Friday, January 30, 2009

Inauguration: The Video

Well, I had to do something with all those photos I took during our trip to D.C. to see David & David and attend the Inauguration that I did not include in the photo gallery, so here is a little video that I hope sums up what we saw and did!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

He's Not the Change: We Are

From D.C. The Inauguration

It's been a while since I've written here, but not for lack of desire.  I've actually managed to curb my compulsion, mostly because I've simply been too busy to indulge myself as I have so often in the past weeks.  Both Gentle Readers will appreciate the silence, I am sure, knowing that a flood of words is to follow any extended--more than a day--absence from this journal.

I have been thinking a lot about the experience of being in Washington D.C., of being with my brother, and most of all, of the personal consequences of the changes we are seeing in the government on an almost daily basis, it seems.

Being in the Nation's Capital, with all the museums, monuments and memorials literally overflowing with unique and precious objects around us had a significant influence on me, though I didn't realize it at first.  Touring the Air & Space Museum, it hit me, though.  I came to regard this place and these things as part of my inheritance.  In the National Gallery, I was surprised to see someone take a photograph of a painting, so I asked if it was all right and sure enough, not only is the entrance to the museum--almost all D.C. museums, in fact--free, but we are also allowed to take as many photographs as we like.  Not that I have any desire to actually take pictures of the art itself, but it was interesting to photograph the people and the art together.  If you haven't already seen the photo gallery, here is the link.

Being with my brother, David, added another unexpected dimension to our experience.  I've already written about his performance in the play and how I saw therein another side to his personality, but what I haven't mentioned is how well he took care of us during our visit.  It's the unfortunate duty of people who live in big cities to act as tour guides to their guests.  This obligation is compounded by the fact that a free place to stay in a popular destination is an understandably big factor in the way those guests make their plans.  Consequently, those 'big-city' folks who can and do pull off being tour guides time and time again make it look easy, as if this was a natural part of their daily lives.  And, in a way, it is.  For some folks, anyway, and I am pleased and proud to count David and David among them.  They really, genuinely enjoyed touring us around, explaining the Metro, turning the map right side up (again) and giving us good advice on everything from where to eat, what to see and what to save till next time.  Ironically, they were such good hosts, there will definitely be a next time!

It was, however, the experience of being on the street as President Obama took his Oath, being with all the people from all over the country at the very moment when we were reborn, called out to commit again to the promises and ideals that made this country great and have for so long been suppressed in the name of 'National Security'.  Hey, we Americans are big kids now.  We can have both security and ideals.  Neither will be perfect, but please, let's promise each other not to let this choice be presented to us again.  Now that we have again acknowledged that we can be free and fair at the same time, let us here commit ourselves to keeping it this way.

One of the most frequent things I've heard said since the Inauguration is something like, "Well, I just hope he can do X% of what he's promising."  To a certain extent, I agree with this sentiment.  I too hope he can accomplish a lot, and I too hope it will happen sooner, rather than later.  However, even though it is simply common sense to acknowledge that he, Mr. Obama, cannot "do it alone", I think it here worth saying that we--as a collective people--have yet to understand what he is and has been saying to us all along.  

He is not the change.  We are.  It is up to each one of us, as individuals, to look around us, find something that needs doing, something that needs fixing, someone who needs help, and do it.  The burden is not only not exclusively on Mr. Obama, it is not even exclusively any single one of our burdens.  How easy it is to lift a heavy load when many hands are present is something we need to recall in a moment when a great deal of heavy lifting is called for.

To all readers of this journal, therefore, I issue the challenge personally.  In this new year, this year of change, find something you can help with, find someone who needs your help and do it.  In the restaurant business, when something happens that requires the staff to make a big change (see Dinner for Fifty, Please) this is eaxctly what we do. Each person looks around, see what needs doing, and if no one else is doing it, then that is what they do. In this way, everything gets done and no one has to do it all. In fact, we can't do it any other way.

So here what I propose: Commit a certain part of each week--perhaps the same day, perhaps just a certain number of hours per week, no matter--to a cause, hopefully one that benefits someone, somewhere as directly as possible.  If each one of us finds a place and time to volunteer even a small part of our time and energy in this year, and the next and every year after, we will see change.

Let's commit to each other, to a new year, a new life: You there!  Be the change.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Where We Were: 1.20.2009

Well, it is very hard to tell from this little photo, but if you click on it, you'll see it full size.  Those are not coffee grounds, mind you, but people!  

