Self-Deluding

There are three graphics going around Facebook these days that cause me to pause and contemplate. They’re supposed to be funny and the originator probably didn’t intend them to provoke deep philosophical thoughts, but nonetheless.

The last few years have just been something. I remarked the other day that having the rug pulled out from under my feet every 30 seconds or so should feel normal; it should no longer surprise me or provoke nothing more than an off-hand comment of “here we go again.”

Still, I’m surprised, outraged, demoralized, saddened, defeated or whatever emotion the Lucy-with-the-football moment has provoked. This proves something although I’m not sure what. Perhaps it proves that finding contentment in chaos is pretty damned difficult, but I suspect that any of the Buddhists of my acquaintance could have told me that. I wouldn’t have argued with them either because I am having a right awful time with finding any contentment, much less holding on to it long enough to marvel at the positive aspects of chaos.

I tried to abolish the rest of July the other day, but folks celebrating a birthday this month were opposed. In truth, it’s not just been July that’s been a problem so it was a flawed idea – a no solution solution.

Right on schedule, at about the age of 30 or so, I noticed that I didn’t know one single normal person. In talking with other people, I gather this is a rite of passage. Young’uns get this idea from somewhere that at the appropriate calendar moment they will enter the great society of something called “grownups” and much of the drama of the playground, school hallway and sports fields will cease. Decisions will be thoughtful and correct. Maturity and right-thinking will be abound and between bouts of doing the right thing, flossing our teeth, paying our bills on time, and running well-ordered lives, the “grownups” will look around, take a gander at what’s not working and correct it.

Poppycock. This is probably the worst fairytale we tell our children. “Grownups” are nothing more than children without the qualities that make children such wonderful creatures. Worse, the quirks of childhood solidify into something heavy, dark and dreary. There is so much that we don’t outgrow. And some of what we do outgrow, perhaps we shouldn’t. How I would have loved the other day to stand up and shout “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” But grownups don’t do that. If we’ve been through enough classes, employee trainings, and CEU conferences, we might say something like “That’s not my understanding of what happened.”

By the age of 50, most of us understand that “normal” is nothing but a dryer setting. But chances are pretty good that we’re angry about that truth. At least that’s my take when a statement purporting to state the norm is always met by a “but.” “But” is a result of the residual anger from learning the playground bullies are still bullies, the tattletale is still tattling and we’re still using rock, paper, scissors to solve problems.

Some of us embark on Sinatra’s “My Way” to navigate our lives. We’ve learned that the “grownups” aren’t, there is no “normal” and the Buddha is always killed on the road. We resolve to pilot our own ship, forge our destiny, march to our own drummer, yada yada yada. While we’re heaping those platitudes on the Chinette plate of our lives, we pass over Donne’s “No Man is an Island.” Perhaps we never had a teacher make us read that bit of wisdom.

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

John Donne

I’m not good at planning. I never have been, but like Charlie Brown, I continue to try. I set out from a to b with the simplest path in mind. I’m never very far when chaos reminds me I’m not an island and the rich, often rewarding, continent of my life is going to complicate the straight route I’ve planned.

I had plans for this weekend that were derailed before the first footstep. Before I could alter them appropriately, a tragedy unfolded killing folks I don’t know and I’m caught up in the tolling bells. While learning of that horror, I read of others and now Wordsworth’s “The world is too much with me” is complicating the hope of the Easy Way to prevail.

 

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be

A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth

Someone I knew, who died a few months ago, used to go on a media fast once a year to celebrate his birthday. For thirty days, he partook of no television, newspapers, Internet. It sounded like a fine idea, but I don’t have the self-discipline to effect such a total block. Periodically, I’ll declare a media fast lite where I refuse all but the lightest forms of media entertainment ignoring politics and the mayhem of what we call “news.”

Is finding contentment in chaos achieved by blinders? Maybe? Is it necessary to allow my senses to be assaulted by the mayhem with only literature as a bandage?

And why is it that I think if I could only restore order to my home, I could find some equanimity? I know this last thing to be true, because it’s worked so many times before. Is it because by controlling what I can, I buy into that childish myth that when I’m a grownup I’ll have the power to right wrongs?

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

I’m off to self-delude.

 

Long, Uninterrupted Stretches of Time

This guy speaks cogently about a long-time wish of mine – long, uninterrupted stretches of time to get stuff done.  My inner adult and inner child are squabbling at this very moment trying to force me off this sofa to get ready to go to work.  I have a daunting to-do list including a fair amont of creative type stuff.  Tomorrow morning, the to-do list will include everything that’s on it now, plus some more stuff.  This will continue.  Finally, a crisis will arise and there I’ll be, off the clock late in the evening, finally getting something done.

