Sunday, October 31, 2010


I remember the Wang. I bet some are saying, “The Wang?” Alright, so I am dating myself. The Wang was a word processing computer. I used it when I worked at Hughes Aircraft Company in the late eighties or early nineties.  I can't remember the exact date.

I was one of two employees who had one of these amazing machines in my office. Of course, in order to get printed material, I had to call the print room to get permission and then walk a half mile to pick up the material. The room was filled with huge processing units and the printers were the size of a Smart Car.  The floppy discs were half the size of a door.

I was an expert using this computer. I was able to write programs and do work in half the time it would have taken without this technology. I was the go-to person when anyone needed to know how to do something. Then, in a blink, the Wang was replaced. In came the DecMate. These word-processing machines were smaller, cheaper and allowed everyone to have their own little DecMate sitting on their desk. I picked up the new computer system quickly and regained my reputation for being the expert.

Very quickly, however, DecMates were replaced with word processors. Once again I was challenged to learn a new system. I was fearless. I remember the technician saying, “feel free to do anything; you can’t hurt this machine”. I called her back to my office an hour later. I had gotten into the autoexec file and changed the start-up command. She left different instructions. “here’s a list of what not to do”. I was programming in DOS in no time.

It wasn’t long before the PCs were kicked to the door to make way for the MACs. By now, I was tiring of learning one system after another. Of course, within a couple of years the MACs were kicked to the curb and PCs were back. By then, I had lost interest in learning what was behind the system and focused on just using the software at hand.

Change and learning to flow with it is the name of the game.  I’m comfortable with technology, but, having been absent for two years from the technology scene, I find myself in unfamiliar territory. I'm in catch-up mode.   When I left for Peace Corps, Blackberries were just introduced. The Smartphone, like the EVO and the IPhone did not exist. IPODs were only used for playing music, not for taking video or listening to the radio.

I had no clue how to turn the television on when I returned.  During my time in Peace Corps, HD was introduced.  The equipment changed and programming TIVO changed. The remote controls changed.  DirecTV has given way to FIOS and friends have dedicated computers hooked up to their televisions. My 30+ year old son no longer talks; he texts. He calls himself Senior Textioso - whatever that is.  I find myself texting him across the small table in the restaurant. It’s the only way to get his attention.

The clock on my car is still two hours ahead because I can’t figure out how to change it. Worse yet, I programmed an address into the navigation system a couple of weeks ago and while I was driving touched the screen. That must have told the system I wanted to make an additional stop. I had to get off the freeway and get the manual out to figure out how to stop the car from having a fun-filled day in Bakersfield, 100 miles from my intended destination.

Political candidates TWEET and have Facebook pages. I have a Facebook page and can deal with that, but I have yet to understand why I would ever want to TWEET.

I need to buy a DVD player, but the technology is different, and so I came home empty handed. I’m not sure what Blue Ray is, or why I want it, so I need to investigate it before I go back to Costco. 

We rent video’s from a vending machine outside the grocery store. The first time I spent a substantial amount of time going through the video’s while a very long line began forming behind me. Those waiting had a disgusted look on their face and their body language was less than friendly. I’ve since learned to go the Red Box Website before I go to the store. I feel a lot safer when there is a crowd behind me now.

Netbooks were introduced while I was away, but it seems they have drifted away since IPAD had it’s coming out party. I’m still not sure why anyone would want an oversized ITouch that can’t store anything. It seems like a total waste of money to me. I am likely missing something here as anytime I say this, I’m met with disapproving body language and people quickly move away so as not to be near ignorant contaminated ground.

During the time I was away I saw new and amazing technology – the Kindle. I only saw one, but it was eye-popping technology!  I came home to find a dozen different brands and children are saving their allowance to buy them. There is something that is just wrong about highlighting an ebook. You can highlight, can’t you?

I find that I am slightly behind the technological curve which can be dangerously close to being left in the proverbial dust. Today's proverb: She who doesn’t know will rarely be given an opportunity to learn.  

