While being rolled down a hospital corridor in a gurney on a Thursday evening early last February, it occurred to me that sometimes avoiding stress can be a stress in and of itself.

It reminded me of when I was a kid and would try not to think of my tongue. The more I tried not to think of my tongue, the more I noticed it. The more I tried to position my tongue in a place where I wouldn’t feel it, the more I felt it. It would just about drive me mad, and it took a supreme act of distraction to break my mind free.

The same sort of thing can happen at my Childcare, when I get some children’s-song stuck in my head: “Good morning! Good morning! And how do you do? Good morning! Good morning! I’m fine. How are you?” To an advanced poet of vast learning like myself, having such drivel repeating over and over and over again in my brain blotched my sense of dignity. It required a serious antidote. Whisky got expensive, so I tended to resort to a sort of spider-solitaire on my computer that allowed one to reverse moves when losing became apparent, and to attempt a different course of action, and to eventually “win” the game, though on a few occasions I’d have to back up and try over again a hundred times, and “winning” took over a week. The intense concentration involved got my mind off everything. I called it “zoning out” and it had its benefits, but my wife could become exasperated when I “zoned out” too much. Eventually I decided “zoning out” had the traits of an addiction, and was as bad as whisky, and I erased the game from my computer.

Ever since I’ve been in a sort of withdrawal. I work too much. I can’t get my mind off what needs to be done next, and on a farm, especially an old rundown farm, the work is endless. A thing I call “the list” gets stuck in my head, like a song. The struggle then becomes to avoid burnout.

That is the point when “relax” starts to appear on “the list”. However, it is like writing down, “Don’t think of your tongue.” You can’t relax when you are uptight about relaxing.

This issue gets exacerbated by aging. On one hand you can’t work as fast, while on the other you are running out of time. When younger, “running out of time” meant I’d work faster, but when you get older there is no such thing as “faster”. When younger I would drive myself and chain smoke, but now I’m paying the price for all the smoking I did when younger. Due to compromised lungs, it takes little to make me huff-and-puff, and I’m forced to pause. I don’t want to sit down though. Another attribute of aging is that limbs stiffen up swiftly, and if you sit down, you may find it hard to get up again. Therefore, the trick is to “pace yourself”, and to simply stand and wait until you catch your breath, and then work until the huffing-and-puffing begins again. In other words, it is still possible to drive yourself. You’re just a lot slower about it. What this means is that, even when it looks like you are relaxing, you are not.

The thing you have to do, as you reach-your-limit at a point where less work is accomplished, is to do a wonderful thing called “delegate”. I always found delegating hard to do, as I am a do-it-yourself type of person. I found it hard to ask for help, (or even to ask girls to dance, many years ago.) (The only “asking” I managed when young was the now nearly-forgotten art of hitchhiking.) However, over the years I slowly learned how to ask for help, and to reward the good people who helped me, until (with much help from my wife) I became a small businessman with an actual “staff” of helpers.

But then a madness hit our nation, which is in some ways a fierce war everyone is pretending isn’t happening. I see it as a war between Globalists and those who believe in what the United States stands for.

If one bothers to read the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the United States is very clear about what it stands for. Globalists, not so much. But, as best as I can tell, Globalists feel there would be no war if there was only a single government, and even that there would be no disagreement, if there was only a single government. Preposterous, I think. It is like saying marriage wouldn’t have any arguments if there was only a single spouse. It might be intellectually true, but it is stupid all the same.

The stupidity of Globalism strikes me as similar to the stupidity of communism, which has brought great misery to beautiful people and beautiful lands, wherever it has been tried. I’ve studied those disasters, and I notice a great difference between the way the Founding Fathers of the United States and Communists regarded small businessmen like myself. Thomas Jefferson stressed the importance of what he called “independent small farmers and artisans”, while communists loathe such people and deem them a “counter-revolutionary petite bourgeoise” which must be purged to make society healthy.

To me it has seemed that the ridiculous pandemonium called the “coronavirus” has in some ways been aimed at ruining small businesses (as well as small churches and small schools). Nothing about the “lock-downs” made the virus less lethal, but it did bankrupt many businesses (and prevent worship and learning.) The intent of the “lock-downs” increasingly seems malevolent, and people who say so out loud no longer sound so much like crazy people lost in conspiracy theories, (which may be why the censorship of such voices is increasingly desperate).

I like to think I am one of the “small, independent farmers and artisans” that Thomas Jefferson liked, and also one of the “Kulaks” whom Stalin despised. This blog describes one man’s view of enduring (and hopefully surviving) what seems like an effort to irradicate individual effort and replace it with a sort of “collective” mentality. One element of this attack seems to be aimed at making it harder for small businesses to find help.

One frightening attack on the supply of labor is the problem of Fentanyl. Even when the Coronavirus closed churches I was part of a small group which went right on meeting, (sort of under the radar), and the purpose of this group was to be a sort of AA for the addicted, and at one these meetings a young man told me a story that shocked me. He said he had to comfort his mother, because she was upset when she had to attend her first funeral of a classmate, and she, in the blindness of her grief, had moaned, “You don’t know what it is like when the person who has died is not an old-timer but instead is your own age.” He responded, “Mom, I do know what it feels like, for I’ve been to thirty-two funerals for people my age.” This opened my eyes to the fact we are midst an actual war, with our youth actually dying.

Another attack on the supply of labor was to offer coronavirus “benefits” which made it more lucrative to be unemployed than to work. I’m glad such seductions weren’t around when I was young and loved leisure, for I found it hard enough to push myself to work as it was; (asking for a job was as hard as asking a girl to dance.) I don’t blame any young person for taking the higher-paying “job”. Why should a young person work a job that pays $300/week when the government pays $600/week for sloth? In a sense the young were being bribed from the world of “small farmers and artisans” to join the “collective”, and the Swamp could afford such a non-productive strategy by simply printing money, with all the inflationary dangers that entailed.

In any case, right when I needed help, help was harder to find. Right when aging increased my limitations, and I could do less, I had to do more myself. My wife and I, on a regular basis, talked about simply closing our Childcare, but we couldn’t really afford to. Also, I felt like I was in a war, and closing my small business would be letting the bad guys win. I had the desire to go down fighting. And so, during the two years we’ve been fighting the coronavirus war, this blog has inadvertently been a recorded history of how free people respond to tyranny.

For me the response of free people has been to find a way to keep right on doing what free people do, in a way under the radar (and under the table) of new rules and regulations. If school is outlawed, homeschool. If church is outlawed, hold many “small groups”. If church suppers are outlawed, hold smaller suppers. If restaurants are closed, find a way to order special food and tip highly. If choir practice is banned, record an online choir of a hundred, separate, “socially distanced” voices, and use virtual technology to combine all the voices and blast a mighty chorus, bigger and better than before. (Some of these “virtual choirs” are utterly amazing, and also represent a spiritual form of counterattack.)

The war we are within is a bizzarre war. It is an invisible war. It is a war that small businesses like my own may be winning. The communist mentality never expected such a pushback. They expected that when they shut schools, I would close my Childcare. My militant counterattack was to tell them “Go f— yourself” and remain open, without masks or vaccination mandates. I was very warlike, but why? Because I was and am kind to small children. (And they are not.)

However, some do die in a war. It is what makes war be war. Though people sung “When Johnnie comes marching home again” as soldiers marched off to our last Civil War, every graveyard in New England attests to the fact many Johnnies never came marching home. Their bodies are not in the graveyard. Their bodies are buried far away. But monuments covered in lichen attest to their sacrifices. Not only the bad guys die, in a war.

Usually, it is the young who are the cannon fodder, but in this bizarre Civil War it may also be the old. I thought of this when, rather than protecting the elderly, New York’s Governor Cuomo imported coronavirus patients into elderly housing, even when Trump made hospital ships available. The infected victims did not need to enter assisted-living facilities. The elderly should have been protected, but Swamp did the exact opposite of what should have been done.

This stupid choice shortened the lives of tens of thousands of senior citizens who deserved better. Some of these elders may have been senile and might have had little wisdom left to offer, but even these deserved better than they got. Other elders had many years left to live and were as sharp as tacks yet were banned from even seeing their own family. Meanwhile the Swamp saved a lot of money, because treating such goodly elders in the kindly manner (which elders had worked long and hard to pay for [and had in fact earned]) cost the Swamp at least $100,000/year. If you have 10,000 elders die of the coronavirus you therefore have saved the Swamp a billion dollars. When money talks, compassion walks.

Money has never been able to talk to me in that manner. I grew up in a wealthy town and know how hollow the core of wealth can be, and how marrowless is the bone. Not that money is evil, but love of money is evil. It takes the “love of money” to think that killing 10,000 of our smartest citizens (and depriving them contact with their loved ones even as they die), results in any societal “good”. It only “makes” a billion dollars from murder. What could be eviler? What could be more an “act of war”?

It wasn’t merely New York that “accidentally” imported coronavirus into the very places which should have been most protected. Massachusetts made a billion, New Jersy made a billion, and you could go on from there. Call it genocide or senior-ocide, I call it disgusting and an act of war.

What a joke it is that, in such cases, rather than the young being cannon fodder, it is the old geezers like myself who may go down, in this idiotic war. But there have been days I confess I don’t get the joke anymore and fear I myself may become a casualty. I’ll be just one more closed small-business. Just like the little, nearby restaurant run by a grandmother. Another empty store-front, killed by the Swamp. I’ve read that 40% of all restaurants in New England have closed, to prevent the spread of a virus by using a strategy which scientists knew from the start wouldn’t work, as the virus kept right on spreading.

My hope is that, with so many restaurants closing, there must be a lot of waitresses who might be inclined to work at a place like mine. I’ve always liked waitresses because they work for less than minimum wage, with the expectation “tips” will make up the difference. They believe if they are kind others will be kind in return. That is so much nicer than communism, and indeed is more Christian than some Christians I know, though many waitresses profess to being Atheists or at least Agnostics. In any case, I do have hope.

But in the meantime, I have to work with a depleted staff though I’m getting too old to be working so hard. And I confess I may not have what it takes. I do like the idea of dying with my boots on, and if it happens, I figure I’ll just be a battlefield casualty. Just a statistic in this invisible war.

Winters are hard this far north, and the past one tested me a lot with frozen pipes and failing heating systems and gloppy, heavy snows I had to remove from driveways and fire-entrances. With January past and the maples feeling the first stirrings of sap, I felt I’d done a decent job, for an old geezer, and gave myself a pat on the back. As February began, I thought I had, at long last, arrived at a morning where I could sit back and write poetry. All was ordinary at first, until I went to use the toilet and noticed the water in the bowl was not clear, but gray. I questioned my wife, “Why is the water gray?” She said, “I don’t know, but the toilet made a funny sound.”

I was very annoyed, and griped, “What the heck did you do?” As if it was her fault. When I turned on the bathroom sink faucet the water shot out like a firehose and shifted from clear to jet black to clear to jet black again. Foolishly I repeated, “What did you do?”

As I headed to the cellar she got in my way, inquiring “Why must you always blame me?”

I gently removed her from my path, apologizing, and saying “Something’s gone wrong.”

