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“Fine.  Just fine.”  That’s all anybody really wants to hear.  They don’t want an assessment of what’s actually going on in your complex physiognomy.  If you lined up your medicaments and explained how each one played its special role in keeping you upright and ambulatory, sensing and communicating, digesting and excreting, people would only roll their eyes.  They don’t want to hear it.

You could bore them to tears with the o-so-unfortunate story of your Glaucoma and Macular Degeneration.  The twin disasters are sure to get you in the end.  The little blue and orange topped bottles of Latanaprost and Dorzolamide can only stave off blindness for so long, and then it’s the dark.  Our constant love affair with screens has initiated a brand new sickness as their high frequency blue light attacks our rods and cones.  Now we must belly up to the prescriptive bar and demand Preservision to get the necessary Lutein and Zeaxanthin to protect them.  What’s next?  Something to deal with the blepharitis caused by the dry eye attendant to the ageing of us all.  Restasis has taken its rightful place as the go-to treatment but is perhaps prohibitively expensive.  Since one of the side effects of its oral formulation is listed as lymphoma, it remains to be seen what the Restasis future might be.

What do you do when your Thyroid gives up?  You supplement.  But first you test, and test, and test.  Every few months you re-test to verify required dosage.  And you pop those pills, Levothyroxine, one a day, every day, forever.  Thyroid is too important to forget.  It controls your body’s furnace, and it balances other endocrine functions that, like every dog, must have their day.  Last time I had an actual exam, the specialist counted nine little goiters on one side of me.  Years and years of keeping them turned off and compliant has caused the opposite side of the gland to dissolve, absorbed into my body’s own mystery.  It’s gone—all gone.  Unless somebody invents a way to grow me a new one, it’s I and the little pink pills for the foreseeable future.  An interesting aside: The Levo part of the name concerns this molecule’s ability to rotate light in a counterclockwise direction, ie. to the left.  There is surely a mirror image chemical called Dextrothyroxine that rotates it to the right, but that one won’t work for us humans.  We see the same quandary with Dextrose, a complex sugar we use to sweeten tea.  Levulose exists but doesn’t float our boat or spin our light in the correct direction.

Omeprazole, the generic term for Prilosec, a protein pump inhibitor, is great for holding off GERD (Gastro-Esophageal-Reflux-Disease).  I believe I prefer the acronym.  There was a time when one-a-day did the trick.  Now for me it’s two-or-misery.  One coterie of doctors asserts that such treatment turns off digestion of all protein.  The opposition counters that the stomach’s hydrochloric acid is strong, too strong to be inhibited by a silly little pill.  What do I know?  Even they can’t decide or agree.  It’s complicated.

Metoprolol Succinate, a time-release generic version of the popular Lopressor, is my go-to beta-blocker to handle my over-the-top blood pressure.  I use it daily along with a diuretic, hydrochlorothiazide, to fight the good fight.  We do what we must.

At one point, after spinal stenosis led to two spinal fusions and the pain was unspeakable, my doctor prescribed Oxycontin, guaranteed it to be healthier than Tylenol/codeine, and less deleterious to my dear, dear liver.  That worked until it didn’t.  Then our culture declared it to be a problem, so I decided to stop taking pain medicine altogether.  Sure, it hurt, but it was just pain.  “Self,” I instructed, “get over it.”  I did.  Now I rely on water-walking at the J (Mayerson Jewish Community Center) and Yoga (before getting out of bed in the morning) to stay nimble and supple and somewhat pain free.

A sore bottom is misery, pure and simple.  A lifetime of poor diet and straining at stool will tear up the most dedicated of rectums.  Its lining begins to break down.  Blood pools in the loose tissue, and you are the dubious owner of your own case of hemorrhoids.  They burn, itch, bleed and make you the very personification of misery.  Mine are presently held at bay by Preparation H, an old but useful over the counter remedy.  Evaluation of your sitting problem is a simple in-office assessment.  Putting it off only promises you more pain.  Embarrassment is inevitable, but doctors have a very poor memory for bottoms.  A week later yours will have been forgotten.

Women deserve our own corner of this conundrum.  Ever since a creative research tech collected urine from a pregnant mare, separated out the female hormone and convinced a menopausal woman to add it to her tea, the age of hormonal replacement was underway.  Equine estrogen as Premarin was introduced 75 years ago and was an instant success, even though it only partly relieved hot flushes, etc. because the horse estrogen molecule isn’t precisely identical with the human form, estradiol, and the female human body doesn’t recognize it as the real thing.  Research has isolated and reproduced several forms of precisely human estrogen, and women seem to need them in varying combinations.  They have been for many years prescription available and offer to extend every woman’s zippity-do-da.  However, the kind of replacement estrogen most often prescribed is still the horse variety called Premarin.  Time marches on, as should progress.  Doctors need to keep up with the research.  Pharma technicians have better things to do than run about, buckets in hand, chasing after big-bellied mares.  Have you ever seen a horse roll its eyes?  Clinical studies have shown that estrogen replacement reduces cardio-vascular disease by 50%.  It works to prevent Alzheimer’s, sagging breasts, flapping underarms and reluctant vaginas.  Yes, it even makes sex feel good again.  Don’t waste another day of your life on horse tinkle. 

Some chemicals are too simple for big Pharma to make a killing on, such as magnesium carbonate.  If I take it every night, I don’t wake up in the wee hours with leg cramps and throw myself out of bed with a shriek and a run around the Serta howling, all to break the  convulsive restriction of my leg muscles.  Electrolytes seem to affect the operation of muscle tissue and need to be delicately balanced, with Magnesium playing a prominent role.  Staying alive and functional is indeed a lot of work as well as way too much cerebration, cogitation and rumination.

All this is so fascinating to ourselves, but is such a tremendous bore to others, especially the young.  The safest thing to do of course is to smile and say,

 “Fine!  Just fine!  Never felt better!  And how are you?”

Of course you hope they’ll have the wisdom to not tell you.  The one exception is a person who happens to share similar afflictions.  Then you can compare horror stories with a willing co-conspirator.  Similar to pre-kindergarten sex, “You show me yours; I’ll show you mine” is often a productive negotiation.

Certified

Mono Lake is a saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline. This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp that thrive in its waters, and provides critical habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and alkali flies.  The most unusual feature of Mono Lake are its dramatic tufa towers emerging from the surface. These rock towers form when underwater springs rich in calcium mix with the waters of the lake, which are rich in carbonates.   (Wikipedia)

When my husband Jeffrey and I blew into Mono County, California in the spring of 1977, we were in a position only to punt.  It seemed to be our sole option since his father had changed his mind about inviting us to build a home on the lakefront property Jeffrey and his brother Sisal would someday inherit.  We didn’t, however, give up on Lee Vining and its fantastic environs.  It was that unique location that had called to us with such clarity.

