Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Ruptured Floors and Name Drawings

For the second time in as many years, our kitchen floor has been water damaged and needs replacing. This time the culprit was our dishwasher which suddenly started overflowing and soaking the first few rows of hickory in front of the sink area.  We tried to ignore it as long as possible by putting a runner over the damaged area.  No use.  The damage kept getting more profound and impossible to ignore.  I pointed out the problem to my kids during Thanksgiving.  They were sorry.  Chris, being Chris, immediately offered us the use of his contractor and even offered to help us pay for it if necessary.  Hey!  It just might be.

We called up the same mitigation company (Kinetic) that helped us through the first catastrophe.  Nate, the project manager, showed up the next morning, laid out a plan, and scheduled the first in a steady stream of technicians.  Jamie was the first.  I guess you could call him a tearing-out-the-warped-wood-technician.  A plumbing technician, actually a master plumber named Gercon, was the next to arrive.  Someone checking for mold (a little) and asbestos (none) were next.

The first thing Nate did when he showed up was to install a dehumidifier that has been droning away day and night for the past week.  Thank god, Nate took the thing away yesterday.  It will be another week before he is able to round up the matching wood and schedule the floor job.

In the meantime, our kitchen floor has been violated for the second time.  The droning is gone, but the hole in the floor is still there and the place is just not as comfortable as it usually is.  Furthermore, I am terrified to use the dishwasher.  What if it all happens again?  I have forced myself to use it.  So far, so good.

But the droning was there for the annual name drawing party we host for the family.  And the dishwasher was not yet functional.  And the stove was impossible to get to.  We ended up going to Jason's Deli on Green Mountain and ordered three hundred bucks worth of finger sandwiches (decidedly mediocre), fruit and cheese trays, and cookies.  I went out and bought a bunch of beer and wine and pop, filled up some coolers with ice, and we were ready to go.

The older people at the party, the people of my generation, gathered out in the kitchen just like they always do.  They didn't care about the drone or the hole in the floor.  In fact, they provided a nice conversation starter. The younger crowd hung out on the side porch smoking and guzzling beer.

Jaydee proudly helped Kathie put serving plates on the big table.  I think she has a future in food service.  Willa couldn't be bothered.  She was much too busy with one of her painting by sticker books.

Jaydee and Willa both helped with the name drawing itself.  Everybody who wanted to participate got a slip of paper with a name and a gift suggestion.  I won't reveal my name on the off chance someone in the family is actually reading this.  Kathie drew my name.  I fully expect a large gift certificate to Mizuna.

The holidays, floor or no floor, are here.  We somehow got our tree up in between visits from mitigation teams.  Of course, I somehow managed to bump it while adjusting the blinds and it fell over!  That's never happened before.  It doesn't seem like a good omen.

Kathie and I have already started making arrangements for our grandchildren's presents.  Chris and Franny are collaborating on hosting Christmas Day.  We'll all go over to Barb's on Christmas Eve.  A couple days before that, the family will meet at Sharon's for the gift opening.  And on Christmas Day Kathie and I can just hang and glory in our children and grandchildren.

I also think we will have a new floor by then.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Computer Chips and Refrigerator Boxes

I was rummaging through some old papers when I found an old piece I submitted to a few magazines.  It was the first thing I ever wrote that got summarily rejected.  There would be plenty more to follow.  What the hell.  I'll reproduce it here in order to give me the illusion it was published.

My eleven year old son's newest computer toy is an electronic football game.  It is a small device with a miniature football field on screen.  When turned on, it plays the first few bars of "The Star Spangled Banner."  It comes close to approximating the real thing.  It is possible for the offensive player to run down the field, dodging the glowing red tackler on the screen.  It throws passes.  It also throws interceptions to the tune of "The Raspberry."  When the offense scores a touchdown, the big, red offensive player spikes the ball and the electronic fans trapped somewhere in the transistors cheer.  My sons have been known to turn down invitations to real football games with the neighbor kids in favor of the electronic magic of their new toy.

They have an electronic version of Clue called Electronic Detective.  It has twenty suspect cards that can be used to ask questions of the computer.  The contraption flashes electronic answers on the little screen.  They can play an entire game without ever having to talk to each other.  Gone is the wonderful parquet floor game board of Clue.  There is no conservatory filled with plants, or library filled with books.  The mysterious Miss Scarlett is nowhere to be found and there is no Holmsian counterpart to Professor Plum.  Worse yet, there is no bumbling Colonel Mustard to provide comic relief.  The computer answers all the questions in black and white.  It has become a serious exercise in sleuthing.

