Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dust Gets In My Eyes

We had a little dust storm here the other day. I even heard people on the radio saying with awe, "The sky was brown all day." It was dusty enough that a little haze was in the air when I looked across the street.

Made me almost homesick.

New Mexico in the fall is glorious--green pines, gold aspens, red maples, an orangy oak here and there. Spring is ..... not so much. March is the month of dust storms. It is still cold. The wind blows hard. It's not unusual to have difficulty seeing across an intersection. Sometimes, rain clouds form over the wind and dust, and it rains. We get, yup, we get mud. Midair, honest-to-God mud of reddish caliche dirt that stains clothing badly. We kids always thought mudding was funny. Our mothers, grimly working on the stains in the wash, weren't as amused.

A bad duststorm can sometimes limit visibility to the point getting out is dangerous, and folks mostly stay in unless they have to get out. No running to the grocery for a head of lettuce, for instance. Not as extreme as Texans with snow days, but similar.

I fondly remember a duststorm day when I was in fifth grade. The school I was attending also housed the junior high where my mother taught. We all came to school, and it was a particularly bad duststorm. And it was cold. And the furnace was broken. After about an hour, they dismissed school. One of my classmates had both parents at work. My mom called her mom and took her home with us for the day. Mom lit a fire in the fireplace. We sat on the floor in front of it and played board games. Mom fixed lunch. Seems to me hot chocolate was in there somewhere. I would look out the window at the desolate, windy, brown landscape and listen to the wind whoooing down the chimney, and I felt so happy and lucky and warm. And then I would go back to playing with Kay.

To my disappointment, one day was all they needed to fix the furnace. The next day was still brown and windy, but not as bad. The school was warm. (sigh) So we went back to our schoolwork again.

An old high school friend told me he loved the duststorms so much he would walk out in the desert in them. Personally, I think he was nuts, but duststorms in New Mexico are part of the spring. The fruit trees bloom in late February, then we cross fingers that they don't freeze in March. April is fickle, sometimes sunny, sometimes windy and dusty. Iris and daffodils draggle out here and there. May is temperate, days are sunny and everyone's roses are blooming. To get there, however, there's the dust of February and March, and maybe April, which won't commit.

In West Texas and in the Panhandle, they get real duststorms. An elderly friend told me she was in nurse's training in Lubbock 70 years ago when a duststorm came in so thick and dense that the sky turned nighttime black by 4 p.m. She recalls going out on a date to visit friends at a farm outside town. When they started back to town, a duststorm came up, and the dust was billowing across the road. The young man couldn't tell where the road was. So she got out of the car and walked in front. He turned on the lights and could see her. She walked to town with him following in the car. She has told me this story several times. The mileage varies.

You don't breathe very well in that stuff, even if you aren't allergic to dust. I hear the terrain and temps are similar to Iraq, if less intense. New Mexicans have established some pistacchio farms in the Tularosa Basin. They market the nuts, often soaked in green chile salsa. Very tasty.

So, yeah, brown skies make me sigh. And smile a little bit.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'm Happy, But I Miss You

She's just eight, well-loved, never had her mom go away before. Mother would be gone a week. Gramma moved in to be there when Dad was working. She was glad to see her grandmother, happy and well-adjusted as usual.

They went out for breakfast three times to McDonald's before school. When you're eight, that's pretty cool. They went to the Dollar Store where it took her 20 minutes to figure out what to spend her dollar on. One evening, she and Gramma played games before bedtime.

Yup. A real good week.

Thursday night after supper, Dad was loading the dishwasher while she read on the couch. Gramma was reading at the table. The phone rang. Her mom was calling her dad.
They talked about arrangements to pick her mom up at the airport on Sunday, then her dad called her to the phone.

She listened intently. Said, "yes, no, uh-huh" a few times. Her voice was soft and tentative. She hung up and went back to her book. She bent over it intently.

Gramma watched from the table. Then she said, "Sometimes when you are missing someone, it hurts more to hear their voice, doesn't it?"

After a moment, she said, "yes." Her voice was choked.

She went on reading. Gramma returned to her book.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Drugs? What drugs? Nobody here but us chickens."

