Monday, October 31, 2011

Leaving the default Down

“That’s not a very healthy lunch,” the clerk said to me. And I did something I rarely do. I looked up into the face of a stranger. Between me and her was a big gulp and a handful of condiment packages I was planning on taking home. The checkout girl at the 7-11 had a big smile and it surprised me. I smiled feebly and mumbled some excuse and left the store and never saw her again.

That evening as I cooked noodles and ketchup from one of the packets I thought of cool replies. Most of them painted a picture of me living a life straight out of a depressing Bruce Springsteen song. I wanted to answer her cheerful smile with a desolate reply and thought it might endear her to me. This was 21 years ago. I was driving a broken down Chevy, barely making it by with only weekend hours at my job. I was living on cigarettes and noodles. Worst of all I was lonely. And I shared my feelings to anyone who would listen. I liked to listen to other people’s problems and boasted I could solve anyone’s but my own. My whole outlook was still default down. And I thought it was cool to live that way.

A few months ago I changed the overall style of my blog. I told less random stories from growing up and tried to start writing more about what was going on in my life. When I first heard the suggestion to take my blog that way my thought was that not enough happens to me to write something significant once a week. But I’ve gone ahead with it and written not only about my life but current world events that I think about. Some blogs may have a dull topic but I take each one as a challenge to at least write good sentences.

And reading back over the past few months I’ve noticed a very positive theme to my writing. Even when I had to cancel my yearly sabbatical to the desert I put a thankful tone to that writing. I looked at these works of mine and wondered about what had happened to that dark brooding writer with the perpetual scowl. Was I going to have to turn in my long black coat for a brightly colored sweater?

When baby is teething they are miserable. They are feverish and not hungry and more drooly that usual. Then the tooth breaks through and suddenly the pain is gone. Time after time I saw this. The baby is suddenly delighted and more cheery than even before teething. Sometimes after a spell of misery you can’t help but breathe easier and hold your head higher just from the joy and relief that it’s over.

Now I’ve not been down and depressed for 21 years. Soon after the girl talked to me at the 7-11 I got more hours at work and was able to eat a little better. Within a year I was dating Prajna and another year we were married and expecting a child. Of course I had a better attitude then. But this past decade saw me falling down a lot. I scraped down to lows that made my post college anxiety seem comical. It was a long struggle. But now because of prayer and support from others and the grace of God I am better. That abysmal time is over. The tooth has broken through and I feel better. It’s not an effort to see the positive side of things anymore. I can just see them. And I want to share them. Thanks for letting me share.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Boldog Szabadnap Magyarság

Yesterday, the 23rd of October Hungary celebrated its independence day. It’s also the anniversary of the uprising in Budapest in 1956.

The Soviet Union was just another occupier in a long line. Hungary had been occupied by the Ottomans, The Austrian Hapsburg Dynasty and the Nazis before the iron curtain went up after World War II. Soviet Communism brought military occupation. Hungary’s bountiful crops were exported. Poverty and paranoia were facts of everyday life. People froze in the winter for lack of warm clothing. One of the worst factors were the few Hungarians recruited as secret police to spy and instill fear in their own people. The secret police were called the AVH and hated more than the Communist occupiers. Neighbors couldn’t trust one another. Offhand remarks could be reported. People could be jailed without trial and even disappear forever.

Things came to a boiling point in October 1956 when a peaceful uprising at a radio station was fired upon. Days later more shots killed innocent citizens. Then street warfare erupted. The Soviet tanks were no match for the narrow, hilly streets of Buda. Residents of the city greased the streets and sent the tanks sliding. Dinner plates were laid in the street to resemble land mines and housewives stuck broom handles resembling rifles out their windows to distract and lure tanks into blind allies. Molotov cocktails took tanks out. AVH were rounded up and some were shot.

Then the fighting died down. Budapest appeared free and peaceful. Journalists arrived from behind the iron curtain. Some thought they had gotten rid of the Soviet Occupation. Then under cover of a snowstorm one night, thousands of Russian Tanks arrived. They were not the little tanks but the latest war machines. Showing no mercy, they took back the city.

Hungary remained occupied until 1990 when it finally declared its independence from The Soviet Union. When my family was there in 1996 we stood at the Parliament building on October 23 and watched the solemn ceremony commemorating the date. There were still places you could see bullet holes in walls from 40 years back.

During the days of peace some Hungarians were anxiously waiting for help from the west. They kept expecting help from The United States or NATO. No one came. But even what I’m reading today suggests other countries see The United States as a beacon of democracy. I read interviews with prisoners or the gulag in Siberia. Even up through the 80’s the Soviet secret police could have someone arrested and taken away to a prison where they would be put to work assembling machine parts. It was the lowest form of slavery. Beatings and torture and starvation were expected. The accounts I read made me consider that we here in the U.S. have it pretty good.

