Monday, April 07, 2008

Rambling Monologoue; "Bud" Part 11

I favor Memphis in the men's NCAA final. In most of these games the best athletes win. Kansas has good athletes but I think Memphis has better ones.

In the women's final I'll take Stanford over Tennessee, though Tenessee has more experience.

For the NBA title, I favor San Antonio vs. Boston with Boston winning.

So much for my hoops Nostradamus interlude.

Recently the usual diurnal depressive pattern has reversed in me: I feel better in the morning and worse at night. Yesterday morning I got involved in "Birthday Alarm," a program that will automatically download your address books and allow you to send inquiries about your friends' birthdays, so you can send them a free e-card on their special day. By evening, after I had received several notes from folks who weren't comfortable sharing the information, I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had gone out on such a limb in the morning. I don't think I'm "rapid cycling," I'm just depressed, though not as bad as I have been.

I admire the shit out of my brother-in-law because he's always busy. And how do you get busy? You start by doing tasks at hand and just continue, and then the habit of motion becomes easier, downhill...on the other hand, I don't like the feeling of being driven, a feeling that has accompanied most of my years--something always pressing from behind, telling me I haven't done enough--actually, that principle is still operative in me, and no doubt my failure to be more engaged in some ways feeds my depression by frustrating my drivenness. Yet all in all, the busier one is, the better one feels. Anything that takes us out of ourselves is better than being alone with ourselves. (This does not include activities like theft and murder.)

Speaking of sociopaths, their sense of privilege and entitlement is something almost to be envied; since others are objects for them to use, since other humans are essentially beneath them--dumber, weaker, etc.....their feeling of superiority is well established. But I have heard from forensic psychiatrists that as sociopaths age they often become hypochondriacs--their narcissism of dominance over others yields to a narcissistic concern with their own physical health, concern with every ache and be fair, in prison they don't have enough to distract themselves from themselves, and being grouped with other sociopaths it must be difficult to bullshit bullshitters.

Given Bud's transformation below, is there a resemblance to sociopathy in his new attitude? Certainly his wife, Martha, doesn't think him normal. But who cares about normal when one can be happy? And is the ultimate value of our society "feeling good?" Certainly depression can drive one to endorse that value or state above all others. Moral choices still occur for the depressed, and I haven't noticed that my values have changed because of depression, but I think if my mood were normal I would be more apt to help my fellows. For now I volunteer to lead music on Fridays at a program for the mentally ill and homeless, and I volunteer at the Botanical Gardens where I sometimes lead tours. What else? I cook and make Kathleen's lunch and do some gardening, though the cats have been cruel to my flowers. I play on the Net. I read story-driven novels. I go for hikes. I pay the bills. I talk to friends and sibs on the phone. I watch a lot of basketball. I am hardly the example of productivity. But at least I'm not catatonic.

Today I'm facing a whole deskful of bills and mail to be opened and dealt with. I've avoided it all weekend but I may have to buckle down and face it today. Most of the bills are just notes from clinics and hospitals telling me that they've billed my insurance, or notes from my insurance saying how much they're willing to pay. They arrive in duplicate and triplicate, and often the insurance doesn't pay what it advertises. It's a giant, dysfunctional mosaic, our medical system as it exists. A single payer, universal health care system is a requirement for a western democracy--unless you'd rather waste money bailing out Wall Street firms and greedy folks who undertook mortgages they could never afford without refinancing when their homes quickly appreciated. Too bad they didn't. Now politicians want to rescue them. These upper middle class mortgage holders--aren't they more likely to vote Republican? And yet only McCain has resisted proposing to rescue them.

And remember, when presidential candidates propose something, they are powerless. Their proposals must be approved by congress, no small feat. We tend to forget this in the rhetoric. A president can propose and later enforce legislation, but he can't approve it; his only real legislative power is the power of the veto, which can be overridden.

And when did the burden of actually proposing legislation fall on the president? No doubt it mushroomed under FDR. He gave us hope; the war reinvigorated our industrial base. Strange that a war could bring us out of a depression, but that relates to Keynsian economics. As long as things are being produced and purchased, whether Pet Rocks or Pershing Missiles, it doesn't matter--the getting and spending, the economic cycle, is independent of the product. Who needs an SUV? Who needs a lawn ornament? The economy does. To the economy it doesn't matter if we sell widgets or weed. Getting money circulating is the whole idea. To be a good economic citizen you must be a good consumer.

At the top end of the economy, on Wall Street and in investment firms, faith is equally important. Whether one believes in the long-term health of the economy or not has everything to do with the Dow Jones average and prosperity on paper. And strangely, the stock market can do well when the indicators are bad and vice-versa--based on the faith of the investors. At the top of the economic pyramid is a confidence game, why economics will always be a soft science. When the money moves to gold and bonds, you know the market is going down. When real estate goes bad, the market usually goes up. This is because people with money have to put their money somewhere besides under a mattress. The people who really make money, as Tom Wolfe pointed out in Bonfire of the Vanities, are those who collect a fee every time other people move their money from one vehicle to another. The government knows this well, from sales to estate taxes. Even income tax charges a fee for the movement of money from an employer to an employee.

If money moves too fast, however, dreaded inflation occurs. We can't have prices skyrocketing because of sudden demand. Speaking of which, remember the inflation of the late 70s, blamed on OPEC prices? Why is there no crisis in inflation now, with the sudden increase in oil prices? I'm sure there's an answer, and some inflation is occurring--the cost of transport demands it--still there's no crisis and I wonder why. The real crime of the economy is no increase in the real income of the middle and lower classes for years, while the rich just get richer moving their capital from one vehicle to another. The divide between "have" and "have-nots" is simple: the "haves" have earned, or saved, or inherited, or stolen enough money to have their money making more money than their wages could. The rest of us just live hand-to-mouth, with inadequate retirement accounts if we have them and a vague hope that Social Security will be solvent when we hit 65.