Matt G. wrote a brief blog about fearing all the world being on drugs. That is a right write. There must be some folks who aren't imbibing for the problem to be so invisible. Either that or society in general has become dysfunctional enough to walk automatically around the elephant in the living room. A little of both, I suspect.

Almost two years ago, I retired from Child Protective Services. Over the years, I worked with mean folks, ignorant folks, folks with personality disorders. Yes, I'm weird. I liked most of them. I wasn't an investigator, although I did some of that. My job was to work several months with the families to make the home healthier and safer for the kids. The last two-three years, all I had was drug parents, mostly on meth. If I had wanted to be a drug counselor, I would have trained that way, but that's what I was doing. Meth, meth, meth. coke. meth. heroin. meth, meth, meth. Wore me down. Most common reason to lose your kid in my county? Have it born drug-exposed. We have so dad-gummed many affected newborns we ran out of homes to take them.

So, I have my retirement party. I walk out the door. Magically, all the drugs have disappeared. Nothing much on the news. No one talking about it in the schools. No need for more drug rehab programs. Plenty of resources. Just Say No. I hear opinions that parents aren't doing their jobs because they are couch potatoes, or they are guilty about youthful indiscretions, or just not strong enough. All may be true, but I KNOW a fair number of these parents aren't doing much for their kids because they are in the bathroom sniffing or smoking or shooting. They are functional. They still get to work most every day, and meth is great when you've got a lot of cleaning to do in a short time. And they are legion. Endemic. They are everywhere.

One mother insisted I should stay out of her life because she said she was a fine mother. Her house was clean (enough). She cooked. She filled out the paperwork for free school lunches (yes, that is a level of functioning I didn't always find.) Her children behaved well in school. Their grades weren't great, but hey, hers hadn't been, either.

"What about when you are high?" I asked her, having a pretty good idea she spent several hours a day on one substance or another.

She smiled. "I wouldn't know. I'm not there then."

There was a news story a couple of months back about a drug-dealing couple who actually were having their kids perform home chores, laundry, etc. The youngest kid was 9. They were each given a doobie to smoke as a reward for getting their chores done every week. Police busted the couple for dealing, started talking to the kids, and called in child services.

I don't know how many kids in Texas are "homeschooled" by meth addicts who don't want to get up early, but I remember one kid whose dad kept getting caught neglecting the kid and not enrolling him in school. Dad was one of the motel people. As soon as the police and CPS were out of sight, he would just fade away to another place, sometimes in another state. The kid was really pudgy. All he was given to eat was fast food and junk snacks. All he did was sit on the couch and watch porn with his dad. He really wanted to go to school, but when he should have been starting fifth grade, he had attended maybe three weeks in his life. Well, dad finally got busted and went to jail. The kid got into the foster care system and got to go to school. He turned out to be really bright, and once he got a chance to play (dad hadn't let him go outside much), he skinnied right down. Father and son had probably smoked a little pot together, but thankfully no meth. Disclaimer: This in no way an attack on homeschooled children, many of whom are the best scholars today in our colleges and universities. Texas does not require any licensing or proof of schooling, however. For irresponsible parents, bringing up illiterate children is remarkably easy.

Easy-peasy, as someone I know would say.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

If I want the whole pie for myself, is that greed?

Someone wise told me long ago that no human trait of itself is either good or bad. It also is in the eyes of the beholder. Attila the Hun was really proud of himself.

Take stubborn, for instance. People who are stubborn are tenacious. They hold on. They usually aren't quitters. They also can be a pain in the posterior and bull-headed, but that's beside the point. Stubborn is a good survival trait.

Politeness can be underdone or overdone...but it sure makes for smooth interactions when someone has a lot of it. My mother was like that. If she started getting angry enough to say "hell's bells", we all knew to dive for cover.

Love? There's a reason "Women Who Love Too Much" was a best seller. I've known Men Who Love Too Much, too. When you see these people regularly because they are friends, family or co-workers, it's like having a permanent train wreck around all the time. I meet many good and loving parents--my own grandkids have two of 'em--but for 13 years, I worked with parents who would wail, "I love my kids, " when they didn't feed them regularly , nurture them, wash their clothes or bandage their cuts. I had to explain to these people that emotions without actions are just words.

