Where

People were already out of work due to COVID-19. Without revenue coming in, they were going through their savings, cutting corners where they could, selling things as necessary, going to friends or the governments for help.

Then the fires struck. In a day, everything except that which they had when they fled was gone.

Time to rebuild, but where are they going to go? The costs of housing and living is discussed, politics, and the chance for employment. Gazing across the American landscape, from the fires on the west coast to the hurricanes in the southeast and the cost of living and politics everywhere, options seem bleak.

The Car

Monday, I was settling back into my writing routine. Had my coffee, had surfed the news and fed the cats. The cats were now asleep. I was ready to write.

Well, first, one quick computer game. I’d just begun when the phone rang. Churlishly, I checked the incoming number. If it wasn’t someone looking for me that I wanted to talk to, I was going to let voice mail answer.

It was my wife’s cell phone. She was out making food deliveries to shut-ins, something she does once a month with Food and Friends.

I answered (of course). (No, there wasn’t even hesitation.) “K’s answering service. She’s not home right now. May I take a message.”

“My car died.”

“Died?”

“I’m trying to start it. It won’t make any sound.”

“Are there any lights?”

“Just one that looks like the little teapot.”

“Where are you?”

“Corner of Terra and Siskiyou.”

“I’m on my way.”

I was dressed and just needed shoes and mask before I was on the way. I figured, battery, but was surprised. I’d bought her a new battery two years before. She doesn’t drive it much. Other thoughts: alternator, maybe solenoid switch or starter (didn’t sound like it, though). I had cables, and would try jump-starting it.

But first — “I have to finish the route,” she said, transferring the food to my car. “Then we’ll worry about the car. I just have two stops. Then I’m supposed to pick up money from Judy. She and a friend want to donate to help some Y employees who lost everything. I’m taking up a collection so I can buy gift cards.”

I already know all of this but it’s part of her process to go through her own checklist aloud. She’s not actually talking to me.

We complete all that and get back to the car. Because of where it’s parked, my cables are too short to reach it. I head back home because I have a longer set, and return.

The car won’t take a charge. Although the radio comes on, the engine won’t turn and the starter makes a tinny clattering noise. I know the sound: it’s definitely a flat battery. But it’s a five year battery that’s two years old.

Probably the alternator. I can’t change it myself with the arm I have. I’ve swapped out three generators or alternators in my lifetime (also replaced a starter before). That was decades ago, when I was younger. Besides, that Ford’s engine compartment is too packed. The traversely mounted engine is festooned with wires. There’s not a spot of daylight in it. The cars’ engine compartments of my youth had room to work, less wires, and simpler belts.

I’m also annoyed. I’ve been after my wife to replace her car for about fifteen years. We’ve had it for seventeen years. Since the beginning, my wife has complained about its squeaky brakes. Its auto transmission also does some odd clunking. Then there was the seat fabric; it’d worn through, so I’d put some custom seat covers over them. It looks great, but it all points to a cheap car.

That’s not a surprise. When we bought the car, one of her requirements is that it use regular gas and it costs less than fifteen thousand dollars because she insists on paying cash for cars. The woman does not like having debt.

My annoyance has been growing because I’ve been telling her that parts will start failing. “But I don’t use it much,” she answers. “I just drive it around town. And we keep it in the garage.”

“They’ll start failing from age and fatigue.”

“But it only has a hundred and five thousand miles on it.”

“That has nothing to do with it. It’s still a 2003 car in 2020. Driving it less is actually worse for it in many ways.”

She’s not listening. A tow truck is arranged. The car is taken in for testing. “You need a new alternator,” they tell me.

I nod. “Yeah. I know.”

The Fingerprints Dream

I was working for a company whose mission seemed to be tracking fingerprints on the Internet. A young and brilliant bearded guy was our leader. Many young people worked there.

I’m not certain of my responsibilities with this company. I also had a second job with the NSA. When I came into work at the company, they told me, “We can’t find any traces of you on the Internet. Your fingerprints are completely missing.” They took some time to explain that was very unusual.

I resumed working but kept thinking about what they were saying. I knew that the NSA was always covering my tracks and hiding my fingerprints. I suspected something they were doing was spreading to other activities.

I took my suspicions to the CEO and engineering time. They didn’t know I was working for the NSA but thought that what I was suggesting was possible.

It was time to party. The company was celebrating a milestone. As part of that, they were re-creating early scenes from the company. Everyone but me was involved. I hadn’t been there, so I stayed back to watch. It mostly involved people singing, dancing, and laughing.

The CEO visited with me. “Do you want some tea?”

“Sure,” I said.

We were both lying down, which is how we worked there. He turned. Behind his back was a small white tray with two tiny white cups and a small and delicate teapot and creamer.

He handed me a thimble-sized cup. I reached for the pot to fill it but discovered it already full.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Wheatberry.”

I drank it down. It scalded my throat but tasted fantastic.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s amazing. I feel like it’s a shot of energy.”

Nodding, the CEO answered, I”It is,” and walked away.

The dream ended.

A Year of Change

That smell of wet, burnt wood from a large fire bristles in my memories.

