Saturday, January 2, 2016

A not so smart TV and (of course) more Priyo

Christmas came and went and, because I sent cards this year, and sent them a couple of weeks early, I got more cards than usual.  I also got something I really wanted and most definitely didn’t need, but it was a perfect gift choice because it came from me.  I have had a TV-viewing set up for several years which consisted of my TV hooked up to an Apple Mini computer through which I did all my viewing by streaming the shows I liked via file-sharing sites.  This enabled me to get rid of cable (I will NOT pay to watch ten or more minutes of ads every half hour!)  It also allowed me to watch series from other English-speaking countries - Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and Britain all have some great shows.  But it was a clumsy set up - lots of wires because I also needed to attach a wi-fi receiver to catch the signal from my router upstairs and I needed a wireless keyboard and mouse.  I asked around about “smart” TVs and was informed that I could browse the web using only the TV itself - the internet access was built in.  I looked at Consumer Reports and their “best buy” was a Samsung, which was about a thousand dollars less than all the other brands rated as highly.  I went to the store and for the first time ever in my history with this store I got some incorrect info from a clerk who was, I assume, a temporary Christmas hire.   Consumer Reports was pretty happy with all the rated aspects of this TV - picture quality and every measure thereof. 

So I happily made my purchase.  The delivery/set up men were great.  The picture was everything CR had promised.  I got even more local antenna channels than I had with the old set (I DO watch a half hour of news each night, gritting my teeth through the ads).  So there I sat in bliss watching a much larger, much better picture - so clear and bright that I almost didn’t notice that most of what I was watching was ads.  I gave my old set-up - TV, wifi receiver, Apple Mini and the lot - to my favorite nephew Sebastian, who was delighted to receive them.  Sebastian is acquiring the necessities for setting up house; he is looking to buy his first house and get out of the family domicile where his mother and older brother are driving him slowly nuts.  After a day or so, during which Sebastian took off for Pennsylvania to spend a late Christmas with his sister and father and their entourages, I began to seriously learn the pleasures of surfing the net with my new smart web browser. 

I found the navigation quite difficult because, of course, searches required using a pop-up keyboard displayed on the screen and scrolling was only possible by repeated use of the up/down/left/right arrow and select buttons on the remote.  This wasn’t wholly surprising, although I did seem to have more difficulty than could be explained solely by the clumsy remote requirements.  Often searches didn’t seem to take, and often I couldn’t get to the content I wanted because ad screens kept popping up.  I figured a keyboard would solve most of the problems - with the faster, easier data entry and a built in trackpad for scrolling, I would find it far easier to solve any other problems and learn the vagaries of this set.  I got a Samsung keyboard specifically designed for smart TV web browsing.

I soon discovered that my initial impression that I couldn’t get anything done was the correct one.  Having the faster text entry via keyboard just meant failing to achieve my object more quickly and more frequently within a given period of time.  The set has a built in web browser based on the ubuntu type language (I know; I never heard of it either!) which is absolutely worthless.  It will not permit adding ad blocking apps.  It will also not permit downloading a better browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox) which do allow ad blocking and blacklisting of risky sites.  Sebastian offered to return my Mini (an offer which I shame-facedly accepted) but he is still disporting himself in the fleshpots of southern Pennsylvania for another day or two.  Several links are built into the Samsung browser (when I went on a website that evaluates and tells you which browser you are currently using, it told me I was using “Samsung Browser 1”, which I will abbreviate as SB1).  These links are for popular sites - mostly pay sites like VUDU, HBO, Netflix - but one link is for Youtube.  I decided, pending Sebastian’s gracious return of my computer, to content myself with watching some Youtube fare.  But I discovered that the way the browser from Hell displayed these sites was different from all others, which I have previously found always to be identically displayed on every browser I have used before now - Microsoft’s IE, Apple’s Safari, Chrome, Firefox.   SB1’s format showed less variety of suggestions in the first screen as well as fewer links, and it was next to impossible to get beyond those few choices.  Screens - both the selction screens and those within the Youtube videos themselves, seemed to be larger than the display area - so that there were overflow bits (tops of heads and so forth) not visible.  The picture sizing keys, netted me a pop up that said ‘not available’.  Pressing the select key often started a video entirely different from that which I thought I had chosen.  My home page, which is Yahoo, also was displayed differently and in a way that required scrolling to see headlines of articles - I could only see one at a time.

When I first enter the browser it shows an initial screen of ‘Featured’ links (read “paid for”).  One of these is Google.  When I click on the Google link, the words ‘google.com’ appear in the URL bar; there is a long wait and then a screen displays that says this website is not available.  When I clear this and actually type in ‘www.google.com”, and enter it, it reverts to ‘google.com’ and I get the same result; not always but for about three out of four tries. 

As a side observation there were two problems with the keyboard setup in itself.  First, the keyboard was defective and transposed the values for double quote and ‘@‘.  Imagine having to remember to press shift-quote when you wanted to enter a URL name with the ever-needed ‘@‘.  Secondly (and I later saw this mentioned in a how-to video for setting up a keyboard with the Samsung), the bluetooth receptor is behind the screen which causes enough interference so that in using the trackpad, the scrolling function is jittery and often stops for a bit before you reach the position to which you are scrolling. 

Internet rumors also have it that Samsung not only does not allow ad blocking, but in fact has itself embedded ads in its browser.  I tend to believe it - I cannot get anything done because of the many ad screens that show up when I press ‘play’ on the video I want, on those rare occasions when I can get to said video in the first place. 

I do not know if Samsung is unique in the utter uselessness of its web browser; I suspect not.  I do think Consumer Reports needs to include evaluation on the ’smart’ aspect as well as the ‘TV’ aspect of its evaluation of this type of TV.  I have ended up with a setup that I could have gotten for several hundred dollars less - a big dumb TV being used as a video monitor for my trusty old Apple Mini.  If anyone out there is considering a smart TV, I urge him or her to find one already set up where he can evaluate its usability for any internet related activity by actually trying the functions he plans to use.  There is NOTHING that is reliably doable on the one I have. 

On to happier notes: Priyo’s term at the police academy lasted eleven months; he graduated second in his class, which pissed him off mightily; at half term he had been number one (and, had he remained at that rank, he would have had his picture in the local paper as well as receiving a big trophy for which he had lusted all term).  He is now the equivalent of a state trooper or highway patrolman, rather than a city cop.  In fact he has been to several accidents already, as well as a post mortem.  He has been offered - and refused - his first bribe by a cyclist driving without a license.  He was also involved in a 3 a.m. raid to pick up a wanted man.  I asked him if he scared the family and he told me, “No; they scared us!” 

So many men had been accepted into the academy that they had to divide the class and send the second half for training in Assam.  This latter group will not finish until early February.  Thus, until the twelfth of February, Priyo will be assigned to his local district, south of Imphal, rather than his expected assignment in Senapati north of Imphal, so that he is working, but not accumulating seniority at his official posting.  They won’t start Priyo’s lot earlier than the Assam lot in order to avoid whining down the road about unfair seniority if a promotion is given to one of the earlier finishers.  He has also discovered that until July he will be stationed in Imphal (with a month in nearby Thoubal) for on-the-job training in various types of tasks before being located in his officially assigned district of Senapati.  He is currently using his rare days off to find a nice place in Imphal for us to stay.  He has one possibility in view, though the landlords are strict Hindus and we will not be able to eat beef or pork there.  I asked how they would know, and he said, “By the smell.”  Christians and Muslims are not the only sects to meddle in their neighbors’ business or to be more acutely conscious of others’ diversity than they are of their own virtue (which is generally taken for granted!). 