Now, if you find us, you get a prize!

Two million people were there.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Notes

Well, we are off early this morning to see some more monuments and memorials, but I wanted to make a few notes about yesterday, Inauguration Day.

First of all, it was cold.  I think I've mentioned this a few times, but yesterday it was especially relevant, as, by the time we were done, we were very very nearly frozen solid.  At the very very least, I know that our collective forty toes and some of the same number of fingers were absent any warmth.  This is mostly because we had such a very long time to wait, on the street, with little else to do but pace back and forth, stamp the ground and kick our feet together in hopes of staying alive long enough to see the new President pass by our spot.

The day began at 6:45 when we got up.  We left the house at 7:30 and when we boarded the train here in Forest Glen, it was already about half full.  Four stops later and it was so packed that no one was getting on or off till we reached Union Station.  This is where we entered the city, and by this time, which was only 8:30, the throngs were massive.  We were swept up into the flow of people out onto the street, where the crowds could open up.  Cars of course, were at a minimum, so people were simply walking everywhere.  There was a wonderful sense of enthusiasm and camaraderie as we made our way toward the Mall.  People were laughing and smiling, carrying signs and of course everyone had a camera of some kind.

It's hard to judge these things, but I have no hesitation in observing that many, if not actually most of the people were black.  There was a pervasive, underlying joy in everyone's demeanor as we thronged together, funneled by pedestrian barriers and the unseen will of the crowd toward the tent that was the primary security checkpoint.  We had each taken a bottle of water, but were forced to abandon it at the checkpoint for reasons I did not understand.  The guard who removed my bottle insisted that I "return to the end of the line" but I was in no mood to try that after being forced through the gauntlet once, so I simply threw it into the massive pile that was accumulating at that spot and moved on.  They checked my coat, patted me down, inspected my little bag-o-goodies that David had so thoughtfully provided and bang, I was in!

Now, that would have been wonderful, and in some ways it certainly was, but in fact this simply signified the beginning, not the end, of our ordeal.  We quickly walked up Constitution Avenue and found a spot hear the rail next to some people huddled on a blanket on the ground.  It turns out they had been there since 3am!  Needless to say, it was obviously not necessary to have subjected themselves to all that for such a spot, but it did appear to be an ideal place to see the parade go by.

From this spot, we could see the Capitol, though no details of the ceremony were visible, even had we had binoculars, I believe, but we could hear the ceremony from loudspeakers placed on the light poles all down the street.  It was cold, of course, but sunny, so it made the three hours till the ceremony began more tolerable than you might expect.  We chatted with those around us, speculated about the timing and generally expressed the relief and excitement that so possessed us all while slowly and inexorably getting colder and colder.

When the ceremony began, it was blissfully short, as seemed Mr. Obama's speech.  Doubtless it was longer than it seemed, for as we huddled around a radio to catch every word, each word, each phrase caught up in our ears and hearts.  Many around us, including me, cried.  There were high fives and cheers and more than a few "Amens".  I said a few myself.  It felt like a fabulous preacher was at the pulpit, and instead of empty promises about the Kingdom of Heaven, we were instead offered solid assurances that Mr. Obama had indeed come to Washington to make a difference in the way we live our lives henceforth.

His speech was justly critical of the past yet focused on the optimism for the future.  I certainly felt it and I know many others did, here, on the Mall, where more than a million had gathered, and in may other places around the world.  That includes China, where Jeff and Sara could see the speech on the internet in English even as their hosts were censoring the speech in Chinese for their own people.  And, almost as soon as it was over, we were treated to the wonderful and long time coming sight of Mr. Bush departing in his Air Force helicopter for the last time.  I've read that the people on the Mall chanted "Hey hey hey, goodbye" but we simply cheered and thanked the powers that be that we'd lived to see the day.

I don't want to focus too much on the negative, but it is clear that we have endured too much for too long, those of us who stand for both peace and safety, for whom, as Mr. Obama said, the choice between security and ideals is a false one.  I am thrilled to know that my friends in other countries will no longer ask me what the hell we think we are doing over here, to know that in a very short time, relations between our nations will recover, and we can again go out without fear and with pride in our nation and the way it upholds its principles and ideals.