Let me demonstrate this proverb:  I went to the grocery store and there were long lines.  I hesitated to walk up to a self-serve checkout. Why? Because I had produce and I am not sure how to scan it. There was a store employee there who saw my hesitation. She said, “don’t worry, I’ll help you”. What I didn’t realize is that she didn’t “help” me, she did it for me. Why? Because people waiting for self-serve were in an impatient hurry. I fell into the same trap at IKEA when the reader would not scan the barcode.  I can't even talk about my experience at the Post Office.  Let's just say I'm lucky the guy behind me was honest because if he wasn't, my debit card would be paying for several purchases that day.

Here’s the bottom line; the purpose of this post: Yesterday I went to the grocery store and came out victorious. I arrived early in the morning when few were there. I took my time at self-checkout. When the lady asked if I need help, I politely said “no thank you”. So please, all you techies out there – give me a chance to catch up! Yes, I have wrinkles on my face, but I can still learn. I like technology!  Yes I can!  I'm pumped.  I'm going outside right now to learn how to change the time on the clock in my car!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


People give me a sympathetic look when I tell them about the fire. My response is always the same: it turned out to be a good thing. Sure, I lost some things I would like to have, but they are just things. And yes, I got a new kitchen, all new windows and floors, appliances, furniture, clothes, and six months in a hotel with maid service – but that wasn’t the good part.

The good part was that the clutter was gone; it was history – a pile of ashes! I didn’t have to deal with it. I didn’t have to make the decision to part with a stack of coupons that I continually forgot to take to the grocery store and would likely never use. Or, the adorable shoes with the little bow that I knew I wouldn’t wear again because they gave me blisters the only time I wore them. I didn’t need to worry about keeping the trail of paperwork that, if laid out, would likely span over a mile long and lead to nowhere. That was the good part.

The fire was in 2000. Shortly after I moved back into my house, the trash company changed to a different type of trash can. They asked me how many I would like. I requested one. I should have asked for two.

When I returned home from Saint Lucia I brought a few clothes, some pictures, electronics and gifts. This is all I have…well I should say, this is all I “had”.

Last weekend I visited my oldest friend in Frazier Park. Robin and I went to high school together and we have seen each other occasionally over the past forty-five years. It’s nice. Although we have led different lives, we have the same connection we had so many years ago. I stayed overnight at her home, a wonderful ranch style house on eighteen acres of land. We had lunch, picked up pinecones, and rode ATVs.

We looked through our old high school year book, both of us squinting trying to remember the people in the black and white pictures with big hair, the girls with lots of make-up and the boys with suits and ties. These were the most important people in our lives all those years ago. Robin and smiled as we reminisced about how much emphasis we placed on what they thought of us. Now, neither of us could remember any of them and we were sure they wouldn’t remember us either.

While I was visiting Robin, my house was being transformed. Since I’ve been home, there have been more people in the house than beds to sleep in. When I returned home from Robin’s house, my things were out of storage and a few boxes lay resting on the floor. My sons were setting up my bed – a bed I hadn’t slept in since the night before I left for Peace Corps Staging in Miami. I couldn’t wait to sleep in it again – a bed high off the floor filled with lots of pillows, fresh sheets and down bedding.

I looked around the house and two book shelves in the living room were emptied of Ava’s books and the toys that were scattered about the house had disappeared. A couple of drawers and a pantry were emptied. My son and his family moved over the weekend. They are getting ready for their new daughter, due next month.

The next morning I started reorganizing the living room. I have an extensive library of business books. They take up a lot of space and must be dusted frequently. Sometimes, I reference them. My son Jay suggested I donate them to the library. I actually felt a pain in my chest when he said it. One day, no one will own an actual book. Everything will be on e-books. But, I will keep these books and leave them all to Jay. He can haul them to the library.

Where are all the locks?
Over the past week I’ve spent an untold amount of money purchasing organizers for kitchen drawers and cupboards. The more I clean the more clutter I find. How on earth does one amass so much useless stuff? For instance, what are all these keys and what do they open? How long have these old PDAs been in the junk drawer? Why do I keep remote controls after I’ve thrown away the device they belong to? What do these chargers charge? One says that I can only use it with “V1917 Models Only”. What happens if I throw it away and then discover I still have the V1917 Model? I can’t find the stock pot that belongs to the lid that is resting on my stove. It’s a very nice lid and I really hate to discard it. I’m sure I can use it for something.

