Pounds, Pence and Pesos

In response to my writing prompt

I started with a tarnished quarter, and then remembered a handful of British coins I found among my father’s things after he died. But, I’ll start with a 1000 Chilean Pesos bill.

We were in the process of packing to move to another office space when I found the bill tucked into the cover of a book. I asked my manager about it, but she had the book for so many years, she couldn’t remember where it even came from. We decided most of the books on the shelf could go to the local Friends of the Library book sale, but we should keep the odd find. It is now prominently pinned to the partition wall in our new office. 1997 is the year on it. The year I bought my condo. Also the year I had my first “real” full-time career oriented job. Six years on from my divorce, it had taken all that time to finally land on my feet. What I didn’t know was 1997 would not be the beginning of something wonderful, but the start of the next tumultuous phase of life.

1971 two-pence coin: That year I was in grade school in southern California and every bit youngest child of upper-middle class suburbanites. And a beach bum, if you can call a little girl that. A friend lived next to an access stairway down a steep cliff to a beach only locals knew about. I remember time spent on those beaches as the happiest of my childhood.

1984 sterling pound coin: College. I lived in an apartment with a roommate I barely knew at the time, but who would become one of my closest, life-long friends. By that year, I had figured college out, what I wanted from it, and had come to know myself well enough to lay out some personal boundaries in regards to family, friends and the boys who came sniffing around. I was not reckless, but I had no fear. I wasn’t a know-it-all, but I was confident, as only a person who has not yet been truly kicked about by life can be.

1990 five-pence coin: Yeah, well. The year I realized it was falling apart, and from which I was forced to rise from the proverbial ashes.

Which brings me to the tarnished quarter: 2000. Pushing 40 by then, I started that year in a strange juxtaposition of being very ill with the flu, but going in anyway for my first day at a new, exciting job. I was determined to keep moving forward, though exactly in which direction, I was not sure.

Looking back makes me think of that thing people ask: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self? I used to shrug and say that I wouldn’t change a thing. But, now? Maybe it is because of the effect of this year’s constant state of crisis and spending so much time at home by myself that I can finally answer the question. (Smiling secretly to myself) I know exactly what I would say.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #5: Ten Days in September

It is said that it only takes ten days to two weeks to form a new habit or adapt to changed or different circumstances. I’ve been living a sound-proofed existence as a result of being completely shut-in for the past ten days due to hazardous wildfire smoke. The smoke now finally cleared, I reopened my windows, and it is as if I let the entire outside world come rushing in. I’d grown accustomed to my muted environment without realizing it. So much so, that I am astonished how novel and how loud the sound of bird song, falling rain, rustling leaves and cars driving by all seem. It’s as if I’ve entered a strange, noisy alien world. Hearing a person walk down the hill to the park across the street startled me, giving me a moment’s panic that someone was walking in my home.

I’ve not added a new chapter to my pandemic chronicle in recent months because I’ve been tongue-tied, or whatever the writerly term is. Not blocked. Just too agitated to express anything but frustration and anger. It’s why I don’t consider journaling therapeutic. Instead of a means of processing thoughts and feelings into some sort of positive result, I usually end up more anxious than when I began. So, I don’t write when I’m stressed. Well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t post what I write. There were 40 revisions to this post stewing in the Draft file since the first week in June.

I think what’s recently unbound me are two things: One, summer is my busy time at work but now that I’m in the home stretch with the end in sight and most of the work done, I’m less stressed and able to turn my attention elsewhere. Second, I have finally accepted the circumstances of the pandemic as the way things are and will be for a long while yet. I refuse to use the term “new normal,” because like all catchphrases, it is overused. Plus, I do believe there will be a time that we will return to “normal.” Yes, some things will not be as they once were as a result of this experience, but ultimately? We are social animals locked into generations of conditioning. While it may take just a couple of weeks to form a new habit, it would take eons to reprogram thousands of years of human nature.