In the basement I brushed the spiderwebs from the pressure dial, and saw it pegged out at 120 psi, when the system is supposed to run between 40 and 60 psi. I hurried to the circuit breaker and shut off the well-pump. Then I went upstairs and ran the faucets until the pressure resumed normal levels. I decided the black water was because the extreme pressure cleaned the inside of the pipes, for it stopped happening when the pressure dropped. Then I went down to the cellar to look at the pressure switch, and saw it was burned out. Fried. Lucky the house didn’t burn down. It had melted into an “open” position, so the well pump didn’t stop pumping, and the pressure kept rising and rising.

Fortunately, pressure switches are easy to replace. You basically disconnect a couple wires, screw out the old switch from the pipe, screw in a new switch, and reconnect the wires. You can call a plumber, who will charge you $360.00 to do a ten-minute job, replacing a $20.00 part. Or you can do it yourself. As much as I would have liked to “delegate” the job to a plumber, it seemed once again I should “do it myself.”

This was not the stress-free morning composing-a-sonnet I had planned, However, as “relax” was on “the list”, I relaxed driving twenty minutes to the hardware store to buy the $20.00-part, relaxed chatting with an old friend at the store, and then relaxed driving twenty minutes back.

There are worse things to be stuck with doing than driving through snowy New England woods. I kept the car radio off, to avoid disturbing news, and instead had a private talk with God, involving some intimate things which are nobody’s business, but some things I feel free to make public. Namely, “Why, Lord, do you make Your creation so beautiful, and winter woods so full of poetic images, and yet never give me time to write poems?”

Back in the cellar, though the PSI gauge read zero, I shut the valve on the pipe leading upstairs to keep water in the pipes from flowing down to the cellar. Only then did I remove the pressure gauge. The instant it was removed a jet of water spurted into my face, and I struggled to screw it back in, which stopped the spurting. Then I had to think how there could be pressure when the well was shut off and no water could flow from upstairs. Coffee time.

My wife looked at me hopefully as I emerged from the dirty old cellar, and her face registered the fact I looked a little like a drowned rat. She wisely said nothing, and I didn’t look at her, because even a hint of a smile at the corner of her lips might have set me off. (Not that I failed to see the humor in the situation. I just wasn’t ready to laugh.)

I slumped morosely by the woodstove and sadly glanced at my open notebook. Not so long ago I’d been starting a sonnet, and at that time could see the entire thing even as I began. It was loaded with internal rhymes, and I had all the rhymes at my fingertips, as well as the rhythm. It began:

Lord, put Your foot down. But just not on me.
I think it is best that You manifest
And halt this world's insanity. Set free

You’ll have to trust me. There was more. However, the sonnet now was like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”. Coleridge saw the entire poem in a dream and arose to write it, but some bothersome interruption knocked at his front door, and when he extracted himself from the chitchat and returned to his writing, the vision was gone. Utterly. He couldn’t even pretend he could write another line. All we have is the fragment; a great start to a poem which is but a might-have-been. And the above is the start to a great sonnet which is but a might-have-been. Only in my case it was not an unwelcome visitor knocking at my door. It was a malfunctioning pressure valve, and water spurting in my face.

It is hard to concentrate on poetry when you get hit in the face by a jet of water. It is even harder when your wife can’t even use her kitchen sink. It should be obvious why I forgot the rhyme to “manifest.”

In any case, I did enjoy licking the wounds of irony. I’d asked the Almighty to put His foot down. I did request “not on me” but scripture states, “Those God loveth, He abuseth.” Therefore the foot apparently came down on me. Ha ha.

Irony didn’t solve anything. I took a deep breath and focused my mind onto the mundane. How could water spurt from pipes with no pressure? The pressure must come from uphill, where the well was. There was no way to stop water from running downhill, so I would have to devise some plug for the pipe when I removed the pressure switch. After considering how to make a quick plug, (whittling wood seemed like it would take too long), I asked my wife if she had a stub of a used candle. She provided one in a twinkling. I carved a plug of wax, and I headed downstairs to face getting water shot in my face a second time. Lots of water shot in my face, but the plug worked. Then I could work in leisure, but I knew that one final episode of getting water shot into my face lay ahead, when I removed the wax plug and put in the new pressure switch. Sobeit. I put in the new switch and my wife had a kitchen sink again. I was a wet rat crawling ashore, bedraggled and yet victorious.

However, I was seriously behind schedule. Not only did I have to rush off to work a shift at the Childcare, (because the staff has problems of their own, which I won’t go into), but also the forecast was for yet another storm of glop and freezing slush. I had to stock up the woodboxes at home, and also deal with my wife’s anti-Swamp activities.

Where the Swamp seems to want to ban people from visiting elders in old-age-homes, and to ban people from the schooling of their own children, my wife insists on “staying involved”. She is a grandmother who reads stories to grandchildren in Brazil, via computer magic, and who refuses to allow the family’s matriarch (her mother) to enter the hellish “retirement communities” the Swamp offers. And in this particular situation she didn’t want to face the fact the coming storm made travel seem inadvisable. By hook or krook, we were going drive to Maine for a flash-visit of three granddaughters. (A two-year-old and twins-aged-six-months.) But we couldn’t leave until after attending a middle-school-aged grandchild’s quarter-finals basketball game.

At the risk of sounding like a heartless cynic, at times it occurs to me that all this family-stuff does not help me write sonnets. Perhaps that is why many poets live alone. But I have to admit warm and fuzzy family-stuff is a counterattack, in the weird war we are midst. Therefore, I sometimes go along with her sentimental nonsense, figuring her feminine intuition is smarter than my masculine willpower. That is why I might be seen at a grandchild’s basketball game which barely resembles basketball, when I’d much rather be writing a sonnet which does resemble a sonnet.

However, there are times I must draw the line. Driving to Maine is a bad idea if you never arrive. I needed to heed the fine details of the forecast, even while preparing for the storm. But I had no time to sit at my computer to look at the details.

For an old geezer, driving to Maine or even attending a basketball game is stress. It was one more stressful thing on “the list” even though “avoid stress” was on the list. I found myself thinking it might be too much. I might fail to be as tough as I want to be. I might be a battlefield casualty.

My mind slumped into morbidity: Just as the above sonnet is unfinished, much that I have wanted to do in my life will never be done. Life is too short. But this is no different from what happened to my peers in the 1960’s and 1970’s when they became cannon fodder. In the Vietnam war, each young person who died sacrificed their “promise”. Each death was a promise unfulfilled. What might have been would never be. In like manner, the death of every old geezer in the current war is a half-century of wisdom lost, and its promise unfulfilled. War is hell.

As I had these morbid thoughts, I had no time to play my violins of self-pity and compose sorrowful sonnets. I had to gulp down some chili and hurry up and down the front steps, filling the wood boxes. Then I felt a burning in my chest.

I figured it was just heartburn, because I’d hurried to work after gulping chili. I think your suppose to siesta after chili. However, I was pushing myself, carrying a few more logs than was wise, and pulled an obscure muscle I’d never pulled before which must string between the chest and the middle of the back, and likely has to do with lifting shoulders to gasp for breath when the diaphragm isn’t enough. Yet it occurred to me it might be something other than heartburn and a pulled muscle. My heart might be quitting. And as I thought this I was bathed with sweat, which was likely due to collapsing in an armchair by a hot stove to catch my breath, yet such sweating also may be a symptom of a heart attack. Stress.

The stress-relieving thing to do in such a situation is to do what I did in California thirty-eight years ago: Drive to a hospital, explain that you are having chest pains, and have them run a quick ECG. (ElectroCardioGraph). Back in 1984 they’d tell you your heart was fine, and that the chest-pain was due to a binge, you moron, and your stomach was protesting the fact you had drunk something like two cases of beer in two days. In 1984 the diagnosis took thirty minutes and cost $110.00. But hospitals are different now, during this invisible war.

I have a unique perspective, when it comes to hospitals, for my father was a surgeon at the MGH (Massachusetts General Hospital) in Boston back in the 1940’s, 1950’s and early 1960’s, back when doctors actually ran the hospitals, and before lawyers and insurance companies ruined everything. Those were glory days, as antibiotics had just been discovered, people stopped dying of staff infections after operations, and people dying of things like syphilis and tuberculosis were learning they wouldn’t die after all. Doctors and nurses walked with a real spring in their step. (How far we have fallen.)

I figured I was probably being a hypochondriac, but I’ve known good fellows who died because they didn’t want to make a big fuss about why their chest hurt. So I figured I should make sure it wasn’t anything serious. I was 95% sure it was nothing, but 5% is stress, and I wanted to avoid stress. Of course there would be some stress because of the coronavirus nonsense. They might object to the fact I was not vaccinated. But what happened might be interesting. It might make a good blog post.

I put off deciding, choosing to instead go close down the Childcare, thinking maybe the chest pains would ebb and I could forget my worry, but, if anything, they grew sharper. I still was thinking it was a pulled muscle, but the worry was there. I then had to face the stress of telling my wife.

She wanted to call an ambulance and I said by the time an ambulance arrived we could already be at the hospital. She said she couldn’t do CPR while driving and I said she could do CPR on me as I drove. She said she’d drive. As she drove, she called ahead to the emergency entrance using her voice-activated car phone, and she answered a slew of questions including my date-of-birth, and then we continued our discussion alone as we drove through the darkness of late twilight.

I was attempting to remain calm and stress-free, saying I was 95% sure I was just being a worry wart, but, if the 5% was true, then, if I was about to die, a good wife would not want to have the last thing her husband heard be criticism. Criticism could exacerbate stress, which contributed to heart attacks, so likely the best thing was praise. I should be praised for remaining so calm when there was a 5% chance I was about to croak. And then we laughed, which is about the most stress-free thing there is.

We arrived at the emergency entrance, which seemed an unnaturally bright pool of yellow light in the darkness of evening, and I hopped out as my wife drove off to park the car. I walked in and introduced myself as the man who had called ahead with chest pains. The lady told me to put on a mask and asked me my date-of-birth and whether I’d been vaccinated. Obviously, the woman did not deserve to be called a nurse.

I have a unique perspective towards nursing, as my mother was a registered nurse at Children’s Hospital in Boston in the 1940’s, and at Brandais College in the mid-1960’s, and as a hospice nurse in the late-1960’s, and then an EMT in Maine in the late 1970’s, through the 1980’s, into the early 1990’s. My mom could remain cool in the face of blood, and boys in my boyhood neighborhood would go to her with a gory cut, because they knew their own mothers would freak-out and perhaps faint. My mom knew freaking and fainting wasn’t any good, so she would tend to the gore. (If I had a complaint as a child, it was that my mother was too cool and too detached and that she didn’t gush enough.)

The woman I was dealing with was not tending to me, the patient, but rather tending to the paperwork. It was likely a good thing I put on a mask, for it hid my expression, which was likely an odd mix between pity and sheer contempt.

For one thing, it took me about two hours of on-line research right at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to understand cheap masks were a dumb idea. As I recall, there were at least three peer-reviewed studies in the “New England Journal of Medicine”, and two more in the English journal “Lancet”, which stated ordinary masks were more or less useless when it came to preventing the spread of virus. At least one study ventured masks were harmful, because of problems other than the transmission of virus. In other words, “science”, as it was defined before the coronavirus, stated masks (other than expensive ones), were useless. However, “science” acquired a bizarre, new definition, once the war on Truth was declared.

In its new incarnation, “science” became whatever furthers a political goal. It doesn’t matter if the goal is low lusts, greed, and desires for power. Science must bow, must disregard its former affinity to Truth, and must be “politically correct”. In essence, science must agree to be false. It is for some “higher good.”

