Friday, October 31, 2008

Call me if you need me

Well, I had a tough couple of days in a row lately, so I haven't written because the words were too dark.

I took the day off from work yesterday and, with Valery's love and guidance, was restored to that fragile state of being I've grown accustomed to of late. It so resembles me but which is not me but an act, played daily for the benefit of those in the audience. Today, I write again on the bus, on my way to work, present and alive, but still a little raw.

One reason for the nosedive into depression was physical; as I recovered yesterday, I could feel my body replenishing a supply of some chemical that had somehow become depleted in the course of two days of inexorable toxic thoughts. It's not good science, I know, but I believe there is a connection between thoughts and the brain chemistry that allows for and accompanies them. So I poisoned myself, culminating in a migraine and a day off.

During that time of recovery, I thought often of Lynda, and this morning when I awoke I realized what had happened; how the absence of her presence as a 'circuit breaker' for the overwhelming wave of negative emotion building in me is more noticeable only now, when the shade of grief has lifted just enough to realize and really feel that absence acutely.

She used to tell me at the close of every conversation, "Call me if you need me." Of course I thought that as she got older, this sentence ought have been "I'll call you if I need you." And it did come to that, but never did I lose the sense that I could call her when I needed her, until I actually lost her.

Now I close my conversations with Maddie with the same line. I hope that I can be for her what Lynda was to me for so many years; what Valery is to me today, strength and hope personified.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Quantum Morphometrics

Although I am out of my league here, I nonetheless feel like I am obliged to write out these thoughts about physics, specifically the field that I call quantum morphometrics.

The central question is this:  what is the shape of a quantum?  Does it matter?  How does shape affect matter and how does the shape of matter affect the dark matter which envelops it?

I will posit here at the outset that the shape of dark matter is the inverse of the matter it envelops, and the relationship between the two fields is dependent on the shared shape interaction.  

In other words, the effect of dark matter on the shape of most ordinary things--that is, things that are on the order of size that we can see and touch is negligible, but at the nano level, where the distance between particles of matter is the same or smaller than the particles themselves, the effect of the matter/dark matter interaction is sufficient to render pre-biotic matter into biotic matter.

This is not all purely conjecture.  I have been researching the subject, and while I've yet found no papers addressing the exact topic, I have found numerous studies of the phenomena of matter at the nano level.  

One of these, written by  
chemists at Washington University in St. Louis, Yu and Buhro in 2003, looks at the physical distance between nano particles--in this case, nanowires that are from 3 to 6 nanos wide whose physical properties are determined by the size of the wires and their proximity to one another.

http://www.physlink.com/News/101303QuantumWires.cfm

This study sought to determine if there was such a relationship and they found that there was.  It is in the measurement of the very small that the physical evidence for the relationship will be found; it is unlikely, though, that this will be more than the evidence of the evidence, the path itself is changing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

G Phone

I am going to get my G phone today. This is the Google phone, and I am thrilled to get it because I am the ultimate Google fanboi, and that is for a whole host of reasons that I won't detail here. I have been looking forward to getting this new toy with an enthusiasm that far outstrips the reasonable potential of the device to be life changing, so I ask myself, why? I think that my acquisitive desire for high tech toys is linked to my stress coping mechanisms. It's fair to say that it may be second only to writing among those methods I have used to deal with those parts of life that would otherwise paralyze me. So, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

Looking back, I have other examples of this behavior to serve as evidence of this observation, beginning with the first model I bought with my own money, but the most egregious of these consumerist reponses to a significant event in my life came after the death of my father Bill in 1981. Shortly after getting the news from my mother on the phone at the receptionist's desk at the American College, I stumbled out into bright February sun on the Avenue Bosquet and threw up. I took the bus home, but didn't go home. Instead, I got off at Montparnasse and went into FNAC, which was the place that wealthy Parisians went to buy the latest, and priciest, books, music, and electronic gadgets. At this time, the music was being sold as records and cassettes; cd's were still a thing of the future, and books were still something people liked to buy instead of download. Even vcrs were so new they hadn't decided between the Sony beta-max or the Panasonic VHS. So, the only real hot consumer electronic gadget available was the Walkman.

I had for several months been envious of those affluent city dwellers who could afford the luxury of shutting out the rest of the world in a self-contained 'pod' while on the bus or street. The social implications were clear enough, but I had no trouble with the idea of using the device as a way to insulate oneself from the surrounding world. I could easily overlook the fact that it seemed rude to listen to music while others around had to be content with the usual noises of man and machine because, quite honestly, I wanted one so much it just didn't matter.