The family-owned property was a chunk of the Mono Lake shoreline bristling with tufa towers and underlayed with salt flats that offered an endless source of the mineral crystals that could be harvested and marketed to remunerative effect.  The Brandt clan bottled and sold the salt for many years and enjoyed its health enhancing benefits as well as consistent profits.  It routinely performed miraculous feats of physical healing.  I have found nothing so soothing to my irritated nasal tissue.  One of our best friends claimed that after he was told to report to the hospital for amputation of his gangrenous right foot, he instead spent an entire summer ritually soaking it in Mono Lake, 2 ½ times saltier than the ocean.  It completely healed.  Long a professional skier and tour guide, he was able to return to his important and necessary career.  The US FDA would surely look askance at Mono Lake salt.  Since it is apparently innocuous, nobody is likely to sue anybody, but since there is no big money to be made, nobody is likely to investigate the science behind its ameliorative affect.

The entire lake and surround has since been reclassified under eminent domain and gleefully ingested by governmental organizations, but in 1977 it was still very much a private entity.  Jeffrey’s old man, Otto Brandt, had for many summers parked his camper-enhanced pickup truck on the property and enjoyed the clear briny sea air, at 6785’ of elevation, on the shore of California’s prettiest salt lake.

The location morphed everything it encountered.  Even the local Indian tribes, offshoots of the Paiute band, that came to define that indigenous human habitat, became themselves an oddity.  They camped at agreed upon times of the year along the lakeshore, chowing down on the larvae of the flies that populated the salty flats, and gathered the nuts of the many pinion pines that grew heartily throughout the area.  There wasn’t much else to eat except an occasional rabbit, chipmunk, or pronghorn antelope, slow enough to get caught.  Maybe it was the limited and peaceful diet that urged the Natives toward a quiet settled attitude of acceptance.

By the time we arrived, most of the fly eaters had been absorbed into the dominant population, working for LA Department of Water and Power (DWP), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or just squatting extra-legally in tents on BLM property.  Interactions were colorful.  Our favorite example was Cecil.  He got around by limping along the highway, feigning incapacity.  As soon as we would pull over to ask where he was headed, he would shove his Army issue metal crutches under his arm, punctuate the moment with an exuberant war whoop, and sprint for our Land Cruiser.  We didn’t mind.  It was a charming prevarication.  His opportunities were limited.  We appreciated how hard it is to control out-of-control circumstances.  He was always good for a yarn or two, knew most of the local history, and gladly shared it.  I was sad to hear years later that after one hitchhike into Lee Vining to get liquored up, he succumbed to sleep underneath a parked car and froze to death.

Even as the location had dictated the evolution of local indigenes, so it worked its will on Jeffrey and Dorothy Brandt.  He took his new BS degree in Industrial Arts from North Texas State University to the local building department, was pressed into service as a Mono County Building Inspector, and began to earn a decent income.  I was bored and confused about what to do without an engineering job, and not wanting to stagnate into a resentful domesticity.  So, when a knock on the door announced the wife of a local architect, I agreed to see if they could do what they promised: teach me how to design houses. 

With our three sons, Dale (19), Lane (14), and Kurt (3), Jeffrey and I settled into a colorful old house just around the shoreline from the Brandt enclave and decided to give it a try.  The house, built by a local eccentric named Pat Kelly, nestled among the tufa formations, and was bereft of electricity.  A gasoline generator provided direct current for whatever was artfully wired to run when it was chugging along, punctuated by occasional backfires.  Otherwise the site was powerless and mercifully quiet.  We approved the independent lifestyle the home stood for.  A propane refrigerator kept things cold; a wood stove kept things warm—at least warm enough.

Pat Kelly had found a hollow tufa tower and set up a tiny wood stove in it where on the occasion of pleasant weather he camped out.  It was the only tufa with a stovepipe.  Lane, a confirmed romantic, moved his bedroom furniture right in and set up housekeeping.  All went well until he awoke nose to nose with a creature he wasn’t able to certify as a friendly.  He moved back into the house.  In Lee Vining proper, he took Mono High School by storm, became a star running back on the football team and later moved to starting Quarterback and Team Captain.  He won lead in the school play his junior year, but in spite of all that, followed Dale back to West Virginia to matriculate.

Dale got a job with Cal Trans (California Department of Transportation) driving their monster snow movers.  They let him take the high-country-snow-specific driving test even though he was blind in one eye, so as not to fault themselves for discrimination.  The test consisted of negotiating an oversized truck through an orange cone array under the critical eye of Cal Trans certified experts.  They were sure he would fail it, since depth perception requires two good eyes.  But he aced the test, outscoring all the other applicants, overturned not a single cone, and was hired for the job forthwith.  Later he signed on with June Mountain Ski Resort where he groomed the slopes with Thiokol Snow Cats, but he missed West Virginia too much and headed back to country roads and mountain mommas.

Kurt loved his preschool teacher, but became the first kid in Lee Vining ever to flunk kindergarten.  He, with a great deal of patient forbearance, explained to his teacher that he intended to be a race car driver, and as it follows, would not be needing all that adding and subtracting stuff, much less those a’s, b’s, nor c’s.  I was confident the future would sort this all out.  It did.

We loved our scenic views of the lake and respected its changing weather patterns.  One time we were horrified to witness emergency crews recovering four unfortunate people who had ventured out on the lake during questionable weather.  The rescue equipment paraded slowly and respectfully past our house, bearing the bodies to their stricken relatives.  The victims’ boat had capsized, and there was nothing left to do but grieve.  “Careful” became our operative code—our watchword.

I began commuting to Bridgeport, Mono’s county seat to work for the architect, who had arranged for three professional drawing tables to outfit his upstairs home office.  Since I already knew how to draw, thanks to technical drawing classes at Carnegie Mellon, and could do axonometric and perspective construction spreads, we were set to do some serious work.  Mono County was a down-to-basics kind of place, and certified though he was, Rufus Hale didn’t do the whole architectural package.  There was little market for it.  Local building contractors wanted only a good plan set and any necessary calculations to win project approved from the Building Department up in Bridgeport.  We gave them what they wanted.  He was a Registered Professional Architect, so his stamp was all that was needed for the Department to certify his plans.  It was a good place to learn how to make a living by the pencil, one sheet at a time.

