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      DONATE OR SUBSCRIBE We’ve raised $5,820. I am grateful to everyone who has given. The fundraiser is, however, going the slowest of any I’ve ever done, which I expect is because of Covid. We’ve reached the first tier: A longer article on the collapse of the USSR, putting everything I’m aware of together. In particular I want to discuss the steps Gorbachev too […]
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Fall

You may be wondering where I am. Or you may be a fan of William’s essays and didn’t even realize I was missing. I’m still here but there were a couple of things that happened recently. The first is that I *finally* got another job. It took long enough. And while it’s more suitable to whatever strengths I have, it’s still taking some creative problem solving skills. I’ll say no more at this time. Just saying that my mental elves are doing other stuff right now.

The second thing is I sprained my ankle. So, all that fitness work was for nought. It’s much better than it was a month ago but it’s taking a longer time than I like to be as good as new again and I am impatient.

Today, I’m taking a road trip to see the fall colors. Summer has lingered in Pittsburgh, maybe even overstayed its welcome. The temperatures have been in the 70s and low 80s. I still have peppers and eggplants growing in the containers on my patio. There is a fall colors festival in Clarion, PA. So off I go. The trees in Pittsburgh have little fall color. It looks mostly dry. You have to drive almost 2 hours north before you see leaves just starting to turn.

It’s too facile to pass it off as an artifact of climate change but difficult to pass it off as anything else. Europe had a crap summer with low temps and rain. Is that also a sign of climate change because of the decreased salinity of the water flow from the Gulf of Mexico to the west coasts of Europe? Where did I read that as a consequence of glacial melt?

There are shortages again. The global supply chain has bern disrupted by covid and a trade domino effect. Add that to the tendency towards strong men and it all feels a bit like one of those Fall of Civilizations podcasts. Each civilization seems to have been preceded by a natural disaster. Then pestilence. Then the trade routes are disrupted. Then the enforcers of civility are distracted. Then the sea peoples start marauding, the whole world goes to hell and the dark ages descend on us. What was it like for the people who witnessed the end of their civilization? Did they realize what was happening? Did they say, “well, that’s the end of the Bronze Age, people. Let’s head for the hills.” Or “The Romans just left Albion. So, that’s not good.”

Or a Hari Seldon type manifests the Foundation into being and the encyclopedists head to the edge of the galaxy to the appropriately named Terminus to keep the flame of civilization going until the barbarian hordes stop killing each other.

Not all natural disasters end in a dark age. It’s been argued that the bubonic plague of the 14th century lead to the scientific revolution and enlightenment two centuries later by eliminating the clergy and aristocracy that kept everyone else from defying the natural world order and trying new things. In our current era, it’s Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema who are playing this role. I’m not sure why it is that quality of life solutions that the rest of the developed world takes for granted are somehow *bad* for Americans. We really must be exceptional.

The thing is the world feels like it is standing on the edge of a knife. “Stray but a little and it will fall.”

The question is, which way?

The Persistence of Memory

I was talking to my girlfriend about the movie “The Aeronauts” which we had just seen, and somehow I forgot Felicity Jones’ name. I don’t know why, I could not think of it. I do seem to have trouble sometimes thinking of the names of actors. She does not, she knows virtually every one of them. She also knows the names of their children, including the middle names. She knows the direct line of succession to the English Crown, at least fifteen of them. I finally learned the first eight or so. but it was a struggle.

So she was a bit worried, because she thinks that I remember everything. I told her that one is apt to forget a few things, and that I particularly have trouble remembering the names of actors in a movie. But one I had just seen, that was a tiny bit discomfiting. So on my own, I tried to remember all of the coaches in the National Football League. I did pretty well, particularly since I don’t follow the league that much, and I don’t know some of the coaches just hired. Then I tried the names of college football coaches, and I was pleased that I remembered most of them.

