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May 12th, 2013
A Wee Mother’s Day Story
by Bruce |
Once upon a time there was a boy whose mom had to raise him herself. But he had a happy boyhood all the same, and never knew until he was older that he was actually supposed to be unhappy and destined for a life of booze, drugs, crime and jail. He never knew or even suspected that has was disadvantaged in any way. He was happy.
His mom couldn’t give him every toy he wanted but he got practically every book he asked for. He wore a lot of second hand clothes but he never went to bed hungry or out the door in dirty clothes. His mom set a good example, taught him to read before he entered grade school, and all through his growing up years encouraged him to pursue his interests in art, photography and electronics. And one day after he was all grown up he made her very proud when he told her about the job he got working for the Hubble Space Telescope program.
All the time she was raising him a lot of people said he would never amount to much because boys raised by single mothers never did. She lived to see her boy prove them wrong. But really…she was the one who proved them wrong. You see, parents matter. Not how many or which gender. Not whether there is a biological link from parent to child. It’s the person they are that counts. That’s everything. I made it against a lot of odds, but looking back on it all I can very clearly see now that I had a good start on it, because I had one good parent…a good mother.
Thanks mom. Wish you could see what your boy is into now.
April 3rd, 2013
Without Shame What Good Is Marriage?
by Bruce |
Via Andrew Sullivan…Mark Oppenheimer, who thinks same-sex marriage might just pass muster as long as we still get to stigmatize someone…if not the homosexuals…
So here’s my question to Douthat, Maggie Gallagher, Ross Douthat Brian Brown, the world of conservative evaneglical preachers, and others who are so concerned about same-sex marriage: What does it do your perception of Ronald Reagan that he was a divorcé—and in being the first divorced president certainly helped remove any last shreds of stigma? Would you have voted against him for that reason—as many would have in 1952? Would you discourage people from listening to radio hosts who have divorces in their past (Limbaugh, Dennis Prager), or voting for divorcés like John McCain? If our goal is to work our way back to 1950 Marriage, how are we going to re-stigmatize divorce for wealthy white people? How are we going to make their divorces seem unseemly? In 1950, when a divorced woman moved into the neighborhood, people whispered about her. Are we prepared to whisper again?
As they used to say back in the day…matter of fact as some of my elementary school teachers used to say to my face…I’m the product of a broken home. Oddly, I would not have known my home was “broken” had it not been for so many helpful adults back in the day. Kids hear those whispers too Oppenheimer. But that’s part of the fun isn’t it?
Here’s my problem with shaming divorcees..
That’s my dad under that sheet. Mom divorced him when I was two and raised me herself. And but for the fact that mine was a household with a single divorced women at the head of it, you might even say that I was raised in a good Baptist home. But for that one fact. I remember how mom was treated back in those days. I remember how she raised me by setting an example. Never mind church. Yes I got taken to church. She never cheated anyone, never took advantage, never said anything about anyone in my presence she wouldn’t have said to their face, never drank or uttered a curse word in my presence, paid her bills, lived frugally (well…we had to…) kept her promises and when she passed away people in the town she retired to would come up to me on the street and tell me what a ray of sunshine she always was. But no…it was a shameful thing being a divorced woman. The head of my household growing up should have been the crook. Why, I might not be homosexual if my father had been there. A boy needs a father, and better to grow up learning how to rob people of their savings than to be a homosexual. Provided of course I share some of the loot with a few conservative think tanks.
Dad, let it be said, was always nice to me, and nice to mom. To other people…not so much. And mom loved him until the day she died. But she knew better than to let me be raised by him. Let me tell you a brief little story about that. When I was a teenager dad was earning a semi-honest living driving trucks and cargo around the country. More about that “semi-honest” part in a bit. One summer mom felt comfortable enough letting dad take me with him on one of his cross-country runs and one afternoon we stopped somewhere to eat and rest up a bit. I chowed down in the restaurant and Dad went into the bar next door. He came back, sat across the table from me and with a cheerful smile pushed some papers and a pen across the table at me and asked me to make a mark on the dotted line. I must have raised an eyebrow. Just make a mark there, he said. You want me to sign it, I asked? No…just scribble something. So I’m the obedient son and I did it, and he took the pen and papers back, folded them up and put them in his jacket pocket and smiled warmly at me and said, “You just made your dad five-hundred bucks.”
Aw gee Dad…
So I have this…hunch…that if he had remained the God Ordained Head Of The Household like he was God Ordained supposed to be I probably would not be the sort of person I am now, capable of passing the background check I could so I could be doing the work I do now at Space Telescope. Still, he was my dad and I loved him all the same and I feel these bitter little smiles come out of me whenever I hear some jackass homophobe saying that you can love people without sanctioning their behavior. You don’t say? Know something about that do you? And one day when my brother and I discovered he had no stone for his grave I bought him one, and my brother paid to have it placed, and it reads “Beloved Father” because sometimes you do things not because of what was, but because of what ought to have been.
I have never regretted mom’s divorce. Regretted dad couldn’t have been a better dad, but I suppose he actually did the best he could, the best that was within him to do, and he loved his sons and his wives (he married again…and…divorced again…) as much as it was within him to love anyone. But without a doubt was absolutely for the best for both mom and me that I was not raised by him. And piss on you Oppenheimer, if you think whispering shame at divorcees is a good thing. Never dawns on the likes of you that divorce might actually be a good thing does it? Never dawns on the likes of you that the shame you throw at single mothers is felt by their children does it? We’re just collateral damage in your little culture war aren’t we?
Here’s the problem with jackass social conservatives like him…they seem not to be able to function socially without a bunch of arbitrary rules that can never be questioned lest they get utterly lost in the human relationship thicket. They have no idea what the rules are for, other than they’re there to prop up some sort of civilized behavior, the reason for which they have no clue whatsoever. Homosexuality is shameful because it’s against the rules. Divorce is shameful because it is against the rules. The rules are Very Important because without them we wouldn’t have a fucking clue how to behave toward our neighbors.
