Friends

…and I don’t mean the TV show and I don’t mean Quakers.

A blogger I follow recently referred to me as a friend (and I agree). That got me to thinking. That, and a visit out of the blue last night.

My daughter has “Internet friends” all over the world; people they have never met in the flesh, but many they have met face-to-face via FaceTime, so we know they are who they say they are (as much as we know that about anybody, but that’s another story).

That reality had always been foreign to me until I started blogging. Now I have people all over the country whom I would call friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, though we have never been face-to-face even on FaceTime.

My best friend R from my ten years in California appeared out of the blue last night. I got a FaceTime request from an unknown number. I declined it and said “Who are you?” He was an hour and a half away and passing through. We had a great walk and talk in the park a few blocks from my house. We stayed several feet apart. He got back in the RV and disappeared. I walked home for dinner.

Three of us (R and F and I) used to get in hot water together regularly in the Bay Area. I mean that literally. We would go to a hot tub place, sit in the tub together and talk, then continue the talk over dinner. (Truth be told, I’m more of a sauna guy, but hey, this was California;) We asked each other the kinds of questions that made us think and feel and know each other and ourselves more deeply than usual.

R and I once drove 50 miles to a jazz concert. We argued economics (or discussed passionately) for most of the drive and part of dinner. We heard and saw a great concert, then continued the discussion on the drive home and sitting parked in front of my house for too long. As I walked into the house I realized I had just learned something about love. I had spent my formative years (18 to 30) in a close-knit community, where we agreed on most things and our disagreements were, in the grand scheme of things, pretty small. Now I was having a disagreement that was pretty big; but I realized that I could disagree about an idea and love the person speaking it.

This is a friend to whom, when I am gone, I think I may be invisible. We have had no contact in over ten years. But when we are together, he is here 100%. He is fully present – so I don’t begrudge him the fact that he is fully present somewhere else with someone else when I am 2000 miles away.

Those years from 18-30 were present in our talk. The park contains a memorial to an old friend. We had a community of interlocking organizations and friendships. (See previous post and reference to the New Nation – building a new society in the shell of the old.) I initially knew Orly through an organization I worked for, People’s Office. We were a community center providing some of the services that the internet provides now. If you needed someone to fix your plumbing, Orly was the guy, and we had his number at our fingertips. Need to get bailed out of jail? Find out what’s happening in town tonight? Need to get your car fixed at the Co-op Garage? Having a bad acid trip? We could help you. If you had a problem we hadn’t run across before, we’d find a way to help you. Several organizations got their start that way.

Later Orly apprenticed to the electrician who wired the co-op when we got a new building. That electrician happened to have a PhD, but he’d put himself through school as an electrician and liked it. It was only years later that he worked as a psychotherapist, using that degree. Working at the neighborhood grocery co-op, I knew pretty much everybody (and what they ate), and they knew me. S liked to work Sunday mornings so she could see who came in together to pick up bagels and the New York Times. She thus knew the neighborhood gossip first. It was that kind of town.

Moving back after ten years in California, my re-introduction to the community was Orly’s funeral. He died during a heat wave just after I moved back. We had a canoe funeral procession down the river. His flower-filled canoe was towed between two others. We rounded the bend out of the river and into the lake, pulled up on shore at the park, and had a big potluck. It seems that everyone I knew was there. I was home. Orly and the canoe are memorialized on a plaque on a park bench right where the river flows into the lake (where we took the walk back at the beginning of this post). That park is also home to the Marquette Waterfront Festival, with which we welcome each summer (the weekend that school gets out).

So there are that kind of friends, too. Those whose lives weave in and out of our own for years. Those we may never know well, but who make our lives richer anyway. Those we have a deep connection with somewhere along the way, but not forever, but they are still part of that fabric. Then there are friends like the half-fast cycling club, folks I’ve ridden with for 10-45 years. Sometimes a bike ride is the best place to talk.

A song from the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. I couldn’t find a recording by the writer, Ginni Clemmens (without buying the whole album). She was a Chicago folksinger in the 60s and a stalwart of women’s music in the 70s. She died in 2003 on Maui.

You may have noticed that I refer to living people only by an initial and dead people by name. I guess dead people can’t defend themselves and living people may not want to be identified here, so I don’t name them without consent, and I don’t tend to contact them to ask for consent.

Bare Necessities

Growing up, I was taught that the necessities of life were food, clothing, and shelter. Going to work, I found those definitions changing. This is another story alluded to in an old post – “a story for another time”. Here we are, in another time.

So what are the bare necessities in my book, and how did I find them? My first full time job was in a restaurant – preparing food for people. My first “career” was in a grocery co-operative – providing basic food via the Willy Street Co-op. I was pretty sure food counted as a basic need.