It also didn't matter that I have never been a frequent listener of music. This topic got me into a bit of trouble with my sister-in-law, who is a professional musician. When I admitted to her that I do not often listen to music because I find it slightly disturbing, she was understandably hurt by the implication, though it was merely my intent to express how powerful the effect of music is on me, and how I resist allowing anything with such power to interfere with my consciousness. This doesn't mean that I dislike music, merely that I am not the kind of person who listens to it often, and when I do, I like to pay attention to it, not use it as a sound track to my life, or worse, as background noise. I'd like to think of it as having respect for the music, but it's also true that I am perhaps too sensitive to the emotion it carries and choose to remain aloof; distant from the bubbling core.

No, what mattered to me in that time of crisis was some sort of consumerist cosmetic balm, a patch for the pain that I could buy and own carry and lose myself in. Of course, no such device actually exists, but that day, I decided to give a Panasonic cassette player/FM radio a chance to counter the grief I was forced to feel. The cost was no object, though it should have been, for I had nothing but my rent and food money with which to play, and I did. I don't recall the sum, but I do know that it left me with only enough for but two cassette tapes.  

One was EmmyLou Harris, who I thought would remind me of home, Austin, and the other was Gerry Rafferty, whose album City to City contains some of the best songs of my late youth. As it turns out, I hardly listened to EmmmyLou, because I never listened to her before, so it reminded me not at all of Austin, but I still listen to Rafferty today. It reminds me, of course, of that poignant moment in my life, but isn't necessarily a reminder to refrain from indulging in consumerism when I am distressed, but in fact it is just the opposite. Today I follow the same pattern, using spending as a response to anxiety, but at least the money is my own.

Friday, October 24, 2008

W

Valery and I went to see 'W' at the Alamo Draft House yesterday, and it was better than I expected.

That's faint if not damning praise without some explanation, so I must begin by observing that this is the first movie I've been to see in quite some time. I admit I'm not quite sure why this is. Certainly there are, and have been, plenty of movies that are more exciting visually and dramatic this biopic of W. Certainly, after eight years of political torture and with only a few more bruising weeks before Obama's shocking defeat, I should be tired of all this shit.

Why go in for more? Why not just get another root canal?

After all, I really need the root canal.

The fact is, I guess, that I really want to understand how we got here. Since I obviously didn't vote for him, I did not know his story well enough to characterize him as something other than stupid, evil or both. Giving Bush the benefit of the doubt, I've always guessed that it was Cheney that deserved the tag, 'evil'. 

Stone really reinforced that notion with his portrayal of 'Vice' as W calls him, apparently, and in the service of history, Richard Dreyfuss really nails the role. So does Josh Brolin, who so well imitated the President's walk and talk in situations other than his so-well-known Presidential swagger, that I felt, for the first time, definitely, a certain degree of compassion for him.

There, then, is the tribute to Stone and the writers, for if I can register some sympathetic resonance with George W. Bush, then the film has overcome some serious predjudices and obstacles to understanding the times in which we live. So, even though I am certain that the legacy of George W. Bush will be as the worst president this country has ever had, including the most corrupt and ignorant among that elite group, thanks to Stone, I now have at least a grain of sympathy for him. Go figure.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Calling Home

Madelaine called again last night to let me know that she got my letter.

I'm delighted that she made the effort to call, especially because I know that I'm not likely to get a letter from her anytime soon. Alas, she does not have the desire to write the way I do, but then I recall that I wrote very few letters to my parents while in college, or at any time, for that matter, prior to Pierre's death, when I began to experience the hypergraphia that has increased my output exponentially.

Madelaine is part of a new generation, obviously, so when it comes to communication my expectations are different than were those of my parents when I moved away. Now, I have no concern that she will not stay in touch, nor that she will avoid telling me when things aren't going so well, but you never know. My heart always leaps, therefore, when I see her name on my phone's caller-id in the early evening. Yesterday was no exception.

I should know by now, though, that Maddie doesn't call when she gets a hangnail (or a cut or a burn) or even when she's had a bad day, though she would if it were bad enough, but she is mature enough not to whine and complain about the small things and sensitive enough to call with good news and a positive attitude to affirm my faith in her.

Her report yesterday was particularly positive. She's been meeting weekly with the Dean of Academics, Chef Wendy, to monitor her progress and help her stay on track for graduation next spring. Wendy told Maddie that she is impressed with her work ethic--she comes to class an hour early, at 6am, stays in the classroom for an hour and a half after class then goes to the library to read and study for another hour or two before she heads home. That makes for an eight, and sometimes ten-hour day.

Her classroom Chef, Bruce, has also been at these weekly meetings and he and Wendy agreed this week that her improvement has been remarkable and that her prospects for successfully completing the pastry program are now very good!

Practically speaking, Maddie is approaching the 'safe zone' as they call it at the WCI. This means she no longer in danger of failing, but more importantly, it's a sign that she has gotten past her fear of the unknown and she's headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. I was productive and creative, using my time for recreation as well as work; writing as well as golf. I enjoy these kinds of days the most.

