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Easter Sunday, I did something I have not done in a very long time. I went to church. No, although faced with my own mortality, I have not converted back to religion just in case I have a soul and there is some vengeful deity somewhere eager to punish me for not giving him the respect he believes he is due.

Naida and I, after celebrating our one year anniversary being together, decided to attend the Easter Morning Services at the Unitarian Universalist center located near the Enchanted Forest. On the scale from a non-religious community organization to a full-blown religion, Unitarians are only one step up from the Society for Ethical Culture which is again only one step up from agnosticism.

The ceremony seemed more a meeting of Liberal Democrats with music than a religious one. The sermon was given by a woman who promptly explained that the Jesus Church, led by those who knew Jesus, was a religion of peace and ethics and that of Paul which eventually became Christianity, was one that focused on death and resurrection. Although the hymns we sang were recognizable, the words were carefully purged of any reference to a deity or a traditional creed.

With our brush with the supernatural behind us, we returned home and watched Anthony Quinn and Jack Palance tear up the scenery in the movie, Barabbas. (It was Easter of course and the entertainment mob, not satisfied that nailing someone to the cross was enough blood and mayhem to memorialize the holiday for Americans, decided to feature a movie instead about a thug and gladiator and a colosseum filled with blood and body parts.)

Monday came with a sigh like the month in which it resides and stepped aside for days of more promise, although the blooming azalea bushes in the backyard and the warm sparkling sunlight overhead heralded enough promise to suit me today.

On Tuesday, I managed to bestir myself enough to take the dog for a brief walk through the Enchanted Forest. The weather was almost summer warm, the skies clear and I walked along happily until my usual lightheadedness forced me to collapse on a bench by the path beneath the trees where I sat until the dog impatiently indicated that he was bored and that if we were not going to traipse around some more good smelling bushes, I might as well take him home — which I did.

I returned to the studio and watched Naida struggle with editing her memoir. She had a roll of butcher paper about eight feet long on which was carefully plotted the genealogy of her family going back as far as the sixteenth century to some British or Scottish Knight. We reviewed it for a while trying to puzzle out a problem with the genealogy of the Whipple family, a prominent New England family, whose progenitor arrived in the colonies in 1631 only ten years after the Mayflower deposited the dour, bigoted and racist Puritans at Plymouth Rock.

Captain John as he was known, tired of the oppression by the Puritan overlords and eager to make his fortune, left the Massachusetts Bay Colony along with Roger Williams and traveled to Rhode Island where he distinguished himself during Prince Phillip’s war. One of his descendants became a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (In case you are thirsting to learn more about the Whipples, in a fit of useless information overkill there some obsessive individuals have created a number of internet sites featuring that particular family’s genealogy and history, the most prominent of which is the Whipple Website [https://www.whipple.org/]. In there, if you want, you can learn of the eleven or so Captain John Whipples floating around the colonies at that time and how to tell them apart.)

The Whipples became quite wealthy “early settlers” eventually settling throughout the colonies and later in the new nation. Eventually, in the 1880s a young descendent named Emma after earning a college degree, something rare for women then, decamped for the Black Hills of the Dakotas to teach school, met an Irishman who could sing well, drink better, and owned a stagecoach, married him and was promptly disinherited by the Whipples for marrying someone below her station and a Catholic to boot. So, penniless, they traveled to Idaho, moved into an abandoned shack and lived a hard but at times exciting life. She was Naida’s great grandmother. Naida got to know her shortly before her death, heard her stories, and experienced a few or her own during her time with her (e.g., the curing of her great grandfather’s “quinsy” attack).

One of the many things I find fascinating about Naida is her apparently bottomless reservoir of stories. I spent my life gathering stories, but alas, compared to her, I am but a home library to her Library of Congress.

After that digression, I returned to writing this and reading my most recent trashy novel about the adventures some Templar Knights searching for the sacred bones of St. Stephen Protomartyr in Muslim controlled Majorca during the 13th Century in order to steal the sacred bones, and bring them back to their refectory (home castle) in Christian Aragon so it could become a prominent pilgrimage site, make tons of money, and allow the Knights to be well supplied with sacramental wine, mutton, and shiny armor.

