Metatate

July is not even over and it has already been the fifth deadliest month in aviation history. There were several terrorist attempts thwarted (one in Toronto just this week) and three fatal crashes.  And, I just heard Fran Townsend say that terror threats are increasing all over the globe and we may need to install defensive anti-missile systems in our planes before too long. Yikes!

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Not only that, but with global warming, weather patterns are changing dramatically.  The jet stream has now been affected and so there is more upper atmosphere turbulence that leads to serious threats to aircraft, as we all know weather is a key variable in aviation safety.

I just had groups of visitors arriving and leaving from both LAX and Burbank airports over the past two weeks (some of them are in these photos — they came with Deanna, Alan and Annabelle, as the adults were on their way to a science conference in Washington State and taking a group — all parking with us for several days and then leaving Annabelle with us for the duration). Geoffrey’s family left in clusters for their Hawaii vacation and one of them, who never ever worries about flying, called us to say goodbye, in case we never saw him again. Oh dear gott.

I was listening to Steve Kornacki Saturday on his exceptional show, Up! He is my absolute favorite television political analyst, and I respect his intelligence and thorough scholarship, so much that I paid close attention as he talked to an aviation expert who deals with fear of flying.  Kornacki, one of the smartest guys around, refuses to fly.  I can relate to that!

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Even though I have flown hundreds of times — the longest flight was to India (22 hours) and Brazil was a close second (13 hours), which I talk about in the two-part Newbie weds posts, upcoming shortly — I still hate doing it.  It is not the whole flight that typically disturbs me, just take-off.  Arguably, that is the most dangerous time to be in that aircraft.  At least, in the past anyway, before terrorism or hijacking were an issue.  Once I get past those first fifteen minutes, I am usually fine. Until there is turbulence, of course and that seat belt sign lights up.

My sister-in-law Heidi and the baby of the family, the Brat, had the same problem but they Atavan it away.  I don’t believe in elective pharmaceuticals bombarding my eliminatory organs so I shun those things. I have a phobia, just like Kornacki.  It was edifying to hear him give his reasoning, using baseball odds.  Kornacki, unlike me, has only flown only 13 times in his 35 years on the planet (I am 45).  He has vowed never to do it again, given the strange fact that crashes seem to cluster as three did last week. Intellectually, intelligent people know that the likelihood of dying in a plane crash in North America and Western Europe is 1 in 25 million. But, viscerally, at a gut level, we sense those odds mean it could take the 4,000,000 years of flying once a day to be involved in a fatal crash, as those stats indicate, or it could be the next one, because odds don’t tell us when it will happen, just how likely it is. Steve and I know this because we studied statistics and know what odds mean!

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You would think this is something that a trained psychologist could treat but you would be wrong. Phobias come from deep in the emotional and mental architecture of the psyche, laid down likely even before birth, if not genetically.  Certainly they are primordial and evoke a flight mechanism that was intricately installed in our instinctive survival scaffolding as human animals.

Something typically sets the phobia off, starts the gears grinding.  The later it starts, the better, because once it does, what we really come to hate is our reaction to the phobia, more than the phobia and circumstances surrounding it.  We lay down a pattern of behaviors, mental, emotional and physical, that set up an almost unshakable habit.  It becomes more and more entrenched, solidified as time goes on.  We need to break down that habit of reactions before we can manage the phobia.  One likely never rids oneself of if but if we set up a new behavioral pattern, we can quell the worst and most debilitating actions.

People come to psychologists for advice.  And their expectation is that you will be able to tell them how to solve problems that they have been grappling with for years, sometimes decades. It doesn’t work that way.

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First of all, most psychotherapists don’t offer any advice or feedback whatsoever.  That’s right, you take time, pay them (the fee varies widely, but they don’t work for minimum wage), and they don’t tell you what is wrong or what to do about it.

What they do do, depends upon the discipline they follow.  Jungian therapists will guide you to analyzing your own dreams, fantasies and family archetypes.  They will give you guidelines as to where to find the information you need to figure it all out on your own.  Behavioral therapists might give you exercises to experiment with pragmatically, to lead you to change behaviors and patterns of thinking that contribute to or aggravate whatever you and others in your immediate periphery are struggling with.  You do the work in every case. Therapists are facilitators, guides, not judges, not  problem solvers.

The reason is, no one knows you better than you do.  No one knows your small children better than you do, either.  If you don’t, it is your own fault.  Does that seem harsh?