Why do I have two junk drawers? I know why I have one. It’s because my parents always had one, so it must be necessary. Right? The junk drawer has a myriad of treasures. Extra buttons from clothes that have long been donated to Goodwill and extra light bulbs for Christmas light strands that were replaced years ago. Lots of nails and screws that were left over from things assembled. Pennies…lots of pennies. Why can’t it be dollars instead of pennies?

What is this stuff?
But the vast majority of this treasure is unidentifiable. I must have kept these things for a reason. I’m sure they are important. Please don’t judge me. I know you have treasures at least equal to mine! And if you know what any of this stuff is, please let me know.

I have just started opening my boxes. I don’t have a clue why I have all these clothes…but I have a new rule. I purchased fifty pink hangars. I cannot have anymore than the hangars will hold and each hangar is only allowed one garment. If I buy something, I must give something up. Another rule: the shoe stand I purchased holds thirty pair of shoes. Why on earth do I need more than thirty pair of shoes when I only have one pair of feet!

I look at things a lot different since returning to the United States. Life was simple in Saint Lucia and although it’s unlikely that I will achieve that simplicity here, I am determined to make it less complicated. So, I have bags and boxes destined for the Goodwill Store. And remember when I said I should have requested two trash cans? Well, make that four!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Field

I'm frozen in my thoughts while sitting in my car in the parking lot. I am considering a few square acres of asphalt and concrete. The little painted lines show us where to park, I suppose, to maximize parking space. Someone's small stroke of genius so many years ago.  

Ah, the land of Los Angeles where most have a car, few carpool, everyone complains about traffic and parking lots become hunting grounds while tempers flare and hand gestures are the preferred way to communicate. Concrete trails lead to bistro tables and an eatery, a furniture store, the proverbial nail salon and everything in between.

Although I see life before this oversized strip mall, others likely only see a few stores where one can easily pick up an over-priced cup of Starbucks Coffee or an imagined healthy Jamba Juice which is laden with hundreds of hidden calories. And, we wonder why we are broke and overweight. It’s all too easy. When did life change into a mecca of inconvenient convenience?

Knowing this is the final resting place of my four little friends, I ponder yesteryear and imagine the parking lot as it was: a dirt field with tumble weeds that will eventually be blown down our street through the fenceless neighborhoods which meet Hawthorne Boulevard. 

Just beyond the field, a few tumbleweeds are collected by mom and then, using silver spray paint and a few decorations, they are transformed into snowmen, Los Angeles style. I can smell the odor of trash burning in our backyard incinerator while the neighbors are hanging sweet smelling laundry. I feel the sense of innocent security enjoyed during the 1950s which pours into our nestled neighborhood of cookie cutter houses.

We lived in a typical tract house built after the war and during the baby boom. It was a small three bedroom, two bath house with a washing machine in the garage. Dad had a large family room built onto the back of the house. The large old brick fireplace with a thick wooden mantel held our Christmas Stockings.  A fresh tree was placed near the sliding glass door and the smell of pine needles permeated the air. 

When I’m in the area, I pass by the house. It is completely different and doubled in size now. I only recognize it because I remember the address. I wonder what life would have been like if we had stayed there and not moved to Thousand Oaks. Would my parents have been happier together?

Mom stayed home while dad worked. Every house in the neighborhood had children. One family had twelve children and ate dinner outside on a picnic table, but most families had a more manageable two or three children. There was always something to do because there were so many of us in the neighborhood. Baseball games, bike riding and tetherball were favorite pastimes. The dads would join us in neighborhood Kite Flying contests. I remember these days as carefree and family centered.

The homes were built close together. My friend Sally lived down the street and Linda lived next door her. Their bathroom windows were close and their secret call was “OllieOllieOx” in a high pitched singing voice. Hours were spent giggling and chatting on both sides of the two windows with bathroom doors securely locked. I was part of the not-so-secret meetings during sleep-overs.  Years later Linda took her life.