The Hales held my hand as I learned, one careful vellum after the next, to turn out a well-executed plan set.  Making like a sponge, I learned what I needed to, interviewing the customers and serving their individual needs.  As soon as I could fly, the Hales let me.  I enjoyed the work, the creative outlet, and the beautiful scenery to be appreciated on the daily commute from Lee Vining to Bridgeport.  That took me across Conway summit at 8143 feet, the highest point on US Route 395.  It is truly God’s country.  The Indians called it the place where the Great Spirit dwells.  The beauty was all the religion I needed.  Every trip was a prayer.

It could have gone on that way forever, but Mrs. Hale began repeatedly showing up with bruises, an occasional black eye that she tried to cover with makeup, and odd changes to her gait.  I asked her if she needed help, and she broke into tears.  Rufus, it turned out, in spite of the “his and hers” underwear blessed by the local certified Mormon official, that was supposed to purify their thoughts, was venting his existential frustration on the body of his beloved spouse.  It was a remote location, where I was enclosed eight hours every day with a big man who had a problem with his temper, and his wife whom he was beating.  I was frightened for her, and also for myself, having never subjected myself to testicular violence.  Both my husbands could yell, but never raised a hand against me.  They knew that wouldn’t play.  When I explained my fears to Mrs. Hale and apologized to her for having to move on, she pleaded with tears running down her face, “Please don’t leave me alone with him.”  What could I say?  I urged her to consider that it was high time for her also to depart, and I was out of there.

Jeffrey supported my decision and made himself useful as only a nine-to-five official building inspector, fairly compensated, gaining expertise on the job, and transferring that facility to my growing need to learn about construction in the Mono Basin.  We owned one drafting table, and set it up in Kelly’s old attic, centered in a shed dormer that overlooked the back yard.  The leveled enclosure out back was gigantic, so we made a serious garden.  Setting a garden is a significant opportunity to appreciate what a grown man can do with a shovel.  I fetched water, bought seeds, located and set seedling plants.  After all those years eating from a West Virginia kitchen garden, I knew how to make the most of California’s fertile topsoil, but couldn’t do it with woman-power alone.  It was a time to celebrate man muscle.  Having made it through our first sierra winter, we settled in to enjoy our first rolling harvest at its bountiful best.  After watching the sun rise, I would draw in the dormer until eleven o’clock, then go out and find whatever looked good to eat and was ripe for the picking.  Bringing it in, I would peel and prep it for pot or wok.  The result was epic.  I had never experienced such freshness, such vibrancy of taste sensation. 

Each evening brought another opportunity, often to accompany meat scored from Lee Vining Market where, having certified to provable income, I could say, “Put it on my account.”  It was good to be financially viable again, now states away from engineering jobs that had paid so reliably.  After dinner, Jeffrey and I would climb the stairs to the drawing dormer, and scratch away at our single drafting table.  I drew on the front; he drew on the back.  We each announced intent to erase, so the other could lift pen or pencil before the board commenced shuddering.  With a shared sense of humor, we managed.

I had not anticipated continuing to draw after departing the architect, but several of his clients, having liked my inventive approach, followed me to Lee Vining, and I was in business.  I charged only a bit less for plans than area architects since I had to hire a local Registered Professional Engineer at my expense to provide a stamp whenever required by law.  Jeffrey was great at doing engineering calcs, but wasn’t certified to sign them.  Any residential span over 25 feet needed a PE signature and stamp, as did any commercial building.  Jeffrey’s calcs were good as gold given his aerospace engineering background, familiarity with local codes, and experience interpreting the Unified Building Code (UBC) that covered anything we might dare to undertake.  But he couldn’t sign, and he had no stamp.  I could and did do structural calcs, but found little creative joy in them.  Jeffrey was more consistently accurate. 

Bear Engineering—really a black-bearded bear of a man who had a magnificent and friendly Black Labrador named “Bear” and an engineering stamp that read  “State of California Registered Professional Engineer “—was just what we needed.  We hired him; we hired his certification.  Whenever our designs exceeded 25’ free span, or waxed a bit too unusual, Bear (the man) would verify all calculations and impress his big round stamp onto the drawing set.  He earned a fee; we were verified as competent—if not registered.  Liabilities were covered all around.  Clients could afford buildings and residences without the steep fees of a Registered Architect doing the whole gamut of the work, much of it essentially beneath his spectacular pay grade.  We got to pet the dog for free.

Much of what an architect would have provided was of course not included.  Clients had to choose their own fixtures, interior materials, finishes, and sources.  With clients who were mostly Licensed Building Contractors, we did only what was needed to get the building built.  We served a need.  In an area destined to be ever a frontier, we made construction almost affordable.  I would specify carpet; client would specify type, brand, source, and estimated cost.  I would position a toilet; client would indicate brand, color, etc.  We didn’t offer scale models, architectural renderings, luxury offices, or wining and dining of clients.  We had no liability insurance, whether due to ignorance or poverty, it was a tossup.  We could never have afforded it given the modest level of our fees.  We must have done a credible job since we were never sued.  At that point in my career, I didn’t know about liability insurance.  I suppose we were what lawyers call “judgment proof.”  We had nothing but each other and love.  Why bother to sue us?  Its effect would be only punitive, netting nothing to the aggrieved.

We called ourselves “High Country Drafting.”  If we had advertised “Engineering” we would have been shut down before week’s end.  We could have named ourselves “High Country Design.”  That would have been legal, but we didn’t want to have to go to court and defend the name, just because people couldn’t agree what “design” means.  As long as we advertised only “Drafting,” we were perfectly legitimate.  What we did wasn’t as important as what we advertised.  Hmmm… in-ter-est-ing.

After we satisfied several contracts, and saw them translated into viable structures, we could finally afford to rent an office.  We moved into town, into the building now occupied by the Mono Lake Committee, the guardian of all things Mono Lake.  We fixed it up so spiffily, that it was fun every morning to come to the office and open the front door.  We paneled one wall with Peg-Board, and effected a three-dimensional jig-sawed mural, whereupon mountains rose to the heights and snowflakes made of mini-marshmallows fell (glued) onto a clear blue sky.  It was pure whimsy.  Then we hung all our drawing implements onto the peg-board, close to hand, ready for use.  Clients loved the display as much as we did, chuckling at the blatant creative play it portrayed.  Kurt came to work with us after he finished his kindergarten mornings.  His favorite spot for his afternoon nap was on the floor under my drafting table, snuggled into his best buddy blanket.

