Oakland

“With the pride of the artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists the small trumpet of your defiance.” Norman Mailer

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Recently, I flew to Oakland, CA to visit with my oldest son. He lives downtown near the 19th Street BART station. Five days out of every ten, he commutes to San Francisco. There, he works as an attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency.

I stayed for three nights and four days. My primary reason for the visit was to act as chauffeur as he underwent a routine surgical procedure at the Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto. I slept on his couch, ran a few errands, and badgered him with my usual 20 questions … each and every day.

He felt well the day after surgery, so I was free to ride the rapid transit into San Francisco and visit with my brother and his family. I have written about them previously, here and here.

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We drove out to Ocean Beach for a leisurely lunch at the Cliff House perched above Seal Rocks. We caught up on family matters. Back at their house, a 1904 Victorian high on the slope of Stanyan Street, we spent another couple of hours visiting. My brother and his wife live on the top floor of this former single family mansion. Their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live on the second floor. There is also a basement apartment that they rent.

I left at dusk. I rode the BART back to Oakland, thoroughly enlivened by the urban diversity; the gritty beauty of cities that prosper in an environment gorged with humanity. I arrived at my son’s apartment after dark. We watched Bill Maher and then the final hour of the classic 1975 movie, Jaws.

My son is a night owl. I am an early bird. I was up late but arose at 6:00 am. I refreshed myself with a Sunday morning’s exploration of the neighborhood, weaving through the side streets between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue.

Wall murals exist everywhere. They transform the dilapidated buildings and grimy parking lots. The artwork defies extinction with gasps of color. Soon, the street’s character will be devoured by sharks, eating machines such as Pandora, Uber, and Google.

Click a photo.







I returned to my son’s apartment. As I prepared to fly home, my daily 20 questions found answers, some vague, others clear. I am always amazed at the successful life he has carved out in Oakland and San Francisco. I find the hustle, the traffic, and the noise intimidating. Yet, he thrives. And I am further amazed at how this is achieved from the seat of a wheelchair.

The word inspiration falls easily from the lips of other people. But our family does not like it much. Resilience yes, and perhaps perseverance, are more accurate accolades. His personal character development occurred before the injury. Now, he applies that to the life he leads.

The flight home encountered turbulence. The plane bounced high and often upon landing in Portland. I sat in an aisle seat in the final row. I read a book about a boy involved in a plane crash. We both survived.

 

Check out the latest numbers in The Drill.

 

Tagged: art, Environmental Protection Agency, multiple myeloma, Oakland, spinal cord injury, writing

Bad Attitude

I worked on it for three days. I started with a poster board that was 24 by 18 inches of thick stock. I had searched through a ton of magazines I found cast aside around the army base, looking for photos that seemed relevant to my attempt at art.  When I had a large collection, I began.

I picked a photo of a soldier for the bottom center. It showed him from the waist up, revealing his open jungle fatigue jacket, dirty face and helmeted head. His expression was one I saw a lot when I was in Vietnam; a kind of blankness that left only the eyes to tell a story of apprehension, mistrust and sadness peering out behind determination and courage.

It was a good image, done in black and white, but one of the many photos of soldiers the media printed and displayed of the young men who went to prosecute the country’s intent in Southeast Asia.  I cut out the image of the soldier, removing the background and other elements in the shot, leaving only a six inch tall rendition of the soldier.  I set it aside and then began to cut out images of people in America. Some were protesting, some were rioting, some were at funerals and some were at rallies but all of them showed the people here at home in various conflicts of their own. Some about race, some about government and yes, some about the war. All of these images were smaller than the image of the soldier and I covered the poster board with them, gluing them in overlapping montage from the top of the sheet to the bottom. And on the bottom I glued the image of the soldier. I titled it “Wanting to be safe at home.”

It was a statement on how those of us who went to fight missed being at home, that regardless of its problems and issues, it was still home sweet home and what we were fighting for. I hung it up on the wall in my room in the barracks where it stayed until morning inspection when my platoon sergeant saw it, endured a case of apoplexy, and literally ran it downstairs and into the Commanding Officer’s office.

I was immediately summoned to the CO’s presence where a red faced, bulging veined Captain asked me what I was doing with material that demeaned the United States Army and denigrated the US government. “This is subversive!” declared the CO. I should point out that we weren’t on especially good terms. When I arrived at Frankford Arsenal as my final duty station before discharge, the Captain took great exception to my uniform. It was festooned with parachutist and rigger wings a Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the Screaming Eagle of the 101st Airborne Division on my combat patch arm. My hat also bore two sets of wings. My commanding officer was very unhappy that my fatigues, my work uniform, bore more decoration than his Class A dress uniform. I stood out like a neon sign and he demanded that I remove all of “that crap” immediately. I followed the order and then immediately filed complaint with the Inspector General’s office. I was following regulation by displaying the patches and badges and the IG backed me up and told the CO he was out of line. I had everything sewn right back on. That was the first interaction I had with my CO but it was not, by far, the last.