Now let's talk about greed. I thought the 1980s were the "Me" decade, but lately, I am astonished at the sheer chutzpah of marketers trying to sell me shlockier shlock at increased prices. I am told that by putting two olives less in every jar, the manufacturer has increased product and profits without spending an additional cent. That's not necessarily greed. But I was thinking about this after opening my diminished bottle of olives to add same to my can of a formerly well thought of brand of tuna only to find the can was half water. I love canned tuna but I won't buy that brand again. The grocery I like because it is small and friendly will have to change, too, because they want $3.61 for a large can of albacore chunk tuna. I guess I'm talking about free enterprise, and I guess it's working, because I am changing direction. Except why are all the lemmings around me continuing to go along with this drek? The only good thing I can see about the tuna can half full of water is that because we are polluting the oceans, recommended servings of tuna are supposed to be no more than twice a week, and that sorry can won't produce enough tuna for even two sandwiches. Somehow, I don't think the diminished amount of product is out of concern for my health.

The greed thing, though, comes to my attention because of what seems to me the growing popularity of a home sales paradigm with multi layers. It's been around for years, but lately it seems to be gaining momentum. X sells me some vitamins. Good vitamins, all right, and also expensive. X suggests that I sign on as a distributor, which will lessen my cost slightly , and then if I sell to some others, X will get so much of a percentage of my sale. If X develops several distributors, then X has a steady line of gravy coming in along with the meat from X's own sales. I tried the vitamins, decided they were too expensive, and discontinued. I discovered X and her husband, Y, probably put 80 or more hours a week into this work. They were ALWAYS working. They were really nice people, but for them, a world formerly full of ordinary people has become simply a world of people they have already sold to and people they want to sell to. That includes anyplace they go, probably including upscale, prosperous, large churches. Sell, sell, sell. It reminds me a lot of an addiction. Have to chase that cash. Have to make more and make it faster. Have to.


Someone I know trained for one of these companies recently and was upset when I had no contacts for him. That was two weeks ago. This last week, a good friend invited me to a presentation for an energy company she says will make its first billion faster than Walmart or Google. I told her she forgot to mention Enron. She is actually reasonable about the contacts and hasn't asked for any. Good. Told her that, too. It just seems to me that if I know you are on the Do Not Call list, it is logical that I will not give your name out to someone who wants to sell you something. Since I feel that way, I'd be a horrible salesperson for the product. I'll butt into your life with all sorts of questions about you, possibly to write something I can sell. But I don't know how to interrupt the privacy of your day to ask you to give me money in exchange for something you may not want. Then again, I was the only kid in my troop who couldn't sell Girl Scout cookies.

To me greed is when you want me to pay more than I think is a fair amount for what I get. ( I bought that can of tuna on sale, and I still feel gypped.) Greed goes bipolar when I say no and you have a tantrum about it and carry on, of which I see more and more.

To answer my own topic title, is it greedy not to share my whole pie? No, but I think it's foolish. I can't even eat the whole thing except over several days, by which time it is stale. Hmmm. Is it greedy if I eat as much of the fresh pie as I can and them dump a piece of the stale stuff on you to get rid of it? Yes, I think so....kind of like dumping my ugly or wornout discards in the missionary box so that I have closet room for some nifty new clothes.

Needless to say, I have some savings. Needless to say, I am not well-to-do by a long shot. When I put on the dog, it likely means I added black beans instead of pinto. Somewhere about 30 years ago, a little light went off, and I figured out I didn't want to Get Ahead. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. That's pretty much what I've done. It's been a pretty good life. Terrifyingly sparse, at times, but overall good.

I enjoy people who enjoy money--if you have a pool, I can come over for a swim, and you do the maintenance. A lot of money usually is high maintenance. No time to sit on the porch and watch the sun set for a couple of hours over the mountains. That's purely foolish.

Friday, February 2, 2007

This is the first entry. Hopefully many more will follow. It feels really good to write again.