End of a good read ennui

My mostly loose take (and, believe it or not, a true tale) on the past 2 weeks of Un-OLWG prompts

I finished a good summer read recently, and now have that peculiar ennui that comes from wishing a wonderful group of characters didn’t have to take their story and go. The author of this particular book deftly revealed a pretty serious subject with such empathy and generosity, that I felt warm and comforted, regardless all the trials, tribulations and gritty circumstances. I even hated that the woman who created fake twenty dollar bills and who stole the last bit of cash the protagonist had in the world had to leave the story.

Coming to the end of a good book is like being out on a lovely drive through the countryside on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, only to come to a full stop in some sort of cul de sac. Do you re-read the book right away, or do you go looking for another by the same author? Maybe choose a similar story by someone else? Or, maybe go looking for a TV or movie adaption?

I can never start another book for at least a couple of weeks after I’ve finished one that swept me away. I have to first stop wondering what the next chapters of the story might be, and then let the characters I came to love, go. In the meantime, like some sad-sack jilted lover, I wish the story never had to end.

(long sigh)


Prompts are: counterfeit twenty dollar bills; soft and low; written in books; let me go; a cul de sac; the way things sometimes are.

Folgerphobia. Or…Turbidus incertumque sine capulus

In response to Un-OLWG #164


Oh, I think I get it: It’s like a game of Jeopardy, yes? “What word did Sir Kerr use from that list of ‘23 Emotions People Feel, But Can’t Explain’ to tell the story?”

(BTW…Never mind the fact it’s right there in your post title. Yet another chapter and verse lesson from the book of “Never Before Morning Coffee.” So, just play along, OK?)

How about, “What is a word similar to ‘vellichor’ for a T&A dive bar?”  After all, the setting is a frequent “character” in your narratives, usually encased in some sort of melancholia. Definitely some sort of meanness or gritty-ness. Then, I thought perhaps the reverse of ‘énouement’ would be another close fit. Also, ‘opia’. ‘Chrysalism’ could be a very good fit for your bar settings.

After pondering over all that, I wondered if the Jeopardy question might be, “What is the backstory to, ‘C U Then’?” As in, your story is the backstory to mine? Thinking at the time you had linked to my last post, specifically, and not to my blog, in general, but more curiously — again, pre-coffee as the only excuse — not concerning myself with the fact that none of your characters’ names are the same as the ones in my story.

Whatever. It was fun to consider: Maybe ‘lachesism’? I thought some more on it. I can see how Chris could be struck with ‘exulansis’. I know I am, having started the story in the first place. Readers will certainly succumb to ‘andronitis’, or worse, ‘liberosis’ if the story can’t figure out the characters, or more importantly, a plot.

Anyway, while Chris probably also suffers from ‘nodus tollens’ and ‘altschmerz’, you will just have to live with your ‘ellipsism’ regarding “C U Then.”


And, just what is this all about, you ask? I shared a list of obscure words with TNKerr a couple of weeks ago, challenging him to use one in his weekly list of 3 prompts. He used ‘sonder’ to inspire his preamble story this week. Have a go yourself! See what inspires: https://lrosedotblog.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/23-obsure-emotions.pdf .
If none of those suits, check out the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, from which the list probably was gleaned. My favorite, for our “Zoomed” times, is this one:

midding
v. intr. feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not quite in it…feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be. From Middle English “midden” a refuse heap that sits near a dwelling.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #4: A Silver Lining Between Two Angry Clouds

Since March 10th, the myriad of emotions and states of mind I’ve experienced exceed anything I’ve been through in a year. Maybe more. At first, I adapted fairly well to the stay at home order. But now, I’m stir crazy. I’m bored. I miss… so much. Variety. I miss variety in my days. While it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two months, I realize, because one day is exactly like the next, that that kind of monotony and solitude have the unreal ability of making time stand still.

I live near Seattle, and I work in the county to the north where the first COVID19 case in the U.S. was confirmed. It was a strange feeling to know I was living in the country’s first hotspot. At the time, everything was business as usual, which made it seem all the more strange, given the stories from China, Italy, South Korea and Spain. Then came our turn to shut down.