The CO was almost orgasmic that he could charge me with not one but two court martial offenses and started the paperwork. Having no stockade, I was confined to quarters and only allowed to leave to use the restroom or attend meals. I was visited by a representative from JAG, the Judge Advocate General’s office. He was the trial lawyer, what civil court would call the prosecutor. We spoke for about 40 minutes as I pointed out the various things I’d pasted to my poster and told him what they meant to me and what I was trying to say with my art.

A half hour after he left, my platoon sergeant came to tell me that the charges against me had been dropped. In the view of the JAG, I had not engaged in subversion, I’d merely exercised my First Amendment right to express an opinion. The sergeant handed me my poster, which was torn, crumpled and had boot prints on it. “It got dropped accidentally. Maybe by one of the JAG guys.” he said as I looked at the ruin of my poster.

I didn’t say anything. Instead I hung it on the wall where I’d first placed it. I added an element to it though. In a bordered box at the top I wrote the words:

Small Minds Eschew the Obvious

My sergeant saw it at inspection the following morning. Although his face and ears reddened and his jaw clenched, he said nothing but gave me a demerit for an unlocked foot locker. It was required to have the box unlocked for inspection. The following day the lock was in place and he went to gig me for it being unavailable for inspection and I presented him with my gig sheet from the preceding day. The point being, he couldn’t have it both ways. Figuring I would make a big deal of things, he withdrew the demerit, leaving my record once again clean, and I opened the locker for him.

I learned a lot of things while I was in the army, and not all of them had to do with armed conflict. There was also unarmed conflict, a realm where ego often prevailed and rank itself was a type of weapon. It’s the same lesson we learn from teachers, bosses, and other people whose authority we find ourselves under.  To me, these are the people of small minds who reject the obvious realities when those realities appear to endanger their over inflated self image.

Gotta Have It

When I saw my first 3D printer I was enthralled. “What a neat device this is!” I whispered to myself as I watched the print head move back and forth, each swath laying a tiny layer of plastic. The group I was with visiting a fabricator shop moved off to see other tools of the trade, like plasma and water cutters, laser cutters and turret lathes. It was a builder’s dream that made the old envy of This Old House’s New Yankee Workshop seem drab and lifeless. Years ago when Bob Villa still hosted what amounted to a thirty minute advertisement for one company or another seem like an instructional program (a lost art these days), the tools used in construction caused we watchers to drool over the tools used. Of course, there was no way the vast majority of watchers could ever afford the tools paraded by the camera, but like going to a concept car show, it was fun to watch.

A bit later our group wandered back by the 3D printer and what had been a nub of colored plastic had turned into the better part of a gear in a casing. When finished, a prototype of a working gearbox would be the end result. It was like magic. “So, uh, how much does a printer like this cost?” I asked our tour guide. He replied with a beaming smile that the one we were looking at was about $25,000 and was able to create things  at a six by six by six inch dimension. All of a sudden the 3D printer wasn’t quite as nifty as it had been initially.

Time went by and 3D printers became more common and a number of different companies offered kits (read: a bunch of raw components rather than parts which could be assembled into a finished product). Still more time went by and the kits turned into real kits, which could be assembled into a working printer by following a set of directions. Finally it was possible for hobby users to outright purchase a 3D printer and the prices, while still a bit on the steep side, didn’t compete with a second car for the family. $3,000 could buy a pretty nice one and a decent printer could be had for under a grand. This was finally in my territory and I began to think about buying myself a 3D printer.

There was only one problem left: I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything I wanted to print. At least, nothing that I couldn’t just buy, and for a heck of a lot less than a 3D printer and the various miscellany that was needed to actually make something. There was software that took drawings and rendered them into 3D drawings and then digitized the result into printing instructions. This was some pretty heady stuff, and checking out a couple of the 3D printers and the software that went with them made my head spin. So considering the complexity that a project entailed, the expense, and the time it took to actually print a part, I came to the conclusion that a 3D printer was as useful to me as a xylophone for an artilleryman.

Still, the idea of a 3D printer is pretty neat and some amazing things could be made with the things, one of which was a working pistol. I have seen steel pistols which malfunctioned and blew up, taking a lot of the hand that held them with it. Well, I didn’t personally see this, but I saw video which is close enough for me. The thought of all of that explosive power in a plastic pistol printed by what amounts to an ink jet with a big ego was enough to make me shudder. It made a lot of law enforcement shudder too, but not because the gun was fragile, because the gun wouldn’t show up in the detectors they used to find guns secreted on someone’s person. Of course, that’s only true if the gun was unloaded because the detectors are more than capable of detecting the bullets. This made me wonder what the fuss was about in law enforcement circles, what is the difference whether you catch someone smuggling a gun by finding the gun or the ammo? The smuggle is still caught, right? So I went back to thinking about just how dumb someone could be to shoot a gun made out of plastic squirted like ink on an office document. Then I quit thinking about it at all and went back to thinking about why I thought a 3D printer was such a great idea for someone like me.