Alas, after this wonderful moment came a long and very cold interlude.  We moved further down the street to get a better spot for viewing the parade and hunkered down while the President ate lunch and Ted Kennedy--bless his 'Lion' heart and soul--collapsed and thus delayed the start of the parade for more than an hour.  The expectation had been that we would see the President and his wife begin walking up the parade route a few blocks from us around 2pm, but it wasn't until nearly 3:30 that the event actually got underway and by that time, the cold had rendered us numb.  We were even prepared to call it off and head out in another 15 minutes but fortunately it began before we gave up.  At that moment, David and I climbed up on a large iron gate behind us to get a better view and angle for photographs.  I watched and took pictures of the motorcycle police, the color guard, the Army band and the Fife and Drum Corps before the Presidential motorcade finally appeared.

That's right, the motorcade.  It turns out that he and Michelle got out to walk but not until they'd passed by our spot by several blocks!  David managed to get a photograph of him smiling through the darkened window of his limousine, but it wasn't till it had passed and he said, "Well, that's it!" that I realized I'd missed the very thing I'd hoped to see after enduring the numbing cold for eight hours.  O well.

I did say from the outset that I did not come to see Mr. Obama but to see the people who had put him there, and this is exactly what I got.  I felt the emotion, I saw the faces and I lived the moment.  This and nothing more did I hope for and, as I expect it will be in the coming years, hope will lift and carry us to a new level of freedom and prosperity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We did it!

Frozen but happy. Bush just left town and we are waiting for the parade. Spirits are high. Toes are cold!

Monday, January 19, 2009


Tonite we ate at Michel Richard's Citronelle. Because it is late and we have a big day tomorrow, I will have to save my review for another post. But because it was so good, I have to let those readers who care about such things know that it was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. the word superlative comes easily to mind, along with many others.

For now, though, in spite of my tendency to use too many of them, that will have to be the only word. You can wait. We did!

Memorials Monuments and Markers

Today was an especially delightful day here in D.C.  Each day so far has brought us a different pleasure, in forms that I would never have expected. 

For example, the monuments and memorials.  Of course here there is a memorial  or monument or stautue of, to and for just about everyone and everything that has been even remotely associated with U.S. history, and many hundreds of plaques, markers and signs that are not so related, but which serve to illustrate the vital function that a place like this serves. It is in fact a very complex and many facted testament to the  American achievement.  I have no shame in saying that I have great pride in this country and the progress that Americans have brought to the world.  It is a better place for our little social experiment, despite the wounds our culture has inflicted on other cultures,  peoples--often it's own-- and the planet. 

The foregoing, then, is evidence of my fundamental belief that progress--social, intellectual, yes, even political--is not only possible, but is a innate function of humanity.  That assertion I will defend in another esaay, but here I present it as defense for the pride I feel so deeply in this place and the people here assembling with such open joy and goodwill it's hard not to believe that this is indeed the beginning of something new and the continuation of something old.  The newness may in fact be one of the oldest traditions in this still growing Republic. Each generation brings something new and invigorating to the place and the process of practicing human liberty.

I actually wept today in the Jefferson Memorial, reading the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." for on this day it is made evident, manifest in the world that even if the ideal has yet to be reached, the principle upon which this Republic was founded, that all men are equal and possessed of basic, inaliable rights is not out of sight nor has it been rendered false because we have yet failed to achieve it for our own citizens and the people of the world.  

This new President, like so many other great leaders, has that vision clearly before him.  His gift has been to help us catch sight of it again at last.  I can see it.  Can you?


Well, I posted up at length yesterday but failed to include a link to the photo gallery that will serve to illustrate some of the account. I have taken many hundreds of pictures, but fortunately, I'll not subject you, gentle readers to them all.  Here is, then, a couple dozen of the beast so far:

Today we have the Lincoln Memorial and its environs. I'll have the camera with me of course and like every other tourist, I'll be blazing away on the shutter button!  Stay tuned, kids!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inauguration Stage is Set

So, today we ventured out into D.C. again to see a museum or two and get a feel for where we might best go and stand for the Inaugural parade on Tuesday.

Of course, nothing is 'normal' right now here in the Capitol.  It is most interesting for me to see how the security for the event is being put in place.  In a city where high security has been the norm since 2001, there is the sense that they really know what they are doing.  In spite of the massive re-arrangment of streets and sidewalks; in spite of the thousands of feet of fences and people-railings; in spite of the police, who seem to be everywhere at once, standing, driving, watching us as we and they go by, there is no sense of fear or oppression.  Cold though it was, there was a lively crowd out on the Mall even on a Sunday.