As hoped now, I will head for Imphal around Feb 15, give or take.  First I want to be sure there is an apartment WITH WINDOWS.  Priyo and I are as one on the topic of what a cesspit our last place was.  As soon as he gives me the go-ahead date I will look for the earliest flight that is affordable.  I will probably plan to stay until the end of June if it continues to appear that Priyo will be training in Imphal until July.  It kills me to miss spring here in Reedville, both because it is the garden planting season and because it is so lovely and serene to be here during that time of early blooming, lilacs, and the greening of everything.  Imphal is anything but serene!  But it is clear to me that the length of time that Priyo and I have been apart is detrimental to our happiness.  It is not that we are less committed or care less or anything like that; it is that with him being at the academy and now on a new career, and me being in a land he has never seen, our daily conversations are limited to events past or to describing people and places that one or the other of us have never known, or to news topics when most news is on subjects of which the other has no knowledge.   We both know that there are going to be at least 6 month stretches apart in future, but a year is just too long. 

One of the great problems with dating when one is older is that it is easy to get into the mindset that one has achieved a fairly satisfactory life and that the other person must fit into an established schedule and set of relationships and interests.  Nobody is out there looking to change everything - most are not open to changing anything.  But the fact is that when you are really in love, all those ‘musts’ seem like nothing; the problem is that you fall in love after you meet someone which can be precluded by screening out 'imperfect' choices at the get-go.  Priyo makes me very happy and that is not worth cutting short for a pretty spring or pretty garden alone here in NY.  I hasten to say he could be labelled an imperfect choice only by the fact of our distance from each other. 

So we shall see what is next!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer's End

Summer this year didn’t really begin until July; June was extremely wet and not all that summery.  And then, to my dismay, it began to feel like autumn very early in August.  By now all the less beautiful autumn trees - ashes, willow, locusts are turning brown and yellow and are dropping leaves.  This summer I purchased a gingko tree and planted it beyond my ponds at a point where there was a visible opening in the surrounding greenery in the view from my window so that I would have a bright bit of color in October.  It was dismaying to find that bright bit of color striking my eye in August. 

As I reported before, I returned earlier than planned from India this year, and that allowed me to enjoy the coldest winter in local history.  There were entire weeks that did not get above 10 degrees in temperature.  Just as things began to let up a little, Mom passed away on Good Friday.  She had been to our Sunday Breakfast up until just a couple of weeks before, but since my return from Imphal, I had noticed deterioration in her motor skills.  Mom’s decline into dementia has been very slow paced, but years ago she had reached the point where she was no longer the Mom in whom I could confide, or the Mom who could make me laugh - although she remained very funny long after she didn’t know who I was.  I had had such a long period of gradual loss with the attendant grieving, that the actual passing did not seem to induce any strong wave of new grief.  We were called the evening before by the facility she was in and told that she was in her last hours.  So all of us in the area were able to visit and spend time with her, though she was not really aware.  She seemed a little agitated, kept picking at her blanket, but she did not struggle for breath or show any signs of acute distress.  I am glad I got the chance to be there.  I didn’t feel so much loss, as a feeling that there was now nothing between me and my end.  As long as one’s parents live, one feels one has a bit of a reprieve from having to contemplate one’s own end.

Although I did not feel what I recognized as grief, I entered a period of extreme lassitude.   For the first time I didn’t over-extend myself buying plants and fertilizers and the like in spring.  I ate little (just enough ready-made bad foods to keep me unhealthy), and didn’t feel like doing anything.  The Sunday Breakfasts, after something like 30 years, ended abruptly.  These were events by which I tended to mark my week.  They were where we swapped inconsequential news; the daily kind that no one bothers to call someone about.  I felt pretty isolated.  This lasted until mid-July, when I seemed to get a second wind.

Since my return from India, Priyo and I have talked nearly every day.  He is very busy at the police academy where he was, at last ranking, number one in his class.  His endurance runs have gone from 5K to 10K in length.  He has trained in all kinds of things, crime scene protocol, forensics, ballistics, rights of arrestees and so forth.  He is heartily tired of the routine and eager to be out and actually on the job.  A concerning thing for me is that the Kuki tribal people (who originated from an area in Burma) are in a state of insurrection pretty much in the area he will be posted.  They dislike the Meitei who are pretty much the majority group that runs Manipur and of which Priyo is a member.  I guess I am destined to have the full experience of one who has a loved one in the police force.  Priyo believes that he will be able to visit NY within months of his POP (passing out parade) which is equivalent to graduation.  He is constantly studying, parading, running endurance and in class, so that we have shorter calls on most days.  This is also because the internet has been abysmal at his end lately (I think; it could be my end or both).  As soon as he starts his first assignment in Senapati, we believe that we will know enough about his future situation to begin planning to meet again.  If he will be living in barracks, I can not, of course, stay with him.  If not, then we can go on as before.  I also think he said something that implied that his time in Senapati will include two-month assignments at varying posts within the district.  Eventually he will be able to seek reassignment to Imphal or his home district south of Moirang, but the Senapati posting is for two years.  There is no way we can endure being apart that long, so I may have to have him rent me my own apartment near his posting where we can visit together.  We shall see.  There is nothing we can plan until his situation is clear. 

Just before my birthday, I awoke one morning planning to get several errands done early and went out to find my battery completely dead, although I hadn’t left on the lights, nor caught the seatbelt buckle in the door which causes a ‘door open’ beeping that eventually wears down the battery.  I was so irritated that when I finally got the thing started, I went and bought a different car.  It took a couple of weeks to arrive (I use carMax and the car I chose was in Illinois), but it is here now and I am swanning around in my fourth Miata, this one with a power retractable hardtop.  This has cheered me up immensely.  The nice thing is that the newer model has running lights which turn off automatically (no lights left on accidentally), and not only does the improved seatbelt design not allow the buckle to block the door from completely closing, but even if it did, the car does not beep, so the battery is not worn down. 

I am sorry that I do not have a great deal of wildly amusing events to liven up my writing, but the days, though pleasant enough, are not newsy (thank goodness!).  I have had a spate of new great nephews and nieces born - one three quarters Mexican, one three quarters Native American (in Dubai of all places!), one one quarter Native American and one half Indian (of India) - this last when asked which kind of Indian he is can answer, “Both!” which will no doubt annoy the asker and not be believed. 

When I got my school tax bill this year, I cringed, because it came just when I had to put a big sum down on my new car.  Imagine my surprise and joy when it was only one-third of the amount of prior years!  It turns out that the form that one files in NY each year to obtain the reduction for seniors has a couple of lines that I had previously not paid attention to, and which would have reduced my payments to this smaller sum for years.  I happened to bring my taxes in together with my form for next years reduction, and the Assessor himself was there and pointed out how to maintain this lower assessment.  Yippee-ki-yo-ki-yay!  I don’t think many other people left the office after paying taxes with such a smile as I did.  I don’t know if the Assessor is elected, but if so he has my vote for life!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Priyo and Imphal

I returned to India on a visit scheduled to last from Oct 1 through the 17th of March, cleverly designed to avoid not only the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but also much of the worst of the winter.  As before, Priyo was waiting just outside the terminal (as close as the law allows), but unlike last time he had quite a wait while I navigated the dangerous shoals of Immigration and Customs.  Apparently no one from outside India had ever before visited Manipur (Priyo's home state) for nearly six months, except as a missionary or businessman.  There were a couple of tables set up for foreign arrivals, which included, in this case, me and a couple of Japanese or Korean businessmen.  The businessmen were handled relatively quickly by one agent, while I was handled by another agent who was so overwhelmed by the unprecedented wave of visitors dealt him - i.e., one - that he hardly knew how to proceed despite having a cheat sheet right in front of him.  Laboriously, he asked each question, mulled the answer, asked it again a couple more times and then proceeded to write something (almost certainly not my response).  Another man informed me that I would be required to be tested twce a day for the first 30 days for signs of illness - ebola was a big fear there.  As I stood there being interrogated, the luggage came, was picked up by the other passengers who then departed.  Time passed; lights began to be turned off, and on and on droned my intake person.  Finally someone who seemed to be in charge of the terminal came and asked me if I had any luggage.  I said yes.  He then zipped through the same list of questions through which my other interlocutor was wading and said, "Come with me."  As we left, my agent seemed still to be continuing the intake process alone, possibly unaware that I was no longer present.