Oh sure, I like to make things. I like to come up with ways to accomplish something and and turn that idea into a working item. I like to take things which already work and make them work better. Sometimes I’m wrong and my better turns out not so much better, or in some cases turns out worse, but it’s all about the fun of creation. Until it isn’t, I guess. But hey, that’s life.

What I suppose I’ve been working my way up to here is that sometimes you can really want something only to discover that you have no use for it. Lord knows I have shelf after shelf of this and that bearing testament to exactly this concept. What I had great intentions for have become art, something to act as a muse to whet my imagination and keep the old synapses oiled and ready, just in case I have a cogent thought. But it’s funny how we can be so sure that we absolutely, positively, desperately need something when we really don’t.

 

Daycare

I have been coming to the Macmillan Cancer Centre since the 29 August and only today, the 10 January, have I discovered the mystery place called ‘Daycare’. I have always thought that ‘Daycare’ was on the second floor where I am always treated, but no, I was wrong. ‘Daycare’ is actually Haematology Daycare up on the fourth floor.

It’s a dreamland up here. To be clear, I like the second floor where everybody knows my name and I mean them no discourtesy when I say it is a dreamland in ‘Daycare’. A quiet dreamland.

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Cosy.

First things first, after I was directed upstairs by Joint Favourite Second Floor Receptionist 1, I discovered some new art designed to put us cancer patients at ease.

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Thanks, I do have a pretty face.

I then booked myself in at the new reception to find that I had a designated seat booked for my treatment (the bone juice), number 8 and I was given a token for a hot drink. To top it all off, it turns out there is a nurse up here who knows my name too. It was all very pleasant, and was only accompanied by a 25 minute minute wait.

So now, I am sitting on a reclining chair, getting my Zometa whilst listening to something that wants to be Magic FM. Hang on, an advert just came on, it is Magic FM.

Bliss.

If only my consultation could be like this.

Write or Wrong

For a little while I was writing articles for an online publisher. I stopped because of the rules they employed. Most of the titles I use for my articles are whimsy or an attempt at a double entendre …maybe some humor. But my titles violated one of their strongest rules. They demanded titles like “The Veterans Administration: dealing with benefits when above age 65″ or some long and drawn out lameness and cheese. Language is not a static and unchanging thing on the whole. New words are invented all the time, and the meanings of some words get twisted significantly through popular use. The word “bling” comes to mind as an example.  Rappers developed this word to describe jewelry or something bright and shining.  Like booty, these are words firm within the lexicon of even non-English speaking people, which now pretty much describes Americans who haven’t spoken real English in generations.

The organization also told me that my articles had to be a specific number of words long.  This meant that I would have to add unnecessary words or delete words I felt were needed as I wrote. The end result was that the articles I wrote ended up not being articles I wrote. Instead, they were transcriptions of what someone else wanted to say. I quit, and their response was that I had lots of potential, why didn’t I stick around and they would assign someone to teach me to write properly. That’s when I told them that I not only quit, but never wanted to hear from their organization again. I’m no expert, but I understand something they apparently don’t: it isn’t grammar, spelling and format that make writings people wish to read. It is whether or not we writers make a connection and communicate our concepts to the audience.  By their measure, Mark Twain would have had his work rejected.

All art is personal. Yes, it requires certain rules to exist so that the language used is common between the author and reader, but that is the only hurdle. I can’t invent a language and write in it expecting anyone to know what I said. But if the language is common, one could remove all of the vowels from the text and it would still be readable and understood. As a result, the only thing a writer need do is choose and stick with a language, but even that rule isn’t firm. After all, our language is fettered with expressions and words from other languages in addition to invented words. Even verbal sound effects are legitimate locution.

I don’t set myself up as a good writer. I think I get by, but all I’m trying to do is inform, amuse and share ideas. I’m informal because I am terminally casual in almost everything. Shucks, I don’t even own a suit and tie; my wardrobe is entirely blue collar. As a result, I tend only to get picayune about rules in a limited array of subjects.  Like most Americans, I don’t follow the letter of the law so much as I try not to get into trouble. Trouble interferes with my plans and so I avoid it. So when the speed limit sign says 55, I tend to do 55 because I don’t want the aggravation of police interaction. However, I am guided by a moral compass, and the rules it implies I follow to a T.  But I have never had any respect for laws which try to control actions in spite of the way circumstances vary so widely as to make the rules into someone else’s opinion –and no more.  Opinions can be agreed with or not, which is actually kind of the point. Unless one is writing a report, the rules of communication are the domain of the writer. From there on out, it’s all about the beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

I’m just saying.

Go See…

Daily photo from Cairo/Giza
and in the lower right corner, links to Daily Photo blogs from other cities.
http://www.20×200.com/
Original art and short-run prints by new and established artists and photographers, starting at $20!  Many sell out quickly; if you love it, buy it.
http://www.gloriouswallstickers.com/
Mad cool wall stickers. House plants and goldfish that won’t die, the chandelier you covet. My personal favorite? Kitsch, of course.