I have a wee suggestion. Instead of shaming divorce, how about we shame spouse abuse. How about we shame cheating. How about we shame not setting a good example for children. How about we shame not taking care of children. Ah…but spouse abuse was never one of the rules…was it? Women having to submit gracefully and all. And children…the only thing they’re good for is a reason why same-sex couples can’t get married and women can’t own their own bodies. It’s not like we give a good goddamn about their health or feeding or educating them.
March 28th, 2013
Better…Like A Fever Broken…
by Bruce |
As I have said many times here, this is a life blog. Nothing more or less. And sometimes life gets a little heavy. Not to scare anyone…I’m fine now…really…but this first quarter was about the worst I have ever had. Every winter it seems the period between Valentine’s Day and April just gets worse and worse. But I think that’s over now. As they say, what has been seen cannot be unseen.
I was in that chilly gray sky of the mind state all morning long yesterday. I’d been that way for weeks and it just kept getting worse and worse. Things went badly at work. Things I should have been able to shrug off that I took to heart. My co-workers were noticing, which only made it worse. It fed on itself. And it wasn’t about nothing either. I’m 59 years old and never had a boyfriend. You can’t walk that far in a life without time spent in the arms of an intimate other and not be damaged by it. We were not made to be solitaries. And I have been betrayed by people I trusted deeply. Or maybe it was my congenital naivety. People who look like that…
So it was deep in that feedback loop that I randomly chanced across that Hemingway quote in my Facebook stream and naturally the first thing that came to mind was a kind of despair that, no this isn’t why I feel the way I do because I have no courage. I do not take risks, I run away from them. Just ask Tico. I am not a good man wounded, I was damaged goods to begin with. Unworthy. The child who was never meant to be. And right then it was as if something tapped me on the shoulder and showed me something about myself that I’d never really looked at before, that through it all I have lived an honest life, because I never thought doing that was something to pat yourself on the back for.
A feeling for beauty…the courage to take risks… Yeah…actually I’ve taken a few haven’t I? And so it goes. I felt right then as though a terrible fever was breaking. Seriously, it was like a smothering curtain had been pulled off me and I felt alive again. Life was good again. The road forward clearer, and…enticing. Then I remembered what had happened to Hemingway. You try to be rational about things, but for a moment I felt like I’d been given a lift up, from a hand that would have known the need.
March 27th, 2013
Courage And Self Esteem
by Bruce |
The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?
Alice Kingsley: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers.
But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.
You get into these depressive ruts and you start being critical of your every fault, real or perceived. Nothing within you is good enough. Everything is rotten. Yesterday I was tearing myself up inside for not having the nerve to just go ahead and go down to Washington and with my cameras bear witness to history being made. So just for good measure I took stock of every failure of nerve I ever had in my life, starting with the biggest one of all, that of not being able to tell a certain someone back in 1971 that he had made my heart skip a beat. By the end of the day I knew exactly what a sniveling coward I had been my entire life.
This came across my Facebook feed this morning…
…and I could see in it everything about me, except the courage part. Hemingway wasn’t talking about me. I have the feeling for beauty…it drives me mad sometimes. The truth telling part, yes. Just ask anyone who knows me. The capacity for sacrifice, yes. I can do that. I have done that. I have all of that within me. And I know how vulnerable it makes me. There are times it still surprises me how vulnerable. That is me. I have all of that. But not the courage. I have no courage.
And then it was like I swear a little voice inside said wait just a minute… You’ve been living as an out gay man nearly all your life. You came out to yourself when you were 17 years old, accepted yourself for what you are, two years before the shrinks decided homosexuals weren’t mentally ill after all. You kept it low key for most of the 70s but you never dodged a direct question and never lied to anyone about it, back in a time when you could be, and were, multiple times, fired for being a homosexual. Remember that day when you were still a teenage boy and you stood in front of the bathroom mirror and said to your reflection “I Am A Homosexual” after you read some crackpot who said admitting it was the worst thing a man could do? That day forty-seven states still had sodomy laws on their books. You have spent the past few days…no, weeks…digging up every failure of nerve you ever had. Now remember all those times when you were blind-sided by a question and you had to make a sudden snap decision about being closeted or not. Remember how afraid you were? And you never held back. What the hell is that if it isn’t courage?
Fear. Maybe that’s what’s always at the heart of a depression. Fear of being alone all my life. Fear of dying alone. Fear of walking through my one life never knowing a lover’s embrace. Friends With Benefits is the cheap shelf booze. Once you’ve tasted the real thing you never settle for faking it. The best or nothing, as Gottlieb Daimler once said. Courage. I’m depressed because I am afraid. That doesn’t make me a coward. Anyone with that discipline to tell the truth, and capacity for sacrifice, and feeling for beauty, cannot also be a coward. It just doesn’t compute. I forgot lately, all those times when I did what I had to do even though I was scared shitless. I forgot something I began telling myself in later years when I began looking back on those moments. T.E. Lawrence once said, “The trick is not minding that it hurts.” For me the trick was always not minding that I’m afraid.
And…a bit bonkers…in the way the best people generally are.
March 26th, 2013
Second Thoughts That Tend To Come A Bit Too Late
by Bruce |
Today is going to be murder to get through, but it’s my own doing. I let my depressed state screw me over. I should have planned to go down to the Supreme Court marriage Proposition 8 protests/counter protests regardless. I actually took the days off well in advance. But then I cancelled because I have been down ever since Valentine’s Day and I just didn’t want to deal with that part of me. Ironically, that not wanting to deal with the emotional creative part of me is what got me into computers, and making the very nice living I am making now. But there was a big drawback to all of that. This path I chose, has led me to a cliff. Now that the day is here I really want to be down there with my cameras photographing it but management wants not. Ever have one of those conversations with your boss, where the boss looks at you, smiles and says “It’s your call” and you know goddamn well what the call is supposed to be? It was one of those.