A really weird circumstance, but, honestly? It is not that dreadful. At the time, we thought it would only be a couple of weeks, three at most. To have two weeks to play at being the sought-after professional who makes their own rules and works from a home office? How fun! So, sure. Whatever. Let’s hunker down. Lets shop for groceries as if the snow storm of the decade is forecast. Make all our favorite meals and desserts. Step outside and take a deep breath and marvel at the empty streets. Anyone can make the best of things for a couple of weeks, especially if they aren’t actually homebound by 3-foot drifts of snow. Or, confronted with homeschooling. Or cooped up with a partner, spouse and restless children. Or laid off or furloughed. It’s the best of all worlds.

Then the mandates are extended and two weeks turns into a month, and then another month, and now, the end of May. Parks are closed. Events are cancelled. Shopping centers are shuttered. Businesses permanently close and jobs are lost so suddenly, it is as if all businesses were hit by a massive nuclear bomb. Masks go from being declared of no use to mandatory. Tempers rise. The conflict between life versus livelihood takes on a mythical, almost epic gravitas. Healthcare workers break corporate rules and speak out about the horror show they are living. The need is yesterday, but our bureaucracies are not built for crisis management. By the time the relief fund or the medical supplies are finally in someone’s hands, it is too little, and way too late.

Even a walk in your neighborhood is a stresser. Mine in the park across the street has become an irritating cross between a game of wack-a-mo and an obstacle course, as I weave and bob around people and dogs and blissfully unconscious children running this way and that. I dread a trip to the store and have taken up curbside pick up and home delivery.

So, the frightened and defiant stage protests. Leaders devolve into pissing matches. Politicians duke it out with scientists. Normally, this would be considered more of the same infuriating postering, but with what is actually at stake, these days it plays out as a clear and present danger. The stress of it all begins to dull and crack the gloss of your initial child’s play fantasy. It’s no longer a fun snow day.

All this came into play just after one of my family groups was bowled over by their own crisis. A relative, diagnosed in January with an aggressive cancer, was transported in an emergency air lift to an ICU unit the next state over just as all of this hit. For various non-covid, but legitimate reasons, their spouse could not leave home to be with them. Then all family is forced to stay away because of travel shutdown and fear of bringing the virus with them and infecting the others. The pressure and panic of it all proved too much. A very real, truly frightening meltdown took place. The whole thing a horrible and gut wrenching drama to have to witness, helplessly, from afar.

I appreciate the stories of people helping people during this universal crisis, pitching in where they can. But, to me, after all the emotions I’ve cycled through these past weeks, seeing people standing in doorways each night to applaud first responders, or leaving messages of encouragement with teddy bears in windows, or putting Christmas lights back up, or flying banners that read “We Got This!” seem naive and trite.

So, I take a deep breath and turn inward. I have to “fake it until I make it” in order to accept the audacity of hope that all will be fine, some day. I have to make myself smile: At that banner with words of encouragement, waving in the warm breeze. At the sign in the window made by a cheerful child’s hand in colorful crayon. At the odd sight in May of a lighted snowman and Santa Claus in the front lawn.

As I write this, I sit on my couch, gazing out the window, grateful that Mother Nature has awakened from her winter’s nap. A bright yellow daffodil, brilliant purple tulip and a sunny afternoon go a long way to lift a spirit.

I take another deep breath.

The phone rings with the call that my family member succumbed to their cancer, peacefully passing Sunday morning. There cannot be any gathering to honor their life, acknowledge their passing, nor bring comfort to the grieving.

(sigh).

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #3: Home, Sweet Home…needs a decorator!