To me this claptrap is such a complete denial of the original definition of “science” that it cannot be borne. Science is supposed to be a study of Truth, just as poetry is a study of Truth. And, when I have studied history to seek examples of at least a single occasion when lies led to some “higher good”, what I see are examples of times such lies led to societal disasters. The ultimate lies were Lysenko’s, who had the distinction of precipitating terrible famines in both Russia and China, “for their own good.”

To put it mildly, I have thought using masks is a deed of rank stupidity for over two years now. Therefore, when I enter a hospital’s emergency entrance and a lady asks me to put a mask on it strikes me as a sure sign that she is ignorant. I pity her, because I know she is just doing her job, but her job is not a nurse’s, and she cannot claim to be one. She is in fact a bureaucrat in a white uniform.

I have an unspiritual inclination to rear back and give such people an uppercut to the snoot, but that would hardly help matters, even in an invisible war. Pity is better. And, as a man who runs a Childcare, I often watch small children struggle to put together simple puzzles, and know it is often better to allow them to figure things out for themselves. To be simply given an answer often involves no true learning, which may be why God, in His compassion, allows people to bungle along learning things. If people prefer falsehood to Truth for some queer reason, well, they will learn the hard way. Only if one, with all their might and main, seeks Truth midst all the fluff and balderdash, is one likely to see the Light.

I looked away from the bureaucrat clicking away at her keyboard to see if there was anyone else around. The news always makes it sound like hospitals are overcrowded with wheezing and gasping coronavirus patients, but this particular emergency entrance seemed downright serene, and understaffed. Even as I thought this a strong, young man dressed in white walked briskly around a corner and approached me. “Hi!” he said, “Are you the fellow with chest pains?” He held out a palm and we shook hands as I nodded, and then he continued, “My name is Zack and I’m your nurse. Follow me.”

As we walked further into the bright depths of the emergency entrance, I explained I was 95% sure I just pulled a muscle in my chest, and that I was just playing it safe, and Zack agreed it was better to be safe than sorry. I like agreeable people, and I took an immediate liking to him. We chattered away as if it was an everyday thing for me to strip down bare-chested and for him to start sticking small plastic sensors to various parts of my chest. For example, I stated there were a lot more sensors than there were in 1984, and he asked what happened in 1984, and I gave him the short version. When I mentioned the two cases of beer he laughed and stated that he had also learned two cases of beer in two days was not a wise idea, when he was younger.

My cellphone beeped and it was my wife texting. She said the hospital wouldn’t let her wait inside. She wondered if she should wait in the parking lot. I asked Zack how long the ECG would take, and he said besides the EKG there would be blood tests, and it would take at least an hour for the results to come in. I texted my wife it was going to take longer than I thought; over an hour; she texted back she’d wait in the parking lot until I had more news.

Zack clipped a thing onto my finger to measure my oxygen levels, and then stood back and regarded a computer display above the bed in satisfaction. It made efficient-sounding beeping noises, and besides a graph of my ECG had around ten other numbers. Then Zack hurried off, and swiftly returned, telling me the doctor said the EKG looked good, but that the doctor wanted to do other tests, including a cat scan. I asked how long it would take, and he said likely at least two hours, and maybe five. I texted my wife my ECG looked good, but there would be other tests, and she probably should wait at home. She sent an emoji of a relieved face.

Zack was swabbing the inside of my elbow, but rather than just drawing blood samples he was inserting an IV with a Y junction to allow saline in as well as to draw blood out. I asked why they had to do other tests if the ECG looked good, and Zack said an EKG wasn’t enough to prevent malpractice suits; if I had a heart attack in the next month the doctor could expect to have his socks sued off. Therefore, insurance companies required a whole slew of tests, to cover the doctor’s butts. I said it was all about money, and that lawyers and insurance companies were driving up prices, and Zack diplomatically shrugged.

From there we moved on and had a chat about why I said ECG and he said EKG. They mean the same thing, and I told him that as a writer I preferred English, and “cardio” began with a “C”. I wondered if EKG meant the machine was made in Germany, and Zack laughed. Then I asked him how long he’d been a nurse.

It turned out he’d worked eight years for a crew laying concrete foundations. The money was better than he made nursing, especially with all the cement-work overtime, but he was getting worn down. I told him cement work was rough on backs, and that I knew cement-workers who’d turned to Fentanyl to escape the pain. He adroitly avoided the subject of Fentanyl, but stated he indeed had worried about his back. I said nurses had to be careful not to hurt their backs as well; some patients could be pretty fat. Zack laughed and said this was true, but cement was heavier.

By this time I was all wired and tubed-up like a person at death’s door, and Zack hurried off to bring a couple blood samples to a lab, and a very tired-looking doctor came trudging in.

I’ll call him Dr. Robe because he struck me as being like a robot. He asked a long string of questions in a monotone yet hurried voice, as if he was asking them by rote and wasn’t interested in many of the answers. The questions seemed very much like the checklist of questions you have to answer on forms as you enter a doctor’s office, questions more aimed at malpractice lawyers than your health, questions that hold the echoes of some past court proceedings: “But did you inquire as to whether the patient was a pathological liar?”

Right off the bat Dr. Robe struck me as the sort of doctor my father would have railed should be disqualified. Doctors were not supposed to look so tired and bored and discouraged; they were supposed to radiate faith and hope and to activate the placebo-effect with their complete confidence. Their confidence was supposed to be reassuring and infectious; Dr. Robe looked infected by gloom; he had no spring in his step; he trudged.

I resisted the urge to rail at him as my father might have done, and instead prodded my slouching sense of pity. (Patients aren’t supposed to pity the doctors; it is supposed to be the other way around; but the weird war we’re within has things upside-down and backwards.)

It occurred to me it must be humiliating to be a doctor these days. Gone is the respect people once had. Where once doctors gave their opinions from a sort of pedestal, now they are told to keep their opinions to themselves. They receive orders from the Swamp, and if they beg to differ, they could lose their jobs. Rather than being treated like professionals they are treated like lackeys and flunkies. All their experience, all that they have learned over the years through actual contact with the hurting, all their success and failure, is disregarded, in favor of some Swamp commandment. Worst is the fact that the Swamp’s new definition of “science” is looking increasingly stupid, as it is confronted by its failures to be like true “science”, and to honor true Truth.

The Swamp is confronted by the failures of its “promises” to come true. Masks were supposed to stop-the-spread but failed. Social distancing was supposed to stop-the-spread but failed. Vaccines were supposed to stop-the-spread but failed. Those who trusted the Swamp, and complied, now can’t help but to increasingly feel disappointed and even betrayed. Me? My faith was trampled very early on, and I’ve been a Skeptic for nearly two years now.

I think what originally set off alarms in my head was my perception the Swamp did not like second opinions. My father was very big on getting second opinions. I could recall that, back in the glory days when doctors ran their own hospitals, doctors were always sharing what they had discovered, or asking if the other doctors had ever come across an unexpected complication they were confronted by. They were well aware every patient is different, “what is good for the goose may be bad for the gander”, and they had open minds that sought the insights of others. As a small boy I liked to hang about the periphery as they talked over drinks after work, for they all seemed excited to hear each other’s latest discovery.

The Swamp now seems utterly different. They seemed to epitomize the Globalist view that there should only be one view. And this sense was verified when the first news about hydroxychloroquine surfaced. To me it seemed very good news, and I was appalled when the doctors who sought to publicize the beneficial possibilities were censored on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. At that time there was no vaccine, so why repress a potentially good treatment?

And so it has continued, through numerous other helpful treatments including ivermectin. Second opinions are not allowed. Only vaccines and masks are allowed, even though they aren’t working. (Who doesn’t know at least one person who wore masks religiously and had both the vaccination and the booster yet still got the coronavirus?)

Despite the censorship of Free Speech, (and even of the last president of the United States), people still do communicate, and the second opinions of those doctors who dare speak out are disseminated from obscure websites across the globe. And sick people always have a propensity to try even the most crackpot cures, when their first doctor fails. And, when the supposedly crackpot cure works, though the Globalists scoff, the word spreads despite Globalists best efforts to quash the word. People simply want to be better, and no amount of malarky can deny that the impulse to be better is a truly good impulse in the mortal soul. If you repress the urge to get better, you are basically a complete jerk.

This returns me to my earlier point that Globalists feel this world would be a better place if there was only one view allowed. I asserted their idea is like saying marriage would involve less disagreement if there was only one spouse. True, but then it wouldn’t be marriage. And the fact of the matter is that the Creator created us different. We share our fingerprints with no other soul among the nearly eight billion currently alive on earth. This might make us feel alone, if it were not for the wonder of understanding.

That is what I remember most from the glory days of medicine. Doctors had no fear of second opinions, because their interest was understanding. They did not see a second opinion as a threatening disagreement, but rather as the wonder of another view. As impossible as it may seem to some, disagreement wasn’t disagreeable. It was the opening of a window to a new sky.

How far we have fallen. When I looked at Dr. Robe I did not see a brave doctor of the sort who would be banned from YouTube and Twitter, but rather a compliant yes-man, subservient to the Swamp. He feared losing his job, craving dollars. Yet as much as he makes, it is never enough. He must pay back three times what I make in a year just to pay for the “insurance”.

Back in the glory days, when doctors ran hospitals, my Dad didn’t worry about being sued. When he saved a fellow’s life, we’d get a “grateful patient” gift from where the fellow reclined in Florida, a big cardboard box filled with oranges, tangerines, and juicy grapefruit. Now? Now doctors spend $150,000 a year for malpractice insurance. You have pay for the “privilege” of saving some goofball’s life. How far we have fallen.

Actually, it isn’t so hard to pity Dr. Robe. For a third of what he pays just to avoid the vengeance of ungrateful patients, I happily subsist. I pay my bills and live a good life with children and grandchildren. I am not rich but feel blessed in many other ways. But maybe I too will face the vengeance. I may face the vengeance of a sort of Stalin, who loathed the Kulak, who I am sort of like.

To be blunt, I feel the Globalists are narrow-minded, and that they find it offensive that so many live outside their myopia. Where they are consumed by a lust for power, the powerless simply get by. The Globalists ask, “What right have the powerless to be happier?” (For indeed we are.)

The answer, (which they don’t want to hear), is that we simple bumpkins deal with Truth, which is Beauty, yet which they seek to deny. They think they have their reasons to deny the Truth about cures for the coronavirus other than their vaccine, but when their vaccine fails and other cures work, the “cure” is something called the Truth. At this point, they can either confess their error, or they can deny Truth.

At which point one wonders what low craving they are blinded by. They must know on some level that their so-called “science” has been made to look foolish. Why do they insist on stating they are not fools when, it is increasingly obvious, they are fools?

There are various theories about what motivates them, ranging from the simple pride of a person who doesn’t want to admit a mistake, to more elaborate conspiracy theories.

One theory states that the profits from vaccines are gigantic, as much as twenty dollars back for each dollar put in, and Globalists are deeply invested, and don’t want to face a crash. Another theory states all sorts of wicked results are the real intent of jabbing every person on earth. Some even state they want to reduce the world population to half a billion.