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Since the beginning of recorded history the number one question for every human being has and should have been: Who am I. I already alluded to this in a post about a T-group I was in that consisted of sitting for hours over a long and excruciating weekend, asking the question of a partner (that rotated among a group of participants): Tell me who you are.  This was not a pop-therapy group in some casual weekend process. This was a serious session run by a well known psychotherapist at a remote location that cost a small fortune to attend.  Everyone there was a psychologist/psychiatrist of one sort or another. These were professionals seeking to peel back the layers of what I would term the ego, to reach the core person underneath.

The great thing is it has gotten popular to talk about doing the work for ourselves, even without anyone guiding us.  Enter “metacognition” as a discipline in its own right.  Boiled to its essence, it simply means studying the way we raciocinate, learn, perceive and think, and, I would like to add, apply awareness to ourselves.  If we work at this, we don’t need a therapist to tell us what we must work on as adults.

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Many years ago, right around the time I became a vegetarian and had my epiphany that I didn’t need to eat animal flesh to be healthy and that I had always hated doing so, I read a book by Chogyam Trungpa called Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. My high school boyfriend had a sister who was a polyhistor and also extensively studied the world’s mystic traditions, in addition to a host of other disciplines.  She was a medical doctor who graduated from Columbia, my graduate degrees Alma Mater, and then went traveling for the next 7 years trying to find answers to the meaning and purpose of life. That led her, among other things, to live among Sufis in the Middle East, with the Japanese learning Tea Ceremony in Hokkaido, and finally to spend three years in Mainland China learning to become a Chinese doctor.  She now has an incredible practice in San Francisco where she applies all these skills to healing people, which she does because she has that gift.  Anyway, Trungpa, whom I learned about through Lee, this sister of my boyfriend, said that by the time we are adults, we have all the material about our personalities, our behavior and tendencies, positive and negative, that we need in order to work on ourselves.

That begins with self study, not just of our thinking but of our unconscious habits and automatic reactions. It is about deliberately cultivating self-awareness and in that sense, I think metacognition is essential for producing a healthy adult human being with life success.

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My husband Geoffrey has been dedicated to this for a long time and came at it from having studied some interesting figures elsewhere in the world.  It all started when he took a trip around the world on that floating educational boat that provides college credits while circling the globe and visiting dozens of countries.  All seven of the siblings in that family did it at different times. When Geoffrey went to India the first time, he discovered Meher Baba and from there became interested in “awakening” and working to put aside the ego and allow the true self, usually quashed in early childhood, to reemerge and catch up with the chronological self.  That is sufficient for another post and relates to our Newbie weds trip to India, the summer after we were married, so I will elaborate more on that shortly.

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For the purposes of this ad hoc post, I just want to emphasize the importance of working on ourselves.  I have been studying my fear of flying ever since it started on a trip with my mother, returning from a wonderful trip to Italy with her way back in college.  I was fine going over, we had flown first class round trip on a jumbo jet with all the amenities and there wasn’t a bit of turbulence or even a ripple or delay to cause the reaction I had coming back.  After years and years of flying, I was suddenly terrified on the return flight to JFK and from that day to this have been struggling with the phobia.  My analysis of its etiology includes the possibility that the buzz saw incident I wrote about in an earlier post may have caused some sort of shock to the part of the brain that controls fear.  Who knows? All I can do is address the pattern of behavior and break it.

Now when I have to fly, I simply psyche myself out by reasoning that I could be sitting in a building and it might collapse, but I don’t worry about that.  I could be caught in a gun fight as I almost was on my photographic safari to Wilshire Boulevard last October.  I could choke when no one is around.  A big rig could slam into my Volvo on a slippery road during our infrequent rainy seasons.  All of these are vastly more likely to end my life than a plane crash. So, I have a series of steps that helps me manage take-offs and turbulence (because landings have never been a problem for some inexplicable reason).  I always buy a new outfit so I can look forward to wearing it.  The minute I get into my seat I sterilize the tray, of course, and put my own towel on the seat back.  I carry a special pillow so I can rest more comfortably.  I change into comfortable, but sturdy shoes (read Survivor’s Club).  Then I put on a mask, my iPod earbuds, and put myself into a twilight space for the flight.  I don’t budge from that seat for the duration (certainly never to use the restrooms! Yech).  Once we get within 60 minutes of landing, I am fine. Out comes a bottle of water and any snacks, etc.  This has worked for me, for years. Not perfectly, but well enough that I fly when I must.

I picture my mother and little Annabelle, both of whom absolutely delight in heading to an airport and jumping aboard a plane.I mentioned it before, my mother loves turbulence because it reminds her that she is on a trip somewhere, and like everything else she does, she appreciates that good fortune and nothing dampens her enthusiasm.  Annabelle is the same way (more on that soon).

