Next stop, Mr. Dante: The Hell of Stalled, Airconditioner-less Automobiles, and Blazing Concrete and Asphalt.
Wow is it hot! Who needs hell when we have streets paved with burning brimstone? It has been unusually cool for summer in the Outer Bay Area these last two months. I think August has remembered that it is supposed to be scortchingly hot. The heat has arrived today. I wonder if it will stay through September. As I write this, it is six o'clock PM in Livermore and it is 98° F. I'm sure we crossed the cenutry mark earlier this afternoon, when I was out walking the scortching streets. It is above 80° F in the house, even though the water chiller and fans are churning away at full blast. They've only taken the edge off of the heat.
For the past two days I have been home from work, attempting to figure out why my car wouldn't start. I suspected the battery, but I worried that it may have been the alternator or the starter. I called garages all day yesterday, and parts stores asking about prices for starters and batteries. Today, I had someone come out and give me a jump, hoping that the car would turn over, revealing that the starter was fine. It was. The tow truck service man and I checked the charging of the battery and found it charging at around 15 volts, indicating also that the alternator was fine. Of course the battery wouldn't charge to more than eight volts, so there was the problem.
I ended up taking the car to Kragen/Wheel Works, a combined auto parts store and garage. This was a mistake. I would have got a much better deal through AAA on the battery, but the left headlight needed replacing as well and I decided to kill two birds with one stone. All told, parts and labor were about twice what I needed to pay if I had taken the AAA battery service battery and merely bought the headlamp bulb from Kragen's and installed it myself. Any who wish to kick me for self-indulgent prolifigacy may get in line behind me and wait until I'm finished. Ah well, the deed is done but never again in that manner. I left the car at the shop around 2:30 PM and they told me that it would be about an hour and a half before they would have it back to me. Given that the shop is only about a mile from my house, I decided to walk back home and wait. Upon arriving home, I realized that I had given the shop the ring of keys with my house key on it and I couldn't get in, so I trudged about a mile and a half back into town to The Clown's Place (a.k.a. McDonalds) for a burger, fries, and two much-needed super-sized Diet Cokes. The heat was attrocious, and I thought I was going to collapse on the way. I'm a bit out of shape lately. I sat in McD's for about an hour, watching children in the adjoining "Playland" and savoring my cold pop and the airconditioning. I stayed there until it was time to hike the half mile back to the shop and pick up my car, a super-sized cold Coke for the road in my hand.
Interlude at an Oasis of Fast Food, Cold Sodapop, and Economic and Anthropological Reflections
While in McDonalds, I pondered the Playland. As any who are familiar with this occasional McDonalds feature, it is an enclosed area adjoining the restaurant's dining room, airconditioned and outfitted with ceiling fans. Inside is a gigantic set of enclosed, plastic, well-padded, interconnected tubes, slides and capsules about three feet in cross-section featuring large Lexan bubble windows and distributed over a steel superstructure reaching about twenty feet high. If you think about it, it's kind of an ingenious design. Someone knows kids well. This kind of equipment is a new playground feature in the last generation. It didn't start appearing until after I had graduated highschool at the start of the eighties, I believe. The playgrounds of my youth were grass, with patches of bare packed earth from the feet of playing children. The equipment was exposed steel-tube construction for merry-go-rounds, tall, unenclosed, steel slippery slides, monkey bars, and gigantic swing sets. Very often, children took some rough knocks playing on it. Of course, for many children, boys especially, danger, perceived and actual, was a desireable feature of their play. For better or worse, people have removed almost all of that danger, both real and perceived.
At any rate, the modern structure is a testament to safe design and engineering. This was not the equivalent of a mile-long suspension bridge, but on the other hand, it was not a trivial design project. This new equipment needed engineering time to create. Loads and stresses had to be calculated, balances, shear forces and torques needed to be accounted. Much ergonomics expertise and thinking are evident as well, in addition to at least enough child psychology expertise to make the design appealing. The cost of the equipment and its construction attested to a much greater expenditure, probably an order of magnitude higher, than most of the playground equipment upon which I grew up playing. I noted this as one more example of our civilization's large capital base, that such luxuries could be part of a fast food establishment, and a commonplace fixture of our childrens' experiences, when they were not of their parents'.
