Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't Make That

These days, it seems fashionable to be 'anti-art'.

It seems that no matter what art it is or where it is placed, somehow, someone will be against it. But what does that mean, to be 'anti-art'? Is this a new phenomenon, or is it something ancient, built-in, so to speak, to society itself?

I tend toward the latter explanation because while it is sometimes fashionable to be iconoclastic, it has always been safe to be anti-art. The most common example of this is trite.

"That's not art. My five-year old could have done better than that!"

While uttered often in our era, I suspect that down through time, there has always been some observer off to the side muttering that very sentiment, even stretching back to the Neanderthals. Critics, even cavemen, have ever been so cruel. Another, less articulated but still prevalent attitude is more direct.

"I don't care what you call it. Stop. Don't make that."

This is most often directed to artists at the extreme edge, whose position there is to elicit that very response, but it is what is really at the core of most objections to art. If being anti-art is somehow seen as being pro-order (or anti-anarchy to double down on the negative) then it is a rather common feeling, I suspect.

Many people feel--and, perhaps, have always felt--that art and artists have simply run away with (from?) the rules of society. There is a prevalent feeling that for most people, most art is no better than graffiti, and certainly is no less harmful to society. Art, like graffiti, is a sign of decay. Art is anarchy that threatens the order of society and some people think that they are defending not simply their opinion, but their very way of life.

Sometimes it's tempting to think this way. It'd be much easier to reject art than think about it. But common sense and some reasonable humility are in order. When we see ourselves as the last bastion of civilization, it's a sure sign we are overreaching.

Monday, December 20, 2010

California Wine Country: Sonoma & Napa

I took my first trip to California wine country last week.

Yes, truth be told, the secret is out: though I have sold many a bottle of wine from Sonoma and Napa, I have never been to see where they come from. While it might seem like a trivial thing--after all, I haven't been to most wine producing regions of the world, let alone the many in California alone, or even Texas for that matter--in fact it was a way of providing some background, a context, if you will, for the wines that I sell every weekend.

Seeing the sky, smelling the earth and experiencing the terrain where the grapes are grown is as important as tasting the wine they are made from.

That much I was prepared for, but only in the way of knowing that was how I wanted to experience it first; raw and unprepared except for a few appointments at wineries whose products I know and whose wine makers I have come to respect by virtue if that product. Some of the wine makers I had already met, like Robert from Deerfield, Paul from Red Car, Gove from Neal and John from Caldwell.

We went to see five wineries in Sonoma and Napa in two days. Our first winery was in a rainy, mossy, and foggy Sonoma, at Deerfield. Here we were met by Robert Rex and his wife P.J. Their home was full of wonderful smells, most cozy and welcoming, as were they. P.J. claimed that she was cooking stock and pea soup because Robert had left the freezer open when he'd gone for some ice late the night before. If it was just a ruse, it was a wonderful one, because it made us feel right at home.

Robert and P.J. were also most interesting and easy to talk to. We drank some of their wines and ate some delightful cheeses--an Argentinian 'parmesan' and a French bleu--with some little bits of toast and garlic oil in a little bowl. P.J. served us demitasse cups full of the fresh pea soup she was making along with a little truffle oil on top. it was bright green and fresh, and I could really taste the peas.

We talked around their table for about two hours. I learned a lot about Robert and P.J., their business and their passion for wine. The latter we already knew about, but finding two very likable and open people was a highlight of our trip.

Next, we drove through the rain to Dutton, where we got more of the classic 'tourist style' of tasting. We went to the tasting room, where we met Ruben, the General Manager. He tasted us on a couple of wines and gave us a nice, if rather perfunctory tour of the winery and warehouse where they store all the barrels. We bought a bottle of the syrah.

We ended the day with a trip to Red Car, which is actually winery but there isn't much to see. They were having an open house to celebrate the opening of their new tasting room. We were among the first people to arrive, mostly because we didn't want to go to our hotel till we had had a chance to say hello to Paul, who had come to our house a couple of years ago.

That night, we stayed in a Hyatt in Santa Rosa and ate dinner in a restaurant called Syrah. It was very good, and affordable only because we split an appetizer and an entree with no dessert. They had a wine list that looked more like a book; it must have listed 300 wines. I think the waitress was a bit disappointed when Valery had a glass of chardonnay and I had a beer.

The next day we went to Napa and began the day at Neal, whose Cabernet is unquestionably my favorite Napa Cab, and whose winemaker Gove was out to Hudson's for a wine dinner a couple of years ago also. The Neal winery is one of those complete shops. They have their own vineyards, all the winemaking equipment, including de-stemmer, crusher, press, tanks, barrels, cave, bottling room, label printer and tasting room. They've only been making wine since 2001, but they have lots of money. Mark Neal, the owner, is a grape grower.

That's something I learned, about all the different roles that people play in a wine producing place like Sonoma/Napa. You have your farmers, grape producers, and your brokers, who sell grapes to wineries. You have the wineries, which can be in a beautiful purpose-made building with a cave (like Neal) or just a warehouse (like Red Car) and the winemakers, who are mostly UC Davis grads, but there are still a few autodidacts out there, like Gove at Neal. You have grape brokers who are also winery owners (but not wine makers) like our fifth and final stop on our mini-tour.

We met John Caldwell outside his 5,000 square foot cave drilled into the volcanic ash of a hillside. Inside is a state-of-the-art winery, with all the trappings of the big-time, including a special tasting room that is actually a dome carved out of the rock inside the cave. Caldwell is bit of a curmudgeon, but only because he's been in the business long enough not to be impressed by money or power, only by passion and an earnest desire to learn about his wine, which he was happy to talk about for about two hours.

If anything sums up our experience, it was the feeling that if one were to live in Sonoma or Napa, one's life would almost necessarily revolve around wine. So pervasive is the industry that when I went to get a hot-dog at a roadside stand in St. Helena, they had a wine list. I wouldn't be surprised if they also had a sommelier.

While I learned a lot from this trip, mostly what I learned is how little I really know. It was wonderful to put a few wines in context, but I doubt I'll ever even learn a fraction of what there is to know about wine, wineries and wine makers. So, while what I know may not qualify me to be a sommelier at a Napa Valley hot dog stand, it'll have to do for Hudson's. At least I'm learning!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Science and Superstition

I won the football pool this week. I won $100.

Now, before both Readers zip to the bottom of this post to add congratulatory comments, consider that this is the 12th week of the NFL season, and that I have bet $10 for 10 of those twelve weeks. Even I can do this math. Hurray! I broke even!

Actually it's not so good as that. Consider, if you will, that I bet on every single week of the NFL season last year--that's sixteen games--and won, well, not even once. Again, this math is not beyond my reach. I am, for the two seasons that I can recall for the purpose of this essay, down about $160.

Now I know it's really not fair to look at betting from a historical viewpoint, as this is most likely to prove the foolishness of the endeavor, but it is fair to say that I am under no illusions about the profitability. I know I am going to lose more than I win. Still I enjoy playing, for reasons that I have explored in another post, and this essay is headed in another direction.

Specifically, I have begun to wonder about what makes for a reasonable strategy when it comes to making my pool picks on any given week. I mean, is it knowledge that drives the decision-making process?

Or, is it luck? Common sense tells me that it is some combination of the two, especially because we all--football fans and non-fans alike--know that any given team can beat any other given team on any given Sunday (or Monday or sometimes Thursdays or Saturdays). Even the best teams lose one game per season.

And this underscores my point. Which, if I were to have made it by now would be this: it isn't so much what we know about something that informs us about future possibilities--like the outcome of any given NFL game--but it's what we don't know. Or rather, it is what we don't bring to the decision-making process that makes the difference between whether we pick right or wrong; whether we win or lose.

In this case, I think it's a case of what you know that hurts you.

Consider a particular case. N___. She's won the football pool twice this year. In terms of just this year--recall that we don't do the historical thing--she's actually ahead for the year! She's making money!

What does she know that we don't? What's her method?

Is she a football fanatic? A fan, perhaps, but no fanatic. In fact she doesn't even watch football except when she's at work and it happens to be what we have on. This is not to say that she doesn't know anything about football. She's actually knowledgeable about the game, the rules and even knows many of the players names. She knows how to watch the game on television and can tell good play from poor, good players from bad.

She ain't dumb, that's for sure.

But she doesn't know anything that we--read male football fans--don't know. She doesn't read the stats--except to look at the standings from week to week when making picks, which almost everybody does--and she doesn't look at or listen to any kind of post-game analysis or anything as detailed and particular as, say, injury reports. Not even a few minutes of SportsCenter before bed. Glee, perhaps.

So, it's fair to say that N___ isn't relying on knowledge for her picks. But of course, she would tell you that if you asked. In fact, I have asked, and she told me. She is quite candid about her method, which, it is safe to say, she will share with anyone. Here is the N___ method of choosing picks:

First, she looks at each match-up. Sometimes, she'll know from personal experience (she plays every week) which teams are doing better than others. Sometimes she'll check the standings sheet that Bobby (the HOB Football Pool Commissioner) prints off the net when he makes each week's sheet. But if N___ doesn't know--and this, by her own account, is often--which team is more likely to win, she has a method for breaking the tie, the N___ method, so to speak, and it has nothing to do with football.

She picks the team that is from the city she would rather live in.

Now, you might argue that this makes it easy for her to eschew choosing the hapless Buffalo Bills or the hopeless Dallas Cowboys, but then you'd have to explain why she occasionally chooses New England or Green Bay and why she doesn't always pick Tampa Bay (ok maybe not) or Miami.

