All posts filed under: Non-Fiction

Old Slide: just a plane at the airport

The photo is not even framed properly. I would have discarded the old slide from my father’s boxes that I tasked myself with sorting out. Many of these slides were the source of our family’s entertainment, back when the only channel on black-and-white TV had the hockey game on Saturday nights, and none of us cared for it. This photo of an Air France Boeing 707, apparently taken at Orly airport, was part of the family show after my parents came back from their trip to France in the Spring of 1964. Many of the photos show street scenes, and sometimes there’s my mother sitting on a rented chair in the Jardin des Tuileries (I’m making this up, I don’t remember what jardins they were, but I remember she mentioned having to pay to sit on the chair). It must be Sunday, and they might have attended Sunday Mass at Notre-Dame, because she’s wearing white gloves… Otherwise, my father was interested in documenting his trip with his group of professors, and we saw a hydroelectric …

Water and Stones of Glendalough

There were little man-walking-with-a-cane icons printed around the Wicklow Mountains on an old Michelin Map of Ireland, prompting my search for a quiet place to stay on my way down the east coast of Ireland. There was a daily bus from Dublin to the Medieval site of Glendalough, and both a hotel and a hostel nearby. Well aware of the uncertainties of late winter travel, I chose it as my “pillow” destination: I would not make reservations, and I would skip it, should I be significantly delayed. Little did I know it would become my favorite place to visit in this trip. Serendipity started with on-time arrival and, only carrying a small backpack, easy passage through Customs. It continued with a coffee shop serving espresso only a step away from the St Kevin’s Bus Stop to Glendalough, and the comfortable bus showing up on time. Soon we were traveling a narrow road with the sight of lamb grazing in green fields. The rain greeting me upon arrival at the visitor center was not a deterrent, …

IBM 360

In this photo I think I just mastered the art of changing a disk pack and putting a magnetic tape on. They said never to touch the red emergency shut off button, even in an emergency. I found no interest in reading the blinking lights, but oh, the thrill of using a keypunch! My favorite key, I think, was REL – releasing the punched card and causing it to move to the stack. Smart people drew an arrow on the edge of the deck with a felt tip pen to help in case they dropped the stack on the floor. Which happened surprisingly often. Some people spent hours drawing Jesus on punched cards to print his image in EBCDIC characters and the printer had trouble turning its wheels fast enough so it looked like the mileage on a car when you have not yet reached an integer. Some people who didn’t draw Jesus printed hundreds of blank pages. I taught students SNOBOL that summer, they were thrilled. That’s when the brakes failed in my old …

Why I Run

I just turned around the first corner of a 5K run along San Francisco’s Embarcadero, when I enumerate the reasons why I may not be breathing normally: is it the humid air in the morning, some kind of chemical poison, or just my fertile imagination? I choose the latter, given that I woke up early to arrive here on time, and I could still be in one of those anxiety dreams in which you never reach your destination for some absurd reason. In a sense, it is like a dream for someone like me to participate in organized runs, some of which have serious athletes leading the pack. I sign up on a web site, and they give me a bib number, a timing chip, and a t-shirt that I won’t wear at this race because I’m too cool and unique in my clothing style. Then on the day of the race, I have to get up and show up, but for a moment I am just as good looking as the top athlete at …

On Developing a Thicker Skin

“You need to develop a thick skin” is the remark that came, after I told of having been thrown in a writer’s block because of a nasty personal remark at a writers’ workshop, one that had nothing to do with my writing. I understand the metaphor, but for some of us the solution may just be to avoid contact with the infection. Let me open up a new metaphor for it. I have had the unpleasant experience of a few skin infections, triggered in different ways under various circumstances, but the one thing a doctor doesn’t tell you is that you should thicken your skin. Some doctors are nice and caring enough to give you advice on prevention, and yes, you will freak out when a bee comes flying straight into your bike helmet and sting you, because the thick skin can be pierced anyway, but the other elements of an infection aren’t there anyway. The simpler prevention of keeping bacteria away, and keeping it from dwelling and developing on you, actually works. You learn …

Found, and Lost Again

Found black leather bound note book with journal entries starting December 7 until the last one December 21, Solstice Day. It was at the top of the escalator, swept by every step rolling into the metallic comb, at the Embarcadero Muni Station, some time past nine pm. There was no name and address in the book, but well-structured notes taken at the end had plans to find a place to stay, among other things. The first journal entry speaks of the author liking a woman called Cindy, but the last entry, on Solstice Day, is written hastily with a bad pen and concludes with “too much speed, not enough sleep.” In retrospect, when I entered the BART side of the station, there was someone who seemed to be having a bad trip on top of the gates, the attendant not minding anything but his own business. How could I know, at that time, this could have been the writer? I left it on the round stone bench at the east side end of the BART …

for Matt

I am hard of believing, I am belief-challenged, in this century of greater discoveries. There is no god in my mind to take him to a better place, especially the so-called better place where there is no suffering imposed on a select few. No consolation, no parable will fit these circumstances because at 26, he lived fewer years than Jesus himself! No. This will not do. Unless I make Matt my own version of a savior. OK Matt, are you ready for this? I am talking to you. You certainly win the competition every time I notice that something in my 61 year-old body isn’t working as well as it used to. Actually, you did point that out to me, not so long ago. And so I learned from you and I will think of you whenever I am about to complain, whenever a needle approaches my hypersensitive self. And instead of telling me what a sissy I was, or getting angry at me, you simply said, “you should try F.A.” Silence. Pause. “You should …