“Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of? It’s made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!”
― Roald Dahl
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Friday, November 01, 1996:
Dreams of frustration and stupid mistakes
In surfing the web, I’ve come some people who record their dreams. I’ve never thought much about dreams, so I thought that maybe I was missing something. So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing down as much about my dreams as possible. Now I realize why I don’t do this. Looking at your dreams should help you find subtle things about you and your personality, open up your mind to thinking about aspects that you hadn’t examined. My dreams were as subtle as a sledgehammer. For example the last two:
In my dream I went to a baseball game with some friends of mine, three of us sat in one section while one friend and I sat in another section. My section had no view of the playing field at all, the actual game was around a corner, all we could see was the crowd itself. I spent the entire dream walking around trying to find a place where I could actually see the game, but was not successful.
In another dream I was supposed to drive to Massachusetts to visit someone. But before I left, a guy (I remembered who he was, I haven’t seen him in years) convinced me to fly to Pittsburgh (I’ve never been there) with him, the idea was that I could drive to Massachusetts from there. Most of the dream consisted of us driving around Pittsburgh lost, I remember he offered to take me out to eat, he tried to pay with a coupon the waiter refused to take, and we didn’t have enough money to pay for dinner. The dream ended with him leaving me in Pittsburgh, and I realized that my car was still in Dallas, and I had no way of getting to Massachusetts, which is where I wanted to go in the first place.
The older you get the stronger the wind gets-and it’s always in your face.
“Any sugar for this here tea?” “Umm, that thing there, it’s already sweetened ,” Sam said. “Where’s the ice, I think I need some ice” “There on the coke machine“
The old man, very thin, shaking, held his flimsy yellow paper cup, now half-full of the bitter old tea that they serve from big sweating metal cylinders with black plastic taps on the bottom, looked at the coke machine, levers lined up, the little grated tray held a few old ice cubes spilled by the last customer. The old man poked at these tentatively, like someone who grew up in an age when restaurants had waitresses that actually brought your iced tea to the table.
“They don’t give you any scoop.” “Umm, see that thing right there in the middle?” Sam pointed at the curved piece of plastic.. “This?” “Hold your cup under it, press this lever, and the ice’ll come out.”
Sam had been standing next to the drinks, pumping catsup out of a recessed bulk container and mixing it with Tabasco in little white paper cups. As he stood back with his red plastic tray Sam watched the old man as the ice came out in an unexpected tumble, that startling fast-food ice bin rumble, Clankity-Clank. The old man jerked, collapsing his drink cup, ice and tea squirting out. The girl came out from behind the counter and helped him get things straightened out.
Sam sat down at a booth. It was late, almost three, the day at work had been awful, full of disasters, he hadn’t been able to sneak out for lunch until the middle of the afternoon. Desperate for a few quiet moments Sam had gone for fast food fish, hoping the place would be mostly empty this late. As Sam started to eat, the old man shuffled over and settled in slowly in the next booth. He sat down on the other side, facing straight at Sam.
“McDonalds has fish sandwiches now.” he advised. “Uh-huh.” “Mebee I shoulda gone over there, fish sandwiches, ninety nine cents. “Really.”
Sam remembered noticing a big sign in the entrance to this fast-food chain fish joint that promised a hefty senior citizen discount. It made an impression on him because he noticed it would be only thirteen years before he would be eligible.
It was obvious that the old man wasn’t here so much to eat some fried fish as to talk to somebody. In small towns even today, most restaurants have long counters where you can go get coffee, maybe a cinnamon roll, and sit and the major activity is to for everyone to simply talk to each other.
“I can’t eat this hard crust on this fish.” “Uh-huh.” “I went down to the VA hospital to get some new glasses and some teeth. They bought me some glasses but I can’t see with ’em, I can see better with these.”
Sam took a good look – the old man was wearing an enormous pair of those cheap plastic reading glasses they sell at dollar stores.