1971. I was fourteen. Dad had just returned from an overseas military assignment and took me in, a refugee from an unhappy time with Mom and her husband then. We lived in Dayton, Ohio, first in an apartment, and then in Wright-Patterson AFB base housing, in a place called Page Manor. We lived there from the beginning of July to the end of August. Then, an opportunity came up. He retired from the military to start a new chapter to his life.

He and I moved to West Virginia and he began his new job. Housing was limited so Dad bought a mobile home. A space was found for it in a trailer park. School started. A month later, the trailer burned up. Days were spent trying to recover what we could from the trailer. I carried a smoky odor around my clothes for months.

Dad’s co-worker let us crash at their place, but it was crowded, and the co-worker had a young wife and a new baby. Goaded by her disenchantment to be rid of us — nothing personal, and I understand it — we found a new place to live within a month.

Coincidentally, that was the same time that I met the girl who would become the woman who would become my wife. We married in 1975, less than four years after meeting. We’ve been together since then, although we’ve had separations and struggles. Amazing to think that I’ve known her since 1971 and have been married to her since 1975. It seems like a lot longer… Bet it seems even longer to her.

It’s all sharp in the head, strong in the memories, that period, a time of destruction, change, and beginning. I can’t say that I don’t look back; I’m always looking back, then turning around and looking forward, re-establishing where I’m at, and moving on.

Or trying to.

Monday Muddlings

  1. It’s day six since the Almeda Fire started. We last left the house on errands (other than stepping out to look at the sky and yard) last Thursday.
  2. One cat was sitting on the floor. Another one came around the corner, encountering the first. Both released a startled, “Meow!” We thought that was so funny. I think maybe we’ve been locked up in the house too long.
  3. Looking back to March. COVID-19 struck. Stay in the house, we’re warned. Then, wear a mask. Businesses shut down. Eventually, we made progress about what should and shouldn’t be done. Businesses opened and set up to accommodate new guidelines to help flatten the curve. Summer arrives. We’re warned to curtail outdoor activities due to extreme temperatures. Wildfires spread up and down along the west coast. We’re warned to stay inside because of unhealthy air. The Almeda Fire starts in our town and rips north and west, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses within twelve hours. We’re warned to stay inside because of hazardous air.
  4. Meanwhile, we monitor hurricanes and cyclones, melting ice caps, rain and flooding in other places.
  5. It’s been a tense and stressful six months.
  6. With all that’s happened in the world, and the things we’ve survived, we’re still among the more fortunate.
  7. Took the trash out last night. The smoke’s smell seemed less offensive and irritating. Am I developing a tolerance to the stench, or is it finally starting to leave our valley? Naturally I check purpleair.com. Eureka! One monitor reports we’re down to two hundred in one part of town and below four hundred. If we can lop off two hundred more, the air will be just ‘unhealthy’.
  8. My broken arm and hand’s swelling has finally significantly decreased. I can make a fist with little pain and tightness. Hurrah for progress!
  9. Writing isn’t going well. I’m an info junkie, hunting a fix, and vetting what I learn. I keep letting myself off the hook. Where the hell is my discipline? Going to go get some coffee, and you know…try to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Morning Confessions

Okay, I blew my nose this morning, one of the first things I did after peeing. Then I looked at what I’d blown out.

Not the sort of thing to think about, isn’t it?

Some people don’t like to. Bodies may be temple, but whatever is in it should stay hidden.

That’s not what I believe.

I started thinking about this because a rant on Facebook was about how horrified someone was by another blowing their nose and then looking at it. I thought, why not? This is a discharge from my body and its processes. Of course I’m going to look at it. I want to know what the hell is coming out of me. Especially if I’m feeling a little under the weather, more stopped up than usual, or I’m recovering from something, or coping with a health issue, or, like today, dealing with unhealthy air. Doctors and nurses will ask you about its color and consistency; you should know it.

Likewise, I check out my urine and feces. I want to know the results of my bowel movements. Again, it’s part of my body and evidence about what’s going on in there. If I could check my blood regularly and get test results, I would. One thing learned as I’ve aged is that symptoms of underlying conditions don’t usually reveal until they combine into something serious that starts taking me down.

I’m tired of people being dainty about these things. Hiding it, not looking at it, not discussing it unless they’re being closed doors. Ridiculous. Knowledge and information can help us understand and grow. Hiding your knowledge about your body from yourself and others just spreads ignorance.

So don’t turn away. Look at what comes out of you. Talk about it with others. How the hell are you supposed to learn otherwise?

I’m weary of all the silos we’ve built in the name of conventions, norms, and polite societies. I don’t think these manufactured artifices serve us.

So come on. Stop crying, “TMI,” and join the information revolution.

Start telling your friends about your crap.

The September Arm Update

I broke my left arm on July 7, 2020. Both the ulna and radius (distal ends) were broken by the wrist. The ulna had mild displacement but the radius was all the way across my arm, with the tip threatening to break out of my skin on the outside of the ulna. Looking back, my hand and fingers had also been crushed under my weight as I fell. I couldn’t bend or straighten my fingers or thumb for the first several days. Now I’m working to get it all back.

