Peculiar Stories and Declarations

Writings from my own mInd

Peculiar Stories and Declarations

About Ron Pavellas

Author

The Puddle

It’s not a perfect slope. The asphalt-covered path, just wide enough for a large vehicle to traverse, begins between the apartment building to the west and the children’s sandbox and grassy area to the east. After around five meters down the gentle slope, the path abruptly widens. The center of this larger paved area is inlaid with decorative bricks which the children use as a palette for their colored chalk pieces. The path grows steeper here, and at its north end is a latched gate to keep the youngsters from escaping their playground, down the stairs to the path at the lakeside below.

The entire path is tilted downward, slightly, toward the east. When it rains, the water flows from west to east across the asphalt, then closely along the retaining wall of the sandbox and grassy area. A heavy rain will produce a little creek along this wall.

There is a depression in the asphalt before the creek leaves the narrow path, where it will become a little lake. Kids love it. Despite the rain, even snow,  parents will clothe their charges as for a storm so they can run, jump and splash–some bringing pails and shovels to capture the water.

But no more. Progress has been committed. The whole area has been repaved and re-bricked. The tilt in the path remains, but the depression next to the retaining wall is gone. No more running, jumping, splashing in the collected water.

What price progress?

Oration from the Future

“Knowledge itself is unknowable.”
—from Plato’s dialogue The Theaetetus

“All men naturally reach out for knowledge.”
—Aristotle

“Knowledge itself is power.”
—Roger Bacon

Today I will tell you a story about how we traveled through time, discovering and collecting knowledge about our world, and what we have done with this knowledge.

By ‘we’ I mean people like us who share this great world, even those who live so far away we shall never meet them.

We began as people not quite like ourselves many years ago, so many years ago our heads cannot hold the largeness of the number.

How large? Well, let me ask, how long can a human live? Yes, one hundred years is a good enough number, thank you. This story begins twenty thousand lifetimes ago.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Don’t try. The numbers will get easier as the story unfolds.

II.

Twenty thousand lifetimes ago, something happened. A new tribe of beings emerged from the many lives in the world. We have named these beings Hominids.

The Hominids were curious and sought knowledge of the world. They used this knowledge to make things, new things that other lives did not have or make.

They made fire, the knife, and the axe. These things and others that they made helped them live longer and produce more people like themselves. Nevertheless, the possible lifetime of a Hominid wasn’t as long as ours—maybe only twenty-five years.

Over the next eighteen thousand of our lifetimes the Hominids hunted and gathered in the plains and forests where they lived.

How many of their lifetimes passed during eighteen thousand of ours? Many more of course. The exact number cannot be known, and it isn’t important for our story, except to keep in mind the great amount of time it represents.

The Hominids survived to evolve, and eventually developed and additional new tribes came into being.

These tribes passed through their time in the world and continued to gain knowledge.

Then around two thousand of our lifetimes ago, one branch of Hominids became Humans who eventually displaced all the Hominids.

It was cold in much of the world, but the ice to the north began receding for the next seventy-five thousand years and the world became warmer, and the seas gradually rose.

Humans moved to lands newly uncovered by receding ice, and grew in number, forming groups.

Some groups moved to other parts of the vast land in which they first appeared.

Others moved north and east, advancing, retreating, adapting to new conditions.

They made more tools: the spear, the bow and arrow.

They made caves into shelters and clothes from animal skins, allowing them to live in colder places. They drew pictures in these caves about the world they lived in, how they hunted, how the sun and the stars move through the sky.

They took animals into their families and hunting parties.

They encountered other types of humans and either joined with them or fought them.

III.

The world was warm for many generations of humans. They were able to roam lands far from where their ancestors started.

Then the ice appeared again, around eighty thousand years ago, and grew, and grew. As the ice thickened and advanced from the poles, the seas drew away from the edges of the land allowing humans to move to new places which were warmer.

The cold lasted seventy thousand years, with two shorter warm times of around four thousand years each toward the end of this period.

These were hard times for humans, and eventually only one kind of human survived—Homo sapiens. We are the descendants of these surviving humans.

We built farms, and cities, and temples during the most recent warm time, but a final cold time returned and then retreated. During these years almost everything was destroyed or buries by erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, and great floods. The Humans who survived were diminished in number and in social disarray.

IV.

Now the number of years in this story are more easily imagined.

By one hundred thirty of our lifetimes—that is, thirteen thousand years ago—the ice had gradually and finally receded, and the cold times abated, never, at least yet, to return in full. But the seas rose upon the land as the water trapped in the ice were released. We moved inland as the seas advanced, and found new land the ice had previously covered, as our ancestors did many thousands of years before.

The warmer climate encouraged plant and animal life, including humans. Most humans changed their lives from hunting and foraging to farming and animal husbandry—and cities.

They, that is we, became ever greater inventors of tools and methods, using knowledge inherited from our ancestors and developed through trial and error in our work.

We developed irrigation and other improvements to farming.

We developed measures for weight, for length, and for the passage of days.

We developed alphabets, writing, record keeping, and counting boards.

We planned cities and put walls around them. We constructed stone buildings, with arches to create larger spaces within them. We stored and transported water through channels.

We made more tools: the bow drill, the windlass, the composite bow, rope, simple pulleys, abrasives, the glass lens, and mirrors.

We made more effective weapons.

We created and refined new materials: leather, glass, iron, copper, silver, zinc, boron, tin, mercury, bronze, papyrus, pottery, linen. silk, cotton. We invented the loom, knitting, smelting, metal casting, stone quarrying, and the mining of ores and metals.

We developed systems of trade with people in other locations.

We developed methods of governing the affairs of the people in the city and on the farms, including laws and courts.

We examined the night skies and made maps and stories about the stars, and developed calendars based on their movements.

We began to develop the arts, including music and dance.

We imagined gods who inhabited the things and processes we discovered, made, and built upon.

All these things happened before we discovered any written record of them. Such surviving records started around four thousand years ago, just forty of our lifetimes ago.

V.

