Perspective

One of the great things about getting old(er) is that you get to tell young people about the way things used to be “back in the day.”  It’s fun to play the numbers game with them.

When I got my first car, gas prices floated between 29.9 cents to 31.9 cents per gallon.  In 1973, I was dating my future wife who lived in Orange County which meant driving up to see her every weekend.  I started to worry about the future of our relationship the day I saw gas prices hit 53 cents per gallon.  How could I possibly sustain this?  Long-distance phone calls were very expensive, so we wrote each other at least once or twice weekly, which I described here.  The earliest of those letters carried a 6¢ stamp.

I declared my independence from my parents on July 4, 1973 when I moved into my first apartment, a one-bedroom place in a four-plex just 10 minutes from San Diego State University where I would finish my degree and credential programs.  It was a delightfully seedy place called the Aloha Garden Apartments because there was a couple of unkempt palm trees on the property.  My rent was $95 per month.

A covered wooden porch/deck ran around the front of the four attached units, and I put a chair that my parents gave me out on it but never used it.  Apparently, it got taken over by neighborhood cats.  When I finally met the two girls who lived next to me, they told me that (because of the cats) they had decided that I must be a warlock.

By 1977, Mary and I had been married for three years and were ready to jump into the housing market (sort of).  We had $2000 and some change in savings and found a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom place in Spring Valley for $40,000.  We each borrowed $1000 from our parents to come up with the down payment and signed the papers on August 16, the day that Elvis died .

We were oblivious to what a dump it was, because it was OUR dump.  We did what amounted to a slow-motion flip of the house, taking three years to paint and wallpaper every interior wall in the house.  A friendly neighborhood carpenter volunteered to come over and put up cedar planking on one wall in our dining room, creating a cool feature wall before we ever knew such a thing existed. We replaced all of the flooring. We painted the exterior. We had every intention of staying there longer but when a garage band that we had battled over noise for all three years we had been there moved back in across the street for the 10th time, we put it on the market and it sold in a matter of weeks for $75,000.

With that profit, we bought the house in which we still live for $108,000 (3 bdr, 2 bath, 1600 square feet) but were saddled with a whopping interest rate of 11 3/4%.  Interest rates were absurdly high in the early eighties.

When I landed my first (and only) teaching job at Valhalla High School in 1976 my salary for the year was $10,000.  Since the district could not figure out how to spread that over 12 months, it meant that I got paid monthly from September to June–no paycheck for July or August.  Veteran teachers coached me on saving 1/6 of every check to get through the summer since I had no intention of working at a temp job for two months.  My wife tried it and lasted one day as a tele-marketer.  We were happy to tighten our belts and simply enjoy the summer being poor.

The numbers just seem ridiculous to me now.  It was a long time ago.  The cool thing to think about is that in 30 years, my kids will get to do the same thing to other youngsters. And, come to think of it, it will be most unlikely that I will be there to see it.  How’s that for perspective?

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Road Trippin’

Every year since I retired in 2012, I have taken a road trip to Phoenix, AZ to watch spring training baseball, specifically to watch my San Diego Padres play meaningless exhibition games while sitting out in the desert sun.  I wrote about the experience of those games in a piece called The Hope That Only Comes in Spring. But, part of the fun every year is getting there–road trippin’.

Departure–8:30 AM

300 miles–no problem; I got this.  Car is loaded up with enough stuff for four people, 4 snacks, and two water bottles.  It takes me an extra 10 minutes to do all of the paranoid house checks I do–lock windows, check the doors, make sure the water is turned off.  Hit the road.

Buckman Springs Rest Stop–9:05 AM

First available rest stop.  Necessary because sometimes my bladder is the size of a teacup.  Hoping this gets me through to Yuma.  Ironically, I pack plenty of water and then force myself into a state of dehydration so I don’t have to stop to go pee.

Soundtrack

John Lennon (Imagine) and then Jackson Browne (Running on Empty) get me through to Yuma.  Imagine is OK because I haven’t heard it in a while, but Running on Empty is one of my standard traveling discs, just full of great road songs.  I let it run all the way to Yuma.

