Monthly Archives: May 2014

I’m Just Not Ready to Let You Go

h_b

“Oh, yes,” my mother moaned, exasperated. “Just take me. Please, just let me go. Take me now.”

She’d consumed several Tylenol Migraine pills to quell yet another relentless headache that prevented her from sleeping, and my father had admonished her.

“You’re going to overdose and die!” he said matter-of-factly, as if he was a cardiologist talking to an obese man who’d just had open-heart surgery and still refused to give up beer and hamburgers.

“That’s fine,” my mother replied, equally blunt. “I’ve had enough.”

My dog, Wolfgang, looked at all of us, as we stood in my parents’ bedroom in the pre-dawn hours of some nondescript weekday. He finally sauntered back into my room and curled up with his towel. He’d always had a fetish for towels.

In the spring of 2005, I’d lived and worked in Oklahoma; laboring on a special project for the engineering company where I worked at the time. Wolfgang had stayed with my parents throughout most of that period, except for the month of May when I decided to bring him with me. Instead of flying into Tulsa and renting a car to drive to the work site, as we’d normally done, I’d rented a vehicle in suburban Dallas and drove up to Northeastern Oklahoma on a Sunday night. I just didn’t want to put him on a plane for a 30-minute flight just to end up in a car for an hour anyway.

One evening, as I sat at the desk in the room, scouring over my laptop, I noticed Wolfgang strolling out of the bathroom – a damp, dirty hotel towel in his mouth. I had a small pile of towels beneath the sink. I didn’t allow housekeeping into the room, unless I was there. I didn’t want to take the chance that Wolfgang would dart from the room in a frenzy and somehow make it out of the hotel into highly unfamiliar territory. I’d grown too attached to him by then; only two years after I’d taken custody of him from a troubled ex-roommate.

A few minutes later I looked again at him and was startled to see all of those damp towels stacked in front of the closet. He’d literally hauled every one of them out of the bathroom and then plopped down in front of the stack. I chuckled. Dogs do the funniest things sometimes; things only they fully comprehend and amuse we befuddled humans.

He was almost three back then. Now, he was eleven and just didn’t want to be bothered by the drama we bipedals have the tendency to create. I turned back to my parents. My father merely stared at the lamp on a nightstand, while mother rubbed her forehead; more out of frustration, I suspected, than pain.

I massaged my forehead, too. At their age, they were enduring – sometimes just tolerating – the physical quandaries of a long life. My mother with her headaches; my father with his acid reflux. On nights – mornings – like this, they sometimes openly wished they’d just die. They were tired; they’d had enough. I heard Wolfgang sigh.

There’s a price to pay for living so many years. You get to experience a number of different things. Hopefully, most are good, but for certain, many are bad. Regardless, at some point during that time, you fall in love; you laugh; you dream; you enjoy good food and beverages; you dance; you ogle at sunsets and sunrises; you may have children; you might have a pet; you become sad; you get angry; you work; you get sick; you drive a vehicle; you fall and break something; you meet all sorts of people; and you die. You can’t possibly live as long as my parents have and not go through a few bumps and bruises. You don’t even live to be my age – 50 – and experience some of that.

Last summer Wolfgang fell mysteriously ill. I was recuperating from a freak accident here at the house in which I’d severely damaged my right arm and hand. For some reason, amidst my frustrating recovery and exhaustive job searches, Wolfgang became incredibly lethargic; he’d yelp if he barked. Even the slightest growl seemed to hurt him. Then, he began urinating spontaneously, as if he’d grown so old he couldn’t control his bladder. My priorities shifted – and I thought back eleven years.

In August of 2002, my then-roommate Tom* had to put his miniature schnauzer, Zach, to sleep. In the few days preceding his demise, Zach began throwing up and urinating uncontrollably. His body shrunk so much we could see his ribs. It turned out he had a kidney infection. If Tom had gotten Zach to a vet in time, he probably could have saved him. Shortly after Zach’s death, Tom got a new puppy; the one I’d adopt when we parted ways in January 2003 and would rename Wolfgang. Zach had been 11 when he died, and I wondered last summer if Wolfgang was facing his mortality. His vet diagnosed a mild intestinal infection; an ailment a couple of shots resolved. But, it was a frightening week – for all of us. I caressed Wolfgang’s downy ears one night and whispered, “You can’t leave me now. I’m not ready to let you go.” And, I wasn’t and I’m still not.

My father sat near his computer one evening last fall, after doctors had confirmed that his acid reflux was more critical than anyone had realized. His gastroenterologist had referred him to a colleague who – unbeknownst to her – wasn’t accepting new patients. He referred my father to a younger colleague; a doctor who, although pleasant and affable, looked like he’d just graduated from high school. My father said bluntly on this one particular evening that he was waiting for his parents to come get him.

“No,” I said, “not now. I’m not ready for that.”