Four thousand years ago, around the time for which we have written records, we began to see the world differently. We became more conscious as individuals. We began to consult ourselves and each other, instead of gods and kings and priests and portends. Some people challenged the idea of having rulers over them and created self-governing cities.

Some people challenged the concept of many gods affecting our lives, and that there was but one God or force in the world.

We created tools for writing our languages which allowed them to endure and travel.

We discovered number, which aided commerce and helped to created great wealth and empires, sometimes through our own labors and sometimes by taking them from others, or by enslaving captives after warring on other peoples. The empires enabled and encouraged scholars to develop even more knowledge of the world, including knowledge of ourselves, as if we were separate from the world we saw.

We created instruments which helped us develop our music beyond basic rhythms and melodies.

Theories and uses of mathematics became schools of study, even religions.

We developed the concepts of ethics and logic

We began to talk about The Soul, and The Self.

Empires, and armies of nomads made war on each other, destroying much of what had been built, but written documents and oral histories preserved much of the knowledge we had gained.

VI.

In the several centuries after we became more conscious of the power of our observations and thoughts, great prophets, sages, and scholars came to be throughout the world.

They made findings and assertions and posed and answered questions on issues of interest to seekers, and in doing so, found and created ever more knowledge. Among them was Plato, who said: “Knowledge itself is unknowable”. And Aristotle, who said: “All men naturally reach out for knowledge.”

Countless other thoughts and findings of these and other sages culminated around thirty-five hundred years ago, when we numbered around one hundred million souls throughout the world.

A library and museum were built by the ruler of Egypt around three thousand years ago. It held almost all the knowledge which had been put into writing, in drawings, and on stone carvings. But it was burned and destroyed over several centuries by accident, and by conquering armies. Some knowledge was lost forever, but enough survived in other places to allow us to use it and build upon it, perhaps even replacing that which was lost in Egypt. But we’ll never be certain of this

VII.

The world before the time in which we now live was a violent world. Leaders of some people formed armies and navies to conquer other peoples. They killed and enslaved those whom they could conquer or suffered a similar fate if they failed. Some people killed other people because the gods of other peoples were offensive to the gods they held sacred. In all cases, the successful armies gained stolen wealth, including land, and the knowledge developed and held by those they conquered. Sometimes the conquerors destroyed everything, finding anything of the other peoples offensive to them, or of possible future danger to them.

Large and small conflicts endured for many hundreds of years before and after the time of the great sages and scholars.

Some of the successful leaders and their descendants built great empires, which rose and fell over the centuries, and for hundreds of years empires were in disarray.

VIII.

Around one thousand years ago, a span of time equal to only ten of our lifetimes, knowledge from the works of the ancient sages began to be uncovered and rediscovered, and a great flowering of philosophy and the arts resulted.

As more people had access to the writings, translations, and transcriptions of the ancient scholars, the more knowledge spread throughout the world. We continued to build larger cities, larger empires, greater weapons.

Eight hundred years ago a man named Roger Bacon, employing knowledge gained from the ancient sages, from some contemporary scholars, and through his own investigations and conclusions, declared that Humans were now able to discover the secrets of Nature and to control and rule her. He said, “Knowledge itself is power.”

The era of Science and Technology had begun.

From this point until only two of our lifetimes ago, we accomplished things which in previous times would have been called magical.

We found ways to cure and prevent diseases which had plagued Humans ever since large cities were created.

We created immense farms which fed so many people that the numbers of people in the world were able to grow exponentially.

We created weapons which were so destructive that, if we fully employed them, we could destroy ourselves and much of other lives in the world.

We found ways to replace and repair parts of our bodies that were damaged or missing.

We examined the stars ever more closely and accurately and imagined ways to travel beyond this world.

We examined living things ever more closely, including ourselves, to find the mechanisms that made us what we are.

We examined matter, down to the smallest portion that could be perceived or imagined and found—nothing. That is, no thing. What we had been perceiving as physical stuff were actually vibrations in what was then called space-time.

We were perplexed because we thought that through our investigations, what we called Science, it would finally be revealed, with certainty, how the world was made and how we could control and manage it to our benefit.

This is when our founders began to take action.

IX.

Well, you know the rest of the story from your parents and grandparents.

World-wide governments and organizations were created to control all knowledge and its uses, to gain ever more power over the people and the forces of Nature. Leaders and scientists divided the world into so many parts and processes that eventually nothing could be controlled, and the last great civilization collapsed. Billions of people died from starvation and disease. People lost the ability to cooperate and collaborate for the common good and they killed each other over access to the remaining food, water and shelter.

Two lifetimes of world-wide horror and misery finally ended with small numbers of people in groups together, scattered over the world, just as in the beginning.

What was different from the beginning, however, was the immense store of knowledge that had been created over thirteen thousand years.

The leaders of our colony had foreseen the terrible collapse. They had gathered and stored in hidden places all the knowledge which was available, much being hidden by governments and other organizations. Along with knowledge, they stored food and medicine and other things necessary for our people to survive what had been foreseen.

There were not many of us in the colony then, maybe one hundred souls. During the terrible times, as others were killing and dying, these one hundred people thought about how we could prevent such a horror in the future, assuming we would even survive it.

Of course, we did survive it and we gathered into our colony others who had survived.

During the two hundred years of hiding and surviving we consulted the knowledge to see if others had foreseen such things, and what they may have suggested to prevent the collapse of society. We found many who had predicted or warned of this, from thousands of years ago.

Many of the ancient prophets, sages, and scholars warned us of improperly using the powers found in Nature, and in naming these forces to make them gods to worship and emulate.

These warnings and the experience of the Great Horror are why we remind ourselves with a prayer at the beginning and end of every day, including an ancient word at the end:

“Oh, Great and Nameless Powers, we thank you for the knowledge you have lent us so that we may make tools, grow food, and make shelter for ourselves. We thank you for the beauties and pleasures of the world. We remind ourselves that we are not gods, but that the forces of Nature flow through us as they do through everything we see and use.

“Please allow us to continue.

“Amen.”

Asking for Money

Ed was never in such a tight spot before. For money, that is.