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I have no desire to spend my hard earned after-tax dollars on an over-priced therapist when I could join a therapy group or just metatate :-D so so speak for free! This is not meditation, a calming, mind-emptying, tranquility-producing practice.  This is hard work, quite strenuous, mentally and intellectually challenging, aimed to keep you objectively focused on yourself as a third party, a subject in your own longitudinal clinical study.  More on this in the future.

Images: Beth Byrnes archives

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The Un-y-moon – Part II

Here is part II of the wedding series, tweaked and amplified a bit.  I had several requests to re-post them together.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a moment of caution last fall when I first wrote this series, and feared that I would alienate everyone, including my husband, by being so candid about our personal lives. But Geoffrey never reads this blog — he shuns all social media as part of his commitment to what he perceives as “higher” ideals and activities (more on that sometime, I promise) and his family, mercifully, are too busy spending their fortunes to bother with little ole me any more.  So, it is safe to judiciously peel back the curtain again and ultimately update this little set of vignettes by adding two new sequels soon.  In the immediate future, I will be writing about my visitors. Since I took over 1200 pictures during the two weeks they were here, I am dividing it into two posts, and then posting the third previously posted piece I wrote, “The newbie wed” and moving on … stay tuned!

mount snow vermont

Unlike most people, I like cold weather best and therefore vacations, to me, whenever possible, are ideally in cold places or times of the year. So when we were identifying a destination  for the official ‘honeymoon’ to follow our upcoming winter wedding, we put our heads together and came up with two locations that worked for us for the week that we had (as we had other commitments that month).   We narrowed it down to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia and Mount Snow, Vermont.  It was really a hard decision, because we both liked both places. But, always erring on the side of more guaranteed cold and snow, I pushed for Vermont.  And so, in the midst of a stifling August heatwave in the city, I booked us into a charming vacation village, and thought no more about it, as the honeymoon was six months away.

Greenbrier Resort

As luck would have it, my husband-to-be (who subsequently took over a family business – more about that subject in an upcoming post, I am sure), a CPA for one of the big eight at the time, had to conduct an audit upstate in January, before the honeymoon.  I went with him. Having gone to school for four years in that vicinity, I lectured him about the absolutely mandatory snow-and-cold-shunning clothing and equipment he needed to take with him, even though he had gone to Dartmouth as an undergrad and taken courses at Cornell himself (never in winter, and we never ran into each other during school, either, as I would leave every summer just as he was arriving to take courses, so our paths never crossed as undergrads). He was, after all, a beach boy, and couldn’t possibly, in my view, withstand the bone-freezing and nose-planking icy cold of lake-effect winters.  So, I bundled up as I had done each year at school: fleece-lined thigh-high boots, insulated gloves, thermal silk long johns, woolen pants, a heavy turtle neck and of course a shearling coat (none of which animal products would I ever purchase today). I brought scarves and ear muffs and vests.  I was ready.

Outfit for winter in NYS

Geoffrey wore what he always did, year round and in any weather: thin-soled Italian shoes, a Brooks Brother’s spring wool silk-lined overcoat, a suit (to meet with clients). No gloves, hat, scarf, boots, nada.  It, like the upcoming honeymoon, was a one-week trip.  We stayed in a cozy vintage hotel, the kind that abounds in New England, in a room with a fireplace – it was quite romantic and quaint, with breakfasts in the small colonial dining room surrounded by Revolutionary war Early American antiques.  His first day off to meet the clients, I waved goodbye and shook my head as he navigated through the freshly fallen foot-high snow in his shiny Bruno Maglis.  Well, live and learn, I smugly thought to myself. It must have been in the stars: I became sick as a dog and spent the entire week in bed, barely coherent. My husband sailed through the weather with flying colors and we returned to NY, me the wiser and weaker and thinner for the wear.

Ithaca

But, here’s the rub.  For the first time in my life, I had had enough of cold and snow.  Damn! Had I known in August what I knew in January I might have booked us into a sailing vacation in Jamaica (that we took another time).  So, the chilling spectre of a honeymoon in Vermont in February cast a certain kind of pall over my enthusiasm.

Too late for anything to be done, we packed up the car (we had a vintage diesel Mercedes that was in mint condition) and headed to Vermont for our week of intimacy and relaxation.

Right?

Uh, not so much, as you might have suspected from Part I of this saga.

