Better Living Through Technology

My phones have been screwed for a week. I’m actually starting to enjoy it, even though it obliges me to conduct a daily work-around of checking the Verizon voicemail box to see if anyone’s called the landline. Some days no one leaves a message; most people want to text or e-mail, which I don’t mind. All my clients who might need to connect quickly have been advised. I hate the sound of that damn thing ringing, which it seems to do all day long. As a semi-blind lady I long ago adopted speaking Caller ID, so I don’t have to run over to the phone and squint at a teensy little screen that tells me I am being called by Organizing For America or someone’s campaign committee or the Fraternal Order Of Police, or any one of a hundred charities, causes and scams whose phone-bank representatives will, if I am so foolish as to pick up, address me by my first name with obnoxious familiarity and ask how I am today before trying to shake me down. Now I just get to hear a robot voice tell me these things.

Robot voices are big these days. In fact the only calls I have gotten in two days, on either cell or landline mailbox, are from the Verizon Robot Lady who advises me primly that “you recently called about trouble with your phone line. We believe the problem has been resolved. If your problem is resolved, press 1. If you are still encountering problems, press 2.” Then the mobile phone screen goes blank and I can’t get it back in time to press 2 and the robot lady hangs up on me and calls again later. I am mightily fed up with the sound of her voice and would like to sic Barney the Dinosaur on her, if I could find either one of them.

Every day or so someone tells me that they gave up their land line years ago and don’t miss it yada yada. I get the point, but this number is on business cards that have been floating around for years, and sometimes after a twenty-year gap people have found that card and remembered the great massages they got at Spa Lady back in the day and they call up. Plus, cell phones are no good for talking. My stepmother, Vacuums-With-Snakes, likes to call and chat every so often and I can guarantee you the call will drop twice before we are done because she only uses a cell.

When my dear friend Dorothy died — she had unexpectedly listed me as next of kin — I was left standing in my office with one client leaving and one arriving, waiting for a Fairfax County cop who had found the body in her condo to work his way out of a cellular dead spot so he could utter a complete sentence before being cut off.  That is crap. (I always thought that when people died and the police needed to notify you they actually sent an officer in person, but I guess this is better living through technology. At least they could use a real phone.)

Anyway the first time we could settle on a service call is Saturday, so I can count on a few more days of luscious silence around the house. The text message noise is a polite little triple plink, down a perfect fifth and back up. I can live with this.

George Takei Liked My Tweet

Image result for Allegiance show logoSo I went and saw Allegiance. This is a musical show about the internment of over a hundred thousand Japanese-American citizens and legal immigrants who were forced from their homes by armed soldiers soon after Pearl Harbor, told to take only what they could carry, and confined for four years in camps across the western part of the country. Just the thing to inspire choruses, comic turns, and dance numbers, right?

Right. It worked.

If you have not come across it before, this production, which premiered in 2015 and had a five-month run on Broadway, was the brainchild of George Takei, the onetime Mister Sulu and modern-day social activist who may well be the oldest Twitter addict in existence. (Favorite alltime quote: “Back when I was young, it was illegal for me to marry a white woman, and now I’m married to a white dude.” Bears on the book of the musical. We’ll get back to that.) Takei’s family was one of those taken out of their houses and loaded onto a bus — poignantly, he describes his mother lugging a sewing machine because she was sure they’d need to mend their clothing — and he lived and went to school in the camp till he was nine and the bomb ended the war and everyone got a bus ticket and $25 to go out and start life anew. Yeah. (Real reparations were finally paid during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.)

John Tateishi says the experience was both humiliating and disorienting. “We came out of these camps with a sense of shame and guilt, of having been considered betrayers of our country.” He says that after the war most families never spoke about it. “There were no complaints, no big rallies or demands for justice because it was not the Japanese way.”