We had planned to visit the Spy Museum, but it was closed due to a water leak (?) so, taking advantage of Washington's cultural abundance, we simply crossed the street and went to the National Portrait Gallery.  Here we saw, among other things, the famous 'unfinished' Gilbert Stuart paintings of GW (the original, thank you very much) and his wife; plus the portraits of all the Presidents up through GW (yes, the second one).  This was a delightful and in many ways an unexpected exercise in patriotism, for I found proud to consider the accomplishments and to take in the images of all the most famous and even the not-so-famous men and women who have helped make this country what it is today.

Next, we walked up to the Capitol, where I was thrilled to see all the people smiling, laughing and taking pictures of each other in front of the Inauguration stand.  We did our share of the same.  They've set up perimeters so that we will not be able to pass through the same area two days hence, but for now it was possible to get up close and explore.  They must have ten thousand chairs set up in front of the stand itself, and if you looked back you could see where the other 230,000 ticket holders will get to stand.  They will have a good view, but come Tuesday, if you are at the back, you might as well watch on one of the 'jumbotrons' they are setting up all down the Mall.

It is obvious that they are familiar with how to deal with large crowds securely here in D.C, for there is no shortage of evidence that this is going to be a special week.  The first thing you'll notice is an army of port-o-potties lining almost every street leading up to the Mall, and many more thousands on the Mall itself.  Concrete barriers are ubitquitous as well, on every corner near a Federal building, so you have to walk around them.  The police are everywhere as well, in key positions and in what seems like every other car on the street.  Every ten minutes or so, sirens erupt and lights flash as another VIP is escorted to his oh-so-very-important event, and those citizens follish enough to bring in their cars are slowly being pushed out of the city center, an action which will leave naught but the police and taxis on the streets come Tuesday.

The souvenir stands, which no doubt are present in even the slowest of times here, are also everywhere, and there are even more storefronts that have opened up just to sell as many mugs, keychains, t-shirts, caps, plates, shoes, shot glasses and many more products that I can't even recall.  I haven't bought my Obama stuff yet, but I certainly plan to.  I mean, why not?  Is there ever a better time to buy a souvenir than when you are a tourist?  We found a comic shop in Union Station that will have some of the new Spiderman comicbook on Wednesday, so that may be the souvenir I get.  A shirt or hat wouldn't be out of the question either.

Now,  we don't plan to go to the ceremony but hope to get a good view to see the new President anyway.  If we play our cards right, we might get to see him as he joins the Inaugural parade up Pennsylvania Avenue.  It's a little hard to tell, right now, just where we will stand and what we will see.  One thing seems certain, though.  The people at home will defintely get the best view and remain the warmest, but the people here will share and excitement and energy that none of us will soon forget.  Already I can feel it building, I can see it on every face and hear it in our voices.  It's like Graduation.   Everyone in attendance is proud and happy to be there in celebration of a shared accomplishment.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

He's Not Heavy...

Yes, indeed, he is my brother.  In spite of the close resemblance, it is David, not me, here on this poster.  Not coincidentally, either, as he has the lead in this delightful, if slightly bloody pre-Elizabethan tragedy, called appropriately enough, The Spanish Tragedy.  Without mincing words or delaying my review, I will say that David's performance was excellent to say the least, and if you are to believe a reviewer who also happens to be his brother, he was inspired.

Now, that may not be the hyperbole you think it to be, for it happens that the subject of the play is one that struck me deeply and for good reason: It is about a father who seek revenge for his son's death.  Thus it is that there is a scene where David's character, Heironimo, grieves over the body of his freshly deceased son.

Now, though the son has been murdered, the emotion that surged through me as David bent down to caress his 'son's' face was the selfsame grief I felt on seeing Pierre lifeless in the hospital bed.  In spite of myself, in spite of the knowledge that it was 'only a play', I cried.  Lest you think that this is simply 'normal' consider the fact that I have not yet really wept openly since Pierre's death.  It is, I believe, through artifices such as drama that I may eventually come to resolve this tangle of emotion and grief, and I have my brother David to thank for this 'revelation.'

Knowing that actors must find a personal emotion to draw upon if they are to make that emotion felt to the audience allows me some satisfaction because it means that there is some use to the grief so long harbored in my heart.  In short, if others can derive some meaning from his death, even if they are not conscious that it is he for whom the grief is spent, then there is meaning in my loss.  The pain, though still great, is dispersed by such actions as may be seen in a stage play, which is thus placed into the stream of emotion felt by the human as a whole.

