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cramping our style
Our hosts arranged for a visit to Suzhou and Wuxi in Jiangsu Province to see two cities relatively untouched by the Cultural Revolution and experience the countryside. We left Shanghai late on Friday to travel the one and a half hours by train to Suzhou where we stayed in the grand old Nanyuan Guest House. Suzhou was an older city than Shanghai, with a population of less than one million people (in 1978), near Tai Hu, the lake at the centre of vast waterways and canals running 1,600 kilometers from Tianjin to Hangzhou.
rising from the muck
I’m reasonably sure that I was sitting in front of a television set in Mrs. Reed’s fifth grade class on Friday May 5, 1961, watching Alan Shepard blast into outer space to defend America’s honor and innovative ability, and show the Ruskies who was boss. I can’t be 100% sure; we watched several of those early space flights in the classroom during the early Sixties but also missed a couple. One of the reasons I have a hard time distinguishing the flights is because the telecasts were remarkably similar. All three TV networks pre-empted regular programming for the events and flew the lead network newsman to Cape Canaveral.
One of my black friends confided in me this week that he was really demoralized by all of the events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He was so devastated that it affected his mood, work and outlook for the future. This is a man who had a successful career, is buoyant by nature, sociable, outgoing and a humorist. He continued: “Specifically, the events in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, NY plus the widespread disrespect shown to my President has made me — a normally optimistic person–very pessimistic about the future of race relationships in the U.S.”
visit too short
We left Beijing on an old Boeing 707 aircraft operated by CAAC (the Civil Aviation Administration of China) Airline, which we soon renamed “CACK” for its reliability, cabin service, food and old aircraft. Unfortunately, I was traveling with a retired airline captain named Laurie and a China trader we called Toddy who had a fear of flying. Toddy had traveled from Guangzhou to Beijing by train, a trip of about two days, seated on a wooden bench rather than flying to meet up with the group. He flew with us to Shanghai under great duress, with the help of airsick pills and several shots of whisky at the airport.
When we arrived back in Shanghai and walked into the lobby of the Shanghai Mansions, I noticed it looked different to when we left two days before. The lobby seemed much bigger and where a wall opposite the reception desk had been before there was a large doorway. Before carrying my bags to my room I looked inside the doorway and saw a billiard table with an old man in a black uniform racking the balls. My friend, Toddy, also noticed the new room and we agreed to meet back there as soon as we dropped off our bags.
it can work magic
I come from a long line of accomplished nappers. My grandfather, after presiding over his generations at the family lunch on Saturday, would take to the couch at the far end of the one big room and, while the adults talked their loud talk and grandchildren one after the other let the screen door slam shut behind them on their way outside, would stretch himself out and immediately settle into a gentle snore.
My mother raised five children. For her the nap was an elusive dream…
Your dollar or your word? Which would you rather give or receive to satisfy an obligation? A dollar isn’t just tangible and guaranteed, it’s definite and final in the sense that there’s no reconsidering, waffling or fudging down the line. When you hand over a dollar, the deed is as good as done. The national currency introduces an element of certainty into relationships that might otherwise be fraught with ambiguity. Dollars let people, who don’t know each other very well, get along.
So, what happens when dollars are scarce?
it was a paradise
A couple of weeks ago I cited some comments by Big Oil shill Anastasia Swearingen to the effect that, basically, there’s just no downside to drilling for oil. Whenever, wherever—it’s all good. She was excoriating the federal government for its stubborn unwillingness (so far) to grant drilling leases along the Atlantic Coast to the oil giants standing in line. What’s the hold-up, guys? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Just look at the Gulf, says Swearingen, where pessimists predicted an “uninhabitable wasteland.” But thanks to all the time and money BP has put into restoration, today the Gulf is…
It was a relatively young (37 year old) senator from Augusta with modern ideas who brought Georgia out from under the influences of the Talmadge machine, when he became governor in 1963. Carl Sanders brought modern politics to the state, moved the state to new heights and set the tone for forwardness and moderation that, indeed, made Georgia the capitol of the New South.