This speech was not a revelation TO ME.  If my time is fragmented, so is my work and I end up with pieces hither and yon.  I sit down down to try and aggregate them and I’m interrupted yet again.  I’ve never been able to explain to folks that when that happens, I have to rewind and start over.  While being taking to task for having not completed a creative project, I explained I needed an uninterrupted stretch of time.  The response:  “Well, we know that’s not going to happen.”

Yes.  Yes, we do.

 

Dear Don

Dear Don,

Do you really want to help? Really? Perhaps you might look at the “cutting costs” part of Appalachian Power’s, ahem, “commitment.”

Once again, my power is up and down like a yo-yo today. This is a regular occurrence – day in and day out. I talked about this yesterday when my power went out for no apparent reason. Here I am today, again, talking about it still. Are we really in this together? Does your power go up and down all day long every day? I bet not.

This problem predates the Derecho by months and years. Perhaps all that cost cutting including reduction of personnel has something to do with the fact that Appalachian Power linemen were mournful sad when they looked at the neglected right-of-way that houses the pole that serves my house. Although they were right there and could see what a mess it is, they couldn’t do anything about it. I was instructed to formally request attention to the right-of-way.

Funny that. I can report an outage online with nothing but my phone number, but to request attention to the underlying problem of my frequent outages, I have to provide my account number. Since I pay my bill on time, I don’t have one laying around. Trying to get the number online has been difficult as the server keeps resetting. Perhaps the server farm is served by AEP and their power is yo-yo-ing.

So, Don, I’d appreciate it if you’d get somebody out here to tend to that right-of-way. I’d do it myself, but your website says that you don’t want me to because you’re awful concerned about my safety. I’m betting the real reason is that you think I’d sue the pants off of you if I got hurt. You’re probably right.

I thought you might want to take a gander at how well the company has profited with all that cost cutting and profit guarantee stuff going on.

I hear tell that it’s likely Appalachian Power will request another rate increase to pay for the damage from the Derecho.  I also hear tell that y’all have an agreement with the state that guarantees a profit.  I wonder how many folks doing business in West Virginia would love the guarantee of a profit?  Why, Don, with a guarantee, you can provide people with truly terrible service and still satisfy the shareholders.  Isn’t that nifty?

Connie

Guillotines, I tell you.

I’m not kidding.

While I sometimes do not agree with the way we use our Armed Forces troops, I support the troops.  Similarly, I’m whole-heartedly appreciative of and grateful to the workers of Appalachian Power who’ve had a hell of a couple of weeks getting (most of us) back up and running after the Derecho and subsequent storms, however. . .

HOWEVER.

Since corporations are people (and possibly boards, commissions, etc. etc., are too) and today is Bastille Day, it’s time for guillotines.

Appalachian Power’s customers have seen a rate increase of 50% over the past four years.  That increase might be more palatable to me if the reliability of my service was not declining more and more with each rate increase.  Significantly.  For the month prior to the Derecho, my service went out long enough EVERY DAY to necessitate the re-setting of clocks.  It’s become a routine, I return home and, starting in the kitchen, begin setting clocks.  Over the course of the past four years, a routine rain storm will leave me without power overnight or for several hours during the day about once a month.  Every day, several times a day, day in and day out, my power flickers.  I have lost many appliances, small and not so small, to the frequent flickerings/outages resulting in power surges.

The Derecho was historic and I appreciate that.  However, the U.S. Department of Energy has noted that, on average, it takes Appalachian Power four times longer to repair outages in West Virginia than the national average.  On the surface of things, one would attribute the difference to our state’s terrain and rural nature.  Well, Donald E. Walker, a technical analyst for the PSC looked into that factor.  He noted in a report that in comparison to areas of New York with similar terrain and similar instances of power outages, the reliability factor in West Virginia was below the norm.  Specifically, he said, “Other states with comparable operating conditions to those found in West Virginia reflect similar statistics found in the New York performance report,” Walker wrote. “It is therefore reasonable to expect utilities in our state to achieve the more stringent reliability index targets recommended by staff.”

However, Appalachian Power’s and the other utilities’ proposals for increasing the reliability of service in our state didn’t impress.  Ken Ward, Jr. wrote:

Officials from the PSC staff and the Consumer Advocate Division are concerned that plans proposed by the industry will do little to improve the reliability of West Virginia’s electrical system.

Last month, PSC staff warned commissioners that utility proposals would simply require companies “to complete work which was neglected for the past 10 years.”