First of all, there are two ways to get there from the metropolitan area.  One is straight flat, wide-open freeway,  boring as all hell and fast, efficient, safe. The other is far more adventurous, small winding  path-like country roads inclining and declining over the steep hills that lie in a northerly trajectory between the city and Mount Snow. It was my parochial romanticism that led me to map out the latter, picturing a stop at a country store for some old home cookin’ along the way.  And for the first part of the journey, it lived up to its promise, as I started out the trip, driving my portion of the road until we were to switch off and my husband helm the ship, trading back and forth as necessary until we arrived.  We planned four hours for the drive.

Icy road

If you haven’t gleaned this elsewhere, I tend to be the anal/retentive type – very organized, scripted, scheduled to fifteen minute parcels, with everything planned, packed and perfect before I go anywhere or do anything.  As opposites do attract, my husband is a classic oral. Unlike my strict upbringing that entailed a military-like timetable of chores and duties throughout my eighteen years under my Dad’s command, my new spouse’s family expected all seven of their children to just enjoy life, and my father-in-law generously made that possible.

The upshot of this was that we were not ready to walk out the door bright and early on the day of the trip as I would have liked. Nope.  My husband slept in, had a late breakfast, two cups of coffee, read the paper, and absently threw a few clothes into a small bag.  And then, on that, the first morning of our official honeymoon: called his parents to chit-chat with them for an hour. How romantic.

Needless to say, I was disappointed, sulky and growing more uptight by the minute, until we finally got in that car and started heading out of NY (but not until we had stopped for snacks, more coffee, the ATM, the dry cleaners, and fuel – this became an ongoing pattern and joke, when I could finally find my sense of humor about it, years later).

So, instead of being on sun-dappled rural lanes from, let’s say, 8 to noon, we hit the hilly patch at 7 pm in Stygian darkness.  It was freezing and all the snow that had melted during the midday, was now transformed by the magic of chemistry and physics to black ice.  Even a heavy Mercedes slipped around like Sonja Henie on that road.  Oh, and, after I put in my first two hours, my husband (juiced up with more coffee) took the wheel and promptly started to fall asleep not 30 minutes into his “half”.

Icy roads with snow

I put half in quotes here, because the four hour trip? Turned into seven, most of it slick non-illuminated mountain roads, that were crawling with big-rigs snaking in a long relentless line in both directions.  And I was at the wheel behind them, peering through a dirty sleet-covered windshield for over six of those seven hours.  By the time we got to Mount Snow, we had been squabbling, both exhausted, having breathed five hours straight of big-rig fumes, eaten bags and boxes of salty and sugary trash from roadside dives, which now littered my usually immaculate chariot and we were both already fed up with the bitter cold.

The “cabin” was more like a ski lodge – cavernous, sterile, sparsely furnished (why had I not known this in advance?  I really don’t recall, but, didn’t I see pictures???) and about ten times too big for us.  I think we counted bedding for 20 people, no joke.  So, out the window immediately went my foolish imaginings of the cozy honeymoon cottage deep in the woods, with an intimate fireplace glowing where we could bond after the invigorating and meditative walk through the woods to a nearby hamlet.

honeymoon cottage

None of this was the case.  The nearest village was Montpelier, too far to walk and not an easy drive in a lumbering boat.  But, neither was there a diesel station in Mount Snow, so we had to make the Montpelier trip anyway, because we were by arrival time perilously low on fuel.  To make matters worse, the Merc was not used to the subzero temps, so the glow-plug would stick, and apparently the fuel became a thick viscous gum that meant the car would stop and start fitfully over the remainder of our stay.

To top things off, the chalet came with — I am not exaggerating — a one and a half-inch thick binder of instructions and prohibitions.  The owners of the property warned about what we could and mustn’t use from supplies, what brands we must replace them with, and where to put them.  What to do with every inch of that cabin, from the fireplace (walk in, and plain) to the kitchen, to any bathrooms we might use, to the disposal of the trash, the way to set and reset the alarm, to letting the gardeners into the tool shed and the fact that the whole structure ran on a generator and propane gas, the latter we were expected to replace by ordering a two-tank delivery before we left.  I sat down and burst into tears and, while my husband called his mother again (!) to make sure she was recovering satisfactorily from the wedding traumas, I ran around checking all my instructions before we both fell asleep on the floor in the downstairs living area, in the street clothes we wore for the drive up.

honeymoon drudge

There were other snafus that will likely make their way into future posts when levity is needed. Still, Montpelier was a nice place to go and have dinner and shop during the cold but sunny crisp days that followed that week.  We had our first big argument about whether or not we were required (in order to get the deposit back, I guess) to comply with all the rules and regulations set out in that binder, or whether as my husband would have preferred, we just left the place a mess and forewent the deposit, so as to put a thumb in the eye of those ridiculous owners. Needless to say, the last day of my honeymoon saw me scouring, vacuuming, scrubbing, sweeping, polishing and installing a propane tank on my own.  My husband refused to lift a finger, as he had paid for it and was not about to contribute to my insanity or theirs (the owners – they may not have known this was a honeymoon, to be fair to them; I simply don’t remember).

