photo by Sheri Dixon

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dude, Seriously- Where Did You Park the Car?

"I'm sorry- for a minute there I thought you said you were taking the train".

"That's because I said I'm taking the train".

*Stunned silence*

The above is a conversation I have every time I ride the train, unless I'm talking to someone who knows me well enough to know the love affair I have with trains.

When I was little, all the other girls wanted to be ballerinas and fairy princesses. I wanted to be a train engineer.

Of course that's when we were all small and silly. Much later in life (high school) all my friends were aiming for becoming nurses, secretaries or mommies. Thankfully, the aptitude test the career counselor gave us all set me directly on the path of my actual calling- lumberjack.

No, I didn't become a lumberjack, but even at the time I figured it beat the hell out of being a fairy princess or a secretary.

Back to trains.

Here in America, we are addicted to 3 things- the idea that we're Number #1 in every regard (which makes us full of #2), reality TV, and our personal autos.

You can take away most anything but for the love of all that's holy- do NOT take our cars.

Some folks in the more urban areas don't have cars. They use outlandish modes of getting around like "public transportation" or "carpooling" or "feet". But they're not quite right anyway, so they don't count.

No, a REAL American MUST have a car. Possibly even 2 or 3 cars, just in case one of 'em is in the shop.

Because nothing says "I'm no longer a free person" than being without gas-powered wheels.

Of course there are exceptions-

-if you're traveling say, over an ocean, an airplane is acceptable. As long as a rental car is procured within 30 minutes of landing.
-if you're taking a cruise, you may leave your car while you do that.

Otherwise- your personal car will take you wherever you need to go- you and a gabazillion fellow drivers, all going in the same damn direction at the same time.

But how ELSE are you gonna get from point A to point B?

Private jets are too expensive.
Busses are just icky.
Jet packs haven't been invented yet (DAMN that George Jetson!)


I'm sorry. For a minute there, I thought you suggested the train.

We have trains.

Commuter and long distance trains. They're called Amtrak.

I know all the bad press about 'em. And it's very unfair because most of it is not their fault.

Does Amtrak run late? Yes. But only almost 100% of the time. The REASON they run late is because they must wait on freight trains before they can use tracks and switches- because the freight companies own the tracks.

Why does every route go through Chicago? If I'm going from Dallas to New Orleans, I may not WANT to go through Chicago! See above. The freight companies own all the tracks and limit what Amtrak can use.

Aren't the trains old, dirty and smelly? No- you're thinking of the bus. Amtrak trains are very clean and non-odoriferous.

Aren't the seats really uncomfortable and tiny? No- you're thinking of planes. Amtrak seats are large and comfy- they recline and at night the nice conductors come around with blankies and pillows. Seriously.

Aren't the people who ride trains all losers, druggies and felons? Nope- that's the bus again. Overwhelmingly the passengers on a train will be those who can't afford a plane ticket (college kids and families) and those who don't care how long it takes to get there but don't want to drive (senior citizens). I've never been nervous of anyone taking anything on an Amtrak trip, and everyone is friendly- especially the conductors.

Don't they routinely fall off the tracks, crash and burn?
Not as often as it seems. And most of the time, that's due to track damage- which is the responsibility of the freight companies.

I've ridden the train from Milwaukee to St. Louis, Milwaukee to North Dakota, Milwaukee to LA, Mineola (TX) to Minneapolis, Mineola to Sturtevant (WI), Mineola to Austin and last week Dallas to Mineola. I love the train.

This last trip was for a conference in Dallas. I found lodging across the street from the train station and 4 blocks (very walkable blocks) from the convention center. If I had driven, the parking would've been $12 per day at the convention center and $16 per night at the hotel. I was there 4 days. The train cost $34 round trip. I mean, seriously.

I get motion sickness at the drop of a hat (Really- watching a hat drop to the floor is enough to make me woozy).

Yet for some reason, I love the train. The coach cars have the seating on the upper level and windows all up and down the sides so there's no claustrophobia. The train rocks back and forth gently, tracks clacking rhythmically, the whistle sounding at each crossing- haunting and familiar. I've never lived out of earshot of a train track.