Before the personal bankruptcy he could always use the credit cards to tide him over. But, of course, that path led to his and his ex-wife’s final financial disaster.

Now he was divorced, supporting, as best he could, the children who were living with his ex. The kids were his top priority, after his own food and shelter, meager as both were.

He finally got a good job, one that would provide just enough for two the households. But there was no cushion.

The job depended on a car, and the car was a bit on the elderly side, prone to the occasional and expensive malaise. This was such a time. Ed had never borrowed from a friend before, but desperation pushed him to the edge. Perhaps Frank would understand. Ed gave him a call.

“Uh, Frank.”

“Yeah?”

“I got that job.”

“Super!”

“That’s the good news”

“Are you implying, therefore, that some bad news is about to follow, as if I couldn’t tell?”

“It’s the Honda.”

“The one I recommended to you.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t fix Hondas, I’m a General Motors kinda guy, maybe the occasional Ford.”

“Well, the water pump, maybe the whole cooling system, is a wee bit too old. It’ll take up to $1,000.”

“And you, my reformed spendthrift ol’ buddy, are on the shorts and maybe ol’ Frank’ll stand up for you, huh?”

“Man, you are sharp!”

“How long you need it for?”

“With the new job, I can repay each month—12 months, say?”

“Look, I’ve got a $1000 T-bill up for renewal right now. I’ll cash it and you can pay me in a year at T-Bill interest, OK? I don’t want no stinkin’ monthly payments.”

“Man, this saves my job and, therefore, my life.”

“You don’t remember when you saved mine?”

“Uh, no, when was that?”

“You enticed that young lady away from me and then you married her, remember?”

“That saved your life?”

“Well, look where that gambit took you!

Open Fly

Jeez, his fly is open. Well, nothing’s sticking out, except a little of his blue shirt. I guess his thing isn’t blue.

And he’s such a nice- looking gentleman. He looks sort of like Sean Connery, only a little younger than right now.  He’s so well dressed—except for his fly, of course.

He seems to be waiting for something, someone maybe. I mean, he’s so easy to look at and a lot of other women are looking at him as they pass him, but then that swatch of blue takes their eyes right down to his crotch.

I just have to let him know, somehow, that he’s embarrassing himself—or maybe if he never knows, he won’t be embarrassed.

But he’s surely going to find out sometime today and the longer he doesn’t know the more he’s going to be embarrassed.

“Uh, sir—may I tell you something?”

“Of course, ma’am. What is it?’

“Uh, you haven’t zipped up completely.”

He looks down and chuckles. “Well, so I haven’t. Will you walk with me to a place where I can correct this, and you can shield me from view for a second?”

“Sure. How about behind that big pillar in front of the bank?’

“Will you take my arm as we stroll there?”

She feels suddenly hot and helpless and needs to hang on to something. His arm seems perfect. They go around the pillar, and he turns toward it as she stands with her back to him. He quickly makes the necessary adjustment.

“Now, may I know your name and whether you would like to be rewarded with a lunch that I was to have with someone who hasn’t shown for her appointment?”

Weeks later, as she lay in his bed, feeling it probably would be for the last time now that he was clearly bored with her, she realized he has used this ruse before.

I wonder if something like that would work for me?

Curmudgeon

“Dear, will you take care of the hotel reservation? I’m trying to deal with my hair right now.”

“Oh, all right Jane, but I hate talking with anonymous people I can’t see, especially nowadays. I can’t understand the dialect these younger people seem to have developed, from God knows what influence.”

“It’s MTV and Southern California, Fred. You’re just going to have to get used to it.”

“Umphh.”

(Pauses while dialing)

“How, mmyool, nry sping, myelhyoo?”

“Is this the St. Michael Hotel in San Francisco?”

“Yer, nry sping, myelhoo?”

“I’d like a reservation for tomorrow night, a double room, no smoking, please”

“Serny sir. Naympeez?

“Did you want my name?’

“Yerm”

“Fred Pape, Pee Ay Peee Eee.”

“Thyoo Mr. Pace …”

“No, that’s P as in Peter, A as in Apple, P as in Peter, E as in easy.”

“Willoopay wa credcurd?

“Yes, it’s a Visa: 123 -456-7890”

“Wenotooferfisennonoo?”

“Look, Nuri, or whatever your name is, I am old, I don’t hear well, you speak very fast and I don’t understand most of what you say. Please speak slower and more distinctly”

“Ok, sir, whad yoo want now?”

“I want to know that you have my credit card number correctly. Please repeat what you recorded.”

“OK, sir, Wan, doo, dree, fi, sits …”

“No, no, you left out the four, after the three.”

“Dree? Four?”

“Yes, Three, four.”

“OK sir.”

“Do you have the rest of the numbers?

‘Yeah.”

“What are they?”

“Fi, sits, sem, nine, oh.”

“No, No, No. You left out the eight after nine. It’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, zero.”

“OK, sir.”

“Would you please confirm this reservation by email?”

“Ok, sir.”

“My email address is fredpape@stuff.us. Please repeat that.”

“Fredpace at dufus”

“I give up!” (hangs up).

“Dear, you were so rude!”

“Jane, dammit, you take care of it. Maybe you can understand people with marbles in their mouths and iPods in their ears.”

“You’re turning into an old curmudgeon.”

“Get used to it.”

I Can Do This

Ralph was excited, in mildly-fearful anticipation as he heard the hike leader say: “from Valley floor to the top of Half Dome is a climb of 4800 feet, and we are already starting from 4000 feet elevation!”

The leader had reminded everyone to bring plenty of water (oh, the weight!) and some nourishment, plus extra socks and rain gear. “These mountains make their own weather,” he repeated for the nth time.

“The total lateral distance is 16 miles, by our route, so it will be steeper than the alternate route. It should take us no more than the full length of the daylight hours.”

More fearful anticipation.

Ralph was celebrating his 60th birthday with this steep and rapid climb. He had been practicing in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pacific Coast on the San Francisco Peninsula, but they are not as high as in the Sierra, and the elevation at their various peaks is no more than 5000 feet. The air at 8800 feet, Half Dome’s elevation, will be much thinner.