We began designing some interesting houses for Lee Vining, June Lake, and Mammoth Lakes, along with the occasional commercial structure.  We even completed a passive solar shopping center for a Carson City contractor.  Bear played a strong hand on that one, having acquired a Nevada certification.  As soon as I departed the twitchy fisted architect, I had more work than I could handle.  We eventually had to reassign Jeffrey from his job at the Building Department to work beside me at High Country Drafting.

Soon we bought two professional drawing tables equipped with V-Tech Drawing Machines and Bruning electric erasers.  We bit the bullet and invested in a Blue-Ray Blueprint machine and set about providing our own Blueline copies to clients ready to apply for a permit or to break ground, for which we could bill handsomely.  I could never shake the feeling of having just way too much happiness.  I had learned from my Dad that work ought to be play.  Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun, and any way a job could be structured to achieve that goal was worth any amount of up-front creative sweat effort.  “Most things aren’t impossible,” he insisted, “only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in generous supply.” 

It was an exciting time to be knocking about in the building design business.  The magazine “Architectural Design” featured a now-famous article on double-envelope passive solar design just as we really got rolling.  The concept coupled the house interior with the earth’s stable 55 degree core temperature, hung lots of south-facing glass, provided serious insulation, and allowed natural convection to pump air throughout the construct.  Given that formula, any added energy must work against the 55 degrees, not so much against the below-zero-degrees blowing around outside.  We signed up a local pastor, Roger Landon, to provide him and his wife Cindy with a double-envelope solar house plan, to be stick built from scratch.  The residence stands even now in June Lake Meadows, outside look blending with the local flavor of things.  The first winter, the entire four bedroom home made it through to spring on less than a single cord of firewood.  We stuck slavishly to the construction described in the magazine.  It worked!  For several years, designers of many stripes skirmished pro vs con about the relative merits of double-envelope.  Many people claimed it couldn’t work.  Others insisted it was the livin’end—the final best solution.  But it cost more than ordinary construction and never really caught on.  I just smile.  I know it works, but in that initial iteration, it wasn’t conducive to mass production.  If I could ever build a custom home for myself, there is only one approach I would take: Double-envelope passive solar!

One idea that I played with but never brought to completion was a double-envelope tiny house that would be mass produced to replace the trailer houses we all love to hate.  I still have my preliminary drawings stored in Kurt’s basement studio.  I called it “Sun Spot.”  Several years after I had to bury it in storage, I heard that a similar tiny house had been introduced in Denmark as government subsidized mass manufactured housing.  I hope that in some parallel universe I will get to tinker with that concept yet again.

Eventually a local Mammoth Lakes developer, Reef Siler, decided to try High Country Drafting on a short string of projects.  Jeffrey did one, a good-looking straight-forward cabin design that proved to be easy to build and was super cost-effective.  I did another featuring a corner faceted facade (before New York’s Trump Tower was even dreamed of) that won a local newspaper’s “Building Design of the Year Award.”  Mr. Siler set Jeffrey to work on more of his profit intensive multiple construction designs.  I, he set to work designing his own personal dream home in the fashionable heart of Mammoth Lakes Village.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

He went nuts on his list of requirements.  He had to have five bedrooms, a massive living area to display his taxidermified marlin, an underground garage that would accommodate work and family vehicles plus an RV pulling boat and trailer.  The whole residence was to have a glass-walled elevator from the bottom level garage to the top level widow’s-walk.  The building lot he selected required a massive engineered retaining wall that stratosphered the cost.  I don’t know what he paid before he got his occupancy permit, but it must have been a whale of a number.  I was glad our invoice had already been honored for a job well done.  Bear, too, had been to the bank with his High Country Drafting paycheck and returned smiling.  I heard, years later, that Reef Siler had filed for Federal Bankruptcy protection.  I hope it wasn’t the monster house that did him in.  It’s pretty, sitting there with all that south-facing glass, and the glazed elevator screaming “Money!”  I even specified a bronze eagle poised for a landing on the dramatic apex of the structure, but don’t remember if he ever carried out that bit of whimsy.

Once at a local gathering, a Mammoth Lakes architect came barreling up to Jeffrey, grabbing his hand and pumping it.  “I’m so glad to meet you,” he growled, lowering the register of his voice to signal a man to man encounter.  “I was highly impressed by that faceted facade you did for Siler.  You know—the one that won the “Design of the Year Award.”

I smiled, pressed closer, and waited for Jeffrey to give me my share of the glory.

“Why thank you,” he acknowledged, preening his pleasure.  “I’m so glad you liked it.”

As the guy walked away, something inside me died.  I couldn’t bring myself to ask Jeffrey why he took credit for my concept.  Weeks later, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I dug out my pastels and began sketching feelings.  By evening, I had portrayed a severed scrotum, painstakingly detailed with blood vessels, cilia, and gathering contusions, nailed to a wall and dripping several varieties of effluvium, all in living color.  I named it “Balls to the Wall” and stored it in the bottom drawer of the flat file.  I don’t know what ever happened to it. 

We rattled around in Mono County, completing a surprising number of projects for several years, until interest rates went up and most everybody had to cancel construction contracts.  That brought building to a stop.  There was nothing for it but to go south to LA and get engineering jobs.  Jeffrey went first.  Since he had been away for several years and was concerned that he must surely be out of touch, he decided to seek only a technician position.  It paid poorly, and he wasn’t able to cover our expenses, so I had to sell the lovely Lee Vining house we had bought and join him trekking the LA head-hunter circuit.  When I went job-hunting, I took stock of all I had learned and the executive experience I had gained as co-owner, designer, and project manager for High Country Drafting.  I applied for a position as senior engineer/project manager and got to choose between two competing offers.  Even though I didn’t rub it in, the chain of events was a killer for Jeffrey.  He never got over that final outcome.  He deserved much, much more.  Later as an entrepreneur with his own building design outfit based in Washington State, he more than made up for that one miss-step.

I tried to tell this story to a new friend who had graduated from Harvard’s School of Architectural Engineering, but she seems to be only an arm’s length friend.  She didn’t appear to understand how it was possible to do what we did and not be padded-cell certified.  It was a different world back then—forty years ago.  I’m deeply thankful I had the chance to give it a go, though it’s hard to translate it into present day understandings of what’s possible—and legal.