All I know is that vaccines don’t work. People get vaccinated and still get the corona virus. Back in the old days, this disqualified the jab from being even called a “vaccine.” But the new “science” decrees that the jab results in “milder cases”. How can they compare a case with what never happened? The question should be, “Have vaccinated people died?” Because some have, the vaccination failed to vaccinate. So why push it? And why push it on small children, who almost never suffer complications from the coronavirus? Especially as the vaccination has some side effects which have killed some people. This may be a “small” risk, but why expose a child to such risk at all? Simple question. Just answer the blasted question! Instead, they change the subject. For example, am I a racist?

The effectiveness of various cures are topics which, back in the glory days when doctors ruled their own hospitals, would have been freely and openly discussed after work while sipping an Old-Fashioned. Now you hear cures discussed behind the magazine rack at the local market, or on obscure uncensored sites on the internet. However, as I looked at Dr. Robe, it did not even occur to me to bring up the topic of alternative cures. He was not a brave doctor. He was just a poor man, poorer than me, striving to pay off fabulous college loans and incredible insurance costs, cursing whoever told him that being a doctor would make him respected and rich. Increasingly he is neither. Rather than respected, doctors are increasingly a laughingstock. Surely this must eat away at them. Some pity must be felt, (unless, of course, doctors seek revenge on the public.)

These may seem like odd thoughts to be drifting about my head when I had a 5% chance of meeting my Maker. But they say your whole life flashes before you, as you die, and the downfall of hospitals has been a part of my life. Also, I must say this about Dr. Robe: He did reduce my 5% worry I was dying to around 0.1%, simply by stating my ECG looked normal. This relaxed me greatly, and from then on, I was just going along for the ride, enjoying the views of how hospitals look now, compared to how they looked when I ran about the MGH in Boston as a little boy.

After asking me a robotic checklist of questions Dr. Robe droned that he wanted to be absolutely sure enzymes in my blood didn’t change in three hours, and also to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot in my lungs, by having me go through a cat scan.

I hadn’t seen the bill. ($6,402.77). I hoped insurance covered a lot, but knew somebody somewhere was making money from the nonsense. Should it cost so much to learn nothing is wrong?

In any case, Dr. Robe vanished, and I never saw him again. It was the end of his shift, and hopefully he went home to a nice wife and good backrub. But I could not go home, and texted my wife that things still looked good, but I couldn’t go to the basketball game or Bible study, because it would be at least three hours before they were done checking me over from top to bottom.

Right at this point a tiny, masked woman dressed as a nurse came to roll me off for a cat scan. This struck me as a little absurd, for it seemed a big, strong nurse like Zack should have done the rolling. But back in my boyhood men weren’t nurses. Zack would have been called an “orderly”, which may now be a sexist term. Who knows? All I knew was a tiny woman began detaching plasma bottles and saline bottles I didn’t need from a height she could barely reach on tiptoes and putting the bottles above my head on another rack she also could barely reach, attached to a bed she barely looked strong enough to roll.

Above her mask she looked a little stressed to me, and in a hurry, so I tried to think of some way to relax her. After all, as one approaches age seventy, scrawny young women one wouldn’t have looked twice at, when aged twenty, have a surprising beauty, even when you can only see their eyes and foreheads. And I know life is hard at hospitals, midst this invisible war. I evaluated her.

The little nurse seemed disinterested in conversation, only stating, “I’m taking you for your cat scan” before becoming very efficient, so it was up to me to break the ice. Something impish in me had me state, “I think I am going to like this. Will you mind it much if I squeal, ‘wheeee!’ as you roll me?”

She looked at me with severe surprise above her mask, and said, “Please don’t.”

I laughed and said, “OK I won’t, but, you see, I run a Childcare, and I am forever pulling wagons or dragging sleds full of children, and they say, “wheeee!” as I pull them, but they never pull me. So, this is a new experience for me. I think I will enjoy it very much.”

She met my eye, and the severity of the young face above the mask went through a lovely transformation. She laughed, and said, “I push strollers at home and gurneys at work.”

I replied, “Gosh! You never get a break! Well, I suppose my old age does have its advantages…” Her forehead vanished as she lowered her shoulders to push me, but I did hear a chuckle.

I must admit she pushed well, achieving speeds faster than I thought wise, and she also had an amazing ability to navigate through automatically opening doors even when she had to show some sort of badge to make them open. I didn’t say “wheeee” even once, but did at one point inquire, “National Guard?”

This was because, down from the emergency entrance, we passed the non-emergency entrance, which is not the “main entrance”, (which has been closed a long time due to the coronavirus). The non-emergency entrance is where they take your temperature and ask a slew of questions and make you put on a mask before you go to an appointment about a hangnail. And as we passed through a crossroads and I looked down towards that entrance, I saw not the usual nurses but big men in combat boots and camouflaged uniforms.

The nurse pushing me simply explained, “Yes. We’re understaffed.”

I said, “Those big fellows should be pushing the gurneys. You should be swiping the foreheads.”

“Maybe, but they can’t run the cat scan.”

“You do that too?”


“You must have to do a lot when you’re understaffed.”


“I know some nurses who quit.”

“So do I.”

“Strange times.” There seemed little else to say about the nurses who quit when ordered to have the vaccine or the booster, (or even other vaccinated nurses, who quit when ordered to order the unvaccinated to vaccinate). It was just part of the war. I suppose, given more time, we might have discussed the various reasons which the media never talks about, but we had arrived at the cat scan, and she had a job to do.

The cat scan was a futurist looking plastic donut covered with green lights and digital readouts, and a few red lights, with a table that shifted in and out of the donut. I had to shift my old carcass to the table, which involved rearranging various wires and tubes, and also the nurse had to add a “tracer” in my blood, which involved my answering a whole slew of questions, including my date-of-birth again. (I was patient with this stuff because both my mother and father had told me of outrageous mistakes made by hospitals that weren’t careful, such as amputating the wrong leg, or the right leg from the wrong person.) I did wonder a bit what the “tracer” was, and what side-effects it might have, and why they asked so many questions about allergies. The nurse mentioned I should tell her of various side effects, including heat in my crotch or anus. I was about to ask further questions, in a hopefully disarming voice, but just then I was hit in the face by a jet of water.

In order to inject the tracer, the nurse had to loosen the saline drip, and the little tube had jumped from her fingers. “Oh! I’m so, so sorry!” she exclaimed.

“Don’t worry. I’m getting used to it. It’s the fourth time today I’ve been squirted in the face.”

Her eyebrows raised above her mask as she dabbed my face with a white towel, which I found enjoyable. When was the last time a young woman dabbed my face with a towel? My mother? Sixty years ago? She brought me back to earth by asking, “What squirted you the other times?”

I gave her the short version of replacing the pressure switch in the cellar, and by the time I was done the “tracer” was in me, so I dismissed asking about side effects. Whatever will be will be. The ‘tracer” might cause cancer (or even have been the vaccine), but there are only so many conspiracy theories a man can handle at once, and these days I’m overwhelmed.

The nurse was shifting all the tubes and wires so they wouldn’t get hung up in the donut, and we were ready to roll. I rolled in, and the machine’s robotic voice (feminine) told me to hold a deep breath, and I did, and things clicked and whirred, and the machine said “exhale”, and things whirred and clicked, and then I rolled back, and there were more clicks and whirrs and a beep, without me needing to hold my breath, but then I rolled in again and had to hold my breath again.

As I rolled in and out of this “hole” I chuckled. It occurred to me the situation could have Freudian implications. It had some similarity to sex, or perhaps birth. But that idea was so utterly absurd that it made me think that all the time I spent fifty years ago, studying thought and psychology based on Freud, and even the thought and philosophy of those who rejected Freud by fighting Freud, such as Yung and Pearls (gestalt) and Lang, was a complete waste of my time. Fifty years ago, I thought I was seeking Truth, peering deep into the subconscious, but the fact of the matter is that, when you are rolling in and out of a hole, the Truth is that you are rolling and out of a hole. Psychologists make Truth complex when it is in fact simple.

The way this idea crossed my mind made me chuckle to myself, which made the masked face of the tiny nurse pop up and regard me studiously, even as the cat scan was completed. I’m glad she didn’t ask why I chuckled. It would have taken several hours to explain Freud, Jung, Pearls and Lang, (let alone Timothy Leary). Rather than asking me any questions she (I suppose) looked for “symptoms” and became satisfied my chuckle wasn’t a symptom. After this swift appraisal of my mental state, (especially swift when compared to Freud), the little nurse vanished as she bowed her shoulders and trundled me at great speed back to where I began by the emergency entrance. When we got there, I thanked her for the ride, just as I always thanked drivers who gave me rides when I hitchhiked fifty years ago, and, just as drivers then vanished and I never saw them again, she vanished.

So there I was, back where I started, when I arrived with the simple question, “Am I having a heart attack?” Maybe now they would let me go home? Not so fast.

No sooner had the little nurse completed the task of shifting various tubes and wires from my mobile and rolling situation to my static situation, when the new Doctor came ambling in. In fact, I’ll call him Doctor Amble, because he had the ease of a refreshed man just starting his shift, which was different from Dr. Robe, at the end of his shift. This difference alone should highlight the importance of second opinions. After all, our own opinions shift, from first thing in the morning to when we go to bed weary. However, the difference in opinion between Dr. Robe and Dr. Amble was more than that, and I found it interesting to see it manifest.

Not that Dr. Amble actually said Dr. Robe was wrong. He was in fact just telling me what Dr. Robe had prescribed. Much that was prescribed I already knew, (such as the cat scan), for I had already endured it. Yet, as Dr. Amble spoke of Dr. Robe’s prescriptions, he made telling noises. He never actually said, “Pshaw”, like an old time Yankee, but made odd noises that meant the same thing. For example, he seemed to feel the cat scan was a waste of time, for he made the slightest “puh” noise as he read that prescription. He also seemed to feel a sort of scorn for the first blood test and the second one three hours later. He had a better test. Not that he said a thing to me, but I am a surgeon’s son who grew up in a hospital, and I know a second opinion when I see one. I wondered what his second opinion was, but he just told me I seemed well, but they’d need to make sure with a few more tests. Then Dr. Amble ambled off, likely unaware I was scrutinizing him more carefully than he scrutinized me, and coming up with diagnoses all my own.

For one thing, I sensed his relaxed attitude was an act. An emergency ward is a stressful place to work even during peacetime, and he was working midst an invisible war, where political pressures had doctors forced to bite their tongues and keep their second opinions to themselves. Once again, I felt I, as a patient, should pity the doctor more than the doctor pitied me, especially as I’d already learned I was well.

Apparently Dr. Amble’s second opinion involved his own way of finding out if a chest pain was due to the heart. His way was to have the patient put a tiny pellet of nitroglycerine under their tongue. If the pain vanished, there might be a problem with the heart. If the pain failed to vanish, the problem might be a pulled muscle, or heartburn due to the sort of diet which invites an ulcer.

A nitroglycerine tablet costs less than a dollar, so you can see Dr. Amble’s approach might get him in trouble with those who see medicine as a way to make big money. For example, suppose Dr. Amble’s approach was more effective than a cat scan, which involves a machine which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and an entire staff of technicians. It might seem obvious a diagnostic tool that cost a dollar would be more attractive than a tool that cost a million, but that is not how the Swamp works.