They have a Computer Perfection received last Christmas.  The thing is guaranteed to beat its owner into submission.  Through a combination of flashing blue lights and clicks and beeps, it asks its players to follow a pattern of lights decided upon by the computer.  The room darkened, it hypnotizes its owners into following those flashing lights and beeps.  It wins every time.

Their most insidious possession is a complete set of Star Wars figurines.  The Star Wars player, thanks to the Mattel Corporation and over generous parents, does not have to get directly involved in the action.  A Star Wars fanatic does not assume the role of Han Solo or Luke Skywalker.  He simply moves the little plastic Han Solo one-tenth life size model to and from the one-one thousandth life size model of his X Wing Fighter.  If Darth Vader gets into a fight to the death with Han or Luke, the only things directly involved are the figurines.  The manipulators of the figurines are safe in their third person omniscient world.  They never spill their own blood, or personally feel the sting of a death ray.  Their play, even though I will grudgingly admit it is creative after a fashion, is depressingly risk free and antiseptic.

Playing Tarzan in 1954, on the other hand, was anything but risk free and antiseptic.  I didn't have a figuring to do my fighting for me.  It was my knee getting scraped and my elbows getting bloody and my wrists and ankles with rope burns from being tied up by invading hordes of Monkey People.  I must admit that my plots were not as elaborate or peopled by as many bizarre creatures or pieces of equipment, but my plots virtually stunk of humanity and the sweat that results from hours spent wrestling inside a refrigerator box.

I purchased a new refrigerator a few months ago and I proudly took my children to the back yard to show them the empty box waiting for the worlds to be created inside.  My oldest son looked at me with horror and beat a fast retreat to the safety of his bedroom where he was embroiled in a Pong game on his television.  The refrigerator box is still sitting in the back yard because the trash man refuses to pick up anything that big.  It is depressing to think that the computer chip has rendered refrigerator boxes obsolete.  The same technology that has opened up the universe for Carl Sagan, who I'm convinced logged a number of hours in his own refrigerator box, has turned the cosmos inside out for my children and their friends.  The entire Galactic Empire resides neatly in a black box on the second shelf of my children's closet.

I even had my first sexual feelings while playing Tarzan.  I'd like to see that happen with a Princess Leia figurine.  There I was dressed in my leopard skin loin cloth and there was the little girl who lived next door dressed up as Jane.  And there we both were, sweaty and nearly naked, inside a refrigerator box.  We would tie each other up a lot.  We would take turns untying each other in the nick of time..  I was after verisimilitude in those days and I knew that the real Tarzan, when tied up, was probably hurting a little.  I would be struggling in the refrigerator box in my loin cloth, waiting, but never screaming, for help.  The little girl would show up every time to free me.  We would take turns and I don't think it ever mattered who freed whom.

I had a lot of myself invested in Tarzan.  It was an important part of my life and to this day is one of my most vivid memories.  I have a difficult time believing that my sons, when they reach the ripe old age of thirty-one, will have the same kinds of memories of playing Star Wars.  I refuse to believe that plastic figurines of Han Solo, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are as memorable as the sweaty flesh of a little girl in bondage.

My Tarzan game was infinitely more portable than the plastic and electronic paraphernalia that characterizes my children's games.  When my family moved from Freeport, Illinois to Estes Park, Colorado, my game moved with me.  Instead of Tarzan, I became Marshall Dillon, or Paladin, or Lash Larue (my personal favorite).  Instead of that little girl by my side playing Jane, there was Cheri Quick playing Miss Kitty.  Nothing had changed.

We had an ideal set up for playing  cowboys and Indians in our neighborhood.  We lived next door to the fairgrounds, the home of the Morgan, Appaloosa, Arabian, and Quarter Horse shows, plus the Rooftop Rodeo every August.  When the fairgrounds were not being used, they made the perfect arena for our games.  The entrance was flanked by two guard houses made of logs.  These were the real thing.  They had a bottom level with a straw covered floor and a perfectly scary ladder leading to the upper level through a hole in the middle of the ceiling.  The upper level was where the men folk would stay to fight off Indians while protecting the women and children.  The top level was also straw covered and had little holes in the walls for guns to stick out of during Indian attacks.  Once inside the  fairgrounds, the verisimilitude became unbearable.  There was a horse race track, rows and rows of empty stable, a rodeo arena complete with five empty chutes.  There was also an empty stadium, ticket booths, grooming sheds, a few miles of winding dirt roads, and two covered wagons.