“I can do this,” he muttered, encouragingly, to himself.

He had learned recently that a good walking stick is essential for older muscles and bones as they traverse uncertain ground, rocks and steep up-hills and down-hills. “The legs are the first to go,” he has heard older folks say.

Before he could muse further, he saw that he was already behind the group as they rapidly moved toward the trailhead.

Over several hours Ralph climbed steep rocks through the mist created by two successive waterfalls and the steep and scary climb up the bare “arm” of Half Dome to its “shoulder,” with a sheer drop of thousands of feet slightly beyond one side of the trail.

Wearily and with great effort, Ralph slowly approached the level ground at the shoulder and saw the great, bald granite head of Half Dome rising impossibly, with a line of climbers like black ants crawling up the almost vertical rise. Hungry, thirsty, trembling with fatigue, worried about the walk back down in time before sunset, Ralph was quite discouraged, feeling he could go no further. He saw a ledge suitable for sitting, and sat, overlooking Yosemite Valley and lesser peaks.

After a few minutes of repose, he fumbled for his water and food, purposefully ignoring the path up Half Dome behind him, allowing his attention to dwell on the sight in front of him.

He slowly ate and drank, gradually becoming less self-conscious. He had let go of his desire to go further and felt free to rest and allow time to pass without worry. He knew he could get back in time from this point, even while resting as much as an hour or more.

Ralph’s sense of time ceased. He was gradually less conscious of today’s goal, of Half Dome’s peak and of the line of people ascending and descending it, now out of his view.

He entered a zone of consciousness with no name, as his body adjusted to the elevation and its recent exertions. He was at complete rest. He had no goals, no desires—he was just being on this ledge and seeming to merge with all that he saw before him.

An unknown and un-measurable period of time elapsed before Ralph became conscious, once again, of the muted noise of the people behind him and their exertions up and down the head of Half Dome.

As he turned and watched the people grapple with the heavy guidelines of rope secured to metal stanchions set deep in the granite of Half Dome’s head, he found himself rising, putting stuff back into and shouldering his pack, grabbing his stick and walking toward the line of climbers. He felt no desire, just a sureness that he would do this …

And he did!

A List for E. George Smith

“Hey mister, ya’ talkin’ to the squirrels?”

Having had children, and now with grandchildren, E. George Smith is no stranger to interruptions which crash against his thoughts, but this intrusion jolts him. He, ungracefully and with some neck pain, swivels his head leftward to discover the source of these words.

He sees a child, a boy in dirty clothes, his dark skin revealing the lighter-colored dust on him, body and limbs moving in loose concert, on the grass near where George sits on a bench. Did I speak aloud?

“What’s a list?”

Yes, I must have spoken aloud. George watches the boy shoving a stick in and around a hole in the grass.

“Yes. A list,” he says to the boy and, as he likes to give straight answers to straight questions, he adds, “a list is writing on a piece of paper of all the things one should do.”

There, a straight answer a boy can understand.

“Who says you have to do ‘em?” the boy responds, while shoving gravel from the nearby path into the hole, his hands and limbs raising a cloud of dust that seem like the boy’s natural aura.

“Well, when I make my list, it is I, me, who says I have to do ‘em.”

After a few moments the boy pauses in his work. “I have a list but it’s too big to write and anyway I don’t write real good yet.”

Without preparing his words in advance (which is his usual way) George says “I used to write my list but then I could remember everything on it well enough, and anyway I don’t have a list anymore. No.”

“No” is a word George has avoided using in his life and, that he has now used it jolts him.

Then it is as if a dam has burst inside of George. Several great drops of water form and slowly fall from his eyes as he inclines his head forward and downward toward the gravel path. His head is directed somewhat away from the boy who lies prone on the grass at the edge of the path near where George sits on the wooden bench.

George’s body doesn’t move. Both he and the boy consider this surprising event while more tears fall heavily from George’s eyes. He visualizes a sheet of yellow notepaper bearing the word “list,” slowly dissolving in his mental image.

This is an extraordinary event for E. George Smith, both in meeting the boy and in weeping, even for a precious lost list. He could not have anticipated such an occurrence as he begins this first day of his retirement.

George Smith prefers his middle name to that of his first given name, Ebenezer, the “stone of help” in the Old Testament book of Samuel.

George lives austerely compared to his friends and associates. This is not to say he isn’t comfortable. He is wealthy beyond need by virtue of his ancestral inheritance which he has prudently and profitably husbanded, and which he has augmented through his own labor.

George and his wife Marilyn have fewer objects of the type that others in their San Francisco enclave have in the public areas of their homes. Marilyn happily subordinates herself to George’s taste for decorating their large, two-story apartment in Seacliff, so she can think about and do other things. George does not like clutter.

George is a rather large fellow, standing at no less than six feet with excellent posture, with firm, stout, arms, legs, and middle. He likes to be able to move his body and extremities around the apartment without worrying about knocking things around. He likes space.

But there are certain things he treasures and makes room for in his private areas. These are from his family’s past. George is the great-great grandson of Luke Smith (1826-1900) who emigrated to California from upstate New York in 1851 to set up a business serving the Gold Rush— hardware and machinery and, later, clothing. Success in these businesses eventually led the family to real estate and banking. So, George has placed, where Marilyn will least likely have to encounter them, several pieces: a gold pan, a rusty section of plume from a placer mine, the handle of a windlass from a mine shaft, and several more. On George’s home office wall hangs a faded and valueless stock certificate for shares in “The Lucille Gold Mining Company Limited” of Amador County, California, named after George’s great-aunt.

These all remind George of his family’s humble, hard-working and sometimes precarious origins, reminders he welcomes to keep him in balance with the weight of his wealth and social position in San Francisco.

There is one thing, however, that George cannot resist placing obviously in a visitor’s field of vision upon entering the apartment: a very ugly painting of great-great-grandfather Luke Smith, in a French Empire style frame and illuminated by lamps at top and bottom. It’s the only cross that Marilyn has to bear for George, so she constantly reminds herself to count it as a blessing.

Now on this beautiful day in autumn, E. George Smith had begun his new life by preparing to take a walk in the park of his childhood.

