Monday, June 27, 2016

Bag Lady Report: Conversations with three men

I can be a curious woman when I'm sitting in a waiting room with other people waiting around me, and sometimes even a short conversation can be interesting. Recently I had three.


Last week, I arrived at Massage Envy at Northgate Mall. I was ten minutes early for my appointment, thanks to my husband Art's penchant for getting places on time. He assumes every light will be red, so we leave early if he is driving. This was one of those days.

The man sitting next to me in the waiting room wore a red hoodie that proclaimed "Team Rubicon." I read it aloud and he looked up from his phone. I said "What's Team Rubicon?" He put his phone on the table and told me it's an organization of former military first responders joined with civilian first responders. They work with disaster prep and disaster relief. He'd been in Seattle all week, along with many others from around the country, working on a simulation for the massive earthquake that's predicted to occur here with the next few decades. He said, "My squadron's job is to assess the condition of airports after a disaster, and to call in engineering help as needed. Even if everyone who lives here is killed in the disaster, people coming in from elsewhere will know exactly what to do."

The webpage for Team Rubicon is inspiring and impressive.

Disasters are our business. Veterans are our passion.

Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

I introduced myself. His name is K.C. and he grew up in Kirkland, Washington,  but now lives and works in Washington DC. I said, "You know, I think it would be great if there were a program that takes returning vets and puts them to work - with their strategic and tactical thinking, teamwork, leadership and discipline - rebuilding our infrastructure. It would be such a useful way for them to continue being of service." K.C. said, "The company where I work now is involved with that."

I gave K.C. my card and asked him to send me information. I would love to be part of that effort. I explored the Team Rubicon website. What a great idea.


Also last week, I took my eight-year-old iMac to the Apple Store to have its data erased. I hadn't used it in two years, had misplaced the recovery disk and couldn't remember the administrative password to log on. I sat at the Genius Bar next to a young man who was having something done with his iPad and his iPhone.  The man said, "What are you doing with your computer when it is erased?" He had a faint but charming accent. I said, "I'm going to donate it to Goodwill." He said, "I will buy it from you." "Really? How much?" "Fifty dollars. But my wife has the money and she has gone with the mother to buy some socks. Can you wait?"

"Whose mother?"

"Her mother is my mother."

We introduced ourselves. His name is Dimitri and he came to the United States from Ukraine in 2000, when he was eleven. We chatted about the stereotypes we can have about people from other countries, and about the other countries themselves, and how they often don't match up with reality. I told him about watching a show last week with a scene shot in the Moscow airport. A very modern place that didn't correspond at all to my young adult perception of a country supposedly going to seed. I expected something more utilitarian and primitive anywhere in Russia, even today. Not so.

We both watched the Apple Store door, but the wife didn't appear. Then I said, "I will give you my computer for $40, since you had the idea." I gave him my card and said, "Send me the money." He said, "I don't have a checkbook." I said, "Put two $20s in a folded sheet of paper and then put them in an envelope addressed to me."

While I was at the Apple Store, Art had gone to Comcast to turn in our equipment, since we'd decided on another carrier. When he picked me up, I told him about the conversation I'd had with Dimitri. I asked him how his experience in the Comcast waiting room had been. He said, "I had to wait about 15 minutes. The Mariners game was on. It was the third inning." Then he told me about every play that had happened in the game while he sat there waiting. No conversations for him!

On Saturday, the money arrived. $40 in a folded sheet of paper, in an envelope addressed to me, from Dimitri in Everett.


Last weekend Art and I were having dinner on our back deck and he was telling me a story. Art uses many pronouns and, try as I might, I sometimes don't know who he's referring to. So I'll say something like "Who is 'they'?" or "Who is 'he'?" In his mind Art is perfectly clear as to who he's talking about, so he sometimes gets impatient with me. He says I'm an English major (true that) and just trying to correct his grammar (not true that, but his perception).

Anyway, he said, "My friend Bob didn't like his daughter's boyfriend. So Bob asked another man, a friend down on his luck, to live at Bob's house in the hopes that Bob's daughter would meet him and then end her relationship with her boyfriend. Eventually he married her."

Long silence while I tried to figure out who "he" was in that last sentence. Finally I had to ask.