Maybe that would have been the reality anyway. So many things are happening at work now. Launch is in 2018 and while that seems like a long way off, there is a lot of up front work that needs to be done. A lot. Probably, it’s no fooling, I really have to be here and stay on top of my work. Maybe making it up on the weekend really just doesn’t cut it. Maybe it wasn’t a question of my boss telling me I could not have divided loyalties in his workspace. Put that artsy fartsy stuff away, you’re an adult now, live in the real world… But this is really stabbing me in the heart now.
Sometimes I wish I could just surgically remove that emotional creative part of me that keeps wanting to make imagery. I hear this thing inside of us drives other artists insane too and it’s been this way all my life, particularly as it’s become lonelier and lonelier and because of that, sometimes I really don’t want to look at what comes out of me. And while it’s had its rewards it cuts me to ribbons too. It is right now. I could have done without it. Life as an emotionless cog in the machinery wouldn’t be so bad.
So now, at fifty-nine, I think I know why the stereotype of the starving artist exists. It isn’t because they can’t find decent work, it’s because they know what will happen when they do, so they stay in their little slumtown lofts and hovels because any work that pulls them away from the creative urge makes their inner lives a complete mess. Well…more mess then what would be normal for them anyway. In the end the choice isn’t live a very low budget life but get to do your work whenever you want to, verses get a good job and appease the creative urge in your spare time…it’s follow your heart or slowly go mad, pick one.
Wish I’d been brave enough to take the poor scrappy starving artist path. Who knows, maybe the boyfriend would have been somewhere along that way. But nerve was always something I had trouble with having enough of. Just ask Tico.
Anyway…to those confronting the haters today and tomorrow…be proud. You are writing new lines in the history books. Wish I could be there with my cameras to get some shots of it happening.
February 28th, 2013
Reminder: This Is A Life Blog…
by Bruce |
…not a political blog or some other sort of blog. It’s what blogs were before blogs became a thing. I’m just documenting my life here, such as it is, and maybe throwing a reference or two out to other things I do besides vent, like my photography or cartoons. If what I’m putting up here has any value to anyone it’s because it’s about Life, not so much about Me specifically. If it gets heavy sometimes that’s because life will do that. If I don’t name names in something I post here that’s not because I’m being coy, it’s because the specific people don’t matter. It’s not about them, it’s about life.
August 21st, 2012
by Bruce |
I know where each and every one of my folds are. Sometimes I try to make pictures out of them…
August 19th, 2012
Yeah…It Is Kinda…Wow…
by Bruce |
Re-reading that post about what a luxury car is, I am kinda…stunned…to realize that my life went from this…
That is not the trajectory anyone would have predicted for me back when I first entered grade school. It’s not what I would have predicted for me. If I hadn’t been walking through my life in the past decade or so on autopilot I’d be more amazed. But I don’t pay attention to my present day life all that much the way probably other people do. Away from work, back in my house, down in my art room, my head stays in the clouds, because I’m not so lonely there. It’s only occasionally when I’m at home, that I come back down to earth and it’s like…oh…I have a house of my own…and a Mercedes-Benz.
At night I dream of other worlds, other lives I might have had, where I’m not alone anymore and I’m happy. Oddly, in those dreams I still don’t own a house, or a Mercedes-Benz.
The Chairman said quietly, “Loki, you weary Me” – and suddenly, Loki was missing. Even his chair was gone. “Odin, will you spare her for part of that cycle?”
“For how long? She has earned the right to Valhalla.”
“An indeterminate time. This creature had stated its willingness to wash dishes “forever” in order to take care of her. One may doubt that it realizes just how long a period, “forever” is… yet its story does show earnestness of purpose…”
-Robert Heinlein, Job – A Comedy of Justice
August 18th, 2012
by Bruce |
I’ve been meaning to write this one for years actually. Ever since I bought my first Mercedes-Benz. And…trust me…just typing out that phrase “my first Mercedes-Benz” makes me want to do a double-take. Time was I lived in a friend’s basement and mowed lawns and did Manpower temp jobs to make ends meet, and I figured that was pretty much going to be my life. But even a low income kid can dream, and when mine turned to automobiles I always had pretty definite ideas about what a top rank, best of the best, car was.
I grew up in a household without a car. Mom divorced dad when I was 2 and we never had a lot of money. So for the first decade and a half of my life we were carless, and the edges of my childhood world were tied firmly to wherever public transportation and my own two feet could take me. Cars were fascinating, but distant things, like home ownership. I grew up in a series of garden apartments, always near some bus line that could take mom to work and near enough to walk to a small shopping center with a grocery store, a drugstore and a five and dime. It was still a time when most American households had only one car, if they had a car at all. So to be carless wasn’t necessarily considered a sign of poverty and we were not poor…I never went to bed hungry…just very low budget. We would get rides occasionally from neighbors and other church members when necessary, but mostly the weekly shopping trip involved a foldable two wheel grocery cart, something like this…
…which I would pilot, being the man and thereby the muscle in the household. Trips downtown, or to a deluxe shopping center some distance away (there were no malls back then), possibly involving a bus transfer ticket even, were very special occasions, and usually all day affairs the end of which left my little legs very tired. Vacations involved either Trailways, Greyhound or the train. I still vividly remember the magical two vacations we took to Lauderdale By The Sea, Florida, by way of the train. There was a dining car, and a car at the end of the train you could sit in and watch the landscape go by, and the lovely sound of the tracks clicking off the miles to sing me to sleep. It would never have occurred to me that a car was a necessity. A car was a luxury. We got by just fine without one. But oh…how nice to have one! Possibly even as nice as having a house of our very own.