The covered wagons provided wild west realism for the rodeo.  They doubled as snack bars and occasionally they would be hitched up to a couple of horses so they could take a group of tourists from Chicago up into the hills for a genuine chuck wagon dinner.  I think they would serve hot dogs and something called "Trail Drive Beans."  I always wanted to go along for one of those chuck wagon excursions.  I was sure that Ward Bond ate the same menu while dodging arrows in Wyoming.

Our neighborhood was on the west side of the fairgrounds.  In fact, Ricky Carmack's house was just across the street from the entrance.  My house was next to Ricky's.  The fairgrounds covered four or five city blocks and on the east side stood the Estes Park Recreation Area.  This provided the final, key locale for our cowboy games.  The Recreation Area alternated as the stronghold for the Indians, or the hide out for the bank robbers, depending upon which fantasy we were embroiled in.  It made a great stronghold because while the Indians were waiting for the right moment to attack the fort on the other side of the property, they could fend off boredom by playing a few games of ping pong in the main building.

There were two groups of rock formations there.  Each of them were large enough to provide hiding places for as many as fifteen to twenty warriors.  There were climable cracks in the rock walls and flat summits large enough to safely allow an Indian lookout to stand full height with hand to forehead looking for unwanted company.  The rock formation furthest away from the fairgrounds provided the main camp.  It was forty feet high on all sides, but there was a crack in the formation that allowed access to an interior area surrounded by rock.  The only way in was through the crack, or up, over, and down again, the forty foot rock walls.  The central, fortified area was large enough to accommodate the whole Indian tribe in comfort.

Occasionally, a scout would be sent to check out the goings on at the fort.  He would sneak out of the crack in the main fortress and madly dash and dart from swing set to slide, hiding until he got to the other group of rocks.  The scout, if chosen carefully, could easily climb those rocks and post a lookout.  Then, when he had looked out enough, he would whistle.  If Ricky Carmack had been chosen scout, he had to holler because he hadn't figured out how to whistle yet.  The whistle, or shout, was the Indians' clue to attack the fort and the game was on.

Our neighborhood, on the other side of the fairgrounds, became Dodge City.  Cheri Quick's back yard became the main residential part of the city because it was surrounded by a white picket fence.  The cowboy families lived there.  The general store was there.  If the Indians ever managed to get by the protection of the fort, Cheri's fence provided the last barrier between the settlers and their attackers.  My back yard was the saloon and the glassed in porch at the end of my house doubled as the school.  Cheri's sister, Janelle, was usually the schoolmarm.  The Baker kids and my little brother rounded out her class.

We created in Estes Park a perfect scale model of Kansas,  We had our pioneer village, our old western fort, the wagon train to help increase the population, and the Indian stronghold to make the whole thing interesting.

I only had one item of store bought paraphernalia to aid my play.  Interestingly enough, it was made by the same people who manufacture my children's Star Wars toys.  I had a Mattell Fanner Fifty.  That gun was wonderful.  I wish I had it with me right now.  It was a shiny, silver six shooter with perfect balance and a flattened hammer that allowed me to fan it with the heel of my hand during particularly tight moments when I was surrounded by Gary Graham and his gang.

My entire life was given over to playing cowboys and Indians in our wild west replica.  Whole evenings were devoted to preparation for the day to come.  I spent one night pestering my mother for empty bottles to use in our bar.  I filled the bottles with various flavors of Kool Aid, wrote labels on them, and even thumbed through a copy of Old Mr. Boston's so I could help our bartender, who was only six, mix any strange orders.

My cowboy career lasted only a year, but it, along with my career as Tarzan, reserves a special place in my memories.