One of the dearest people I met in Lee Vining was an old accountant who had a near-death experience.  Having been dead, experienced an afterlife, and then suddenly awakened to a living body, he wanted only to help people who really needed and deserved what he could do for them.  After interest rates went up, and all our business income evaporated, we were facing a frightening turn in our road.  He analyzed our financial position, sorted out our taxes, and helped us stay afloat for several months until our LA jobs could save us.  He wanted no pay—just a bottle of Jim Beam and the satisfaction of helping a couple of “poets” get over a rough spot.  I don’t know why he called us that—something to do with our being too idealistic maybe.  It’s possible he was really an angel, certified by a seraphed Michael.  I’m amazed that he thought we were worth the saving, since we weren’t credentialed to do anything certificated at all.  Even so, it’s crazy-wonderful how much fun you can have just doing it anyway.

I learned the hardest way possible that it is a poor idea to get caught up in somebody else’s doings.  It was at Texas Instruments (TI), the Sherman, TX facility where I was hired yet again, but this time as design support to the Inductive Devices Division.  Tom Bradley, Line Supervisor beyond compare, was overseeing the manufacture of the close-wound coil that enhanced many TI inductive products.

Close-wound coil at TI is formed like a garage door spring, but made of copper rather than steel.  For this application spring tension is immaterial; it is the unique shape and composition of the copper, an excellent electrical conductor, which is of import.  It is flexible like a slithery snake and easy to shape to suit whatever application without breaking or deforming. 

Mr. Bradley (I called him Tom) had settled on an approach to winding that spun the wire onto a rotating spindle to form an endless coil.  It was an efficacious concept, though still too labor intensive.  My assignment was to take Tom’s approach and automate it.

This was a task where big dreams could fly.  Money was not a problem.  We’re talking military spending here.  Copper wire was fed automatically onto a motorized rotating spindle where it coiled round and round sliding off the pin as a continuous wrap formed.  From there, a rotating array of 8 troughs accepted 18” long coils, one at a time, and deposited each one neatly into a receptacle for storage.  The troughs were milled into the entire length of a 20” long, 4” diameter, Delrin (polyoxymethylene) rod.  Don’t ask me what that massive hunk of engineering grade plastic cost.  I did the design, not the accounting.

A photocell monitored the coil as it in turn advanced down the length of each trough.  When the coil attained the required length, the photocell actuated a solenoid circuit that rotated a cutting blade.  Whap!  That provided for discrete pre-measured lengths of precision coiled wire.  The Delrin rod with eight milled troughs at 45 degree intervals around its periphery was a designer’s wet dream.  A 45 degree stepper motor, eg. precisely rotating an eighth turn with every actuation, presented the troughs at precisely the right time and place to accept the next coil as it slid into the next track.

So if it all went together so nicely, what was the problem?

There was no problem.  The machine worked like a dream.  I had taken Tom’s little motor and spindle and morphed it into a whiz-bang gadget for the ages.  Not only did it work beautifully, but it was beautiful.  My husband, Larry, a man I admired—actually adored—for his engineering savvy, had taught me how to achieve a shadowbox effect with metal enclosures.  Such subtleties made the Worm Winder look like a piece of professional industrial equipment, not some mechanical monster kluged together in a greasy machine shop.

The ends of the enclosure were 12” squares of 3/4” thick solid 6061-T6 aluminum plate with ½” R corners and painted flat black.  1/8” thick 2024-T3 aluminum sheet formed the entire front, back, top, and bottom.  The top and bottom were shaped with 1” R edges that provided stiffness and the effect of professional looking design.  The top lid attached to the back along the entire length with a 3 ft. long piano hinge, with two rows of blind rivets hiding the attachment points.  All the sheet metal was painted flat industrial beige, which contrasted nicely with the black end plates.

The “little machine that could” would sit and spin out close-wound pre-cut coils, 120 an hour, ‘til the cows came home.  But in this case, the cows did come home.  Tom didn’t like it.  Worm Winder would run for entire shifts in the design lab, but as soon as it hit the manufacturing floor, everything went awry.  It was never clear what, exactly, had gone wrong.  But by shift end, Tom’s prototype motor and spindle were again operating in rescue mode, two employees attending to its quirky maintenance.  A design lab tech would go out and re-start the Worm Winder.  All would be humming happily, but the problem would repeat itself again, and again, and yet again.

Finally management had to acquiesce.  The Worm Winder was certified as officially a failure.  Tom Bradley, after all, didn’t like it.  Management had to decide: replace the machine or replace the man.  It was a classic decision; the machine must go.  My failure was in not engaging the man as artfully as I did the design task.  It was doomed from inception. 

My last memory of my beautiful Worm Winder was visiting it at shift-end, standing in a quiet assembly bay, one hand caressing each square end plate, as I watched the tears of my body fall onto the lovely sweep of the piano-hinged lid.  It was my baby.  I loved it.  The prettiest machine I ever built was a failure, not because of any technical defect, but because I didn’t have the basic understanding of how to play well with others in order to build something wonderful—together.

I did enjoy the lovely task of preparing the usual Patent Disclosure, wherein I got to praise the WW to the skies and describe in drawings and descriptions all the wonders of the little beast. It made me feel better, and who knows, given that complete definition it may someday be reconstituted at a time and in a place where Tom Bradley doesn’t know it has been hatched yet again. Jurassic Park perhaps? Then it may fly!

Our time at TI Sherman was complicated.  It was there that at thirty-four I decided to have yet another baby, working until only a week before onset of labor.  Another case of divided loyalty!  I wanted to be Super-engineer; I also wanted to be Super-mom.  Having lost my daughter to a half-blind superannuated driver, I wanted to do something to repair the deficit.

Once the baby arrived, we needed a caregiver.  My husband’s Engineering Group Leader’s wife, Izzy, agreed to baby-sit.  Once baby Kurt was happily ensconced in their household’s porta-crib, the question of religious affiliation arose.  Larry’s boss Connor and Izzy suggested that we should make a visit to their church.

 “What kind of church,” I asked.

“Pentecostal,” he replied without skipping a beat.

I gulped and cast about for a reply.  “Maybe, someday.”

“Someday soon?”

“Well, just as soon as I get life sorted out at home.”

Weeks went by.  Every time I encountered Connor, he asked, “When are you going to come and visit our church?”

Putting him off worked for only so long.  Larry cautioned me that Connor was an assertive proselytizer and would not be deterred.  We decided that a visit would be a small price to pay for Larry’s job security, perhaps even for mine.  We considered in retrospect the foolishness of taking jobs in the same cost center.  Larry’s boss and mine, though different people, worked for the same Department Manager.  We were vulnerable indeed.