But decades later and inspired by the civil rights movement, the Japanese American Citizens League launched a contentious campaign for redress. It divided the community along generational lines. (Transcript from NPR’s All Things Considered, August 2013)

In Allegiance — not directly based on Takei’s family experience, but on the kinds of experiences that happened all around them — there’s every sort of reaction to the internment, from a determination to prove loyalty by serving in uniform, to explicit refusal to sign loyalty oaths. Some internees keep their heads down; others stage protests. There’s — fairly predictably — romantic attraction between an internee and one of the camp personnel, double jeopardy since even outside the camp they couldn’t have legally married at the time. And a grandfather, played by Takei himself — who also takes the part of the family’s estranged son fifty years on — simply kneels down on the packed soil of mountainous Wyoming and coaxes vegetables out of it. It is worth the whole production to see how much fun Takei had playing slightly dotty old Ojii-san (whose origami skills come in handy when the loyalty questionnaires make their appearance). I was there on Crispin’s Day when all Takei ever got to do on camera was say “Aye aye, Captain” (except for that memorable time he channeled D’Artagnan stripped tastily to the waist), so watching him turn in two disparate and nuanced performances in the same show at the age of nearly eighty was slightly exhilarating.

It’s a musical show, so I expected the broad brush, and historians have lodged their complaints about ratcheting-up of the conflicts between internees and American soldiers, while I squirmed over a too-contrived fatal accident. And no one is ever going to nominate the fairly bland and derivative score for a Tony (though I’m still shivering over the Japanese-language chorus that arises from a stage foxed with light and dark at the moment the war is finally ended). But the music occasionally flashed — at the moments when irony and bitterness were uppermost, the breath of Kurt Weill animated the score:

Allegiance isn’t generally available yet, though this was a high quality recording of a live performance. My guess, they are hoping to see if it can be revived or go on the road before they make it too easy for someone to buy a video. I only knew it was going to be in the theater for one afternoon because I follow Takei and his Twitter feed alerted me that show was being rebroadcast on the anniversary of the Presidential order that established the camps, now observed as a day of remembrance. (When I tweeted back “got our tickets!” a little heart promptly appeared on my timeline: “George Takei liked your Tweet.” I’ll never wash my smartphone again.)

It was more than remembrance; it was a touch of verb. sap. People can fight and shed blood for their country, while others dig in their heels and resist when they see their country doing the wrong thing, can differ so much about what’s right that they go through life without ever speaking again, and they can all still be loyal Americans. I hope we can keep that in mind going forward.*

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*It occurred to me while clocking mileage that I ought to clarify that last. I am not referring to people who “differ” because they somehow have a problem with inclusiveness, fairness, due process under law, and other forms of common decency, some of them enshrined in the Constitution, some of them now matters of law. America at its best has always aspired to fairness and fraternity, even if it has taken a long time to realize even part of that ambition. I have yet to decide what to call people who, rather than argue about how best to defend them, actually scorn the ideals embedded in the Bill Of Rights, while waving American flags. 😦

 

Penguin Woman Redux

I think I’ve gotten rid of her now. Jeezus, I hope so.

It was simply the Week Of Flakes. Last Monday, the intermittent client wished on me by one of the personal trainers at my gym, who comes dressed as if going to a dinner party in the year 1953, complete with jewelry, stack heels, and matte lipstick, and commits a heaving inhale and forceful sigh about every ninety seconds while on the table; then Penguin Woman with her car blocking my driveway and her gabbling incoherent explanations; then an unexpected call from an old client who moved out of the area but got sent here for work this week and did I have a spot? Which is okay, but I belatedly remembered that this is the person who usually shows up late, takes an inordinate amount of time to undress and get on the table, an even longer time to dress again — I’m talking fifteen or twenty minutes to put on a tee shirt and a pair of slacks — and doesn’t know how to leave. I instructed the Engineer to produce cooking smells on the stroke of the clock that I expected to finish the session.

Just before Dilatory Former Client was due, there was a rap on the door and there stood Penguin Woman, now attired in street clothes that made her resemble Tweedledum or Tweedledee. “I just wanted to explain what happened this morning,” she said.

Ah. That would be Wednesday morning actually. It was now Friday.

She gabbled some more about how the car died and she didn’t know what to do and wanted me to realize it wasn’t like she was some drunk who had run up on the sidewalk. At this point, I did not care. I wanted her the fuck off my porch. She continued to ramble on about how the couple across the street had called her up on seeing her car aground there; possibly this was meant to tweak me for not recognizing the vehicle, though a note on my door would have worked wonders, I have to say. This is why I do not socialize with neighbors. Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap. That includes interactions with other humans. At least even my flakiest clients are paying me for the time I spend pretending that their screwy behaviors are normal, a transaction I am prepared to honor. This was just taking away minutes I would never get back.