Hey, I'm not saying that I endorse the N___ method for choosing which team is more likely to win on any given Sunday, but I am saying that at least N___ cannot be accused of over-thinking her choices.

This leads me to my final point. Over-thinking, I think, is the sure-fire way to lose. I have no better evidence to offer in this argument than the circular logic of this very statement or my own dismal 0-16 showing last year. By the way, I think N___ won at least once,if not twice last year.

I think that in order to really understand the complexities of decision-making, even those seemingly simple or mundane choices, we have to ignore the trees and look at the forest.

As Malcolm Gladwell observed in his book Blink, the powers of human observation and the synthesis of information is a much faster and less conscious process than we realize or even like to admit. Yet we trust that 'gut feeling' to get us through many a difficult decision, not just the ones that involve wagers of a monetary nature. We make far more choices based on our 'instincts' and 'luck' than our 'skill' or 'knowledge'. I put both in quotes to accentuate the irony; clearly neither instinct nor knowledge is 'it'.

My father Bill used to say--after he'd beaten one of us children at a game in a particularly easy or befuddling way--"It was just Science and Skill versus Ignorance and Superstition".

I certainly didn't use the N___ method when choosing teams this week, but I'll admit, it was Ignorance and Superstition rather than Science and Skill that yielded the winning combination for me this week.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A New Chapter

In the six weeks after Mr. N died, I have to confess that at first I was relieved, not just for the cessation of his suffering, but for my own 'freedom' to go through a week without seeing him.

But if I was busy enough to need the time, I was not so busy that I didn't notice the void his passing had left. It's not a void of the painful type, which I know all too well, but rather the absence of the calming influence that this mission, if you will, has effected in my life. It's selfish, really. In those moments being with and dealing with others I am lifted out and away from my own self perceived miseries and find that I have, in fact, very few of of those miseries indeed.

This is not to say that my life seems so much better when compared to the dying, because if I can't say that I'm not trying hard enough for sure. Instead, it is the feeling of being outside myself, engaged with someone I don't know in a relationship that is meaningful to us both that I seek.

Yesterday began a new chapter in that story.

I met 'Buddy' B at his home in South Austin yesterday morning. He is 90 years old and rail-thin like me. He has bright blue red-rimmed eyes and a ready smile. He is very frail, of course, and a bit hard to follow in a conversation, but nowhere near the garble that I used to share with Mr. N.

At first, we talked about where I lived, worked and why I'd come. Then, I asked what he'd done for a living. He worked in the Piggly-Wiggly (long defunct in Austin but thriving elsewhere in the south) here in Austin for many years. He went to Austin High, which means that we share something already, but I am not sure if or how much of this he'll remember in our subsequent conversations. He was very pleasant to talk to and even a little funny. When I asked what he'd done in the grocery business, he replied "Not much!" He likes football and follows the 'Horns but said that he has to watch whatever is on the TV, which he noted with some dissatisfaction was "on all the time." I don't doubt him--while I was there, it was on some sort of a music channel, just playing Christmas music in a loud and seemingly endless loop.

I will learn more about him in the coming weeks and months, I am sure. He's old and frail but not ill or actively dying yet, and it looks as if it may be many months or even years before that happens.

I'm looking forward to this new relationship, not least because of the place where Buddy is staying. It's a home in South Austin, just off Slaughter Lane near our house. The home is similar to the one I managed to find for Lynda at the end of her days, privately owned and operated under a license from the State. These folks are young and friendly and I have to say that when I walked in, it smelled good! Not just ok, but actually good. They were preparing lunch for the residents--five or six in all--right in the open kitchen area behind the living area.

Buddy sat on the couch next to a man who didn't talk or even acknowledge me, but as I pulled up a chair next to the couch, the two ladies in wheelchairs at the kitchen table couldn't help but hear us talking and watched us the whole time. At one point, I turned to acknowledge them and as I left, I got to thinking about how this was going to be a much more interesting and pleasant experience than the anguishing and solitary visits I had for Mr. N for so many months. At Buddy's home, they are actually caring for the residents, with good food, a caring attitude and lots of smiles, which they shared with me. Of course the residents are old, but here they didn't seem so resolutely unhappy. It is amazing how far a little kindness--and good food--will go.

I left with the smile they gave me on my face. I like 'Buddy' and being a part of this new 'family'.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Way It Is

There is, after all, not much of a chance that 21st-century journalism will be adapted to conform with the old rules. Technology and the market are offering a tantalizing array of channels, each designed to fill a particular niche - sports, weather, cooking, religion - and an infinite variety of news, prepared and seasoned to reflect our taste, just the way we like it. As someone used to say in a bygone era, "That's the way it is."

Ted Koppel, who was managing editor of ABC's "Nightline" from 1980 to 2005, is a contributing analyst for "BBC World News America."

So what Koppel? You say it like it's a bad thing.

I know the 'problem' as it exists for 'traditional' journalists. The problem I have is that you make it sound as if journalists have been around for as long, say, as priests, or even athletes or, heaven and/or glory help us, politicians.

Though I might wish otherwise, I think that what we have come to know in the last half of the 20th century in the U.S. as 'real' journalism--particularly print journalism--will be marginalized for quite some time, perhaps the first half of the 21st century. This is not to say that journalism has no value, or that it is irrelevant, or that it will be eventually erased.

What will be erased is the sense of altruistic entitlement that conventional journalists--not unlike the politicians that they 'cover'--feel they have inherited from their experience in the previous century. The boys from the old school think that writing about the world, covering a beat if you will, is best left to trained professionals who learned how to write 'back in the day'.

I come bearing news, sire. The world don't owe you no dime. It seems to me that what has really changed is one word in your conclusion. Frankly, I much prefer the 'infinite' variety we have now to the oh-so-very-finite and Neopolitan (three basic flavors) world of the 1960's and 1970's. I've had both, and I like the way things are now better, thank you very much.

Of course we trusted Uncle Walter (and you too, Uncle Ted), but that was because we had no choice. As children we looked up to you, literally, from the living-room floor. But we 'boomers' (your kids) are all grown up now. Or at least we think we are, though it's clear that we're still babies in the digital age.

Infants though we are, at least we have learned that we can absorb information from far more sources and at a far faster rate than we ever thought before. And even that rate of change is accelerating. Ok, so that's not really news. There were folks who doubted the ability of humans to drive automobiles faster than 60 miles per hour. There are still folks who doubt that men have walked on the Moon.

Oh well. In fact, we are capable--we must be capable, really, for we have no choice (again/always)--of dealing with this flood of information from more than three 'trusted' sources. We must--we are--learning to evaluate more information critically even as it comes at us faster. Watch twelve year-olds play "Black Ops".

Critical decisions come faster under many circumstances these days, and I think, are in many ways more reliable than the supposedly well-thought-out decisions that do not take into account the rate of modern information flow. Read 'Blink'.

Saying 'That's the way it is' is more than quoting Uncle W, it's what we call a cop-out, Ted. You are unfairly using his words, for that's not how it is, at least not any more.

And I really like it the way it is.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Two Books

Two new books--both purporting to be autobiographies--came out in print last week, both of which interested me enough to purchase. But, when it came down to a choice between one or the other, even though neither author will receive a penny of the proceeds, I picked the one who work I knew I could trust to be entertaining, if not entirely accurate.

No, I did not buy a copy of Decision Points, even though I am likely to at some point for much the same reason. Instead, I chose to buy a copy (albeit electronic) of Samuel Clemens' autobiography, otherwise known as the Autobiography of Mark Twain.

Since I haven't read either volume it would of course be a bit premature for comments on the works, but even before I open either one, there are some significant differences in the two works that swayed my decision.

First of all, even though he didn't actually write this work, Clemens did at least dictate it. This may seem like a trivial difference, especially these days when other equally famous but less literary types (no names here) are likely to have someone 'ghostwrite' the work for them, but for Twain the choice to dictate was forced upon him by time obviously grown short.

The introduction to his work, which I have already skimmed, makes prominent note of the fact that Twain not only tried and failed to write his autobiography on several dozen occasions after the age of forty, he had almost abandoned the idea till late in his life. Closer to death, however, he knew it was something he had to do, even if it meant stepping outside his boundary as a writer and examining himself instead as a famous and not entirely righteous character.

The other reason I bought Twain's book first is because it is anything but new. In fact, it is a hundred years old, and this by design. Claiming quite rightly that he would be unable to write an accurate and unvarnished account of his life and relate his opinions of his contemporaries without fear of damaging or embarrassing those people, he insisted that the work remain unpublished for one hundred years after his death.

This has been, I think, a troubling issue for every would-be autobiographer (not just the famous--me included), but none has ever taken it seriously enough to actually do something about it. Only Twain, with his supreme self-confidence and even, dare I say it, arrogance about his own opinions would have had the sense to know it wouldn't really be a good book--or a best seller--for at least a century. In fact, like many other famous and now dead authors, his wishes were largely ignored, but the incompetence of those writers who chose to ignore his wishes made their works instantly obsolete, thankfully for those Twain fans lucky to be alive in 2010.

Of course, now I am judging the book in advance of actually reading it, but I wanted to make note of the fact that when it came to a choice of how to spend my $9.99 this week, I chose to put it in the pocket of a long-dead but still admired literary hero.