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There is a coda to this absurd string of events, that took place back in LA, which I will save for the future. What I took away from this experience at the time, I don’t know.  In hindsight, I can see that my struggling to have things my own idiosyncratic way, paddling upstream, so to speak probably led in an ironic twist of fate to all these woes.  I have tried to be objective about my constant chafing against convention, always being different.  Never wanting to conform or to be viewed as a docile sheep, I have actually made quite a few things much more difficult in my life than had I been more secure in my uniqueness and simply gone along to get along.

Nevertheless, you will see as I periodically unpack these past episodes here, some amusing, others only painfully instructive, there is a pattern of striking out on the path less taken and suffering or enjoying the consequences.  In the meantime, I will break up this personal focus with the current events and causes that take up my life and time now that I am older and a bit wiser.  So, this is just the beginning …

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The Un-y-moon – Part I

bethbyrnes:

Here is my third attempt to re-release this with updated comments. Clearly I have not mastered WP, even one year into it …

Originally posted on Beth Byrnes:

Since I last published this post almost a year ago, I was concerned that the players involved might somehow stumble upon it and be furious.  But I have relaxed a bit about this since my husband, Geoffrey never reads this blog, and I have kept to an absolute minimum any digital photographs of any of us with the exception of my husband whose picture does appear in a handful of posts.  I have just calmed down and slowly incarnated into blogging about them candidly again, using my maiden name and my real life nickname (they know me by married last name, and Geoffrey has always called me Veronica because he grew up loving Archie comics and Veronica is my middle name — you following all this? Beth Byrnes is the last name they will think of, thank heaven).

So, I had made this post private, but decided that I will continue…

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The Un-y-moon – Part I

Since I last published this post almost a year ago, I was concerned that the players involved might somehow stumble upon it and be furious.  But I have relaxed a bit about this since my husband, Geoffrey never reads this blog, and I have kept to an absolute minimum any digital photographs of any of us with the exception of my husband whose picture does appear in a handful of posts.  I have just calmed down and slowly incarnated into blogging about them candidly again, using my maiden name and my real life nickname (they know me by married last name, and Geoffrey has always called me Veronica because he grew up loving Archie comics and Veronica is my middle name — you following all this? Beth Byrnes is the last name they will think of, thank heaven).

So, I had made this post private, but decided that I will continue this ridiculous saga about my marriages (G and I were married twice on the same day as you will read below), receptions (ooooooh yes, I was forced to have a second “socially correct” post-nuptials party back in California when we returned from the first un-y-moon) and well, un-y-moons.  I had two of each.  Here is the first in a five-part series then: three published previously, with updates and two new ones.  I will probably not torture you with all of them in a row, but intersperse them with other posts, including the report on my recent guests (leaving as we speak).

Oh, and all the members of The in-Firm (my in-laws) are just hours away from stepping aboard a plane to be whisked off on this year’s family vacation, which Geoffrey and I excluded ourselves from for the reasons I already disclosed in a post late in the spring.  So, here we go again, and, well, Mahalo!

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My early adult life may be of limited interest other than to offer an insight into my psyche (at least in earlier days) and the way things often work out.  I suspect all of us have anecdotes just like this one in some way or another.

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Every one of my close friends got married the summer after we graduated from college, usually right before they took the requisite ‘grand tour’ of Europe, which often doubled as their honeymoon.

Being an iconoclast, I went straight to graduate school after my trip (which was hilarious, grist for an upcoming post). In fact, I had planned to switch careers from special ed to psychology at the last minute and so my application was late.  I made an appointment to see the head of the department and literally there and then talked that man into letting me into the program, a few days before classes started.  I will always be grateful to him for taking a chance on me because, as someone later disclosed, I didn’t look like I was serious enough for the career (more on that another time).

So, I did not get married for several years.  Now, here was the horns of a dilemma (to be trite). I did not want the usual bride-on-the-dais/everyone-drunk-and-dancing-on-tabletop spectacle that all my friends had.  I had been a bridesmaid and had a very clear idea of what those things were like.  So, I purposely planned a very small wedding out of town.  My family and family-in-law are Roman Catholic, from New York and Los Angeles respectively, so naturally I picked an Episcopalian church in Philadelphia.