If the tracks were opened up so Amtrak could actually use them all, the possibilities would literally be endless. We HAVE a form of mass transit that could go north to south and sea to shining sea without changing a damn thing.

We're planning an upcoming vacation around train travel- taking the train from big city to big city and using public transportation while "landed". There's only one segment we'll need to rent a car.

It's going to be an adventure of the best sort. Of course, all of ours are- just being together makes it so.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Small Things, Quiet Thoughts

And the clock chimes the hour.

Not the one I usually hear- the slender and elegant "grandmother clock" that we inherited from Ward's mom, somberly chiming every quarter hour 24/7/365 (unless I forget to wind it once a week...)

This one is visible from the hotel room I'm writing from- 7th floor of the Hotel Lawrence in downtown Dallas. I'm here for 4 days of continuing education training for work- necessary and mostly interesting, challenging and mostly fun.

While most folks are staying places like the Omni, Hyatt or Best Western, I chose on purpose the Lawrence- walking distance from the convention center but a world away.

The Lawrence was built in 1925 and has been lovingly renovated. The rooms are small but serviceable, the bathroom a darling whimsy of fish tiles and deco glass sink, mirror and shelving. The staff is friendly and helpful, the bed appointed with more than enough pillows. It costs less than half of a night at one of the "other" hotels and offers more than double the character.

Attached to the Lawrence is the Founder's Grill and I've had absolutely delicious dinners there last night and tonight. The Grill is in the same building, so the same vintage and has also been renovated- brick walls, mahogany ceilings, curved and polished bar, oak floor- not a speck of carefully purchased faux elegant "atmosphere-inducing" interior decoration. The place is the Real Deal and tries to be nothing it's not.

The boys brought me here on Thursday, dropped me off for the first set of meetings and then went and did fun stuff- the Aeronautics Museum and the Art Museum. They picked me up and spent the night here with me. Yesterday morning I went back to meetings and they drove home, leaving me here in this strange family-free void that leaves me feeling like I'm trying to function without one of my senses- I can do it, but not very well.

The Lawrence offers a free driver to anywhere within 3 miles, but I've chosen to walk to and from the convention center. I'm not used to being inside so much, and really not used to being in air conditioning so much. I feel trapped, can't breathe deeply, and quite frankly my ass falls asleep from sitting about 90% more than I'm used to.

And I admit to finding, somewhere on the walk to and fro, a patch of lawn to sink my bare feet into, a tree to literally hug and inhale.

A little exercise I do mostly unconsciously at home is to "touch" each element of Nature mentally- it centers me and grounds me throughout the day.




All of them within sight, hearing, touch, at home. Even from inside the house, our windows are open- outside is inside and inside is outside.

Yesterday I sat where there was also a fountain, and the soft breeze rippled the water as I wriggled my toes in the grass.




Today was a different little park. Grass. Sculptures. Trees.




No water.


So I decided to concentrate just on the other two.

The leaves above me danced and whispered and gave form to air.

The grass beneath me cushioned my feet bottoms without separating them from the earth.

I breathed in. I breathed out.

In. Out. In. Out.




Hunkered down in the soil around the trees, unseen by me, the irrigation sprinklers suddenly and silently sprang into action- working their strange magic of raining out of the ground.


I smiled and made my way back to the Lawrence, had an excellent dinner, and returned to my room- no TV needed- I can watch a never-ending parade of life from the 7th floor window.

Convention center to the right, gleaming stark and metallic.

The Grassy Knoll to the left.

Union Station behind, where I'll be catching the train home tomorrow.

Old courthouse directly ahead, luxuriously organic red stone and tile with the elegantly-lit clock tower.

And the clock chimes the hour.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How Did "Morning" Become Triage?

The Edna Alarm went off at about 6:30 today.

It goes off every morning anywhere from 5:30 till about 7am and sounds like this-

*pitty pat pitty pat pitty pat shuffle shuffle shuffle*

"Good morning, sweeties! How's momma's babies? Time to go outside!"

*door opens. sound of coffee being made*

That's when I turn it off and know everything's ok.

That's when I do my morning inventory on myself.