My father and I want to write a book about our family history. On his mother’s side, we are descendants of Queen Isabella of Spain, the woman who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage westward across the Atlantic. On his father’s side, we are descendants of Spanish noblemen who first arrived in what is now South Texas in 1585. My father began doing genealogical research in 1990 as a hobby; a way to spend the free time he’d encountered while working part-time at a printing shop. He’d been a full-time employee since before I was born. Then, in 1989, the company owner laid off him and a few others; only to rehire them as contract employees. The genealogy metamorphosed from a quaint past time to a heartfelt passion. The book I want to write with him would be a true labor of love. I couldn’t do it alone.

“I talk to Margo sometimes,” my mother revealed one day. Her older sister died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 59. “I talk to her when I’m ironing, or doing the dishes, or folding towels.”

That, I realized, provided her with a sense of normalcy. Like my father, my mother has never lived alone. She’s always been with someone. She came from a time when women got married young and had a family. Career women were alien creatures; unmarried women without children were subhuman. When I was born, my father didn’t want her to return to work – ever. But, she did – and retired at the age of 70.

I get so frustrated with everything here – bouncing back and forth between my parents’ all-consuming ailments, my unpaid student loans, recycled resumes – that I want to grab Wolfgang and everything I could pack into my truck and just go. Leave. Run away. Far away. Some place no one knows me. And, start all over.

I can’t. I just can’t. It’s not a question of fortitude or finances. It’s a matter of love and commitment. I can’t forsake the people who brought me into this world.

“I think I’m going to die in this house,” I told a close friend over lunch at a favorite restaurant.

“What’s wrong with that?” he replied, looking at me as if though I dreaded such a day.

“Nothing! I’m just saying I think I’ll die in that house – alone.”

Hopefully, alone – meaning no dogs will be trapped in here with me. I never got married and had children and I’ve never had any long-term relationships. But, I see a future as a secluded writer with dogs rescued from shelters.

Wolfgang will be 12 in a couple of weeks, and my parents bide their time; my mother doing crossword puzzles, and my father digging through ancient church documents. Sometime, I’ll have to let them all go.

But, not just yet.

A “tango lily” from our back yard.

A “tango lily” from our back yard.

*Name changed.

© 2014

1 Comment

Filed under Wolf Tales

In Memoriam – Maya Angelou: 1928 – 2014

maya-angelou1

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

Maya Angelou

 

Angelou at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration:

1 Comment

Filed under News

Memorial Day 2014

10371485_647707091973481_1684279710625789003_n

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

President John F. Kennedy

 

Memorial Day.

Image courtesy Janet’s Cakes.

Leave a comment

Filed under News

Life Was Better on Coke!

It’s difficult to believe now, but a little more than a century ago, cocaine was perfectly legal in the United States and many other countries. In fact, cocaine was once a key ingredient in Coca Cola – hence, the name – a fact the company doesn’t discuss too readily. Before scientists realized the intensity of cocaine’s psychoactive drawbacks, it was a widely-prescribed medicinal remedy for just about everything from hay fever to tooth aches.

As the U.S. continues its treacherous “War on Drugs,” some in the medical community are actually daring to re-consider the potential value of the coca plant. The indigenous peoples of South America’s Pacific coastal areas cultivated the plant for millennia. Knowing that these were the same folks who charted the planets and constructed buildings that remain standing today, they might have been on to something.

Still, take a look at these late 19th century editorials describing cocaine’s benefits and wonder – like I do, sitting at the computer all day – if the agonizing blogger’s butt could be a thing of the past.

Image courtesy the U.S. Library of Congress.

cocaine-seasickness

cocaine-electricity

cocaine-in-hay-fever

cocaine-insane-asylum

cocaine-remedy-for-many-ills

1 Comment

Filed under Classics

No Thanks to You!

gop

Last week I received a notice from the National Republican Party announcing a fundraiser in my city, along with a request for a donation. It was signed by the Party’s national chairman, Reince Priebus. This suburban Dallas community where I grew up is, like much of the rest of Texas, staunchly Republican. A Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race since 1994, when Garry Mauro won reelection as state treasurer; the same year Ann Richards lost her gubernatorial reelection bid to George W. Bush.

Returning home from the gym late one Saturday night a couple of years ago, I noticed a “Tea Party” sign in a neighbor’s front yard. I wanted to stop and spray-paint a swastika on their walkway, but I didn’t have any spray paint on hand. Besides, they might’ve had security cameras hidden somewhere. For years now, there’s been a billboard off Central Expressway, just north of downtown Dallas, asking: ‘Where’s the birth certificate?’ It’s a blatant reference to the ongoing idiotic questions about President Obama’s birth place. If you know how much it costs to put up one of those signs, you might also realize the same money could fund a school lunch program.

Part of the problem is that, on average, only about a third of eligible voters in Texas actually make an effort to cast a ballot. I think many of my more centrist and independent-minded fellow Texans simply feel their vote won’t make a difference and / or Republicans will win anyway, so why bother. I certainly don’t want Texas to swing to the opposite side of the political spectrum, such California, Illinois or Massachusetts; where people are regulated and taxed into oblivion and political correctness is practically a part of the state’s constitution.

I’m actually put out by our two major both political parties – Republicans AND Democrats. I feel strongly that the Republicans are bullies, and the Democrats are wimps. President Obama has capitulated too much to the bull-headed GOP and lost any credibility, from my perspective. As I see it, the U.S. is essentially leaderless right now.