And then I decided to tell her about all the teachers I had in early school. Miss Smith and Mrs. Ziegler in nursery school. Mrs. Ziegler told me that I should give her a lock of my curly hair when I had it cut, which I did, though in retrospect it seems a bit odd. First grade ( I never went to kindergarten), Mrs. Dyck, a nice somewhat older lady. B2, Miss Schillig, the classic pretty and nice teacher you always remember. A2, Mrs. Bradley, an unpleasant older woman who would make children she thought were misbehaving stay for fifteen minutes in a dark closet.

B3, I skipped. A3, Mrs. Perlmutter, a nice teacher. B4 and A4, Mrs. Trout, a very sweet older woman who liked me a lot. B5, Mrs. Lear, the school librarian, who did not, for whatever reason; she almost never called on me. A5, Mrs. Archibald, she was even worse, and I think she was a right-wing Republican. Sixth grade, Mrs. Moore, who was also a Republican, and was not very friendly.

On to Junior High School; and I will skip around a bit so as not to bore everyone with the list. B7, Mr. Hamilton for English. He was a fun teacher, liked to have the students diagram sentences at the blackboard, I loved that. He also brought a pomegranate to class one day, and asked what the significance was; and I knew it was what Pluto offered to Persephone to entice her to join him in Hades, in the Greek Mythology. He gave it to me as a prize, and I was proud, and I liked pomegranates, anyway.

Miss Darough, such a sweet woman, who taught General Music. She played records of great musicals and some famous classical pieces. A7, Miss Respiss for English; the antithesis of Mr. Hamilton; a waspish older woman with a Southern accent who I was sure did not like me, for whatever reason I have no idea.

Miss Clement in Math, seemed sort of out of an old movie; stern, steel gray hair, quite boring. Mr. Santoyo for Art; a nice guy, knew that I was not very good, but gave me a “B” for trying hard. Mr. Crippin for Gym, a decent sort.

I had to take Drafting (our junior high school required Shop classes, which I mostly hated).. I couldn’t draft much, but the teacher, whose name I will not mention, gave spelling tests every Friday, using words from the field ; and I never missed one, which is how I got my “A.” In the middle of the semester, he suddenly disappeared, and another kid said something about “molesting,” which I really did not know what that meant, since I lived a protected childhood, but it sounded bad. I also took Gardening, required, and I grew radishes.

Mr. O’Ryan for Woodshop. I hated that; my friend up the street helped me carve the required wooden duck. Mr. Asplund for Electric Shop. We had to make a radio, and I never got past step two. But he knew I was not suited for Shops, and he took me to a leadership conference with him, and that was fun. Later on, Mr Dyke for Metal Shop. The first project was metal tongs; he did one to show the class, and then gave it to me so I did not have to do it. And then finally the shop class I excelled in, Print Shop, where I was a whiz, and got my only “A” in Shops.

Mr. Pffeifer for Science, a friendly bespectacled man. Mr. Yorba for Spanish, who said I was “a gentleman and a scholar.” Miss Darough again for Choir. I had no confidence in my singing voice, and kept worrying that she would throw me out of there, but she never did, and a friend said that she told her that my voice was getting better and better. My girlfriend is sure that I could have been a singing star had anyone encouraged me. Mr. Powers, my homeroom teacher, for History. Mrs. Douglas for 7th Grade Social Studies.

Mr. Byrd for 8th grade Social Studies. We had a stupid assignment of drawing maps of countries and putting them in a notebook. I could trace the maps, but I had some trouble with punching the holes in he paper, so sometimes I put them in backwards. Mr. Byrd took it upon himself to open it up, show it to the class, and say, “Class, this is how not to make a notebook.” Everyone laughed. My junior high school friend Jane with whom I keep in touch, said that he was a “letch.” I have never forgotten his little remark, which he made because I was the brightest student in the class, and teachers seemed to really like me, or not like me, because of it. Maybe some thought that I was arrogant about it, although I don’t think I was pompous at all, though I did want to impress.

Miss Davis, what a sweetheart. She taught Algebra. She always gave me a very warm smile when I walked into class.. But she disappeared late in the semester, and someone said that she had some kind of nervous breakdown. I do hope that she recovered, I never found out.