Next week I shall likely succumb to the curiosity that is contemporary 'history' (having read the biographies--auto or not--of all the presidents since Kennedy), but this week I'll be gaining energy and insight for my own work from the greatest of old masters with a real sense of history.

Friday, November 12, 2010

If I was a Tiger

If I was a
Tiger

Oh sure
I'd terrorize
the villagers
but not the way
you might think.

If I was a
Tiger
I'd eat the
Important Ones first
The fat ones, rich
with crunchy bones
that scare
the skinny ones
when they pop.

If I was a
Tiger
Oh, I'd eat them all.
One by one
starting with the
tastiest
richest
of them all.

If I was a
Tiger
I'd eat
dessert first.

If I was a
Snake

Yes I'd still
tempt the villagers
but not with no
ordinary Apple.

If I was a
Snake
I'd tempt the
Strong Ones first
Them whose I
lights up
in their palm
fat Gucchi sacks
that pop
when you fill them
with MITunes.

If I was a
Snake
I wouldn't leave
the weak
just tempt them
with Dollar Stores
cheap makeup and
swarovski crystals.

If I was a
Snake
I'd save the best for last
to pair with the laughter.

Rush

Push past
the edge of
night nowhere
on the horizon
is it
as dark as
the inside of
my eye.

If you look
into that
abyss
I may not
let you out.

Scream
if you like.
Monsters don't wait
for me
to call them out.

They run
when I seethe.
Such is the
anger
they cannot rest
or hide
from my eye.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Expectations

The greatest distance between any two points would have to be that between expectation and realization.

Though this a personal observation, rooted in my own inability to reconcile those two forces in my life, I feel that this disconnect underlies much of what frustrates people in general these days, whether it is politics, religion or simply familial relations that seems to be the cause.

In my own case, I know that my expectations are often unnecessarily high or out of line with what should be a reasonable outcome, yet I find that setting expectations outside of the realm of limitations is inevitable and a consequence of my particular personality. I attribute it to either unfounded optimism or simple hubris.

In the former case, I count those times when I think I can get a job done in a certain amount of time even though I know it's physically impossible. I am forever deciding to do things, setting aside too little time for too many steps, and then having to adjust my sense of accomplishment downward notch by notch until it finally gets done, a day late and not quite as well I'd hoped. The optimism in the back of my brain tells me that without it, I would just be assuming the worst, and even though I might get things done when and how I expected, the very idea of setting the bar low seems contradictory.

After all, why would I set out to do something that can't be done?

Now when it comes to simple hubris, many are the times when I have simply assumed I had either the wits or strength to pull something off when in truth I knew going in that I had neither. In this case, the wide gap between those expectations and the logical outcomes I knew to be coming are more of a head-in-the-sand sort of approach as opposed to a perfectly willful ignorance of reality, but the result is the same. Shoulda coulda woulda knew better, right?

My observation here is not just about my own inadequacies--both Readers know that would fill a volume or two--but to make the connection to what I see going on around me, particularly in the political realm. Having just gone through one of those endless 'election cycles' I feel particularly beat up and anxious to say something, not because my politics were not affirmed--are they ever?--but because the current appetite for strident and voluble rhetoric seems to have brought a huge load of horse shit to the communal table. The distance between expectations and realization is so great that we can't even see the two in the same field of vision. One or the other is all we see at any given moment.

Expectations dominate. Why for example, can't we simply just turn off the financial crisis? End the war? Plug the leak? What is taking so long? Why can't simply just go back to the 'good old days' when everybody got along? What happened? When did we start destroying our society?

Well, here's the big news, at least as I see it. We aren't destroying our society. Nobody has ever just 'got along'. Financial crises, wars and leaks take time to fix. What has changed, I think is the speed with which we adjust our expectations downwards to contrast with realization. Previously, it might have taken months, or even years to come to the realization that things weren't working out just the way we'd planned. No worry, though, as there was always time for a 'mid-course' correction. No need to steer the ship onto the rocks just to prove that they are there, right?

Just a generation ago, the President said, "Mistakes were made" even as he kept us off the shoals. A few years later, with goals set high for 'winning' a 'War on Terror' and 'finding' WMDs in Iraq or bin Laden in Afganistan, we have set out on a course of unreasonable expectations that have never been rolled back to match realizations. Some wars are un-winnable and some things are un-findable. The result of this gap has been dismal, to say the least, and not just to the left. The right has suffered from this disconnect as well.

It's like looking for the 'cure' to cancer. Is it really our expectation that we will eliminate cancer as we did smallpox? Do we really expect to avoid death altogether, or are we just conning ourselves so we can go to sleep at night?

Ah, easier said than done. While I think I'll be able keep my expectations about politics and religion in check, I am still convinced I can rebuild that rusty little green Karmann Ghia sitting in my driveway.

After all, without a little hubris, nothing would ever get done.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Engine Work

Rebuilding an automobile engine is a dirty, tedious and thankless task. I know because I did it. Twice.

The first time I did it, I did it because I wanted to. The second time I had no choice.

Choosing to rebuild an automobile engine by myself was a decision made in no small part due to outright hubris, but I can't rule out foolish ambition nor willful ignorance. This sad state of awareness was tempered only slightly by the musings of John Muir, who not only convinced me that I could do it before I did it, told me how to do it; guiding me through the process first bolt to last as though he were there in person.

Muir, of course, did not advocate rebuilding the same engine twice, but he was there for me the second time round with nary a note of recrimination.

His book, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, is considered the precursor to the whole "S&*! for Dummies" phenomenon that swept through the pre-internet publishing world a scant decade or so after Muir's hard-edited typewritten and photocopied manuscript was spiral bound and set upon the Whole Earth catalog for hippies like me.

Muir was prescient that way, knowing that humans needed technology but also realizing that we needed humans to tell us how to fix technology. A couple of years later I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where Robert Pirsig explored and expanded on similar themes, so I was primed to work on my car both from a cultural, physcial and intellectual background that led to this desire.

Well, if you ask me, any amount of reading, no matter how much, just isn't enough. Muir's book, fortunately, was less about reading and more about the doing, so when it came time to find this bolt or that nut or just how-in-the-hell-do-I-get-a-screwdriver-on-that?, Muir was my guide. Emphasis is on the word guide, for as much as I concentrated on his instructions, at some point I had to set aside the book and actually assemble things, and that's where it got a bit tricky.

Actually I did pretty well at the tear-down part, but only in terms of speed. My organizational skills were decidedly lacking. For one thing, I didn't label things with anything like the detail that was really required, so even though the result of a week's work looked like I had the damn thing apart and under control, only the former was true. I had the thing apart alright.

Even though it was better than some of the places where I have worked on my bits of metal, including the present spot, my workspace for this engine rebuild was not exactly ideal. I chose to spread the pieces out on several tables under the carport at the the house where we were living. So, even though it couldn't technically rain directly onto my work area, it was exposed to the elements to a degree that made work intermittent and unpredictable even when I did get out there.

One thing that I learned from the experience was about the practical aspects of engineering. When working on a bit of metal as complex as an automobile engine, the consequences of how something has been cast, machined or milled can be serious. The order in which the thing is assembled may not be the way it comes apart, and it certainly is not often the way it is repaired.

Not only did I manage to get the thing apart, I also managed to get it back together.

Though all the details are lost to me already, I know that there were more than a couple of mistakes made along the way. I am pretty sure it took at least two sets of bearings before I learned how to properly 'seat' them in the crankcase, and I know I went through a couple sets of not-so-very-cheap rings before I got them into place. The various seals were not as easy to put in as I'd hoped either, and as a result, there were more leaks from that metal assembly than I have fingers and toes. Thank goodness there is no water system in a VW engine, or that would have leaked good and proper as well.

Suffice it to say that by the time I had the thing back together, I had made every mistake in the book. Plus, I had enough that weren't in the book left over to write a book. That is, if I hadn't already dismissed them all from memory. Muir's warnings notwithstanding, if it took several tries before I broke it, I broke it. To my credit, I did manage to step back from the brink often enough that the various critical systems eventually stopped leaking, grinding and/or scraping long enough for me to declare it finished and put it back in the car.

That, however, was just the beginning.

From the sound of it, the first time I started the engine up might easily have been the last, but for some quick reflexes and plain dumb luck. Instead of bench testing the engine before I put it back in the car, I simply pushed myself hard to get it all back in, wired and hooked up before I settled in and turned the key. Big Mistake.

The sound that came out of the engine with the first three or four revolutions (thankfully it was no more than that) was horrendous, to say the very least. It sounded like I had imprisoned a demon with hammer inside, and it was banging desperately to get out.

I felt sick. After all that work, it just didn't seem possible. What had I done? More likely: What had I missed?

It turns out that what I had missed was a simple little metal washer, about a quarter of an inch in diameter. Somehow--and family 'lore' has it being the innocent act of a small child, but no names will be named--that washer made it's way into the bowels of the engine through an uncovered hole in the block. It had to have happened sometime after the block was back together, but it obviously hadn't made it's way to a critical place before I put the engine back in the car.

I had no idea that a piece of metal that small could sound so loud. The pounding coming from the interior of an engine made me think that the entire guts had just been destroyed. As I stepped out of the car and took a look, the realization hit me. Sadly, the only way to find out what it was would be to tear it all back down.

As I said, rebuilding an automobile engine is hard, thankless work, but never so much as during the time I was tearing my handiwork apart. Two weeks later, through the tears, blood and motor oil filling my eyes and covering my hands, I found the washer, bent double and resting on top of the cylinder head. In spite of all the horrific noise, other than a small semi-circular dent in that head, there was actually no damage to the engine.