I recall vividly the 1960 Ford Falcon one of the church lady’s had that took us back and forth to Sunday services…
…which would get so hot inside sitting in the sun during church services that even with the windows rolled all the way down by the time it got me back home I felt like a baked cookie. Or the 1959 Rambler Rebel owned by Mr. Rogers, one of the deacons…
…the car that taught me the value of seat belts well before they became mandatory equipment, when my little seven year old face got slammed into its all metal dashboard when Mr. Rogers had to stop suddenly to avoid a drunk driver. I never doubted after that that cars could be dangerous things. But they were magical things, whispering promises to little me of travel to distant places, in a time when my world pretty much ended at reach of mom’s voice.
I think my first glimpse of the 1958 Ford Thunderbird is what really ignited my love affair with the automobile.
I remember I was walking with mom to the local grocery store and one of those things went gliding by on the street and my little jaw dropped. From then on I was all about cars. I used to embarrass mom walking beside her as she shopped, pretending to be driving a car, holding my hands out on an imaginary steering wheel and making all the sound effects. But embarrassing mom is part of a small boy’s job description. Frightening to her, and in retrospect to me later in life, was my habit of peering into the windows of parked cars to admire the dashboards and steering wheels. This was a more Baroque age in American automobilia, and the dashboards and steering wheels of that time are amazing to me even today. They just don’t make them like this anymore…
I would get smacked every so often when mom caught me peering into a parked car, entranced by what I saw, and warned darkly that someday I’d find myself getting snatched away by a stranger. In retrospect it scares me now to think of too. Eventually one Christmas I got a toy that was probably intended to divert my attention away from parked cars…
When you turned the little pot metal ignition key it made a rumbling motor sound. There was a horn, wipers that flicked back and forth, turn signals that blinked, a light switch that illuminated the dials and gauges, and lots of finger candy just like the grownups had on their dashboards. It would be the only car I ever owned whose gas tank I could fill back up just by turning a knob.
I had an uncle who back in those days drove big Oldsmobiles. Probably more then anything else those cars set my childhood notions of what a luxury car was.
A luxury car was a car that was big and magnificent and had all the options, and even a few options you couldn’t get on the other models. Uncle Wayne’s Oldsmobile had Power Windows! No hand cranking in a luxury car…you just pressed a button one way and the window went up…pressed it the opposite way and it went down. What won’t they think of next? It had Power Seats! Oooooh!!! You just pressed a button and the seats moved forward or backward. It was a push button future all right. It had an antenna that automagically extended when you turned on the AM/FM Radio!!! It had two-tone bench seats. It had a light in the glove compartment. It had Air Conditioning!!!! Cool air, really cool air, flowed out of these chrome plated vent balls at either end of the dashboard, and from some chrome plated vents in the middle…
Oh. My. God!!! Our apartment didn’t have Air Conditioning, and here it was in a car no less! No more rolling down the windows in the summertime and waiting outside the car before getting in, until the seats were something less then frying temperature.
Its speedometer had the first progress bar I ever laid eyes on. Instead of a needle that swept across the numbers, it had a green bar that extended from left to right in a horizontal box…
When it got up to highway speeds…40 and over…the green bar was replaced by an orange one. Above 60 it became red.
But the thing that just floored me was the magic button in the middle of the windshield wiper knob. Uncle Wayne showed me one day what it did. He pulled the knob and the wipers started wiping…so much so obvious. Then he pressed the magic button and two little jets of soapy water squirted out onto the window!!!
It was perfectly clear to me what a luxury car was. A luxury car was a car that had all the options, and maybe even a few options you couldn’t get on the other cars. You certainly weren’t going to get power windows, let alone power seats, on a plain old ordinary everyday Chevy. No. It had to be an Oldsmobile. And if you wanted leather instead of cloth seats, then obviously you would have to step up to a Cadillac.
One day, when I was 16, he came for a visit driving his brand new Mercedes-Benz 220D…
I was…nonplussed. I knew by then that Mercedes-Benz was a German luxury car of some sort, but I had a general disdain for European cars. They were expensive compared to U.S. cars, plain and generally unexciting. And here before my very eyes, was the proof. And…it was a diesel! You didn’t have to know the ‘D’ meant diesel, you knew it the moment he started it up. They’d put a truck engine in a luxury car.
Mind you, by this stage of my life I’d already decided I was a four-door sedan kinda guy. Sports cars didn’t really do much for me, though I admired the engineering that went into them and loved to watch them race. But they weren’t practical for what I wanted to do with a car by that age, which was see the country…just take my maps and my luggage, find some roads I’d never been down before and go. I wanted a car I could drive comfortably in for hours at a time, which you really couldn’t in a low slung, stiff suspensioned sports car, could carry lots of luggage and cargo here and there, could drive my friends anywhere we wanted to go. It had to be a sedan…preferably one with four doors because two doors meant folding down the front seat and squirming your way into the back. I had no money for a car of my own, and not much hope I’d ever have one either. But I had specifications.
This is a luxury car??? I wandered around the Mercedes while my aunt and uncle took their luggage in and chatted with mom. It was small compared to the last Oldsmobile he’d had, and boxy. There wasn’t nearly as much chrome. It had no fins. The front row were two unappealing looking bucket seats. From outside the dashboard looked a bit sparse, the steering wheel somewhat old fashioned. Then my uncle invited me to sit down in it. I opened the passenger side front door and noted the locking mechanism looked very simplistic and odd. I sat down in the bucket seat, closed the door…
…and that was when I realized I was in a whole different world.
This thing is built like a bank vault… I’d never experienced the like of it. Just sitting there I could feel the solidness of it. The seats, made I later learned of the legendary MB-Tex, weren’t soft and cushy like the Olds, but very firm and somehow lots more comfortable in spite of that. And there was absolutely no wiggle in them. They weren’t power seats like the Olds. There was a lever directly in the front and bottom of the seat that you lifted up and then you could move the seat backward or forward. It slide smoothly, and when you snapped it into place the seat locked firmly and would not budge, even a little.