I think my childhood games were essentially more playful than the games my children play.  I was confronted by a world bigger than me and by manipulating that world, became part of it.  The scenario of my children's play can be captured at a glance.  Like dispassionate gods, they move their plastic and electronic world and have no stake in those movements.  Their imagination is not fueled by sweaty bodies and scraped knees.  They pack it away every night in a black box while a refrigerator box filled with yet to be discovered worlds waits in the back yard for a trash man willing to it cart away.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


The last time I had any contact other than Facebook with Megan Cianfrance, she was a senior at Green Mountain.  The senior class had somehow convinced me to sponsor them for a trip to the Museum of Science and Nature during Senior Week.  I reluctantly agreed and found myself walking through the museum with a bunch of kids and quoting Catcher in the Rye as we walked by the glass enclosed dioramas filled with polar bears and sheets of blue ice and deer and badgers and pretty little Indian squaws convening over freshly woven blankets.  It was a nice time.

When we were headed toward the bus (it was only a small group of seniors making the trip), Megan came running up to me.  "Mr. S.  Mr. S.  Could I sit next to you on the ride back?  I want you to protect me from ____________(name withheld)."

It seems there was this lost little senior boy who had developed a crush on Megan.  Who could blame him?  He started a little friendly stalking at school, but I guess the stalking had gotten out of hand at the museum.  Megan, being a member of the Cianfrance family, was simply too nice to hurt the kid's feelings.  That's why she figured sitting next to me would be a harmless way to fend the little creep off.

I said sure thing and we rode back up to Green Mountain together.  The stalker ended up about four rows behind where he sat looking longingly at Miss Cianfrance.  Megan and I talked about what she had planned for the next year.  We talked about her brothers, school politics, prom, graduation parties, the usual stuff.  It was a nice time.

I went to her funeral yesterday.  She was 36 and died in her sleep about a week ago, leaving two children, a husband, and scores of devoted family members and friends behind.  The Reflection Pavilion at Crown Hill was standing room only, but I did manage to recognize a few faces of Megan's high school classmates.

Derek came up and gave Kathie and I tearful hugs.  I hadn't seen him since his first film, "Brother Tied," screened in Denver years ago.  He lives in Brooklyn now with his wife and children.  They are both filmmakers.  Derek and I spent a lot of time together in The Ram Page office years ago.

After the funeral proper, I managed to make my way to shake Jason's hand.  Jason was the first Cianfrance to appear in one of my classrooms and he was a terrific kid.  I discovered he is a 25 year veteran teacher along with his wife.  I can attest that a family with two teachers at the helm is a comfortable way to live.  I'm so happy for him.

This was the second funeral I have attended for a former student.  John Bezdek's was the first.  I didn't like the feeling at either one.  It just wasn't right.  Megan's beautiful little boy wept loudly through the entire ceremony.  He is just a year older than Willa.  I don't want to think about the trauma he faces.  Megan's daughter is older than the boy and the spitting image of her mother.  She managed, although I don't know how, to maintain her composure through the whole thing.

The two kids went up and put some keepsakes in the coffin and right before they shoved the coffin into the wall, the kids released a bunch of doves who kept flying in circles above the crowd with the traffic on Wadsworth roaring by.  The juxtaposition was, to say the least, disconcerting.

While the celebrant was saying a bunch of things that my unaided hearing had no chance to discern, I looked at the plaques on the wall.  There were a lot of last names that were familiar.  I was heartened to see that so many of the deceased were long lived.  There was one old guy who managed to last until he was a hundred and ten.  I wonder if they released doves at his funeral.

I leaned over and told Kathie once again that I wanted nothing to do with a formal funeral in front of a wall.  I want her to sneak into my old classroom and spread my ashes in one of the book cabinets, preferably the one that used to hold Brave New World.

On the other hand, I do want the doves.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fire Alarms and Nuclear Explosions

I want to elaborate a little on the whole hearing aid experience.  My new (actually, my first) hearing aids will be here around the first of November.  My appointment is already set up.

I'm looking forward to them primarily because once I have them I can stop thinking about them all the time.  They aren't all that noticeable.  Jaydee, when she looked at my loaner pair, said they looked like part of my glasses.

I was at The Yard House at Colorado Mills with some friends a couple nights ago.  Every young person on the west side of town must number The Yard House as a destination beer hall.  It was packed to the rafters and there were another two dozen people waiting outside to get in.  I don't understand it.  The food was decidedly mediocre and the din made any attempt at conversation, at least for me, impossible.  Trust me.  I won't be going back.  But I bring the place up because if I had had my hearing aids on that evening, I might have stood an outside chance of knowing what my friends were talking about.  As it was, I just waited till we were on our way home and let Kathie explain what I had missed.