Appalachian Power is not the first utility, nor do I suspect it to be the last, to rape and pillage West Virginia.  (And I don’t use those loaded words lightly.)

Verizon’s neglect of the communication system left West Virginia with sub-par telephone service and even worse broadband.  Frontier bought a pig in a poke and I won’t be surprised when they throw their hands up in the air and close shop.  After my hissy fit with good, old Ken, my phone service is stellar which proves it can be done (and could have been done), if more people had more hissy fits.  Guillotines, I tell you.

During my 6 days without power following a storm which followed the Derecho, I had a lot of time to cogitate and bitch.  I absolutely out did myself.  I did not bitch about the power outage, per se, I bitched about what I was reading all over the web.  I can’t prove it, so it’s anecdotal at best, but the citizenry of West Virginia in online forums, media comment sections, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were reporting that the out-of-state electrical workers that rode in here on their white horses to help restore us our normal state of unreliability expressed surprise at how poorly the lines and the right-aways were maintained.  I’m not surprised, are you? If West Virginia were anywhere near the national norm, I would have been 2 days without power, not 6.

And for this privilege, I’m paying 50% more than I was 4 years ago and 4 years ago I was paying more than I was in the four year period prior to that and on and on and on.  My service continues to degrade.

Even Senator Manchin, who I really don’t like, managed to get his head out of his, ahem, long enough to speechify about how the U.S. should not be spending money on the electrical infrastructure in Afghanistan when West Virginia is falling apart at the seams.  We’ll leave for another time my thoughts on what part Manchin and the rest of the  coal-crazy robber baron politicians have played in the not-so-benign neglect of West Virginia’s infrastructure.

In another peachy editorial in the Charleston Gazette, I learned that last fall Appalachian Power’s parent company gave $1 million to a “social welfare organization” that denies being a lobbying organization.  Take a gander:

What is it called when AEP seeks limited government for its subsidiaries? Limits on the government that enacts and enforces environmental regulations? The government that reviews and enforces workplace safety? The government that evaluates rate increase requests? The government that reviews how companies respond during power outages?

If AEP is concerned about our social welfare, is it not reasonable to expect they’d want the people of West Virginia to be up and running after a power outage at least as soon as the folks in upstate New York?  They’re not concerned about our social welfare, you say?  I’d say your right.  And to that, I say, “Guillotines, damn it.”

And with any luck I’ll be able to post this before my power goes out again.  It’s been up and down like a yo-yo today. For no apparent reason — just like all the days before the Derecho.  I’m a little crazed these days.  There’s been way too much life happening and it’s not going to take much for my transformer to blow.  If you read or hear about some hillbilly woman with a homemade guillotine taking hostages, I’d appreciate a bail fund as the Derecho pretty much left me without much in the way of surplus funds.

So, before I could publish this, AEP came rambling up my hill to respond to my earlier service ticket.  I had quite a talk with the cutie driving the truck.  I told him my power woes.  He assured me he’d heard it all before.  He assessed the problem.  The right-away needs serious work.  He was dubious that a work order would ever be placed.  He said, “I’m not telling you this, but you need to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission.”  I told him that I routinely file complaints and to-date it’s not done one jot of good.  We talked some more, he allowed as to how there were some forms and whatnot he could submit that might get them moving.  Old Ken at Frontier surprised me, so maybe I’m wrong in not feeling optimistic that this will be repaired any time soon.

$12 Watermelons and the Forlorn Refrigerator

Ain’t that just kind of sad?

So. Grocery shopping is not high on my hit parade. When we moved here in 1986, I discovered to my delight a small grocery store, Mack’s Market, less than one mile from my home. It wasn’t a large store, but it carried all the staples. If I forgot my checkbook, they let me charge stuff. If they saw me hunting for something, they’d ask what I was looking for. For years they stocked Chinese hot mustard just for me. If I had milk in the basket the clerk would tell the carryout guy to put it back because, “you man was just in here and he got milk, bread and cereal.”Their prices were lower than Kroger’s which really isn’t that big of a feat and when they were higher, I gladly paid it because I’d rather support the business owned by the guy down the road than the soulless, corporation that tries to spy on me.

I manage to do most of my shopping online, but no one is offering groceries delivered to me yet.

Because I hate grocery shopping so much and because Mack’s was so close, I got into the habit of doing my grocery shopping daily which I discovered I liked. I mean really, how can you know on Saturday what you want to eat on Tuesday?But then Walmart opened. It was the death knell. Slowly, things degenerated to the point where I wouldn’t buy it unless it was in a can or a box (continued problems with coolers, freezers and produce quality.) Then stock started disappearing. Then the prices started rising to rival the grocery section in the Exxon.