Yuma–11:00 AM

Making good time when I stop at the Arco on 16th St. and discover that gas is 78 cents cheaper here than in San Diego.  78 cents a gallon cheaper.  Of course, you have to live in Yuma to enjoy those prices. I find that I’ve gone through all my snacks already.  Do you know that there is virtually nothing edible at gas station mini-marts if you care at all about your health?  I mean, I have plenty of bad habits, but I can’t eat any of that crap.  The bathrooms are nice though.

On the road again–11:15/Soundtrack

I’m halfway there, but there is road construction everywhere slowing things down from Yuma to Gila Bend.  I pull out Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Yell Fire CD which seems much more relevant now than it did a few years ago.  I haven’t listened to him for a long time, and I just let it run all the way to Gila.

Gila Bend–1:00 PM

Time for lunch at my all time favorite greasy spoon, The Space Age Restaurant.  It is part of a motel there and has a mock-up of a space ship sitting on top of the restaurant.  It has been there for over 50 years, and I can remember stopping there when I was a kid and we were on a family vacation to Oklahoma City (relatives) and to see the Carlsbad Caverns.  I stop here every year for lunch on the way in and breakfast on the way home.  Gila Bend–population 1,917 souls.

On the road again–2:00 PM/Soundtrack

Neil Young.  Neil Young the rest of the way.  The more desolate the desert, the better his reedy voice sounds.  I play Only Love Can Break Your Heart over and over and over again.

Phoenix–3:00 PM

The upgrade to a Cabana suite that they tempted me with in an email I got yesterday (depending on availability) is not available.  Fuck!  I was imagining having my own sitting room with a fold-out couch and separate bedroom with a king bed AND promised access to the Sun Deck, and I don’t even know what the Sun Deck is, but I decided that for only $20 more a night, I wanted it.  Forget that I didn’t actually need any of those amenities.  They had dangled a sparkly thing in front of me, and I wanted it.

I get into my standard room, which now seems shabby to me, and discover that the cabinet that houses the fridge is minus one fridge.  I am told that the fridges are for customers “as available.”  I point out to the young lady that my reservation says that I get a fridge, and if I’m not getting the goddam Sun Deck, then I’d better be getting my own goddam fridge.  I don’t actually say any of that out loud.  She says she’ll work on it, and I get my fridge within 30 minutes.

Nap–3:30-5:30

One of the top ten best naps ever.  Just time enough to get showered and ready for the game.

Game–7:10-10:00  Peoria Sports Complex

It’s a balmy evening–shorts and t-shirt weather. I allow myself not just one, but two hot dogs during the course of the game.  Padres give up 2 in the first and then tie it in the eighth on a home run, win it in the 9th on another homer leading off the inning. I discover that despite the hotdogs, the victory has made me ravenous, so I stop at the Safeway on the way back to my hotel and buy a salad, some yogurt, and a fruit bowl which I eat when I get back.

Hotel–11:00 PM-2:00 AM

I’m out on the warm deserted patio writing because at the time I was involved in a 30 day writing challenge and I had to get my piece written for that day.  While on-line, I discover that there are other writers still up and active and we begin chatting through comments and FB Messenger. Since I never quite know how to go to bed on my first night of travel by myself, I linger on the patio long after I should. It’s a pleasant and unexpected way to spend the night.

Ripped From The Headlines: A Day In The Life Of The Trump Apocalypse

I was getting ready to go to work on writing an update to my article “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse” but I’ve been too busy failing at the very first principle I outlined which was to ISOLATE myself from the news.  I thought that I’d be a happier and more peaceful person if I quit listening to NPR and religiously reading the front page section of the New York Times every day.  I thought I had exhausted my capacity for outrage during the Bush 43 years, but it turns out that that abomination barely pushed my outrage-o-meter up to “WARM.”  Like a person who can’t make himself turn away from a train wreck about to happen, I can’t stop watching for the next WTF moment that will emerge from these clowns. That has led me to at least read the front page section of the local paper where I can get the short version of what is going on.