The male nurse Zack came hurrying back to where I lay, holding a tiny paper cup and a tiny bottle of tiny nitroglycerine tablets. After asking me a few questions including my date-of-birth he very carefully shook a single pill from the bottle to the paper cup and told me to put it under my tongue and allow it to dissolve, and to quickly tell him if I felt any dizziness. I did put the pill under my tongue, and then asked him if it might cause a migraine headache.

Zack looked surprised asked me why I asked that, and I told him I once was watching a crew blast granite in Maine and they told me not to stand downwind of the blast, because even a whiff of nitroglycerine might cause an instant migraine headache. He said he had never seen that, but my blood pressure had already fallen ten points. Then he asked me if my chest still hurt. I shifted about and said, yes, it still hurt the same. He shook out a second tiny pill into the cup, and after I dissolved that one under my tongue, he shook out a third.

I noticed Zack was taking great care not to touch a pill, and asked him why, and he laughed. Still keeping his eyes on the electronic display above my bed, he told me that even without touching the pills his body was absorbing enough nitroglycerine to, if he went to the airport the next day, set off alarms. He would be pulled aside as a suspected terrorist. I said it was amazing airport sensors were that sensitive and Zack agreed. Then he asked me again if the pills lessened my levels of pain, and I said not a jot, and he nodded, and left.

Soon Dr. Amble came sauntering back into the room, shuffling through a sheaf of papers in a scornful sort of way, and he said I was likely fit as a fiddle and right as rain, and that my blood tests showed no unusual enzymes, but they’d have to give me another test in an hour to see if there were any changes, and then he heaved a sigh, as if he himself thought it was a big waste of time. Then he turned and ambled out, but I thought I detected a slight slouching, as if he was under a burden.

Then I had to sit for about for an hour, which can be a little stressful for a person like me. I entertained myself by holding my breath and seeing if I could make my O2 levels drop to where it made a little light blink, but that got old, and then I drummed my fingers and fidgeted. Even though I don’t smoke any more, I’m still addicted to an occasional nicotine lozenge, but they were in my shirt on a chair six feet from the bed. Reaching that chair without unplugging various tubes and wires became an interesting challenge. I thought I had succeeded and was sucking a lozenge and back to making my O2 levels drop, when Zack came hurrying in. I asked him if he came because my O2 levels had dropped, he replied no, he came because I was dead. Apparently, I had disconnected some wire that measured my pulse. After he reconnected me, he stated it was time to take my second blood sample. As he took the tubes of blood, I asked him how long it would take the results to come in, because I wanted to tell my wife when she could pick me up. He said around an hour, so that is what I texted my wife.

Then I had to endure one of those slow hours which remind me of math class in high school. (Math was my last class of the day. Waiting for the minute hand to reach twelve was like seeing time come to a complete halt.)

Actually, it is not a bad thing to have time slow down, at this stage of my life. Usually, it feels like things happen too fast and I can’t keep up with the craziness, and I’m left gasping for time to collect my thoughts. Now I had time. Strange that the place for such peace was an emergency ward.

I made good use of the time, thinking deeply about hospitals, doctors and nurses, and what I’ve seen in sixty years. For some reason my mind kept returning to Dr. Amble, and what I might say to him to uplift him. I had a clever insight I thought I might share, a witty and pithy statement which might be short, like a sonnet, but which he might find worth mulling over afterwards. Sadly, like Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, it was not completely delivered.

Not that I didn’t try. The moment Dr. Amble reappeared I lifted an index finger and flashed a witty smile, but he never looked up from the papers he shuffled. He came in one door and ambled in a seemingly relaxed way through the room, and out the other door, shuffling papers all the way and never looking up once. I followed him the entire way with index finger raised and witty smile, but he never noticed.

In conclusion, I heard his conclusions, but he never heard mine. He said I was fine and could go home.

A young woman I’d never seen before entered after him and detached me from all the tubes and wires, I put my shirt back on, and then she looked scandalized when I put on my jacket and was about to leave. “Where is your mask? You can’t leave without your mask!”

I had forgotten all about masks. After searching we found it, crushed on the sheets I’d spent hours laying upon. Once it was back on my face, the nurse seemed very relieved, and I was allowed to walk out to the emergency entrance.

I was uncertain which door to exit by. The same woman who was there when I entered was still there, clicking at the same keyboard, and she was able to tell me what door was acceptable. Then, five hours after I entered, I walked back out into a pattering of raindrops, and towards my wife’s car I could see idling out in the parking lot.

Did this experience lower my level of stress? Yes, in terms of worry about my chest pains. But in terms of my levels of worry about hospitals? I’m not so sure. It’s not that the people who actually work there are bad, but rather that the absentee landlords who oversee hospitals are…. Deranged?

As my wife drove me home though the inky dark, I apologized for the fact my hypochondria had cost us five hours. I said my chest still hurt, and, if I hadn’t been reassured, I likely would have worried all night and all the next day, but at least now I knew I was OK. But it should have taken 45 minutes, like it did in California in 1984. She was very nice about it, simply saying her prayers had been answered. Then she promptly discussed driving to Maine.

This had the potential to immediately increase my level of stress, partially because it involved forecasting New England weather, which is inherently stressful if the outcome matters to you. The potential for being wrong is likely greater in New England than it is for most of the rest of the world. I avoided stress by exhaling slowly and deeply, and also by avoiding making a forecast. Often it is best to simply say, “We will see in the morning.”

The trip to Maine is another story, and this one has gone on long enough. Hopefully the trip to Maine will be “Part Two” of this description of how stressful it can be to avoid stress. However, I think it is good to stop “Part One”, at this point, for it is a sort of happy ending, and I do like happy endings. What can be happier, and more stress-relieving, than to find out your chest pains do not mean you are about to die?

But gosh! It sure can be hard getting that answer! Downright stressful!

Punky Wood (Part 1) –Defeat–

Slim was a man of around forty who I knew forty years ago when I lived up on the coast of Maine. He was skinny but strong; wore unfashionable glasses with thick, brown rims; had light brown hair graying at his temples, greased back like Elvis; chain-smoked; had a leathery, tanned face; and had the sort of pointed jaw, missing mass in the cheeks, that made me wonder if he had any molars left to pull, though it was hard to tell, for he hardly ever opened his mouth. I hung on his every word, which was easy to do, for he rarely spoke any. I know he had some coffee-stained front teeth, for he occasionally would grin helplessly, despite his shyness. Usually he was smiling due to the palaver of a fellow he worked with named Tubs, who was Slim’s opposite: Short, round, balding, jolly and very talkative. The two men seemingly had only one thing in common: They were hard workers, able to take on a wide variety of jobs and complete them with speed and skill.

I think I first saw the two men working in 1974. It was a simple job, delivering my mother a pick-up truck load of firewood. I admired the speed of their unloading. It took less than five minutes. Slim never touched the logs, because he used a couple of small hooks with wooden handles, specialized tools I have never seen anyone own or use since.

The two men worked like it was some sort of race, with the musically clopping logs flowing off the tailgate of the truck like water. They never needed to stop for a break because they completed the job so swiftly, nor did they grunt and grimace as if it was some big effort. As they worked Tubs was telling some story and Slim was nodding and smiling. Then they saw me watching and immediately became suspicious.

This was to be expected. In 1974 the Vietnam War wasn’t over, and I had long hair. Slim had seen action serving in Korea, some twenty years earlier. In fact some of his shyness may have been due to post-traumatic stress. I imagined my long hair automatically made me be an unpatriotic draft-dodger in his eyes, which made communication between us difficult.

The irony of the situation was that I was not what my long-hair suggested; I had unexpectedly broken my connection with the so-called “counter culture”, and perhaps was in some ways more conservative than Slim, and certainly more conservative than Tubs.

I had not intended to become conservative. I had started out by doing the expected and the acceptable (to hippies) things hippies did: Hitchhiking long distances; joining some loose confederations and cults called “communes”; becoming involved in (and eventually repulsed by) unsavory adventures involving sex and drugs; and, as a sort of conclusion, traveling to India to seek “enlightenment”. (The “Beatles” did it, Peter Townsend of the “Who” did it, and Melanie Safka did it when she was disillusioned).

To be blunt, “enlightenment”, as I then envisioned it, was a sort of Disney-world hallucination lacking the harshness and schizophrenia of LSD’s. I had somewhat vague hopes that some door would open in my forehead, and I would be swept into an experience of shimmering colors and lights, resulting in bliss. Others claimed they’d had such experiences. I hadn’t, and to be honest I really was uncertain where I was going or what I was after, as I headed to India. All I was really sure of was that I didn’t want to work a Real Job.

Instead of visions, or a meeting with any sort of con-artist-guru who promised such things, I had the good fortune to blunder into somewhat boring “good advice”, from the disciples of Meher Baba. (Meher Baba stated he was the Avatar.) Largely the advise they gave was not the sort that would get me out of working a Real Job, so I was not all that gratified.

For example, they stated I should not neglect “attending to my worldly responsibilities,” which initially sounded OK, because I felt a poet’s “responsibility” was to nibble an eraser, gaze dreamily at the sky, and avoid getting a Real Job. Then they seemed to suggest such behavior was deemed “responsible” only if God permitted such behavior to pay my bills, (via hard work, and also fate or “karma”). This amendment soured me slightly, though I kept my opinions to myself. Yet their advise was delivered in such a lovingly down-to-earth manner that I found myself not caring all that much about the subjects we discussed, and instead admiring their down-to-earth delivery. I started to think being down-to-earth might actually be a good thing, and not necessarily be unimaginative “conformity” and a sign I was a “square”.

I must have been a very odd American for the disciples of Meher Baba to have to deal with. Here I had traveled half-way around the world, yet I asked no questions. Somehow I felt asking questions was disrespectful. So I just observed, and kept my questions to myself. I was scheduled to visit for two weeks, but my TWA ticket allowed me to delay my departure, so I kept delaying, and observing. After nearly three months I headed home, because I knew my family and especially my mother would be upset if I skipped Christmas. Also I was flat broke and had run out of people to borrow from. Now I look back and want to slap my forehead, because I asked so few questions, but at the time it was just the way I was, namely a three-letter word: “Shy”.

Because I never asked for advice I can’t say I ever received any, per se. Perhaps I did hear others ask questions I felt were rude to ask, and listened intently to the answers they received. But largely the “advice” I received was contained in the “example” Meher Baba’s disciples set.

I think what impressed me most was that the followers of Meher Baba were not “groupies”, like hippies tended to be. Perhaps hippies were dead set against wearing uniforms, but they tended to be copy-cats and “uniform” in other ways. For example the “Dead-heads” (fans of the rock-group “The Grateful Dead”) agreed about certain things, and if you veered from their “norm” they could be disagreeable. They tended to be birds of a feather who flocked together. The disciples of Meher Baba, on the other hand, were strikingly individualistic, definitely not birds-of-a-feather. They were as different as different could be, yet strangely not in conflict. How was this possible?

That was the question I should have asked, but was too shy to ask. It was on my mind because I had witnessed hippy communes, made up of very similar and on-the-same-page people, disintegrate over minuscule differences tantamount to straws that could not even break a field mouse’s back, let alone a camel’s. How could Meher Baba’s disciples manage what hippies could not? But I never asked, and instead observed.

Meher Baba himself had died nearly five years earlier, on January 31, 1969, yet it was obvious his influence was still profound. However I was not satisfied with “influence” alone. I didn’t want to only see the sunburned people after the Sun had set. I wanted to see the Sun. I suppose I was like Doubting Thomas, refusing to believe in Christ until he himself could finger the wounds on a risen Christ’s hands.