After 10 years I left the co-op and moved to Northern California, where I was Maintenance Director (then Financial Manager and General Manager) of the Twin Pines Co-operative Community, a community of 79 families that jointly owned an 80-unit low-income housing co-operative (the 80th unit was a rental reserved for an employee and I was the sole renter for part of my time there). I learned that the Silicon Valley was not filled with Yuppies. Before it became the Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara Valley was The Valley of Heart’s Delight, a vast area of fruit orchards. Now I knew why the supply of apricots had dried up back when I was in the grocery biz – the orchards were being ripped out for factories, office buildings, and housing. (The apricot supply has since recovered somewhat.) There were people who worked in those factories and were the secretaries in those offices and who fixed the fancy cars of those over-priced engineers. They were the people I worked for, and they needed a place to live. Yup, housing made my list.

I’d always had a side job or two. While at Willy Street I was a volunteer programmer at WORT-FM, a listener-sponsored community radio station. I was a patient advocate at the Near East Side Community Health Center, and I was the local representative of FLOC (the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a farmworkers union started in the tomato fields of Ohio – they later merged with the UFW). In California my side job involved co-operative housing in Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua I found that the Matagalpa River (where we cleaned up after a work day) was also where everyone did their laundry and drew their drinking water, as well as where towns discharged their raw sewage. We found a mountain spring, had the water tested, built a dam and a pipeline, and supplied pure water to the houses we were building. (Fred Colgan deserves the lion’s share of the credit for that.) While we weren’t big enough to set up a sewage treatment program, we dug outhouses so sewage from our little community would not go straight to the river.

When my second visa expired I moved to San Francisco and became a plumber (after a side trip for the Mole Poblano tour, o quiere decir La Vuelta de Mole Poblano). It was pretty clear that clean water and sewage treatment made the list of bare necessities, so I made my living doing that. I mostly did residential service work, but also some remodeling and work in bars and restaurants. I used to tell people that my job involved hanging out in gay bars at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Life being what it is (and a story that I probably won’t bother telling here unless shelter in place lasts a really long time), my plumbing career came to an end. I became a college student and then an occupational therapist. Before I became a patient, I had never heard of occupational therapy. My sister (a Speech and Language Pathologist) defined occupational therapists as the people who come up with a simple commonsense solution to a problem; a solution that seems obvious in retrospect. Then she’d realize that she hadn’t though of it. When people ask me what the difference between a physical and an occupational therapist is, I sometimes say the PT’s job is to make sure you can move around, and my job is to make sure you can do all the things you want to move around for. It is a job that varies widely depending on the setting you are working in; and the lines between what I do and what my PT partner does are sometimes pretty blurry. (If you really want to know the gritty details, I have a 13 hour online course for you. Someday I may be able to do it live again.)

I saw firsthand how much access to healthcare depends on money, and how the US, unlike most industrialized countries, lacks a healthcare system. (I work in a hospital that provides care to all regardless of ability to pay – but that doesn’t mean they don’t get billed later, and it clearly affects the care they get after discharge.) Other countries have a healthcare system. We have an insurance system. Healthcare was now clearly on my list of bare necessities.

A common thread running through these, and made clear by our shelter at home situation, is community. I realized I had found my personal definition of the bare necessities: food, housing, water and sewer, healthcare, and community. I hope my list is complete because I’m closer to 70 than to 60 and I probably don’t want to start another career now. I’d like to pretend I had the forethought 50 years ago to build a life based on the necessities and pretend that my life and career trajectory was planned. Never mind, I don’t even want to pretend that. This was a case of going where life led me, then looking back and seeing what the path looks like. Or, as Robert Hunter said:

There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night…

Le Tour de France/La Vuelta a España/Il Giro d’Italia

The French tour has been postponed and is now scheduled from 29 August to 20 September. The Spanish tour is still scheduled from 14 August to 6 September, but there is talk of moving it to the fall. The Italian tour is being run in a virtual format and the real version may be moved to late fall. The World Championship is also scheduled in the same timeframe as the rescheduled tours.

I think the only answer to scheduling anything right now is “Who knows?” I know of one cycling event scheduled for June that is still scheduled and another in July that has already been canceled.

Stay safe out there…ride alone and enjoy the scenery.

To grandmother, with love

I drink from a cup labeled, “To Grandmother with love”. What’s up with that?

In 1984 I was the new kid in town, relocated from Wisconsin to Northern California. I was the backwoods rube to some and the whiz kid from the promised land to others. To Bonnie, I became “Mom”. (Need I say she was older than I?)

I grew up in Wisconsin and never thought I’d leave. Circumstances in 1983 changed all that. I went to a national conference that fall, resumes in hand, looking for work. I was offered a job as the Maintenance Director of a low-income housing co-op in Santa Clara, California. Seventy nine families jointly owned a sprawling townhouse project, complete with swimming pool. In 1963 someone had convinced HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) that even poor people needed swimming pools in the desert. Among new skills, I learned swimming pool maintenance.