“But they won’t give me no teeth. I’ve gone down to there over and over, the doctor said I was too thin, filled out this form….. they still won’t give me no teeth. The VA sent me these papers, hundred pages long, my sister…. but still they won’t give me no teeth and that’s what it said, right there.”
“You know, I really like tomatoes. Sliced tomatoes.” “I really like eaten’ me up a big plate o’ sliced tomatoes ‘n scrambled eggs.” “That’s what I had this morning, tomatoes ‘n scrambled eggs.” “It they’d serve that here, it’d be…..
As he talked he became more and more garrulous. Also, more and more incoherent. He would be obviously jumping around in time, his stories would go on for awhile, then lose themselves in a long pause, only to start up somewhere else, related, but different. It was apparent that Sam didn’t actually have to speak to keep this conversation going, only look up from his food every few minutes and nod a little.
“Did you get bread? They don’t give you no bread here. I like some bread with my meal. I really like bread.” “I went and got coffee… Eight-five cents!”
Sam wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be low, or high.
“At the Waffle House they’ll let you sit there and get coffee and some eggs.” “Then they’ll keep comin’ over and warmin’ it up and let you sit there all day.” “….. and they would wash that cup, that spoon, a couple of plates, wash them, pick them up, only charge five cents.” “I was there in Houston this morning.”
Sam was sure the old man had walked up to the restaurant. Although he said “this morning” Sam have the feeling he hasn’t been in Houston for a decade.
Sam finished his food and had to get back to work. Actually, he would have liked to talk to the old man, get his story, but he was too far gone to be able to have a real conversation. By now the old man was simply complaining about random things that are too expensive. Also, it was uncomfortable for Sam to talk with a stranger like that, he had the uneasy sensation of looking into his own future. The day had been too stressful already to have to deal with that.
Sam mumbled something incoherent and dumped the remnants of his meal, plastic plate, paper cups, bits of fried something, through the swinging door on the trash bin. He didn’t make eye contact with the old man as he walked past and went out to his his car.
Sam said to himself, “Maybe I’ll set my alarm for a little earlier tomorrow. That way I can get up and make some scrambled eggs and tomatoes for breakfast.”
“Likewise—now don’t laugh—cars and trucks should view the bike lanes as if they are sacrosanct. A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way. You wouldn’t park your car or pull over for a stop on the sidewalk, would you? Well then, don’t park in the bike lanes either—that forces cyclists into traffic where poor little meat puppets don’t stand a chance.” ― David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries
I have not been out riding my bike nearly enough – not enough miles and not enough riding with people. So when I read that some folks were riding from the Forrest Lane DART station over to the end of the Northaven Trail for the groundbreaking of the planned bridge over Highway 75 I thought I’d go. I did cheat and drive down to the station with my bike in the back of my car – so it was going to be a short ride.
A city like Dallas has a lot of bike trails and dedicated lanes – but a lot of them were put in as recreational opportunities – for the neighborhood to walk their dogs or get in a few miles of exercise – not as transportation corridors. That lead to what I call “choke points” – barriers to car-less transportation. The most common are highways, which can be impossible to cross without a car.
And the worst of these highways is 75, which slashes Dallas in half north to south.
The Northaven trail is a fairly new trail that runs through north Dallas all the way from 75 in the east almost to Love Field in the west. On the other side of 75 is the White Rock creek trail, which connects through miles of East Dallas trails – but it isolated by the highway.
For the last few years, work has been going on to connect these two with a bridge over the highway. Finally, funding has been established, a design has been finished and approved, and work is about to start. Two years from now, we should have our bridge.
And today was the groundbreaking ceremony. The mayor of Dallas was there, Dallas county officials, City Council Members, Park Board Members and more – they all wanted their turn to pontificate about how hard they have been working and how much credit they deserve. It went on for way too long for anyone in the audience – but that’s fine – if their egos and political careers need some service, so be it, as long as we get our bridge.
I had a good time. I was able to meet a good number of friends that I had not talked to since before COVID. That was nice.