I'll be able to hear the girls in the car, anybody in the car, more easily.  I won't have to turn around while traveling on C-470 so I can read Willa's lips when she says something.  Things will be safer.

The most interesting thing about the hearing aids is that they come in different price ranges so as to accommodate any budget.  Each price range lists what the wearer might hear with the hearing device he or she chooses.  I guess I'm spoiled, or too stupid to worry about money, but it is hard for me to imagine getting hearing devices that don't offer the best sound.

The audiologist showed us a chart of five different devices, the cheapest starting at $800 with increments for the others going all the way up to $4800.

I asked how they were different, if there were any disadvantages to getting the most expensive devices, other than cost.  The chart explained everything in horrifying detail.  Let me see if I can remember.

The cheapest hearing devices would cost me $1600 for a pair and Kaiser forks over $500 per ear.  That leaves me with a bill of only $600 for the EconoAids.  That's not really what they are called, but it fits.  The EconoAids are clearly not for everyone, but if cost is a factor, they are the ones for you.  With them fitted neatly in place and stuck into both of your ears, you will be able to hear fire alarms and nuclear explosions.

For an additional $1200 or so, you will not only be able to hear nuclear explosions, but will also  be able to make out what another individual is saying as long as that individual is sitting facing you with knees touching.

The next increment is even more audiologically impressive.  You will be able to hear all the things the cheaper models insure, but you will also be able to make out words and phrases in a public setting.  Television shows will become instantly understandable.  Of course, closed captioning is also advised as an adjunct.

The devices just keep getting better.

I got the top of the line.  For that I will be able to hear the whole range of sounds that humans and machinery can make.  "Would you like to hear music," the audiologist asked.

"Why not," I answered.  "I remember liking music."

"Well, if you like music, these top of the line devices are for you."

"Will I still be able to hear a nuclear explosion?"

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Sorry. No Jokes.

The images and descriptions are so visceral I don't see how anyone could react to them with anything other than horror, disgust, and tears.

I'm talking about the daily onslaught from the media of images and sound bites from all the trouble spots in the world and from all the trouble spots in Donald Trump's mind.  There is almost nothing else to look at, to think about, and I'm wondering how it is possible that our country is so divided that two people, one liberal and the other conservative, could look at the same phenomena and come away with two completely opposed opinions.

Let's start with something easy.  Do you suppose that Trump supporters looked at everything Obama and the Democratic coalition did with the same horror that I look at everything Trump and his minions do?  For instance, I love Governor Polis.  I love his daily Facebook messages.  I love how quickly he has moved.  When I think about free full day kindergarten I almost want to cry because it has been so long coming.  My education convinces me that full day kindergarten will be a boon, not only to parents who don't have to fork over tuition payments anymore, but to the entire state.  The money we will have to spend will be paid back tenfold.  But does a hard core Republican look at free kindergarten as some kind of harbinger of the end of the world.  Will it just start our state down the slippery slope to financial ruin?  Does that hard core Republican ever take into consideration the welfare of Colorado's children?

I saw a report on TV this morning about our country's new policy of keeping immigrants in Mexico as they wait to see if they can enter our country.  The report cited statistics showing the increased danger many of those immigrants face because of this policy.  And, of course, the TV showed grainy images of the living conditions those immigrants have to face.

I look on that situation with a combination of horror and shame.  I can't believe our country is treating people like that.  Does a Trump supporter (Wait.  Cross that out.  I'm going to stop using the phrase Trump supporter and just start using Republican instead.  If anyone can still call themselves a Republican after the last three years, they are complicit in Trump's systematic destruction of the country.).  Does a Republican look at that same situation at the border with pride and satisfaction?  Do they insist that it is about time we kept people from shithole countries out?  I can't fathom that reaction and I guess Republicans can't fathom mine.

On the same TV station there was a report from Syria.  A Turkish bomb exploded nearby, killing several civilians and injuring others.  One of those injured was a little girl with a bandage around her head and wounds all over her body.  Her mother explained to the reporter what had happened and the little girl tried to put her hands over her ears so she couldn't hear.  She didn't want to relive her nightmare and she started weeping and reaching for her mom.  She kept asking why.