In a way wholly unexpected, yet perfectly natural as I here contemplate it, I find that I am healed--in part--by David's creative strength and the power of his performance.  I say natural because it seems that way when you watch him perform, yet it was unexpected because I did not realize till I saw and felt it on the stage last night, that David's gift has allowed for a return of my own angst to the collective consciousness we all share.

Still Cold!

Well, it is out of focus, but here you can see proof that we are indeed in the Nations Capital and, I suspect, that it is still cold!  This is as bundled up as you will ver see me and Valery, and we were still cold.  Fortunately it was a bright sunny day, so but for the wind, we wouldn't have really noticed it.  As it was, we barely froze our fingers and toes before going into the National Gallery, which is a mere six blocks or so from the Metro.

There is so much to see and do here that we will of course have to come back for some of the more popular sights.  We won't, for eample, be going to the Air & Space Museum, but we do plan to go--in no particular order, mind you--to the National Portrait Gallery, the Spy Museum and the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow and Monday.  The hope is to do a fair bit of walking around the city center, soaking up the excitement and thinking about where, exactly, we plan to be come Tuesday.  David says he has a plan, which involves visiting a frined of theirs who has an apartment in Dupont Circle, so we can warm up after the event and prepare for the crush that will be heading out as they came in, via the Metro.

One thing that is really special about the town right now, judging by their sheers numbers, are the lines and lines of port-o-potties along every street and at every corner.  Though personally I have a strategy that involves restraint, it may not be possible to avoid an encounter with one of the lovely green and blue boxes.  Should this happen, dear readers, you will hear about it here first.

Tonight we are headed out again to see my brother David in a play, the Spanish Tragedy, so I'll post a review here tomorrow.


Well, we made it to D.C. The trip was absolutely uneventful, which these days is something of an accomplishment, to say the least. David met us at the airport in spite of the traffic and the trip back to their house was simple enough, thank goodness.

David and David have a wonderful home. Warm and cozy, beautifully decorated, it reminds me of Lynda with all of the wonderful and interesting objects and art all round. Images of my youth and recollections of Bill abound here in so many ways. I felt comfortable here from the first moment; as if this had been someplace I've been many times before.

It is, in fact, my first visit to this area, if you don't count the trip we made with Lynda and Bill o so many years ago. The one thing I can say today, for certain is that it is cold.

And I do mean cold!! The temperature when we arrived yesterday was a mere 18 degrees, and it dropped to zero overnight! Right now it is just 17 degrees and we are headed out in about five minutes to go into D.C.

The national Gallery is on our agenda, in spite of the cold and potential crowds, I am looking forward to it. It has been a while since we had a 'big city' vacation, so we are quite delighted to be here.

We are off now, so I'll post up again later.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Change is Coming; I'll be There

The Inauguration is less than a week away, and I predict that this will be a change unlike any other in my lifetime.

I have had the good fortune, historically speaking, to be present for some very dramatic and even Earth-changing events. When I was seven, President Kennedy's assassination changed the political course of our nation in a most direct way, as did the killings of his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King. I was present for the beginning of the human adventure into space and sitting in front of a television when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. I waited in line for and attended a session of the Watergate hearings and watched on television when Nixon resigned on my brother's birthday a year later. I had a similar seat--in front of the tube--when the Berlin Wall was torn down and there again like so many millions when the towers of the World trade Center in New York were destroyed. I was also here for the creation of the Internet which, whether or not it was created by Al Gore, neatly coincided with his two terms as Vice-President. Not so coincidentally, since I believe that there was a direct connection between the two phenomena, I was here for the greatest peacetime expansion of the U.S. economy during President Clinton's two terms in office.

Not all of the items on that little laundry list of world/life-changing events are of equal value, of course. Certain events have more weight because of when they happened to me, so to speak, even though none of them really happened to me directly. Though it is indeed a suspiciously self-aggrandizing and conveniently synchronistic in that I am going, claiming that Barak Obama's Inauguration is the most significant event--not merely political--of my lifetime is not hyperbole.

It can be argued that this is merely a political transition, and as such it is no more important than any other, in any nation; that being precisely its limiting factor. If this were any other nation, at any other time it history, it would be no more than any other televised ritual. But this is not just any nation, and this is not just any other inauguration in my lifetime.