Now today we have protesters that started On Wall Street and spread to other cities. I understand that the people occupying cities right now have several legitimate concerns. They are frustrated at what they see as not only injustice, but robbery. And some are doing the only thing they think they have left. I assume that most of them appreciate living a country where they can peacefully protest. And that when there are isolated incidents police brutality they are not tolerated. In a few other countries the protests would have never grown this big. And if they were then there would be tanks rolling in. Family members would be wondering if they would ever see their loved ones again. But they wouldn’t dare mention the names in public any more.

There is no easy solution to the protester’s concerns today. I don’t feel it’s right to tell them to just count their blessings and go home. But it will take more than a few arrests and incarcerations to begin to match the sacrifice and passion that has happened in real totalitarian regimes. And those others weren’t just protesting for a better way of life. They were fighting for the basic human rights. They needed warm coats in the winter. They didn’t want to be taken away and thrown in jail for a few words someone thought subversive.

So keep protesting for what you think it right people. And pull those coats tighter as winter comes along.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where I ought to be

Last year in the late summer I took a little vacation by myself to The Mojave Desert Preserve. The year before that I drove out to Death Valley. I used my four-wheel-drive to get to Mahogany flats, an eight thousand foot mountain in the middle of Death Valley National Park. I took a long drive out there, made my meals, marveled at the night sky and explored the park the next day. Both trips I was alone for the whole time. I called these getaways sabbaticals. One of the good things about these was looking forward to them as they approached. The planning and anticipation sometimes made the weeks leading up more thrilling.

Over the past month or so I was putting together another sabbatical back to Death Valley. I was going to take a slightly different route to Mahogany Flats and spend more time there. I was planning on reading at least one novella while up there. I would leave later in the day and skip Badwater Basin this time, still taking the long stretch of highway down to Baker California on the I-15 and then home. The air conditioning on my little 4WD Toyota has been broken for almost a year now. I figured if the pioneers and the Joad family could do it then so could I. But the truck also needed a few other little repairs. And I would be filling the gas tank perhaps four times for this trip. The costs all began to add up. The trip was supposed to be this weekend. I canceled it. The plan was that right now I would be alone in my little tent maybe thinking about waking up and cooking breakfast for myself. Instead I’m sitting here composing my blog while my kitten burrows and kneeds inside my bathrobe.

It would have been sour grapes to wish for a gully washer of a thunderstorm to hit the desert out there this weekend. But the rest of this entry is not sour in any way. I’m not bitter about this. I had a long day at work on Saturday. I was planning on leaving very early Sunday morning. Turns out that Sunday morning I was pretty tired and sore. It was nice waking up in my own bed and taking it easy yesterday afternoon.

And last night I built a fire in our little outdoor fireplace. After supper we went outside and sat around and watched the flames get warmer as we waited for good coals to toast marshmallows. We watched the International Space Station fly over as forecast. We cooked marshmallows on sticks and sang campfire songs, Sunday school songs and whatever else we could think of. (Prajna drew the line at the worms crawl in the worms crawl out song.) We fed the fire endured the smoke and told jokes. Nathaniel told a bizarre story about a boy who wanted to go to South America but his father said he couldn’t because they didn’t have French fries in South America. The boy argued that they did and continued to discredit his father’s sources to that information. I’m not sure how much of the story Nathaniel made up on the spot, but I don’t think he can ever tell it the same again.

I got to bed earlier that I usually do on work nights. I’ve had several blog topics in my head. I don’t usually run them by Prajna but she advised me against one about Halloween. So this morning I got up a few minuets before six thinking about the campfire last night and maybe writing about what a mook I was 20 years ago and somehow linking it to last night. Then as I sat down and the kitten jumped up I got out my MP3 player. I remembered my playlist titled “Sweltering”. I made it years ago mixing up instrumental surf music with spaghetti western type music. It’s my desert music. Then I remembered where I was going to be this morning. The kitten settled in and I had my topic. Yeah, I am bummed that this year’s sabbatical is off. Mahogany Flats closes for the winter months and there is no good weekend for a while now. But I have been busy at work and content at home and for the first time in a long time a disappointment like this hasn’t sent me spiraling into depression. And it isn’t a great feat by me as much as it’s friends and family looking out for me that helps me accept this. The population I sought to escape from ultimately is what I need. Thanks everyone. It’s good to be home.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How does it feel?

Some people have no sympathy. If they did they wouldn’t have to ask. I don’t know, maybe most of them are just trying to start a conversation with me and think they have a good question. I don’t think most askers really want to know and some know already. If I could put an answer into words I would. I don’t think I’m that good of a writer and that’s not the goal of this blog entry. Or maybe it is. But the truth is I don’t know the answer to the question: “How does it feel to be that father of an 18 year old?”