This is what it looked like: my side, a handful of people; his side – the big clan

To say that everyone in every branch of the extended family were miffed, is to put it mildly.  I have cousins who to this day will not speak to me because I did not invite them to my wedding, when they had invited me to theirs.  There were college girlfriends who were mad that they didn’t get to be bridesmaids, since they had asked me to be a bridesmaid (which I frequently turned down). And, natch, I alienated the entire family of in-laws who gave their own daughter an epic wedding to end all weddings, truly, blowing the wad on it. Now I was perceived as being the poor relation because our ‘reception’ was in a small Italian restaurant and only had a plain cheesecake to cap it off.

We further scandalized everyone by not giving out wedding albums, even though we had a wedding photographer. We just made one album for ourselves. Whenever I need a good laugh, I get that album out and it works every single time. The pictures show the bride looking dubious, the groom with an oh-sh*t grimace the whole time and all of us shivering in dated outfits.  In fact, I almost didn’t wear “white” at all because it was the dead of winter and there was a few feet of snow on the ground all over the city.  But I caved, lest anything else imply to the elders on both sides that my virtue was as questionable as my finances. So, I bought an ‘ecru and shell’ (so I was told) cocktail dress right off a sale rack two days before I took the train to Pennsylvania.

I will likely not see my dress again as it is hermetically sealed and shrouded. Who knows what color it is by now!

OK, so the ceremony itself went off fairly well.  We had finally talked the minister into marrying us, even though we weren’t Episcopalians.  The local archdiocese of the Catholic Church refused to allow a priest to be there too, which would have made the elders on both sides feel better.  In fact, my husband’s  grandmother had already decided we were not married, so we had to plan a second ceremony later that day in the hotel with a family priest from New Jersey invited for the occasion.  That alone could be the subject of a dissertation. One of my husband’s brothers was a religious scholar and he actually made the hosts out of bread in the hotel kitchen.

The Brawl Room, madame? Right this way …

The days before and after the event were emotional cauldrons.  Apparently weddings bring up everyone else’s couple-karma.  Shortly after we were all comfortably ensconced in one of the nicest hotels in Philadelphia — very Main Line stuffy — one of the ‘adult’ members of my husband’s family got very drunk and apparently started an altercation.  This led to my MIL virtually falling apart and coming to my husband-to-be on dress rehearsal eve, hysterical so he had to spend the entire night walking her back from the brink. During that same night, the priestly brother-in-law, only 18 at the time, actually slugged the drunk relative thus seriously upsetting other hotel guests who heard this ongoing fracas and complained to the hotel.

I got a replacement and promptly had it stolen!

The wedding photos show the drunk relative with a black eye, and the BIL with a cast on his hand.  Yes.  This was my wedding.  And it went on like this.

So mentally overwrought was everyone, that at the wedding breakfast my new husband spent most of his time ministering to members of the wedding party. I was appalled but thankful that it wasn’t someone from my side!  Subsequent events unfolded from this problematic theme.  Some of the gifts that we were given were lost in transit after we left the hotel; on the way out the door, another hotel patron stepped on my suitcase and crushed it; I hadn’t noticed in time, but my satin shoes were irreparably damaged by the salt the city threw down on the sidewalks to melt the snow outside the hotel; my mother had my wedding dress preserved with the usual blue tissue and sealed in plastic but overlooked telling them to make it see-through, so for twenty years I have had an opaque unwieldy but delicate box that I cannot open without destroying its preservative qualities;  I forgot to take snow boots for the honeymoon in Vermont and ended up borrowing some that were one size too big for me, and let all the snow in after all; and the hotel Concierge presented my father-in-law with the bill instead of my father, aggravating my humiliation as the the shady pauper.

I still have ‘em, but they are stiff and tight now, sadly

(To be continued…)

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POST A DAY 2013

 

Uh-oh, I I tried to reblog this and think I may have messed it up, so if it appears twice in your Reader, my bad!

Coulda had a V-hAte

Last Sunday, I had MSNBC  on while I caught up on some e-mails. Alex Witt was interviewing an out of work Boomeranger.  She was a nice looking girl, 25-ish, college grad, living at home with her mother. Throughout the little segment, I wanted HARRY 100TH NIKON 075to reach through the screen and shake her to wake her up.  In a dull voice, she droned on about feeling cheated by life and I guess our economy because, after a bunch of dead-end jobs, working at min wage among them, she just couldn’t keep paying her bills on her own.  Including college loans. Now, that I do understand, even though I never had to do that. She owes $30K on them — a tough lift on a poverty line income.