I got up at 6 am which is quite early, even for me. I was the taxi service, so I was out the door at 6:20 to pick up Blake, who lives north, then we headed south to get Tom, who lives, not coincidentally, near the Riverside golf course. We had the first tee time of the day, at 7:30, and it was just barely light enough to see the balls we hit into the early morning mist.

I enjoy playing golf with Tom because he is so relaxed and calm, even when he's obviously upset with the results of his effort. Of course, he has his frustration with the game; we all do; it's why we play, but he doesn't allow it to poison his experience. Rather, I should say that I do not really know how he feels, but I do know what I feel when playing with him, and that is a sense of calm, very zen-like openness to the moment.

Would that I had that same inner-calm, even though it doesn't seem to favor low scores in golf, for it is the very reason I play the game. Although I was never serious about keeping score because I have never been good enough for it to really matter and I've always taken extra shots to get a feel for the right way to approach various situations, after Pierre's death, the relevance of the activity has been both questioned and affirmed. Now I know that it just doesn't matter, and I know that it really does.

Blake has a different attitude toward the sport and the game. He too has a relaxed attitude but for him, the game is more serious affair than it is for Tom or me. Blake is younger than us by almost thirty years, so he has some realistic hope of not only improving his game, but actually competing with other serious golfers. Now this hope is necessarily out of reach for both Tom and myself, as we cannot be called 'serious' or even 'golfers' for that matter. It is, I suspect, of some slight frustration to Blake that we do not take our stances, our swings, or even our scores into consideration when deciding if we are enjoying ourselves.

I know that Blake would like to change this dynamic if he could, for he is forever focused on the mechanics of the game, exhorting us to hold our wrists or to keep our left arms straight, our heads down and a whole host of similar 'swing thoughts' to which we always listen patiently but do not absorb because we can barely hit the ball at all, let alone hit it with any sort of certainty or, heaven forbid, accuracy. It helps, him, I think, to know that he is being a positive influence; a kind of coach that we would never seek out but whom we secretly need.

I cannot speak for Tom, but I do not have a secret need to be coached. I do, however, enjoy Blake's enthusiasm and energy. I have no doubt but that without his relentless effort to get me back out on the golf course after Pierre's death, I likely would not have played again. That would have been a shame, since there is nothing at which I am so bad as golf that I love so much as golf. Further, although my attitude toward the 'micro' aspect of the game on which Blake seems to focus is less than adequate to the task of improving my score, Blake and Tom and I all share the 'macro' view, which is that any time spent on the course is good, in that it is similar to an exercise in 'zen' meditation and is thus healthy for the mind and body.

It's a peculiar conclusion, I guess, because the sport is associated with so much more than this sort of pseudo-philosophy. Yet, I would bet that the notion that golf is like meditation is a common thought for many golfers. With each swing, we are really seeking to release ourselves from the requites of physics and play (hopefully:)with gravity. When I play golf, time and space and body are integrated in a way that is unique. I am lost to the world for four short hours. That's why it was good day.

Oh, and for the first time ever--which is hard to believe considering how many rounds of golf he's played in the past two years--Blake 'holed out' a shot from the fairway on a par five for an eagle! Talk about your zen!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Third Course: Plated Desserts

Well, this is the day that Madelaine begins her third course at the Western Culinary Institute, 'Plated Desserts'. I've no firm idea of what this entails, other than the fact that a plate will somehow be involved. Further fueling the mystery is the fact that, despite my most fervent entreaties, it looks doubtful that I'll find out what a plated dessert is from an example sent to me in the mail. Thus, I'll have to rely on Maddie's word as to what she's making and why.

I have no trouble with this state of affairs, mostly because Maddie has already proved that she is capable of making her way through the process without needing close oversight from me, May I say simply, thanks goodness for that, for her sake as well as mine. Amazingly, without my oversight, she's now finished both beginning pastry and bread courses. Ok, so it's not really amazing that she did so with out my help because the credit is hers and hers alone. Though her start was a bit rocky, she's made steady improvement over the course of the past sixteen weeks, and is now on pace to graduate in April of next year.

As a reward for this achievement, I'll be traveling to Portland just after Thanksgiving, to spend some time with her. Actually, it's not fair to call it an achievement yet. Maddie would agree with this, for I am too quick to puff up with pride. Nonetheless, I have no cause to shrink from from the feeling, for, though it is perhaps premature praise for my daughter is well deserved indeed.

Why? Well, to say that Maddie has come a long way already is a considerable understatement, since most folks do not know just how much of a challenge the task of completing high school actually was for her. Given the nature of secondary schooling these days, Madelaine's recent keen observation that she has learned more in the last four months in Portland than she learned in four years of high school is not unexpected, since the superficiality of the experience is obvious to all but those who actually enjoyed their high school years.

