Thanks, Mom.

I’ve written on this blog about my dad, who gave me the competence to do things.  Today I want to write about my mom, who taught me toughness and respect.  These are my memories.  I realize now that they may not all be perfectly accurate, but that’s what memories are.  At this point, I’m applying a little fixative.

Mom grew up a loving, tough, unsentimental atheist. She grew up in a dirt poor in a family of Ukrainian immigrants on a farm in Saskatchewan (we never knew her true birthday because her dad and the doctor got ‘looped to celebrate, and so the official record disagreed with her mother’s recall).

She taught in a one-room school and married a weird Jewish student named Shapiro who studied lakes.  She put up with living in Seattle, New Haven, Baltimore, Haifa, St. Paul, La Crosse, and Jacksonville, earned an MS in biology, had children at 37 and 39 and raised a doctor and a lawyer.

She kept a spotless (and I mean spotless) house:  I seem to recall her cleaning the toilets daily, and the dishes were sterilized before they went into the dishwasher.  The latter, in combination with the electric range, tried to kill her once (thanks to poor electrical work by our Minnesota home’s former owner) but she survived.

She took me to Cub Scout meetings and swimming lessons in St. Paul.  As long as Hove’s existed, she was a faithful shopper there, often giving my brother and I money to head up the mall to Kresge’s or Snyders, where we’d buy comic books and candy.

She taught school occasionally (I think she was doing what was then called “special ed”) when I was young (she had a box of gifts (that I envied) to hand out to students).  Helped diagnose my diabetes before I went to the hospital.  Once I was diagnosed, she took me to Donnell Eitzweiler’s Diabetes Education Center, which may have saved my life.  She stopped getting whole milk and bought skim (which my brother called “blue water,”) and did everything she could to make sure that I would thrive.

She took me to the Hobby Shop in Har-Mar Mall and waited patiently while I bought model car kits and rocket parts.  She drove me out to Stillwater, to the one shop in MInnesota that carried not only Estes but also Centuri rocket parts.  She drove me the launches almost every week.  She tolerated my taking over the dining room table as a factory floor, so we all ate at the counter.  For decades, she sat on the kitchen side of that counter, while the family males sat on the other side, to be served.

She and my dad became American citizens so that she could vote against Richard Nixon, and remained lifelong Democrats. With my dad, she traveled all over the world, but I think she loved Portugal best.

When I was in high school and became a foaming-at-the-mouth end-times Christian, she was patient with me.  She came to concerts where I sang or played guitar, and plays where I performed.

In a time of rampant disrespect, she taught me to respect women, but also that being a gentleman meant you held the door for everyone, regardless of gender.  When I was a high school junior, she taught me, my best friend, and our prom dates how to dance.

I remember her smiles when I graduated from high school, and then from college.

In 1982, when I got a research assistant job that would have me interviewing lawyers in Washington, she took me to a big & tall store and bought me a pair of size 13B black French Shriner oxfords that I still wear when I go to court (they’ve been resoled and re-heeled many times).

When I met T and brought her home for a visit, Mom (in spite of her atheism) told me that if I was going to marry T, I would need to start attending her church.  I took her advice, and it’s been good ever since.

Mom never lost patience with her kids who, before they became (my brother) a doctor and (me) a lawyer, rode motorcycles, fought with their father, drove school buses, worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, got drunk and parked the family car in the front yard, joined the military, failed out of graduate school, worked as an engineer, broke many bones, deployed in the Middle East, and had (some of) her grandchildren.

She made quilts for each of those grandchildren, and for her great grandchildren as well.

She died yesterday morning–three (or four, depending) weeks shy of her 95th birthday.

 

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Labeling Theory

I’ve written before about branding.  You know that I think it’s kind of a weird thing.  But I’ve seen a new version of it over the past couple of years, and it troubles me because it seems to indicate that we’re buying into branding on a whole new level.  I’m talking about the cuff label.  You know, like this:

aaeaaqaaaaaaaagtaaaajgyyotgxmgq4lwrhn2qtngewzs1hzdnklwe2zjfindzhmtmymg1

The function of this label is the function of all labels—just like the ones on your jeans (the paper ones that go over the waistline and are sewn or stapled or plastic-riveted on, or the ones that are stuck to and/or hang off your shirts.  It’s a brand identifier.  When you’re going through a stack of jeans, and you have a reasonable idea of what fits, it’s nice to be able to tell Levi’s from Wranglers.