The worship service handled no snakes, but featured every other wild and wooly item we had heard and read about connected with the sect.  On cue every person but Larry and I began speaking in tongues along with some who rolled on the floor in carefully chosen spots that offered adequate space for frenzied gesticulations.  Another cue from the pastor, and everybody instantly came to their senses, returned to their pews, and readjusted their composure.  We were aghast.  When asked after the service to consider joining the congregation, we demurred, too terrified to make political excuses as we fumbled with the door locks of our car. 

We high-tailed it home, hired another babysitter, and kept on doing our level best.  The very next month, in spite of two excellent performance reviews, both Larry and I were caught in the same RIF (reduction in force).  I guess we had been pulled in too many directions.  My heart was definitely not pure.

~~~~~~~~

Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher, suggests that a mind divided is a mind unable to be at peace with itself.  When we desire contradictory ends there is no chance for the mind to find harmony; always there is inner strife, conflict, and confusion.  When the mind pulls in two directions at once we inevitably suffer; we are forever restless, dissatisfied, and second-guessing ourselves.
(Wild Mind Meditation)

Most of the companies that hired me for engineering jobs during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, were willing to give me a chance to work for half pay while they reaped the benefit.  Texas Electric Service Company (TESCO) was consistent with that behavior, but in other ways was an outlier.  I signed up with them during a lull when engineering jobs were hard to find, and the country was flirting with economic recession.  Its corporate culture was decidedly Neanderthal, supervision applied with a sneering cynicism, co-worker camaraderie a thing only good-old-boys aspired to.

I knew I was in for a rough stretch when my first day, on the job and ready to work, the plant secretary introduced me around as “our new female engineer.”  I found out soon enough that I was to have no work assignments.  My job was to sit and draw pay.  A visit with plant manager, Ralph McCullough, clarified the situation.

“Why are you complaining?” he asked.  “That other woman we hired, the electrical engineer—she doesn’t do anything but knit in the ladies room.  That’s all I want her to do.  Get it?”

 “I can’t do that!”  I retorted, my face getting redder by the second.  “I’ve got to do something useful.  Something where I can learn about the operation.  I can’t just waste my time here.”

Mr. McCullough leaned back in his big executive chair.  He stretched, flexed his arms, and locked his hands behind his head.  He gave me a fish eye and bared a toothy rictus.

“How about you spend six weeks in every department?” he postulated. “When you get through with that, maybe you’ll know a little something about what we do here.”

I readily agreed and got out of there in a hurry.  The next six months, I spent climbing all over the rigs.  It was an education.  TESCO operates generating stations throughout the state, and the Fort Worth site was just completing construction on its third gas-fired turbine generator.  It was an interesting time to be given free access to a complex and busy site.  I climbed everywhere.  Up and down ladders.  Into tanks, storage lockers, and control rooms.  Through maintenance facilities.  This was before the advent of office cubicles for each person.  Except for top management, all technical staff occupied one open bay, lined up in rows of benches.  Twenty-two people shared one phone.

Primitive office accommodations didn’t bother me.  I spent all my time checking out the facility, learning how it made electricity and how it transferred that energy to run a vibrant metroplex economy.  I made sketches, charts, and drawings of lessons learned, hoping they might help other newbies someday suffering in my same situation.

Mostly I stayed out of everybody’s way.  Hardly anybody questioned my activity.  I seemed to know what I was about, so they left me alone.  I managed to convince one group manager to let me learn to calibrate meters—a major victory.

When #3’s new turbine was ready to come on line, a festive occasion was planned and executed.  The mayor was duly invited.  On the designated day, a whole group of city officials showed up for a tour of the facility and the ceremonial throwing of the switch that would connect Plant #3 with city power.  As a member of the technical staff, I was included in the festivity.  I watched, listened, and learned.  Having accepted that at TESCO women were best seen but not heard, I kept the quiet peace.

The culmination of the ceremony was gathering the entire visiting retinue in the open sided shelter in front of the plant, speaking certain ritualized statements, and then moving the big main power switch to the “on” position.  The atmosphere was festive.  Visitors chattered and asked questions.  Mr. McCullough was in his element.  It was his time to be the man.

The group gathered under the roof shelter that protected the main plant power switching array.  Explanations followed.  Accolades were intoned.  Credits were acknowledged.  Persons of import were praised.  Then the lead power supervisor stepped forward.  He positioned himself right before the switches and placed his hand on one of the massive lever arms.  McCullough gave the official word.  Everybody held their breath.

That’s when I yelled, “Stop!  Don’t touch that switch!”

Manager McCullough turned eggplant purple.  “What are you talking about?” he growled.

“Look,” I pointed, “That’s the wrong switch.  You’re getting ready to turn off #2.”

McCullough spun around, did a double-take, and ordered the required change.  The power supervisor wiped his brow and moved his hand to the correct switch.  He pulled hard, moved it to the “on” position, and we could hear TESCO Turbine #3 lumber into service.  Later, the supervisor contrite but thankful explained that I had saved all our lives.  If he had actuated the wrong switch, effectively opening the circuit on an operating power plant, there would have been a massive explosion.  Many would have been killed.

Having completed my six months of visiting departments, I returned to the plant manager’s office.  I suggested advancing the company’s position by offering to initiate sensitivity training to help integrate all the women who were being hired by TESCO statewide, but then paid to do nothing.

His response was simple and decisive.  He fired me on the spot.

As I packed up my personals, the power supervisor came by to shake my hand.  He bent over and whispered, “He had to get rid of you, you know, because you saved his sorry ass.  No good deed goes unpunished.  Sensitivity training was just an excuse.  You’ll do ok on the outside.”

“Yea, I know,” I agreed.  Most other companies were greedy.  Some were insensitive.  But I never met another one that so perfected the art of being both mean and perverse.

Humility

On Sunday June 2, 2019, the Right Rev. Thomas Breidenthal visited the Church of the Redeemer in Hyde Park where he preached and celebrated baptism, confirmation, and membership with a goodly crowd making those significant commitments.  The group was considerable since it joined congregations from West Chester and Indian Hill as well as Hyde Park.

It had been exactly a year since I had made my own decisions of confirmation and membership at the same altar, blessed by the same cleric.  As I listened to the words repeated again and again, I zoned out, sifting past remembrances.  Last year each confirmand knelt on the floor at the seated bishop’s feet; this year they stood.