I realized this morning that the following routine used to be something I'd do after an unexpected physical event- like falling off of a ladder, or through a hole in the porch, or being dragged by a horse. Who could've foreseen that someday just the act of getting out of the damn bed would require triage???

Lying in bed, I go over how everything seems to be working in idle and before I try 'drive'.

Headache? Not today. I hate when I wake up with a headache. I hate most of all when the headache actually wakes me up.

Teeth? So far so good- all accounted for and in place. If I've had troublesome dreams I know it even if I don't remember them because my crown will hurt like the dickens after being clenched on all night.

Chest? Pretty good today. If I sleep on my side, I'm ok. If I've slept on my back, I'll wake up with a chest feeling like someone's been pushing on it all night long.

Hands? Generally the hands do alright till I try to yanno, grasp anything with them and the arthritis kicks in.

Arms and legs? Stiff. Sore. Not moving very quickly. Getting out of bed requires several positions, each mimicking the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz and each held for a sec until I'm sure I'm not gonna...tip over.

Bladder? That's why I'm getting up.

I can make it to the bathroom without my glasses, but not much more. I need both levels of the bi-focals to see much of anything.

Coffee. I need coffee.

I remember a time when I could leap out of bed in one graceful motion and literally attack the day before hitting the ground.

Feeling just the tiniest bit sorry for myself and frustrated with this aging shell that's appeared where my fire-and-bullet-proof armor used to be, I think of Edna.

93 year old Edna, who does her own cooking, cleaning, gardening, laundry and gets up every day without whining even though she's 40- as in four decades, years older than I am.

Sighing, I look at the dogs and say, "Good morning, sweeties! How's momma's babies? Time to go outside!"

And I shuffle off to make coffee...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Getting the Dung Beetle Vote

And just like that, we've been plunged into poverty.

Oh, I'm still employed and Ward's still on disability.

Our home and auto notes have not been given to some robo-calling collection agency.

We have food on the table and clothes on our backs. We are only barefoot by choice.

No, nothing has changed here at the farm.

But we've been plunged into the dregs of economic definition by Mitt "I have no fucking idea how most people live, thank God" Romney, who defines as "middle class" anyone who can write up to $250,000 on their tax returns in the little box that says "income".

What's that, Mitt?

What's a "tax return"?

Not now, Mitt- why don't you go check your off-shore accounts and I'll get back to you on that...

Do I consider ourselves middle class? Yep.

Do we make anything even APPROACHING six figures? Hell,no.

Oddly, Mitt said that middle class is anyone making $250,000 OR LESS.

So, what?

There IS no lower class anymore?

That's almost as telling as anything I've seen him say.

There's not even a delineation between Middle Class and Lower Class because none of it, none of US, matter.

Not that we don't "matter" matter, you understand. Of course we do. It's just like knowing that the world is full of bugs.

Now there are all different kinds of bugs- pretty ones (like butterflies), ugly ones (like those hairy-ass spiders), beneficial ones (like honeybees) and "what the hell was god thinking???" ones like mosquitoes and ticks and the ever-crabby red wasps.

So we know they're here. And all around us. And that there are a shit-load of different kinds of 'em.

But they're all bugs.

Of course we understand that they are living things, and that as living things they merit some rudimentary respect for their tiny, seemingly pointless yet noble existence.

We tip our hat to them distractedly if they're pretty, or grudgingly if they're helping us by pollinating our food, or violently while we're trying to beat them to death before they can sting us, all the while secure in the knowledge that we and they are not the same.

There's the whole Food Chain, Bigger Brain, Opposable Thumb thing in our favor.

We're better than they are. Different and better. Somehow, by sheer luck of the draw (or god's favor, depending on which side of the draw you are on)we are not at all in the same category- they think different than we do, feel different than we do, and are just on the whole simpler, less complex and well, lets face it- not as smart or sensitive as we are.

It's not a foolish analogy.

Since time immemorial people have been relegating other humans to "sub-human" status.

Slavery comes to mind immediately. Slavery was always justified by some "expert" stating that it was perfectly ok- all those brown people don't have the same feelings us white people do. If we treat them fairly (but sternly), they'll thrive in safety and comfort instead of being savages and getting eaten by lions and whatnot.