However, Thursday was remarkable, in that article after article seemed to have some additional bit of confirmation of how incompetent, duplicitous, or hypocritical this administration is and how each of his inner circle seems to be in a competition to prove he (there aren’t many women in this group) is just as bat-shit crazy as number 45.

You think I’m kidding.  Here are some headlines all from Thursday’s paper, some quotes, and some commentary:

Kelly (Secretary for Homeland Security) Concedes a Full Border Wall Doubtful

“Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday that it was doubtful that a wall along a full border with Mexico would ever be built, despite an of-repeated campaign promise by President Donald Trump.”

Well, this will come as a surprise to absolutely no one except some die-hard Trump supporters, the one’s who took him literally.  I find it remarkable that we are often being told not to take the President so literally, except when we should take him literally because after all, he was the candidate who “tells it like it is.”  Back to Kelly.  He was asked about one element of “extreme vetting” which included “the possible separation of mothers and children at the border to discourage immigration.”  He reassured senators that while he had not actually taken the time to write up a policy for when agents might do such a heinous and inhumane thing, “he had told employees that he must approve any such separations.” When questioned further about actually writing a policy, he replied, “border agents don’t need a written policy because he’d given the order verbally.”  After all, he is a retired four-star general and “his subordinates know that his orders are to be followed even if they aren’t written down.”  Does anyone else hear Jack Nicholson’s voice there?  I’m surprise he didn’t end the session standing on his chair and shouting at the senators, “You want me on that wall!  You need me on that wall!”

Trump Removes Bannon From Key NSC Post

With Michael Flynn gone, Trump actually put a qualified individual into place who has now sorted out just who should and should not be on the National Security Council.  Little things, like making sure there was a chair for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  LIke kicking Steve Bannon out of the room who never belonged in the first place.  But this was Bannon’s head-spinning explanation for why he was there in the first place, and why now, it was no big deal that he was leaving.  He said, “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration.  I was put on the NSC with Gen. Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalized.  Gen. McMaster as returned the NSC to its proper function.”

Now, even I realized that I was reading this at 7 AM and there was some chance that the caffeine from my morning coffee and not yet kicked in, because I found myself say out loud, “What the fuck does that mean?”  I was pleased and reassured when I read the next paragraph where the reporter commented, “Bannon did not explain what he meant by “operationalized” or how his presence on the committee had ensured that it would not be.”  The syntax is so twisted, bizarre, and incomprehensible that Joseph Heller (Catch 22) would be proud.

U.S. Warns of Unilateral Action in Syria

This article was remarkable on several fronts.  While he has tried to blame any bad thing that has happened in the opening days of his administration on President Obama (including the atrocities in Syria), he finally acknowledged that, “the responsibility is now mine.”  But as so many times before, Trumps language is empty:  “Trump said that the incident “crosses many, many lines” and had “changed very much” his attitude toward Assad.”  His Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “It was a heinous act and will be treated as such.”  I’m not sure what any of that means, but if Trump thought health care was “really complicated” just wait until someone, talking slowly and using small words, explains his options for Syria. Note:  I wrote this piece early yesterday before the missile strikes in Syria, an action most startling because it reverses many of Trump’s previous statements about U.S. involvement in the Middle East.  He has stepped into something “really complicated” here and interestingly, his severest critics have been his most fervent supporters who feel he has betrayed the many promises he made about keeping America out of messy international problems.  For some thoughtful commentary, I suggest you look at Charles M. Blow’s opinion piece on the NYT website entitled “Creeping Toward Crisis.”

Tillerson’s Reticence on N. Korea Confuses Allies

If you haven’t heard of Rex Tillerson, he’s our new Secretary of State although he’s been left out of numerous key meetings and only a fraction of his staff positions have been filled.  I’m not sure, but I don’t even think we now have a deputy Sec. of State.  His quote of the day was, “North Korea launched yet another intermediated-range ballistic missile.  The United States has spoken enough about North Korea.  We have no further comment.”  Really? Nothing to say about the aggressive actions of a strategically important nuclear power.  The reporter pointed out that the comment was startling because, “In fact, the Trump administration has said very little about North Korea apart from some Twitter posts and Tillerson’s own statements in Seoul, South Korea, two weeks ago–when he said the United States would negotiate with North Korea only after it gave up its nuclear weapons and missiles.  And that is unlikely to happen.”