The luggage carrel was entirely empty, so my rescuer took me to an office where unclaimed luggage was kept.  A half hour or longer process began where it was ultimately discovered that my luggage had been held in New Delhi because it contained what might be a weapon.  This was a cordless drill I had brought as a gift for Priyo - a gift that I would be VERY glad I brought later in the visit.  All the time, dusk was falling outside and I was very concerned that Priyo might assume I had not arrived and had gone home, since the airport was closing and I wasn't sure he had seen me, although I had seen him outside.  I filled out a form listing the contents of my luggage in order to request my luggage be released and sent to Imphal - the capital city of Manipur where I was staying.

Priyo was there when I finally emerged; I have yet to encounter a single situation where he has not been absolutely reliable (other than a tendency to leave me for longish periods trying to socialize with friends of his who speak little or no English).  We bounced over broken streets to Chassad Avenue where Priyo had finally found a place for us.  Absolutely no one advertises rentals in Imphal;  Everything is found by word of mouth.  Almost no tourists ever go there and those who do or who travel there for business usually stay at hotels or have relatives or acquaintances to take them in.  Priyo had found this apartment by walking around and going into each larger building he passed and asking if they had rooms to let.  We were on the bottom floor of a building labelled "Haokip Enterprises" in an interior apartment (one window opening into a dim lobby) with two rooms and a bathroom.  The kitchen was to be along whichever wall we chose.  It soon became apparent that the only electric power, aside from that lighting the ceiling fixture in one of the rooms, was to be provided by a wire Priyo strung from the nearest outlet out through the window and plugged into an outlet in the hall off the lobby.  This outlet had an on/off switch, and from time to time during the length of our stay someone in passing would switch it to "off".  Unlike our bright airy apartment in Panchkula, this place was dark, unheated and pretty grim.  The walls were two shades of lavender and orange.  The floor was painted bright blue.  Woodwork was dark brown.

Imphal was at least a half-century behind Panchkula in every way.  If anyone ever again laments to me about "the good old days" I will listen no further until that someone has spent a couple of months in Imphal.  The terms "old days" and "good" are not so easily joined as one's fond memories may have it.  The roads were largely unpaved, or at best, paved long ago with paving that had broken up and largely disappeared.  As a result the air was filled with thick dust from the constant stirring and powdering of dried mud by the endless noisy traffic.  There were no sidewalks except here and there where building owners had laid large slabs of cement (each with protruding loops of steel rebar that served as handles for lifting.  These slabs were laid atop the open sewers that ran along each side of the street.  Between the treacherous handles and the sudden ending of sidewalk where landlords at the next building declined to lay the cement covers, one had to look mighty slippy to avoid disaster; so much so that the general preference was to walk in the street instead.  This was an experience that involved mud and puddles after a rain, and at all times meant keeping a wary eye on traffic.  Since the road were so rutted, the prudent drivers wended their way along the least potholed part of the street, which had them on the wrong side of the road as often as they were on the right side.  Any walk I took featured me making sudden panicked leaps into the air when a car or motorcycle approached me from behind and suddenly honked.  There were chickens and dogs and, of course, cows here and there in the roadway.

Priyo had built up his medical transcription online business into a busy six-day-a-week affair that earned more than he had made in Panchkula as an employee.  However he worked at home and his days were very long ones.  So much of our days were spent with him in one room typing rapidly and me in the other room reading or watching TV shows on file sharing sites.  Sometimes I'd go out for a stroll and I made some friends of local merchants.  Had the nearby bridge not been closed for repairs, I could have walked downtown in just a few minutes, but as it was, a trip downtown meant hailing an autorickshaw and bouncing up and down on a looping route that took us a kilometer or so to the next bridge - often jammed in a gridlock - and then back up another kilometer or so to the point directly across the Imphal River from where our apartment lay.

So despite Priyo working from home, we had far less together time than we had before and that was in  rather grim surroundings.  Nonetheless, it was wonderful to be together again.  Still, any thought I had of relocating to India permanently was laid to rest.  Most of my life I have thriven in primitive conditions but I found to my dismay that I am no longer that guy.  It doesn't have to be like America and it doesn't have to be super up-to-date, but I want to be in a place where I don't have to spend two days in search of the most common tools or supplies, where toilets work and water runs most of the time.  Were the option to live in Panchkula again, I would still be tempted, but as things turned out, it would have to be Imphal, or some other, smaller Manipuri town.

Things were limping along; Priyo and I made a number of sorties into scenic or historic areas.  After avoiding it for a month, I finally was persuaded to go to Priyo's home village and meet the family.  I made Priyo swear he would not leave me alone for long periods with people who spoke virtually no English.  Within ten minutes he had vanished into the house and wound up taking part in some Hindu ceremony which, he said, he thought would bore me so he left me outside with Dad.  I am not sure, but I don't think Dad entirely approves of me - that is, he has no objections to my continued existence, but he'd prefer that existence to be elsewhere and not influencing his son.  I am pretty sure Dad more or less knows that Priyo is gay or interested in that direction, and that probably is unfortunate in his view but acceptable so long as Priyo gets married.  And that is something Priyo stoutly refuses to do.  Nonetheless, Dad is a courteous man, but one who speaks almost no English.  Our attempts to communicate were pretty awkward, but he did show me around the gardens.  The main reason I resisted visiting the family was that I knew I would be plied with food and so it transpired.  I hate this in myself, but I find eating strange food extremely difficult.  In fact I really hate eating.  Alone, I often don't eat until three or four in the afternoon - it is just such a boring process.  There are foods I really enjoy, if they are already prepared, preferably by someone else, but I would willing give up ever eating again, if I could find a way to survive without it.  Priyo is really a sweetie, and he really managed to deftly intervene to see that I only wound up with food that I was sort of familiar with.

Everyone I met during the entire visit was very polite and friendly and generous.  I encountered no one that seemed to be a hustler, although I was aware that some autorickshaw drivers were charging me a premium.  I really don't mind stuff like that - I have it and they need it and so long as things are reasonably open and I get what I paid for, it is just one of those things, a mere ripple in the pond of my days.

In the end, when I was leaving, Priyo's Mom and Dad made the long journey by public transport to meet me outside the airport entrance, Mom giving me a quantity of fruit which came in very handy during the long flight delays when I got hungry.  At all times they treated me very generously, and made no sign of being less than delighted with my presence.  The visited us a few times and I noted each of them looking a little longer than one might ordinarily do at the only bed in the apartment.

Priyo and I were doing fine - we even bought a used Hyundai for less than $3,000 - and I was about to make a serious push to find nicer lodging when, just before Christmas his Dad called and said the police academy people called and wanted Priyo to report for a physical.   You may recall that Priyo had applied for a position as a subinspector in the Manipuri police (this is sort of akin to a state trooper here in NY) - a well-paying, fairly prestigious job.  His family had paid an enormous bribe to be considered, and then things just came apart and after five years Priyo had given up all thought of actually getting into the academy for training.  Last year, when I left Panchkula, he left a day later to return to Imphal, believing that finally he would be called.  A huge scandal at the corrupt hiring process blew up and he had relinquished all thought of becoming a cop; in fact, he really didn't want to become one any longer.  He concentrated on growing his medial transcript work and was doing quite well.  In fact, because of the demands on his time which kept us from enjoying much time together, he had given up one client and still made enough to live on and we had much more time together after that.