Back when I started working for vet clinics there was an injectable anesthetic that was not really so much a "put them to sleep" drug as a "paralyze them so they can't move while you're cutting them open" drug. It stated that it was for use "only in dogs, cats, livestock and infants".

Religions routinely slaughter "others" in the name of their particular god's love.

The "walk a mile in my moccasins" phrase doesn't even apply here.

Mitt wouldn't be caught dead in moccasins.

Am I pissed off that the Romneys are so stinking filthy rich that they cannot even relate to anyone other than their own very tiny insulated class?


I am pissed off that the Romneys are apparently unable to show or feel any empathy whatsoever for the absolute great and overwhelming majority of the people in this land that Mitt wants to badly to be king president of.

From telling a woman who just lost her home from a hurricane to "just go home and call 211", to even THINKING it's ok for the people who get huge paychecks and bonuses in a corporation to do so while they lay off workers by the thousands because of "the bad economy", to advising young people who want a college education to just "borrow the money from your parents" this is another stark reminder that he is utterly clueless.

If you don't/can't see the thousands of bugs every day that you're stepping on, how the hell can you care about them or their tiny little lives? How can you appreciate much less want to help in whatever struggles they have in just trying to find and maintain the things it takes to live- food, shelter, medical care (not talking about the bugs now and ya'll know it so don't be a mess of smart-asses)- much less anything at all remotely resembling "leisure occupations"?

What strikes me is how genuinely puzzled Mitt always looks when confronted with very real suffering by very real people- like he's looking at an alien, it's so foreign to him.

Not too long ago Ward and I were walking back to the house from the barn and we looked down to see a dung beetle rolling his treasure in front of him. He was bumping into the water hose in the path, over and over and over again. The hose is 50ft long- miles in either direction to a 1 inch long beetle.

I picked up the hose and placed it behind him.

Ward looked at me and I said, "WHAT??? He was born a dung beetle. He deserves a few breaks".

I know how he feels. Not exactly, because I've never (that I can recall, anyway) been a beetle. But I can empathize with struggle, and frustration, and need.

We've been so very lucky. And I say that while waiting on a call from the cancer hospital to give us a referral to yet another doctor down there- an oral surgeon who can hopefully work on Ward's mouth and teeth without ruining the graft sitting right...there. Ward's teeth are now showing the effects from the radiation he got years ago, and are breaking, falling out, infected.

I've been homeless. And jobless. And scoured the sofa cushions and car floors for enough money to buy ONE roll of generic toilet paper. Been battered some and frightened a bunch.

I used to joke that everyone needs to do "time" in a really poor trailer park, and still remember when I was there that I'd play the lotto every week (for $1) and remember the day I thought to myself (seriously) "If I win the lotto, I'll buy a piece of land and a REALLY NICE NEW TRAILER". Over the years there my own expectation of my life had been, not lowered, but shifted to fit more into my environment.

Everything and almost especially the really horrid stuff makes you who you are and how you view the world.

When I was a very young woman I dated many different men. More than a few were more than wealthy. And I noticed something.

The men who started out poor and made their money from the ground up had not only more colorful personalities but more character than the ones who had been born into their money.

And I'm not sure how you "fix" that, if you're a wealthy family. Some require their offspring to be active in various good works that immerse them into a poverty-filled environment, which is as good as they can do, I guess.

But it's difficult to relate to someone whose rope is frayed and they can see the end...and then the cliff's edge their entire family will drop off of when you're harnessed into a winch that will pull you back from the precipice without fail and every single time.

So we're lucky, because we KNOW about these things, we've SURVIVED these things, and not by our own skills or courage or prayers to the correct god but by sheer dumb luck. And we don't ever want to see ANYONE go through what we have.

So we weave a safety net and demand it to be strong, and inclusive.

We also know that we have no clue about the type of poverty too many Americans face every single day- we cannot relate to that. But we want that safety net made large enough for them. Because they, too are where they are by the fickleness of birth or circumstances.

Just like Mitt's family is where THEY are by that same dumb luck.

Back when the whole Occupy movement started, I got a shitload of flak from those defending the 1%. Partly because they assumed we were hating on the rich folks out of jealousy, but also partly because they were valiantly believing that they themselves were IN the 1%.