"Positively Bud" Part 11: Further Reunion with His Wife

"Felt? You felt the way you conceived it. Feelings are just the results of our mental interpretations. That's what I've learned at the IFPL."

"I see. But could we discuss this another time? I really am tired from driving out here and I'd like to nod off for a while."

"Sure, honey, sleep all you want. Sleep is a wonderful restorative to our natural energies. Can I do anything to make you more comfortable?"

"Yeah-- just shut up for a while."


The dirt road gave way to a mountain highway and as Martha snoozed Bud drank in the scent of the pine forest. Suddenly he heard a loud "pop" followed by the sound of tire rim on asphalt while the car fishtailed. He cautiously steered over to the shoulder as Martha woke.

"Bud? What happened?"

"Oh nothing, honey, just a flat. I'll have it fixed in a jiffy."

"Nothing! My God, on this narrow two-lane we might have been killed, or gone off the edge. What do you mean, nothing?"

Bud eyed her with amusement. "My dear, be thankful! First, the blowout occurred on a straightaway, not a curve. Second, this brief stop gives us a chance to stretch and enjoy the scenery. And lastly, isn't it good that we discovered a defective tire safely? Now we can replace it. I'll get the jack out and you just make yourself comfortable."

Comfortable? How could she be comfortable with this lunatic lecturing her on the benefits of a mountain road blowout? Suddenly she wanted a cigarette. She hadn't smoked in years.

Meanwhile Bud cheerfully went about replacing the tire, enjoying every minute of his labor. He put the shredded radial in the trunk and announced they were fit for travel, though the spare was only good for fifty miles. They would have to stop at a tire store on the way back. "Ugh," Martha thought.
Bud stopped at the first tire store he saw. The salesman inspected all his tires. "Looks like you need a radial to match the rest," he said. "The others look OK."

"What do you mean, OK?" Bud asked. "Are they safe? Are they good? Would you trust your own mother on a set of these?"

The salesman took off his cap and scratched his head. "What I mean is the others might be good for another ten to twenty thousand miles."

"That's not good enough for me," Bud said. "I want my tires to be perfectly safe. Give me four."

"You're the boss," said the man.

"Darling, you want to go get a bite to eat while they're fixing our tires?"

"Sure," Martha said wearily. They strolled over to a nearby coffee shop. Inside the air-conditioned haven pink booths of naugahyde surrounded dark tables. The waitress brought them menus, dog-eared and ketchup-stained.

"Anything to drink?" she asked. "Yes, coffee," Martha replied. "Just water for me," said Bud, smiling.

"Just look at these menus-- they're filthy," Martha said.

"Not filthy-- just well-used," Bud explained. "They bear witness to a popular restaurant that just can't replace their menus fast enough because of the vast number of patrons who must come through here."

"Right." Martha rolled her eyes.

"Feel like breakfast?"

"Sure, it's hard to ruin that."

Martha's biscuits and gravy tasted as if they'd been made from sawdust and Lipton soup mix. Her sausages were nearly incinerated, and the over-easy eggs were hard. Only her toast was passable, though there was only jelly and no jam.

"How's your food?" Bud asked.

"Just look, it's terrible."

"So's mine," Bud agreed. "So now we know one restaurant that we definitely won't visit again, an advantage to any traveler, and particularly myself since I have to come back up here to visit."

"For what?"

"For maintenance and monitoring. They have a spouse's group, too, if you'd like to come."

"No, thanks. I don't want anyone messing with my mind."

"That's like saying I don't want a dentist messing with my tooth."

"I don't think so," she said. Bud's attitude grated on her like tree branches on a window. Why couldn't he just bitch with her about the lousy food like a normal person? As they left she felt Bud's tip was overgenerous.

"Why punish the server for the cook?" he said. "And oh yeah, I need the credit card for the tires." Fifteen minutes later they were on their way.

"Can I see the receipt?" Martha asked. Bud handed it to her. "$360 for one tire? Are you kidding me?"

"No dear, I bought four new tires. The guy said the other three tires had some life left in them, but why chance it when one purchased at the same time had a blowout? Best to have the best tires. An excellent investment in safety."

Right, and a terrific drain on our already scarce resources. But he did have a point-- maybe if he'd discussed it with her. She used to leave these car concerns to him before his illness.

When they arrived at their modest two-bedroom home Bud could not contain himself. He ran to the roses, sniffing them with joy; he got down on his knees and smelled the grass, luxuriating in its green resilience while blowing a few dandelion puffs to the wind. After garaging the car, he sped to the backyard for more. Nasturtiums, hydrangeas, impatiens and the giant yellow marigolds-- the fig tree in the corner-- the brickwork he'd done long ago around the sculpted Bermuda grass and the covered patio he'd built. The birdbath needed cleaning so he immediately hosed it out and left fresh water. Then he came in through the screen door to find Martha hunched over the kitchen dinette, crying. Bud gently put his hands on her shoulders and asked,

"What's the matter, baby?"

"You don't get it, do you? A month ago you couldn't get out of bed and now you act like the world is your oyster!" She sobbed again. "I can't take it-- it's too drastic a change. It's like I'm suddenly married to someone else!"

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