Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sometimes I don't have enough to entertain me, there just isn't enough novelty for me to explore all of the possibilities. After a while my approach can turn a little dour, which occurs when the material wears a bit thin. These ideas came up for me the other day.

3 May 2014
Saturday morning

You know what I miss, really miss? Beside being able to get up and walk, to take care of my own needs, and not be limited by the lack of imagination of those who surround me constantly? I miss those moments of possibility. When the wonder of considering what if ______, then filling in the blank with an idea or a notion that has appeared briefly, as inventive inspirations often do. I enjoy those events when a thought or an image congeals, seemingly out of nothing, sometimes at the instigation of some verbalization designed for the more pedestrian events of life.

The other day the nurse of the day entered my room followed by a man I had never seen before. In a very casual manner she explained him away as needing to do an investigation involving fire, like a fire marshall or something. Without acknowledging me, he went straight to the bathroom and began poking around in there. This felt very exposed, my electric toothbrush charger is in there, so is my S.A.D. Light, not to mention a couple of boxes of books that I can't bear to be rid of. This invitation is like being told that the man on your doorstep with the muddy boots is here to inspect your underwear drawer, and then ushering him into your space as if your verbal acquiescence was, after all a moot point, not worth waiting for. The implication that my sense of a personal space is not worth honoring. After all the nurses and to some degree the CENAs are expected to complete their duties. My personal concerns have no real bearing in the matter.

The situation was so absurd, I blurted out, “Oh there is no need to inspect in there, I am not allowed to have any fires in this facility. But if I did have any they would be of the highest quality.” Which is true, I have had expensive Japanese, hand made incense confiscated, even though I used in in an unburned state because it had wonderful aromas. The assumption was made that I might light it. The fear instilled by financial penalties, levied by the fire marshal is legion. I have never seen a fire marshal, but the way everyone responds to even the mention of him, causes me to envision a Joseph Stalin looking character, in a bad mood, who is in charge of all things of a pyro nature.

The nurse had the most puzzled look on her face. She was trying to reconcile my comment about only having fires and assigning a quality value to it. To me fire is not only powerful but helpful as well. I heated my house exclusively with wood for years, had several candles in decorative glass shelters that I had made, and oil lamps in my house. Never had any trouble with fires. Besides, bathrooms are more conducive to moisture episodes than fire. As usual she was allowing the conventional thinking that is a hallmark of her job and its location in a facility like this to guide her understanding. I was perfectly happy to be standing just outside of that particular envelope.

It is that stuck in the mud method of seeing the world that seems so sad to me. Nearly everyone I come into contact with here is hopelessly, mindsuckingly, mired in the tired regularity of their common thought process. You can see it on their faces. Dull, flat expressionless faces. They come in my room for the first time each day looking as inspired to be here as an old bowl of potato soup. There is no flavor, no zing, the blandness of their potato-like existence has smothered that.

It is really easy to see those living a potato existence, they never make any eye contact. They can walk into the room, eyes averted toward the floor. They can speak general platitudes to you, and not look you in the eye. They can even give you a shower without actually looking directly at you. I find this to be totally amazing. Especially after reading an article asking will people tolerate robots as care takers in the future? The engineers were trying to make the robots more personable in the future. Mechanical gears and pulleys replicating a human touch in the future, jeez we got actual living, breathing, potato- living, robotic people right here, now. And that is pretty unsettling. If those engineer types make success with more humanlike robots, would somebody turn those engineers loose on the potato people we have here right now?

John Whiting

3 May 2014
Saturday afternoon

The morning dawned overcast and gray today. By 2:00 the skies had cleared and the sun was shining. At one point I was temporarily on my side so I could look out the window. The trees are past the bud stage, and tender leaves are beginning to unfurl. I gazed outside and thought of the many spring seasons that I have seen over the years.

How I was always surprised to find that one special day when, after months of monochromatic colors, mixed with the white of snow, followed by acres of brown grass after the thaw. My eyes ached for some other color. Visually I was thirsting for the depth of rich signs of growth. I often woke to look outside and the grass had become the most verdant green. Somewhere the master switch had been found, lost after a long winter and the teasing promise of impending spring. Someone must have found that chlorophyl switch and thrown the system into hyper-drive. The grass, the trees, even the very air seemed to have come alive again.

There is something about what a good view through the window can do to your mood. As much as being kept indoors entirely too long can dampen a mood, I will soon be able to sign myself outside, when the weather gets a little warmer. Not to go anywhere, the terrain precludes ranging far in a wheelchair, just to sit out in front of the entrance with a couple of other residents imitating modern gargoyles guarding the front entrance.

I found myself thinking of those less fortunate souls who live chronically indoors for an extended time. My thoughts drifted to one of the juvenile delinquent charges whom I used to work with, Freddy. When I first met him, Freddy was thirteen, scrawny, moderate complexion, African-American kid with an infectious lisp. He was in the court for some incorrigible behavior or another. Some school truancy, some minor assaultive behavior, some larceny, but no overriding major criminal bent. Freddy was a kid looking for something to which he could attach himself in order to become something in his life. Problem was he had, as many troubled kids, no adult role model, his father stuck around for such a short time as to be considered not much more than a sperm donor. The street had always been there for him, but the quality of caring it had to offer was lacking. Freddy was always trying to get respect by being in someone's face at just the wrong time. He always picked the most awful of contestants to compete with, often being on the short end of the competition at the end.

Freddy's powers of observation were interesting. Once when he was on an afternoon cross-country ski trip with another worker, named Polzin, and myself, Freddy came up with the most amazing questions. The air was still and cold, the snow was deep and fluffy. Up ahead Freddy's voice came back to us two adults, full of concern. “Mithter Redbeard, Mithter Poltheen? Are there any rattle thnakes out here?” Polzin answered that there probably many rattlesnakes out here. Immediately Freddy shot back with, “Then what the hell are we doing out here?” He was really concerned. His voice was trembling with concern, he explained that he had been looking at lots of pictures of rattlesnakes in a book at the detention center when he was there last. He never read the text and no one explained that snakes can't tolerate winter temperatures. All by themselves they find a place to over winter, usually some rodent burrow deep under the snow. Upon hearing this he became concerned that we may wake them up by skiing too noisily. Eventually we were able to calm Freddy's concerns enough to complete the loop we were skiing that day.

A few years past and the street had an increasing influence on Freddy, until one day he was in the news. He had once again been in someone's face, only this time he had the street fronter's favorite secret weapon – an old revolver and some bullets. Freddy went to trial for murder. It was no contest. Freddy now has lifetime residential privileges, courtesy of the State, in accommodations of its pwn choosing, with the kindest sort of care the State is willing to offer.

Nearly forty years later, I too am living a forced indoor existence, with the same sort of indifferent oversight and wondering for how much longer? I look out my window at the annual greening and wonder – what might Freddy be seeing right now? Is his food as industrially prepared as mine? Does his momma come see him, or anyone? Does he still have that lisp?

There are moments when being in a place like this doesn't seem so bad – comparatively.

John Whiting