However, most people do not have the added burden of overcoming dyslexia in addition to questioning the relevancy of their 'studies', so for Madelaine, just getting through high school was a significant accomplishment. Honestly, the diploma 'earned' from Crockett, was simply a reward for endurance, nothing at all like the experience she is getting from Culinary School and by living on her own.

It is really quite true to say that Madelaine is learning more than a trade.

She is learning how to live, and doing quite well at it, thank you very much.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Appetite

I tasted.

Yesterday,
the sulphur in an egg.

Today,
the life-laden brine bearing an oyster.

I am a predator.

I love the taste of death.

No lament diminishes
the pleasure of
consuming Life itself.

06.20.08

Ink

Take these words to
Blot out the sun.
Steal the last breath from old men;
The first lust from the loins of youth.

Let this black ink
Leak from my heart;
Stain every page with darkness.

In through my nostrils
Out through my eyes
Leaving a void where solid had been.

When in your heart
Weeds will not grow
In soil salty so
Nor fall shadows
For fear of being lost forever,
You will know.

09.01.08

A Song For My Coat

Notes to myself,
Words passed through time.

Words full of meaning,
vain, absent meter and rime.

Words for the lector
Songs for the throat
Notes to myself
Stick with a coat.

Plays with no ending
Doors left ajar.
I can see what needs rendering
I can't get that far.

What's missing is tragic
Though not want for loss
I've no faith in Magic
Nor in the Cross.

The unknown I'm seeking
Is not in the past.
I've hope for the future;
The Ocean is vast.

03.20.08

Chromosome

Curved
Callous
Chromosome.

Birthed from hubris
Heartbreak
This alone
I have reaped in measure
What was sown.

03.28.08

Blade

Where is the blade
That cuts through Time?

Who makes the steel
With an edge so designed

For the hand of a surgeon
With a skill so refined

It can cut
Without feeling
These thoughts from my mind?

04.02.08

No More Essays

I have come to the conclusion that for me, limited as I am by both the quantity and quality of reading I have done over the years, my recent pursuit of thoughts about physics is essentially a philosophical endeavor.

Now, even though I have such a limited knowledge of science and math in general, I can safely state, in numerical terms, that my expectations for any sort of contribution to the field of theoretical (or for that matter, any variety of) physics would be very small, yet still non-zero.

Why? Why can't I just give up? What is it that fascinates me about the incredibly difficult concepts that seem to be embodied in that particular field? I have struggled, lately, to decide how I can best approach this feeling. It's a need of mine, really, to think about the most intensely difficult and challenging concepts available to me.

Obviously, one of the activities I can engage in to satisfy this urge is to read. More. Another strategy would be to seek the company of others who share this urge to think about incredibly complex subjects. Certainly thoughts of this type and on this scale are widespread among us; yet we rarely speak of them because we know not where they are going. And who can blame us?

The fact is, it's just plain boring to talk about big ideas with someone like me, can't even decide if space is real, let alone make a good set of picks in the weekly football pool. I see people's eyes glaze over and I can't blame them. So it's natural, I guess that these thoughts remained undiscussed. I know why. Who cares?

Well, I do. Furthermore, as a writer, my desire is do more than generate them; I wish to capture these thoughts, make something of them. Poetry perhaps? I don't know what I will do with them, but I do know that they'll come out and I've got to make use of the words.

Endless conversations over coffee and cigarettes do not for a coherent or memorable thought make. Though conversation is perhaps the ground in which these thoughts germinate, they take root in the linearity of words, and at the mercy of the writer.

Thus my goal as a writer will be to open a new line of inquiry for myself; open to the possible and restrained only by the impossible, which is to say, if readers here recall, not at all.

Practically speaking, this means, I believe, that it is time to split up this journal. For some reason, writing in the blog and seeing my words 'published' gives me a sense of satisfaction on which I can build to write again, so the journal has served this function better than I could have hoped.

However, for too long now I have mixed together personal news and family goings-on with these less interesting and more tedious introspective essays. I will continue to write these for my own sake, but by moving them to another journal, I can explore these ideas without cluttering up these pages.

Friday, October 17, 2008

RNA Computers

Now we are on the right path. Today I read on the net about how researchers are finally exploring my idea of using organic forms as the model for 'computers'.

Of course, I didn't think of this, though I wish I had. While on the surface it appears that it is simply obvious enough to occur to a dilettante, it's also evidence of the sort of common sense logic that underlies the thought. That is, making use of the structures given to us in natural forms as models for the processing and utilization of energy and information on a very small scale makes sense.