I bought a beat-up 1975 GMC van to move my self and stuff to California. I hadn’t had a car for over 10 years (and even that one I’d only used for a year or so; it mostly sitting parked). Arriving in California, I quickly discovered how attached people were to their cars. Many felt sorry for me. I had planned to move out there and resell the van. It became apparent quickly that it had no resale value and that a car becomes a necessity in a place like that. When the van died, I almost bought a 1962 Jaguar (like that driven by Inspector Morse in the BBC series). Instead I bought a Toyota Corolla.

I was offered a scholarship to attend Co-op Camp Sierra, a training center in the mountains near Shaver Lake. I soon discovered that Wisconsin was seen as the center of the co-op world. We had had a vibrant co-op economy starting in the 1920s, when Finnish immigrants in the northwoods developed their own co-op label products.

Image from Finlandia University

Even the little co-op I had co-founded was known out there. We were seen as the vanguard. As my friend who worked as a management consultant said at the beginning of his seminars, “a consultant is an ordinary person far from home.” I discovered the truth of this in California. Ideas that nobody listened to here were seen as wisdom out there. Crackpot schemes here were paid for there. Folks seem to think that the more they pay for something, the more it is worth. If an employee you’re already paying has an idea, it is of no value. If the same sentiment is echoed by a high-priced consultant, it is now the word of god.

Another consultant friend was charging $250/day for his services. He was subcontracting Bay Area work to me so he could travel less. He decided he wanted to work less, so he raised his rate to $400/day. He had more work than he could handle. If he charged $400/day, he must be good! (Or so folks thought.)

So I got to camp and was soon put to work. From the shy backwoods kid who didn’t know anybody, I suddenly was thrust into the midst of running the camp, and was forced out of my shell. Bonnie, the Camp Manager, made me her Administrative Assistant. That’s fancy talk for what she really called me – “Mom”. My job was to make sure she got everywhere on time, that she had all of her stuff with her (a rolling suitcase on mountain trails isn’t the easiest thing to move around), and that no one stole her cigarette lighter to sell at the camp auction. I failed miserably at that last task one year, when it was I who stole it and ran up the bidding at the auction – as auctioneer and co-conspirator, I planted a few shills.

Bonnie had grown children and one year they gave me the pictured mug at camp to thank me for keeping their mom in line; and that’s how I became a grandmother before I turned 40.

Testifying before the Senate in support of the National Consumer Co-operative Bank Act, Bonnie said, “The co-op is my church.” [From National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions…]

Bonnie died too young. One of the campers had once asked me to nominate her for a MacArthur Fellowship (“genius grant”) for her work at camp and in the co-op community. That’s how much my “daughter” was valued by those around her.

A Modest Proposal (with apologies to J. Swift)

US Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has suggested that we keep COVID-19 in perspective: “We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die on the highways”; COVID-19 “isn’t a death sentence except to maybe no more than 3.4% of our population”.

Since 3.4% of our population is not ten thousand but more than ten million people, perhaps he is responding to what he sees as overpopulation. COVID-19 may be his way of thinning the herd, bringing our population down to a more acceptable level. If that is the case, perhaps we could just eliminate, for example, the Dallas and Seattle metropolitan areas with a couple of well-placed large bombs. This would lower the population and eliminate crumbling infrastructure. He may prefer other cities. Let us not quibble over details. Eliminating the entire state of Wisconsin would only get rid of half as many people and, besides, where would folks from Illinois go for vacations?

Row, row, row your boat

gently down the Ausable River, dropping 1000 feet over the first twenty miles.

We kick off the final week with a short and easy day. My new tire made it 55 miles before its first flat – that puts me in double digits for the trip. I hit a debris field on a bridge and found a wire sticking out of my back tire.

Lunch was at Ausable Chasm. For a mere $18 I could take a walking tour. I decided to be satisfied with pictures from the bridge.

We rode over a covered bridge (Ron from Niagara Falls exiting bridge). Despite the flat, I was early so I rode past our destination for a snack at the North Country Co-op in Plattsburgh, NY.

We’ll pass through five states in our last five days.

Last thoughts on Lake Placid:

Lots of folks running, biking, and smoking cigarettes (not all at the same time);

I heard English, French, Portuguese, German, Dutch, and a couple of languages I didn’t recognize- lots of French speakers;

The town is living on past glory, with several shops dedicated to memorabilia from the 1980 Olympic hockey team;

Placid Planet Bike Shop made a killing off our group, selling at least a half dozen of their jerseys ( the shop is for sale, if any of you are looking for a career change);

The town is not actually on Lake Placid, but on Mirror Lake ( which did not resemble a mirror while I was there) – Lake Placid is a short hike from the town;

An ice cream cone at the Ben and Jerry’s store costs more than a pint at the grocery store;

I did not make it to the top of the ski jump for a photo of scapulo-humeral rhythm (a Dr Bersu reference) but did get a photo of the ski jump.