I was not gifted with Thomas’s experiences, and it was frustrating to me, for I constantly met people who had experienced a “risen” Meher Baba.

There was some event called “The Last Darshan” that Meher Baba had been planning-for, scheduled between April and June, 1969, which you might think would have been cancelled when he inconveniently died in January. But people went ahead and the event was held, and the people (from all over the world) who attended the event stated Meher Baba was present in spirit, and that all sorts of amazing stuff happened. However I was not informed and did not attend and wasn’t a witness. I was not gifted with such grand experiences.

In some ways I am like the dour man from Missouri who always says, “Prove it”. I demand certainty. Even back at age twenty-one I had too often been played for the fool, too often been the laughable sucker and embarrassing chump, and I’d be damned if I’d allow it to happen to me again. But I received no countering certainty or “proof”, in terms of supernatural events.

This is not to say I didn’t own a private, secret, inner world, nor didn’t have intimate, muttered conversations with God. I just didn’t hear answers delivered in a booming baritone. My personal “miracles” tended to be coincidences, such as a butterfly landing on my nose, or a certain song coming on the radio, which couldn’t withstand determined cynicism. My “visions” were dismissable as being the result of an overly active imagination; the same psychologists who were amazed at my ability to “free-associate” completely shredded any hopes I might have that my fantasized images might mean something positive. They subjected my poetry to a sort of ruthless cross-examination, hyper-analyzing every symbol, supposedly to increase my self-awareness, but in fact increasing my doubtfulness. In the long run the awareness I developed was that I should keep such thoughts to myself. Rather than making me more outgoing psychology hardened my fortress of shyness.

All the same, hanging around Meher Baba’s disciples was a deeply moving experience. Perhaps people-who-were-highly-individualistic-and-different-yet-who-managed-to-lovingly-get-along struck me as a bit “supernatural”, in its own right. After all, my own parents were brilliant, charming, and in some ways very similar people, but got a divorce. And the political “hawks” and “doves” of the USA were not getting along, and the so-called “alternative” hippy lifestyles were crashing and burning everywhere I looked. Meher Baba’s disciples were different. I saw, in these kindly and generous foreigners, an example I desired to follow, and people I wished to emulate, though I was highly individualistic in my own right, and couldn’t see how I could be a true “follower” of Meher Baba. One might say I was attracted, and perhaps a “follower-from-a-safe-distance”.

Oddest was the lack of “rules” they gave me to follow. The “good advice” lacked all the commandments which many scriptures make into an elaborate and detailed system of “laws”. In some ways I found this disturbing, for in some ways I was aware that the most productive times of my life had involved some sort of brutal drill sergeant demanding discipline and laying-down-the-law, whether the “drill sergeant” was a strict school’s headmaster, or an inanimate and savage storm at sea.

For the most part Meher Baba seemed to forego issuing commandments, and instead to merely describe the problems inherent within addiction-to-creation, and describe the benefits of escaping creation into the embrace of the Creator, without (in my view) mapping out what rules and laws one should obey during the transition. But I did gather, without asking any questions, two things which might be called “laws”, although they were “good advice.”

I should not take drugs and should not indulge in promiscuous sex.

Absorbing this good advice, and accepting it, put me at odds with my hippy peers. Though I was dreaming about harmony, I was plunged into opposition.

When I returned to the United States I discovered I didn’t fit in where I had once fit in. I wanted to share what I had glimpsed to the cult-like groups I was associated with, but seemed unable to find the right words. I didn’t want to reject anyone, but was inarticulate, and felt I had a very slow mouth among very fast talkers. After experiencing ridicule for suggesting sober, prudish, down-to-earth behavior might be wise, I felt hurt, rejected by my peers, and gradually began to search for a different society, where I might fit in.

Looking back, it seems it would have been for the best if I had made the separations swift and dramatic, and as complete as the separation between civilian life and boot-camp. But I was not a quitter, and always held out hope for improvement in relationships that, in truth, were withering away. Unfortunately this meant that, rather than removing a forearm-band-aid swiftly, I made it a long, slow, painful, hair-plucking, and drawn-out process.

To me it seemed loyal and faithful to give people who had in some way betrayed me a second and third chance to betray me. I prolonged my misery, for I felt forgiveness was spiritual, and was confused about when one should “shake the dust from your heels” and leave people in the past. I felt I should forgive people “seven-times-seventy times”, and consequently handed “my pearls to swine”. Last but not least, I was in some ways atrociously arrogant, and it was inconceivable to me that others wouldn’t realize how marvelous I (or at least my poetry) was, understand the enormous error of their ways, and profusely apologize. I felt that, if I only was forgiving long enough, they would mend their ways. “Someday they’ll be sorry.”

It didn’t happen, but I am getting ahead of myself. At age twenty-one I was still full of optimism, and assumed I was moving to Maine only for a brief time. I felt I needed to retreat and regroup, and “get my head on straight,” but imagined that soon my self-imposed isolation would resolve into happy reconciliations and reunions, and the “communes” would become new-and-improved, and we would all stride forward together into the bright uplands of happy-ever-after. (My prediction was that world-wide crises would come to a climax in five or six years, around 1980, and happy-ever-after would happen soon afterwards.)

In some ways I was expectantly waiting for cold stones to get up and warmly dance around singing, and such situations are bound to become frustrating, as you wait, and wait, and wait. Worst is the simple fact that patience of this sort doesn’t pay a positive dividend, but rather one starts to see a sort of rot set in. “All things come to they who wait”, but the best lumber turns into punk if it sits unused. It is through action that spiritual truths are revealed. I was just beginning the process of learning this Truth the hard way, when I moved to Maine.

In conclusion, I was not the typical “long-hair” Slim and Tubs thought I was. I was an ex-hippy with a newfound respect for the down-to-earth, and Slim and Tubs were the very sort of down-to-earth people I respected, but they felt zero affinity towards the likes of me.

Actually an odd affinity did exist, because Slim and I were both very shy, though I suppose Slim would have been horrified (and perhaps even insulted) if anyone suggested there was any sort of similarity between the two of us. He had worked and paid his way since he was sixteen, whereas I mooched off my mother.

I didn’t actually live in my mother’s basement. My step-father had bought a lovely piece of property overlooking the ocean to retire upon, which had two smaller cottages a short ways down a steep hill from the main house, and then, down an even steeper embankment, a dock, and on the dock was a shack. The moment I laid eyes on the shack I felt it was perfect for a poet. It was a lovely abode, (when the weather was warm), but in the eyes of Slim and Tubs living there merely made me a shiftless layabout mooching off his mother.

I tended to sleep late, because I usually had stayed up late the night before writing. I had strong legs and good lungs, and, clutching a tall, oversized, bright-orange coffee cup, would sprint up the staircase from the dock and jog up a steep drive to my mother’s house, to take advantage of the fact her kitchen had an extra faucet that delivered boiling water. This skipped the bother of waiting for water to boil in my shack (which did have electricity.) I’d stir instant coffee and four spoons of sugar and cream into my oversized cup, and often was back down in the shack at my typewriter within minutes. I’d guzzle the coffee, and often sprint back up to my mother’s house only an hour later.

Because I was so addicted to caffeine, my visits were frequent, and from time to time I’d barge into my mother’s kitchen as she had coffee with various people. (The kitchen opened into a dining-room with a beautiful view.) On such occasions I felt it was rude not to pause briefly and pretend to be sociable for at least as long as it took to smoke a cigarette. (Smoking inside was commonplace back then.) Once in a while the persons my mother was having coffee with were Slim and Tubs.

Some women of wealth have an egalitarian streak, or perhaps a mere curiosity, which has them inviting the hired help into elegant dining rooms and serving them coffee from expensive china. I have often been flattered by such generosity, in my own time as a gardener and handyman, and have always tried to reciprocate by being polite, (and as witty and charming as I dare), and asking questions and nodding at the replies. Back in 1974 I knew far less about being “hired help”, and was fascinated by Slim and Tubs holding coffee cups with their pinkies raised, and chatting comfortably with my mother.

My mother was amazing when it came to making people comfortable, which at times made me uncomfortable. Certain aspects of her hospitality didn’t seem entirely honest. For example, she spoke with an elegant English accent, when in fact she was a poor girl who had grown up in a broken home in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. A few times when, as a teenager, I had pushed my luck with the good woman, I had heard that English accent completely vanish, and in surprise had backed away from a fierce Fitchburg wench whom no gentle poet would ever want to mess with.

Despite the fact I was aware there was a side of my mother she did not expose to the general public, I clung to the incongruous and childish belief she was innocent and saintly. For example, I assumed hippies knew more about sex, although my mother had given birth to six children. For another example, I felt hippies were more “experienced” because they had taken LSD, although hippies had amnesia about what they glimpsed when drugged, while my mother remembered with vivid clarity, and had 29 more actual years of actual experience than I had. There is something audaciously comical about youth deeming their elders naive, but I felt my mother was naive and needed my protection.

Not that I had a clue of the wheeling and dealing that was occurring beneath the polite chit-chat, as my mother had coffee with Slim and Tubs. The two men were to some degree on the lookout for a rich lady who would supply them with their next paycheck, and she was on the lookout for local, Maine-Yankee carpenters who could do good work for a tenth of what an interior designer from Boston would charge. I had no idea such skullduggery was involved. I assumed they were above-board and up-front. To be honest, I was incapable of protecting my mother from tricky salesmen, and equally incapable of protecting Slim and Tubs from tricky Moms, because I myself was living in the clouds of idealism.

One cold,January morning in 1975 I came bopping into her kitchen, rumpled and yawning, with my tall, orange cup, and discovered them deeply involved in a discussion about maple wood. The low winter sun was flashing through winter clouds, slanting in through a window that showed a beautiful view of a harbor.

They didn’t look out the window, for the view was old to them, and instead they sat midst sunlit blue curls and wisps of cigarette smoke, intently discussing kitchen counters.

I quickly determined my mother didn’t like the orange Formica counters on the island between the kitchen and dining room, and wanted to replace them with maple. She didn’t want straight-grained maple, neither the creamy sapwood nor the buttery heartwood, and desired a grain less uniform, with “character.” Therefore they were discussing the prices of bird’s-eye, burl, and fiddle-back maple boards, all of which were expensive and made my mother look very disappointed and vaguely critical. As they spoke Tubs did most of the talking, sitting back and expansively ruminating with a jovial and optimistic expression, deferring to Slim when my mother wanted prices. Slim sat hunched forward with his hands folded as if he was praying, for the most part nervously smiling and nodding as Tubs spoke, but occasionally barking the prices of maple boards of various types in an authoritative way, at which point my mother would scratch out calculations on a yellow, legal notebook on the dining-room table, coming up with answers that she looked at with disapproval. Then they apparently arrived at some sort of insurmountable quandary, at which point Tubs sat even further back, locked his fingers behind his neck as a pillow, and looked out the window with deep seriousness, his face unusually grave, as if determining the fate of nations. Then his face lit up and he turned towards my mother with an unspoken idea. At the same point Slim winced slightly, and shrunk down a half inch, as if silently willing Tubs to keep his big mouth shut, but Tubs spoke.