Priyo reported for the physical and was told he must next report to Senapati in early January in order to discover what the next steps were.  Senapati is a somewhat picturesque city up in the mountains sixty kilometers north of Imphal along a gorgeous but poorly maintained difficult road that wound past tribal villages ("This is a Naga village"; "This is a Nepali village"; "These are Kukis," Priyo would inform me as we passed by small settlements.)  To our dismay, we discovered that he was to be taken to the academy in the fairly distant state of Meghalaya within a week.  My return ticket was for March 17 and I couldn't see living alone in Imphal for nearly three more months.  I checked the cost of an early return, and were I to leave before Priyo was to depart, I would have to pay up to $3000 for a one-way ticket.  I discovered that if I stayed in a hotel for 9 days after Priyo left, I could return for only $580.  So this I did.

Priyo is now at the academy and is doing very well.  I sense a happiness and a pride in himself that is very nice to see.  He is undergoing rigorous physical training as well as huge masses of book learning.  He has trained in rock climbing, fire fighting, weapons - he recently had an endurance run of 5 km carrying an assault rifle.  We talk almost every day, but he is so busy, most calls are fairly short.  He believes that he can get a month or more vacation soon after he completes his training in mid-December.  Because he now has good documentable reason to return home after a visit, he probably will have little problem getting a travel visa to the US since I will write a letter vouching for him as I did for my friend Papa who visits once or twice a year.  But it will be so long before we see each other.  I had planned to spend each fall and winter with him in Imphal, but now I am not sure what will happen.  Priyo will be  assigned to Senapati for the first two years after the academy and it is not yet clear if he will be in police housing or not.  If not I can stay with him, but if he is in police housing we will have to work out how to proceed.  I know I want to be his partner for the rest of my life.  And I am confident that he feels the same.

It is bad enough to know we will not see each other before the middle of December, but that at least is a finite period.  The difficulty is not knowing how long after that it will be until one of us can visit the other.  Still, it is enormously buoying to my spirits to know there is someone for me.  Priyo's great dream is to build his own house.  He is saving all that he can to this end.  Land is very expensive and difficult to find; building a house is relatively cheap.  Now that he is going to be a cop, he will almost certainly remain in Manipur for most of his life.  It is I who will be doing most of the travel, and it is well worth it.  Having a house to leave my necessaries in would be ideal to lighten the luggage, and create a sense of home.  Priyo is honest, kind, attentive, generous and loving (and patient and tolerant!).  I just really want to know how soon that travelling can begin!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sequel; Priyo Part II

Well, Ms JennyD resurfaced after some years of personal torment, which I sincerely hope is at an end for her, and her comment on my last post served to remind me that I hadn’t really said anything about how It All Turned Out.  Giving a nod to the public’s demand for sequels, (although in my case, the public demand has been just a tad on the minuscule side), I shall post a sequel of my own.

I left India on New Year’s day, having in one short trip managed to avoid Thanksgiving, Christmas AND New Year’s Eve - three pluses easily worth the $2000+ that the whole thing cost (a cost I more than recouped by living three months at Indian prices instead of those here at home).  I was looking forward to getting home, partly because I like my place here and partly because I really wanted to have a spate of time alone, just to evaluate my feelings about Priyo and my future.  

For the first month after my return, I had some ambivalent feelings about my home here and living with Priyo over there.  I really like my house for all the reasons I mentioned in my last post.  Priyo and I talked - usually twice a day - which I occasionally felt was just a bit more than I wanted to come to the phone.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care as much as I had before for Priyo nor second thoughts, so much as a kind of desire to be alone with my thoughts - or more exactly, not wanting to set aside blocs of time each morning and evening without fail for telephoning.  But then, after about a month, I became aware more and more of how empty my life here is.  There really isn’t any person or group here upon whom I can rely for chat beyond the mundane.  “How about them Yanks?” is not my idea of a fun conversation.  I do have people I can talk with - and even more so when I include those available by phone - but that certain feeling of coming first with someone, of them really wanting to hear what’s up with me, including trivia and moods is just not there (or here, I should say).  My Mom said, when my Dad died, that she had lost the person she came first with.  more and more I understand exactly what she meant.  It is a special loneliness that crowds cannot take away.

I amused myself by doing some home clean-up and getting rid of accumulations (but, oh, how much is left!)  I bought a new dishwasher which really made me feel good.  I scheduled some care for my spruce trees which are badly infected with a fungal disease and am also having someone restore my gutters which are no longer doing their job.  But I am intensely aware of being here alone and of wasting hours on TV shows and reading things that just barely manage to hold my attention for a short while.  But every day I miss Priyo more.  Incredible as it seems, he centers everything he does around me being in his life.  I am beginning to return the favor.  I can’t wait to see him again, which, alas, will not happen until roughly October as current plans stand.  

As I said before, Priyo was scheduled to enter the police academy in January.  So, within a week of my leaving, he shipped his goods, including his motorcycle, to his home in Manipur.  He had had a tailor make most of the clothes he was required to bring to the academy, and had purchased the rest.  He was anxious to begin his training for which he would be receiving a salary much greater than his prior earnings.  Alas, the best laid plans…

I have often thought that the USA was as corrupt as any country, its lawmakers and public officials for sale to the highest bidder and so forth.  While I still think the corruption here is rampant, I now have a new appreciation for what corruption in other lands can be like.  Here corruption touches us indirectly - sweetheart deals enrich some and drive up taxes or costs and so on.  But in India, corruption has an immediate and visible and direct impact on everyone.  One pays for anything one needs to accomplish.  Sometimes one has to bribe police to merely proceed beyond a traffic blockade out in the boonies.  Priyo’s Dad had already paid a couple of hundred thousand to get Priyo to the point of being considered for the police program.  But the greedy politicians had done two things that threw a monkey wrench into the plans to begin this particular academy class.  The first was that several candidates were appointed who did not even bother with the pretense of qualifying physically and mentally.  Blind and handicapped candidates were accepted and allowed to forego interviews and physical tests - these were people who could not in any way fulfill the duties of policemen.  So egregious was this practice that even the Indian media felt it worthy of publishing, resulting in a halt being called to the actual beginning of the class.  Many candidates were married and many had left jobs on the strength of getting their letters detailing what to bring to the academy (as had Priyo) and these were left without means to support themselves and their families.  And, since bribery is illegal, they had no recourse for getting back what they had been forced to pay.  Secondly, even without the corrupt qualifying candidates, the greedy powers that be had over-enrolled the class.  There is a district of India called the Northeast States which consist of eight small states which in some areas, including police training, work together as a single unit.  There is one academy for all the states and this class had enrolled so many Manipuris that there was insufficient space left for the other states’ candidates.  So even if the unqualified candidates were removed, the rest - all of whom paid big bribes to be enrolled, but who at least met the requirements to be policemen - could not be accommodated by the academy.  

Priyo, being a person who is intensely practical, soon saw that the police job was nothing to bet his future on, and set about finding alternative means to support himself.  He first found a job doing what he had before done in Panchkula - medical transcription.  He is good at this, after six years of doing it, so his former employer kept offering him inducements to return to Panchkula.  Eventually they offered quite a raise and agreed he could work remotely from Manipur.  Priyo got a sufficient internet connection and began doing this remote work.  Additionally he found another employer for whom he could work mornings before he received his daily files from the Panchkula.  He is also looking into an opportunity where he can purchase unfinished brooms formed from shrubs found in Manipur and resell them to a merchant in another state at 100% profit.  But even without this he now makes more than he did in Panchkula, which is a much higher-paying area for employment.  

I plan to return to India - this time to Manipur - in the autumn, and to stay for four to five months.  The six-month wait before me seems to loom before me longer and emptier by the day.  I have come to the realization that the possessions I have accumulated over a lifetime are merely a heap of things unwanted by others, which will be dispersed or discarded when my time comes.  The one thing I can’t give up yet is my house and land which is just as I want it and is where I want it.  Since his police disappointment, Priyo is much more amenable to emigration, but even so, the amount of difficulty in doing so will cause this to be years away even if it can be done at all.  I am ever more aware that life is short.  When I think how close I am to 80, I feel almost panicky.  Should I waste a minute hemming and hawing before I decide to move to where Priyo is?  Apart from my reluctance so far to give up my house, there is one other issue.  Medical care is free to citizens in India, but I would be a non-citizen.  Although medical care is vastly cheaper there, I would be required to pay the full amount for any doctor visit or medicine.  With Medicare, my out-of-pocket annual cost still runs to about $5,000 a year - with my pharmacy costs I gallop through the so-called ‘doughnut hole’ in two months time.  My most expensive medicine (of three), without which I would be headed for Pine Hill in no time, costs about $3000 per month here in the USA.  Even at half, or a quarter of the price, I would be pretty skint if I had to pay the whole cost.  