The second time, I figured out how to bench test the engine before I put it back in the car, but it was of little comfort to me when it finally passed. By this time I was exhausted and frustrated, which is not the way you want to start off working on the body.

Next: Body work: The bigger hammer

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bits of Metal: Part Two

My first car wasn't even a car. It was a truck. And, not just any truck. It was a used postal truck, with the driver's side on the right. It was called a "Step Van" because it had a step where the passenger seat would have been. It looked like a smaller, weaker, whiter UK version of a UPS truck.

Oh, and of course, it needed a lot of work.

I bought this bit of metal for what was a huge sum for a recent high school graduate with no job. I can't recall the exact figure, but it was over $1000. Ostensibly, I was only paying half of this because my friend Bryan was going to split it with me. We were also going to drive it out to California, after we fixed it up. Well, my friend never paid his half. We never fixed it up, and we sure never drove it out to California.

Well, instead of going to UT Journalism school with the full scholarship I'd been given, I chose to spend the last bit of savings from my two jobs on that truck. The engine needed to be repaired--twice--but I had no clue how to do even the simplest task like changing the spark plugs or the oil. We paid to have it fixed and wasted the rest of our money on the interior. Actually we struggled just to tear out the interior and never found the time or energy to upholster in in that lush 70's style that we imagined when we bought it. It never made it past the dream state, and two months after I bought it, the transmission fell out while I was driving it. I had to pull over and leave it on the side of the road. I tried to sell it, but eventually had to pay someone to tow it away so I wouldn't get a fine from the city.

When I came back from Paris the first time, I went to work at Gianni's and eventually saved up enough money to buy a '61 Ford Falcon convertible. I can't recall what it cost, but I do recall paying cash for it and getting it from a guy who had kept it garaged in a big home over on Balcones drive and called it 'Spooky'--which was the name of a hit song in the late seventies. It had red leather interior and the all the chrome and bling that the car designers of the late fifties and early sixties could hang on it. It was sharp.

The Falcon also had a motorized convertible top which actually worked. I used this car as my daily driver for over a year and sadly I never realized what I had or I'd have taken better care of it. Still knowing nothing about working on cars, I abused this old car way too much. I had it worked on several times until I could not afford to keep it running. Among other things, the radiator was broken, and eventually it was no longer drive-able. With the Falcon in the driveway under a car cover, I went back to my bike--the Raleigh Record I bought in high school--and it sat in my driveway for several months before I sold it to my friend Alex just before going back to live in Paris in 1980.

I didn't sell that bike, that sturdy bit of metal, thankfully, and took it with me to Europe--twice. I rode it many hundreds of miles through the streets of Paris, and once from Paris to Chartres. As a city boy, the Record was my mode of transport, and good one at that. I didn't even dream of owning a car until I came back from Paris for good in 1981. I couldn't have dreamed of owning this, my third car, mostly because owning it was a nightmare.

"Skylab" was a 1964/65 vintage Beetle Bug, painted white with some red trim around the bumpers. It wasn't mine or even a car I thought I'd ever own when I first rode in it. It was named Skylab. It was given that name by it's previous owner and my roommate, Henry whose roommate prior to me had actually owned it before Henry and who had worked on the Skylab project. When Henry moved to Houston (and Valery moved in with me) I bought Skylab from him.

Henry was driving Skylab when I moved in to his house on Duval street on my return from Europe. It was by watching him work on it that I first learned my way around a VW. To say that Skylab was temperamental was to understate the case by an order of magnitude or more. It was actually just barely functional, and that was on a good day. The starter/battery combination failed so often that if it wasn't parked on a hill, we had to push it to get it started. I think it was even on that very first morning, when Henry and I went to breakfast in Skylab that I got my first dose of heavy exercise after a meal. Not something I wanted to repeat, but, sadly, I did just that, way too many times at all time of the day and night.

Years later, I knew it was finally time to give Skylab up when I got a ticket from the UT Campus police for driving it backwards down a street at night in front of the art building. I wasn't actually driving, I explained, I was coasting backwards till I could pop the clutch and start the engine. The cop was sympathetic enough to my plight to allow me to leave the engine running, but reasoned that the situation still warranted the fine. I don't recall how or to whom I sold that bit of history, but I am sure I got more out of it than it got out of me. Well, sort of.

I was 'driving' Skylab when I met Valery. She was driving an old Corrola with a bashed in right front fender onto which she had painted stars. Just before we got married, Valery and I ditched our pieces of well, you-know-what, and got a '82 Renault Fuego from a neighbor of Henry's first wife's parents. The previous--and first--owner had been an astronaut, so he kept the car looking brand new. It wasn't your ordinary car, though. For one thing, it was French. Whi buys a French car? Who works on French cars? One dealer did, in San Marcos! Fortunately it never needed a lot of repairs, but when it did, they were very expensive.

The Fuego was a funny sort of hybrid sports/family car. It was turbocharged and had a retractable soft top--not exactly a convertible but way better than a sunroof. With the top back, you could actually stand up in the front seat--something Valery did for a picture or two while we were in Europe.

Yes, we took this car to Europe for our honeymoon. After we got married, we really wanted to go to Paris and see Europe. We also wanted the freedom of driving around in a car. We looked at our finances and figured that for just a little more than we would have paid for a couple of three-month Eurail passes, we could afford to ship our car over to Europe. So we did. We drove the Fuego down to Houston where it got put on a ship bound for Manchester, then we flew over and claimed it. We drove that car from Manchester to Crete and back to Southhampton, where we put it back on the boat for Houston when it was time to come home.

The only bad things that happened to us and that car were having the license plates stolen in Paris and Lyon on the way out and a minor fender bender in Paris on the way back. We drove it on some narrow mountain roads, the 'Autostrada' in Italy, the streets of London, Paris, Milan, Florence and Athens and many miles in between. It made it back from Europe with everything but those license plates,and we drove it for at least three or four years after we returned. It was the car we brought Pierre home from the hospital in, and it may even have served the same function when Maddie joined us.

When I was in graduate school, with two small children, we traded in the failing Fuego with it's almost non-existent rear seat for a nice, well-kept maroon '71 Beetle. This car appeared to be perfect mechanical shape, with no rust or body damage of any kind. The interior was aging but not destroyed or rotting and the engine seemed to be in great shape, capable of going thousands of miles more. Thinking that the power-train wasn't something to be concerned with, once again I spent my savings on fixing up the interior. I bought new seat covers, carpet and a headliner. I bought all new rubber seals for the body, windows and engine compartment. When I finished, it looked awesome. The car was a real cherry and I really loved it. For about a month.

Then, the engine threw a rod.

At the time, I had no idea what a rod was, how it could be 'thrown' or even what that meant. I really had no clue about how my car worked. Oh, I was clever enough to replace some of the bits and pieces that were attached to the metal, but I had never really worked on the metal itself. And when that engine blew, I knew it was time to try.

Now, part of that decision came from stubborn parsimony; after all I had just fixed up the outside and I would be damned-- a prophetic notion if ever there was one--if I'd just throw it away. I also just could not afford to pay for a new or even a rebuilt engine, and a new engine was going to be the only way to get this car back on the road.

Unless I rebuilt the engine myself.

Now, since I had owned Skylab I had owned a copy of "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" by John Muir. Millions of VW owners learned how to care for their cars without ever actually knowing much about auto mechanics because of Muir's excellent, well-written book. In this book, Muir didn't have as his goal teaching us--clueless mechanically dis-inclined ex or soon-to-be-ex hippies--how to repair cars in general. He set out to show us how to keep our Volkswagens on the road, even if we had a Bug, a Bus or a Ghia. Thanks to Muir, we didn't have know what that 'thingy' was or why it was there or how it worked. What was important to Muir was showing us how to get it out, how to clean/fix/replace it without much time, knowledge or tools. And, in the process, I came to know something about auto mechanics and grew to love it.

Thanks to Muir, I learned the art of adjusting the tappets, the relationship between the distributor and the engine timing and how to replace the ignition wires without screwing up the coil. In time, I even learned what and where the coil was.

But after all the 'fixing' I did on Skylab and even after redoing the interior of my '71 Bug, I had still had never even contemplated taking apart the engine, let alone putting it back together. But Muir had a chapter on how to do just this and I thought--just as he no doubt intended--'well if he can do it, so can I.'

Next: I did.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bits of Metal: Part One

I have always been fascinated by metal.

These days, that might imply an interest in what some people call music, but I am referring to the substance, not the genre. I'm talking about steel.

Not just steel. I routinely pick up bits of metal from the sidewalk: wires, pins, springs, washers, tags, and many other things I have never identified. Many of these things fall off backpacks and clothing, but I also find a lot of earrings and pieces of jewelry that have broken or fallen off. Of course, I find a lot of coins, and I have no hesitation about stopping to pick up a penny--heads up or not--even if it isn't worth the time to some people, it is to me.

But my real fascination is not with coins or random bits of metal on the sidewalk. It's with steel. More specifically, automotive steel.

Admittedly, it didn't start with cars. It started with the metal itself. My first bit of metal was a tricycle when we lived in Abilene. It was no different than most trikes today: red and white with a red metal seat and red and white streamer flowing from the ends of the handlebars. I cannot count the number of times that I 'fixed' that trike. Every day it seems I had to turn it over and do some 'maintenance,' even if that merely consisted of looking at the wheel while turning the pedal with my hand. I guess I managed to take the handlebars off, but I really can't remember.