“It’s okay, I’m glad you’re okay and the car’s okay, everything’s okay,” I kept repeating, wondering if I was going to have to bodily eject her from the enclosure. I noticed that she had parked the car facing the wrong way at the curb.

I think I’ve hit my quota for the year. Any  more of this shows up, I’m sending it back.

The Return Of Penguin Woman

“Well that’s fucked,” I said blearily as I opened the front window blinds. “What is?” answered the Engineer, who was walking around the top floor in a pair of workaday khakis and nothing else, kind of rocking the furry barbarian look.

“There is a black sedan obliquely athwart the end of the driveway with its front wheels halfway up on the curb,” I explained. I’m sorry, I actually do talk like that, even first thing in the morning.

We both went out front to look. The hood was cold and no one was inside. “Looks like someone hit the curb, decided they were too drunk to go any further, and bailed,” the Engineer opined.

I hate calling the cops on people for this kind of thing — I have a keen decades-old memory of parking across the end of someone’s drive on a visit to a new friend because, with no car parked there, I genuinely couldn’t see it in the snow — but then, my clients have to park somewhere and the driveway was entirely blocked in. Presently a stocky, amiable, bespectacled guy with a strong Hispanic accent turned up in a county car and ran the plates, to see if the car belonged to someone nearby. I admit that, going on the Engineer’s scenario, I was thinking more along the lines of Julio’s Repose and wondering if I should suggest a search of my property, but it is damn cold for someone to be crashing in the bushes this time of year.

Presently the avuncular parking guy came back to knock on my door. Trailing him was the Penguin Woman of my porch-zoning adventures, who lives three doors down, so called because of her singular observation, when I sought the easement, that she was fine with me building a porch or putting fucking penguins in my yard or whatever I wanted. Probably I pass the butt end of that car every day that I go clock a few miles, but how many black sedans are there in the world? Half asleep, with exploded, brassy-blond hair, bare feet, blowzy and faintly flushed, wearing a long black nightgown with a lacy bib, she looked as if one of the staff at Downton Abbey had been roused from bed because the mistress was ill or a Minister of Something had paid a midnight visit. Somewhat incoherently, she apologized and launched into a disjointed narrative of the electronics had gone out so she couldn’t even get in to the car and she had been coming from the hospital and she had been so upset because what if someone wanted to get out and she was going to call a tow truck.

I don’t know why she didn’t just leave a note with her number on my door before repairing to her residence, but then my previous encounter with this lady was equally incoherent and also featured remarks about being just back from the hospital. I think she has poorly controlled asthma. I really wanted to know how the car came to be cattywumpus across my driveway in the first place, three houses on from her own driveway if she had been coming from the west, and one-eighty from the direction it would have been headed if she had been coming from the east, but I thought that prolonging the conversation was a bad idea.

The Engineer took the subway to work and left me his car, which was fortuitously parked at the curb.

The penguin’s still out there. I doubt she noticed it.

The Moon And (some kind of) Pence

Another dream, but I’m sleeping a lot. It has become my main way of coping.

Maybe it was the night of the new moon, or something, but just before first light I found myself in the audience of the new musical that was apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda’s next effort after “Hamilton.”

The house was packed because it was, well, the guy who brought you “Hamilton,” and because the subject of the new show was actually the new administration itself. I can’t remember a damn thing about Act I, because the dream started during the interval, when we were all trying to get in and out of the ladies’ room, and the show resumed before I could get to the head of the line, but as a courtesy the theater was piping the sound into the loos. The opening scene involved Vice President Pence going into the Oval Office for a chat with President Cheeto, only the Cheeto was chasing some female staffer, and presently Pence appeared to say oh well, what the hell, and put the blocks on another woman likewise — a smooth, Don Giovanni-like effort given that we were supposed to understand it was his first shot at depravity . Set to excellent music, which I can’t remember. And I could only listen to it while finally reaching the solace of an open stall.

Highly subjunctive, as they say. But it’s the first good laugh I’ve gotten out of this.

The Coverlet

I had a strange, wistful dream the other morning that will not get out of my head.

I’ve dreamed entire stories before — once, I preserved enough of the narrative to write the damn thing, for what it was worth — and it looked as if I might be about to do it again, only a Person from Porlock, in the form of a cat or traffic noise or something, broke in before I had really gotten started.