I was doing my shopping elsewhere once a month or so and using Mack’s for pasta emergencies and dog food runs. Much to my chagrin, the “elsewhere” was often Walmart. I am infused with self-loathing every time I walk into the Evil Empire, but it’s closer and cheaper than Kroger.

Sure enough, Mack’s has gone out of business. I didn’t have the heart to go in and say goodbye. Besides, their last day in business was Saturday and I’d been powerless for 5 days by then, my nerves were as fragile as the mantle on the deluxe lantern I’d just bought and I could easily envision sobbing uncontrollably on the shoulder of my favorite cashier. I just wasn’t in the mood to be a spectacle.

To add insult to injury, the derecho wiped out my freezer and refrigerator which in my case was even more catastrophic than is usual for the situation. Because I have not had air conditioning for years, I’ve taken to storing flour, sugar, rice, etc. etc. in the refrigerator. HMO’Keefe cleaned out the refrigerator. I’m not sure what his reasoning was, but except for the two bottles of champagne and my B12, he threw everything out – rice, unopened bottles, Bisquick, birdseed, etc. etc. Other than a smattering a canned goods and a fairly well-stocked spice cabinet, the vittles are gone

The size of a Super Walmart, but mostly all food.

I was planning a major hunting and gathering expedition for this evening after work. I hate Kroger. It’s too big. I don’t need 47 choices of mustard and a rest area to grab some Starbucks. (If it wasn’t Starbucks, I might find that rest area appealing.) There’s a smaller local chain next door, but the last time I was in there, I found they didn’t carry a lot of the stuff I buy. I’m very brand loyal with some things. It’s been years, I suppose I should go check them out. There’s a spiffy place in Milton that I rather like, but it’s 6 miles past the house (and another 6 miles back) and after work, well, that ain’t gonna happen. There are some places in Huntington, but the frozen and chilled stuff is going to melt before I get it home.So, I went to the Kroger. I discovered a half a watermelon was $12, but only $4 if I used my rewards card.

$12 for HALF of one.

I hate these stupid reward cards. Years ago, I was in the Kroger and ran across some pricing equally stupid and didn’t have my card with me. They told me I could just punch in my phone number, but we must not have registered our card as the number wouldn’t work. So I punched in my friend’s number. We figure we have confused the pudding out of their marketing department. Sudden switching of dog food brands, no Cheez-Its, but ice cream, the cheap boxed wine one day, the premium the next. I rather like messing with them.In any event, there I am in the Kroger. I stop and think. I need everything.

I look around. They’re awfully busy for 6:30 pm on a Tuesday when it dawns on me that everyone needs everything. I take a gander at the $12 watermelon. I try to find a bag of onions. I get sidetracked trying to figure out exactly where locally the “local’ tomatoes came from. I nearly have a breakdown in the foreign foods aisle.

I am defeated before I begin.

Shamelessly stolen from thepunch.com.au — artist’s name is Mark Knight

I decided I can’t do this. I’m just going to shop daily for awhile until we’re restocked. A nice salad from the salad bar and a rotisserie chicken for dinner sound appealing. There are no receptacles whatsoever to put the salad in. I wait in line at the deli for 20 minutes to obtain a plastic container. I head for cereal. I find bread 6 aisles down. I troop the equivalent of a half-marathon to the dairy aisle and grab milk, butter and yogurt. I backtrack 8 aisles to get lunch meat and salad dressing.I would have sat in the rest area, but, damn-it-all, it’s Starbucks and I don’t want anyone I know seeing me at a Starbucks.

I stand in line. I use my Kroger card. I bought dinner for this evening, some lunch stuff for Boston Boy, 10 containers of yogurt and some odds and ends and, voila!, through the magic of my Kroger card it only cost $99.16. My receipt said I saved $22.19. (No. I did not buy the $12 half-watermelon.)

I cannot afford to save that much money.

With dinner leftovers and the avocados I didn’t know we had, it looks better.

I arrived home to find milk in there. Nobody at the Kroger told me my man bought milk and nobody offered to carry my groceries out though they did ask about my wrist brace.So now, I have cheese slices, ham, turkey, butter, 10 containers of yogurt, two bottles of Champagne, a vial of B12, two bottles of salad dressing, two quarts of milk and a loaf of bread in the refrigerator. There’s also a quart of milk in the freezer, because I try to keep a small amount of milk in the freezer for the occasional bovine breast milk emergency.

It’s a big refrigerator. It looks forlorn. Or maybe not. Maybe it looks hopeful. Is it a beginning or an end? It looks like if I rearranged the words a bit, it could be the opening of a short story.