I had hopes, when Mr. Clinton left us--so prosperous but embarrassed--that his successor, Mr. Gore, would lead us into the new century with an enlightened vision not unlike that of the intellectuals and philosophers who help create this this most magnificent political and social experiment in the first place. I believe that Mr. Gore won the election and that it was only his sense of honor that kept him from scrapping and screaming the way I would have, and the nation is in some ways better for that sense of honor and commitment to do right by the country even at great personal cost. It is telling that the paths of the two men, Gore and Bush, diverged in the way that they did. I feel certain that in spite of winning the Nobel Prize and satisfying his lifelong desire to make a difference in the world by drawing attention to global warming, Mr. Gore would rather have been President, such has been the deep disappointment in the path we have been forced to follow. My hopes were put on hold.

I had hopes again, a mere four years later, when the American people were beginning to change their collective minds after relentless tiny constrictions to the basic rights we had come to treasure in the name of a 'War on Terror'. Then, the clear signs of failure--despite banners declaring the 'Mission Accomplished'--of the first war of aggression ever to be fought by the U.S. made it seem like a simple choice between Kerry and Bush, but again, I had hopes deferred.

My hopes were set aside but not abandoned because, as corny as it sounds, I am a patriot. The United States is a unique human endeavor, a two-hundred plus year experiment that has been carried out by some of the most intelligent, industrious and, it turns out, dangerous people the planet has ever borne upon it.

This, as it turns out, is alright. Despite the ravages to the environment engendered by its highly successful market economy and the self-centered sense of entitlement that its citizens consequently possess, the U.S. has been such a clearly dominant physical and political force for so long that it now seems evident that despite those negative forces, the advantages that are naturally accrued from harnessing the collective self-interest of seemingly diverse individuals in a liberal social environment and conservative market economy are both historically significant and, fortunately for us all, cumulative. In spite of the alternating ridicule and adulation to which the American political system is subjected by its citizens and those of other nations, I believe that the culture from which those advantages have emerged has brought substantial change upon the human condition.

Because I share this belief with the man who is about to become our next President, and because Mr. Obama's ascendancy will return to me personally the sense of high honor and lawful dignity I have come to enjoy as my human right, I believe that this will indeed be one of those great turning points in the course of human events.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Inauguration Day

They came today
To take it away.
The bronze of the Leader
Came down in the fray.

They came in blue trucks
With a winch and a chain
A half life later
They had their claim.

The Glorious Leader
Though ne'er Fault ascribed,
Fell thus from the Steed
He'd ne'er been astride.

Down! To the ground.
To the Circle you are bound.
Though your shoulder bear the Yoke
Or your head the Crown.

How easy is the cannon bronze
In statues found.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Apartment H2

I've been unfairly focusing on Abilene here as I assemble these little memoirs, bit by bit, piece by piece, so I think it's time to move on a bit and write about my--our--time in San Antonio. Just as there was an address associated with the time and space spent in Abilene, so too was there a center to the San Antonio experience: Apartment H2, in the Seven Pines Apartments on Zarzamora Street.

My brother David has been back to the place and sent the photo that will son accompany this post, and it is safe to say that it hasn't changed at all since we lived there. In fact it would be hard to tell that we are not residents still of this place, so little sign is there from the outside of the personality of those within. This is no accident. The time we spent in this apartment specifically and in San Antonio in general was the most frightening and insecure time of my life no question at all.

Part of this feeling had to do with the fact that this was, of course,the first move in my life. I have since learned of families in the military who moved every year, but I also suspect that even in those families, the first move for each child is the most difficult. How could it not be? Leaving the familiar is one thing, but in my case, it was from a familiar mode of existing to another, less secure and in many ways the opposite of what I had learned about the world and how to act in it. In short, it was a move from the country to the city.

Inauguration Day

They came today
To take it away.
The bronze of the Leader
Came down in the fray.

They came in blue trucks
With a winch and a chain
A half life later
They had their claim.

The Glorious Leader
Though ne'er Fault ascribed,
Fell thus from the Steed
He'd ne'er been astride.

Down! To the ground.
To the Circle you are bound.
Though your shoulder bear the Yoke
Or your head the Crown.

How easy is the cannon bronze
In statues found.

Tongue Sandwiches

Pierre once remarked that I had had a 'semi-traumatic' childhood after I told a story about one of Lynda's more eccentric moments when I was growing up.