Using RNA as a physical model for a device that could process information like a 'computer' is quite logical. It seems ideally suited to the development of small-scale but extremely efficient and thus 'powerful' processors . The creation of these devices is hindered only by the pace of the technology needed to manipulate the world of the very very small, and the way things are going, I may even get to see this in my lifetime.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who Needs Math?

These days I find myself wondering how I got to be 52 and can't do the easiest of math problems (or even, it seems recall a number written on page for more than a minute), but it isn't really a mystery, given my background. It is, however, nothing to be proud of and something I'd really like to change about myself.

My 'disability' is not something I cannot overcome, but it does have very deep roots. From the first through the sixth grades of my primary schooling, I attended the St. John's Episcopal Day School in Abilene. Although my parents were ostensibly Jewish, they were committed to the idea that a good education was more important than religious practice, so I drew the natural conclusion that both of the ideologies to which I was being exposed, though fascinating for a young mind inclined toward poetry and philosophy rather than math and science were nonetheless somehow suspect.

I could and did ponder the philosophical questions raised by the reading of the Parables in Wednesday morning chapel and I could and did consider similar questions on Friday evenings in the synagogue when hearing readings from the Torah about the power of Moses's ability to reason with the King of Egypt, but in the classroom on Monday morning, I really could not see why a+b should =c, always and forever. Despite knowing the logic of the equation is sound, I still cannot 'see' it in the same way that I can 'see' meaning in words.

I can recall the scores on my first 'achievement' test, which the schoolm adminstered to all pupils in all grades once a year because my parents, particularly Lynda, made a very big deal of it, and once the first results were in, they served as the measures of my intellect as well as my personality for them and me.

So, scoring a 99 on the verbal portion of the test was natural enough; expected of an articulate child growing up in a bookstore. The 33 that I scored on the math portion of the test, however, evoked a different response from my parents, more nuanced and less forgiving than the pride they showed for my verbal 'success'.

Nuanced it was because, while they expected me to to do better than that on subsequent exams, and, to that end, my parents alternately focused on pushing me to do better in math by giving me books (Trachtenberg), and making me feel resigned to the inevitability of being one of those people who are just no good at arithmetic.

Now, from the former response, I got the idea that math could be both taught and learned, but the latter response resonated more with me, and I simply became convinced that I just couldn't do it. Ever. Now, to overcome a literal lifetime of self-fulfilling agonies endured in math classes (ending, not so mercifully with a C- Algebra II), I realize that I have to reform my negative response to mathematics if I am ever to advance my knowledge and understanding of physics.

I can, and do read about physics in popular books, and from this I derive great pleasure from the process of learning the basics, but of course I am immediately swamped by even the most elementary math, and have little hope that I will ever master enough of it to get to chapter two with a coherent understanding of the underlying mathematical principles.

So, whether I have come to this point because I was genetically predisposed to forever flunking math, or because I simply made of this defect a self-fulfilling handicap, I do not have, at this point in my life, the necessary tools or even the underlying self-confidence I need to advance very far. This does not deter me, however, in my pursuit of exceedingly challenging and difficult thoughts; it has me thinking that I perhaps should begin to explore philosophy. This with the hope that through words, however more difficult it may make the task of understanding, I may at least be able to approach the massive questions that have so long dominated my thoughts.

At long last I am able to answer a close friend's question about the "Top Five Things I Think About" by saying that although I do not yet know what the other two might be, I am always thinking about 1) the Future, 2) the Past, and, more infrequently because of the challenge it poses to my brain, 3) the Present.

So, big questions though these may indeed be, given my natural inclination toward intellectual arrogance and the easy self-aggrandizement of my abilities, I still have the belief that I can and will contribute to the progression of human knowledge, if not in physics, then in thought itself.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No More Autographs

In the way that big banks follow one another when hiking and lowering interest rates on the money they lend one another, celebrities often play follow-the-leader in making announcements and I, dear reader, am no different.

So, following the lead of Ringo Starr, I will no longer sign objects sent to me by fans, nor will I sign things like hats, shirts, or underwear when confronted with them in public.

Now, to be fair to those who camp outside my house and follow me everywhere, I will consider continuing signing body parts, but can no longer sign those sent to me by fans. Also in the interest of fairness, I will, in fact continue to read the letters of affection that you shower me with daily, as well as to slog through the numerous comments you leave on every post here on this blog, but like my man Ringo, I too no longer have the time nor, alas, even the inclination to indulge in my heretofore routine and lengthy personal responses; this despite knowing how dependant you have become on them. Sorry.

The Truth of the matter is, we only have so much time here on this Earth, and the amount of money we celebs get from satisfying the petty demands of you fans is just not worth the time spent doing it. Keep in mind that I have greater ambitions than simply being the highly-sought-after celebrity that I am at present, and I need my space to do it, man.