George and Marilyn live north of the park, near the cliff overlooking the ocean side of the Golden Gate and its famous bridge. Seacliff is an area where mansions on small and carefully manicured grounds are sometimes squeezed between tall, immaculate apartment buildings. George, having been a very busy man in his employed life, has always preferred to live in an apartment to minimize his household responsibilities.

Marilyn is from the same solid group of San Franciscans whose ancestors came from the east during and shortly after the Gold Rush of the 1840s and ‘50s. Their children, and George’s children from a previous marriage, are adults, some with their own children. George and Marilyn have retained their large apartment so that all their descendants, and their friends, may comfortably visit them upon a whim.

So, here is George, his long years of schooling and employment having ended, starting the traditional golden years of his leisure, contemplation and enjoyment of the family he helped to create along his life’s way. Yes.

George has been, from his beginning, a positive sort of fellow. He developed the habit of saying “yes” often, to himself and sometimes out loud. It is one of his harmless, some say charming, peculiarities that have buoyed him through the difficulties a d challenges of life. He feels fortunate in that he has had to face fewer challenges than most people by virtue of his family’s social and economic position upon his birth. He often includes this when he counts his blessings, another of his harmless, even admirable, peculiarities.

Yet another of George’s peculiarities is his “list”. From his earliest student days George has maintained a list of things to do on a yellow eight by five notepad. The one remaining item on his list at the beginning of this day is to visit Golden Gate Park. He sees nothing beyond this, and purposefully so. He feels the park will somehow show him what to do next.

Throughout his life he has harked back to his boyhood and the wonderful family times, picnicking on the grass near the stands of lordly oaks, tall conifers, and the grand, gently drooping eucalyptus branches. He has memories, even has had dreams, of searching for tree cones and eucalyptus acorns, and other adventures in the thick underbrush at the borders of the rolling lawns and meadows.

Walking is George’s favorite exercise. He doesn’t like to carry things, especially not golf clubs and fishing equipment. He likes to be free to move in any direction. This allows him the feeling, seldom realized but nonetheless satisfying, of being on the verge of an adventure that has an unknown outcome, so unlike his workaday life.

Marilyn has heard stories from her friends about the problems they have had with their “retired” men, but she feels no concern for herself or George because he always has his list of things to do. She accepts George just as he appears to be— positive, solid man, methodical but not stuffy, loving and friendly to his family and others.

“Still plan to take that walk in the park, E.G.?” She pronounces it “eejee,” her pet name for him, one he has never cared much for but doesn’t complain about. After all, it is such a small thing and it pleases her.

“Yes, dear.”

“Well, dinner will be at around seven o’clock. It’s just us.”

“I’ll be here.”

Having this validated by George, Marilyn goes about planning events and corresponding with family and friends, her usual activities in their large apartment, while George prepares a light lunch for himself.

Upon cleaning up after his meal and dressing suitably, E. George Smith leaves his home in the early afternoon on the first Monday of his new life and walks briskly toward the tall, un-gated columns at Lake Street that signal the portal to his neighborhood.

He continues south on 25th avenue, crossing streets and avenues with names that George has always felt as childhood friends: California, Clement, Geary, then the alphabetical Anza, Balboa and Cabrillo, which on the south side of the park continue faithfully from Irving through Wawona.

George begins to feel quite light around the shoulders and bouncy in his step. My new life. I am prepared for the unexpected.

George reaches Fulton, the long avenue defining the north border of the Park. He strides with a rising sense of purpose across the avenue. What new things will I put on my list?

He feels immediately at home upon entering the park, the menthol odor of the eucalyptus trees welcoming him. He espies the tree’s familiar round-capped seed pods on the ground and stoops to pick one up. He breaks it open to expose the still unripe seeds to smell the essence of the tree even more fully.

He wanders until he reached a curving, gravel path that brings him

to a familiar clearing with benches arrayed along the border of the grass and gravel. He sits on a bench with the sun behind him, facing a great live oak. He rests for a while, feeling his heart racing a bit from the walk and from his still unrealized sense of purpose. As his body’s rhythms slows, thoughts begin to form. What am I to do with the rest of my life? This he silently addresses to the newly cut grass, standing at attention on the other side of the gravel path. As usual when he is uncertain about a next move, he recites his blessings, a long list.

Then George moves on to the next item on his perennial agenda: his list of things to do. He reminds himself that having reached the park he has just completed his list of things to do. I am list-less, he thinks, with a sense of self-mockery at the unintended pun.

So here I sit, in this pleasant familiar park, wondering what to do next.

“I have no list”, he says toward the squirrels scrambling in the great oak tree above the attentive grass across the gravel path from the wooden bench on which he sits, comfortably clothed.

George’s tears form and drop for an unknown time until he sucks in a volume of air sufficient to cause his body to straighten, perpendicular to the grass and the gravel path. The boy’s body and limbs are still as he watches George closely. Eventually George turns his head again to his left.

“What’s your name, young man?” asks George, consciously using a diversionary tactic to distract the boy and to compose himself.

“Harry. What’s yours?”

“Harry. Yes. A good strong, manly name,” George says to the boy. “My name is George.”

They both consider each other’s names for several moments.

George’s eyes no longer leak, and he is still sitting straight, but now he feels unusually peaceful and relaxed. Yes.

“Uh, are you OK George?” the boy asks in a manner that seems to George to contain an unexpected degree of sensitivity.

“Yes, Harry. I feel quite good, actually.”

George looks again at Harry. Except that he is seemingly bright and appears in good health, the boy looks like a ragamuffin. What an old word. The boy would not know the word. The word no longer exists. He speaks with a musical lilt. Perhaps his family is from south Asia, India?

“What’s on your list, Harry?”

This opens what appears to George as the boy’s floodgates, words tumbling forth in verbal pictures, non-sequiturs, neologisms and street slang. His small and wiry body rises up from the grass and dances in accompaniment to the recitation of his list. What George can grasp is that on Harry’s list are mostly action items: achievement in sport; doing anything with cars; finding strange animals and doing things collaboratively with them; traveling in space; exploring secret caves; jungles, mountains, rivers, boats…

So much in such a small person.