I was overcome.  Is it possible that a Republican could look at that clip and take pride in our abandonment of the Kurds?  Would they be proud of Trump for having the "courage" to pull us out of this endless war in the mideast?  Would they just ignore the human toll Trump's pull out has caused and continues to cause?

There was yet another article about Greta Thunberg talking to a state legislature.  Whenever I think about her, I get happy.  I know what passionate teenagers can accomplish.  I think they are the only people who can lead us out of this morass we find ourselves in.  When a Republican looks at Greta does he just revert to Fox speaking points?  Does he/she see a kid who is mentally ill?  Are Republicans convinced that her crusade is all part of the Deep State's liberal plan to ruin the world?  Did Al Gore put her up to this?

I read an article yesterday in The New Yorker about black women fighting against anti-abortion forces in the South.  I came across some startling facts.  For instance, in Georgia prisons regularly shackle pregnant women during childbirth.  The state legislature actually debated the practice.  When I read that I am yet again horrified.  When a Republican reads that, does he or she believe shackling women (read: black women) during child birth is a good idea?  After all, we don't want them escaping, trailing their placenta behind them.  How is it possible that there could be two opinions about this practice?

In South Carolina in 1995, the state added regulations that required all clinics practicing second trimester abortions meet the same design and construction standards as "ambulatory surgical facilities."  The result:  More than half of the South Carolina women seeking abortions had to leave the state.  I look at those regulations as an obvious attempt to circumvent Roe v. Wade.  Do Republicans really see the added regulations as an honest attempt by the legislature to insure the good health of those seeking abortions?

TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws have been passed by Republican controlled state legislatures to subvert Roe v. Wade.  As a result, in Alabama, there are only three clinics in the entire state, down from twenty in 1992.  Now, I don't much like the idea of abortion.  But I like the idea of taking away choice from women even less.  Do Republicans look at this same situation and praise Donald Trump for reinstalling Christian values to mainstream America?  Please.

One more example.  A woman called up the two black crusading women and told them that she was in her early twenties, with two children, on Medicaid, unemployed, and eight weeks pregnant.  Her abortion would cost 600 bucks and she only had 200.  The abortion was scheduled for the next day and she was contemplating hocking her wedding ring.  They told her to "hold on to that."  They would figure it out before it got to that point.

When a Republican sees this pregnant woman's plight, does he/she see a threat to our country?  Does he/she just casually think that it was her fault?  She shouldn't be so irresponsible as to get pregnant again?  Does he think that it serves her right?

That's why I've been so depressed of late.  I don't want to believe that we are that far apart, all evidence to the contrary.

Sorry there weren't any jokes in this.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

My New Ladder Is Ready To Climb

I was turning onto Yosemite when the tears started coming.  Kathie even put her hand on my shoulder and asked me if I wanted her to drive.

I was fine.

I assured her.

The thing is I cry over almost anything lately.  I think/hope it comes with being in my seventies.

How terribly strange.

I had to stop watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show because they had me crying so much.  Opie does it to me every time.  That's a slight exaggeration, but it makes my point.

We were just coming from my latest hearing appointment.  I've ordered hearing aids.  They'll be here the first part of November.  Kathie and I have from now (October 3) until then to figure out how to pay for them.  I'm almost in favor of forgetting the whole thing.  I have managed to cope with my abysmal hearing for over forty years.  I'm seventy-one.  What's another forty years asking Kathie what everybody is talking about?

Whenever I say stuff like that, Kathie and anyone else within earshot roll their eyes.  I guess they're right.

So, we ordered the things.  There were four or five price ranges, each reflecting the quality of the hearing device in question.  We chose the top.  I figure if I have to have hearing aids, I might as well have the best.

I got to choose the color.  It was a lot like buying a car.  The selections were limited, but if I wanted to get a children's hearing aid, the colors would be a lot brighter.  I went with the grey.  There was a flesh colored choice, but it looked too much like something that fell off a Barbie Doll.

But back to the tears on Yosemite.  This hearing thing has been the first thing in my life (rheumatic fever when I was six doesn't count) that required repeated visits to the doctor, the first sign that I'm getting old.  I know that sounds stupid--I've been getting old for years--but that's how I looked, am looking, at it.

You have to understand that it has been a terrible month, maybe even a little longer.  I had to have a root canal and a subsequent crown.  We had to buy a new television.  We had to buy a new lawn mower.  Then Kathie's crown broke.  And now we have hearing aids to buy.