Another unforeseen critical situation in all of this is the mass hysteria interior decorators must be going through. Have you seen the TV reporters broadcasting from their living rooms, kitchens and basements? I hope we aren’t actually getting a glimpse into their private lives, because, if so, many of these people are in dire need of some taste. However glad I am to see that IKEA has done as well as they have, I am at the same time mortified at the extreme state of unoriginality and lack of imagination. There might be a scourge worse than a virus for which there is not yet a vaccination: Color and Design Blindness, or CDB. I wrote my congress representative to insist a course in art appreciation be added to the Cares Act.


When I started this post, I was on a directive to work from home “as much as possible.” Shortly thereafter, while I was out running “essential” errands (read: picking up my prescriptions), I got a text that a co-worker and his wife tested positive. New directive: Quarantine for 2 weeks (btw…neither required hospitalization, and both are on their way back to health, recovering at home).

The news waxes on about people battling isolation, cabin fever, and chaos, as people try to figure out how to work from home while learning the hard way how to also be a homeschool educator. But there are people like me, now that I’m passed cabin fever, who are loving the new world order. You won’t see us on TV, though. We’re not about to solicit any sympathies. We are, firstly, healthy, still employed and not on the front lines in the hospitals, M.A.S.H. units or care centers. Next, we are single, no children, no one else who needs us to look after them, and under orders from our employer, our city and our state to shelter in place. Coronavirus is awful. Truly. I do not mean to be glib. But, my life at the moment? Not that bad.

The epitome of a lonely walk on a sunny day for me:

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #2: Hey, look! I have a can of clam chowder!

It’s pantry rummaging time. Not because I’m too scared to go out in public. I’m rummaging around my pantry because there is something that happens when a person is stricken with the onset of cabin fever. The hunting and foraging instinct kicked in yesterday at lunch along with a profound urge to nest within the safe confines of my home.


A moment of curious calm

I stood staring out a window, chatting with my manager on the phone as we tried to map out how this, however temporary, situation will have to work, when I spotted two small birds in a tree. What struck me was that the afternoon was pretty stormy with the wind pitching and swaying branches, but there they perched, unperturbed. They were every bit the picture of a comfortable couple gazing at the view from their back deck. All that was missing were a couple of tiny Adirondacks and itty-bitty glasses of wine.

I found the sight of those two birds very calming. These two sat on that branch, unmoving, staring off into the distance, for almost 10 minutes. The aggressive movement of the branches in the storm didn’t bother either of them. Not a single flutter. It is a scene that recalls a favorite quote:

Peace.
It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. 
It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

The clam chowder I found in the back of my cupboard was fine for today’s lunch, but truthfully, I needed more provisions. So I ventured out for groceries. Just using the term, “ventured out,” in relationship to a routine trip to the grocery store is odd. I’ve been out and about every day this week, but only for short trips that did not involve being in the proximity of more than a couple of people at a time. A trip to the grocery seemed daunting.

I headed out with a full ration of patience, along with homemade hand sanitizer and latex gloves. Not surprisingly, I had to circle the parking lot several times before landing a spot. The cluster-f**k that ensued when 5 cars vied for 2 open spots would usually result in a lot of parking-lot road rage. Not so today. As a community, we are well aware we are in crisis-mode, so it seemed that I was not alone in bringing patience with me to the store. Every driver assessed their part in the do-si-do and maneuvered accordingly and expediently. It was the most neighborly thing I have ever witnessed.

The store was busy, but “normal” busy. The only difference were the empty shelves. It’s funny what people think is necessary to hord: Flour, eggs, butter, but not so much baking soda, yeast or salt. Frozen meals, of course, but only certain frozen meals. There’d been a run on plastic food storage bags, which seemed odd. And, I just have to say, all that broccoli is going to go bad in just a few days, so folks better eat up.

But Collard Greens? I had my pick! Mushrooms, too. Asparagus. Artichoke. Lettuce. Carrots. Radish. All that was left of the white onions were a few paper skins, but yellow and red onion and shallot were plenty to be had. Berries were picked over (pun intended), but plenty of apples and oranges. Fish, beef, nuts, tomatoes, juice, cheese, baked desserts too. What fascinated me was coffee. There was a lot of coffee. You’d think there’d be a run on coffee.