Similarly, when you’re looking for a jacket or suit separates, it’s nice to be easy to tell at a glance what you’re looking for.  I know that a particular brand of jackets fits me well, so I tend to look for that brand.  Etcetera.

But while these labels are there to identify the brand, it seems to me that we have become so used to having massive labels all over everything that people are starting to invest them with meaning.  I mean, I’m wearing a CHAPS jacket.  I have class.  That sort of thing.

We’re used to having labels on T-shirts and jeans, and so it must seem kind of natural to keep labels on things like suits.  Or perhaps unnatural to remove them.

This all came home to me when I was acting as a guide at a rather fancy function lately.  And saw not only teenagers, but also a number of males closer to my age wearing their hearts—um, labels—on their sleeves.  I guess that when all of our other clothing has been so thoroughly branded and labeled, it’s hard to see where to stop.

Here’s the poop:  That label is tacked on with maybe two to four stitches for a reason:  so that you won’t damage the fabric of the suit when you remove it.  Once you’ve purchased a suit and before you wear it out of your house or apartment, remove the tag.  You may want to wear sweatshirts or leather jackets or jeans or whatever with someone else’s name on it, but when you wear a suit or sport jacket, you are not shilling for someone else (I would venture that whenever you pay more than $10 for an item of clothing you should not be shilling for the manufacturer), you are presenting yourself.

What will matter is the fit of the item.  Whether it fits the setting (don’t wear a shiny maroon suit to court), and whether it fits you (I strongly suggest a read-through of Paul Fussell’s remarkable 1983 book, Class:  A Guide Through the American Status System, with particular attention to the topics of “legible clothing” and “collar gap”:

prole_jacket_gape1

Or maybe I’m just being cranky today.  And trying to avoid speaking ill of Donald Trump.

 

 

 

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The Trouble with Normal

Between Trump and Brexit, it’s time to revisit this:

The Trouble with Normal

Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs “Security comes first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Callous men in business costume speak computerese
Play pinball with the Third World trying to keep it on its knees
Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
And the local Third World’s kept on reservations you don’t see
“It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means
Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream
As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

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Fireflies.

When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, Fireflies were a big thing for me.  On humid summer evenings it looked like some stars had come down to Earth.

I see fewer and fewer of them as time passes; could be the places I find myself in, or there could be smaller numbers of these critter about.

Last Saturday, T and I went to a party at a friend’s house and at one point, grabbed some chairs under a tree and started to do some music…and I saw a firefly.  T says she saw a whole bunch, but I was too busy playing guitar to look.

They’re still here.

 

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Why I Don’t Need an AR-15

Here’s a response piece I wrote this morning.

 

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Welcome to The Tin-Foil Future

In the series Firefly, there’s a wonderful line. When Wash complains that something he’s being told sounds like it’s out of science fiction, Zoe turns to him and replies “You live on a spaceship, dear.”

I had a little bit of that sort of feeling just a moment ago.  I’m sitting in an office where I need to spend some time waiting for people, so I’m watching the old film Logan’s Run, a 1976 movie based on a 1967 novel (most cringeworthy line, which could have come out of Tinder, c. 2016:  “Let’s have sex!”).

I remember the film fondly because in 1976, I took my then-girlfriend M to see it at the (no longer extant) HarMar theater in Roseville, Minnesota.  And because a few months later, when I entered the University of Minnesota, it seemed I had stepped into the future.

The movie is set in a world in which no one is permitted to live beyond the age of 30; your 30th birthday is your “last day,” on which you can compete to be “renewed” for additional life (an obvious premise of the movie is that nobody is ever renewed).  The film was largely shot in a shopping mall in Dallas, TX, and if you happen to remember 1976, well, that was close to the peak of mall growth.