I am hoping that after my next visit to Priyo, I will feel connected enough to him and loosened enough from my situation here to make it clear what course to pursue.  Meanwhile the calls, which I found in January to be a bit excessive, have become the best parts of my day.  We really can talk about anything.  I badly miss Priyo, who in every way exceeds my hopes for someone to love, and who cares for me more than I can understand.  I always thought a perfect relationship was one where each thinks he or she was the lucky one who got way more than he deserved.  I seem to have this.  Now I just have to grab it.

When I was that young man who was standing by the roadside and suddenly decided to hitchhike to Californian or even when I was that middle-aged man who saw a notice for a job in Saudi and walked straight to HR and said, “Take me!” there seemed to be so much time to resolve any negative consequences.  But I know if I give up this house, there will never be another, and there is something so satisfying to me about saying, “This is mine; I can do as I please here.”  I don’t want to end up cussing myself for giving it up.  That Priyo and I might not last forms no part of my concern; all relationships of this nature require a trust and a leap of faith which I have already made.  I want one more bit of prodding to give up this house and all that is in it; or I want to be sure that I want to remain here and to work to bring Priyo here, despite the years of effort that might take.  I also have some concern about following my Mom’s path into Alzheimer’s - she is the sixth of her sisters to develop it, so it is clearly in the genes.  It might be nightmarish to be in a land I didn’t recognize with nowhere to return to.  But mostly it is a feeling thing that I can’t quantify in a list of pros and cons.  I want to have an irresistible desire to choose one course which makes me lose all concern for the negatives.  I am almost there, I think.  


What a lucky, lucky choice to have.  I have a genius for complaining about everything, but really this is a dilemma well worth having.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stranger Than Fiction

If I had read the tale of my last three months in a book, I'd have hurled it at the wall as poorly written, too full of coincidence and generally too good to be true.  And yet, it is true right down to the last jot and tittle.

I have after several years, adjusted to retirement - so much so that work seems as long ago to me as high school.  Another life completely.  I am increasingly content with my life - I love the town I live in, my house, my gardens and woods and lawns and the wildlife therein (except the ones who eat too heartily in said gardens).  I love being the place family and friends stay when they are in town and my family's tendency to have events take place at my house.  I enjoy our weekly Sunday breakfasts with Mom (now 97) who is moving down the slope of dementia much more slowly than many other cases I have seen.  She can no longer put words together and she needs a walker to move and she hasn't a clue who any of us are, but she is smiling and sociable and affectionate (she will sometimes pat or rub my hand and it feels so loving and makes me feel good all day).  She will put anything in her mouth and try to eat it so we have to be alert to her surroundings, just as if she were a toddler.  Anyway, my point is that I am pretty content.

But there is one glaring fly (if flies can be said to glare) in my ointment, and that is that without someone to care for, a partner, there is a hollowness at the core of my life.  Being old and generally disgusting and living in the middle of nowhere, there is almost zero chance to meet someone compatible who wants to be my mate.  Before I even retired, I had begun to check out dating sites but nothing panned out.  These sites may be helpful to those who are young and desirable or to the elderly who want someone to go to bingo with, but for someone elderly who hopes for an active sex life and a soulmate they are slim pickings.  As one ages one gains so much baggage - not so much in the way of unresolved losses and ex-partners and the like, but habits, pleasures, commitments, non-sexual relationships of longstanding and so forth.  Baggage which feels good and comforting, and which one wishes to keep.

If anyone seemed otherwise available, he always lived several thousand miles away - and though that does not bother me, sooner or later I would get the "long distance relationships don't work" line.  Another frequent occurrence was being contacted by scammers both foreign and domestic.  Naturally they assume that anyone old and American is desperate and rich.  Well, we may be the former, but desperate doesn't always mean stupid.  I learned to spot these guys usually by their second letter.  They tend to have a picture that looks like a model's portfolio shot.  Their 'profile' is usually a line or two, highly unrevealing except to note their 'athletic' body, and may include a reference to liking older or 'mature' men.  They tend to 'love' me and promise to spend our life together by the second or third letter - way before I have really turned on my lovability effort.  They always turn any conversation I have about them and their circumstances back to a discussion of me and mine.  They tend to have a fascination with things in my life that indicate my degree of wealth - do I own or rent my home?  What kind of car do I have?  Details of their life tend to change from one letter to the next - one finds oneself thinking, "But didn't he tell me before, that…?".  Once I spot them, I usually keep writing just to see how the request for money will be couched.  Usually there is this one thing that needs to be paid for, then they can come to me, or they can host me if I come to them.  They are considerate - I need not send actual money, I can just give my banking details and they will help me transfer the needful.

Several years ago, when I went to the wedding of my sister's daughter, I took the opportunity to meet with one guy (non-scammer) with whom I had been corresponding, named George, in Oakland, CA.  It was a comedy of errors, culminating in me getting locked in a public garage while George waited 20 minutes for me to emerge and then driving away thinking I had ditched him.  When I got out at last, I thought he had ditched me.  Physically, George was strikingly attractive.  We had, prior to the lock-in, spent several hours tooling around from sight to sight in the East Bay talking and the only negative that emerged was that we are both people who are talkers rather than listeners, and both kind of intent on setting the agenda.  This was a red flag, but not a dealbreaker; being ditched was a dealbreaker for both of us, or so I thought.  That was the last I heard of him - until…

This August, not long before another depressing birthday (it seems so unfair that you have to get older each time one of these rolls around, which they seem to do more and more frequently), I went to see my brother Liam and a friend of his play and sing at a local club.  I got home around midnight, went to bed and was drifting off when the phone rang.  When I answered, it was George after all these years.  Although I feigned recognition, I actually took some time to put together who he was, and once I did we discussed the mutual abandonment at the Oakland garage and a lot of other things - including the fact that we each tended to want to control the flow to some extent.  He said he had thought of me over the years, and was feeling especially lonely that night and thought he'd take a shot and call.  We talked for an hour, and we talked a number of times after that.  I went onto the web next day, rediscovered his dating profile and read up on him.  

Coincidence number one, was that by going back on the site, I changed my 'last visit date' to the present, moving me back to the top of some folks' search criteria.  As a result of this, I received a 'virtual smile' from a lad in India named (I later found) Priyo. I would never have found Priyo in a search of my own because he is below the age I search for - it is a waste of time for someone my age to be talking to 33 year olds (usually).   I thought I had another scammer on my hands and checked out his profile.  The one thing different from most scammers was that this guy had four pictures on his ad (scammers rarely have more than one - never more than two) and every one of Priyo's photos had a serious if not glum facial expression.  They were clearly candid shots, in a mall or some such locale.  So I wrote back asking if he ever smiled.  He responded that he would send me some smiling shots and that I seemed nice.  I said I WAS nice (I can lie with the best of them), and this tickled him so much that we started 'talking' more.  In no time at all we were Skyping, (he looked exactly like his pics) and the smiling pics he sent were so dazzling; when he smiles he goes from just a bit player to the star of stage and screen. 