And best of all, I learned a new route back under Highway 75 that joins up with the White Rock Creek Trail, Cottonwood Trail, and Forest Lane DART station where I parked my car. There is a little known footpath through a tunnel under the highway. You have to ride on a sidewalk along the frontage road for a few hundred feet, but it’s a good way to get across. Not the best looking path, but it works.
So why do we need the bridge? A path like this doesn’t give any opportunities for politicians to shovel sand.
I wouldn’t have noticed the difference if it weren’t for my affection for unusual pens, which brought me to my first good fountain pen. A lifetime writing with the ballpoint and minor variations on the concept (gel pens, rollerballs) left me unprepared for how completely different a fountain pen would feel. Its thin ink immediately leaves a mark on paper with even the slightest, pressure-free touch to the surface. My writing suddenly grew extra lines, appearing between what used to be separate pen strokes. My hand, trained by the ballpoint, expected that lessening the pressure from the pen was enough to stop writing, but I found I had to lift it clear off the paper entirely. Once I started to adjust to this change, however, it felt like a godsend; a less-firm press on the page also meant less strain on my hand.
When they were little guys, back in the day, my kids were among the first Pokemon fans. Whenever they had a few bucks they would have us take them to a little tobacco shop near our house in Mesquite and buy packs of cards.
Lee actually had an original Charizard – but he ruined it by dragging it across a concrete floor – scratching it irrevocably.
According to this article – that thing might be worth 300 grand now.
Once I was asked to write an article on how you should use a ceramic coffee cup instead of a Styrofoam one. The research I did was really eye-opening. By most measures the Styrofoam cup is the most environmentally friendly option. For example, think about how much energy is used to make a ceramic cup – that clay is heated to thousands of degrees – the cup is actually semi-melted a couple times. And as far as reuse – think about how much water and/or energy is used to wash the thing.
I think I was more excited about Christmas this year than the kids were. Seeing Nick and Lee and knowing how special Christmas is to children makes me so happy. I can still remember almost every Christmas when I was a kid. My sons are so appreciative too; they are spoiled, of course, but they enjoy everything so much and never complain about what they don’t get.
Another nice thing is that the kids are older now and they stuff they get – mostly video games and computer software – doesn’t take a lot of assembly. That makes it a lot easier on Santa; no staying up all night putting together basketball goals or stuff like that.
I woke up about five and couldn’t go back to sleep. I went out in the living room and set the camcorder up on a tripod aimed at the base of the tree and the pile of boxes arranged there. I read the paper, ate some breakfast, and waited for the little ones to get up. They started to stir and I ran out to the living room and started the camcorder going but they fell back asleep.
Finally, about seven thirty (that’s fairly late for my kids) they started to sit up and rub their eyes. I asked Nick, “Are you getting up?” “No, I’m tired, let me go back to sleep,” he said groggily and grumpily. “Nicholas, what day is today?” I asked. That made him mad at first. “How do I know what day it… wait… wait….” Then his face lit up and he snapped fully awake as his sleepy mind realized exactly what day it was. “Lee! Lee! let’s go, let’s go!” Nick yelled at his groggy brother. I dashed out ahead of them so I could watch the annual shredding of paper, the squealing and laughing and oohs and aaahs and looks of joy and amazement.
I was worried that we hadn’t bought enough stuff for the kids. As they get older and their toys get more expensive the volume of crap inevitably gets smaller. I shouldn’t have worried, they were beyond thrilled.
“If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life. Even if you can’t get together with that person.” ― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
In January through March of 2019 (that feels like a different age) I went every Wednesday after work clear across town to a bookstore called The Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff. I had stumbled into a reading group there that tackled long, difficult books called The Difficult Reading Book Club. We finished our book, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, then had a celebration. For various reasons I skipped the next book (a set of three tomes by Virginia Woolf – though I wasn’t afraid – who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf) and then COVID hit.
For a year we didn’t do any reading, but finally momentum built and for a couple months we did a weekly Zoom meeting read of The Brother’s Karamazov. I actually liked not having to make the long trip after work and a reading group is particularly suited for remote computerized interaction.