Mother warned me about the dangers of the vast amount of untouched land surrounding our little neighborhood. I clearly remember the little girl on the news who had fallen into the abandoned well. She lived in another state but this tragedy was national news.  Mom said there could be an abandoned well in this field as well. I heeded her warning and only went there once when there was a purpose. I went with her and she held my hand. I was likely only five or six years old and remember the sadness I felt that day. If I had listened to her about another warning we wouldn’t be out in this dangerous field carrying a shoe box, a cross and a shovel. At least that’s how I felt at the time.

Just two weeks before we headed out to that field, I went into the garage with mom to help her with the laundry. Actually, more than likely it was to ‘watch’ her do the laundry. We heard some squeaking noises coming from a corner inside the garage and upon investigation, hidden from view, were four kittens. The mother was noticeably absent. 

 I was a magnet to the kittens and mom had to drag me away from them. “Leave them alone, Karen. Don’t handle them too much or they will die.” But I couldn’t help myself and didn’t want to believe that they would die because I loved them. I picked them up to play with them at every available opportunity. The kittens sucked on a cloth soaked in formula that mom gave them.

But, they were too small and weak to live. One by one the kittens died; all on the same day. Mom went into the house and brought back a shoebox. I helped her carefully placed each kitten into the box. We set out to bury them in the dangerous and frightening field. I wasn’t afraid because mom was there with me. I was sad, partly because the kittens were gone, but mostly because I thought that I was the cause of their deaths.

It was a few years later when the field was plowed and asphalt was laid. The little wooden cross mom and I constructed for the burial site had likely withered away by then. Block wall fences were built and the incinerators and cloths lines disappeared. I was nearly eleven when my new sister was born. Less than two years later the house was deemed too small and unfit for our growing family. It was time to move on. The ‘For Sale’ sign appeared and within a short time we moved to Thousand Oaks, a small town, but emerging community with new fields to explore.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Ol’ Property Tax Bill

The mail comes fairly early.  I sort through it, first discarding all the annoying flyers, ads and assorted junk mail that few pay attention to and most will immediately toss into the recycle.  Not a single consideration goes into any of this untidy paper, including the expensive glossy color ads which tempt the reader with enticing phrases such as “one day only sale”, or “going out of business” or “half off”.  Let’s be real for a moment; the only useful purpose this paper serves is to keep my dear Letter Carrier, Steve, employed.  For that, I am grateful.

The only other thing that comes with any regularity is a few bills.  Among the bills on this day is the Property Tax.  Looking for a due date, I scan the contents of the envelope when I notice the amount is about $150 over the usual number.  That makes me take a closer look.  Have you ever looked at one of these bills?  Well, I haven’t.  I’ve always been too busy.  I’m a good soldier.  It comes, I pay.  Now, for the first time since my mid-twenties, I have no job or structure and therefore, I’m up for a time-consuming challenge that has no value but even with a null result, I know I will achieve a feeling of satisfaction that I completed the task.

I examined the details of the tax assessment.  I understand why I’m paying for County Parks, Trauma and Emergency Services, the Fire Department and Libraries.  I’m not sure how they arrive at the numbers, but, it doesn’t matter because there are bigger mysteries to uncover in this bill.  With cell phone in hand, I set out to get to the bottom of a bill I have always blindly paid – and will again pay – it’s just this time I want to know what my money is supporting and most important, I want to know WIIFM (a business term for What’s In It For Me).

I looked closer at the bill to discover a section of “Voted Indebtedness”.  This is the part where ‘we stick it to ourselves’.  It includes $4.01 for the Metro Water District.  I have no idea why they are getting this money, but I think it’s safe to bet that sometime in the not-so-distant past the majority of voters thought it would be a fine idea to give the Metro Water District this money.  I’m sure it’s going to some bureaucratic nightmare that won’t ever do me any good but will likely line some executive bureaucrat’s pocket. 

There is a charge for $43.70 charge for Community College.  This is alright as I worked at Los Angeles Harbor College and they needed the bond that is bringing this minority college (among other community colleges) up to date.  I remember voting for this one.

There is a $202.67 charge for the Los Angeles Unified Schools – a charge that I am sure will be squandered while raising bureaucratic ego’s into the stratosphere while we watch drop-out rates sour.  I distinctly remember voting against this nonsense.  My son said this amount will continue to increase.  