You got used to a slight degree of slop in a car back then. It was normal. A little give, a little wiggle here and there wasn’t a big deal unless it got excessive. A little play in the steering wheel, a little give in the shift lever and turn signals. You knew a car was a mass produced thing and you didn’t expect anything mass produced in those days to be as tight as a watch. Just so it wasn’t so loose it felt like it was about to come apart. Thing was, a little initial looseness usually ended up being a lot of looseness. Things broke down. Lots. And so you took them in for repair. Cars especially in those days, needed lots of repair. But you expected that, just as you expected that a car would not last much further then 50k miles. Odometers back then only had five digits on them. You pushed a car all the way back to the point all the zeros rolled back over…100k…only if you didn’t have the money for a new one, or you were stubborn.
A good car was one that didn’t break down in the first few months of ownership. A great car got you maybe all the way to 50k on just the routine maintenance, and maybe a few minor repairs for things like a knob that fell off or got stuck. By 50k you’d have replaced the brakes several times, and the exhaust pipes and muffler, and the shocks maybe half that. You’d have gone through several sets of tires and multiple tune-ups. That was routine and you bought a car knowing all that was coming. But you also expected at least one or two break downs somewhere along the way. Cars just did that. A lemon was a car that did it every week. A good car maybe only once or twice in 50k miles. Beyond 50k you knew it would give you more trouble then it was worth. So most people traded in at that point for a new one. And so it went. By the time he’d bought that 220D, my uncle had gone through several Oldsmobiles.
And there I was, sitting in a car that Just Felt like uncle Wayne could have driven it clean around the world and it would only just be broken in. I looked over the dashboard, every instrument and knob exactly centered in it’s holder, noticed the odometer had Six Digits on it…and I think I sat there for a few moments with my jaw hanging open nearly catatonic…like Bowman in 2001 sitting in his space pod at the end of his trip down the stargate. Then I was a barrage of questions. How much did it cost? Why a diesel? Is it hard to find diesel fuel? How do you start a diesel? What kind of mileage do you get on Diesel? What’s the maintenance like? Do you need metric tools to work on it?
All in good time grasshopper… He explained to me how Mercedes didn’t come out with a new model every year, but instead made little incremental improvements over maybe an eight or ten year run. He told me how if a part showed more wear or breakage then expected it would be redesigned and improved and once the improvement was approved it went right into the production line and no waiting for the next model year. And when you needed a new part you always got the latest most improved one, not an identical to the one that just broke on you part. That was the Mercedes way. He told me that the diesels got way better mileage because diesel fuel had more energy in it by volume, and since a diesel had to be built strong if you took care of one it would last not just 50k but easily hundreds of thousands of miles. He told me about its safety features and how they were building Mercedes-Benz cars with crumple zones back when Detroit was fighting Washington over seat belts. He told me about the cornering and handling capabilities of the car and that they were engineered primarily as safety measures: the best way to handle an accident is to prevent one from happening in the first place. A car that can get its driver out of danger is a safer car. He told me that all the engineering in a Mercedes-Benz was judged against that purpose. Speed and handling weren’t just about speed and handling…they were about safety. German practicality. I felt myself falling in love.
We went for a short ride in the country. I thought I knew how good a sports car was in the curves. I was naive. American sports cars were no damn good in the curve back then. They were big muscle bound V-8 things that would blast you off the road in the straight and get lost in the curve. For an afternoon I sat in a little boxy four door sedan that didn’t accelerate very fast at all, the Oldsmobiles would have laughed at it on the on ramp, but it took the twisty little country back roads we traveled down like it was foreign to no road on earth and just hunkered down and glued itself to the asphalt. It felt like it could have taken the corners at twice the speed my uncle took them. You felt the road under the tires, and the car’s response to it, but not in a scary or discomfortable way. The ride was smooth and serene but not to the point you lost your feel for the road…and that was the thing that stunned me most. I’d never really known before what it was to experience a car that gave you such absolute control before then. A luxury car was supposed to insulate you from the road…make you feel like you were gliding along on a cushion of air! No. I saw it then. A car that takes the feel of the road away from its driver takes their control away too. A great car gives its driver absolute control, moment by moment and that means you have to be able to feel the road under you, and the response of the car to it. The car I was riding in did that…I could feel it even though I was in the passenger seat. It was the first time in my life I’d really experienced that…and it was no sports car. It was a boxy little four door sedan.
Yes, yes…most American luxury car models can take a curve at high speed now and keep you in control. But try to imagine going down a twisty country road in a 1971 Cadillac DeVille and trying to make it take the curves like it was a sports car. No. More like a whale.
That whole day I never once asked my uncle why he bought that boxy little four door sedan. The moment I sat down in it I knew damn well why he bought it. For the next several decades of my life I wanted one too. Some decades later, to my amazement still, I was able to afford one…
…and then…a few years after that…finally…a diesel….
…like the one my uncle drove to visit in, but with forty years of incremental improvements.
In my thirties, broke, doing Manpower temp jobs and mowing lawns to make ends meet, living in a friend’s basement, I never thought I’d own another car again, let alone a new one, let alone a Mercedes-Benz. Luxury. It is not about money. Luxury is better then good enough. At one time in my life a car was something our family considered a luxury. We got by without. And though that was a long time ago, practically in a different America, some folks even now consider cars a luxury item. If you live in the urban zones you can probably get by without one most of the time. But even the new carless urbanites still make use of new ways to rent when they need a car. ZipCar and Car2Go being examples. Owning a car in today’s America might still be considered a luxury in some places. But a car is still more necessity now then it was back when I was a toddler and Washington D.C. still had trolly lines and transcontinental train lines still boasted of their speed and comfort.
Gottlieb Daimler’s motto was “Das Beste oder nichts”, The best or nothing. But what is “best”? If basic transportation will do there is much you can buy nowadays, thanks to the ass kicking Japan gave the rest of the auto making world, that will get you from point A to point B and give you your money’s worth for years and years and then some. My first new car after decades of bare bones living and no prospects was a little Geo Prism and that car was a champion. Under the skin it was a Toyota Corolla and I’d own one again in a heartbeat if I didn’t have the money for the car I do now and I’d be proud of it. It was well made and if you took care of it it would outlast a lot of other makes. I got just over 200k miles out of mine. But if you are lucky and you have it to spend you can reach for something better then basic transportation. That’s luxury. But what is better? What is best?