Harry finally stops, then drops to his former position on the grass while looking intently at George.

Having scrutinized Harry further during his recitation, George sees that the boy is actually well dressed, including expensive-looking sport shoes. But everything he wears seems recently to have been through a shredder. It is Harry’s accompanying cloud of dust, continually precipitating on him that initially impressed George as shabbiness.

“That is a very big and wonderful list, Harry. You will do great things in the world.”

Harry smiles. He, too, seems more relaxed now.

George smiles back at Harry. “Do you often come to this park?”

“Yeah. After school sometimes.”

“Do you live nearby?”

“I don’t know. Not so far. Near the thin part of the park. On Page Street.”

“Oh, you mean the Panhandle. That’s pretty far away. Does your mother know you are here?”

“Sometimes. I don’t know. She wasn’t home when I left. She helps people.”

“Do you mean she works, that she has a job?”

“I don’t know. She helps the neighbors. Then I get bored with my sisters and come here after school. Baba has the job.”

Hearing Harry say “Baba,” apparently for “father,” George asks, “Does your family come from India?”

“Yeah, but I was born here. My sisters were born there.”

“What kind of work does your baba do?”

“I don’t know. Tech-nickel something. He takes a train every morning.”

George infers this to mean Harry’s father is a technician or engineer working for a dot-com on the San Francisco Peninsula.

George begins to feel uncomfortable about the boy’s safety, being so far from his home, and feels certain his mother will worry.

“Uh, Harry, I was about to walk toward the Panhandle and wonder if you were going to go home soon. Perhaps we could walk together.”

Harry starts poking more vigorously at the hole while he thinks about this.

“Well, I’m gettin’ kinda hungry but mama will be mad. Maybe you could tell her we were talkin’?”

“Ok, Harry, since it’s the truth.”

And so, they both stand up and arrange themselves to be side by side, as they aim eastward toward the center of the city.

“You will have to lead the way, Harry, since you know the way back home better than I do.”

“OK,” says the boy and begins swiftly to traipse along the path, George just a few inches behind him.

What a strange pair we are. We come from different worlds and now we are connected. The park connected us.

Page Street runs parallel to and one block south of the Panhandle starting at the eastern edge of the park proper, so they head east and south as the many curved and interconnecting paths will allow.

George and Harry don’t talk much during their long walk. Occasionally Harry points out a bird or a squirrel to George who responds, “uh huh,” and both emit other sounds that come naturally to men engaged in common effort.

After around twenty minutes of walking, they are suddenly back in the city with its traffic and noise and clumps of moving people. Harry, seeming more eager to get home, picks up his pace, allowing George to stride vigorously behind him.

“Ariya! Where have you been? Come here you dirty, sneaky boy.”

Aha, enter mama.

They are in front of a well maintained, typical San Francisco Victorian-era house, subdivided, showing four entrances side by side above the front steps. Here is mama in bright Asian dress, angry as a hornet.

She is a plump woman of medium height, appearing around 40 years old. She has a prominent streak of gray in her long, dark hair, all pulled back and secured by a colorful band. The brown color of her face is brightened by the red of her cheeks, apparently rouged to some degree, but certainly in higher color due to her current emotions.

Harry backs into George, stuttering to mama, “I wa-wa-was in the park and we sta-started talkin’,” indicating George with a backward wave of his hand.

Anger, relief, suspicion, and curiosity all seem to mingle on Mama’s face as she focuses her gaze on George.

“I thought it wise to accompany Harry home,” says George to mama. “Harry! Is this what he told you? This is what his stupid friends call him, ‘Dirty Harry.’ His name is Ariya, an honorable name.”

“We had a rather nice conversation, but we thought it was time for, uh, Ari? to be home. And so, here he is. My name is George.”

Mama lapses now entirely into relief that her precious boy is home. “Look at how dirty he is. Ariya, thank the man and go in the house and clean yourself before we eat. Tell your sisters to help you.”

Harry turns toward George, abashedly saying “thank you George,” and goes quickly up the stairs and into the first door at the right of the house’s porch.

“And, uh, thank you Mr., uh, George, for watching out for him. You seem to be a good man.”

“I had nothing else to do. I live on the other side of the park and was taking a walk.”

“Are you out of work?” Mama asks directly and seemingly without judgment. Her English shows an educated background, and her eastern lilt does not interfere with George’s understanding of what she says.

George chuckles softly and says, “Yes, I don’t work, I have retired from work. I have nothing else to do until I find out what to do next. I am open for suggestions.” George surprises himself by being so bold and in feeling drawn toward this friendly question from Mama. She seems to care, just as an ordinary matter of course.

“Perhaps my husband has some ideas. He’ll be home in around thirty minutes.”

“Well, this is a very kind suggestion, but I feel you must want to be with your family for dinner.”

“This is true,” mama says, “but here, take my card and give us a call when you like.” She quickly pulls a business card from somewhere in her clothing and hands it to George.

Not knowing exactly what custom to follow in receiving the card, he decides to treat it with the greatest respect, as do the Japanese, just to be safe. He carefully reads the card to learn that he has been speaking with Sonali Bose, a childbirth educator and a “doula” for expecting couples.

“You are very kind Mrs. Bose. My name is George Smith. I live over near Seacliff. I used to be a businessman, but have now retired, as I said, and so I have no card to give you. I started my retirement today by walking through Golden Gate Park, just as I did as a boy. I have grown children, and some grandchildren near Ari’s age.”

Mrs. Bose is quite attentive to his words but before she can respond, George asks her “may I know what a doula is?”

“Oh, it’s a bit complicated to explain just standing here, but mostly it’s to attend a woman in childbirth, but not help directly to deliver the baby. It’s an old practice that has been revived in the U.S., but it’s just a matter of course that women help each other during childbirth in other countries. Look, my husband is a very clever man and is well connected in his scientific field. Please give us a call and we can talk about anything you like. I am really so grateful to you for bringing Ariya home safely. I have to attend a birth tomorrow or the next day, so maybe you could come for dinner a few days from now, if you like. Anand, my husband, loves to talk with people from different backgrounds. He is insatiable. It would be a relief to me to have you talk with him so I could attend to my things, I am so busy lately,” she said quickly, almost breathlessly.