There is a movement going through Congress to add hearing aid coverage to Medicare, to no longer consider hearing aids as merely cosmetic(!), but Mitch McConnell is working happily to keep it off the floor.

So I guess all that stuff coalesced in that one moment on Yosemite.

By the time I got  home, I was all better and ready to climb up my new ladder to paint my house.

It is what it is in the suburbs.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Papery Stalactites and Garbage

Meow Wolf

In the early 70's, I had a friend in Loveland who was a talented commercial photographer.  He was also something of a self-styled sage and philosopher, a middle aged hippy freak.  We had lots of fun conversations in between reading THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOGUE and the collected works of Jack Kerouac.

He developed a theory I still cling to today.  He posited that the only truly beautiful things were isolated pieces of nature that man had not yet despoiled and the garbage that Despoiler Man had thrown away.  To prove his point, he made a slide show alternating little slices of nature (a wildflower growing out of a crack in a rock, a mushroom sprouting at the base of a tree, etc.) with pieces of junk he found in the local dump (an abandoned medicine cabinet with surprising patterns of rust, an old tennis shoe juxtaposed to a pair of crutches, etc.) .  He set the whole thing to "Rocky Raccoon."  It not only proved his point, but it was a delight to watch and hear.

Meow Wolf in Santa Fe celebrates this idea in an interactive "museum" filled with the detritus of our culture.  It is like the creators of this place spent a few years scavenging discarded things out of local junk yards, used book stores, used record stores, basements and attics filled with the accumulated stuff of lives fully spent.  Then they took all this stuff and rearranged it into a series of rooms, corridors, closets, and secret passages by classifying it into as many categories as they could.  There is a room lit in flickering blue and green lights with papery stalactites hanging down around the heads of all the museum goers.  There is also an old dinosaur skeleton in the room and you can play a song on its ribs.  Of course, you really can't because there are dozens of people already playing their dinosaur tunes and refusing to give anyone else a chance.

There is a room in black and white with black tea dripping down the white cups and onto the white table with the black outline.  There is another room that is meant to look like the bedroom of some kid from years gone by.  The room itself is too dark to determine a dominant color, but there is a bookcase against a wall filled with old textbooks.  You know, textbooks are what kids used to use before everything got placed on line.  If they had only asked us, we had enough old textbooks littering our basement that we could have made our own room.  When Meow Wolf starts scavenging Denver for their new installation, they should give us a call.  I have a stack of Big Chiefs that would be perfect.

Kathie posted our trip to Meow Wolf on Facebook and she got dozens of enthusiastic reactions from folks who had been there and loved it and from folks who were desperate to go.  I'm sorry, but I don't share the enthusiasm.

While standing in line to get in with the 10:20 group, people who  had been there before told us that folks spend anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours in the place.  Kathie and I lasted 25 minutes, thereby setting a new record.

I appreciate why so many people want to go.  I see the attraction, but I shared the opinion of a lady standing next to me in the black and white room.  "I just don't get it," she said.

On further reflection, Meow Wolf seems like a combination of a terrific haunted house and an after-prom designed by a group of incredibly creative and resourceful juniors.  If I could have managed to walk through the place in that spirit, it would have been a much more rewarding experience.  If I had my grandchildren with me, it would have been even more terrific.

I guess the thing I'm reacting negatively to is that they call the place an art museum.  Just because something has been collected and displayed doesn't make it art.  I felt the same way about my photographer friend's slide show.  It was clever and well done, but I won't accept the idea that putting garbage in a slide show or in an all black and white room magically turns that garbage into art.

I guess I make a distinction between art and archaeology.  In my classes I used to initiate a discussion about Art with a capital A by taking an old hammer and pounding three nails into my classroom wall.  Then I would take the hammer, place it at a slant on two of the nails and from the third I hung an old frame. The transformation of the hammer from a tool  to a piece of art in that scenario is a little startling to anyone open to the experience.  And, if I say so myself, it was a clever way to get a conversation started, but I don't think an entire building filled with those kinds of "framed hammers" constitutes a museum that anyone past puberty really needs to see.

I'm glad I went to Meow Wolf.  When one opens in Denver next year, I'll take my grandchildren.  But for myself, if I want to see art I'll go to DAM.  There are no backlit, papery stalactites there to get in my hair.