Apparently there was a sort of sugar-maple lumber which not many people knew about. It came from a maple tree near the end of its life, when the growth rings became skinny but before the rot set in and the wood became punky in places, and therefore became unusable. Slim had a word for it. (I want to say “checkered maple”, but search-engines produce no such word.) It was typically light yellow maple wood, but had dark, broad veins of deep brown and even black running through it. When a sawmill sliced up a maple log which produced such boards they tended to cast them aside as relatively worthless, though the planks were solid. Tubs knew where he could get such boards for next to nothing. He wondered if he could bring some boards by, for my mother to look at, to see what she thought of the unusual coloring.

My mother looked intrigued. She always liked being unique, and I could tell she liked the concept of having kitchen counters unlike anyone else’s. She also liked the price. She looked out the window thoughtfully. Tubs smiled serenely. Slim chewed his fingernails as if the suspense was killing him. Then my mother turned to Tubs and said she was very interested in seeing what such maple boards looked like. Tubs nodded and smilingly said he’d bring some boards by. Slim sagged from stiff tension to palatable relief. Then the topic turned to the molding up where the wall met the ceiling, and I headed back down to the shack with my coffee, toying with a poetic idea involving maple planks, which I thought I might insert into a long poem I was laboring on.

The year was not 1829, and I was no Alfred Tennyson. There was absolutely zero market for long poems in 1975, but I thought I could create one. I fostered this illusion because my hippy friends spent hours listening to record albums (video games hadn’t been invented). We would sit and listen to a just-released album together, and have long discussions about what the songs meant. Sometimes, rather than spending an hour listening to an album, I would read them a long poem. (As I recall such readings came about due to a particularly enthusiastic friend demanding I do it, and had nothing to do with me overcoming my shyness and “selling myself”.)

What then happened was extremely gratifying, for, rather than appearing bored stiff or stampeding to the door, people would listen with wide-eyed, rapt attention, laughing at all the right places and growing misty-eyed when I became maudlin. They urged me to write more, looked respectful and interested while I wrote, gathered around to listen when I announced I was done, and never once told me I should get a Real Job. Then, in India, I had written a long story-poem in a wonderfully inspired fit, and it was well-received among total strangers when I read it to them. Due to this encouragement I had the idea I could sell my long poems, if not as printed pages, then as record albums (because people liked the sound of my reading voice.)

But by retreating to Maine I had cut myself off from such encouragement, and I found myself fighting “writer’s block”. I didn’t like admitting I needed encouragement, seeing such a desire as a weakness, as being susceptible-to and swayed-by flattery, but it was obvious that I craved attention. Isolation left me feeling marginalized, ostracized because I had changed my attitude towards sex and drugs, and a sense of profound loneliness descended and began staining my inspiration with gray.

I fought this bleakness with all my might, for most of my poems were in one way or another about how life is brimming with beauty, and I intended them all to be pep-talks for the disillusioned. For example, I might write about a person depressed because their garden was full of weeds, and then describe a friend showing up and weeding with them, turning the dreary task into a rapture about botany, and bugs, and the beauty of cumulus and sunshine and sweat, until weeding seemed like a delight people would pay for, (the way people pay to labor and sweat in a gym.)

The poem I was currently struggling with was called “Armor”, and was based on the premise that people become so emotionally hurt, through undergoing traumatic experiences, that they psychologically don protective armor that makes them clank around clumsily in emotional steel, incapable of touching-with and being touched-by love.

The plot involved two old knights who had died in battle. One then reincarnates as a innocent child with no armor. Because the child has a new brain he has amnesia about past pain, but while wandering dreamily in a garden behind his childhood home he finds a doorway in time, and goes through it and meets his old friend, who still has his armor on and is refusing to be born again. The two then get into an argument about whether or not it is worthwhile being born again, and that is where my imagination ground to a halt.

I tried to force myself to finish the poem with sheer willpower, but had “lost the thread”. The plot refused to go the direction I intended. The old knight with armor was a real sourpuss, but he came up with excellent reasons not to be born, while the boy came across as a bit of a twerp, and his logic was lame. I grew frustrated, whereupon the boy in the poem lost his temper and seemed on the verge of putting armor back on and….and…and where the bleep was my poem headed? The poem started to disintegrate into seemingly pointless sidetracks; for example, I might find myself writing about planks made of maple trees, and how the grain of wood changes as the rot sets in.

Frustrated, I crumpled up a page and trudged moodily back up the hill with my orange coffee up. Tubs and Slim were up by the street, leaving, and I could see them regarding me from afar. Tubs was saying something to Slim, nudging him, and Slim was shaking his head sadly. I didn’t imagine they sympathized with the agony of an artist. As they drove off I felt very alone. Inside the house my mother was smoking and pouring over the numbers on her yellow, legal notepad and looking pleased, and, as an aside, without even looking up at me, asked me to drive to the Post Office and pick up the mail. Our postbox was only a half mile away, but I managed to play self-pitiful violins during the drive. Then, in the mail, I saw a light blue airmail letter addressed to me, from India.

I felt a surge of hope. I can’t really say what I was expecting for I wasn’t expecting such a letter. I suppose the simple fact a blue letter had appeared out of the blue suggested I was going to be recognized in some manner. I tore the letter open, and my hope immediately crashed. Indeed I was recognized, but what was recognized was $50.00 I owed.

I was hit by shame. The debt I owed was utterly different from owing a hippy $50.00. Several hippies owed me $50.00, (which was one reason I was flat broke), but I didn’t think it was a big deal. In hippy terms, in 1974, $50.00 was what you made washing dishes for half a week. Minimum wage was $2.00 an hour, (worth roughly $11.00 now, in 2020). But one thing that I had been shocked by in India was the huge disparity in standards-of-living between “them” and “us”.

I became aware being poor in that land meant working for roughly a penny an hour, though there didn’t seem to be a “minimum wage.” Many seemed to subsist on an income so small they could only buy one meal a day. It gave, “Give us this day our daily bread” a far more poignant meaning. However when they sat down for this “bread”, (often a pancake of millet flour called a chapatti, with a gravy made of lentils called “daal”,) they seemed far happier than hippies managed to be, though hippies ate far more.

It is embarrassing to owe money to a person in a “third world nation”. I handed my mother her mail without mentioning my disgrace, and headed back to my shack forgetting to refill my coffee cup. As I slumped by my typewriter my poem “Armor” seemed pointless. It seemed worse than pointless. After all, of what concern are the problems of a couple of imaginary and dead knights named “Siegfried” and “Heinrich”, to the people of India? I had no excuse for failing to repay the money I owed. All the excuses I used, (which other artists had taught me to utilize on Americans), became utterly hollow when I tried to use them on people who suffer under hot sun for a penny an hour. The people of India didn’t need some ridiculous poem. They needed $50.00. And this meant I needed to work a Real Job.

Worst was the fact the repayment was needed immediately. I glanced around the shack for something I could sell, but I really didn’t own much of value besides my car. I had a pile of LP albums, but no record player. Beyond that I had nothing but old clothes, books and papers. In fact, as I looked around, my entire life seemed more or less worthless.

I saw it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the shack wasn’t inhabited by an illiterate clam-digger, and rather by some sort of intellectual. I always felt a clean desk was the sign of a lazy mind, and had six projects going on concurrently, but now they seemed like six silly ways of avoiding the fact I was doing nothing: The busy-work of a man suffering solitary confinement.

My interest in meteorology was demonstrated by notes of the daily readings of my max-min thermometer, and a graph of these readings as opposed to the average, with the time above-normal carefully shaded red and the time below-normal shaded blue. There were also numerous New York Times weather maps (far better then than they are now) clipped from my stepfather’s discarded papers and taped in chronological order on the wall. But what was the use of an avocation without a vocation?

There were also a few charts clipped from newspapers on the desk showing unemployment was rising to 10% in Maine as the Gross National Product crashed 84 billion dollars in the past year. I had an interest in economics, and had even passed my English university-level “A level exams” in economics (due to two terms frantically cramming under the tutelage of a pleasantly mad teacher in Scotland), but I had no clue how to turn such knowledge from an avocation to a vocation. However it did remind me to turn on my battered, crackling radio to listen to the noontime financial report.

I tried to forget my problems and focus on the news. They called the crashing GNP “stagflation” because prices were soaring even as economic growth slowed. It seemed obvious to me prices would soar, considering the Arab Oil Embargo had doubled the price of oil, but the snooty experts on the radio looked everywhere but at the obvious. One fellow stated that the government’s efforts to “stimulate” the economy made people buy bonds rather than investing in businesses, pointing at the component of GNP called “investment”, which had fallen to barely more than half of what it had been. Another fellow blamed women for getting fed up with being home-makers, and joining the work-force in such droves that it shrank wages and increased unemployment. A third fellow blamed “jittery” investors, because the communists in Vietnam seemed unlikely to abide by the terms of the peace-treaty Nixon and Mao worked at, with Nixon now disgraced and Mao now drooling at death’s door. The only good news was that exports, a minor component of GNP, had shot upwards. This was especially good news for coastal areas like Maine, but I shut the radio off, suddenly struck by the utter worthlessness of contemplating billions of dollars when I couldn’t even come up with fifty. Ordinarily I’d be intrigued by President Ford’s idea that tax-cuts might end the “stagflation”, but of what use are tax cuts when you make no money, and therefore pay no taxes?

My eyes roamed further along the desk to an absurd chart I had devised to better control my moods. It was based on my feeling that modern psychology was pathetic and in need of drastic improvements, and also on the then-popular idea of “biorhythms”. I was attempting to chart my inner weather the same way I charted the weather outside, thinking that, if I knew what my moods would be before they happened, I’d be better able to handle them; I’d be one step ahead; I’d have an umbrella if the forecast was rain. Now it all seemed worthless. You cannot predict the weather with perfect certainty, nor the economy with perfect certainty, nor your moods with perfect certainty, but one thing was perfectly certain: I needed fifty dollars.

I thrashed in irritation, and my eyes next chanced upon five separate volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and a novel from the local library. My stepfather had noticed the five holes in his bookshelf, and had asked me to return the encyclopedias the night before, and also I could not afford even library fines when flat broke. With a sigh I prepared to gathered the books up and embark upon the journey back up the hill. Hell if I had time to pursue historical research, if I had to get a Real Job, but merely thinking that thought paused me yet again.

I glanced out the window at the harbor, thinking of how my mind always got sidetracked. I had two catagories for this sidetracking in the “mental activity” of my “biorhythms” chart, and I swiftly jotted a 1.25 in the “wondering” column and a .75 in the “wandering” column. Then I laid my hands on the pile of books without picking them up, thinking how my “research” had sprung from a visit Slim and Tubs paid after a prior job.

Both my mother and stepfather loved books, but when they first moved into their new home the inner living room wall only held two garish pictures, and a small table between them with a garish vase. My parents wanted the entire wall turned into floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and my stepfather wanted a wall of his study made the same. Enter Slim and Tubs. After they were done they dropped by for a small, final payment, which could have been mailed, but they’d rather have coffee in the process of being paid. (Considering how cozy the local diner was, they were flattering my mother greatly by preferring her coffee, though they may have also been on the lookout for future employment).