I mean honestly, how is a guy supposed to write the greatest epic poem of the Twentieth century when he's gotta stop and sign autographs for heaven's sake?

Hello? With the Reaper already at the door, I am writing as fast as I can, so don't expect me to waste my words on anything so trivial as a t-shirt or as time consuming as my signature.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Waiter Index

So, when looking for 'real world' examples of how the 'credit crisis' is affecting 'real people' NPR turned to a mailwoman this morning who, naturally enough, knows a lot about her 'clients' and their financial status simply by the color of the envelopes and the magazine subscriptions that they receive.

This got me to thinking about another economic index, one that is no more scientific, but in many ways, as sophisticated. I do, in fact, think that 'apocryphal' indicators like these have considerable value when trying to make sense of something as complicated as political theory and economic practice, since there is a 'reality' factor missing from stock derivative equations that is required for actual understanding of the marketplace. Greenspan understood this; Bernanke does not.

Of course my indicator is the 'Waiter Index' (WI) and the scale is anything but numeric. As such, it's best illustrated with a restaurant story.

Last Saturday night, we had a group of, shall we say, 'well off' people sitting a one of the prime tables in the restaurant. Oh hell, I'll just say it, they were some fat (literally) cats from Dallas or Houston who were in town for the game and were staying at their second (or third) home in Lakeway. These guys are the ones whose asses are in the fire right now, and the way their semi-blocked hearts are doubtless pounding these days, I am sure they'd have rather been at home drinking beer and eating burgers than dropping a few more dimes at H______.

Nonetheless, they found themselves at table 14 on a Saturday night, facing the ever-difficult dilemma for the rich these days: what wine to choose.

"He's only got a couple of things here that are not on Main street", said fat cat number one to fat cat number two as he passed him the wine list. Standing right beside him, I listened despite being ignored.

"Well," I offered helpfully, introducing myself to the table this time, since he hadn't bothered to look up and/or even acknowledge my presence so far. "I have a lot of wines that are not very well known but I can assure you, they are quite good." I said.

"The Neal Cabernet, for example, isn't a 'Main Street' wine, but I think you'll be impressed with it." I was making eye contact with a woman across the table when the host--I'm being generous--finally looked up at me and warned, with a raised eyebrow and his most indignant-with-the-help posture, "Don't be condescending, now. Would you bet your tip on it?"

First of all, I found it telling that he considered my comment to be condescending, as he clearly intended to corner the market on that commodity all evening, and obviously would brook no insubordination from a servant. Whether or not he realized that his guests could see the irony of his position was immaterial, for this lord of the manor, the important part of the exchange from his perspective is to show that he know how to keep these people in their place. It's a common phenomenon, known quite well to servants in every walk, and it just comes with the territory. We keep our cool and our jobs.

Telling too, was his comment about the tip, since he also clearly regarded his perception of the quality of my service as the determining factor for his largesse.

This too is typical of rich people who have never been taught how to properly interact with servants, especially waiters. They still think, as do most people, to be honest, that they have the right to determine how much I will will make based on how well they perceive my service to have been.

Now, it's doubtful that my host would have allowed his 'clients' (or whatever he may call them) to decide how much they would pay him for his services (and everyone services someone, do not forget) based solely on their perceptions of his effectiveness, or he wouldn't even have been at the table at H______ on a Saturday night.

The host eventually chose a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, a wine right off Main Street. This is likely due to the fact that it cost ten dollars less than the wine I'd recommended, but also I think, more fundamentally, because he was trying his best to associate himself with the more common wine. How ridiculous is that? A safe choice in these uncertain times. Decisions like these are at the heart of the financial crisis. Is it any wonder that this thing is melting down?

Individuals with no more heart and or common sense than the pompous fool at my table are trying to save their sorry asses by saving ten dollars on a bottle of wine and stiffing the waiter to boot.

The WI shows Obama leading by the narrowest of margins.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Not Reading the OED

Now I'll admit that reading the Oxford English Dictionary is not something I have on my agenda in the near or even distant future. Nor do I have plans to read the Abridged New American Dictionary or even parts of Roget's Thesaurus this weekend, but I cannot claim to be entirely unsympathetic to Ammon Shea, for I too, share a peculiar fascination with and even, yes, love for words.

I really do love a good word. I really love the fact that each word exists because it does something that no other word can. Even though many words may indeed serve multiple purposes, there is no doubt that each word is crafted to serve meaning itself, and our desire to transfer it from and to one another across time and space. I particularly love words that have layers of meaning or can be used many ways, but that doesn't deter my affection for longer and less used expressions. I love it all.