But, I wanted to tell her, ‘Girl! snap out of it’, MSNBC just gave you a worldwide job interview opportunity and you sound about as exciting as chalk.  Where is your verve? Sell!

One of the things Alex Witt asked her was, what was her “dream job”, the one she insisted felt cheated out of, like someone baited and switched her.  Her incredible answer was that ‘she didn’t know’.  Talk about vapid.

I wanted to tell her, there is no such thing as a ready-made dream job, but there are definitely great organizations where you may be able to create your own dream career.  Everyone knows that working at, let’s say, Costco, Starbucks, Ben&Jerry’s, Waste Management, Berkshire Hathaway, Grainger — I am sure there are dozens of others — is not only pleasant but great for getting in on the ground floor of a company with promotion potential.  Why flip burgers at McDonalds or walk the floor at slavers like Walmart when you can do the same thing, for more money and far better conditions at fill-in-the-blank from the top 100 companies to work for in the US (and elsewhere).

HARRY 100TH NIKON 131If Boomerangers are suffering and complaining (as she did, incredibly, because her mother, in whose home she is crashing, now has health issues — holy toledo!), forgive me, but it is their own fault. They feel entitled to start toward the top. I am not sorry for them, because they have youth on their side.  I feel some empathy for  the 50-something who gets fired and is too old to get another job. Those people end up taking servile work out of desperation.

So what has this got to do with my post?

I mentioned awhile back that I have a grand uncle who turned 100 this year. He is a cantankerous but smart man and his is no trivial achievement.

For years he was a golf bum, basically, an amateur opera baritone and buff (he knows almost every one of them by heart), a Christian Scientist and an early health nut, at one time as close to a beatnik as anyone in the family has ever been.  Truly, he was and is a colorful character.

He fought in WWII and was decorated.  It couldn’t have been pretty — as most of us know — and even though he was brave and served the country, he now rails against what he considers to be the Democrats’ wars (!).HARRY 100TH CANON FISHEYE 016

In my interactions with him over the years, I have tried to steer clear of politics, for one, and a couple of subjects on which he and I don’t see eye to eye, to put it mildly.  Where we do agree is about diet and health, he is not a vegetarian, but close to it, has always loved eating fruits and vegetables, drinks milk (there we disagree), never smoked, drank, or even took aspirin.

So far, so good.  Everything in his life was going well, despite the fact that a couple of his children are now deceased, along with his wife, and he has been alone for the past two decades.  Up until recently, he was managing the apartment building  where he lived. Then he had a heart attack, and to make a long story short, he had to move to a VA facility.

He didn’t go willingly.  Even though he had received exceptional care when he was at the VA hospital for his heart problems, he felt he should be able to leave the VA living facilities any time he wanted, and go out and get another apartment at 97!

While I am at it, I just want to say that I am well aware that there are likely abuses at VA care centers all over the HARRY 100TH NIKON 020country. Certainly they have been in the news lately and cross-haired for criticism.  Some of it they no doubt deserve. But the allegations as well as the documented cases of abuse number in the hundreds, while the VA system cares for hundreds of thousands of veterans. Percentage-wise, the failures, while important because they represent people whom the system has let down or even harmed, potentially, are far fewer than the successes.

I am a person who believes in statistics, properly gathered and manipulated arithmetically, so I won’t stretch the anecdotal evidence here any farther than I think it warrants.  However, it does mean something.

Harry got a free heart operation to clear blocked arteries, he was able to stay in the hospital for three weeks and get daily monitoring, a special diet and other assistance that accompanies a heart event like the one he suffered.  He also got new hearing aids, three sets of prescription glasses, and a special diet designed for him. Today, living at the VA, all of that care and equipment continues to be provided.

He has a team of caregivers that meet once a month to analyze his mental and physical health and to discuss adjustments to his care.  I know this is the case, because I have been included in them telepresently from my computer. These specialists include a general physician, cardiologist, registered nurse, social worker (due to his age), recreational therapist, physical therapist (he has some problems walking now), psychiatrist and dietician.  My HARRY 100TH NIKON 004healthcare provider would never be able to furnish all that assistance for a price I could afford. The VA does this for Vets — maybe not every single one gets the full array, but the ones like Harry do.  I have witnessed it first-hand.

When his 100th birthday approached, the recreational therapist contacted me and told me that they wanted to do something to honor him, including get him a Presidential citation and similar recognition from his city.  I guess I misunderstood them to mean I was to arrange the party at which all this would be presented.

But when I called to check on the preparations for the formal presentations, and asked them, were I to attend, what I would need to bring, I was pleasantly surprised to hear: nothing.  Just come.