I do remember my actually working on my bicycle in San Antonio, where we moved from Abilene in 1967. Here we lived in an apartment. I had a green 'stingray' bike, with no gears and an 'automatic' brake that worked by slamming the pedal backward. This bike was a simple machine, but I longed to 'work' on it, so I fiddled around with all the moving parts: the chain and the handlebars were all that availed themselves.

It was here, in the Seven Pines Apartments in San Antonio, that I developed the desire to work on something more than a bike. This was in south San Antonio, which at the time was a very poor neighborhood. Men would come out to work on their cars after work and all weekend, and boys like me would come out to watch them.

After school and during the weekend, I saw engines and transmissions pulled out in the white dust of the caleche parking lot. I saw oil and spark plugs and air filters changed. I saw guys doing bodywork and interior repairs. Even before I realized it, this was something I longed to do.

But I didn't get a car for a long time. I had to make do with bicycles. My first bike after moving to Austin from San Antonio was an "Orange Crate". This bike had a very small front wheel and a regular back wheel (with a knobby tire) which made it seem very much like a "chopper" in 1969 (think easy rider for kids). It had hand brakes, three gears (in the hub, not a derailleur) and was a piece of shit.

For one thing, it was hard to ride. For another, it was hard to 'work' on. Everything about it was cheap and everything about it broke. It was useless for my paper route so I tried to sell it without luck. I probably gave it away.

In high school, I bought a relatively expensive ten speed, a Raleigh Record, which I rode a lot. My best friend McDonald and I rode from 30 to 100 miles every weekend during our senior year. I rebuilt that bike several times, including the wheel hubs and crank.

By this time, I was really ready to move on, and fortunately McDonald had the means: an Austin Healy convertible that he bought and wanted to restore. I don't know what model and year it was not how he came by it. I do remember helping him to rebuild the engine, night after night after school we would work till we couldn't stay awake. One day we finally finished it and even managed to take it out for a drive. McDonald decided to rebuild the transmission next, and the poor Healy never woke up from the surgery.

Next: Cars of my own.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Jury Duty

I was called but did not serve.

That about sums it up. About two weeks ago, I got a jury duty summons in the mail. In the 'olden days' when one received such a noticed, it meant a trip to the courthouse, even if you couldn't or didn't want to serve. Nowadays, reporting for jury duty means a trip to the internet, to fill out a form.

So, that's what I did. This web form consisted of a series of what would be considered to be typical questions, about whether or not I could serve fairly plus some questions about my race and income. I answered honestly and in about ten minutes, I was 'impaneled'. I got an email about five minutes later with all the information about where and when to show up.

That day was Wednesday September 15. Municipal Courtroom 2B. I arrived about 1:15 and signed in and took a badge that said "Juror". There were twenty five of us in the room by 1:30, when the clerk came to bring us into the courtroom.

I was juror #1, so I sat on the end of the first row. In front of me were the prosecuting attorney and the Defendant, who was clearly acting as his own counsel. The Prosecutor was a young man of about twenty-five to thirty. He was a little overweight and wore an ill-fitting dark suit. He had close cropped black hair, dark eyes and a ready smile, which he flashed after thanking every juror 'for their honesty' when concluding his questions.

The Defendant was a large man of about thirty to thirty-five. He was obviously a blue-collar worker, for he was not wearing a suit but a day-glo yellow work-shirt with silver reflective tape around the shoulders and across the front. He was wearing work jeans and heavy dusty boots. He also had close-cropped black hair and sported a small gold loop earring in one ear.

The Judge welcomed us, introduced the prosecuting attorney and the Defendant. She told us a bit about the case. It was a criminal case, but not a felony, just a misdemeanor traffic case. Specifically, the defendant was charged with running a red light.

After introductions, the prosecuting attorney was given the first go. He asked us, in turn, whether or not we had had a traffic citation in the past five years and if so, what the disposition had been.

Since I was Juror #1, he started with me. In fact, I have had a citation in the past five years, but at first I couldn't be sure. I stammered a bit until I recalled that I had gotten that speeding ticket back in February of 2008. I told him that I'd taken it to trial and that it had been dismissed, to which he said, "Congratulations" and moved on.

By the time he got to Juror #25, there had already been a shorthand established: "Got a speeding ticket. Paid the fine and took Defensive Driving," or "No tickets," were the two standard replies that moved the whole thing along pretty quickly. There were a couple of people who had gotten tickets for running a red light, one of whom said it was an accident (she just rolled out into the intersection) and that she'd called the police on herself!

This revelation afforded the prosecutor the chance to tell us that since it was a traffic case, there was no room for considering motive. In other words, it didn't matter whether or not the Defendant intended to run the red light, just whether or not he had done it. In theft, the prosecution explained, the State must at least address intent, as it is integral to the crime. But, in a traffic case, intent is just not a factor.

In other words, I realized, the Defendant was probably guilty and there was probably nothing we could do about it. Nothing, that is, unless we had an agenda, which, quite candidly, is what the Prosecutor admitted he was trying to uncover in his line of questioning.

When he was finished with all twenty five of us, the Prosecutor turned over the floor to the Defendant, who stood up to face us. He began by telling us that he was a heavy equipment driver. He said that it was not always possible for him to stop as quickly as he would like and that he would ask us to consider that. Now, although my knowledge of courtroom procedure is limited to my many hours of watching Law & Order and Perry Mason, this seemed even to my amateur ear to be a bit too much information about the case given much too early in the process. Indeed, the prosecutor quickly objected.

The Judge called the Prosecutor and the Defendant over to the bench. After a couple of minutes of muffled voices, they turned back around to face us. When asked by the Judge if he had any questions for the jury pool, this time, the Defendant said no. He knew, it seems to me, that his was already a losing effort. His attempt to explain the circumstances so early in the process reflected his honest motive, which was to say that even if he had done it, he didn't mean to.

The presence of the police officer--dressed in his full Blues--in the back of the room seemed to already be enough evidence to set the process inevitably in favor of the prosecution. Obviously, to the Defendant, the Judge's admonition was merely the necessary proof of this inevitability.

Well, whether or not I was perceived to have had an agenda, I was not chosen for the jury. Since either the prosecution or the defense can effectively dismiss a potential juror for any number of reasons, I have no way of knowing which side dismissed me or even if they gave me that much consideration at all. Since four of the six jurors who were actually picked came from the first ten on the list, it's pretty likely that I was summarily dismissed by one or the other side, but it's also likely that neither of them wanted me to serve and that I was simply passed over.

So, called I was, but serve I did not. By two-thirty, just a little more than an hour after I'd checked in, I was back out in the heat, on my way home.

Just as well, too, since it would have been the rest of the afternoon and the verdict was already a foregone conclusion.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My First Love

Dear TV,

You've probably noticed that we have been hanging out a lot less lately. I really don't know how to break this to you gently, so I might as well be direct.

We are no longer best friends. Now, don't get me wrong, we are still good friends and all, but, well, our relationship just hasn't been as special--nor as exclusive--lately as it used to be. The thing is, as I've gotten older, I have made other friends. I've got other interests, you see.

No, I am not saying you aren't interesting anymore. I mean, you've got all those science and history channels now, as though you are really trying to become more cosmopolitan and to appeal to pseudo-intellectuals and dilettantes like me. So, I suppose if I wanted to, I could get some of the same information from you that I get from books and magazines. Of course, you've got your 'hard-hitting' news magazines like 60 Minutes and Dateline, and even whole channels dedicated to news and sports, but let's be honest, while these offerings are certainly entertaining, informative they are not.

Now I am not blaming you for FOX. I understand, it is a natural development in the steady decline you've shown over the years we've been together. But as a good friend, I have to tell you that, like bad teeth or rolls of fat, it's real turn-off, literally.

You see, even though I never have the patience to watch O'Reilly, Hannity or Beck, I see and hear enough of these 'fair and balanced' viewpoints in other media, so I have just started turning you off. I know you haven't noticed, what with all the other millions of fans you have out there, slavishly devoted to your quaint but aging twentieth-century style of 'infotainment'. But it is true: our friendship isn't what it used to be, and it's time for a break.

Now, I said it's time for a break, not that we are breaking up, so I won't be throwing you out of the house. No, I'll still continue to see you, just not every day and not for as long. You understand, don't you?

Actually, I have to admit that I am returning to my first love: books. In fact, you probably know that I've been secretly seeing them all along. Not just books, but magazines and the internet are all sources of the words I have so long loved. The thing is, words will be with me always, even when I don't pay the cable or electricity bills. I can always take my book outside and read under a tree for free.

And free is what I am when I read.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gr3yghost's Green Ghia

The girls think it's cool. The guys think it's nuts. I think they are both right.

It is my new toy, a 1974 lime-green VW Karmann Ghia convertible. Actually, it is my new project, since it doesn't actually run. Yet.

I bought it from a guy in Georgetown, who had it listed on Craigslist for $1800. We drove out early Saturday morning to have a look. It was sitting on a concrete pad in his front yard, and the first thing I noticed about it was the color. It's one of those unmistakable colors, the kind that make you stop and look, even when the car itself is in bad shape.