On Wednesday, the sun was shining, the weather delightfully warm, and I dreadfully bored. So, I decided to go shopping. It is not as though I find shopping either invigorating or relaxing. It’s just that I could not think of anything else to do and we did need some things and Naida celebrates her birthday on Sunday and I wanted to buy her a present. And so, off I went, hoping I had recovered enough from my dizzy spells and other side effects of the chemotherapy to make it through the day. Off I went and made it almost through everything, but by the time I had made it to the last stop, I was well exhausted. Except for brief stops to and from my car to appreciate some flowering bushes, that is how I spent my Wednesday.

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At six AM on Thursday morning, I was awakened by Naida singing an old hymn and giggling. Bleary-eyed and muzzy-headed I turned to her and mumbled, “Sup?” She respond by explaining that she was amused at recollecting how a very old Easter hymn’s lyrics were often mangled by her children in church — “Low in the gravy he lay, a mighty feeling in his toes, bringing in the cheese and singing in the trees.” Now normally I enjoy the music and the stories, but at that time of the morning, I had no response but to mutter, “That’s nice,” turn over and go back to sleep.

The rest of the day passed from my memory leaving little behind but a vague sense of the passage of time and a whiff of ennui.

On Friday morning, nothing occurred worth remembering or writing about. So, I put on my favorite Hawaiian shirt, set my Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department straw hat upon my head, grabbed my faux blackthorn shillelagh walking stick and strolled off through the Enchanted Forest to where I park my car. It must be summer, I mused. Not because the sun was out, or the flowers or the temperatures but because for the first time since last October I donned one of my collection of Hawaiian shirts.

I set off intending to have lunch then to drive into the Golden Hills to visit HRM. I also thought I would try to walk around the lakes at Town Center that I used to enjoy so much but have not been able to since my most recent health setback. Today was the first day in many months I had not felt faint after walking a few feet or more.

During the drive, I decided that I would like to have pasta for lunch and tried to think of someplace that served decent Italian food. As I tried to come up with a place, I realized that good Italian family style cooking is hard to come by these days. I remember while growing up it Tuckahoe NY an Italian family style restaurant existed on almost every street corner. When I arrived in San Francisco in 1970 it was the same. Now those family style places have been replaced by either expensive restaurants pushing faux but chi-chi Italian food or fast food joints — both of which seem to have forgotten how to use herbs and spices as well as other equally egregious sins. I ended up at the Old Spaghetti Factory.

After lunch, I drove to Dick’s house where I found HRM and Jake playing video games in the basement. I told them, “As a responsible adult, I should say to you, ‘Why are you not out in this beautiful day getting some exercise instead of playing video games in the basement.’ You two, as responsible teenagers, should respond, ‘Hmmm, yes we’ll think about it’ and go back to playing your video games.” They laughed and returned to playing “Grand Theft Auto.”

I left after reviewing my mail and drove to Town Center. Following a quick browse through the bookstore, I sat on a bench in the rose garden by the lake. The roses were in full bloom and I sat there enjoying them for a while.
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At the Rose Garden.

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I then walked around the lakes for the first time in six months. I felt good about that.

Saturday, slipped from my memory like fog before sunlight.

Sunday we went to Naida’s daughter Jennifer’s house to celebrate Naida’s birthday. Before the party we all traveled to Sacramento City College to see Jennifer’s daughter, Josephine, perform in a play, a spoof of Little Red Riding Hood.

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After the performance, we returned to the house and the birthday party.

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That evening, back in the Enchanted Forest, I watched the third episode of the eighth year of GOT, the great battle at Winterfell, a bloodbath that lasted a full hour and 20 minutes and ended with Arya killing The Night King. Go, Arya.

And so, such as it was, that is what my week is like nowadays. How was yours?

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Yesterday, I drove to and returned safely from the mall. Just before braving the “real” Thai streets, I practiced driving around the subdivision in order to get my turns straight and condition myself for driving on the right side of the street that here is the left. That’s another problem. Not only do I have to remember the rules of the road but I have a semantic problem as well, so I do not know what I am talking about. Did you know the test for a driver’s license in Thailand, in most jurisdictions, consists solely of a depth perception test?

I learned yesterday that they (whoever “they” are) have prohibited the construction of new commercial structures in the subdivision. Turning part of your home into a shop or restaurant is apparently excepted.