18 years ago today my first child was born. It took weeks to even fully grasp how it felt to be a father. I could have listed a lot of feeling words and other adjectives. Tired would have been one of the key words, definitely. And as our little family walked through Maui Mall I felt different from the crowing pride that I felt walking though with a pregnant wife. It went from “See what I can do?” to “Oh dear Lord what have I done?”

By the time Naomi was born Harrison and I would take walks together. In Budapest we would spend many afternoons together either just outside our block of flats at a playground or sometimes we would ride public transport to the local railway station and watch the trains arrive and depart. From this camaraderie came a new feeling. I had a joyous sense of being complete. Now the little boy that walked hand in hand with me is an adult. And people ask me how it feels.

I can’t say I know exactly. We’re not giving Harrison the boot after lunch today. It’s not like we’re losing him. Not yet at least. The Earth just traveled around its sun 18 times. That’s all right? Well Harrison did get a letter from the United States Selective Service last week. He is legally an adult. I can tell you that it feels a little wrong. Because even though he’s legally an adult, he’s my little boy.

And he’s not just my little boy. I tried to thank people at the birthday party on Saturday. I didn’t get too many chances. And not everyone reads this whom I wish I could thank. It hasn’t been a perfectly smooth 18 years. There was a long time marred by moving, growing pains and government schools. He had younger sister sick with cancer and both parents taking care of her sometimes. And though it all Harrison was the first born. That’s the trailblazer that parents learn on. And today I can look back and breathe a sigh of relief. We made it. But we never could have done it without help. There are teachers, pastors, friends and relatives that didn’t give up on Harrison. To all of you, thank you for helping Harrison grow to be the man of God that he is today.

So how does it feel to be the father of an 18 year old? It’s all mixed up. Afraid, melancholy and shocked, yes. But thankful to everyone and to God. Just a little bit proud of myself, please forgive me. And here will be my answer when and if anyone asks me. I’m very proud of my son.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sorry, but today I don't care.

“You ruined my whole evening,” the man on the phone spat at me and hung up. I had apologized to him and explained to him that I had warned everyone that this would probably happen. But he had not heard my warning, only what I had warned against.

It was about 18 years ago. Normally I worked the graveyard shift at KNUI radio. The station was automated overnight. I changed the music reels, taped ABC feeds, produced commercials and set up for the morning show. For about a week in the fall of 1993 I worked the afternoon shift. I was thrilled to be able to be on the air on the AM portion of the station. The FM portion was automated 24 hours except news at the top of the hour. I was very familiar with the controls. So while I backtimed the two stations for the music to end right at the top of the hour I taped the ABC news off the satellite feed. It was probably just before four or five o’clock in Kahului, Maui. The news was from the west coast where it was three hours later.

Before satellite technology people who lived in Hawaii got all their TV shows a week later than the rest of the U.S. Even our TV news was a day late and the Today show was from yesterday. But by 1993 techoniogy was catching up. We got stuff the same day but usually delayed just a few hours. This afternoon I pulled a sound lever down into audition where only I could hear it. At 56.50 was a tone, then at 56.59 a chirp. I hit record and heard the voice of the ABC news begin. I may have been feeding the FM an instrumental to fade down at the top of the hour. I had chosen a song on the AM to end right when it was time for the news. I was thrilled to be doing so many things at once. I loved timing everything out in my head. This could have been my favorite part of the job right here. The ABC news ended and I rewound the tape.

At the top of the hour I took control over the FM station. We were in simulcast. I played the tape of the afternoon newsman giving the station identification and introducing the news. Then I did something I didn’t usually do. I brought up my own microphone and spoke on the AM and FM stations.

“ABC news is being broadcast from the west coast of the US mainland,” I announced. “There is a good chance that they will announce the final score of tonight’s World Series game. If you do not want to know the outcome of tonight’s game, you may want to leave the room or turn down your radio.”

The game had already been played in Philadelphia and would be on TV in Hawaii that night. I didn’t want people turning off their radio or changing the station. All I could do was warn them. And sure enough, the final score of the ballgame was broadcast.
Toronto Blue Jays – 10, Philadelphia Phillies – 3
Moments later the studio phone line lit up. I ignored it until the end of the weather and the news was over. I gave control back over to the FM and started a song on the AM. Then I answered the phone. The caller was indignant that we had announced the score. And I told him that I had warned him but he didn’t call to hear that. I wanted me to know how his evening was ruined.

I got back to work. Today, this week really, I didn’t care. Normally as I said before I would be on the graveyard shift. But the afternoon jock had graciously offered to work for me my night shift as well as part of his evening shift so that I could be home at night. This was 18 years ago and Harrison had just been born. That week I started experiencing changing diapers, hours of crying, jaundice and bilirubin and just a taste of the emotions a parent feels. No amount of whining about ball games concerned me any more. The thrill of backtiming music and newscasts was nothing compared to pinning a cloth diaper on a flailing newborn. I took a while, but I grew to love the job of being a dad most of all.