And today we had our kickoff meeting for our latest difficult (and long) challenge – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I’ve been avoiding spoilers for the novel, but did learn some useful facts from this meeting.
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, January 10, 1999:
On the road to Grandma’s house today, I suggested we go to the Dallas Museum of Art with the kids sometime. Candy replied, “Why not right now.”
We were approaching the crystal mountains of downtown and that was an excellent idea. We used the cell phone to tell the relatives we’d be a couple hours late and took the next freeway exit. I suffered a brain freeze and put a bunch of money in a meter (they are free on Sundays – and plainly marked) and we were there.
The kids liked the art. Lee, especially asked a bunch of questions. “How do they get pieces of paper that big?” “Most are painted on canvas.” “What’s that?” “A heavy cloth.” “But if they paint on cloth, why doesn’t it get all scrunched up and wrinkly?” “They make a frame and stretch the canvas across it, hold it tight with a bunch of little nails.” “What?”
Both kids predictably liked the older, realistic, landscape paintings. Lee wasn’t impressed with the post-1975 gallery. “Those look like a bunch of smooshes. I could do that. ‘cept I don’t have those bright colors.”
Nick liked the Egyptian stuff the best (though the Dallas museum doesn’t have the best collection). He was fascinated with the mummies.
They both enjoyed one modern video presentation. A dual screen suspended in the center of a huge dark room, roaring soundtrack. I liked it too.
Their favorite part, though, was the hours they spent in the Gateway Gallery doing the Drop-In Art. Big tables covered with piles of paper, clear plastic, glue, scissors, and markers. The children were supposed to produce a “winter scene.”
Most parents helped their kids and produced realistic looking scenes of ice skaters. We let Nick and Lee rock and roll on their own and they produced some bizarre looking polar landscapes. “I’ve never seen orange and purple polar bears,” said one of the instructors.
I dreamt of flax. I looked up “dreamed” vs. “dreamt.”
Dreamt and dreamed are both past tense forms of dream. Dreamt is more common in Britain, while dreamed is more common in other English-speaking countries, including the U.S. Dreamed seems to be more popular than dreamt when talking about sleeping, but when dream has a hopeful, literary sense, dreamt might be used.
“Dreamed” would be more appropriate in this case, but there is a choice and I feel like a rebel. So, I dreamt of flax.
I dreamt I was raising flax for fiber, and harvested it too early. It looked more like onions than flax, but I had hopes it would make a passable linen anyway. I woke up before the cloth was woven so I don’t know if it really would have worked.
Why did I dream of flax? No mystery, I was exhausted late and, in a form of obscene meditation, sat there randomly watching obscure, useless Youtube videos – each one ten minutes long. One was on the growth of flax for fiber and how linen cloth is made from it. The raw flax fibers after they are extracted from the stems are soft, lustrous, and flexible – they look like skeins of long, blonde hair. Thus “flaxen” locks.
Another was on the different types of flush rivets used in aircraft. I did not dream of rivets.
I had never thought about flax before so I looked it up online. I had forgotten that linseed oil was pressed from flax seeds. I’m a chemist and worked for decades for a paint company so I know all about linseed oil and what triply unsaturated α-linolenic acid is capable of in the presence of oxygen. I did not know that you can eat linseed oil and that is it considered healthy.
I know the smell of linseed oil.
When I was a young boy I was given my first rifle. Along with the gun came a metal container of raw linseed oil. Every evening I would use a rag and apply a very thin coat of oil to the wooden stock. Over a couple of years it turned into a glossy, deep, clear finish and made the wood look great. I was careful to store and dispose of the rags properly (they can burst into flame).
The days are long and I’m tired. Maybe I’ll dream of rivets.
“Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Collected Poems Of Alvaro De Campos: 1928 1935: V. 2
The ladies of the town were holding their cake walk. A rough circular path of squares and numbers had been put down onto the concrete in yellow masking tape. A motley group of old women and small children slowly walked this course while a record player pumped out a thin buzzing stream of polka music. After an appropriate delay a hand lifted the tone arm and the cake walkers settled onto their squares with an obvious air of excitement and anticipation.
