Friday, May 6, 2016

Trump, and a Long-Lost Book

I've been thinking about Donald Trump's victory in Indiana and his apparent success at gaining the Republican presidential nomination.

For a long time I've maintained that Trump can't win the presidency. I still think that's true. His appeal as a political "outsider" won't last forever, and it's only a matter of time before he offends basically every voter one way or the other.

But I'm amazed he's come this far. I never would have believed it a few months ago. (Personal message to certain of my fellow countrymen and -women: WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!)

My theory is, his success stems primarily from two factors: a lack of appealing Republican alternatives, and our celebrity-worshipping culture and media. I think a lot of voters are entranced by Trump because they've seen him on "The Apprentice," and they've conflated TV Donald with real Donald. (I think California voters did something similar when they first elected Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

I do think people want change, but Trump? Has the man expressed a single detailed, coherent policy? His vague promises catering to American xenophobia don't count -- they're not workable. Building a 2,000-mile-long wall along the Mexican border? Keeping muslims out of the U.S.? It's all ridiculous. I think he's bargaining that he'd never have to keep these promises because he'd be blocked by other branches of government.

Even fellow Republicans are cool to him. They clearly don't think he knows what he's doing, either.

As much as people dislike Hillary -- and as I've said before, I understand the accusations of opportunism, and the belief that she is too status quo -- she is experienced, and she can navigate the complicated global and congressional landscapes.

All that probably sounds obvious. I'm just saying I haven't changed my mind.

I had some interesting mail yesterday. Someone in Austin, Tex., returned a school library book that was checked out in 1973! They did so anonymously, and of course all record of this book has long been erased from the library itself, so there's no way of knowing who's had it on their bookshelf these past 43 years. And they spent more than $22 to mail it back -- probably far more than the value of the book!

Finally, I just want to share this photo of the front garden of some neighbors down the street. I love the peonies, the tulips, the forget-me-nots. So English!

(Top: From my commute to the hospital to see Dave, yesterday morning.)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Perfect Day

"It's such a perfect day," Lou Reed famously sang -- and that's what we had yesterday. The sun was out, it was warm, and Olga lay in the garden on the grass and sunbathed like she couldn't quite believe it.

Like the protagonist in Lou's song, I spent much of my perfect day with my significant other, sitting with him morning and evening at the hospital. (The locale, admittedly, not so perfect.) I went home in the middle of the day to do a zillion things and give him a chance to rest.

For one thing, I put on my rarely used gardening gloves and planted some plants. Dave bought several before he got sick that we hadn't had a chance to get in the ground, so I took care of that. We have a back corner of the garden that we've decided not to mow, to let the grass get long and provide a home for insects. I planted a few wildflowers in that area.

I also washed our sheets and my bathrobe -- things that are normally hard to dry in the dryer, but which I could hang outside on this perfect day! I went grocery shopping. I bought some aromatic sachets to keep moths out of our closets.

Finally, I went to the post office. This is kind of a strange story: About a week ago, I was walking Olga when I found a USB thumb drive on the sidewalk. It seemed in good condition and I suspected someone dropped it, so I went home and plugged it into my computer. (Yes, I know, it could have contained some terrible hacker virus, but I have a Mac, I didn't plan to click on any executable files and I was willing to risk it.)

It contained pictures and documents related to a mass transit company in Bordeaux, France. It didn't contain a name, but I contacted the company through its web site and someone connected my e-mail with the owner of the drive, which had indeed been lost. He expressed amazement that someone found it and took the time to track him down. So, long story short, I mailed him his drive. (I offered to send the data by dropbox, but I guess he wanted the actual device back.)

It's worth mentioning that my communication with this company was in French! So my French classes are apparently having some benefit -- no one wrote, "Sacre bleu! Your French is horrible!"

Today, back to work!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Successful Surgery

We've displayed a few of Dave's "Get Well" cards on this table in our foyer -- the fish card, from my coworkers, and the dog-and-toilet card, from Dave's sister. They stand in front of some of my old family photos, in the company of a wild-looking skull pub coaster I found while walking Olga, and a badger-themed card we bought in York last summer. The table is covered with a piece of wax cloth from Ghana, and the covered glass bowl with the elephant came from my grandmother.

Now that you've received an unasked-for tour of our foyer table, let me get to the meat of the matter: Dave came through yesterday's surgery just fine. We went to the hospital at 11 a.m. and I sat with him while he registered and changed into one of those flimsy gowns and had his vital stats taken, and while nurses filled out pages and pages of documents, all asking the same questions: Date of birth? Allergic to any medicines? Any religious affiliation? (A disconcerting question in this environment.)

Then, his doctor -- after explaining the procedure -- sent me home. There's no point in waiting at the hospital, he said, because Dave would be in surgery for three to five hours and, adding recovery time, I'd be sitting doing nothing for most of the day. Better to go home and be comfortable, he said. Dave agreed, so after bidding him farewell (in a very temporary sense) at the OR doors, I came home.

I stayed busy all afternoon, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and sending e-mails to family members. Finally the surgeon called at 6:39 p.m. saying everything had gone well, and I went to the hospital at 8 p.m. to see Dave. After some confusion about which ward he'd be on, and some delays in bringing him up from recovery -- where I was not allowed to go -- I saw him about 10 p.m. Drowsy and on pain meds, he otherwise seemed fine.