He didn't look like most Indians I had seen; he looked more Far Eastern.  It turns out that there are a few rural states in India to the east of Bangladesh, pressed up against Burma, where the people are more Burmese in appearance than Indian.  He made me laugh.  I made him laugh.  He told me things that could be considered negative about himself - things I couldn't imagine any scammer telling me.  He answered anything I asked, he said he was employed, and he seemed to have no interest in relocating to America.  He never asked anything that would be remotely revealing about my financial status.  He never hinted at a lack of funds; on the contrary, he often mentioned having bought something or having gone somewhere that would make a plea for financial help pretty unconvincing, although he was clearly not wealthy.  Each thing he told me via phone meshed with everything he had said before.  And I looked him up on Facebook and it was clear he had a 'friend' list that had a lot of much older men.  He had been on FB for years and everything mentioned there dovetailed with things he had told me.  We were soon talking every morning and evening - up to 4 hours a day.  We each made sure the other woke up to find a cheerful e-mail waiting to start his day.  His evening is my morning and vice versa.  

I had promised to meet Papa, my old Indian friend, in Toronto in October for a week or so.  I had medical appointments in November.  December is too hectic and expensive to travel.  And Priyo was entering a police academy in mid-January where he would be living in a dorm for nearly a year.  When would I ever meet this guy? - I was becoming hopelessly hooked on the image I had.  He felt so genuine.  Because of his job, his English was amazing; for six years he has been employed receiving dictations from American and Australian doctors which he then types out, formats and returns as patient case histories.  His medical vocabulary exceeds that of most Americans, I expect, but he is also skilled at vernacular American slang.  I mulled for a day or two how we might manage a meeting.  Then I realized that (as I have said here before; I should listen to myself more often) love is not something you slot into your life around visits and appointments; love is something around which you build your life.  I received Priyo's virtual smile on August 21.  On September 19, I was stepping off a plane at Chandigarh Airport in northern India and spotting a popping and fizzing figure waving frantically at me.  

It has now been just over two months since I arrived.  The day before my arrival, Priyo had moved all his belongings from a cheap shared apartment in Chandigarh to a more costly apartment in Panchkula, a smaller city which abuts Chandigarh.  He paid himself for this much more costly venue as well as for the move itself and some necessary items such as two ceiling fans.  (After the first month I split the rent).  He had even stocked the fridge with Diet Pepsi, which I had mentioned I liked during one conversation.  Priyo was exactly the man he had said he was.  He is generous, honorable, honest, loving, courageous, very smart (speaks 4 languages and understands a fifth) and darn good-looking.  He genuinely has no interest in younger men - a handsome young model or actor is about as attractive to him as a rock.  He loves American culture - music, movies and the like, and he dreams of one day visiting, but he has no interest in living there for good.  He says he had no skills in demand in the US and he'd never, ever be dependent on someone else for his well-being.  He has told me this is the happiest time in his life.  He had never met an American before me.  

Priyo has his quirks - a bit of a fussbudget; he is overprotective when I feel a bit ill (happened twice) and crossing a road with him is a series of 'Come, Come, Come, Wait, Wait, Wait, Come Come Come' commands, despite the fact that I have safely crossed roads for about 70 years, and little things like that, but he is in every way the good man that I found myself falling for via computer and telephone.  There have been no bad surprises.  He puts me first always.  He does the laundry, cooking, cleaning, and everything that needs doing.  It would be embarrassing if I didn't have the thick hide of the Entitled.  Once I was washing a couple of plates and he demanded to know what was I doing.  I said it was not his job to wait on me and he said when he loves someone, he enjoys doing things for them.  Well, I certainly don't want to deprive him of that pleasure!  He remembers any preference I mention.  He caters to my tastes every time he cooks.  I told him before I came that one of my crosses to bear in a life which has seen a lot of travel is that I have real difficulty with unfamiliar foods.  He cooks Indian (which I like) but he runs ingredients past me before he is tries something new.  He thinks it is really funny when I say, "Eeeewwww!"  We laugh a lot, I can make him laugh really hard.  I am crazy about the guy.  It is so amazing to meet someone who is genuinely good right down to his innermost self - and I can hardly believe how lucky he feels to have found me.  We can be together comfortably when we are doing separate things.  Sometimes we lie down reading separate books - Priyo just finished a Lee Child novel (in English).

Priyo told me he was sorry that we had to go everywhere on his motorcycle - he wished he could have a car for me.  I asked why; I kind of enjoyed the motorcycle when I wasn't totally panicked that a bus and a horse-drawn cart were bearing down on us at high speeds (well, not so high speed for the horse).  He said that he knew American Senior Citizens were not accustomed to riding on the backs of motorcycles.  It is the closest I have come to smacking him over the head with a club.  

I have done very little sightseeing here.  I am not a guy for sights in the first place and I came here for Priyo, not castles and beaches.  Chandigarh and Panchkula are planned cities (by Le Corbusier) and are the wealthiest per capita cities in India.  There are a great number of beautifully laid out and well-maintained parks.  Priyo has taken me to a rose garden, a cactus garden, a rock garden (which is not what one thinks of when one says 'rock garden at home - it is a huge maze with waterfalls and full grown trees and narrow paths between 20-foot-high walls, with hundreds of whimsical sculptures of people and animals and small scale replicas of villages).  But mostly we just go to market and stay home (when he is not at work), and that suits me to a 'T'.  

I didn't grasp how cheap it is to live here until I discovered that for two consecutive months, despite buying a handmade carpet and a leather jacket and my my share of the rent and groceries etc, as well as keeping up on my insurance, utilities and other expenses back home, I had nearly a thousand left in my checking account at month end, whereas I usually have very little when I am home, even sometimes having to shift some savings into checking to make it to month end.  But here is a little comparison that might make it clear.  At home I pay more than $90 every two months for Waste Management to come once a week and pick up the trash I have toted out to the roadside.  Here I have a man come daily to my door and take away whatever trash I have accumulated for the princely sum of 80 cents a month (plus a 32 cent tip once a year on the holiday called Diwali).  I got my Doc Martin shoes, which had a tear in the fabric, repaired and polished by a guy sitting under a tree for 64 cents.  I get a shave occasionally by a guy working under a different tree for 32 cents.

In a month, I will return to America.  Being away from home, I have realized how much I like my place in Reedville.  I do not want to give it up.  Since I have a reverse mortgage I will lose it legally if I am living away from it for more than six months in a year.  Although Priyo will see a large increase in salary as a cop, he will still have a really hard time saving enough to come to the US to visit any time soon; moreover, he will have issues about getting enough time off work to do so.  A visa to the US requires the recipient to show savings of $8000 over and above the cost of the visit.  So it appears that ours will be a sporadic relationship.  That's OK.  I told Priyo that I understood he was young, and that if he felt the need, I was perfectly OK with him having the occasional fling.  He said he hoped I would be his only man in that area.  I loved the honesty of the word 'hoped'.  It was so realistic and it was a refusal to make false promises.  He said he felt the same about me, but I can't see anyone banging on my door in the middle of nowhere and demanding to have sex with an old man that only his mother (and Priyo) could love.  

So we shall see how things go from here.  I have always lived by whim and I don't really worry much about what is next when I am happy.  One day of happiness is a win.  How foolish to be miserable because something might not be easy in some future time.  


Meanwhile, I am living the dream!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Keeping the Faith (or Not)


I think most families, especially large ones, have histories that are far more legend than factual.  Kernels of truth - sometimes as little as coincidence of surnames on the old family tree, or some ancestor having lived in the same locale as a celebrated figure - grow into luxurious vines of mythology: "We're related!"  "Great Grandfather knew him!"  Added to this tendency, I think, is the practice of parents or older relatives to sanitize or simplify complex situations into tales fit for young ears.  