My eyes closed, trying to obliterate the memory.  At seventy-nine I had been dreading the knees-to-floor posture but was sure I could handle it.  All those years of yoga and gymnastics were surely good for something.  It was, after all, just a graceful folding to the floor and then a little hop back up.  I tried it at home with decent results.

During the service all went well.  The bishop’s hands were duly laid.  The words were said.  I was officially a confirmed Episcopalian.  Then all Hell broke loose.  As I executed my little hop, my feet didn’t quite clear the floor as they sought their rightful purchase.  The result was a lunge that propelled me right into the bishop’s lap.  With my face planted firmly in his crotch, I prayed for the earth to open and swallow me.  But God wasn’t answering.  I was on my own.  Hands were necessary.  I groped for something to provide leverage to my situation.  All I could find was knees—his.  I daintily grasped both ecclesiastical knee knobs, hoping to appear apologetic, and withdrew from my dastardly face-plant.  During the ensuing months, I had dreaded meeting my Bishop yet again.  He would never ever forget me—nor I him. 

Given that painful memory, I thought the vestry might import a prie-dieu to provide more graceful kneeling for the ceremony, but none was employed.  Standing, indeed, worked well enough.

Playing through the year old memory, it occurred to me that it wasn’t completely my fault.  I had a strong role model when it came to not being physically age appropriate.  When at fifteen I went to live with my father and his new wife, we were all trying to get to know each other as a family.  I was heavily into school gymnastics.  I loved to turn flips, do back bends, and hand stands.  Once when I was showing off my latest flip, my Dad announced that he, too, could do that.  He, a sedentary thirty-nine, planted his hands on the ground and swung into a decent hand-stand.  Then he fell over and broke his leg.  Six weeks in a cast reminded him that it might be a good thing to act his age.

The bishop’s sermon was excellent.  His after service talk-back session was even better.  I sat behind a very tall man counting on using him for cover.  I had some questions but dared not ask them.  In this lifetime I will not be asking any questions of this bishop.  I learned my lesson all too well.  I could have asked for help getting to my feet, but no.  I was sure I could do it all by myself.  My grandmother’s most insistent question of me was all too often, “How can a girl as smart as you be so God damn dumb?”

Homeless

When it becomes dangerous to live in your own home it is time to leave, and leave I did, taking with me my cat, my Collie dog, and my Sig Sauer P239.  Yes, I had a permit to carry, so I was legal in case it might have become an issue.  It was early October in Roanoke, Virginia.  The weather was seasonably delightful, and my green tent blended well with the autumn color at the local campground nestled in the foliage alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I should have left years before, but had nowhere else to go.  I had no savings since my retirement income always got sucked up into the expense of running house and horse farm.  The bruises got worse.  I was fed up with being slammed against walls.  That hurts. 

My ’89 Acura Legend had a capacious trunk with a small seat-back door that folded down to allow access to the main interior.  It was designed to provide for carrying 2×4’s home from Lowe’s,  but I used it as a cat door for Espresso, my black Domestic Shorthair, so he could visit his litter box in the trunk.  He loved to ride shotgun with his front paws on the dashboard so he could see with those lovely golden eyes where we were going.  Maggie, his canine counterpart, preferred lounging in the back seat on top of all the pillows, blankets, clothing, camping gear, food, and water.  She had a twelve hour bladder, so I only needed to walk her morning and evening.  We managed.

My YMCA membership provided exercise, a hot shower every day, and a place to change clothes,  which I kept clean at a Franklin Road laundromat.  It should have been doable, but things kept happening.  First somebody stole my tent while I was on my daily rounds.  At least I had the foresight to empty it every day, stowing sleeping bag and other gear in the car.  That forced me to sleep in the car, not nearly so comfortable but doable, tucked into my sleeping bag, a hefty Slumberjack.  My ex-husband and I had always enjoyed winter camping (no tourists;  no bugs) so my sleeping bag was certified down to zero degrees Fahrenheit.

October gave way to November, then December.  The campground closed for the winter, and I was on my own to find a place to park every night for shuteye.  First there was the requisite stop at Mill Mountain Coffee to slip in through the back door and fill my hot water bottle, preventive for icy feet syndrome.

My State Farm Insurance agent had a back-of-the-office covered carport; I began appropriating it nightly, especially on stormy ones.  One bitter cold evening, after pulling into my spot, I ran across the street to a Seven/Eleven to pick up breakfast makings.  I left the car running to keep it extra warm to start the night off right.   Of course Maggie had to protest.  She wanted to go too.  Barking and pawing at the window, she managed to step on the back door lock, which on the Acura automatically locked all four doors.  Now I had a car parked and running with a cat and a dog inside.  What to do?  Again I ran across the street, this time to ask for help.  There are times when I’m sure God is watching out for me.  The local emergency squad team had also stopped there to coffee-up, and they came to assist.  One of the team was a young very thin woman who was able to slip an arm through the narrow opening I had left to provide fresh air for Maggie and Espresso.   She reached in,  pulled up the slick knobless locking mechanism, and all was saved.  What luck!

I managed to live through a bout of food poisoning and was feeling pretty puny, having also run out of vitamins.  Christmas was the loneliest ever, and in January the jet stream conspired to send sub-zero weather.  One bitter night, as I lay trying to fall asleep, the Slumberjack bag failed me.  I began to shake, and my teeth commenced chattering.   It was then that my sweet dog Maggie, rose from her accustomed place in the back seat and carefully climbed to the passenger seat where I had been spending my nights with the seat-back fully reclined.  She placed her paws carefully as she crawled forward, careful not to hurt me.  When she was satisfied she had just the right spot, she covered me with her hairy body and remained there the entire night, while slowly I warmed and slept. 

Another January morning I woke locked in the deposit of an ice storm.  We were frozen in all day waiting for the parking lot, where I had parked for the night, to be cleared.  There comes a time to admit when you are beaten.  It was time to go home.  Some beatings are worse than others.  Knowing the difference leans toward wisdom.

In retrospect I realize that was only one of many periods of homelessness.  No wonder it felt like something that could be challenged and overcome.  When in 1949 my Dad departed, family home foreclosed, mother carted off to asylum, that was homelessness of the nth degree.  Being sent away to boarding school where nuns stood in for otherwise occupied mothers and fathers, being sent on countless airplane rides between Dallas and Boston that attempted settlement with a mother who wanted to, tried o-so-hard to, but just couldn’t make a home for a misplaced and misappropriated daughter.  Choosing an ill-advised marriage that created a home where all else had disintegrated, with the predictable sad ending, all presaged that so predictable leave-taking through the Virginia countryside.  Giving up on the possibility of home is the bleakest homelessness of all.