So now we begin the process of healing, which will entail several more days in the hospital and then some time off at home. But at least Dave has jumped the biggest hurdle.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cherries and Crabapples

I've come back to a city in bloom. Of course, I've only been away for a few days, so the difference isn't that dramatic. But the trees are more fully in flower and the streets are ornamented with pink and purple and red, against a backdrop of bright, fresh green.

These crabapples border a vast complex of rugby fields, and yesterday Olga and I walked the semi-circular public path around the property to get a better look. (The minute I came home late yesterday morning Olga was prancing around me expectantly, wanting a walk. It's probably been hard on her too, this period of my absence and Dave's illness and inactivity. If she noticed that I cheated on her with Maybelline, she forgave me instantly.)

By the way, I never before realized that we can see Wembley Stadium so clearly from this point. Or if I did, I forgot. It's at the far right in the distance in the photo above.

It's a beautiful time of year in London!

Dave and I are off to the hospital this morning to get him admitted and get the surgery underway. I'm counting on being there all day. Thanks for all your good wishes!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Back to Blighty

I’m writing this en route back to England. (While sitting at a bar in the Tampa airport, to be specific, having a Stella Artois.) By the time I post it I will have landed in London.

Such a short Florida visit, and yet so meaningful. I spent all night awake with Dad on Saturday. Without getting into details — and invading my dad’s privacy — I'll just say his recovery may not be as speedy as we had initially hoped. I guess there are bound to be complications when operating on the brain of a 79-year-old man, especially one who’s as secure in his home and routines as my dad. Sometimes it takes a few days for problems to make themselves completely evident. To me, anyway. 

Isn’t that mysterious? Sorry.

It will be interesting to try to follow this unfolding saga from across the ocean. If Dave didn’t have his own surgery tomorrow, I would probably have extended my Tampa stay. I’d like to see Dad more settled in an inpatient therapy center (which is where he’ll go when discharged from the hospital — not immediately home). But life goes on, right?

Did I mention that I watched “The Revenant” on my flight to Florida? Despite my nephew’s capsule movie review that it was nothing more than two hours of heavy breathing from Leonardo DiCaprio, I liked it. I thought it was suspenseful and well-acted — basically a more brutal version of Robert Redford’s “Jeremiah Johnson.” I felt sorry for the bear, though, and certainly the horse.

Finally, I just have to share these shots of my dad and stepmother’s dogs, Maybelline and Manny:

I horsed around with Maybelline, the black dog, yesterday afternoon. Her idea of playing is barreling into me like a linebacker, without the slightest effort to slow her speed before impact. She unintentionally scratched the hell out of my left arm and I bled like a stuck pig. Now Olga will know I cheated on her. I’m coming home with a hickey!

(Top photo: A car repair place on Fletcher Avenue, Tampa.)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Alma Mater

Yesterday, to take a break from the hospital for a few hours, my brother and I went across the street to walk through the campus of the University of South Florida, where we both went to school. Our nephew tagged along, and like two old men we regaled him with tales of "how it used to be." (Which he probably hated, and I can't blame him.)

The campus has figured in my life in a major way, almost from the beginning -- my parents taught at USF and I spent many hours of my childhood there. I've always liked the '60s architecture of the original buildings.

Outside the Fine Arts Building, we found the "Fart Wall"...

...and some interesting sculptural creations.

Then we meandered near the science buildings. There's an artwork called "Forum II," by Joe Testa-Secca, from 1960, around the chemistry auditorium.

There used to be a Foucault's pendulum in the Physics building, perpetually swinging in a glass-walled staircase. My dad's office was in that building, so I have fond memories of it and was eager to see it. But when my brother and I stopped by we found that it had been removed. We were upset until we read later that it's been moved to a new science building nearby. (Here's a video.)

And of course I had to check out the library...

...where there's now a giant mural of Bulls, the school's mascot.

I was so happy to find that the library still has that pleasant, booky, papery smell.

I pulled a random older book off a shelf. It turned out to be one of a series on English cathedrals, inscribed by the original owner, who bought them in England to prepare for a series of lectures. That man's son, in turn, re-inscribed them to a friend in 1932. "I know of no present that I could afford that would be of greater value or carry a sweeter sentiment," the son wrote to his friend. "I trust they have a special interest to you and will be an inspiration to you in your work."

I wonder how they wound up in the library at USF? The date stamps showed they were checked out as far back as the 1970s -- the years I was growing up on the campus. Kind of amazing, that random snippet of someone's history.

And where's Olga when we need her?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Waffles and Chili

Dad continues to improve. My brother and I spent all Thursday night and Friday morning with him, until the rest of the family arrived in his hospital room, when we went home to sleep for a few hours. Dad was intermittently awake during the night, and he and I had lots of conversations -- and most of them even made sense, which is remarkable, given the seriousness of his surgery and the level of medication in his body.

Finally, about 10 a.m., my brother and I left and went to the restaurant whose sign is casting that distinctive shadow on the parking lot to the left. Those of you in the United States will no doubt recognize it. I ate a gigantic breakfast of grits, waffles, eggs and toast, and I have never been happier.

Last night we had a less successful meal. We went to Chili's, where I had -- of course -- a bowl of chili. It most closely resembled something Olga would eat. So I have learned to avoid that particular chain's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Oh, and speaking of French, I wrote a carefully composed note to my French teacher yesterday morning, telling him I would not be in class today and why. I was pretty proud of it -- I used my tenses and I think I did it correctly -- and I posted it on our class discussion page online. And then I immediately realized we don't have class today anyway because Monday is a bank holiday in England. Merde! So I erased my carefully composed message.

(Top photo: My stepmother's staghorn ferns, which are decades old.)