Art rolled his eyes. Then he reached for the salt shaker. "This is the girlfriend." The pepper shaker. "This is her boyfriend." A fork. "This is the friend down on his luck."

"So who married Bob's daughter?"



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Not really a bucket list

Last week I finished up a writing class called "Travel Writing as Pilgrimage". Each Sunday afternoon for six weeks I drove to Seattle and took my seat at a wooden table at Hugo House, "A Place for Writers." One instructor and six writers. In-class writing was from prompts, "freewriting" for ten to fifteen minutes. The idea is that you start with the prompt and write with a pen on paper. No editing, very little conscious thought or planning. Almost stream of consciousness. I've been doing this kind of writing in small groups for years, so it was familiar.

What is written runs the spectrum from trivial to insightful to paradigm-shifting. Sometimes phrases or paragraphs can become the seed from which really good writing grows. I like freewriting because the time is relatively short and I can keep my English-major pickiness tucked away.

Our last freewrite prompt in our last class was "Before I die..."

Here's what I wrote.

Before I die I hope to have been given humility, to know that all I have been and done and said, all the good things and the awful things, have been a gift.

Before I die I hope to be as thin as I think I should be. Or else to be completely content and satisfied with being round.

Before I die I want to take the Trans Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Moscow, stopping for a few days at the summer festival in Ulan Bator. Or else I want to be absolutely fine with not going.

Before I die I want to forgive my mother, who lives beyond the grave in the continuing silence of a difficult friend.

Before I die I want to walk in silence along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. That will be next year, I'm thinking.

Before I die I want to have my fear of falling from a height removed, so that I can walk the Airport Butte Trail in Sedona rather than freezing in fear at the trailhead.

I love what I learned from this freewrite:
  • Something intangible and beyond my control is my first hope.
  • I may well be content not to do some things; who's to say my goals are the most important things?
  • Forgiving my mother for the past may result in an easier present and future.
  • Silence is no longer to be avoided.
  • Overcoming fear is not a matter of willpower, but of willingness.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Trust, but verify: three bumps in last week's road

Wikipedia says "trust, but verify" is a form of advice given which recommends that while a source of information might be considered reliable, one should perform additional research to verify that such information is accurate, or trustworthy.

Three times last week, I didn't do that.

The Dentist

I have a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device for my moderate sleep apnea. I've been using it for nearly four years and it helps me sleep and keeps me from snoring. But it's a nuisance when I travel. The CPAP case is the size of a large shoebox and I have to carry it onto airplanes and keep track of it during travel. Last July in Atlanta I lost it on the MARTA between the airport and our B&B. Or maybe it was stolen. At any rate, the replacement cost $800 as well as aggravation between me and my HMO, and me and my travel insurance company.

This year I'm taking six trips between June and November. I decided to get an "oral appliance" for my sleep apnea to replace the CPAP machine when I am traveling. Naturally, my HMO refused to pay for it  So I made an appointment with the apnea/cosmetic dentist they referred me to. I decided to pay for the oral appliance myself.

The appointment was last Thursday. The dentist measured me for the device but after examining my mouth and my jaw and my teeth, he advised me that I have ground my teeth down so severely that unless I have my entire jaw realigned and all the dental work in my mouth redone, I will eventually require dentures. His estimate for this cost was $30,000 to $50,000 in the next five years.

"And I had planned on buying a Tesla," I told him. He laughed.

Not really, of course. But on my half-hour drive home I considered how sudden expenses - especially in retirement - can alter lives in not a good way. By the time I reached the espresso stand in my town I was resigned to a drastic curtailment of travel over the next five years and possibly forever. I told my barista. She said, "Are you kidding?" You're 67 years old. Why would you want to spend that much money on your mouth at your age?"

That afternoon, I told my tale to my hairdresser. He laughed. "I've had dentures for 40 years and they have been just fine." And then he removed his top dentures to show me! I would never have guessed.

So, I'm talking this week to the dentist I've been seeing for 25 years. Nothing like a second opinion.

The Shoes

Last week, on a walk with a friend, I complimented her on her comfortable looking shoes; they look like walking shoes with cutouts. "They're Keens," she said, "and I bought them for hiking. They are great." I thought they would be just right for my upcoming trip to Greece.