Great.  I also inquired about the length of time it was scheduled for and whether it was a big enough deal to have others there. The answer was something like, ‘it will be simple, maybe 45 minutes’. OK, no point in making a fuss.  I am never wild about interrupting my orderly routine, but, no one else is any closer to his location than I am — the rest being mainly on the East Coast.  One other relative hoped to attend from farther away, so I couldn’t justify skipping it for no good reason.HARRY 100TH  NIKON 112I put together some simple gifts for him and planned to go.  I have to admit, I wasn’t thrilled to do it. It did cross my mind that it might be bad and I would really hate being there (what a baby). When we arrived, I was even more leery when I saw that some of the buildings were in need of paint.  But, when I stupidly registered surprise, Geoff reminded me: severe Federal budget cuts.  Ever heard of the government shut down? Sequester? Austerity levels? Yup, if you want to know whether and why the VA is suffering, look to our crackerjack, compassionate, tightwad Congress.

I was listening to Lawrence O’Donnell’s emotional speech upon his return to television earlier in the month, following his April injury in the Caribbean.  He reminded us of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s definition of high intelligence as the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in one’s head simultaneously and still function.  That is what I think on just about everything these days. There are more conflicting ideas that we must accept at once, than there are harmonious ones.

That the VA, and every other Federal system, could be both necessary and bloated, efficient and dysfunctional, good and bad is now just a given. That a crotchety old man, who spent the past eight years glued to Fox News, listening to hatred could now be grateful and in the best emotional state of his life, in the embrace of the warm and wonderful people who staff his local VA seniors facility, and could be attended to by a rainbow of ethnicities that he has railed against on more than one occasion, represents a zenith of this intellectual challenge to which the great writer undoubtedly referred.

Meanwhile, Harry (he re-named himself this as a kid because he didn’t like the name his mother gave him — who would pick Harry, nowadays??) is enjoying unprecedented kindness. Let me give you an example.

We walked in to the room in which his centennial celebration was to be held and were astonished to see the gatheringHARRY 100TH  CANON FISHEYE 036 of men in wheelchairs, a room decorated with balloons and favors, on each table, a guitar playing vocalist, accompanied by a cellist, a long table laden with refreshments waiting to be served and a dozen or so young and old women bustling around readying the party for the guest of honor.

For the next three hours, VA staff and veterans and friends of this sometimes persnickety man just kept pouring into the room. You would think he was the Pope, they treated him with such warmth and appreciation. All kinds of speeches were made, they gave him gifts, including an incredible hand made quilt, plus an album of pictures showing the auxiliary ladies laboring over it — all volunteers.  He got cups, towels, chocolates, and other memorabilia.

Of course there were plaques from the VA and certificates and citations from the city, the state and the President of the United States, given that Harry won a Silver Star in the African campaign.

HARRY 100TH NIKON 088These confounding images are burned into my mind. The VA, clean and caring, expertly choreographing this event, with no expectation that anyone will acknowledge or report it, while it is daily excoriated in the media.  My difficult, tea-partying, easily riled old Grand Uncle Harry being seen as not only a hero but a celebrity.  He must be doing something right there. Oh, and Fox News was on in the background, in case you get a glimpse of the big screen television that stayed on in one corner of the room. This could have been a terrible experience, and Geoffrey and I could have left, bitter, annoyed and confirming all the negative press the VA has gotten from partisans, for the past six months.

Instead, it was the exact opposite.

My advice to the girl lucky enough to win an international job pitch gratis on MSNBC last weekend would be: run, don’t walk, to your nearest Federal Government human resources department and get an entry level job.  Move up in an organization that does what it does so expertly, that when it falters, it becomes national news.  Fodder for the fanatics to seize upon and dupe the fatuous American public into thinking it is a diabolical plot to take over their lives, when it is really just doing its job, for millions of people.  Quietly, not perfectly, but sincerely, every single day.

cbsnewsThere is no such thing as a dream job or even dream company,  just like there is no person who is a dream candidate. You find a good organization, offer yourself to help solve problems, and move up by hard work and foresight.  Instead of railing against the government, people could work there and improve it.  Instead of sitting on fat behinds complaining in front of the tube, get in there and help the government of and by the people, do it expertly.

Just the way one Veteran’s facility is doing that for eccentric, cantankerous, sometimes ungrateful Harry. So, with Geoff’s help and my cousin generously helping out too, we took some awesome pictures that we made into a print album to send to the relatives who couldn’t attend.

Harry told us he is having the time of his life!

Images: Beth Byrnes archives, departmentofveteransaffairs.gov

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