He ran against a key Talmadge protégé, and former governor, Marvin Griffin, a staunch segregationist. We remember it well.
on the myriad paths
It’s the broken slat on the chair that will keep our recent visit to Floyd focused in my mind. The soon-to-be ninety-nine year old husband of my late cousin Mildred lost his balance a few weeks back and misjudged the placement of the chair when he thought he was about to sit on it at the dining room table. He lives alone in his “cottage” at a retirement complex in southern Pennsylvania, so there was no one there to help him get up. Of course, he couldn’t get his cell phone to work so he lay there for a while before he could muster the strength to get back on his feet. While he lay on the floor, he “talked” to but not necessarily with Mildred.
In the summer of 1968 a man walked into Dad’s saw shop gushing about a guy making beaucoups of money. College was out for the summer and I needed a job. The next thing I know, Dad and I were sitting in Augusta’s Bell Auditorium waiting for pitchman, Glenn Turner, whose company, Koscot Cosmetics, needed door-to-door salesmen, the gullible preferred.
From the back of the auditorium a chant took rise … “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” and then men cut cartwheels down the aisles all the way to the stage.
sugar creek plantation
Back in 1937 when Gene Talmadge was finishing his second two-year term as governor of Georgia, he took a big step. For Miss Mitt (his wife), he built a new home on U.S. Highway 341, between McRae and Lumber City, in his home county of Telfair. In today’s world, this residence looks much like a Southern 5-4-and-a-door, with two-story white columns, red brick, and set about 100 yards back from the highway in a grove of pine trees. But it wasn’t built in today’s world, but constructed 77 years ago when most people in Telfair County probably didn’t have running water…
modern day samaritans
The light ahead was red, and no one was close behind, so I slowed to let the man who just darted across two lanes of traffic finish his dangerous dash to the wide concrete median strip on my left. It was a blustery day, with northwest winds biting harshly under the dense, dark clouds of a late fall cold front pouring into Georgia. All of which made this man’s shorts, light windbreaker, ball cap, and open-heeled clogs seem woefully inadequate for the day upon us.
mix it up
You spend a lifetime in your body, so why not enjoy it? Now, some consider their body simply as a vehicle to transport their head from point A to point B. Others are quite focused on and interested in engaging and using their body. Obviously, some activities, like sex, are very body-centric. That said, a happy body means a better sex life – and vice versa.
Beyond sex exists the practical matter of relying on our body to get around and help manage our life. After sleeping, sitting, and standing, walking represents the next level of activity for the body.
In Glynn County, Georgia, I recently discovered, the county planning staff has been passing off amendments to the master plan, drawn up by developers, as their own. At least, we still have an elected County Commission involved. In East Texas, it turns out, developers set up new taxing districts that then sell bonds to finance their projects by holding elections in which a single vote is cast by someone who’s been moved onto the land just to satisfy a legal requirement. The Dallas Morning News has been covering the scam. No wonder voting has become a big issue in Texas.
finley, dylan and the beatles
John Lennon and Charlie Finley arguing over money and how many songs the Beatles would play at a concert Finley was promoting? It was a moment worthy of what the great satirist, Edward Sorel, might have dreamed up for one of his great Atlantic Monthly illustrations. As John Lennon often said, “You had to be there.”
Mary Alice told her joke by asking, “What is black and yellow and goes zub, zub, zub?” Of course, the answer is a bee going in reverse. Thus we rode this joke off into another round of high-energy talking, joking, and drinking some less than satin wine. If I were to compare her to some famous author, perhaps the Nobel-prize winning Doris Lessing would come to mind. She’s funny, yet serious at the same time.
One wryly fascinating aspect of achieving “seniority” is that my senses have become more adept at finding free entertainment. Locating alternative sources of amusement has become almost a necessity these days. Daytime television remains abominable, cable TV is objectionally priced (probably by those same pirates who sell inkjet print cartridges) and the ransom one has to give up for seats to professional sporting events is unconscionable. Also, our local news daily, though not unreasonably priced is but a shell of its former self. It is no longer a joy to read.
insults to nature
How does that happen? Mostly, it’s the result of a mixture of hubris and inadvertence. Humans, stuck on themselves, think they know it all. Others are convinced “all it takes is the idea” (the ExxonMobil slogan) and, as it was in the beginning, man says the word and nature is obedient.
Fortunately, the age of electronics has made it possible to virtually eliminate inadvertence. We can look ahead and simulate what will happen, if we repeat the mistakes of the past. That’s what James Holland is doing…
I read the obituaries. But I no longer read a printed newspaper every day and the obits just are not the same in on line versions of newspapers. So I am forced to catch up on weekends when my satisfyingly fat Sunday papers arrive. I do not turn to the obituaries first due to a compulsive need to read the paper in proper order. When I finally get there I read them all, savoring the details, cringing at those my own age, and grieving the brief, one sentence send offs.