I wore a splint for six weeks. Film showed healing and no movement so I was given a removable splint. I wore it for most of the first two days. Swelling was heavy, as was inflammation. I try to avoid drugs but ended up using Ibuprofen, per my ortho’s recommendation.

I haven’t seen him since my first two appointments. I’ve been turned over to a young PA. I’m not concerned; I think it’s better that my condition is good enough that I don’t need the top person’s attention, thanks. But his wife, our friend, says I should insist on seeing her husband. Her approach makes me smile.

Progress is evident, with victory celebrated by little things. I can now type with both hands. My left hand is again effective for scratching an itchy spot on my right side. I can hold a glass or mug full of water or coffee and drink from it using my left hand, and I can open the microwave, oven, and refrigerator doors with it. House door handles remain a challenge. I can’t rotate my wrist enough.

I’m seeing progress with rotation, with less pain and stiffness everyday. Bending the wrist forward and back is a problem. I’m working on it.

I began working out with two pound weights a few day ago. My elbow and shoulder movement and strength are improving by the day. Last night, I used five pound weights. Eight curls, although not to full extension or contraction, were achieved. Eight pound weights were tried, with some success but a great deal of tremors, pain, and discomfort.

It’s all coming together, though. I consider myself fortunate. I had good medical care and insurance, and could pay for whatever I needed, and my genes seem pretty good in this regard. Many in this world aren’t as lucky.

Thanks for reading. Cheers

A Fire Update

Just a general update on things for friends and family. My neighborhood and family are safe. Ashland, where the Almeda fire began, is safe. The wind has abated but red flag alerts remain.

Gas stations and stores are busy with exhausted, worried out of towners. The Almeda fire started as a grass fire by a BMX park in Ashland but then spread west and north. The initiating source remains under investigation. Pushed by 40MPH plus gusts, the burned through Talent, then lit up and destroyed Phoenix. South Medford was next. The last word that we had, last night, was that the fire was contained. We’re looking for better info.

Meanwhile, spot fires had been going on, threatening other areas of Medford, Central Point, and Eagle Point, to our north and west. Those seem to have been extinguished. Interstate 5 is open in both directions.

Note: a rumor is going around in certain political circles that Black Lives Matter went along Interstate 5 starting fires. They offer no evidence. Police are working to dispel the stories circulating on social media. To me, these rumors increase the evidence of who this people are; at a time when everyone needs help and should come together, they use lies to plant seeds of distrust. There’s the wildfire that needs to be put out.

We’re under a request to limit water due to the water used to fight fires. We remain at Level 1, ready to go. There are other fires burning in Jackson County. Temperatures have dropped today. Locally, we’re expecting highs in the mid-eighties. But the temperatures will then return to the nineties and perhaps over one hundred. While the immediate worst threat has subsided, staying alert and ready is required.

Our air is smoky. I jump to the conclusion that it’s probably from smoldering areas of our fires. The smoke might be from California to the south, or other fires in Oregon up north.

I’m relieved that we survived here, but the losses suffered by others can’t be overstated. The impact on Talent and Phoenix, our neighboring towns, is like what happened to Paradise, California, and we all remember that. Buildings, homes, and possessions are gone. Our resources through government and charity are stretched. Assessments are still being conducted, and the fire monitored for hotspots. Only when the authorities are assured everything is out will the people be allowed to return to their places, make private assessments, and begin rebuilding.

Shocking Day

The consequences of the Almeda Fire (yeah, not ‘Alameda’), as it’s been declared, are rippling out. It’s named after the little street where the grass fire was first reported. The air is surprisingly clear, declared green by AQI, with a rating of 46, but a smoky odor teases you like a strong memory.

My little town, Ashland, Oregon, was where it started. We suffered some losses of homes. The area to the northwest suffered much more.

A trailer park is gone. Fast food restaurants and homes are gone. A winery.

Continuing into Talent…much of the northern side burned. The Camelot Theater is gone.

On into Phoenix…

Most news services are declaring that the small town of Phoenix, population of forty-five hundred, is gone. The primary road into town is blocked off, so confirmation is yet to come, but Youtube videos taken during the night attest that Phoenix suffered. Information is spotty, as the news services cope with elections, COVID-19, wildfires across the western US, and the snow in Colorado. We’re hampered locally as reporters had to evacuate their homes and the fire burned through a cable affecting at least one service provider. Some early reports said it was a local ISP called jeffnet, but others say it was Spectrum. Maybe it was both.

Those who bundle everything — television, phone, Internet — to one provider suddenly found they weren’t receiving the local emergency alerts, a new consideration offered for you the next time that you’re debating you options.

The fire continued into south Medford, about fifteen miles up the Interstate. That section of city was evacuated, along with the

Damage reports continue seeping in. So many fires are burning that the area lacks the resources to combat them. While towns and cities this part of Jackson County are fighting this fire, a larger fire is consuming another part of the county to our northeast. The county to the west is battling its own blazes, as are towns further north in Oregon. Little help is available.

The wind has abated. This is good news. Cooler temperatures are prevailing, the low nineties, but it’s going to increase again tomorrow and continue to get hotter the rest of the week.

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