It's safe to say that this is an exaggeration, for as I've said, Lynda's denial notwithstanding, I had what I considered to be a good childhood. However, like most legends and myths, in fact there is but a kernel of truth to it, and proof of this hidden seed was brought to light by a recent conversation with a long lost friend.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, someone I haven't seen for more than forty years looked me up and made a comment on this very journal last week. A classmate of mine in elementary school found and read the entry on 304 Grape, and it brought him to recall our time together and make even make a comment. Interestingly, one of the things that he remembered about me--other than my name--had to do not with my personality but the content of my sack lunches. Specifically, tongue sandwiches.

Now I had not fully erased the childhood memory of seeing the gruesome sight of a severed cow's tongue resting on a plate front and center in the refrigerator, but I had managed to repress the image until reminded of it. It's not as if the sight made me sick, since if anything was going to do that it would be eating it, and in fact I ate it on more than one occasion not only without getting sick, but finishing what I'd been served, which as all children in our household learned, was the key to getting along with Lynda in general and being excused from the table in particular.

Fortunately tongue was not often served in our house, at least not as a dinner item. It was always served cold, thinly sliced on bread with either mustard or mayonnaise, and thus it made it into my lunch sack and into the memory of at least one other grossed out ten year old at my lunch table. After all, it was the pity he had for me, being forced to consume this unthinkable substance in a sandwich at school. No one would trade for that!

To be honest, I really don't recall the taste, but I can never forget the texture of cow's tongue. I suppose that if ever I am forced to eat a piece of wet leather that has been roughed up, boiled and sliced no thinner than a potpourri wood chip, I will again know the pleasure of eating cow's tongue--at least the way my Mother prepared it. To say the least, it was tough and rough, literally.

You know those bumps you have on your tongue that help you taste? Well, cow's have them too, of course. But when the tongue is dead and cut out of the head for our dining pleasure, all those little taste buds get all hard and almost bony, making for some interesting and challenging mastication, to say the least. Now, if for some reason the taste of this wonder meat was in some way out of proportion with the rather unpleasant texture, that is, if it tasted good, why I could defend not only the presence of cow's tongue in our refrigerator and in the sandwich in my sack lunch. Alas, there was no such trade-off. In fact, there was only the inedible and untradable main course that I would jettison without regret other than having had endure the jibes and gags of my fellow diners.

The fact that I was also required to take my lunch in a sack, as opposed to a lunchbox only added to the humility of the lunchtime experience, and if it seems that I am making more of this than sense requires, recall that it I did say that my childhood was only 'semi-traumatic'. It is indeed silly for me to complain about something so trivial as being forced to take tongue sandwiches to school in my sack lunch, especially these days when there is so much abuse and neglect and real strife for children to overcome when growing up. Yet lives are built round little more than the trivial, and when inserted into our own little drama, lost or hidden details manage to emerge and take on a significance that we could never have imagined while living them.

Such is the power of memory and the desire to have overcome adversity, even if it is imagined. Fortunately I didn't live through the Great Depression, but thanks to Lynda, I have my own memories of sack-lunch suffering and have even perhaps benefited from a bit of moderate culinary experimentation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Getting Dressed

I have a lot to look forward to in the coming year, not the least of which is coming just next week: the Inauguration of President Barak Obama.

Of course, the event itself will be something to be seen, heard, smelled and tasted. It will be a carnival of the American Animals, for the menagerie that lines the street will be as much a part of the parade as those who walk up the middle of of it. It will be a cold day, no doubt, but the warmth of so many bodies with so much hope for the new year will be a symbolic, if not literal, source of energy for our nation. I can feel it already.

I won't, however, be relying solely on the goodwill of my fellow man to provide for the physical protection from the cold temperatures and the possibility of freezing precipitation. As a true Texan living south of the Wacky--sorry, Waco--line that naturally inhibits my purchases of cold weather gear, it's safe to say that I have no garment that will actually keep all parts of me in a permanent Texas-toasty state. For example, I have jeans, but no heavy slacks. I don't own any 'sweats' and though I must have ten burnt orange t-shirts, I have only a single Texas-USC showdown sweatshirt in my drawer.

Shoes? I have a pair of cowboy boots given to me by my father-in-law nearly ten years ago, and though I love them, they are neither comfortable enough to wear for more than an hour or a two block walk nor are they warm enough to keep my bony feet from freezing in the late summer. I have tennis shoes, and though they are comfortable for walking and standing, they are useless if it's wet or even moderately cold.