And, this car, man, is it ever in bad shape. That is the second thing I noticed, and the third. To begin with, it has a lot of rust, and that's an understatement. it has no interior, no convertible top (though the rusted frame is there). The windshield is cracked. The tires are shot and the wheels are rusted. The engine 'turns over--which means it isn't locked up with rust, at least--but a small fire in the engine compartment melted the wiring and boiled the paint off a big spot in the trunk, which is now rusting away. The floor pans look solid, but that's because they are probably replacements, and the passenger side is dented already. It doesn't look like it has ever been in an accident, but it has been repainted so it's possible when I start stripping off the paint I'll discover otherwise. The nose cone--one of those impossible to fix things--has never been dented as far as I can tell, so that is a positive.

That may be one of the very rare positive things I can say about it today, even though that cynical assessment does not diminish my enthusiasm for the project. This, believe it or not Dear Reader, is do-able. As I looked it over, I knew it would be an enormous undertaking, but it's something I've wanted to do for a long time. One or the other Reader will recall a couple of other automotive projects that sat in my driveway for several years, so I was mindful of the disbelief that will accompany this news.

And yet, I couldn't resist. I didn't resist. After all, I have looked at every Ghia posted on Craigslist in Texas for 18 months and so far, this is the only affordable convertible to come my way. This is not unexpected since even the coupes are fairly rare--they never sold more than 35,000 in a single year of production--the convertibles are even rarer. Altogether, there were no more than 75,000 convertibles of all model years made.

I didn't know those statistics when I was looking at the car, only that this might be my best chance for some time to come. So, as I rolled out from underneath, still shuddering at the sight of all that rust, I offered $1000. He countered with $1500. I paid $1300 for it, delivered to my driveway.

So, there it sits. I made the first two purchases for it this morning, a car cover and a Haynes Repair Manual. There is a lot to be done, and as you might have guessed, I will be writing about it. Not, however, in this journal, since it will undoubtably reduce the readership by half or more, so I will chronicle the saga of the lime-green Ghia in another blog:

Gr3yghost's Green Ghia

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Losers Weepers

Finders keepers.

It may be one of the very first unwritten rules that we learn. I learned it from a classmate in kindergarten. What looked like theft to me was, someone explained, actually fair. Somehow, the sing-song delivery of those magic words seemed to make the act of appropriation more like an innocent windfall rather than the more contradictory reality that it was.

The contradictory part is not omitted nor even disguised. Losers weepers pretty much says it all, but this we conveniently choose to ignore. The thrill of finding something overrides the certain knowledge that anything found must have been lost, by someone. Using notion that it was simply left there for us to take as a defense isn't even a necessary if we invoke the finders keepers rule. We can simply take. And we do.

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated with Egyptian antiquities. I won't claim to have been offended or in any way concerned with the ethics of archaeology or the provenance of art. I loved the gold and copper sarcophagi and the mummies therein. I spent hours staring the blue and gold scarabs, and golden treasures looted from the tombs of the Kings of Egypt.

But I didn't actually think of them as looted. I read the stories about the discovery of Tut's Tomb, and even managed to visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York during that King's famous road tour through the U.S. back in the sixties. Thanks Lynda.

It was Lynda who first informed me about the shady world of art collecting. One of her most beloved pieces of art in the world was actually a collection of sculpture fragments taken from the Parthenon in Athens. Known as the 'Elgin Marbles' after the British explorer who brought them from Greece to England, these are some of the finest examples of Greek art that we have in the world today.

Lynda, of course, had read a lot about the Elgin Marbles long before she lived in England. But one of her first excursions after arriving in 1975 was to the British Museum to see those statues. She often talked of the experience of seeing for the first time as being a very emotional and dramatic one. In spite of the fact that she was an abstract expressionist painter, she was deeply influenced by classical art of all kinds. Lynda loved art of all kinds. The Elgin Marbles just happened to be one of her first loves.

But Lynda also made it clear, whenever she waxed rhapsodic about these sculptures, that they were looted. She had to turn in some very tight circles to justify the looting, but she was enough of a realist to know that just because you 'own' something doesn't mean it's yours. Long before the talk of 're-patriating' art became fashionable, Lynda knew that someday the Greeks were going to come calling for their 'Marbles.'

As a student of art history, I too can turn in some very tight circles to justify my love for looking at things I probably shouldn't be able to see. It's too fascinating to turn away, so like rubberneckers at a crime scene, I leer and stare and soak up all the information I can. I am a part of the problem.

But, should we just stop archaeology? Just leave everything where it is? Return everything in museums?

Ok, so those are rhetorical questions. Suppose that the British Museum is seriously considering returning the Elgin Marbles. Would that make any difference? What about the Egyptian collection? The Sumerian stuff? Isn't everything in every museum simply looted or stolen?

The answer is yes. But are we seriously going to give all that stuff back? Not likely. To whom? No one knows.

Although the great age of museums is drawing to a close, even in response to the most dramatic weeping on the part of the losers, most of that stuff will stay right where it is.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Bright Line

I could see the line the instant I opened the door.

Even before I knew that Mr. ____ was dead, I could see that line.

Actually, it's not exactly a line that you can see, but I could feel it. I knew it was there.

It's the kind of a line we are all familiar with: the demarcation between where you are supposed to be and where you aren't.

Sometimes, that line is pretty clearly marked. We've got lanes that make lines and lines that make lanes. Lines are just a part of being human. We have ID badges and keys and entry codes for our homes and workplaces. We have secure areas, velvet ropes and 'extens-a-barriers' in just about every public place.

We make and mark lines in many places and for many reasons. Though we profess to hate them, we are more often secretly glad to know they are there, just because they are there to make and mark our place.

Often the line an actual physical thing, like the line in a restaurant kitchen, which divides the waiter from the cooks in much the same way as the swinging doors between the kitchen and dining room divide the waiters from the patrons.

Most times, though, the lines that make up our lives are not so clearly marked. These imaginary lines are no less important, however. After all, they serve the same purpose: separating those us us who are supposed to be here from those of us who are not.

The line at the nursing home is an invisible one.

As long as Mr. ____ was alive, I didn't give it much thought; I simply crossed that imaginary line when I entered the nursing home where he lived. At first, of course, I had to show my credentials--just the Hospice Austin badge with my name on it--to the nurse when I came in, but after a while, I grew increasingly comfortable with my reason for being there and the line grew less and less visible.

It didn't take long before I began to forget that the line was even there. Anything done often enough can become routine, even watching someone die. Thursday after Thursday, I simply stepped over it and walked down the corridor to Mr. ____'s room. My routine developed over eight months--from the time I started making my weekly visits until last week.

Last Thursday, it was different.

As recently as two weeks ago, Mr. ____ was sitting up in his wheelchair and still recognized me. Last Thursday, when I arrived around 4:30, he was lying in bed, looking very peaceful. His eyes were open but when I approached, he didn't respond at all. He was breathing steadily, as though he was sleeping. In fact, he closed his eyes after a moment to actually 'sleep'.

So, I pulled up a chair and sat with him as usual. I figured this might actually be the last time I would have this opportunity. I was surprised, therefore, when at 5 o'clock, one of the nurse's aides came in to say that she was going to get him up for dinner.

I asked, "Really? Is he still eating?"

She shrugged and said that it was the nurse's orders. I must have looked startled because she went off to confirm this with the nurse. In the meantime, another nurse's aide came in to wake him up. She called his name and he opened his eyes but made no sign of recognition. I asked this woman if she thought he could eat but she just smiled and shrugged. Then the first woman returned to say, while shaking her head in dismay, that she had to get him up for dinner.

They asked me to leave the room and I did. In fact, I went ahead and left the nursing home. Before I left the room I went over to the bed to say goodbye to Mr. ____ and though his eyes were open, he made no sign.

I couldn't help but question what purpose was served in waking him up and rolling him down for a 'dinner' that he was clearly unable to eat. While I erred on the side of caution by keeping my mouth shut, I still feel guilty about it.

My expectation proved correct, however. This past Tuesday, Hospice called to ask if I would sit with Mr. ____ during what they call an '11th Hour' vigil. This is where they ask volunteers to sit with the dying person till the very end. I volunteered for an 8am to noon shift the next day, Wednesday.

But, when I arrived Wednesday morning and opened the door, I saw the resident nurse's eyes and just knew that the line had been drawn. She told me what I already knew and I withdrew immediately, feeling more like an intruder than the regular visitor I'd been for the better part of a year.

In some ways, this loss of access made me sadder than knowing of Mr. ____'s departure. Without meaning to or even realizing it, I had begun to cling, as we all do, to that safe haven, that semblance of order and rightness in the world which we call a routine.

Though I will miss Mr. ____, I selfishly confess that it is the routine I will miss. It is that unquestioned access to his intimate space, the unspoken permission granted to cross that oh-so-private life-line that I will miss most.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Revenge

Ode to Louis L'Amour (1908 - 1988)

The sound of the rifle bullet
missing its target
echoed through the hot dead air
trapped between
high canyon walls.

A jagged piece of stone
nicked Buck's ear,
but he didn't move.

The sun was relentless.

No wind stirred the dust.

Buck held his breath
and closed his left eye.

The bead on the end
of the barrel
of his Winchester
came into focus
and split second later,
the sound
of a second rifle shot
echoed through the
narrow arroyo.

For what seemed like an eternity,
Buck waited.

Then,
when his lungs were about
to implode,
a body fell from the cliff
on the opposite side
of the canyon.

Buck had killed a lot of men
in five decades,
but never
had it felt
so
satisfying.

He stood and
squinted
into the sun.