So the setting was familiar, but spiced up a little bit with circular corridors all lined with shiny reflective material…it looked like tin foil but was probably chrome Mylar, a metalized film that was often sold with an adhesive backing.

The basement of the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union, which originally opened in 1940, has changed quite a lot.  When I was a student there, it featured a small cafeteria, a bowling alley, an arcade of pinball machines (that over my time there were gradually replaced with video games), bathrooms, notice boards, a sports equipment rental center, and the Whole coffeehouse (at which I worked for a few months).

The basement was mostly painted flat black, with a lurid carpet (something like this):

carpet.png

straight out of the late ‘60s.  And the corrider by the bathrooms?  Was round, and covered in chrome Mylar.  And (the late 1940s-1950s being the peak of the baby boom):

there was hardly anyone around who was 30 or older (even the graduate students!).

I had walked right into the future.

As I said, over next couple of years video games came to replace the pinball machines in the arcade—first, Pong and simple “bomber” games that scrolled side-to-side, then Space Invaders and Asteroids.  The mechanicals went away, and the electronics took their place.  Calculators.  Our classes were selected using punch cards, which I also used extensively during my undergrad career doing data analysis, and I lived for a time in the hyper-modern Sanford Hall.

The next summer, Star Wars was released, and I remember the glossy posters for the Tourney of Animation film festivals as well.

Anyway, all of this shot through my head while sitting at this stupid desk, typing at the keyboard of a tiny laptop computer that is probably certainly more powerful than anything that existed in 1976.  Sitting next to it is a device that is also more powerful than any computer of the day, and that is mostly used for sending messages and viewing pictures of cats.  I no longer carry around a chemistry set to test urine sugars–a tiny device on my thigh senses  blood glucose and transmits the results to a box about the size of a small cell phone, which displays them in sequence.  I no longer use syringes, but wear a small pump that supplies insulin for three days before needing attention.  I expect the two items to be fully-integrated within a few years.

The future creeps up on us.  It doesn’t appear all of a sudden.  It turns itself from something the size of a room into something the size of a brick and then it slims down and vanishes into our pockets.

And when we look back?  It looks silly.  Bell bottom jeans.  K-cars (OK, they were stupid at the time).  Typewriters.  Corded phones.  Punch cards. Troubadour sleeves.  Jar-Jar Binks.  The past looks silly because we don’t notice it getting old, and when we turn and look back, 35 years have passed.

You live on a spaceship, dear.

 

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Nationalism. How weird am I?

The other day I was working at my desk when I heard another lawyer exclaim into the phone “Hey!  Youre a ginzo!  Like me!”  I had never heard the term before, but I understood it from context.  The other attorney in my office was saying “You’re one of us!”

This always seems weird to me.  Perhaps that’s because I’m a mixture of Romanian, Ukrainian, and possibly Polish blood by way of (English-speaking) Canada.  I don’t identify as part of any of those groups.  Nor do I feel particularly white (though that is a much harder criterion to break away from) or straight or Mormon or agnostic.  I barely feel lawyer.

And yet our world is made up of groups.  Be it Italians and Irish and Jews and Catholics or jocks and brains and bunouts, it seems to be all about groupness.

I guess I do identify with some groups–with cyclists and musicians.  I would venture to say there’s a difference there (and perhaps I would have to include jocks, brains, and burnouts) because as distinct from nationalism or racialism, being a cyclist (or a brain) has to do not with where you came from but with what you do.

Perhaps because growing up, I saw nationalism as a bad thing rather than a good one…I read the stories of WWI and WWII, and watched Viet Nam unfold, and of course I’ve been a witness to the continuous crises in the Middle East.  I just don’t get it.  I’ve never seen my fate as being tied with that of any “national” group.

Perhaps if my parents had raised me in an area that lacked national diversity, it might have made a difference, but I grew up with Scandinavians, Germans, Italians, Poles, Serbs, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists…

I really don’t have much more to say about that, I guess.  I’s just an interesting thing that I was thinking about today.  Am I weird because I don’t get nationalism?

 

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