And yet, I am not a reader. It's not the reading of words that I love so much, but the writing of them. A friend recently told me that they had not time to read all the memoirs of all the people who are writing blogs these days, and I certainly concur. I write, but I do not read. Oh certainly, I read the news, and the news of the Weired most of all, but that doesn't count. I've been fortunately obliged to revisit some classic American poetry of late, but that doesn't mean I've been reading Frost, or Stevens or Eliot so much as I've stumbled on them in my path. Reading ragged letters in the streetlight doesn't make me exactly literate.

But I am, of course, also arrogant enough to believe that I really haven't time for both reading and writing. Simply knowing that I should read more doesn't make it so, nor is it any more likely as I grow older. I'm not pleased with this sort of calcification, and know I have to do something to correct it, sooner rather than later.

However, as a UT employee, I can take advantage of program here called the Staff Educational Benefit. This program allows all UT staff members to take one class per semester free of charge. So, to that end, I've decided that this spring, I will take a literature class that will again force me to read, if not freely, at least for my own benefit. Of course, I could also take a philosophy class or even a physics class. So, the question remains, what to read?

What say you, readers of this journal?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Micro or Macro?

As the stock market continues to melt down, and the affairs of the 'middle class' seem to be thrown into disarray, I have begun to wonder about what strategy for financial survival is best, and why.

Since I do not feel personally threatened by the economic troubles of people wealthier and less risk-averse than I am and have been, I cannot say whether or not a change in strategy would have averted the 'crisis' that these people are experiencing, because, fundamentally, it's all a gamble, a big bet, and even knowing that the odds were longer at the time that they 'bought in' to this mess, I don't think they would have bet less or less often. These 'fools' would simply have told themselves exactly what they did: "It looks good to me. It'll be alright."

That's the micro-view.

The macro view, despite having the advantage during bad times like these, doesn't guarantee financial 'success' or 'security' or anything other than the relative safety of the absence of excessive risk. In other words, playing it safe may look good when everyone is losing their shirt, but how often does that happen and for how long? Who really is the 'fool'?

Lynda lived through the Great Depression and, of course, never let me forget it. In a very real way, she had no choice. The experience of living in a world when no one, not even the best and brightest or hardest working had any money convinced her that wealth was but an illusion; groceries mattered more. And so, though a glass darkly, I have for my whole life looked skeptically at wealth and the pursuit of it.

That sounds facile, now, because it also sounds like an excuse for financial failure, or at the least, a failure to cash in on the economic boom of the Clinton years. But it is the truth. I have never had the stomach for much risk, especially after I had a family to support. Sure, I have wasted a lot of money, no doubt, and it might be easier to acknowledge this fact if I had in fact made risky investments that failed, but in fact I simply frittered the hard-earned money away. This is a regret, to be sure, but not a serious one, since we always had food on the table; that grocery index' never found us wanting.

As an example of this practice, we never moved from the little cracker-box we call home for the very reasons I named above. In spite of a rising income, especially in the last seven or eight years, we never felt comfortable with the idea of selling our house and 'trading up' for a larger, more expensive house. In fact, we often drove by new neighborhoods where houses that cost two and three times what ours did stood cheek to jowl on tree-less streets and wondered, "Who is buying these houses? What do they do for a living and how can they afford it?"

Well, we're about to find out. Ironically, it seems likely that the risk we never took may actually pay off in the long run. But was it worth it? Goodness knows, Valery has endured a life harder and a house smaller than she deserved. Who knows, maybe we'll be the ones buying when all the 'For Sale' signs go up.

Not likely, though, as I continue to hold to the macro view.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pierre's Birthday

From P's Tree
Well, today was indeed a poignant anniversary. The sky was full of clouds and it threatened to rain for the first time in over two months, but it was only a feint, and even had it poured, it would not have deterred us from our task of the day.

Today we buried Pierre, on what would have been his twenty-first birthday. I know, it's odd, backwards, even, being buried not on one's death day, but on the anniversary of one's birth. It is, however, an appropriately symbolic event to honor Pierre, who would have, at the very least, appreciated the irony. He'd also have loved the tree that we planted for him; a tall thin newly emerging Pecan. It has a slight bend in the middle and a twist overall as it reaches up for the open sky.

My hands and back hurt from the labor of the day. We not only planted the tree, but also built a low retaining wall around it in the back yard, defining the space and leveling the yard from the back of the house out. We will plant a garden around the tree and set up a flagstone patio below the wall to place the hammock where Valery can enjoy a view of the greenbelt with the shade of Pierre's tree overhead.

The pain of hard labor is good for me, however. It blocks from my mind the pain of my heart, though on such a day I have no reason to hold back my emotions and did not. We had a couple of good cries, if you can call them that, for the tears come not in torrents or waves, but in pulses of thick feelings, like molten magma forcing its way through the hardened crust. The will of the earth is strong, but the force of liquid rock is stronger. The annealing power of pain is repeated, pounded and folded into the blade of my heart. Each pass through the fire readies me for a new shape, but nothing can prepare me for hurt of the hammer as it strikes again and again.