As I considered buying the half turkey breast from the rotisserie service (as all their chicken was sold out, like, all chicken. They were completely out of fresh chicken too), I heard a shopper curse under his breath that salami slices were sold out. The neighborly demonstration in the parking lot inspired me to pay it forward. I suggested he get a 1/4 lb. at the deli counter. Poor guy had to take a moment to process. He’d never considered the deli counter before. He smiled and thanked me. As I moved along to the check out, I heard him ask, “How much is a pound?” A pound?! Wow. He’s taking the lock down very seriously.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #1: Letters from a shut-in

Yesterday at noon, the WA State Governor announced that all groups over 250 in our tri-county area are forbidden from gathering. He then hinted that schools will soon been closed (they did today, in the same tri-county area). A later email from a local school district further hinted an inevitable closure won’t be for weeks, but for months.

For me, it all started last Friday, when the mayor of the small town where I work announced that several city-owned buildings would close. As our office is in one of those buildings (and we are a city agency), we received a subsequent notice to work from home, “as much as possible.” Well, as much as everyone wanted to shout, “hell, yes!”, we abstained. When things get serious, it seems untoward to appear you are taking advantage. So most of us showed up the next day. Then the day after that we were sent home with the admonishment to only come into work if absolutely necessary. Before leaving the office we were also given an agreement to sign. Basically, a scouts’ honor to work all 8 hours a day.

The “work from home” edict is one thing, but an example of how urgent folks are getting about the recommendations to curtail spread of this virus is this: I was talking to one of my co-workers when we were interrupted by a senior manager to be conscious of the fact that we were standing “way” too close. We looked at each other and then assessed our distance. Probably 4 feet. Another co-worker brought out a measuring tape, sort of as a joke, and measured the distance. It was five feet 1 inch. We both took a step back. Six feet is a really weird distance to have to stand when one is having a comfortable conversation with another.

The one thing I’ve learned about working from home thus far is this: There is a lot that is accomplished in the consortium of co-workers that cannot possibly be accomplished when everyone is sent to sit in their respective corners with their backs to the room (so to speak). And then there is the plain weirdness of working from home. Home is where I hang out. Where I kick back. It is where—except for paying bills, routine chores and other homeowner headaches—I only do the things I enjoy doing. There’s no flopping on the couch for an hour’s nap after lunch, just because I can; as I do on weekends. Were my cat still around, I’d being having a heck of a time keeping her off the desk, or circling me, constantly meowing. And, I’ve discovered to my great frustration, my home desk and office chair are not designed for a full day’s toil at the laptop. OUCH! My back!!

I’ve also discovered my neighbor above me has a treadmill. She has always worked from home, but all this time we’ve been neighbors, I never knew she had a treadmill. On her breaks she jumps on that thing. And, that damn thing is loud! It’s like living under an earthquake. Funny, the things you discover when your circumstances change. I told her to go on with her treadmill. It’ll give me an excuse to go out on a walk to escape the noise!

Which brings me to this: Walking around your neighborhood is the healthiest/safest thing you can do these days. You don’t encounter a single nasty germ-infested surface; the world around you (unless it’s raining) is lovely; and it is not socially awkward to keep socially distant from others you pass by. However, it makes meeting the ebullient puppy-dog tricky.

LD Rose, Class of ’43

I was the one to sort through my parent’s papers and files after their deaths. Among my father’s various papers—drafts of short stories, travel essays, random thoughts and highlights from his career as a City Manager—were his military service records in the Merchant Marines and later in the Naval Reserve. The first piece of paper in the first file was a simple half-sheet form titled, “Employment Severance Notice from Douglas Aircraft,” which read,

I, LD Rose, hereby state that I am terminating, on my own volition, my employment with the Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc., on this 3rd day of April 1942 for the reason hereinbelow set forth: Military Service—Voluntary Enlistment.