The children in the playroom were climbing around inside the giant funhouse of plastic tunnels and romping around and squealing and screaming. Every few minutes or so, when they got loud, the mother of two of the girls in the room would get up from her softdrink and magazine and go stand in the doorway to admonish them not to scream, the last time threatening them with early departure should they forget themselves again. I got to wondering if that woman even remembers the last time she herself ever let out hearty squeals and screams in the course of having fun and playing. Surely all but those who experienced the most scarring and torturous of childhoods went through a period of voiciferous and rambunctious play. Surely the woman had such a childhood herself, as did I. Have we forgotten these experiences? Do we no longer remember what it was like and what moved us to behave so uninhibitedly? When was the last time anyone has heard an adult let out a real, unrestrained squeal or scream in the course of having fun or experiencing joy? One almost always has to look up television gameshows like "Let's Make a Deal" or "The Price Is Right" outrageous pornographic films to find such behavior in persons beyond a certain age. Even then, I suspect that it is a marginal subset of adults who ever allow themselves to comport themselves in that way, no matter how much joy and exuberance they are experiencing. I wonder what that "certain age" is for the average human being and what set of experiences heralds its onset. I find that I do not remember clearly, myself, nor am I entirely able to fit myself into those small shoes anymore, except in a rather abstractly empathetic way. I cannot even really remember the ages my daughters were when they definitely left this kind of behavior behind them. I find myself wondering if Shannon ceased it at a younger age than Jackie, probably due to the latter's influence. I'm not sure, but I think I recollect it happening this way. I wonder if it is most often the case that younger children are so "boosted" out of this phase under the influence of older siblings. It might be illuminating to ask certain youngest or middle children — that is if they can remember their experiences any better than I can remember mine. Regardless of what behaviors we will or will not any longer indulge, why is it that we forget these kinds of experiences so easilly?
Redemption? Forgiveness? Well, not precisely, nevertheless...
Today is Crystal's birthday. She's forty years old. I sent her a birthday card. The last time they were here, at the end of July, my daughter's "stole their mother's thunder" and informed me that, during the penultimate week of July, while she was in England for her brother's wedding, my charming ex discovered that she is again pregnant. Astounding. I remember how angry I was at her, (and we don't have any trouble at all, recalling an "adult" emotion like anger, do we) three years ago, around the time she announced her first pregnancy, not because she was pregnant with another man's child, but because she was as much as married to that other man in all but name and still collecting an outrageous alimony for herself from me. I had been furious with her, curiously intermittently, but frequently so, from the time our divorce finalized that April, up until about March or April of the following year, around the anniversary of our divorce finalizing. That kind of anger is very taxing, and it is not sustainable without consuming its host. Fortunately, mine burned out.
It was interesting to see her when she came to pick up the girls this last time. She stood there on my front walk with me and asked if the girls had told me that she was pregnant again. I informed her that naturally they had. I congratulated her. I am moved by her eagerness to go through a pregnancy again. I found out that she is militantly determined to try having this one at home again, and I told her to please be careful. She explained to me all of the precautions that they were taking, and of the competence of the medical practicioners she was consulting and I reminded her that she's had a few more little complications with each succeeding pregnancy and that she is no longer thirty. I reached up to point out for emphasis the gray hair at her temples and I was somewhat touched by this obvious mark of her mortality, in much the same way I was upon seeing her with the bandage around her head after she came out of eye surgery to reattach her retina years ago when we were still in college. [It's another story needing recording here, eventually.] Life is precious and often fragile. It is poignant to face reminders that we can and do lose those close to us. I wasn't even conscious of what I was doing, but as I reached up to point I found that I was just about to take that tuft of hair at her temple into my fingers and feel it. I am a terribly tactile kind of guy and I love the feel of a woman's hair in my hands, and it has been a good half decade since I last indulged that kind of bliss. As my hand got closer, some more observant portion of my brain shouted in my skull that this was by far a gesture outrageously too intimate for the relationship we have now, and I hastilly pulled my hand back from reaching for her personal space. I noticed in retrospect, curiously enough, that she hadn't backed away from me nor had she appeared to be put out at my distracted encroachment. Perhaps it is just that she didn't expect me to do anything more than gesture at her hair and had no idea of my impulse at all. I don't know. I sometimes feel disturbed by the impressions that woman still succeeds in making upon me. I married Crystal because I loved her and because I knew, I was sure, that I could promise truthfully to love her "until death do us part" and I realized, after the anger burned out, that she has not changed enough, really, to make that assessment be untrue, even now, though it is plain that we really do not belong together any more or ever again. As I am, albeit in a different one, she is living "in another country" now, and its climate appears to agree with her. This is how I am. I do not love easilly, but when I do it is with strength, surety, and permanance, even if the passion happened to have waxed and waned under the influence of the circumstances and the fluccuating levels of trust between us. I can't despise her. I would find it very difficult indeed to stop feeling affection for the woman. Too much life has gone on between us. I've known her so long, and in many ways, so well. As we get older, there are fewer and fewer who will remember each of us as who we were, when we were younger. How many are left who remember that funny, smart, creative, whimsical, playful, fresh-faced girl of nineteen with the infectious sense of humor, the free laughter, and the smile that goes all the way up into her eyes. Shakespeare was wrong in many instances: it is the evil that we do which can sometimes be burried, even before we die, and the good that can be that which is remembered.