It was an object of faith in my family - and still is among some of my cousins on the Warren side (my mother's family), especially the Protestant ones - that "Grandma was kicked out of her strict Catholic Irish family for marrying a Protestant."  This, too, was what I had believed - until in her later years, when I think she sensed she was sinking into the dementia which finally overcame her memory entirely, Mom told me what I assume is a more accurate version of events.  The Catholic/Protestant version of my mother's story paired nicely with a reverse story from my father's side whereby my Uncle Henry's wife was disowned by her strict Lutheran family when she married my Catholic Irish uncle (I wouldn't be surprised if the Irish aspect was worse than the Catholic one) and, when this Aunt Laura died giving birth to her second child, "they didn't even come to her funeral."  This second story seems, also to be less than accurate.  For instance, it turns out that that child and Laura are buried in her (Laura's) family plot.  Incidentally, the child of this birth was named Hedwig and died eleven days after her mother, no doubt having realized what a handicap growing up with the name 'Hedwig' would prove to be.  

The story of my grandmother being disowned was true, and it apparently was also true that her picture was cut from her family's photographs, since we learned the latter detail from cousins who discovered our kinship when a cousin of mine and her employer noticed that they had similar names in their ancestry.  "We always wondered what she had done," they told my mother, when they finally met.  However, as my mother later explained, my grandmother Elsie met my Protestant grandfather Ephraim after she had already left home.  The new story has some suspicious details, which I will point out but, I think, it is substantially accurate.  

Elsie had graduated high school and had taken a job at a local hospital, which she evidently enjoyed very much.  She still lived at home and, I gather, was either the eldest daughter of the family or else she was the oldest girl still living at home when her mother died.  Not too long after she began working, her mother passed away.  Since the family was a strict Catholic Irish family, there was, of course, a passel of kids younger than Elsie who were still in school and in need of a parent substitute devoted to the domestic chores involved in raising children around in the first decade of the 1900's.  My great grandfather, who by all accounts was a son of a bitch, was not about to take over these duties, nor to pay someone else to do it (I gather the family was comfortably off, though not wealthy).  The suspicious details (because they sound a tad melodramatic) of what followed are these:  it was just before Christmas, gifts were already wrapped and the names of the recipients were attached.  Great-grandfather removed Elsie's name from her gifts and readdressed them to her younger sisters.  He then led her to her late mother's closet and told her she was to quit her job and that henceforth these would be her clothes, and that she was to stay home taking over the duties of keeping house for the family and of raising her younger siblings.  

By all accounts, Elsie was a girl who, though an extremely strict parent later to her own daughters, loved a joke and loved a good time.  By this I don't mean to imply she was in any way loose, but just that she was not ready to give up her independence and probable future happiness to become a domestic slave.  She had vacationed the previous summer with a cousin in Geneva, NY and had had a marvelous time there.  Upon being faced with a dreary future at home, she packed her bag and as soon as she got the chance, left home and fled to the cousin, who took her in.  With a single exception, she never saw any of her family again; her siblings were forbidden to mention her name and her face was cut from all the family photos.  The one sister she did see again was Great-Aunt Daisy who, after she grew to adulthood, tracked Elsie down and re-established a relationship with her.  My mother remembers Aunt Daisy's visits as great treats; Daisy always came to visit laden with gifts for the children.  By leaving home and later marrying my grandfather, Elsie Warren left the middle class and became firmly embedded in the working class, in which every one of her daughters remained and among which which they chose their spouses.  

Not too long after she left home, Elsie met Grandpa Ephraim at some social affair - a village dance or festival of some sort - and in short order the two wed.  Grandfather was from an Appalachain mountain family that was spread along the New York Southern Tier and the Pennsylvania Northern Tier and, believe me, even today that is country.  At some point in his youth, Ephraim lived in Elmira, NY and family legend has it that he was "friends with Sam Clemens", who is, of course, better known as Mark Twain.  I doubt they were friends, (there would have been quite an age difference) but he may have known Clemens, in passing, as a fellow Elmiran.  Perhaps more likely, he just knew Clemens by reputation as his city's most famed inhabitant at the time.  Or possibly they weren't even there at exactly the same time, merely about the same time.  However, I do recall that I once mentioned "Mark Twain" and Grandpa (who didn't like me a whole lot anyway), frowned and thundered, "His name is Sam Clemens!"

I suspect the basic truth about Elsie is that she was a rebel from an early age.  She was probably a bit of a 'handful', and I wouldn't be at all surprised if her father disliked her a bit.   These legends of people being cast off for marrying outside the faith may be technically true as to the specific timing of the family decree that they be removed from the family, but my guess is that more often than not, if the religion is not one of those few cults that practice shunning, the marriage is the only last in a long line of small rebellions against the parental strictures.  The child who is thus cast off naturally feels that he or she is on the right side of the equation and is likely to pass on to the following generations a tale told from her point of view.  The parent depicted as overly strict probably would, in turn, describe the child as overly wild or naughty or willful.

I knew Grandpa Ephraim Warren (my only grandparent who had not died before I was born), and as I say, he didn't care for me too much.  As a man who had brought up eight daughters, the younger ones of whom he had to raise without Elsie's help, Grandpa wasn't terribly fond of boys in general.  Elsie died at 49 from complications from epilepsy, just months after Mom's high school graduation; Mom's two youngest sisters either did not recall their mother at all, or had only one or two vague memories.  My mother was raised very strictly, and she herself was not at all a rebel, although a couple of her sisters were somewhat more rebellious against the family norms than she.  Mom and her sisters grew up in a series of small country towns; Grandpa worked in the lumber trade, which required him to move occasionally.  In addition to those requisite moves, Elsie had some variety of wanderlust which caused her to change houses every couple of years even if Grandpa's work did not require a move.  Elsie never returned to the Catholic church, but she made sure her daughters attended whichever Protestant church was nearby.  

My mother so hated moving about that she made owning their own home from the start a condition of marriage to my father, and he and she chose and purchased a house in the city before they married.   Mom always wanted to be a "city girl" and she absolutely hated being a stand-out in any way.  She was the farthest thing from a rebel, yet fate conspired against her.   She became a Catholic, the only one of her sisters to do so, although no less than four of the others married Catholics.  She grew up thinking boys were somehow nasty, and those of her sisters who had children before she did dutifully had only daughters.  Mom broke the family tradition by having me, and then compounded her apostasy by having seven more boys.  And the whole City Girl thing went by the wayside when my Dad's brother Bernard developed a heart condition that rendered him unable to continue working on the family farm which he had inherited.  When I was three, Dad swapped the house in the city, which contained a rental flat upstairs, for the family farm and thus Mom became a farmer's wife as well as mother of eight boys (and of my only sister, Lucy), for neither of which activities she'd had any practical preparation.  "No one will ever know how often I was faking it," she confessed to me a few years ago.   It was strange to hear, since I always remember her as a serene presence, and as calmly expert in any matter that arose.  And you better believe, with nine children and a bipolar, alcoholic husband, plenty of unusual matters did arise.  

I have been thinking about the unreliability of so much of what I "know" lately, as I find out more and more things I was sure were true are actually highly doubtful.  There is so little we actually know about the past; we often find that even the events we witnessed are remembered differently by others who were also present.  Although I really try to be truthful when telling about my past or my family's history, the fact is that much of the nuance, at least, could be better labelled, "my story" than "my history".   It really is true that the older one gets, the less one knows.  Or at least there is so much less about which one can be certain.  It gives me quite a different perspective on history, which, besides being written by the winners, is even more likely written in service of mythologizing and bowdlerizing the past to fit the tellers' prejudices.    

Put another way, there is so little of what actually happened that matters to any individual life.  What one believes is true is the sole determinant of the impact of the past upon one's life.  

Yikes! we are even more rudderless than I thought!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Schoolmarm


At the time that my Father's bipolarity was just beginning to drive him completely off the rails, he started going about helping various townsfolk with yard work and the like.  At the time I thought it was a benign - even laudable - activity, although current interactions with my brother Rob, who is victim of the same dysfunction, has caused me to begin wondering how welcome - and how helpful - Dad's activities actually were.  The downside to this new initiative, as indeed was the downside to every new program which he undertook, was that he nearly always tended to involve his offspring, notably me.  