EPA Seeks To Eliminate Lead Paint Programs

It’s hard to pick out the saddest part of this administrations efforts to basically turn the government over to business concerns, but if you had any doubt that the Environmental Protection Agency is now one of the biggest enemies of the environment, this should seal it:  “EPA officials are proposing to eliminate two programs focused on limiting children’s exposure to lead-based paint–which is known to cause damage to developing brains and nervous systems”, gutting federal support for states’ efforts to safely remove lead paint from aging and deteriorating houses.  If you haven’t been following the dismantling of the EPA, and the rollback of regulations that would have insured cleaner air and water for ourselves and our children, you probably should.

Apparently, there just wasn’t enough room on Thursday’s front page to include Trump’s defense of his buddy Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and the continuing reports of the millions of dollars that Fox has paid out to settle (cover up) complaints from numerous women of O’Reilly’s alleged incidents of sexual harassment.  According to Trump, O’Reilly’s “a good person.”

I have to stop. I can feel the outrage-o-meter getting into dangerous territory.  I may have to skip tomorrow’s paper entirely and immerse myself in a “West Wing” marathon.  I always feel better after visiting my friends in that fictitious White House.

Connected

Yesterday, Mary and I took a hike to Kitchen Creek Falls (near Buckman Springs), and enjoyed a nice view of the falls but decided not to climb all the way down because we had taken some wrong turns and were getting tired.  As we began to head back, we could see a young couple approaching.

“Hey, Mr. Waldron!” the young woman called out.  Yep.  Middle of nowhere.  Former student.

This happens pretty often. It’s a function of having taught in the same school for thirty six years and living in the same community.  It’s actually pretty nice.

Like, there were those years where after coaching AYSO soccer for 10 years so that I could spend more time with my daughter, my former players started showing up in my classroom, kids who I had coached when they were as young as 6, now appearing as teenaged students, and their parents, happy that “Coach Tom” was now their daughter’s English teacher.

There was the time that, when I was an acting vice-principal, I had to pretend to be stern with a 9th grade girl over a minor disciplinary incident.  She was dissolving into tears especially over the fact that I was going to have to call her mom.  I knew that the mom had high expectations for her girls because I had already had her two older sisters as students in my class.  One day I discovered the eldest, tucked away in a corner of the school in tears.  I sat with her for a while, and she told me about the constant pressure she felt from her mom, no matter how hard she tried or how well she did.  Years later, when I was looking for a referral to an acupuncturist, a friend recommended a woman who had a clinic nearby.  It turned out to be the mother of the three girls.  It took us a while to make the connection, but when her eldest daughter began to practice in the same clinic and take over some of her patients, my former student became my doctor and treats me weekly now.  She remembers our high school interactions and the support I offered.  I get invited to her children’s birthday parties.

At the end of 2008, I went through a rigorous, but exciting process, and was selected as one of five San Diego County Teachers of the Year.  I received many pretty certificates and collected a lot of pieces of engraved acrylic trophies, most of which I’ve discarded now.  But the nicest recognition happened when I walked into my local pub, and the man who had run my local hardware store for many years was sitting at the bar and when he noticed me got all excited.  “You got picked as a teacher of the year!” he said, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out a profile of me that had been written up in the local paper.  He’d been holding on to that clipping knowing he might run into me at the bar eventually.  As I settled in, he began going up and down the bar and showing all the regulars the article and pointing at me and pretty soon I had a group of guys coming up to shake my hand and offer their congratulations.  The band broke out their rendition of the CSN song “Teach Your Children.”  It was so spontaneous and heartfelt that I’m sure I did not stop smiling all evening.

So, when I look back at my work life I wonder sometimes about how limited it was, how many experiences I may have missed by not branching out a little more.  But I loved what I did, and I really value the connections that I have in my life as a result of the choice that I made.