On the back of the form was a note written in my father’s hand:

I know that I shall never be the same as I was the days that have past. It is something numb and bursting inside, like nothing within the compass of words. It is bitterly sad and jubilant and aches for a night and complete stillness it shall never know. A sad, thin, stretching voice. A face that is a stranger to the day.

My father was 21 when war was declared on Japan. Unlike so many of his peers, including his good friends, my father did not rush to join up. So, what inspired him to finally do so? I doubt it was at his parent’s behest. From the little I was told about them, I would guess them to be Isolationists. He might have been swayed working for Douglas Aircraft (later McDonald Douglas). He would have been surrounded by a lot of pro-war propaganda working for a company like that. Who knows. Whether he was spurred on by a guilty conscience, or a late-arriving sense of patriotic duty, he never said.

Jammed in the back of the files I found a small journal. It was wrapped in a plastic bag that used to contain Palmolive soap bars. The front and back hard-bound covers were ripped away, leaving the clusters of pages precariously clinging to dangling strings that once held them to the biding, and it was badly burned at the top where fire had once threatened to destroy it. I was confident the singed top was the result of a house fire when I was a child. It was a thrill to discover the journal survived.

From the first page, starting from just under the charred top:

…if I were about to take the most decisive step of my life I hesitate upon these words. For indeed, I have taken a decisive step, perhaps a monumental one, and the need for words of monument is impressive. I am, on this date, aboard my first ship, the Phillip Livingston…We are tied up at a smelter, discharging nitrates from Chile, Peru and Ecuador. Oh, the fascination of the far-sounding names!
I fight the death of youth, fight the becoming a man, wanting neither to the exclusion of the other.
I took the helm for the first time today while we moved to another dock. It was a magnificent sensation of importance and responsibility…
Gray ship, gray day…frantic bouncing of the gulls in the wind, a boiling, brutal wind sprawling on the face of the sea-top. We depart Bellingham at 6am and the adventure commences.

In the 1990s, my father was interviewed for a book—though I do not think it was ever published—about the Cadet Midshipmen of the US Merchant Marines during World War II. It was then that all the stories of his three or so years of service came pouring out, exactly as if a faucet inside him was turned to the open position. The interview inspired him to write it all down. I have a photocopy of one of his drafts, somewhere. For all his efforts at writing the perfect short story, opinion piece for the local paper or essay of my parent’s traveling years after retirement, his memoir of his war service was his very best work.

Kingspoint, USMM Academy, class of 1943 or 44.
b.May 1920-d.April 2011

The only time I saw my father sob uncontrollably was during a televised Memorial Day ceremony. Though he did not know combat as those who served in the other branches of the military, he carried very close to his heart the ultimate sacrifice so many of his generation made. He was profoundly proud of his service and honored to be called a Merchant Marine.

Snow Day #2

Snowy park trail
The last snow day around here, photo taken on a park trail near my home.

The first snow day of the year is always about getting out for a walk in the winter wonderland. Because this sort of thing happens only every so often, it’s always a treat.

However, this time, because of the terrible cold (in the 20s and teens) and the high winds with gale-force gusts up to 50 mph, going outside for a lovely stroll was not recommended. The conditions prompted the first “frozen spray warning” I’ve ever heard in the weather forecast for those crazy enough to be out on a boat. When I took the trash/recycling out, the experience was the closest I want to know what it must be like to live in Alaska this time of year. So, I stayed inside watching movies, napping, puttering around with this and that, started a new novel, and watched another movie before calling it an early night.

Cars piled up on slippery downhill road
Even a little snow on the streets on my hill is an issue. (Photo from a twitter feed)

Day #2 is clear and sunny, and the wind is gone, but that’s about it. It’s still in the 20s; the sun only expected to warm things up to a relative balmy 35-degrees. There’s still no getting out of my hill-y neighborhood, as sanding our steep roads is not my city’s priority. It’s another day stuck indoors.

So, Day #2 will be about writing. Stay tuned. 😉