There’s a scene in Mary Renault’s novel, The Last of the Wine, where the philosopher and teacher Socrates and Alexis, one of his young followers, are walking down a street where the armorers are busy working. They’d been discussing Alexis’ troubles in love and hearing the sound of the armorer’s hammers, Socrates, slyly testing the boy, supposes aloud that now that he is of age he will soon be wanting to buy his first set of armor. Where will you go, he asks. To Pistias, if I can afford his price, says Alexis. “He’s very dear; nine or ten minas for a horseman’s suit.” “So much?”, wonders Socrates aloud. Well surely you’ll get a nice gold device on the breastplate for that kind of money. Not from Pistias, says Alexis, he wouldn’t touch that if you gave him twelve. Kephalos, says Socrates, will give you something to catch the eye. Well but Socrates, says Alexis, I might need to fight in it.
That. A Cadillac or a Lincoln is expensive because it has all the options…all the nice gold devices you can’t get on a Chevy or a Ford…and because the job of a Cadillac or a Lincoln is to tell the world you have a lot of money to spend. Under the skin, a Cadillac is a Chevy and there is no reason other then the marque to not give a Chevy all the options a Cadillac has. That’s how they do it in Japan, where what we call a Lexus here in the U.S. is still a Toyota over there. But here in the U.S., driving a high end Toyota does not say “money”. A Cadillac is expensive, because it is a Cadillac and not a Chevy. A Rolls Royce is expensive because it is practically hand made, by the best artisans working in the finest rarest woods, the finest rarest leathers, the finest wool carpeting, meticulously hand producing only a few cars every year. Ostentatious spending, yes, but at least its ostentatious spending in the service of excellence in craftsmanship. But the engineering and the technology in a Rolls or a Bentley is subordinate to the purpose of luxury for its own sake…everything about the car is about pampering and calling attention to its owner, it’s all about the nice gold device and something to catch the eye. But I might need to drive in it. All day and through the night, down uncertain roads, through whatever weather, in whatever conditions the journey throws at me.
And I have driven my Mercedes-Benz cars, mostly the little ‘C’ class because I’d owned it several years, but now also my ‘E’ class diesel, through some pretty hazardous weather, and down long twisty gravelly roads, winding up and down hazardous no guardrails here sorry you’re on your own terrain, and over scorching desert landscapes and I have never felt safer inside an automobile, or more in control when the going got seriously ugly. Luxury. I could always walk to the grocery store and take the bus or the train come vacation time. But I love cars and I love to drive and I want to see whatever there is down all the roads I’ve never been down. I want a car that will take me to all those places. Not an SUV because I drive long distances and also short ones over many kinds of roads and my car needs to be agile and fuel efficient not large, clunky and hungry all the time. But not a sports car either because I need to carry cargo and passengers. Comfortable on the inside, because I will be driving long hours. And built to keep its passengers safe, because you never know. And yes, beautiful too, because I love the automobile. But not empty beauty. Beauty that comes from within. I have specifications.
These days I admire car interiors from a safe distance via Google Images, and at the dealer’s whenever I take a car in for routine servicing and I can sit down inside one in the showroom and wonder. When I first laid eyes on the new ‘E’ class it took my breath away so beautiful did I find them to be inside and outside. Thank you Dr. Z for making them solid again, like they used to be. When I sat down in my very own new ‘E’ class diesel last December, and started its engine for the first time, it made a sound like I could have driven it clean around the world and it would only just be broken in. Das Beste oder nichts!
[Edited and edited again...and again...and again...sorry...]
June 24th, 2012
by Bruce |
Winter 1971. The artist at work…
This was taken by a friend with my camera, for possible inclusion into the yearbook. The odd framing is an artifact of the film scanner I have. I was staff cartoonist for the student newspaper (serendipitously called The Advocate) and was also made staff photographer after the previous one had a tiff with the editors and quit. This shot was for a spread in the yearbook about the student newspaper staff, but didn’t make the cut. Instead they had me arrange another one of a small group of us, thereby saving page space.
I remember this. What I like about this shot is my friend actually managed a snap when, for an instant, I got into the drawing I was working on and was actually concentrating on it there for a moment. It’s not often I get to see my concentration face. I’m 17. I’m posing at one of the art room desks, drawing, not pretending to draw but actually drawing, one of my cartoons. I was a stickler for authenticity (still am) and even though the shot had to be posed I insisted I would be working on something for real, not faking it. You can’t see my hand with the pen in it in this shot, but that’s the drawing on the board and paper in front of me. The tackle box also in front of me is typical. The tool boxes they sold in art stores for artists were expensive. I figured the tackle boxes they sold in the sporting goods section of most department stores would do just as well and they cost a lot less.
And this by the way, is why to this day I draw on a horizontal surface and not with the drafting table top tilted at an angle, although it can be. All my grade school art rooms had tables like these and I just got used to drawing that way and now I find it more natural then having the table top tilted. But see the board I have the paper on. I still cut Masonite boards to use for drawing and tape my paper on them. Then I have the paper on a nice smooth solid surface I can turn this way and that.
This is the kid I’m doing A Coming Out Story about. When this was taken I was just on the verge of finally coming out to myself as a gay teenager. This was late 1971, but probably still a few weeks away from the day a certain someone put an arm around my shoulders, gave me a squeeze before heading out the school door, and thereby sent my head and heart into the stratosphere, and I couldn’t rationally deny it any longer. Such were the printing lead times back then, yearbook photography had to be pretty much done by the end of the first semester. So when this was snapped that kid there was head over heels crushing over a certain someone, but still not at all ready to admit it to himself.