He spit into the
white caleche dust
around his boots.

For a long time,
he just stood there
and stared at the body.

A little crimson leak
appeared in the chalk white dust
below the dead man.

Buck thought
about shooting him again,
just to be sure.

Not out of fear,
just simple rage.

But even the heat
of that anger
could not diminish
the coldness of his desire
for revenge.

He had no need
to waste another bullet
even if
he could have summoned the will
for another shot.

The blue-black barrel
of his rifle
dropped to his side
as thirty years of hatred
slipped
silently
from his shoulders.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Tie That Binds

Loki waits for me at the door, ready for our evening walk. He knows that's what we're about to do, because I just told him. He may not understand everything I say, but he knows when we are going for a walk.

He sits by the door, waiting for me to put his leash on. Sometimes, as I clip the red lead to his collar, I wonder if he resents it. After all, he loves to run on ahead whenever he's allowed to go for a walk without it. But, if he resents it, he certainly doesn't show it. In fact, it's pretty clear to me that he sees the leash for what it is: a means of communication.

When we first started walking together our communication skills were rather poor. Loki always wanted to go faster than I preferred to, or stop to smell something just when I had my walking pace set. He was forever tugging forward or or pulling backward. I was never really sure how to make it work, or for that matter, if we ever would. It seemed like I was only using the leash to forcibly restrain him. The rule, not the exception, was for him to constantly strain at the end of the lead, anxious for me to either pick up the pace or let him go.

Now that has changed. Of course there are moments when he has to be restrained a bit. Sometimes, his constant, in-the-moment way of being leads to a sudden lunge or stop, but increasingly, these moments are rare.

A walk today is a far different one that it was when Loki was a puppy. He no longer lunges ahead, or even strains the leash. I hold the loop in one hand and take up the slack with the other. There is no tension on the leash at all. Granted, I do have a pretty fast walking pace, but Loki has learned not just to slow down, but to pick up on just how fast I am walking and match that.

What has changed? Is it him or me?

Obviously, it is a bit of both. We are both a little older and a little wiser, especially about the role of the leash.

The leash, we both have come to realize, is more than a means of control. It is a symbol, not of my dominance over Loki, but of our partnership. When we go out for the walk, the lead is our most direct way of communicating.

This is sort of like the cheap walkie-talkies my brother and I shared growing up. They were useful for communicating within earshot only and we could never be sure if it was the walkie-talkie or just the sound coming through the air. While I can't be sure if it's just Loki taking his visual cues better as he gets older and wiser, it sure seems like there is some communication going on between us, and it seems to be happening literally via the leash.

I know this because there is a reciprocal element at work. That is, Loki senses how fast I want to walk but I sense the same from him. Somehow, we compromise. Sometimes, we go a little faster than I'd prefer, but not as fast as Loki would like. Sometimes when he wants to stop, I just know it and don't have to wait for him to jerk at the lead in order to get a good long sniff of something.

Human arrogance might lead me to think that the difference between now and then would be Loki. After all, he's grown up and has learned how to handle the leash. But I have to admit that I have changed too. I have learned how to hold the leash. What I once perceived as an instrument of control I see now as a means of communication.

And, what I am communicating is not what I want him to do, but quite simply, my state of mind. When I am relaxed, Loki can feel that. When I am willing to walk faster, Loki can feel that. When he wants to stop and smell something, I can feel that. When we come to a curb and I come to a stop to look both ways, he too comes to a stop and sits at my heel.

Now, Loki's learned a lot about what we expect from him, not just when he's leashed but also when he's not. Likewise, I have learned a lot about what he expects from me, especially when we are tied together by that lead.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Watch Your Step

No pain, no gain. It's a cliche because it seems so common sensible. Everything has a price; nothing comes from nothing. It's even a Law of Nature, right?

We all know that without risk there is no reward.  Even further, we are told, the greater the risk, the greater the reward.

Consider walking.  Is it risky?  Most of us don't think so, unless we are very young, very old, injured  or disabled, for whom the risk inherent in walking is anything but imaginary.  Even for the healthiest of bipedals, walking is among the most dangerous things we do, because the physics of walking is actually a process of falling and catching oneself repeatedly.  Because we walk so much, it seems safe enough, but we all know from experience that it only takes a single mistake to make clear the constant inherent risk.  You don't have to fall far to die.  One need not walk off a 400 foot cliff to tumble to one's death.  A six-inch curb or an icy bit of pavement can do the trick just as well.

But walking isn't really so dangerous, is it?  No, of course it isn't.  Even after just a few hundred steps, we rightly get the idea that what seemed dangerous at first is actually pretty safe.  The risk (death) is pretty low and the reward (getting somewhere) is pretty high.

The question is, though, is whether or not greater risk really does bring greater reward.

If walking is risky enough, why bother to run?  Well, one might need to escape from a bear, or to catch one's dinner. And, if some precautions are taken (like not running off cliffs or into trees), running is not much more dangerous than walking.   So running, even though it is riskier, is still considered safe enough to be worth the reward--staying alive.

But, to continue down this path, if the rewards of running are greater than the rewards of walking, can we continue to increase rewards by increasing the risk?  In other words are the rewards of running faster (racing) greater than merely running?

Clearly taking no risk at all seems likely to yield the smallest reward, but when the cost of the risk (death) exceeds the value of the potential reward (staying alive; eating dinner) we rightly pull back.  But if the potential reward is sufficient, will we simply tumble headlong into ever-increasing risk without stopping?

Surely there is a line, somewhere.

That line is are just as surely different among individuals--accounting for the likes of Eivel Knievel--but when that line does not involve physical risk but merely, say financial ruin, that line seems to be very hard to find.  Some people deliberately erased that line in their short-sighted and selfish pursuit of wealth before, during and certainly after the most recent financial meltdown.

The odd thing about this state of affairs is that we, as humans, are actually conditioned to minimize risk to the point where we can simply take it for granted.  While walking--even over level terrain--does in fact represent a real and tangible risk, in fact we know the process to be so easy and 'natural' that we don't really consider it to be risky.  That is till, say, we take a walk along a trail with a 400 foot drop-off to one side, cross a busy intersection in a major city, or step out onto that see-through ledge that juts out over the Grand Canyon.

So, paradoxically, it seems that in spite of our daily exposure to the most basic risk of all--death by falling--here we are, living in a culture that literally makes a profit on the fear of risk.  Today, it seems like risk--even the most mitigated and necessary--is to be avoided at all costs.

Boy, does it cost, and it's no wonder.  We are more than willing to pay.  For whatever reason, at perhaps historically the safest time to be alive, particularly in our culture, we want--expect, demand--guarantees for everything, from the material to the conceptual and we don't care what it costs as long as it's safe.

It starts with our products, things, of course--those objects over which we have the greatest personal dominion.  From these we expect the greatest 'unconditional' satisfaction or our money back.  In some ways this is good.  We really don't want faulty or dangerous products and have a good reason for not wanting to pay for either.

Lately, though, it seems like this demand for satisfaction (despite Mick Jagger's well known and even hum-able advice) has spread to other, less tangible but no less fundamental aspects of our communal lives.

The mantra is repeated often:  Everything must be made safe for public consumption.

The risk prevention component of our industrial complex is both pervasive and perverse.  Today, seatbelts, car seats, airbags, fire alarms, child-proof medicine bottles, flame retardant underwear and the millions of products (like useless stinky deodorants and deadly stinky air 'fresheners') are just the most visible of consumer products designed to take advantage of the most trivial and imaginary of personal hygenic fears.

Why is this so?  Despite our seemingly fervent desire to mitigate it, we are hardly consistent in our fear of risk.  In some cases, like the eating of lead paint and the breathing of asbestos, the risks are now so obvious--may I say even, so 20th century--that we take them for granted.

In other cases, like smoking chemical-laden tobacco cigarettes or the driving of automobiles, we have, for the sake of profit, actively denied the risks in the face of hard evidence to the contrary.  Who says cigarettes cause cancer?  Do people really die in car crashes?  Do bears really...well, you know?

At the extremes like this, in fact, it is clear that we have co-opted the most classic fears to serve the cause of consumerism.  But these fears are starting to seem, well, so old-fashioned.  It's time for some 21st century risks and fears, don't you think?

Not to worry, we've got plenty of good stuff to worry about in the new millennium, the Mayan calendar notwithstanding.  For example, these days, what's really troubling some folks is the fear of getting cancer from cell phone radiation or being stripped of all their possessions by the creeping socialist government that will surely emerge from the national debt.  Now those are some things to worry about!

Oh really?  Despite contrary stands on these 'issues' taken respectively by San Francisco and Fox and Friends, both of these fears are, in fact, imaginary.  The San Francisco city council and Glen Beck would do well to read Snopes.com on a daily basis.

I have trouble understanding politicians and pundits when they talk about mitigating the chances we are taking with our grandchildren's lives and livelihoods because the subject of their fears are not really risks at all.  Is our entire way of life really at risk because the government printed billions of dollars to give to the bank, airline and auto industries?

I have trouble understanding amateur scientists and Luddite alarmists when they talk about imaginary radiation and blithely confuse correlation with causation. Are our brains really at risk from the miniscule amount of radiation emitted by cellphone circuitry?  

I know some people think so.  But, what they want is really just a sure thing.  You know.  Risk free.  Big money, with no whammies.  Me, I am not so sure.