To all my friends who screamed, "You people just want to take OUR money away from us and we worked for that money!" in a tizzy of righteous indignation- visions of you and Mitt and Donald Trump all playing golf together and sharing a cocktail someday...remember.

Mitt says anyone who earns less than $250,000 a year is middle class.

YOU are not the 1%.

He can't even see you.

But I'll be happy to move the hose for you.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Some Scenes of Graphic Violence"= I'm Changing the Channel Now

So I'm reading this book, and it's clicking along pretty well- it's a little sort of 'end of the world as we know it' book, and it's extra fun because I know the author.

First few chapters behind me, I turn the page...and there it is.

The requisite (apparently) chapter where the good woman gets raped and killed by the roving marauders. And I wonder why the hell?

Why the hell is that necessary? Oh, I know all the stock answers- they're the same ones I hear to justify violence in movies and TV shows...other forms of entertainment.

It's assumed that I shy away from that sort of stuff because I'm all girlie girl and liberal (see post re:Why I'm a Liberal and you'll see where this is going)and just float along batting my eyelashes through my rose colored glasses and waiting for unicorns to show up.

That I don't wanna see 'that stuff' because it's distasteful and I just don't want my pretty little fluffy head filled with ugly images- none of that stuff will ever happen anyway, right?

That I'm unrealistic and idealistic, juvenile and clueless.

Let me help you to understand.

I was talking to a male human about the fact that female humans never quite get over being abused and/or assaulted, sexually or otherwise.

I was told in a sort of condescending manner that HE'D been shot, and stabbed, and beat up, and it hurts, but he got over it.

I asked him how many of his assailants he'd known personally. Zero.

I told him quietly that I've never been physically hurt by someone I didn't know and trust. Read it again and let that sink in.

That's a whole different ball game- with a whole different set of reactions, defenses and rules.

It's a different world if you're female.

Say you're a male and you're walking along and see a bunch of construction workers harassing a passing female. You think, "Geez, whatta buncha assholes" and keep going.

If you're that female, you think, "Geez, whatta buncha assholes" and keep going...with a low rumbling of fear in the pit of your stomach.

So for all you guys who write books about the end of the world- we get it. It's going to be lawless and stressful and unpredictable and awful. The strong will prey on the weak and dogs will eat dogs. Zombie kittens will roam the streets. Children will die. Women will be raped and killed.

We get it.

We get it because we're already the 'weaker sex' as far as bulk and strength and we are aware of all the above every single stinking day of our lives. Somewhere in the back of our minds, no matter how brave, or bitchy, or bossy, or confident we appear on the outside we know. We know we're vulnerable to being hurt and worse.

I shy away from violence in entertainment not because I don't think it can happen for realsies and I just don't want to look at "icky stuff".

But because I KNOW it can happen for realsies. Because it already has. To me.

Why the hell would I willingly sit in front of that shit for ENTERTAINMENT???

How can we seem so sure of ourselves and conduct our lives with such efficiency and bullheaded cheerfulness?

The same way any of us give birth more than once.

Love and Life are stronger than Fear.

We all have a limited amount of moments in our lives. It's a horrible, evil waste of those moments to spend even one of them on violence- even pretend violence- willingly.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lets Let our Senior Citizens Decide the Election...

In case you missed it, here's the Clint Eastwood speech at the RNC. I didn't see it live, and only heard about it till I looked it up just now and my initial reaction was, "DAMN, Clint got old and frail."

It's not a good speech. It rambled and faltered and he stuttered and seemed to get lost in his own head quite a bit. I'm not super-critical, and everyone knows I LOVE senior citizens, but jeebus- he's a professional and polished actor...what the hell?

Anyway- here it is. See for your own self-

Well, I guess we can chalk it up to his age. The whole sorry unkempt, rambling, speaking to the empty chair (supposedly cleverly, but without a smooth delivery that was especially painful) affair.

It's so sad when actors get old. They lose their spark, their vitality, their animation and stamina.

Just a damn shame...

Wait. Looka here-

Here's what I think.

Clint Eastwood, wearing the GOP colors.

Betty White, for the Dems.

Cage match.

She'll skin him alive before he even knows what hit him...