Hats? I have a couple, but the warmest of them is simply a knit cap, and it doesn't even double over to add a second layer of protection for my ears which is a serious problem. I often feel like one of those big-eared dogs that live in the Australian desert and have ears at least twice the size of the rest of their heads to radiate heat. Problem is, though, that I have no need to get rid of heat most of the time, and in a cold--ie less than 98 degree--environment, my ears simply hurt from the rapid and irreversible energy transfer. But I have no ear muffs or Russian fur hat, or even a cheap hunters hat with plaid and canvas ear flaps. I do have a couple of baseball-style caps, but they are predictably thin and useful only for blocking the sun.

Coats? I have a couple, but nothing that extends below my hips. The last time I wore a heavy coat would have been when I lived in Paris, now twenty-five years ago. I probably carted the old 'P-coat' that Lynda and Bill gave me on my arrival in England in 1976 and which I wore for three years straight back to Austin, but obviously I haven't worn it or even seen it since 1980.

Sweaters? No, I gave them up last year, and have only this fall acquired two 'fleeces' for cool weather inhibition, shall we say, though I am inclined to wear them even on days like today, when we'll get into the high sixties. Somehow, I missed the sweater buying season, which must have been in the middle of the summer, because I never saw a sweater for sale last year at all. Of course, I wasn't exactly looking, but that's not the point.

The point, as I add up all these lovely deficiencies, is that I am woefully under-prepared for anything colder than today--remember, high sixties--and have but a week to make the change. I am not going to go buy a whole wardrobe, however. Following David's advice and the common sense it's based on, I'll manage with a lot of layers, and the addition of a few select items, like some fancy long-johns and a new pair of warm and comfy boots. Time to get dressed.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Making More

Because it is my best hope and most intense desire to write every day for the rest of my life, an absence of words for more than two consecutive days here may rightly be interpreted as a faltering or inability. Ironically it comes when there is simply too much to say and too much time to say it in. I am paralyzed by excess.

I am also in the grip of a serious evaluation of my motivation for writing and the role it currently plays in my life. As I sit here, I am ostensibly 'at work' but the experience, in terms of my stated desire is a waste of time. Every minute that I pretend to do something else can only be a minute that I cannot spend writing. Of course, it might be fair to say this about any time, but given that there are qualitative differences between time spent, say, at table versus at the desk, I can't escape the feeling that I should really be using this time--of my day as well as of my life--to write.

As ridiculous as it sounds for a man my age, I have been looking into retirement from this institution, but it isn't because I am weary of work in the conventional sense. If anything, as my life record of consistent employment shows, I actually thrive on work. I really do love my work at the restaurant because no matter how low I feel when I go in, I always feel better when I leave. It's more than a job; it's a life, and one that I love. But it doesn't pay all the bills, alas, nor does it really satisfy my desire for all the types of work I crave. I also need and seek out intellectual work, if you will like writing, because it is in many ways as satisfying as the physical work I so love at the restaurant.

On the other hand, this institutional job, though it be difficult to reconcile with my real desires, does pay most of the bills, and it does offer the tempting, though uncertain promise of 'retirement'. It is tempting because the deal, as it stands now, would give us a small fixed income in addition to 'lifetime' medical insurance. The uncertain part is actually embedded in both of the two premises that tempt me in the first place.

Why? Well, there is no guarantee that either the fixed income will actually be fixed or that the medical insurance will last a lifetime. In fact, as we have seen with many major corporations like GM, these kinds of deals are being changed as economic conditions dictate. What was a set income is either reduced by a half or two-thirds, and what was meant for a lifetime, is now defined as a 'shared responsibility'. So, if I take the deal they offer me in three years, there is really no way to guarantee it will last even decade, let alone the rest of my life. The Texas legislature meets every two years, so that gives them at least twenty opportunities between now and the time I'm dead to renege on their promises.

Ok, so it makes no sense to to count on the potentially mythical 'benefits', yet if I don't serve for at least another three years, I won't even get that chance. So I will wait, but something has to give. This brings me back to that serious evaluation of where writing fits in my life.

I am resolved this year to do more with my writing. If I could in some way couple this desire with my need to make money here at the institution, what a delight that would be! I have to open myslef to the possibility of writing for at least a part of my living, and there are certainly any number of opportunites which can arise from that openness. I have the common sense, however, to know that one of the best ways to dampen my newly kindled creative spirit would be to subject it to the pressures of making money from it.

In keeping with the advice, therefore, that I have given to every artist I've ever met who has expressed to me the difficulty of supporting themselves on their art, I tell myself this day: Don't worry about selling it. You can always make more.