Even knowing that I will emerge stronger from the experience has no palliative power; little wonder it is, knowing as I do that we all succumb to the transformative force of death. For most of us, death comes but a little at a time. Pierre, in his way, simply took his entire dose at once. Never one to turn from the truth, he has gone to meet it, while I will wait a while longer if I can.

To say that miss him is to understate that truth, so in keeping with my philosophy of taking only what I need and can digest, for now, I will miss him only as much as I can today, and leave the rest for tomorrow.

Pierre, my beautiful and lost child, I love you.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Death is No Excuse

The wages of poetry may be low, but apparently even for the famous, death is no excuse for not paying your bills.

Bad news for poets in these troubling times.

Dreamer

Listening to an interview with Philip Glass this morning on the radio, I heard his voice for the first time. It was very much like my own, oddly, and very reassuring in the nuances of his expressions, but that shouldn't be all that surprising, since that is one of the hallmarks of his music.

I came to the interview late, as Glass was talking about Einstein, one of the inspirations for his work. Specifically, he was talking about a piece called Einstein on the Beach, of which they played a brief clip. I am no fan of Glass; I don't dislike his work, but simply I find it to be too often too repetitive.

This is, of course, a natural and doubtless common reaction to Glass' art because it is also another of the hallmarks of his style. He even wryly referred to this salient trait when asked by the interviewer which bit of Beach would be most appropriate to play, noting that it almost didn't matter, given the length and repetitive style of the piece, which is essentially numbers set to music being sung by a large choir. I hadn't heard it before and was delighted to discover that it was powerful and compelling, though I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised since this was his intent.

But it wasn't the music that intrigued me so. It was his description of the muse for the piece, a man that he described as both a dreamer and a poet; a rockstar before there was such a thing. In an instant, Glass' music and words made clear to me what I have known instinctively all along.

E=mc2 is a poem.

This simple equation has often been described as beautiful by physicists, for good reason, but until today I had not made the connection that Glass found obvious enough to write a piece of music about. Always late to the party, I nonetheless enjoy myself on arrival. It is the extreme simplicity of the equation that resembles poetry is it's most delightful form. Stripped of unnecessary words, meaning in poetry is made more resonant, and in this case, the removal of extraneous meaning is complete. With no more than five characters, Einstein dreamed an entire world view.

No poet can hope do do more.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Inventory

I have never been good with numbers, so it is ironic that one of my key tasks at Hudson's is the monthly inventory. It comes with the territory, of couse. I buy the wine for the restaurant so I have to count it all. It might seem to be disincentive for having an extensive wine list, but the nature of the substance itself precludes that. Every time I discover a new vineyard, variety or blend, I give no thought to the counting this will later require. The list and monthly task simply get longer.

As I thought ahead to the job I have to do this afternoon, I thought back to the first time I took inventory, and it wasn't at Hudson's. It was years ago, with my father Bill in the bookstore that he and my mother had purchased in Abilene, Texas, the year after I was born.

Growing up in a bookstore was more than interesting for a child of my nature. It was formative in a wonderful way. I must have inherited my love for books from my parents, a love I still have today. Considering that I have never willing discarded a book I've owned, this habit is more of a function (or disfunction) of my quirky personality and tendency toward collecting things than it is a love for reading, but at least I have never had to count them all.

Math does not come naturally to me, but inventory thankfully involves only the simplest of math, and I am the complete master of stroke counting, so it isn't as onerous as I make it out to be, merely time consuming. Of course, it would be considerably less time consuming if there were two of us working on the task, one counting and the other recording and adding it up, which is the way that Bill and I worked together. My job was the counting part, and I can recall scrambling around in the bottom shelves, looking in and behind other books to come up with the number Bill was waiting to hear. I believed it was important work, and I took it seriously, but enjoyed it mostly because I got to work with my Dad.

This was not the only job I got to help him with. I can also remember learning to count money with Bill at the register in the evenings, and he always took me to the bank with him for the day's deposits. We'd get in that '57 Chevy Malibu and roll over to the big Bank downtown, only about ten blocks away.

With its marble floors, tall dark wooden tables, pens on chains and brass fittings around the big steel gate that led to the vault, the Bank was a most impressive place. Bill would introduce me as his assistant, which always sounded very important, and make sure that I got one of the cherry lollipops in the jar up on the counter. Eventually, the bank opened a drive-thru, which meant that I no longer got to see the blind cigar and candy vendor in the lobby, but I still got the lollipop.

What I remember most about the experiences with Bill were how tender and gentle he was. I always held his hand, and he frequently lifted me up to get a better view, even when I must have been far too old for that. All this changed when I went to school, but for a few glorious years, I was his right-hand man.