After a short dramatic pause, Mrs. Slaughter, the oldest and biggest battle-ax in the women’s veteran auxiliary, reached into a metal can and drew out a slip of paper. There was a microphone hooked to the record player and after blowing on the microphone screen, causing the record player to pop and squeal, Mrs. Slaughter called out “Number Sixteen, the winner is number Sixteen.”
A huge gray-haired woman in a shapeless, colorless print dress shook with excitement and shouted, “I win! I win!” She was escorted by the other walkers over to a long table covered with various cakes of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Her eyes gleamed as she looked up and down, finally making her choice, and everyone clapped as she hoisted her choice high. The look on her face… this might well be the highlight of her life.
“All right everyone, get on your squares,” Mrs. Slaughter’s voice crawled from the speaker, “Get on your squares, find a good one, only a dollar.”
Sam palmed the single bill in his pocket. He had found a dollar forgotten in his sock drawer that morning. He was filled with a strange excitement and smiled as he dropped his money into the box and took his place in the masking-tape squares. The music started and Sam started to walk, following a scrawny little kid around and around. Sam looked around and grinned as he walked until, suddenly the music stopped. The kid in front of him halted on the seven square, which was Sam’s lucky number. Without really thinking about it he took an extra step and forced the kid to hop one more, ending up on Eight.
Everyone turned to watch Mrs. Slaughter pull out a slip of paper.
“Seven,” she said, “The winner is Seven.”
The kid glared at Sam and started to choke out, “But that was my….,” but it was too late, Sam was already starting over to the table to make his choice. Before he made two steps, his mother appeared from nowhere and put her hand on his shoulder.
“I can’t believe you actually won something,” his mother said. “Now, let’s make sure you pick a good cake.”
Sam shrugged until his mother’s hand fell away – and then they were at the table, surrounded by the other cake walkers, waiting for Sam to make his choice.
The cakes on the table had been baked and donated by all the better ladies of Putterburg. Baking was a prized skill and this was the opportunity to show off. The cakes were elaborate constructions of flour and sugar, colored, piped, and sculpted into scallops and swirls of Angel Food and German Chocolate. Sam’s mother licked her lips as the two of them scanned the rows and debated the beauty of this one or that.
Sam, however, found himself irresistibly drawn to one particular cake that had been shunted off to the far left-hand side. This one wasn’t fancy at all. It was a simple dark cylinder of chocolate icing, with no additions or decoration… not even a sprinkle. It wasn’t large and wasn’t even particularly even or symmetrical. It had a definite oblong lean to one side. The other cakes were on elaborate decorated slabs, color-coordinated with the icing. The chocolate one was on a simple piece of corrugated cardboard with a layer of aluminum foil.
Sam stared at the cake and imagined some poverty stricken woman, eking out a tough living in a rough shack on the bad side of town. Despite her perilous condition she had her pride and wanted to make a donation to the cause. All she had were basic tools, an old, unreliable oven, and the cheapest, basic ingredients. Sam could hear the clucks of the better ladies as this poor patriot brought her humble contribution, watched in his mind their disparaging sneers as the simple chocolate cake was slid to the side, forgotten, until Sam came along.
Sam had no way of knowing if his little cake fantasy was true, but once it lodged in his mind it stuck. Beside, he liked chocolate.
“I choose this one,” Sam said, pointing to the plain chocolate cake.
“Oh, no, Sam,” said his mother, “You don’t want that one. It’s… It’s probably a mix.” She said the word “mix” under her breath like it was the worst obscenity in the world. “Here,” she said and grabbed for an elaborate pink and blue design, let’s take this one.”
“No, I want the chocolate cake. I like chocolate. I like this one the best. I won and I get to chose.” Sam was stubborn and held onto the foil covered cardboard. His mother looked like she was going to die. Sam could hear the clucks from the ladies auxiliary as he set his jaw and walked away. He took his cake and went straight home. He walked the whole way, leaving his bicycle leaning against a tree.