Hence, my disgust when I received the mailing from Priebus. I mailed it back, but with this handwritten message:

 

“Mr. Priebus,

Remove my name and address from your list. I have no desire to contribute money to the GOP. Your party screwed up our economy in the first place, but you won’t take responsibility for it.”

 

Off to the side, I scribbled:

“Trickle down doesn’t work. And, I’m no fan of Obama either!”

 

I included this last bit of verbiage, so Priebus and his gang will know I’m equally disgusted. I’d hate for anyone at that level to feel so targeted.

But, you must read between the lines. Here’s what I really wanted to say:

 

“Take my name and address off your fucking list, you good-for-nothing, piece of shit, Neanderthal! Your party fucked up the economy big time with your stupid tax cuts, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (wars started by a pack of fucking draft-dodgers), and total deregulation of the banking and housing industries. All of that together is what fucked up this economy – not the Affordable Care Act, which is total bat-shit, as far as I’m concerned. You fuckers have taken too much of my money in taxes already and you haven’t done a goddamned thing to help the economy, except the same stupid, fucking, trickle-down bullshit that you’ve been pushing through since that incompetent dumbass, Ronald Reagan, held office!”

 

But, they probably wouldn’t understand my outrage. Sorry to yell like that in front of you nice folks. Damn, though! I feel so much better!

Since the envelope is postage paid, I found a thin piece of rock in the back yard that I inserted along with the note. Might as well maximize it! I would’ve sent a flattened piece of my dog’s fecal matter, but they’re not good enough to receive even that.

1 Comment

Filed under Essays

Happy Mother’s Day 2014!

mothers-day-spending

“My mother would be a falconress,

And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,

would fly to bring back,

from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize,

where I dream in my little hood with many bells,

jangling when I’d turn my head.

 

My mother would be a falconress,

and she sends me as far as her will goes.

She lets me ride to the end of her curb,

where I fall back in anguish.

I dread that she will cast me away,

for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

 

She would bring down the little birds.

And I would bring down the little birds.

When will she let me bring down the little birds,

pierced from their flight with their necks broken,

their heads like flowers limp from the stem?

 

I tread my mother’s wrist and would draw blood.

Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.

I have gone back into my hooded silence,

talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

 

For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me,

sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.

She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist.

She uses a barb that brings me to cower.

She sends me abroad to try my wings,

and I come back to her.

I would bring down,

the little birds to her.

I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.

 

I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood,

and her eye holds me, anguish, terrifying.

She draws a limit to my flight.

Never beyond my sight, she says.

She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.

She rewards me with meat for my dinner.

But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.

 

Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me,

always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,

at her wrist, and her riding,

to the great falcon hunt, and me,

flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart,

to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet,

straining, and then released for the flight.

 

My mother would be a falconress,

and I her falcon raised at her will,

from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own,

pride, as if her pride,

knew no limits, as if her mind,

sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

 

Ah, but high, high in the air I flew.

And far, far beyond the curb of her will,

were the blue hills where the falcons nest.

And then I saw west to the dying sun,

it seemed my human soul went down in flames.

 

I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,

until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,

far, far beyond the curb of her will.

 

To horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where the falcons nest,

I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.

I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,

sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,

striking out from the blood to be free of her.

 

My mother would be a falconress,

and even now, years after this,

when the wounds I left her had surely healed,

and the woman is dead,

her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart,

were broken, it is stilled.

 

I would be a falcon and go free.

I tread her wrist and wear the hood,

talking to myself, and would draw blood.”

 

Robert Duncan, “My Mother Would Be a Falconress.”

1 Comment

Filed under News

From Candlelight and Beyond!

Electricity-in-Industry

Those of us who make our living via computers can’t imagine going back in time even to word processors, much less manual typewriters. Even discs of linoleum byproducts known as records now seem ancient. But, less than a century ago there were plenty of people who hadn’t quite adapted to the concept of something we now take for granted: electricity.

Electricity has a lengthy and complicated history. You might as well ask who invented the wheel or the toothbrush. Sitting in my parents’ home are four relics of a seemingly bygone era – kerosene lamps. They belonged to my paternal grandparents; my father recalls the lamps being put to use during World War II “lights out” drills.

Yet, with the exception of some rural areas, electricity had become relatively commonplace by the 1940s. Just two decades earlier, however, electric companies began making concerted attempts to convince both businesses and individuals of electricity’s usefulness. Here’s an ad that ran in the October 5, 1920 issue of the “New York Tribune,” in which the New York Edison Company (now ConEdison) states its case:

“Never before have the questions of economy and efficiency in production been of such importance as now in the industrial life of the country. This is true in the large plant as all as in the small shop. Electricity is proving the most effective agency in solving these various problems as they arise.”

By 1900, 30 electricity companies existed in the New York City area. In 1920, New York Edison constructed a power generation facility that could generate up to 770,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Today New York City uses about 100,000 kWh per minute.

One unfortunate side invention? Utility bills!

3 Comments

Filed under Classics