And who could blame him? It would be another couple years before the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from it’s diagnostic list of mental illnesses. The kid you see in this photo is about to come out to himself in a world that had no other understanding of homosexuality other then a ugly sexual depravity. To be a homosexual was more loathsome then anything else a man could be. It was the bottom of the bottom of the human gutter. This was a message you got from every direction.
I look at this kid and I just want to go back in time and tell him he’s smart and beautiful and worthy of being loved and never let anyone tell him otherwise. But he would ask questions. He will ask what the future will be like for him. And I could tell him all sorts of wonderful things that will eventually happen to him. Except for one thing. This is why I’m having a hard time maintaining energy to work on A Coming Out Story. I need a better ending then the one I’ve got.
May 15th, 2012
by Bruce |
A friend on Facebook remarked after I posted the first installment of this “WOW! I’m impressed that you are releasing this story to the world.” But it’s time. I need to get this out of me. And I replied…
Well there’s more to this story then my dad, which hopefully I’ll be able to get out there too. But…yeah…I was aware when I decided to finally tell the story of my growing up that this was going to be the thing that got people’s attention.
Here’s the thing…I’ve been more reluctant to tell people this then that I’m gay. It’s that Sins Of The Fathers thing. You get afraid of what people will think of you. It still worries me and it shouldn’t. Mom was the one who raised me, not dad, and in any case I am not my father. Both my brother and I (he’s my half brother actually) were raised by good mothers and we’ve both lived by the values they set. He’s got a good home improvement business going for himself and I’ve been working in IT for almost twenty years now. Our police records are cleaner then your kitchen floor. We are not our father. But then…nobody is. Turn it around. If dad was a saint that wouldn’t automatically make me one either.
But I think it is true that the home you’re raised in makes a difference. The problem is these days we can’t have a discussion about home and values and what it does to a kid because we’re in the middle of a culture war and that means a lot of basically good homes have to get attacked and a lot of basically good parents and good kids have to suffer. It’s reminding me of how my own mother was treated back in the late 1950s and early 60s because she was a single divorced mother. And myself. Back then I didn’t need people to know dad was a crook to get placed in the problem child box, just that my mom was divorced and still didn’t have a man in the house.
I wouldn’t be telling this story if I didn’t think there was a point here I’d like people to get. I am not that narcissistic. You hear a lot of talk from the religious right about morals and values and what great champions of these they are and it’s all bullshit. They’re a bunch of tribalistic runts thumping their drums and screaming at anyone who isn’t of the tribe. It’s time the other tribes started thumping back because actually the moral high ground isn’t theirs.
That’s the story I’m telling here. So to continue…and here I am reposting some of what I’ve written previously about mom’s first boyfriend…
There’s a reason my generation are called the baby boomers. We are the generation born to the ones who fought that war, came home, and all at once returned to what would have been normal lives were it not for the war…which for heterosexuals (and homosexuals, because the closet was not an option but a necessary means of survival in those days…) meant getting married and having kids. All at once. It was literally a baby boom. Housing was scarce for the new families for years. Suburban Levittowns sprang up all over America. Schools had to be built, many schools, many, Many schools, to handle the load…only to later be decommissioned as my old high school eventually was, after the last of the boom had graduated. We are a massive bulge in the population, and that is because there was a war. A very big, catastrophic, savage and bloody war…that changed so much…so very very much…
Mom told me often about the sailor she dated during WWII. When she got started, I could see that look of remembrance of first love in her eyes, hear it in her voice, still, so many years later. So many little things about him she remembered vividly. So many stories about the times they had together…about waiting patiently for his letters from overseas during the war…about how her father disliked Jews, but came to see them as fellow neighbors in life by coming to know the Jewish man she loved. She loved him, probably to her dying day.
When I asked her once why she married Dad instead, she said her sailor was on a ship that was ordered into Nagasaki harbor after the war ended, and that his ship became trapped in the harbor briefly due to all the bodies floating in it. She said the sight of it had driven him mad. And for years I wondered, never doubting that he’d gone mad as mom had said, if that bodies trapping a big U.S. navy ship part of the story could possibly be true. Really? Perhaps he’d seen lots of bodies certainly…but so many they trapped a huge Navy ship? Madness if it will strike, strikes young men around the age he was, so perhaps it would have happened to him anyway. But I saw a post Conor Friedersdorf made in which he linked to an Atlantic article about World War II…The Real War. In it was related the experiences of a two soldiers, Neil McCallum and his friend “S.” who came upon the body of a man after a shell had landed at his feet…
“Good God,” said S., shocked, “here’s one of his fingers.” S. stubbed with his toe at the ground some feet from the corpse. There is more horror in a severed digit than in a man dying: it savors of mutilation. “Christ,” went on S. in a very low voice, “look, it’s not his finger.”
…and I got part way though the Atlantic article, when this passage struck me…
In the great war Wilfred Owen was driven very near to madness by having to remain for some time next to the scattered body pieces of one of his friends. He had numerous counterparts in the Second World War. At the botched assault on Tarawa Atoll, one coxswain at the helm of a landing vessel went quite mad, perhaps at the shock of steering through all the severed heads and limbs near the shore. One Marine battalion commander, badly wounded, climbed above the rising tide onto a pile of American bodies. Next afternoon he was found there, mad.
…and I realized then how I knew that war had been sanitized greatly by the mainstream press at the time so as not to damage homefront moral. So I saw it then that yes, it could have been just as Morris told mom. Just imagine the aftermath of the first plutonium bomb, small as they say that one was, compared to what nuclear weapons can do nowadays. Reading this Atlantic article I could see how it probably was exactly as mom had said.
So her sailor boyfriend became lost in madness.
Mom told me his family eventually had him committed to a mental hospital. Mom was heartbroken. Then her father had his stroke, or series of really bad ones. He lingered, back in a time when medical care could do precious little for stroke victims. When he passed away, mom was devastated. Ruth probably was too. Growing up I sometimes wondered if Ruth’s bitter view of life was in part because the only man she ever loved was gone. Sometimes I feel like I need to cut her memory a break. Sometimes.
