An Unhappy Time

I Was at Low Ebb in My Twenties

If I had to pick the worst decade of my life, I would have to pick my twenties, between 1966 and 1975. I had miraculously survived brain surgery in September 1966. For my entire adolescence, I did not have a functioning pituitary gland: Instead, I had a benign tumor that not only destroyed my pituitary, but was staging an incursion on my optic nerve. Oh, and by the way, due to the malfunction of my pituitary, I had, for all intents and purposes, no adrenaline, thyroid, sex hormones, or human growth hormone. At the age of twenty-one, I looked like a high school freshman. When I bought alcoholic beverages, I was always being carded by store employees who did not believe my true age.

As I have described my condition before, I felt like a Martian mixed among human beings. I had fallen in love with a young woman, but it was not reciprocated. Several times, I awoke in the middle of the night, walked several blocks to Zucky’s Deli and had breakfast, then walked a few more blocks to the beach at Santa Monica. In the pre-dawn hours, I stared at the waves wondering if I had the courage to take a walk to Japan.

In time, I weathered my depression. I signed up for group therapy, where I discovered that my problems were all part of the human condition, namely, that we were all Martians.

In his book of interviews with Osvaldo Ferrari, Jorge Luis Borges found an interesting way of describing my condition:

Yes, I am sure I am happier now than when I was young. When I was young, I sought to be unhappy for aesthetic and dramatic reasons. I wanted to be Prince Hamlet or Raskolnikov or Byron or Poe or Beaudelaire, but not now. Today, I am resigned to being who I am. And to summarize: I do not know if I have attained happiness—no one does—but I have sometimes attained a kind of serenity and that’s a lot. Also, seeking serenity seems to me to be a more reasonable ambition than seeking happiness. Perhaps serenity is a kind of happiness.

For Borges, that’s saying a lot, as he had lost the sight of his eyes some thirty years before the interview. After my surgery, I was sterile—which is, as I see it now, a highly survivable condition.

The Eyes of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) with View Camera

Ever since I attended an exhibit of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work at Dartmouth College in the mid 1960s, I have been a strong believer in the art of photography. Photographers like Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, and Robert Capa have been like gods to me—as was Dorothe Lange. I present only two of her photographs here, but they speak mostly for themselves.

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA, 1936

This is Lange’s most famous photograph—one of the canonical images of America during the Depression years. I am amazed at the effect of her two older children averting their eyes from the camera while their mother contemplates her situation.

The Road West, U.S. 54 in Southern New Mexico

Once again, Lange draws beauty out of desolation in this stark image of a highway running straight through the New Mexico desert. U.S. 54 runs north/south through the heart of New Mexico, bypassing the White Sands Missile Range where the first atomic bomb was exploded in 1945. I have been through the area at least twice on my way to Capitan and Alamogordo, New Mexico.

With Martine at the Arboretum

Martine Sitting on the Shore of Baldwin Lake

Yesterday Martine asked me if we could drive to the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia. I was reluctant at first, as it is an hour drive at high speed over several freeways, but I was delighted that Martine actually wanted to go somewhere that was interesting to her. And the botanical gardens of Southern California are favorite destinations for her. She is shown here siting on her tripod cane chair, wearing one of my old guayaberas and a Mexican straw hat, looking at the ducks and geese plying Baldwin Lake.

We would up staying over four hours, much of it with the geese and ducks.

A Mother’s Day Portrait of Mom with Ducklings

Most of the time was spent around the lake and its various inlets. Having seen all the signs about warning not to feed the birds and wild animals, Martine felt she had to explain to the geese why she didn’t bring any food for them. They did not seem to be very put out by the lack of bread crumbs because they were so busy rooting around in the grass for the insects and plants that form much of their diet. Still, it was interesting that she felt so bad about not being able to feed them herself.

The View Across Baldwin Lake at the Queen Anne Cottage

Because we have had a wet winter, Baldwin Lake no longer looked like a large mudhole. It was covered with millions of tiny leaves that had fallen from the surrounding trees (you can see them in the middle photo above).

When she is at a botanical garden, there is no trace of the depression that marred so much of her life in the last year and a half. She no longer wants to escape to another city: She can’t because she has spent her savings on previous abortive trips. Instead, she is taking long walks in our neighborhood, which, probably, is good for her.


The Flip Side of the Coin

We’re Still Not Back to Normal

One can never take a relationship for granted. Beginning in July, Martine told me she wanted to get out of Los Angeles. And, just by the way, I wasn’t picking up my stuff. Now that she’s back to L.A., it looks as if she was returned under duress. And now I’m a monster who doesn’t pick up after myself.

Now what does this picking up involve? If I move one of her vitamins over two inches to make room for something I have to make room for in the refrigerator and I don’t return it to its original position, I’m not picking up after myself. Yesterday it was a small triangular piece of paper that somehow got out of the garbage can. In other words, it’s infractions of the “Who moved my cheese?” variety of which I am guilty.

Martine after her week in Northern California is depressed and angry, and I am here—available to be blamed. I feel a bit irritated for being the subject of blame when my sins are all of the venial variety. Nobody’s perfect. I just have to maintain my cool and try to edge her into a mental healthcare program for her own good.

Yes, I still love her, but she is clearly not thinking straight. If Martine gets away again, which is highly likely, she has no money. Nobody’s going to give her free housing and then leave her alone. Well, except maybe me. But it’s a delicate matter which can go either way. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Riding the News Cycle Without a Helmet

Follow the News Cycles If You Must ... But Don’t Get All Tangled Up in Them

Follow the News Cycles If You Must … But Don’t Get All Tangled Up in Them

In yesterday’s post (“Terrorism Made Easy”), I suggested that the news orgies indulged in my the media—especially cable news—make it extraordinarily easy for terrorists to get us all in a dither with a minimum amount of effort.Today, I plan to go one step further: Stay away from the news as much as possible. It’ll only mess you up.

Now there were times when the news affected my travel plans: I would not go to Guatemala during the dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt in the 1980s, I would not visit Peru during the Sendero Luminoso insurgency of the 1980s and early 1990s, and I would not go to El Salvador today because of the Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang. Oh, and there’s some parts of Mexico I would shy away from because of the narcotraficantes (namely the states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Sonora, Monterrey, and Michoacán).

That said, I lose track of Middle East skulduggery because there is so much of it that I confuse the incidents one with the other. Nor is it important to know the number of car bombs in Baghdad, the casualties at Kobani, the Hamas-Israel pissing match, the piracy and banditry of Somalia, the endless repercussions of Benghazi, or even the weirdness of North Korea’s non-interaction with the world. Because I read the paper, I have a rough idea of what is happening. The details are just a tad excessive.

I work with a really nice bookkeeper who listens to the news and all the pundits on her long drive to work. All the badness, of which there is an endless amount, has the effect of making her depressed. I suggest that she listen to nice music instead, either the classics at KUSC or new wave at KTWV.

Remember one thing about the news: They are trying to make you hooked on all this global negativity so you keep coming back for more, and maybe even buy all the crapola the sponsors want to unload on you. Skip a few news cycles. Maybe read the paper instead, or a weekly news magazine (if there still is one), or even the Internet. When things get too bad, I’d rather put on some J. S. Bach or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

As my old hero Ghoulardi (about whom I will write more in the next week or so) said, “Cool it with the Boom-Booms!”