George could see in the rapid speech of his mama and in the description of his “baba” where Ari got his energy and his interest in the world as Harry currently imagined it. I am having the adventure I hoped I might have, and so soon. And so unpredictable! I could never have put this on a list.

George responds warmly, “Mrs. Bose, you are a gracious person and I will not deprive myself of the chance to meet your husband and talk with you both. I promise to call.”

Mrs. Bose smiles at George, as he offers his hand both in greeting and goodbye.

“Today has been a wonderful day for me, thanks to your son. I look forward to more conversations with him, too. It’s a bit of a walk back to my home, so I will leave now.”

Mrs. Bose nods, squeezes George’s hand and says, “Ariya is a good boy, I just worry so much about how to keep him interested in things near home where I can know he is safe. And how to keep him clean! Well, I am babbling, and you need to go, and I need to make sure the girls are getting dinner ready. I do hope you will call us. Goodbye.”

She squeezes his hand one last time, turns and quickly walks toward her front door, giving George a brief glance and a friendly wave before she enters her apartment.

George turns slowly to begin his walk back home, dazed by all the new impressions and all the energy he has encountered from the Bose family seen and unseen.

As he walks toward the sun, now descending toward the Pacific Ocean beyond the western boundary of the park, George walks pensively toward home, now over two miles away.

So much new has happened in such a short time, he needs the long walk to process it, and thinking how to recount this day to Marilyn. And how to tell her he would be soon be at dinner with an immigrant family from

India? This is a new world for both of them.

George suddenly realizes two new things have happened: he no longer needs to concern himself with a list—life will show him what to do.

And, he has met some of San Francisco’s new pioneers.

Yes.

Unexpected

“But I’m not expecting anything,” Clark protested. The FedEx man thrust a pen and clipboard toward him with one hand; in his other hand was a large, fat envelope.

“Please sign here.”

Clark hesitated, not sure what to do.

“Please, mister, I’ve got a lot of packages to deliver and just so much time to do it. If you just sign I can leave and you can do anything you want with the package.”

Feeling off-balance, Clark semi-consciously scribbled on the paper attached to the proffered clipboard, but he didn’t reach for the envelope. The FedEx man looked at Clark sharply, and then laid the envelope against the step beside Clark’s feet.

“Thanks. Goodbye.” And the FedEx man loped off to his waiting truck, its motor idling, seeming to Clark to be impatiently waiting to make the next delivery.

Clark stood inertly in his open doorway, watching the truck zoom around the corner where the street curved toward the freeway onramp.

He finally looked down at the bulging envelope near his feet. His head began to flood with images and questions. He reviewed all his few remaining relatives, but couldn’t think of any who would send him anything.

This left official agencies or businesses. Did the IRS return his tax papers for correction?  Maybe it was misdirected to him? Was it for a neighbor? Clark just couldn’t get a clear idea.

Finally, Clark decided to examine the envelope to see if the writing on it would answer any of these questions. He stooped and grasped the envelope at the corner nearest to him with his left thumb and forefinger and began to lift it, but then quickly put his right hand under the package. He thought it might weigh two or three pounds. “There’s a lot of paper in this,” he said to himself.

He looked at the delivery document inside its plastic cover, pasted to the front of the envelope. It was hard to find the name of a sender without his glasses, but the sunlight was bright enough for him to discern most of the printing and writing. There—a name and an address in the city. The name seemed familiar: “Spaeth.” Where had he seen that name before?

Clark sighed, deciding this was enough evidence to warrant opening the envelope. He turned away from the open door, gave it the usual nudge with his shoulder to close it and shuffled over to the end of the couch nearest the window, through which the afternoon sun’s light and warmth flowed invitingly.

Clark had all his necessary small tools on the table next to this end of the couch: TV remote control, two sets of glasses—one for reading and one for TV viewing—stacks of magazines and newspapers, pens and pencils, magnifying glass, and scissors. He put on his reading glasses and grasped the scissor handles.

The envelope’s plastic binding gave way to the point of the scissors so easily that Clark wondered how the package could stay intact through its travels. Soon he had in hand a one-page cover letter and three file folders bound together with rubber bands. The letterhead was from the law firm of Charles G. Spaeth. “Yes,” he remembered to himself, “Charlie Spaeth, my lawyer from so many years ago. What could he want with me after all this time?”

As Clark read the letter he realized this was from someone else, not Charlie. It was about Charlie. He had died and all his legal papers were being distributed to his former clients. There was no successor attorney.

Clark put the letter on the couch to his left and slowly removed the rubber bands from around the envelopes. There were three. One was labeled “Minsky, Clark: Trust.” He put it on top of the letter,
remembering that his trust was very simple and hardly worth the expense of creating it.

The next one read “Minsky, Clark: California Franchise Tax Board vs Minsky.” Clark issued a small grunt of satisfaction: “one of the few battles I’ve won.” This folder joined the other on the couch.

His grasp on the final folder slackened as he read, “Minsky, Clark: Final Divorce Decree and Agreement.” Papers fell and spread across the floor at his feet as he momentarily held the emptied folder, his fingers burning. He then dropped it on the pile of papers it once held and, with great effort, forced his right foot to slowly push the pile toward the TV, as far from himself as possible without the seat of his pants losing its purchase on the couch.

The sun moved slowly across Clark as he remained sitting on the couch. Motes of dust, illuminated by the glancing sunlight, slowly settled as Clark sat. The sun’s warmth and light finally left the window.

Clark remained in the darkness, slumped at the end of the couch, wondering if he had enough energy to get up and prepare his solitary dinner, a routine of the decades since Martha left him for Kerwin, his younger brother.

Certain Communications

I’m talking about when a man needs to expound upon a sudden flash of an idea, a vision, a plan, a fantasy.