I called my favorite shoe store. Shane, the owner, answered the phone. I have known Shane for over 15 years and have bought numerous pairs of shoes from him, as well as custom orthotics. I asked him about Keens and he said "Oh, yes, we carry them." I got in my car and drove 15 minutes to try on a pair. Turns out they do carry them, but at this moment they are sold out. So this week I will go to REI for the purchase.

When I had Shane on the phone, I should have asked not only "Do you carry them?" but also, "Do you have any in stock? My bad.

The Computer

Two years ago a tech family member moved all my data from my aging iMac desktop to my new MacBook Air laptop, then replaced the desktop with a display monitor. It has worked out great for me. I can use my laptop by itself or hooked up to a the larger screen.

To make sure the new configuration would work, we stored the iMac behind the chair in the living room "just in case." Last week I finally decided to donate the iMac to a worthy cause. Before I did that, I turned it on to confirm all the old data had been deleted.

It hadn't.

And I couldn't find a CD to boot the system so I could delete everything. And I didn't have a standard Apple keyboard so I could restore the iMac to its factory settings. So this week I have an appointment at the Apple Store.

Fortunately, REI and the Apple Store are in the same mall, no more than 300 feet from each other.

Maybe trust, but verify isn't the right phrase for last week's bumpy road. Maybe it's about not making assumptions.

Yeah, that's it.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A voice from long ago

It wasn't actually a voice from long ago. It was a text from last Thursday. It came from my cousin Patti; she is four months younger than me and I haven't seen her since 2001, at her mother's funeral. Before that it had been 30 years. Patti and I had played together as children but over time our relationship faded, for some reason unknown to me. I figured it was because my family moved around a lot and hers didn't.

Two blog posts ago I wrote "Some Thoughts on Silence," about getting the silent treatment as a child and how it affects me today.

In about the same timeframe, Patti was waiting for her physical therapy appointment and surfing on her phone. She was looking for our common great great grandfather, Robert Theophelus McNeal. My blog came up as number two, three and four in her Google search. I'd been doing some genealogy while traveling in May of 2012 and had posted a blog called "Family Stones" where I talked about Robert T.  Patti had never heard of Bag Lady in Waiting but she clicked on it anyway and found me.

Then she sent me a text. I don't know how she even found my number, but this is what she said:

"I found Bag Lady in Waiting while searching Robert T. McNeal. I learned so much about you that I never knew before and a whole new person - you - presented herself. It's important that I talk with you to clear my conscience and free myself of the resentment for you that I've harbored for many, many years."

Wow! I had no idea, and that's what I told her. We agreed to talk on the phone at 10 the next morning.

I sat in my car at a local park. I'm not sure where Patti was - somewhere in Texas, where she lives - but it didn't matter. We talked for two hours. We talked about our common great great grandfather and about the genealogy work I've done on that side of our family. Then Patti told me why she has resented me for so many years. She said that when we were in junior high I had been a bully. I'd made fun of her for being overweight and for having pimples, and she was afraid to wear her glasses around me because she thought I would make fun of her. My words had hurt her feelings. I don't remember that happening but I'm sure it did. Kids don't make up stories like that. I listened and then I said, "That must have been very painful. If I could take some of that pain from you, I would." I can't apologize for the person I was 60 years ago, but I can empathize with the person who was hurt.

Then we shared memories about our parents - including the family secrets neither of us knew about in the other's family. Patti didn't know my mother had given me the silent treatment. I didn't know her parents wouldn't let her go anywhere after school or on weekends during tax season because they were accountants and didn't have time to keep track of her. We talked about our children and grandchildren. We talked about hobbies and interests and inclinations and found out what we have in common.

Patti and I agreed to keep in touch. She said it was okay for me to use her real name and the real things that happened. She said, "Nothing is off limits as long as you use the eloquent wording that was in my text to you AND include that we are reunited and like/love each other but that we are not gay!" She laughed, and I am including every word she said.

So, now I have a cousin back in my life. Because of the internet, because of my blog.

And thank goodness for Robert Theophelus McNeal. May he rest in peace in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.