Some are born lucky. Others are born rich or marry into money. Still others create endless streams of opportunity. And perhaps when we can’t answer yes to the aforementioned, we can easily feel entitled.
But in other ways, the playing field remains level. Certain attributes of the human condition we have control over, starting with the meaning we assign to the events of our life. And yes, positive events lead us to assign more pleasant meanings.
The tiny old man wheezed and warned me to leave him alone since he was just looking for a wall to lean against. He was an examination of human frailty, revealed in blurred and jagged fragments. He told me to beware of joy. Thus ended another of my dreams that left me a bit shaken and in need of understanding. In some of my dreams, such as this one, everything is frequently miniaturized and even immaterial …
150 years later
The Confederate flags are now gone from around the incumbent marble Robert E. Lee, at eternal rest with his riding boots on in the innermost sanctuary of Lee Chapel in Lexington, Va. That is as it should be, for many reasons. One is historical. Our campus was a sanctuary of recovery from the Civil War, where “the sun falls through the ruined boughs of locusts/ Up to the president’s office.” That president was Lee, “in a dark civilian suit who walks,/ An outlaw fumbling for the latch, a voice/ Commanding in a dream where no flag flies.”
Let it not be said that our far Northwest state, Alaska, has a monopoly on Nowhere. While their “Bridge to Nowhere” garnered much national attention on the political and comedy circuit, here in Southeast Georgia, we’ve got a whole lot of nowhere. Not only have we got the state Department of Transportation doing a major expansion of a road to nowhere from two lanes to four, we’ve got a peninsula on our island (bet you didn’t know that it was possible to have a peninsula on an insula), sporting more than fifteen mapped roads that aren’t to be found on the ground.
The realities and consequences of our sitting all day become obvious… yet overlooked… except to our bodies. Actually, our bodies emerge as the brave soldiers here, now doing what they were never designed to do: SIT. Hour after day after week… too bad our IRA’s are not accumulating assets like this. Sitting is sometimes compared to smoking. Is that legit? Well, yes and no. Yes, from the standpoint that the ultimate cost of sitting…
the muse be with you
Like the proverbial schoolboy with his nose pressed up against the glass of the candy display, I can’t seem to get enough of the various on-line and free classes offered over the edX educational program conceived of by a couple of Harvard professors just a few years ago. This fall I’ve perhaps bitten off more than a full plate by registering for six different classes. They range from the Greek epics to Chinese history to current events in the Middle East…
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
In her autobiography A Backward Glance (1934), Edith Wharton wrote: “In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.” I like that concept which I stumbled upon this morning in a delightful newsletter called Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week — Jan 18-24, 2015. Wharton was a great stylist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century whose books on the conflicts between societal mores and the pursuit of happiness are sti Read on →
This is a book about the 1%, the billionaires, or some of them, who can pay $50 million for a condo they use a couple weeks a year while otherwise camped in one of their other lavish homes. Mitt Romney accused ordinary people of feelings of entitlement when they expect social security and medicare but Mitt was playing to his audience, the true practitioners of entitlement. But this is not a political book. The wall street protests are mentioned in passing but its focus is the acquisition of Fifteen Central Park West property, the construction of the outstanding structure and Read on →
“Please hold my hand now. I am dying.” As this soul pulled me close to her, she looked up but just smiled. I had just finished reading “Walking Home From Oak Head” by Mary Oliver to her and she seemed to be pleased to hear some of the refrains again, There is something about the snow-laden sky in winter in the late afternoon that brings to the heart elation and the lovely meaninglessness of time. We had shared many secrets over the years we had known one another, the years of being lovers, of becoming friends. She was “spiritual” in some ways by her reckoning and made me promise to Read on →
My friend Tom says most, if not all, great writers are fractured individuals. I hope he’s wrong about that; I’ve always been a happy, well-adjusted guy. I plan to achieve Great Writer status one day and would hate to think lack of a tortured soul, along with precious little talent, will prevent such dreams. The only thing even remotely dark about me is my middle name. If I had been a girl, none of this would have happened. I would have been Betty Louise. At least that’s what my mother said. The Mike part of my name originated with an old Army Read on →