Miss Moss in Science. She didn’t like me much. We were doing some kind of code game, and my little group of three made the message, one of the others’ idea, “We are all A students.” Miss Moss, who never said anything pleasant all semester said, “Well, that is a pipe dream.” I mentioned this to my mother, just in passing, and my mother said that I should have said “Well it hasn’t been.” And then she went to school to meet with Miss Moss, for which I was chagrined, but she never said an unpleasant thing to me the rest of the semester, and I got an A.

I took Journalism, with Mr. Ball, in ninth grade. I was editor for five weeks, and then they let other students have a turn, too. I remember doing an interview,, as an assignment, with Mr. Thompson, a gym teacher, and a good guy. He told me about his military service in the Korean War. He said he served in Juan San. I thought that he was joking, as he would do, and that he had served in San Juan. I wrote that in the paper. He saw me and said, “Hey, you wrote that I served in Puerto Rico during the Korean War! I was in Juan San, Korea!” I was very embarrassed, but he thought it was funny.

After Mr. Ball left, maybe to teach at a high school, Mr. Plog took over the Journalism class. One day, at the end of class, he asked me to take some papers to another classroom. There were only ten minutes between classes, and I told him that I was not sure I could make it, and I didn’t want to get a tardy slip. He said, “Follow me,” and he took the papers, and sped out of the room at a rapid pace; a short man with glasses walking like an Olympic champion. I could barely keep up. He made it to the classroom in about six minutes. He said, “Never say that you can’t do something!” I don’t know what lesson I derived from this, but it was entertaining. He could have just given me a note of excuse, and I would have delivered his papers for him.

Ah, Miss Roberts in French class. She was rather elegant, had some kind of advanced degree, and people wondered why she was teaching junior high school. We got along fine, but one day I was handing in something to her, and I had forgotten a requisite note from home about attending a class function at a French restaurant, and I said, “Oh, my god,, I forgot to bring it,” and she stiffened, and said, “Never say that in my classroom again!” She must have been very religious.

And then Mr. Means the gym teacher. I never had him, fortunately, but he would stand in the gym after class, when you were dressing after showering, and then he would say that we had five minutes to get out of there; and if someone did not, he lined them up, made them bend over, and he would whap them very hard with the locket or whatever was at the end of the chain he wore around his neck. This was a daily ritual, and most kids got whapped several times. Finally, for the only time, I was ten seconds or so late, and so I had to go through this, and it was quite painful. A student said to me at some point during the semester, that Mr. Means was a sadist; and I was not too familiar with that term, but got the idea; and he was, and should have been in jail.

What I should have done, was to just ignore him, and walk out of the gym. But you don’t get the chance to do those things twice. I have often spun out stories in my mind about getting to do parts of those years over again; always saying the right thing, being poised and with great teenage savoir faire.

Most of my experiences in junior high school were fine, though. I remember more teachers, but did not want to list them all. Miss Becker for 8th grade English; Mr. Goto for Biology; Miss Crawford for Spanish, were some others. And I could tell you about all my high school teachers, but you get the idea.

I remember all of it, particularly the things which had emotional content. I store them up, not deliberately. but I remember them, perhaps like some modern-day Madame Defarge. I would still like to tell Mr. Byrd what I think of him, but he is probably 90 or so. I wonder what happened to the other teachers I liked.

I have gone to some of my high school reunions, and it was nice to revisit the past. At the last one, someone I knew a bit in school, mostly because he was on the basketball team with my friend, came all the way over to my table to tell me that he admired me so much, because I always dressed well, and was intelligent and poised. I don’t remember at all feeling poised at any time during secondary school! It just shows one that, to use Robert Burns’ immortal phrase, it would be a gift if we could see ourselves as others see us.

Well, what was the point of my recounting all of this? Just for a change of pace; and to encourage myself that my memory is still quite good! She was very impressed, and said that there is no need at all to be concerned about my memory! I hope not, but this week I will see if I can name all the coaches of the college national championship basketball teams of the last fifty years or so. And I read a little about the career of Felicity Jones, so I will not forget her name again!