The fundamentalist Christian missionaries, that I mentioned in a previous post, who were sent here to convert the little brown Buddhists to the pleasures of hellfire and brimstone, are being criticized for acting as though they are exempt from Thai law and treating the locals like they do not exist. The huge Christian high school, filled with tall blond blue-eyed teenagers and containing endless sports fields, has been willy-nilly throwing up three and four-story classroom and “dormitory” buildings in the subdivision. It also forces native Thais and not people of European descent to pay a fee if they want to attend their charity garage sales. In addition, the school charges the residents a fee for using the subdivision’s own health club because it is located on the School’s leased land. What this demonstrates to me is that the politics of HOA’s are the same everywhere.

On Friday I get to leave this island of western pretensions and travel to Mae Rim and see the elephants, tigers, monkeys, snakes and whatever.

Joe…

Today’s photo: the view from the covered patio towards the “Sala”. During the day when I am not napping, I can usually be found in either the patio or Sala.

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The imagination and inner force of Shakespeare’s villains stopped short at ten or so cadavers because they had no ideology…. It is thanks to ideology that it fell to the lot of the twentieth century to experience villainy on the scale of millions.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

 

 

 

 

It has been only three days since my return, jet lag lingers on and worries about my health persist, but hey, I’m home and that’s a start.

As the trip back slowly recedes and disappears from memory, I try to think of the high points that I can write about but, except for tasting with Nikki the various after dinner drinks and chocolates served to First-class passengers on Alitalia’s flight between Milan and New York, nothing comes to mind — except, perhaps, hearing “A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall” and a rousing version of “Try a Little Tenderness,” on the planes audio.

It was good to see Naida again and hear the soothing whispers at night and the sighs of pleasure and feel the handles of home drifting back into my hands.

I guess I should begin by telling about my latest health worries since at my age they have the ability to crowd out a lot of life’s greatest pleasures. It may develop into a saga, maudlin or boring, tragic or comic, who knows.

I came home with a numbness of the skin on my throat along with pain underneath. Yesterday some swelling appeared also.

Today, I visited with my primary care physician, a man not ranked too highly in his profession by either his peers or his patients. At the appointment, he was giddy with anticipation of his pending retirement from the practice of medicine within the next two months and insisted on spending some time with me discussing the travel options available to him in retirement before getting to the purpose of my visit. Following my description of my symptoms and a lot of feeling around my neck and some hmms and ahhs, he said that he thought it could be a blockage in a vein or artery and prescribed a sonogram and a chest x-ray. This, of course, did not alleviate my anxiety because if the blockage is caused by a clot of some kind and is lodged in my vein then it is an arrow aimed at my heart and if in an artery then it is aimed at my brain — the choice between a potential myocardial infarction or a stroke seems to be not much of a choice at all. But what else can I do but go through the tests and wait for my appointment with my oncologist next week and hope that, in the meantime, I do not keel over and collapse somewhere along the overgrown paths that I walk on in the evenings beside the river?

I apologize for writing about my health so much but when we reach this age it is often the most exciting and interesting thing we have going — an adventure, but not one where “no one has gone before” but one where everyone has gone before who have gone before. It may be boring for you, but it is new to me. It’s a lot like being that person early in a horror movie who decides to walk down the dark hallway alone or like waiting for Freddy Kruger to show up for dinner. You can either laugh or scream. I prefer laughing although a good scream now and then can do wonders for your peace of mind.

The next day, I was X-rayed and sonogramed. They showed that neither vein nor artery was clogged. So by the end of the day, I was back where I was before walking into my doctor’s office — with a pain in the neck and lost in hypochondriaville. I now wait a week more before my oncologist can see me and after feeling around my neck and a lot of hmms and ahhs send me off to be probed by large expensive machines tended by smiling people dressed in blue or green outfits and looking a little like the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

Walked the dog to the dog park this evening. There are three benches in the dog park each about as far away from the other as can be and still be in the dog park. There were two other people at the park with their dogs curled at their feet. They sat on two of the benches, I sat on the third bench with Boo-boo who promptly curled up at my feet. We sat there unmoving. Time passed, a lot of time. Then one person got up, hooked the leash onto the collar of his dog and slowly left the park. We remaining two and our dogs sat there, silently, in the dusk, until the other person finally got up and left with his dog. I waited until it was almost dark. Then, Boo-boo and I also left and went home. It all felt like an Edward Hopper painting as a slow-motion uTube video. Ennui at the dog park — life in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Naida is off to the California State Fair presiding over the booth featuring California authors with books to sell. The temperature is expected to hit 104 to 105 degrees in this part of the Great Valley. I remain home with the dog, pecking away at my computer and now and then listlessly reading various blogs on economics and dozing off when the words blur and their significance sounds in my mind more like the buzzing of mosquitos than packets of meaning.