Considering that walking is likely as dangerous (or more so) than either foolish, spendthrift politicians or silent, irradiating cell phones, I can't help but thinking that we sure spend a lot of time worrying about all the imaginary risks in life when we are all taking real tangible risks with our lives with each step.

I say, quit worrying about radiation and socialism.  Watching where you put your foot next might just be the safest decision you'll ever make.

Monday, July 26, 2010

All Along the Line

A little at a time,
they say
my life comes back together.

All along the line
I look back
and wonder whether

With a little bit more time
will my heart and mind
ever come together?


It's been a little bit of time
now.

I think
my calloused heart and 
reeling mind
will simply learn to live like this

suspended,

forever.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Too Many Pictures

Sunset on Lake Michigan
I love looking at pictures. This may explain, in part, why I got a couple of degrees in Art History, which, after all, was more like a slide show than an actual major and might explain why I never actually 'did' anything with those degrees. But my 'education' aside, my fascination with visual imagery has not faded, especially now, in this digital age of photography.

I have often told myself that for me, photography is a waste of time. If I have some 'free' time, I always feel like I should be writing. But, when I can't face that blank page (sometimes that's daily) I turn to the old eye-candy and pretend to work by playing with my photos. Besides being a distraction from my writing, there's no real benefit to my photographic obsession. However, that doesn't deter me in the slightest.

Being a gadget lover and the direct descendent of my father Bill (who loved nothing more than buying a new camera) I am always 'buying' a new camera to try it out. I put buying in quotes because I seldom keep one of these cameras; almost invariably they prove to be poorly designed products in spite of their heavy price tags and I return them long before the ten days or two weeks that they allow me. When asked why I am returning it, my answer is often the same: The truth is, most of these new gadgets aren't worth the plastic they are made with, and I seldom, if ever find a device I would like to keep.

The same cannot be said about my photos. While I try to be careful and limit the number of pictures that I shoot, these days, with faster cameras and lots of little memory cards, I allow my habit to get out of hand. Way out of hand.

For example, now back three days from Michigan, and despite having spent the last three nights sorting though, selecting, cropping and yes, even deleting pictures, I am only halfway through. And that's just with the first pass. I cut it down from 2300 images to just 400. Then I have to pick the best of those and post them for friends and family to see.

And even that (178) will be too many pictures.

In a turn of phrase that echoes Lynda's constant advice about my writing ("Too many words, Mr. Dubov...) I can hear my other mother Billie telling me with each press of the shutter, "Too many pictures, Mr. Dubov, too many pictures."

I know, Billie, I know. But what can I do? I love looking at pictures.

The failure I think, is not my own but the rest of the world, or at least the rest of my friends and family. My brother David notwithstanding (he posted a few dozen fabulous photographs of his recent trip to Ireland) no one else in my group seems inclined to satisfy my hunger for fresh imagery.

Not even my brother-in-law Christopher--who is by profession a photographer--puts up as many pictures as often as I do. That's not a knock on Chris; besides being a full-time teacher and a new Dad, he at least has the editorial skill and restraint necessary to keep from overwhelming his viewers. Plus all his photographs are really good, as opposed to the kind of point and shoot snapshots that flow endlessly from my little pack of digital cards.

My father eschewed the snapshot with great effort. He rarely took photographs of us, his family, choosing instead to focus his lens on more 'arty' subjects like abandoned buildings and abstract patterns and textures. Good photographs, but not so satisfying when I go looking for meaning and resonance in them.

Consequently, I have no such artificial restriction on my eye. In fact, I think that in this digital day, when we have more 'arty' sunset and flower shots than we'll ever be able to use in print brochures and websites (and of course, I take too many of those, too), the photos that really matter will be the ones that capture us, people, in a place and time. Snapshots though they may be, these images have meaning and resonance, even with a limited audience, but without that resonance, a photograph is just another picture.

But, as you know, I love looking at pictures. Here are mine. Where, dear Reader, are yours?

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Luxury

As I got out of the shower a week or so ago, somewhere between the pleasure of the deliciously warm and wasteful ablution to which I had just been treated, and the comforting experience of the soft and fluffy towel that soothes my skin, I was--as I always am-- for a moment possessed of a profound sense of gratitude. In this state it occurred to me again--as it has many times before--that this experience, the hot shower plus the fluffy towel, is perhaps the greatest luxury known to man.

From this simple thought, born of simple gratitude for a simple experience, much more thought has been given in the ensuring weeks. Many questions have arisen, most of them centered on the notion of luxury but the experience itself provides context for the notion and so demands some examination as well.

Who would have thought that simply taking a hot shower could be so complicated? After all, it is just a routine experience, something I do every day. Further, it is a routine experience for many people--millions even--in so-called 'civilized' societies, especially in my own peer group of aging American 'baby boomers' living in small houses in subdivisions all over the country. So it is such a common experience, how can it be considered to be a luxury?

What is luxury? Is it simply the opposite of need? To be a luxury, must it be something that is unnecessary? Or, is it possible that even a necessity, such as food or water, could be considered a luxury? Is a physical state, or a state of mind? Is it relative, to others, contemporaneous and historically?

These questions are only in the back of my mind to begin with, for as I towel off, it sure does feel luxurious.

But is it? For one thing, I find it limiting to define luxury so narrowly that it becomes merely the opposite of necessity.

Well, it certainly feels luxurious, having just used more fresh water to rinse refined petrochemicals off my skin than many people will see, let alone drink this whole week.

But, there is more to it than that. Part of our internal psyche is tuned to acquiring and using more than we absolutely 'need'. The drive to seek out comforts and pleasure in addition to needs and wants is fundamental. Nowhere is there better evidence for that than in the advertising that shapes our external world so often. We are enticed by luxury homes, cars and lifestyles. We are told that we are entitled to these things, and this way of living.

It certainly feels like I am "in the lap of luxury" as I wrap myself in the cotton picked and woven by virtual wage slaves in third world countries. It certainly feels luxurious to savor the warmth of who-knows-how many kilowatts of energy that were used to wash and dry it after I used it the last time.

And whether manipulated by advertising or not, I certainly feel entitled to these things. After all, I reason, I pay for the water and the towel and the electricity and the home in which they are all collected. Doesn't that mean that these comforts are earned, deserved even?

Historically and contextually, luxury has had many meanings in many places and times. Though I have given it much thought, and subjected too many of my friends and family to too much conversation about it, I can only conclude that luxury is not rigid nor well defined.

It is for me the sum of experience and a state of mind.

Friday, June 18, 2010

We're so sorry, Uncle Tony

It was an emotional moment for BP Chairman Tony Hayward yesterday as he tearfully accepted Texas Congressman Joe Barton's heartfelt apology for the "tragedy of the first proportion" that had been perpetrated on his company the previous day by President Obama.

While many of his fellow Representatives prepared to blast the giant international petroleum company's embattled president, Representative Barton courageously voiced what many--if not most--Americans were secretly thinking as the innocent corporate executive was being led to a rhetorical slaughter.

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” Barton said in his opening statement. “I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown.”

A cautious collective sigh of relief could be heard across the country at these words, beginning with Representative Barton's esteemed Republican colleagues sitting with him on the committee. As the ranking Republican, it is his moral duty to speak up and from the heart; to say what is on his mind, for it is surely on the minds of his constituents as well as most Americans. And, in the thick of the fight, despite irrelevant questions about his connections to big oil, Congressman Barton found the resolve and courage to do his duty.

The pride that most American felt at this profound expression of their deepest sympathies was immediately diminished somewhat by strident cries of discord from the small minority of citizens--not all of them actual Americans, it will be noted--who happen to live in the Gulf area.

Despite the best efforts of elected Republican officials such as Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi to assure the public that nothing more than a few tar balls were actually washing up on the beaches of the Gulf, his calm and reflective message was unable to counter the excessive and obviously hyperbolic claims of a few hysterical shellfish farmers and fishermen.

Also, in spite of Barbour's informed insistence that these intermittent tar balls were "nothing more than we usually see around here" angry residents continued to complain not only that they were being innundated with oil, but that comments such as Barton's and Barbour's did nothing to help them.

Conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank spokesman Ritch Wright disagreed with this assessment, noting that it was the resident's excessive reaction to a minor incident that was actually exacerbating the situation. Worse, he noted, these whiny citizens were totally missing Barton's patriotic point.

"Messing with corporate rights is generally regarded as un-American, at best, and downright socialist at the very worst. You see," Wright explained, "Polls show that American may indeed not like a few tar balls on their beaches, but what they like even less is when somebody messes with their corporate rights. It's clear to us that this is just the opening volley in Obama's overt attempt to render this country into a completely Socialist regime. That's the "tragedy" that this "shakedown' represents."

"It starts by taking away the rights of corporations to do what they need to do," continued Wright. "Shackling these industrial giants, controlling these powerhouses that drive our economy and make it possible for us to have second homes, extra cars and boats by actually regulating them will only diminish us all. Look, if a rising tide raises all boats, then a lowering tide lowers all boats. "

Wright paused, then pressed to his logical conclusion. "All we are saying--all Congressman Barton was saying--is that we have to be respectful to the corporations who have brought us all such unprecedented wealth and prosperity. "Dance with with who brung ya" is the saying in Texas, and God bless him, good old Joe Barton is doing just that."

Wiping away tears in the Congressional hearing room after hearing Barton's sincere apology, Hayward allowed himself a small smile of gratitude as he said "Thank you." His smile was short-lived, for he knew that Barton's was the only kind voice he would hear that day, and possibly for many more days to come.