It seemed to involve my Transgender Ex.

Neither of us have all day so I will try to explain that as briefly as possible. In high school I set my cap for a brilliant, toothsome, Ganymede-like young thing who could play piano like an angel. In those days he embraced an intellectual conservatism that you could at least debate and dispute and had a sense of humor about it. The relationship was off and on and rocky, punctuated by moments of the kind of stupid drama that make me ever so glad I am not young any more, and eventually he owned up that he had always felt like a woman, inside. Fine. Whatevs. Except that he didn’t do anything about it, which is why I am still calling him He, and went on to various relationship disasters intertwined with a decently accomplished academic career. Somehow, every half dozen years, he would turn up on my doorstep or the other end of my phone looking for some form of tea and sympathy (I was  susceptible because long history, Beethoven, loves cats, intelligent conversation) and, quite often, to mooch dinner. Then he would eventually say something condescending and snarky about my liberal politics, zingers which got nastier as he began to sink to the level of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Don’t ask me what the appeal of such institutions might be to someone who identifies as trans. The last zing was, well, the last; at a certain point, you just have to tell someone to have a nice life. I wonder if he has ever put on a dress (you have to start somewhere).

Anyway the story in the dream was apparently about him and it was called The Coverlet, which was printed on the title page of what seemed to be a little booklet or perhaps an open book turned to that chapter. As I sort-of heard the narrative in my head it was simultaneously pictured like a film unreeling.

The Coverlet

The spare room had been empty a long time, but was still kept fresh and neat; on the bed was a quilted coverlet of flour-sack gingham. He passed it every day on his way out, and had stopped giving it much thought.

That morning a pair of gloves rested on the green-and-pink patch of quilting below the pillow, almost like a pair of  hands resting one on the other.

He went on out of the house.

The next day a neatly folded winter scarf lay under the gloves…

And that’s where everything stopped. Couldn’t get it back. But I can still see the morning light shining in on that quilt and the slightly forlorn looking gloves and scarf sitting on a patch of grass-green quilting with tiny pink flowers printed on it.

They weren’t his gloves and scarf, they were someone else’s; someone coming into his life? Someone who’d gone out of it?

Someday I’m going to go to Porlock and burn the place down.

 

Heatyvent And The Despised Marshmallow Bed

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Torvald has discovered a new love and its name is heatyvent.

All the cats, unsurprisingly, like heatyvent but he is the biggest customer, no doubt because he is usually in the living room when the furnace is ginning up for the day. That vent’s right above the heat exchanger and right behind my chair — in a perfect world there would be no furniture near a vent, but I’m not sure where we’d all sit. It makes a nice little sauna.

Most days he’s come out after a half hour or so. Then, a couple of days ago, I was tossing the living room and murdering clutter, and my eyes fell on Marshmallow Bed, which was a big hit when it arrived a couple of years ago but which all have spurned since about the time Torvald got up out of it one afternoon and immediately collapsed from the heart condition for which he now receives five drugs a day. I’ve wondered idly if some whiff of panic adheres to the thing, but it’s been sitting on the floor under the stereo, forlorn, finally used to stash a couple of lumbar pillows that the Engineer doesn’t like.

I looked at this useless heap, threw the pillows back in the Engineer’s chair, and stuck the white fuzzy bed next to the vent. The next time Torvald ambled into the room he disappeared into it almost instantly. About four hours later he emerged.

Heatyvent == well, Heatybed — has become the lodestar of his existence. Where, previously, we dared not open the nearby door to the upstairs because he would be up there like a shot in search of ALL THE BUDDIES that he knew wanted to play with him, now he barely lifts his head when he hears the doorknob turn and says blearily “Huh?” before subsiding again.

I was a little worried, given his dicky heart, but when the furnace heat isn’t going, he’s still the same cranky, unsocialized dick he’s always been, trotting into the kitchen for kibble and down the stairs to harass Agatha. He just loves Heatybed. He always has been quite vocal about telling us that despite clear Maine Coon antecedents he is not suited to withstand frigid temperatures, that his breed is actually Virginia Goon, and he is not having the porch in winter, thank you.

Mr. Ferguson gets it overnight. He’s becoming hard to find, too.

I guess this will go on till around April.