Not so good a night though — crumpled part of the fender on the car trying to get into the garage after dinner, followed by scary nightmares that even frightened Naida. Perhaps, I am unraveling. The next day was not so good either. There are just some days like that. But, as the time grows shorter, I certainly can use fewer of them. Perhaps, those are the days to catch up on my sleep.

Anyway, HRM called me to drive him to the skate park. So at about 3:30 that afternoon, I took off for The Golden Hills in my car with the crumpled fender.

The boys were waiting alone at the house. Dick was at work and SWAC, who only within the past few weeks had criticized him for leaving HRM alone as a latch-key kid, was gone to rummage around at the mall. So, I picked him up and drove him and his friend Jake to the Citrus Heights Skateboard Park where some sort of competition had been planned. There they were to wait for Dick to pick them up and take them home.

During the ride, they excitedly told me about their adventures so far this summer. It seems this was the first vacation that had impressed upon them the possibilities and joys of life. They have a few years yet before being introduced to its sorrows.

They talked about their plans to buy two vans after they graduate high school and drive them around the world living off the proceeds of their professional scooter careers and a uTube video program they would produce about their adventures. I said, “It sounds like the Sixties all over again.” They asked, “What’s that?”

It is difficult to comprehend — no, more likely, accept — that to these children The Summer of Love is as far in the distant past as World War I was to those flower children gathered on old Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York on that warm summer afternoon in 1969 — as far distant as “Over There” is from “Bad Moon Rising.”

Imagine, I and those of my generation have lived a full one-tenth of the time that has passed since the Fourth Crusade and the final destruction of what little remained of classical Europe; one-tenth of the time since Genghis Kahn released his hoards to plunder and subdue almost one-quarter of the globe; one-tenth of the time that has passed since the reluctant King John signed the Magna Carter and Marco Polo returned from his journeys to the FarEast. Either we of my generation have lived long or human history has been far briefer than we imagined.

For the next few days, little or nothing happened that raised itself above the gray morass of a deteriorating memory. We ate lunch at a nice little outdoor restaurant where I had an east-African hamburger (chopped-meat mixed with yams and African spices), watched a Tarzan movie on TV where the actor playing the lost earl was so unmemorable that his name was not even listed in the credits and the chimp hammed up all the best parts and I spent a lot of time fingering the emerging lump in my neck and worrying.

One day, I walked the dog along the levee in the blistering heat and the silence. Eventually, we turned back into the cooler tree-shaded paths of the Enchanted Forrest until we came to the small swimming pool shaded by the tall pines and redwoods that I like so much. There we sat by the water in the stillness but for the barely perceptible splashing of the woman swimming laps and the whispers of the breeze through the trees. I waited there until dusk then walked back home. That night, I slept well.

It has been several days since I have written here — not because I have been busy with things to do or adventures and not because life has become so boring that my consciousness has shut down in response, but because just moping around seemed to be as energetic as I could manage.

On Monday, I drove Naida to the State Fairgrounds to close out the California Authors exhibit. It was fun. There were a few other authors there packing up their books while hoards of workmen trundle about taking down the various exhibits.

Later, HRM called and to take Jake and him to the mall. The day seemed to be looking up so I put a turkey feather I had found lying on the ground in the Enchanted Forrest into my hat band and left for the Golden Hills. I looked jauntily idiotic.
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Jauntily Idiotic

I arrived at the house ready to push on but they first had to watch “Sponge Bob” on the TV and finish eating a pizza for lunch. I waited and watched the idiotic animated sessile metazoan his moronic Asteroidea buddy and his dyspeptic sepiida co-worker cavort across the TV screen until the homo-sapiens sapiens adolescents had finished their pizza. We then piled into the car with the crumpled fender and left to pick up the third member of the Scooter Gang, Graham.