One of the first of the people Dad undertook to assist in her gardening and so forth was Miss Anna Hargreave, a lovely elderly lady who had been his teacher from first through fourth grade in a cobblestone one-room schoolhouse a couple of miles to the southeast of our farm.  That is, the schoolhouse was a couple of miles southeast; Miss Hargreave's home, which she shared with an unmarried sister named Emma, was across the creek which bounded our farm on the north - a short distance if one were in the mood to swim, but two or three miles by road, since in each direction from the Farm the nearest bridges were at least a mile distant.  

The Misses Hargreave were quite elderly; this was in the 1950's and my father's early schooling with Miss Hargreave, who had also taught several of his older siblings, had begun in 1905.  Anna was a rather beautiful white-haired lady who looked like a Norman Rockwell version of everyone's Grandma.  She was sweet-natured, gentle and generous.  She loved her garden and grounds, though she was too old to do much gardening by herself, and in this case I think my father's assistance was welcome - especially since the entire job rapidly became solely the concern of my brother Gary and me, thence handed on to my sister Lucy, and on down through my catalog of brothers until, long after I was off to college and seeing the world, it became the job of my sibling number six, Liam.  

Despite the fact that I was (as Mom used to tell me with a certain note of asperity in her voice) the Little Prince, a fact that arose solely from my position as the first boy in two generations among my mother and her seven sisters, and the first grandchild  in almost thirty years on my Dad's side where there were no less than five sisters and four other brothers, all of whom had either no children or fully grown children and found much of their time free to dote on me - despite all this positive adult interaction- I remained very wary of adults and never really saw them as completely human in the way I saw myself.  They were too powerful, too all-knowing and their reactions were usually utterly inexplicable to me.  People were far more formal in those days, and I never addressed any adult other than as Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Aunt or Uncle.  There was no mistaking these folks for my contemporaries or buddies, no matter how warmly they treated me nor how much they played or joked with me.   Adult women dressed soberly and wore hats with veils and white gloves when they ventured forth from their homes for anything other than a quick trip to the grocery - and sometimes even then.  Men wore fedoras any time they set forth from home.  Few women drove; one would see married couples when two such drove about together, almost invariably with the fedora-ed men sitting upright in the front seat of the car, and the gloved and hatted wives seated behind.  

I liked Miss Hargreave, despite the fact that she was an adult and the boss, the latter category being another that, until my day of retirement, I never felt entirely easy with even though I was quite good friends with several of them.  I always felt, with either my elders or my bosses, that I was subject to unfathomable whims, that I was never sure that a humiliating reprimand was not forthcoming, although such reprimands were quite rare in my experience - far rarer than I deserved.  Miss Hargreave would tell me little stories about Dad as a small child.  One I recall was that on his first day of school he showed up with a big red bow tied under his chin.  I was a good deal less fond of Miss Anna's sister Emma.  Emma was thin and boney, and severe in appearance, and although she had a good heart as far as I could see, any conversation with her soon swerved toward the biblical and religious.   She hadn't a clue how to speak to children, and I in turn hadn't a clue how to speak with her comfortably.   Even worse were days when a third sister, a married sister named Almeda, was present.  Miss Almeda - or Mrs. Law, I suppose I should say - was personally pleasant and kind, but age had brought on a speech impediment that rendered her completely impossible to understand.  Her lower jaw did more than tremble - especially when she was speaking - it shook vigorously resulting in speech that was a disjointed series of syllables.  I did not dread her because of any unkindness, but because of my embarrassment that she would speak to me and I hadn't a clue what she'd said.  When I found myself in a position where i was unable to understand an adult I felt a deep shame.   I have always felt I should understand people, a trait I may have gotten from my Mom who went into full panic mode when confronted with even a hint of an accent.  Mom's fear that she wouldn't understand such a person inevitably overwhelmed her to the point that she didn't  understand them, even when she otherwise might have.  

Lucy, genuinely liked Miss Hargreave; I think any kindly haven that got her away from the increasingly chaotic conditions at home would have earned her heartfelt gratitude.  Miss Hargreave, in return, doted on Lucy.  When Lucy was accepted at college and was seeing Miss Hargreave for the last time before she left, Anna gave her the gift of a small leather change purse.  Lucy thought it the odd gift of an out-of-touch elderly lady, until she got home and discovered $100 rolled up inside it.  This was a substantial gift from anyone in 1962, and from a lady in such straitened circumstances as a retired schoolteacher must have been, it was extremely generous.  

Mowing Anna Hargreave's lawn, planting her gladioli each spring, and digging up the spent bulbs each fall and pruning her beauty bush (I am not sure what this bush was actually called, but it was completely pink in spring with thousands of little pink tubular flowers) were more or less Shaughnessy traditions for years.  Miss Hargreave insisted on paying us a couple of dollars each time - which were extremely welcome - but it was almost like a chore at home; that is, something expected, taken for granted and performed with reasonably good grace every summer for years.  

When the task was handed on to Liam, sixth in the sequence of siblings that began with me, he developed a very close relationship with Miss Anna.  Liam has the happy quality of whole-hearted enthusiasms.  He has always loved baseball passionately, he loved cowboy films and the whole 1950's concept of what the West had been - the good guys and bad guys - and he has to this day, tons of friends who return his affection fully, both those newly met and those who are childhood friends because he shows his feelings of affection openly; not with hugs or physical display (we are far too Irish for that) but with unfeigned pleasure displayed when he meets them.  Liam is a singer and a songwriter with the eye of a lover.  (My sister-in-law who has herself been inducted into a Hall of Fame for music in a large city in the West says, "I have written songs, but Liam is a poet."  He has the gift of poking fun in a way that affection shines through.  Chief of all his targets for mockery is himself.  People love to talk to Liam, because he is very funny - not in the sense of knowing a million jokes, but simply in having a gift for coining phrases and descriptions which are both acute and very funny and memorable.  Liam's nicknames for various friends have become family standards when speaking of those friends.

By the time Liam was mowing Miss Hargreave's lawn, Dad had found another protégée just up the road from the Farm - Miss Bessie Hadlock, the last of a family that had more or less been local gentry for generations here in Reedville.  Originally the Hadlocks had lived in a great square house with a cupola on top, which stands on a hill at a point where three roads meet, formerly known as Hadlocks' Corners.  There is today an historic marker in front of "Hadlock House".  However, the generation that produced Bessie, a woman who was as old, or nearly so, as Miss Hargreave, had in some way lost nearly everything.  The Hadlock farm with the great house was lost and at the time everything came apart for them, there appeared to be little hope of saving anything.  However, my dad's oldest brother who was a gifted lawyer and prominent in county politics, undertook to save something from the wreckage for Bessie Hadlock.  Ultimately he managed to save for her a small wedge of land with the small tenant house across the road from the big house.   Nearly every farm in this area - certainly all the older ones - included a tenant house for a family which was hired to help work the farm.   This was usually a rather plain house, much smaller than the big farm house.  Usually the tenant house would be occupied by the same hired man and his family for many years.  In many cases after the nineteen fifties, if farms were sold, the big house was retained by the selling family and the new owners would move themselves or one of their married children into the tenant house.  

At any rate, Liam, with his gifts for throwing himself into whatever he does and for being liked by those he deals with, became as close to Bessie Hadlock as he was with Anna Hargreave.  Both Miss Hargreave and Miss Hadlock would, in any case, have been within our orbit of awareness; Reedville was a very small town and few families moved in or out - everyone had been there forever, it seemed, as had their parents and grandparents.  But because of the lawn-mowing, these ladies became more than just someone one knew of or met occasionally at the store or library.   They were part of that ring of people with whom our entire family had a certain feeling of kinship.

I had long since hitch-hiked to California to become a surfer, and Lucy had completed college by the time Liam inherited the Hargreave lawn and taken on the Hadlock job.  One day he was working in Bessie Hadlock's garden when she came out with a paper in her hand.

"Liam," she said, "we have lost Miss Hargreave."

And she and Liam stood in Miss Hadlock's garden and wept together.