Outside the landscape had been shuddering under the first arctic blast of winter, and Tubs came in overdressed as Slim entered as if he didn’t notice the cold. Tubs wore a very puffy parka that made him all the rounder, a sheepskin “mad bomber” hat with enormous ear-flaps down to his shoulders, and a gaudy scarf of a crimson plaid. Slim wore a baseball cap, a plaid shirt, and had his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his jeans. Perhaps his plaid shirt was a bit thicker than usual, but my mother exclaimed, “Poor soul! You must be frozen!” Slim smiled, but Tubs teased, “After minus forty on Chosin Reservoir, zero seems like a heat wave, to Slim.” Slim winced and shot Tubs an irritated glance, and my mother looked surprised, and then adopted a sympathetic expression that confused me. I couldn’t read the Greek on their faces. I should have asked some questions, but instead I was shy.

I retreated, and got the “K” encyclopedia to look up “Korean War” and see if I could find a mention of the “Chosin Reservoir”. It would have been far easier to simply ask Slim, as he’d been there, an actual eyewitness, but shyness made me into a parody of Sherlock Holmes, sleuthing when it was unnecessary.

Now such private-detectiving can be done via the internet. If you are too shy to talk to actual humans you can sleuth with the click of a mouse. But back in 1974-1975 I had to run up and down a hill, sleuthing with volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and then visit the local library, employing the Dewy Decimal System and card catalogs to discovered an obscure history that likely never sold many copies, with some name I can’t remember, (such as “The Chosin Few”).

What I discovered was a wonderful way to sidetrack; engrossing historical trivia which made it hard to be practical, and easy to forget to put wood in the shack’s stove until I noticed my nose was getting cold. Not that I would have discovered much, within the Encyclopedia Britannica. There were things not mentioned in the “K” volume that I found in the “C” volume, under “Cochin Reservoir”, and things not mentioned in the “C” volume that were mentioned in the three subsequent volumes I browsed, but I always had more questions than answers. The obscure autobiography from the local library was a wealth of information buried midst atrocious writing, but if I wanted better I surely should have interviewed Slim, but I was too shy.

In school the Korean War had been described as a “conflict” and a “stalemate”, which made it sound like nothing had been achieved, and even as if nothing had happened. Midst the drab facts of the encyclopedia I saw drab dots, but I could connect the dots, and saw that, as always, war was hell. Through that hell Slim, as a teenager, once walked.

To me the leaders on both sides appeared to be a bunch of idiots, with the UN particularly moronic in terms of gathering intelligence, and Mao particularly moronic in terms of logistics. For example, the UN forces had marched victoriously from the very south to the very north, and assumed they were “mopping up” the final North Korean troops. They even named a maneuver “Operation Home-By-Christmas.” But in fact they were facing 120,000 Chinese troops. Yet Mao, in his haste to prove Chinese could fight better than Europeans, proved Chinese leaders could be equally stupid as Europeans, (though perhaps not quite as stupid as the English at Verdun), for he sent 120,000 of his finest troops south without food and in summer clothing. The cold swiftly killed more of his best men than the UN forces did.

The plight of the foot soldiers on both sides was extreme. At minus forty nothing worked right. Batteries failed and tanks wouldn’t start and walkies-talkies went dead and diesel fuel turned to jelly and guns jammed. Confusion reined on both sides. (One drab phrase from the encyclopedia seemed especially lacking in compassion to me: “Failed to fortify their positions.” It may have been factual, but failed in its own right to comprehend the desperate extremes both sides faced.)

At one point the starving and freezing Chinese troops overran a UN base, and logically assumed the hugely outnumbered and routed UN troops would be hightailing it south. What they didn’t understand was that the UN didn’t understand. Rather than seeing they had been attacked by a huge army, the UN thought the attack was the deeds of desperate North Koreans near the end of their rope. If the Chinese were noted it was assumed they were only a few “advisers”. Therefore the tiny force counter-attacked the huge force, and found the Chinese had “failed to fortify their positions”. Why not? Because they were doing what men do when at their wits end and on the verge of starving and freezing to death: They were rummaging through captured supplies for warm clothing and food. Many had dropped their guns; and they were as surprised by the counter-attack as the UN forces had been by the initial attack, and the rout became a counter-rout. But this then fostered the illusion among the UN forces that they should continue attacking north, when what they should have done is to use the snatched reprieve to swiftly organize a defended retreat south. In the fog of war they probed north, and they soon again met the might of superior numbers and a counter-counter-attack, and were overrun a second time. Units were encircled and cut off, unable to retreat south, with Chinese troops on all sides, and in one of these trapped units was Slim.

During the day the air was filled with the nearly constant droning, roaring and booming of American airplanes and jets, attacking from a base to the south and five aircraft carriers, but as the sun fell and the cold grew fierce all became quiet, and under the dim glow of flares Slim awaited the inevitable Chinese attacks. The dark had a nightmarish quality; you snatched sleep during the day. The encyclopedia showed neat lines and arrows of red and blue, but the battle was an extended melee, a derangement.

Just days before Slim had been patrolling northward through a landscape much like Maine’s, right down to the scattered wood-frame houses and long stretches of wilderness between towns. He was wary, and scared of snipers, but only heard shots and explosions far away. The weather was brisk and autumnal, and he’d been dreaming of being home by Thanksgiving, when suddenly weather colder than he had ever experienced and Chinese troops came storming down from the north.

A man never knows what he can do until he has to. Slim saw sides of himself he never knew existed: Horror, terror, grief, and the rage of a cornered rat. He saw bravery isn’t what you want to be, but what you have to be. But even more disconcerting was elation and hilarity midst all the horror, brotherhood midst bestiality.

One time Slim spotted two Chinese laying in ambush. He was uphill, but they were looking down as a patrol of Slim’s comrades crossed the slope further down. Slim raised his gun to shoot them, but the gun jammed in the bitter cold, so Slim drew his knife and crept up behind them, his pulse thudding in his ears. Then he realized they were frozen to death. Slim heard his own voice first giggle, then sob a single sob, and then growl to himself in the voice of a sergeant, “Keep moving, Private. Move!”

To bolster courage every other word became “fucking”. “Fucking get fucking ammo fucking fast!”

During hand-to-hand fighting airstrikes dropped napalm, and in he hellish heat some Americans roasted along with the Chinese, and a man cursed, “Fuck if I ever fucking pray to God to make it fucking warmer, ever fucking again”. For some insane reason midst insanity this sarcasm caused Slim’s squad to dissolve briefly in paroxysms of helpless laughter, before they all abruptly regained their grimness.

Surrender didn’t seem to be an option for either side. This went against the history of the Chinese warlords, who had tended to defect whenever it was to their advantage, as squads and even as entire divisions, both when fighting Japan and in their own Civil War. Now they fought to the final man, perhaps because Mao had executed the warlords and all were unified under him, or perhaps because his troops knew if they stopped moving they’d freeze, and prisoners would be forced to stand still. Meanwhile the Americans had seen or heard that Koreans were brutal to prisoners: The South Koreans slaughtered the North Koreans as predictably as the Communists “purged” the Non-Communists. The fighting was do-or-die, with the Chinese determined to bottle up and wipe out the UN forces, and with the UN (largely American) forces desperately attempting to break out and force their way south. Retreat was not a matter of backing up. One American officer famously stated, “We’re not retreating. We’re advancing in a new direction.”

Slim’s unit had been ordered to take a hill overlooking the road south, but it hadn’t gone well and they’d been driven back. Slim squinted south with the highway blocked, doubting he’d ever see home again. His gun didn’t shoot and his commanding officers were dead . Half of his unit was dead or wounded, and it was so cold the medics had to thaw the small tubes of morphine in their mouths before they injected the wounded. Many of the fellows he was with were teenagers like he was, eighteen and nineteen years old. What to do? Plan A hadn’t worked; what was plan B?

In this desperate moment Slim glanced sideways over the Chosin Reservoir. It reminded him of a big lake in Maine, and midst a tidal wave of melancholy and nostalgia he remembered ice fishing, and a little voice in his head wondered, “Is the ice safe for fishing yet?” Then he abruptly shrieked, “That fucking ice has got to be fucking thick. It’s been fucking colder than a fucking witch’s tit for fucking days.”

It’s unclear who gave the orders or whether there was any order at all. It simply seemed smarter to move out over the ice, which could hold even jeeps, and go around the Chinese rather than fighting through them. So that is what was done, with the wounded brought along, some walking wounded and some dragged. As the Chinese froze, laying in ambush along the road, hundreds and hundreds of troops escaped over the ice.

Arriving at a hastily-constructed airbase at the southern end of the reservoir, with more than half of his comrades dead (1450 of 2500) Slim was surprised to find himself one of the few judged “able bodied” (385), and while more than a thousand were helicoptered out he was assigned to hold the base’s perimeter along with cooks pulled from the kitchen and clerks yanked from their typewriters, as the marines retreated south from the other side of the reservoir, and reinforcing marines battled up from the south. Slim got to spend a week in this lovely landscape.

Rather than praise, Slim found his army unit belittled by the marines for retreating in a disorganized manner. Slim vowed to pound the heck out of the first marine he met in a bar, but the bars were far to the south, and first they had to break out of their base and fight south through “Hellfire Valley”. The Chinese three times blew up a bridge on the road south, but the engineers kept replacing it, supplied by “flying boxcars”.

If it were not for the Air Force they would have been overwhelmed, but in the end Slim made it to the port of Hungnam after two weeks of solid fighting, and then spent another two weeks defending the perimeter of that port as an evacuation like Dunkirk proceeded. The civilians had no desire to stay, and as Slim prepared to depart he saw 14,000 Koreans crowd aboard a cargo ship built to accommodate 12 passengers. (SS Meredith Victory) The next day, on Christmas Eve, Slim got to see North Korea astern, with massive fireworks occurring as the engineers blew up the entire port, so Mao couldn’t use it.

And now here I was, a quarter century later, and we were still fighting Mao, now in Vietnam. It had been going on since before I was born, and Slim had been there at the beginning, when Mao chose division over a United Korea.

I sighed and looked out over the mudflats. The tide was low. Even at winter you could smell the dead clams.

Actually, I mused, it had been longer than a quarter century. What year did Mao begin the Autumn Harvest Uprising? 1927? Nearly a half century ago. For nearly fifty years the drooling old man had been unable to make peace with his neighbors. For nearly fifty years he had been incapable of seeing any ideas but his own as worthy of anything but destruction. All traditions were his foe, all cultural variety was his foe, any power but his own was his foe, was “counter revolutionary”, and anyone outside was an “imperialist”. What an arrogant and paranoid madman! And what stopped his cancer from spreading? Shy teenagers like Slim.

If only people would, as John Lennon sang, “give peace a chance!” What a different world it would have been if people had chosen to get along, rather than choosing divorce, rather than choosing fifty years of murdering millions upon millions.

I shook my head and gathered up the books. Who was I to think I could solve the world’s problems? No one would pay a penny for my poetry, and I needed fifty dollars.

My mother shot me a curious look as I stomped into her house with a grim expression and began replacing the encyclopedias on the shelf. I was known for taking things out, and not for putting them away, so she knew something was up. However I was not about to tell her I needed fifty dollars. She’d fret, and I thought I’d rather face Chinese troops at forty below than face my mother’s worry.

As I drove to the library to return the book I pondered the fact that getting a Real Job would be admitting defeat, in terms of writing and being a poet. But Slim had been defeated at Chosin Reservoir, and it wasn’t the end of him, was it? I needed to adjust my attitude, and see my retreat was actually “advancing in a new direction.”