Other entries on the bill are intriguing.  I must have missed the class that taught what WB MWD STDBY CHG means because there is nothing on the bill that tells me.  I can only assume I’m in a small minority of people who was absent that day.  So I called to find out.  It is the Western Basin Municipal Water District Standby Charge.  So what do I get for this?  I get recycled non-potable water.  I tried to find out what that means to no avail, although the woman said that farmers might be using the recycled water.  Right, all the Los Angeles farmers – wait, where are all these farmers?  I don’t see any farmers in Los Angeles.  I’m a little curious about this recycled non-potable water because Orange County is recycling toilet water into drinking water.  They said they are going to get back to me on this one.

Who would know that LACO VECTR CNTRL is a pest control administration organization tasked to administer costs for another organization to get rid of mosquitoes.  Huh?  Doesn’t that sound like we have one too many organizations in the pest control fight!  I never knew these pests were a problem in the arid community of Los Angeles, but maybe that $7.25 is well spent.  I asked them how they get rid of the mosquitoes and when the last time they were in my neighborhood, but they aren’t returning my phone calls.

I found that the Sanitation District charges me $135.00 to treat my water.  I asked what they were putting in it but they didn’t know.  That makes me wonder what they really know.

I pay a fee for Flood Control.  I wasn’t aware we had a flooding problem in Los Angeles, but I found out this fee pays to keep our dams, catch basins and channels clear.  I guess they forget about the one in my neighborhood – you know, the one with old shopping carts and trash building up in it.  The woman from Flood Control suggested the citizens should be responsible for this.  Huh?  

There were several numbers that I had to call to get information.  After piecing the data together, this is what I believe I am paying for:  the reason we need the Pest Control people is because the Flood Control people aren’t cleaning out the drains and thus they build a supply of non-potable stagnant water which is ripe for mosquitoes.  After the water is sprayed for mosquitoes by the Pest Control people and then deemed non-potable by the Water Basin people, the Sanitation District treats the water and it is then turned into recycled drinking water. . . or they just give it to the vast amount of Los Angeles farmers . . . take your pick.

Ah, another productive day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Guarding Territory

I watch Riley and Barkley. Riley is the rescued black cat my son brought home while I was living in Saint Lucia. Barkley, of course, is my little toy poodle that someone thrust upon me. I am ever grateful as he is a great source of entertainment and a wonderful companion. Riley and Barkley are in the midst of their morning ritual.

I feed the ball of black meowing fir that traverses my legs causing me to move with caution so I don’t end up on the floor. His frenzied communication is his way of demanding food at the very moment he hears me stirring in the morning. 

I fill Riley’s bowl and he begins eating immediately. I look over at Barkley and he is quietly and politely sitting by his bowl knowing it will be his turn after Riley is fed and peace is restored in the house. Barkley’s bowl is filled and brought to the living room, far from Riley’s sight. Barkley doesn’t eat; he lays down next to it in anticipation.

Once Riley has eaten half his food he comes in search of Barkley’s bowl and the game begins. Riley is a growing kitten and wants, possibly needs, more food than the cup he is given at breakfast. Each time he approaches the bowl Barkley growls at him and with fir flying and feet in the air, they rumble on the floor. Barkley wins, Riley retreats and Barkley goes back to his guarding position.

After a few failed attempts, Riley realizes that he isn’t getting anywhere and he changes his strategy. Riley waits until Barkley’s eyes close and then quietly approaches his bowl. He snatches one kibble at a time, each time moving to safety to eat the food that Barkley clearly has little interest in eating. This goes on until the food is gone. They are both tired and surrender to sleep. The game will commence again tomorrow morning.

It’s interesting to watch the dog guard something that he clearly doesn’t want. I hear about the same cat and dog game on television. The participants are different, but the game appears to be the same. We guard our borders so that people from other countries don’t come into California and snatch a job picking fruit. They come in search of jobs almost no one wants but the illegal that has crossed the border to feed his or her family.

I contemplate the dog and cat game. Maybe if I re-evaluate and make changes to the process, the dog will get what he wants: better food; and the cat will get what he wants: a full stomach. A win-win rather than a win-lose. Maybe the people who are guarding the boarders would be more successful if they would look for the win-win.