Perhaps it is a blessing that as such days are lived into, there is no way to give attention to what is sure to come.  How then could we manage to place one foot before the other to grace an uncertain future?  But then, isn’t future by definition the very kernel of uncertainty?  That’s what makes the adventure so exciting—the possibility—the hope so satisfying.  Hope is the antidote to homelessness of heart, even through long hard winters of grumbling discontent.  Home must be where the heart is, homeless a non-sequitur.

The gaze between persons is powerful.  I have watched it work as human individuals process the possibilities of relating.  Because my mother taught me well how to read her eyes and face, I am adept at reading others’ faces.  I look at you and see you looking at me.  There is a lock.  I read your feelings, as I feel my feelings, now the products of our interactive gaze.  You read my feelings.  I read you, reading me, reading you, reading me—all the way to infinity.  There is bottomless depth in a gaze, like two mirrors reflecting between each other in endless images.  I am changed by what I see in your eyes.  I see that you perceive me to be an interesting, perhaps even capable, person.  I am inspired to become an even more interesting and more capable person.  You read my feelings of happiness and interest and appreciation and decide to like me.  I see that you read me, and I feel even happier.  You see my happiness and I see yours.  We are pregnant with each other’s happiness.  There is mutuality.  That’s how strangers become friends.

Beyond acknowledgement of gaze is its analysis.  Gaze is a combination of eyes plus surround.  A bare eye is only a stare.  Humans are revolted by stare.  They feel assaulted—visually raped.  A stare is looking without any softening hint of expression.  Nothing is as repulsive as an eyeball extracted from its socket and positioned on a neutral surface poised to watch—watch you.  It is a metaphor of perfect irony.  It sees nothing; in seeing nothing it sees everything. Contemplation of a naked eyeball makes it easy to understand how it’s the surround that defines nuance.  The soft texture of the face is a subtle canvas that offers as much to human intellect as does the rainbow of smell to the articulate nose of a dog.

What can be read in a face is mostly about soft tissue, which explains why humans are so repulsed by the less-than-loving gaze of an insect.  The Praying Mantis is a favorite due to its fortuitous posture, not its soulful expression.  The common housefly, so universally hated, carries a cap of many eyes that see in all directions, wary of incipient swatters and wanting only to evade the precipitous denouement of the squash.  There is no facial nuance to accompany its approach to survival.  It’s all live; let-live is immaterial.

Bare skin is best constituted to convey expression.  Soft thin tissue that surrounds the eye most closely is associated with the gentle tension of “concern.”  It is there, waiting to be accessed by observing eyes—eyes that “want to know.”  The eyelids are less subtle but equally articulate.  They tighten with suspicion and report wariness.  While a dog, with its whole body covering of hair is more circumspect about tissue tension projecting concern, the movement of human eyelids is near central for all to see and interpret.  Brows, whether bare or hirsute, contribute much to expression.  It’s easy to read “suspicion” in canine brow elevation.  It might even be underscored by a not-so-friendly growl.  Elevating both brows evinces surprise, while one brow lifted suggests a question is brewing at the center of things.  Our hoity-toity word “supercilious,” i.e. above the hair, speaks to a single brow raised in suggested irony.

Moving outward from the windows of the soul, nose sniffs ambient air and offers backup to lid and brow statements.  An odd odor twitches the nose while a cheek might lift to suggest something is perhaps amiss.  Even the chin gives a little jump to underscore the supposition.  If an odor is approachable but still ill-defined, the nares will expand; an indication that what is smelled is not wonderful but is not totally repulsive.  A deeper inhalation might resolve the thing entire.  All this activity is there to interpret for watchers who have eyes to see.

Mouth is second only to eyes as great communicator.  Not only does it conjure endless auditory signals but modifies its very shape to indicate whatever feeling accompanies what is being said.  So much is it utilized that its physical shape is literally formed by a lifetime of function.  Drawing lips back baring teeth advertises aggression as readily as it expresses sheer happiness.  No wonder mammals are confused in their communication.  Lips that self-posture in a petulant purse are seldom asked to express generosity of feeling.  Odd labial arrangements, such as the confusion of the Trump mouth, forever memorialized on Saturday Night Live, are excellent examples of this description.  The mouth is being used to advertise openness, while its corners are drawn up, completely at cross-purposes to what is portrayed, while the jaw, usually relaxed as an indicator of open honesty, in the Trump jaw is firmly clenched.  Who could believe any word that escapes from such a mouth?  This is surely the face of a liar!

Even beyond the head, the entire body acts as a surround for the eyes, as meaning is conveyed—eloquently in some cases—not so much in others.  A speaker juggling the need to move on and dodge annoying questions, often conveys more than intended as hands paint an irrefutable picture of ”just wanting to move on—for God’s sake—why are you bothering me?”  Hands can say even as much as eyes and mouth.  They are supremely articulate, especially when the presenter is intelligent, sensitive, and insightful.  That makes a spectacular triumvirate of expression. 

Otherwise brilliant politicians sometimes suffer when their great policy ideas are derailed by wacky arm and hand gesticulations, waved amid calls for voter support not likely to be achieved.  Eyes that don’t give in to even an occasional blink are suspected of being just a bit too crazed to lead men.  Listeners who overdo eye-contact to the extent that the orator is put off by their gaze do a disservice to the orator.  Speakers do best heard by quiet balanced audiences who evidence interest in the subject but exhibit no involvement in the presenter as individual.  But politics is crazy; that’s a given.  I adore Elizabeth Warren as a policy wonk but fear giving her my vote.  Nowhere is reading of eyes and faces as important as in electoral politics.  How else are we to decide whom to elect?

Mankind has always feared the evil eye, inspiring cultish need to fight its power, never to express fervor of devotion.  There is no religion boasting of devotees dedicated to the eye’s worship and adoration, yet there is no protective fetish more ubiquitous than the one that promises to ward off its evil.  Traveling throughout Turkey, I saw everywhere items for sale warranted to protect the owner from its gaze.  A favorite fabric pattern displays a field of endless eyes—a universe of seeing.  These items are so well-accepted that they are an intrinsic part of the culture, bought and sold as near-currency.

Reading people’s eyes and faces can be discomfiting to subjects of such scrutiny.  Assuming we know what another is feeling is the ultimate arrogance.  Others pass through their days expecting to be fairly circumspect behind natural defenses.  Maybe blind would be better.  I am juggling several nasty ophthalmological diagnoses.  Maybe one of them could make me into a nicer person.  Who knows?