At home Sam grabbed a plate, knife, and fork, then pulled a half-empty bottle of milk from the fridge and retreated to his room. His parents didn’t like it when he locked the door, but he did anyway. He sliced a generous hunk of chocolate cake and ate it in his bed, alternating bites with swigs from the milk bottle. He took joy in the dark crumbs that fell and disappeared into the bedspread and sheets.
The cake was good, but not as good as he had imagined when he first saw the stark cylinder of pure dark chocolate.
Sam pitched the empty milk bottle into his trash, arranged the cutlery around the cake, and slid the foil-covered cardboard under his bed. Sam heard the commotion when his parents and little brother came home, but simply turned on his bedside radio and cranked the dial to drown out the thumps, squeaks, and shouts of the three of them garumphing around. He was pretty sure nobody would bother him and nobody did.
In the morning Sam woke and heard his family clanking around the kitchen, getting their breakfast ready. He was hungry but didn’t feel ready to face all of them yet. He remembered the cake under his bed – there was still at least three-quarters left – and dropped down to pull it out. Overnight the cake had been discovered by ants and the tiny black red bodies swarmed and choked the cake, a line stretched across the floor, each soldier holding aloft a single black crumb.
“Not just beautiful, though–the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Friday, October 4, 2002:
Dallas is an easy place to hate
Dallas is an easy place to hate. It’s ugly – there is no natural beauty here; the city was plopped down in an expanse of muddy mesquite-covered scrubland. No mountains, no forests, no crashing surf, no sparkling gurgling streams. A modern city, sprawled out, no history, no monuments – all brick veneer, concrete, tarmac, and reflective glass. The summers are almost unbearable – with the deadly sticky sweltering heat and burning broiling sun making life a dash from one antiseptic air-conditioned space to another.
It’s an easy place to hate.
And then you have an afternoon like today.
It would ordinarily be my flex day off – but there’s a huge project due in one month and I’ve resigned myself to lots of extra hours and decided to go in so I wouldn’t fall further behind. That’s fine, it was quiet in there and I was able to get a lot of papers and electrons properly shuffled.
I walked out of work to catch my shuttle to the train and realized that some sort of cool front (maybe pulled around on the back side of the hurricane, Lili, now moving north from Louisiana?) had moved silently through while I sat in my cubicle.
The sun was still perched in a cornflower sky but the air was cool. It was wonderful. Weather like that is so rare – it makes my skin feel like it is jumping out – off the bone.
Wonder of wonders… there is no soccer practice tonight, no children to tote, so I was in no hurry to get home (I called Nick and asked if he wanted me home soon, he said he didn’t care – Candy and Lee were out, he’s getting his hair tinted) and decided to take the train down to Mockingbird station. I’d rent some movies at Premiere video, get some coffee at Starbucks, sit outside, and write for awhile – watch the sun set on the beautiful people before catching the blue line train out east to the redneck suburbs.
The selection at Premier Video is so astounding I have to carry a list in my Ipaq PDA to help me chose what I want to watch. This time, I chose a documentary, Salesman – one of the Maysles’ early works. I’m interested in their stuff again after seeing LaLee’s Kin earlier this week. I also picked up a DVD of an Almodóvar film, Live Flesh, for some light entertainment.
I loaded the videos into my backpack and crossed Mockingbird to grab a coffee at the Starbucks in the base of the lofts. If I wasn’t a redneck-suburb soccer dad (and wasn’t poor as dirt) this is where I would live. The condos are perched over the train platforms, where the tracks fall down into the tunnel for their run downtown. With a DART pass you can reach any part of the city, from the zoo to downtown, north to Plano or east to white rock in a flash with a roar of steel wheels and a whiff of ozone. At ground level the place is lousy with tony stores and trendy restaurants. The Angelika Theater anchors one end of the complex and across Mockingbird is another clot of useful and overpriced stores. All the men there are fashionable and all the women walking around have long legs.