The Scooter Gang, HRH, Jake and Graham (Tyson, the fourth member, was busy playing X-box games) asked me to drive them to the mall in Roseville so that they could shop for backpacks for school and some other things that I tuned out in disinterest. At the mall, I sat at the coffee-shop and played on my computer while they shopped. After not too long they gave up, having purchased nothing but some sour tasting candy. They then asked me to drive them to someplace near Denio’s where Jake was to be paid by someone for a paintball gun he had sold in order to finance his purchase of a bicycle. It all seemed fishy to me. The street was in one of the more down-scale parts of Roseville which is saying a lot since up-scale Roseville does not seem to exist. They told me to wait while they went in search of the house of the person owing Jake the money. After a few minutes, they returned with Jake clutching a $100 bill. Do you think I was an unwitting accomplice in some sort of illegal juvenile caper?

A few days later, I met with my Oncologist. After telling him my symptoms and him feeling around my neck, voicing a few hmms and ahhs, and shoving a long tube through my nose and down my throat, I said, “So tell me doctor, am I a dead man walking or will you have to tear out my throat to save my life?” He seemed to be taken aback a bit by that and when it turned out that his office had misplaced the CAT scan I had taken in May upon which he made his previous diagnosis that I was in remission, he began to stutter, explaining that he does not think there is a problem, since everything looks ok inside my throat, but to be on the safe side I should have another CAT scan and biopsy “as soon as possible” to be sure. I then mentioned my numbness on the left side of my face and asked how that affected his diagnosis. He explained that there is a nerve which could be impacted by the so-called “slight swelling” on my neck causing such an effect. I suspect he was guessing.

The next night, I went to the sleep clinic he prescribed when I was still in remission. I do not know why he prescribed it. At the clinic, they wired me all up. I was placed in a room with a double bed that would not be out of place in a Motel 6 except that it lacked a television. They put something around my nose they said would pump air into my lungs but I had to keep my mouth closed or the air would escape and they would have to replace the nose thing with a mask that covered my nose and mouth. Every so often during the night the technician would come into the room and jiggle the wires and things that they had attached to me. I did not sleep well.

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Pookie Wired.

Two days later I had a CT scan followed by a surprisingly enjoyable dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Roseville. Next week comes the biopsy. I now realize getting old is not so different than being a soldier in war or an explorer in a dark jungle somewhere, every step may be your last. It’s all very exciting if you are one of those who finds shitting in one’s pants an adventure. Some people find all this terror something to approach with grim heroism, others prefer screaming all the way down. I am beginning to get bored and more than a little bit annoyed.

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spinoza-final

Driven indoors by the rains and tired of bad movies and worse novels, I decided to curl up with a little Spinoza.

Spinoza’s first name is either Bento as his Portuguese family named him or Baruch as the Dutch Jewish community referred to him or Benedictus as Christians called him. He lived in the mid-Seventeenth Century at the start of the Enlightenment. Many consider him along with Bacon, Descartes and Locke one of its founders.

To me at least, I think Spinoza and Francis of Assisi, are two of the few Saints produced in the 1200 years of western historical tradition (a small list that includes Groucho Marx, Hildegard of Bingen and Maria Callas). Although they may appear to many to be polar opposites, one rational the other transcendental; one believed in avoiding pain; and the other welcomed it; one thought this life is all one has to live and the other welcomed an afterlife, they have many similarities.

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They both believed God and Nature were one and that to live a moral life we should behave frugally, and treat generously ourselves, humanity and nature. They also believed acceptance of ritual whether religious or social, although they may be necessary for one to live comfortably in one’s culture, are often independent of and at times inimical to a moral, kind and generous life. Spinoza refused to accept the rituals of his Jewish culture were synonymous with rational thought and morality and so willingly suffered excommunication (cherem) from the society he loved. Francis, who rejected the materialism of his society as inconsistent with his ecstatic morality, also separated himself from those he loved.

If Francis is the patron saint of the environment, Spinoza most certainly could be considered the patron saint of science.

Spinoza Factoids: On the Chair’s table in the Dutch Parliament, Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus is one of three books, thought to be most representative of the beliefs and ethics of the Dutch people; the other two are the Bible and the Quran.

In the early Star Trek episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the antagonist, Gary Mitchell is seen reading Spinoza and the dialogue implies that Captain Kirk also may have read him as part of his studies at Star-fleet Academy (which may be the reason why to me Kirk always appeared a bit constipated. On the other hand I am sure Captain Picard read Spinoza and he was better off for it.)
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