paternal grandmother was born in Latvia (Jewish, of course) and arrived in the United States at the age of two. My paternal grandfather was born in the United States. His ancestors were Hungarian Jews, and made a living as musicians, often playing at weddings. So, in the unlikely event anyone is interested, I am a Ukrainian, Latvian, Hungarian Jewish radical agnostic.

The interesting information was about my grandmother, whom I remember (from her last years of life, when she lived with my Aunt Naomi in Southern California) as a dreadful narcissistic monster.

The information below is a combination of my recent conversation, and information I’ve received at other times (such as family reunions). As a young woman, around the turn the century, Grandma Agnes was an energetic feminist and career woman, working at several jobs, including as a secretary in a steel mill.

However, at one point she was a script writer for a movie studio. This was in New York City. Some of the movie studios operated in New York City as well as in California in the early days of the movie business.

At some point, Agnes married my grandfather Harry (who was a dentist who studied with John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek Michigan (and thus we enter the world of The Road to Wellness, which David recommended I read).

 However, Kellogg was notoriously phobic about sex, and Grandfather Harry didn’t get the memo, as my aunts told me that he was an enthusiastic horn dog, though as far as I know, faithful to Grandma Agnes. Anyway, Agnes became pregnant fairly quickly and had three daughters—Aunt Diana, Aunt Naomi, Aunt Henriette (the baby), and one son, my father. When Grandma Agnes found herself a mother, her budding career as a scriptwriter and who knows what else was destroyed and she became quite angry and embittered, and turned her fury on Diana, her oldest daughter.

On top of that, Grandfather Harry, as a big fan of Kellogg, administered enemas to all the members of his family. Diana became irate at both mom and dad, stormed out of her family, and eventually married a conventional medical doctor. In my alternative health care fanatic family, this was the ultimate insult.

To add further to the drama and commotion, Diana, much like her mother, a narcissistic monster, in the words of her children, “Destroyed her husband, the doctor.”

Diana got the worst treatment from Grandma Agnes, but all of my father’s family suffered quite a bit. My Aunt Naomi, who studied to be a ballet dancer, and was tall and beautiful as a young woman, fell in love with some pretentious “guru” who placed some spell over the entire family and ran off to California with him.

Eventually, Naomi tossed him aside and fell in love with my Uncle Donald, a cowboy from a California high desert ranching family, who became an engineer and eventually a chiropractor. As a tough cowboy, used to breaking wild horses, and about ten years younger, Donald was about equal to Naomi, and they had a fairly happy and successful marriage. As I’ve told elsewhere, their daughter, Joanna, became fluent in Chinese and co-founded with her Taiwanese husband the multi-national baby stroller/baby furniture company Graco and became a millionaire. She also became a bit of a heroine in Taiwan because after her youngest daughter was implanted with the first cochlear implant for a Chinese child, she set up a foundation to provide care for deaf children born in Taiwan.

 There’s more, some of which I’ve told at other times. I have two points I will close with. If I had writing talent like say T. Correghesan Boyle,, and had paid attention as a child, I could have used my family as a launching pad for a great memoir. I care not much.

 The other point is that toxic strains in families creep down through many generations. Grandmother Agnes getting pregnant had terrible effects on at least the families of three of her children, (Naomi and Donald did pretty well with my cousins Joanna and her sister Valerie) but the rest of her children and their families were fairly well ruined.

Except perhaps, in my case. I just turned 66 a few days ago. I am fairly content with my life. My wife and I both came from fairly toxic families. I am most proud that we were able to break free of noxious roots and stay on good terms with our daughter and her partner.

They, in turn, seem to be doing quite well with the illustrious Random Granddaughter, though as she is a notorious drama queen and the terror of her kindergarten (with her partner in crime the billionaire’s daughter) at the School for Very Bright Children,  the jury is still out.

This weekend we will visit the barely extended family and celebrate my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and little child genius’ birthday.

Though, of course, she may take advantage of her birthday party to tell us that she is disowning us.

An Ordinary Person

November 19, 2009

At the gym where I work out every other day, young people (high school students, college students, recent graduates) work at the desk to hand out locker keys and towels.

Yesterday, the young lady smiled broadly as she handed me a towel.

“You look happy,” I said.

“I AM happy,” she replied. “I am getting married in two weeks.” Her smile widened.

“In a week, my wife and I will celebrate our 44th anniversary,” I replied. She looked happy for us, also.

On the day of our anniversary, we will visit Random Granddaughter’s kindergarten at the school for Very Bright Children. Last night my wife and I chatted about it.

“She is supposed to perform in a play for the parents,” Mrs. Random said. “I hope she doesn’t break down and start sobbing in the middle of it. She gets herself so worked up.”

“She wants to be the center of attention and then she hates being the center of attention,” I said. “I hope she learns to deal with being just an ordinary person like the rest of us. Though, of course, she will be an extraordinary ordinary person.”

  

Almost a year ago, David said:

I’m thinking that your aid campaign is what turned my life around. You’ve got a powerful tool there. Use it wisely.

I started what I called a “shareware” program where I sometimes send $5 to someone who is blogging and evincing some distress. David, Waxingstrange, and more recently a person on worldmagblog, the evangelical Christian web site, have all been recipients of my tiny postal mail donations.

In each case the recipient reported some benefit.

Here is my thinking.

1. All human beings are crazy. We are crazy because of our self-awareness of our mortality. (Becker) There is no cure for our condition. Religious belief is the most common method of alleviating it.

2. There are many sub categories to our craziness, such as the “I’m no good” syndrome (original sin).

3. Two common symptoms of the I’m no good syndrome are the “I am ugly,” and “Nobody loves me” feelings. David, for example, suffered severely from these symptoms, though he is not ugly and people do love him.

Here’s my theory. It is based on “cognitive dissonance” theory. This theory suggests that humans resist holding contradictory ideas in their minds. So if a person thinks, “I am ugly,” and a beautiful woman sleeps with him, he then thinks, “She is only doing this for my money.” This issue is complicated by the fact that in some cases the conjecture may be true. I don’t think like a woman, but the a woman may think, “He only loves me for my body.”

It may take a fairly strong and unexpected shock to break through this resistance. In Zen Buddhism, the master sometimes “slaps” the student to force him into a new awareness. Apparently, sometimes getting five dollars in the mail can sometimes have the same result. It’s only good for a few days, though.

 

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.