When I am struck, or imbued, or captured by an idea, I need to see it out loud, develop it, expand it, take side trips, have thoughtful pauses and, eventually, come to completion at the point where I have, at least temporarily, exhausted my energy on the subject.

Most men I know will nod their collective head in the presence of the expounder and make some noncommittal grunts and other sounds peculiar to each to let him know they are still alert and want to give the impression they are still listening.

Women, on the other hand, want to be part of the action, want to partner with their man on this little adventure. Therefore they interrupt, take side trips not intended by the man, and innocently make turbulent the flow of ideas and words emanating from his little moment of creativity.

Further, other things will interrupt if the man does not choose his moment carefully.

If we are at dinner, for instance, the children will have no hesitation to demand Mom’s attention for the most trivial or transitory of things. This, of course, means the polite and gentle father, husband, man, stops his discourse until this moment has passed.

For some men such as I, when in a certain state, these interruptions and interjections and sidetracks cause a bottling up, a damming of the flow of images and ideas. This can turn things toward the bad, so the experienced man says–I’ll continue this later.

But the woman, who can multitask and hear and understand all things simultaneously, insists on the man continuing.

This does not ease his distress. Rather, the man feels forced to continue with a much narrower and more focused stream of energy so that a reasonable conclusion can be reached quickly.

On learns about and from such things over and over.

Sudden enthusiasms are dampened if the setting and the mood isn’t carefully chosen–but there goes spontaneity.

What to do about it?

Write!

Cleaning Up

Most people don’t know how to clean up after a large meal.

They don’t prepare the dishes and pots and pans properly, and they don’t stack them in the washing machine for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. There’s more, but here is how it is properly done…

First, one must survey the damage, slowly and with love; this is a worthy task that deserves full attention and respect. Let us enter the kitchen the morning after a tumultuous evening, and view the task at hand.

The smell of garlic, of course, pervades all. This is not at all unpleasant to the lover of the stinking rose, despite its lack of freshness. It’s a reminder of the delicious aroma and taste of the garlic butter one has, the evening before, spread like a golden glaze over the thick beef steak, cooked rare and bloody, the juices flowing over the helpless plate.

The acidic tang of red wine dregs rising from many glasses complements the garlic, offering a stimulating olfactory duo to accompany the task.

Before organizing all the things in like groupings, one must have a clear and clean working area. The counter surrounding the sink must be rid of condiment bottles, salt shakers, clean instruments and implements, and stale food not put away the evening before as it should have been; all surface detritus should be wiped clean for the next step. One cannot think and plan clearly with a cluttered work space.

Next, open the dishwasher and examine it. Are there clean or dirty things in it? If clean, put them away. If dirty, make sure they are lodged in the proper places for maximum use of space. Most importantly, the bowls should occupy the tines that are more widely spaced than those to be occupied by the plates. The short utensils should be in the shallow compartment of the utensil basket, and the longer ones in the deeper slots.

Take the utensil basket out of the dishwasher! Yes, it’s all right to do this. With the basket in hand, walk around the kitchen to put all the utensils in the basket, in their appropriately-sized compartments. After rescuing all the visible utensils (there will always be laggards where you don’t expect them), and before putting the basket back into the empty dish washer, stand over the sink and run water over the most egregiously encrusted utensils to knock off the big chunks. This will help your dishwasher’s plumbing to last longer. Having done this, now put the utensil basket where it belongs.

One must think of this as an industrial process. For instance, don’t constantly open and shut and reopen the cabinet under the sink to put scraps and trash in the waste bucket. Pull the damn thing out and set it in the middle of the kitchen table! Now, put all the visible trash into it, including scraps from the plates and bowls. After scraping detritus from each plate and bowl, stack them in like grouping on the counter near the sink. Once you are reasonably certain all the major trash is in the bucket, put it back under the sink. Now put all the dishes and bowls in their proper places, always trying fit as much as possible into the machine.

This is no time to worry about keeping one’s hands clean, or worry about dropping scraps on the floor. The latter will be swept and probably mopped after everything is in the dishwasher and the pots and pans scrubbed and put away. (Attention women: never put a pot or a pan in the dishwasher. They need to be scrubbed by hand. I’m referring, of course, to pure metal pots and pans, not the ones coated with Teflon, or the like; we all know these must be done by hand.)

Glasses and cups that are sturdy enough for the dishwasher should be stacked as closely together as possible in the upper tray of the dishwasher. Water, especially under pressure, is very clever and can reach into the smallest spaces, and even force glasses apart to get at every square millimeter of them. If there is room, I will lay long utensils, ones that have holes for hanging in their ends, alongside the glasses with their holes placed over the tines of the tray to secure them firmly to the tray.

As the kitchen table and the counter become clear of plates and all other implements, place the pots and pans neatly on the counter next to the sink. (Leftover food in these will already have been put in the trash or, properly wrapped, in the refrigerator).

Before closing the dishwasher, look around for laggards, including in the dining areas and any empty bedrooms. Don’t disturb sleepers; they will just get in your way and want to talk with you as you are trying to do your sacred work.

Put all the laggards in the remaining available space in the dishwasher, put the soap pellet in its pocket and close the latter, then shut the door and turn the machine on. What satisfaction!

Now to the pots and pans.

This can be a joyful exercise, if one’s attitude is correct. In my household, none of the others cleans pots and pans; they just stack up in the sink, or on the stove, waiting for me to do something about them, which usually takes me five minutes.

The Teflon pans are the easiest. Never use detergent except in dire situations. Detergent is bad for you and the environment. I hate the smell of detergent. I Imagine my precious bodily fluids being snatched away by the clever detergent molecules to bind them with water that gets flushed away by my nose, out of which always runs mucous, copiously, when I use detergent. Just scrub the pans with a brush very diligently and completely while running hot water over them. Then wipe them vigorously with paper towels. Put them away.

Now, all you have are the pots. You should use detergent for these, but sparingly. The main ingredient in washing pots is elbow grease. Don’t be afraid to use a metal scouring pad while running hot water over the offending detritus in the pot.

Put the clean pots on the clean sink, upside down, to drain and dry.

Have a cup of coffee.

Wasn’t that easy?