In any event, Ruth sold their house, and apparently everything else my maternal grandfather Albert owned, including his business making and selling radios back in a time when radio was the high tech of its age. I’ve written elsewhere about my doubts about the totality of this story. But that isn’t what I want to go into here. Mom would always tell me when I was growing up and exhibited an interest in electric gizmos, how much like her father I was. At a very young age I would bring old junked radios I found in the dump and got them working again. It wasn’t a lot of effort…back then radios were mostly vacuum tube contraptions and getting them back in shape was mostly a matter of taking the tubes to the local drugstore and running them on the tube testers that were ubiquitous then.
I would replace the bad ones with good and…presto…a working radio. I never thought it was any big deal but mom encouraged that in me, along with my artistic talents. I was a tinkerer, but also a budding romantic, and when I got a shortwave working I would sit with it for hours listening to the signals from distant lands, completely absorbed in the wonder of hearing signals from worlds beyond my little neighborhood. When I was in fifth grade mom’s older brother Wayne bought me my first Heathkit radio kit, which I dove into happily. I would have been nine then. By then I also had my first camera, given to me when I showed some talent in the photography department. Mom told me grandad Albert was also an amateur photographer and showed me some of his work…mostly poses of mom.
She was his darling girl and it really scarred her deeply when he passed away in such a painful, lingering way. She never hesitated to encourage anything in me that she could see something of her dad in. We didn’t have much when I was growing up…I never got every toy I wanted. But I got nearly every book I asked for and anything that encouraged my interests in electronics and art she did her best to provide. In many ways I owe a lot to granddad Albert. I have always wished I had a chance to know him.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Mom and Ruth moved to California, to live near where her younger brother Dean lived in Pasadena. Mom and Ruth lived there for several years, and then one day they went for a trip to Catalina Island, and on the pier at Avalon she met dad. They fell in love, married, and shortly thereafter they had a kid. Me.
So many people died in that war…many from the two atomic bomb blasts alone. Every year they toll the bells in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the a-bomb dead. And every year it’s been in the back of my thoughts always to wonder if I was born because of one of those atomic bombs. But that war violently changed a great many lives, and I am certainly not the only war baby ever born, who but for war would not be.
To be continued…
May 12th, 2012
by Bruce |
A friend at work who is seriously into the family genealogy thing unearthed, at my request, the above newspaper fragment of my family history. That is a photograph of my dad laying dead on the sidewalk after he’d tried to rob another bank. I just saw this image a few days ago and even thinking that I’d made my peace with all that it had its impact on me somewhere deep down inside. This is the first time I’ve seen this photo. I’d only asked my friend to see if he could dig up a newspaper article about it. I hadn’t expected to actually see dad laying dead on a sidewalk. But…well…I asked for it. Some days I wish I’d had that Leave It To Beaver life I saw on the TV growing up and some days I’m fine with the life I had. But even those days when I’m fine with it I wonder about what might have been, had I had the chances the other kids got. Thing of it is though, it would have been some other kid who had that better life, had mom married the other guy instead of the one who died robbing a bank.
A Certain Someone down in Florida told me recently that I was “a piece of work.” So by way of explanation I’ve been giving him some insight these past few days as to why that might be via email. Getting into the telling of it…how I came to be both the son of a man who died robbing a bank and a good Christian woman…is something I find I just need to get out of me now anyway. So I’m going to tell the whole thing, in several parts over a period of time, omitting or disguising only pieces of it that might enable a more modern sort of crook then dad in his day would ever have imagined, and make some of those still living a bit too uncomfortable.
In retrospect I’ve had…an interesting life. It’s taught me a lot. And in a day and age when single mothers are disrespected by dishonest political frauds and pious pulpit thumping louts I think there may be some value in the telling of it. When you have been raised by a divorced, single working mother back in the 1950s and 60s, you got a front row seat into how 50s sexual morality and the status of woman worked in practice as opposed to theory. You also come to know something intimately well: that if a kid has just one good parent who loves them and sets a good example, they’ve got all they need for life.
Probably the biggest shocker to some of you, a thing I’ve only recently been able to talk openly about with just a few select friends, is the situation with my dad. My story has always been he was a truck driver, and that he was. But toward the end of his life he lost the truck and he turned to robbing banks. And that is how he came to his end. Thievery wasn’t so much a way of life with him as a bad habit he would fall in and out of. Mom loved him very much but when I was two she divorced him when his gambling and thievery became too much. It broke her heart. When they started seeing each other again I was 15 and he was making an honest living as an interstate truck driver. One summer he took me out on the road with him. It is a treasured memory. But the truck was taken away from him and he apparently decided afterward to get his money where the money was. I learned about that the afternoon I heard a knock at the door and opened it to find two very nice FBI agents there who wanted to know if I knew where dad was.
So Dad…had issues. I’ll try my best in the telling of my story to be fair to him as well as honest. I bear him no grudge whatsoever. He was my dad. It’s possible for a boy to love his dad even knowing that dad is probably not the person you want to grow up to be.
Mom was a good Baptist woman in the old sense, not the modern right wing political sense. She set a good example and raised me as well as she could on the income of a single working woman in the 1950s and 60s. We didn’t have much, but I never really noticed when I was young because we lived in neighborhoods were nobody else really did either. Mom worked for most of her life as a clerk in a company that sold advertising. Her mother, Ruth took care of me while mom was at work. Ruth hated dad from what I hear the moment she laid eyes on him, and she often took that out on me when mom wasn’t looking. If you notice I never refer to her as grandma during this little history, that’s why.
Mom met dad one day on the pier at Avalon on Catalina Island. But this story needs to start before that. When she was a young woman she met and fell in love with a Jewish man, Morris, who was in the Navy, serving on a ship in the Pacific during World War II…
To Be Continued…
Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com