My Privileged Life by Shelley Pineo-Jensen, Ph.D. 2020-08-24 Listening to Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 today reminded me of what a privileged childhood I had. I had no idea that we were poor. We lived in a little cottage on a lot with four other cottages and a shared back yard. All the other lots around us in every direction had only one house. We had no car or television for most of the time. Eventually, Grandpa Ole gave us a used car he had re-built and finally, we got a small TV set on payment plan. My mother washed our clothes in a wringer washing machine and hung them out to dry. On rainy days, which were frequent in Seattle, she set up a strange series of cords in the dining room and hung up clothes there. I got in trouble more than once for running around in there slipping amongst the towels and sheets, like they were doors in a middle eastern tent palace. Eventually, she had a dryer, and later, a modern washing machine. We eventually had five children crammed into one tiny bedroom, two sets of Army surplus metal bunk beds and a crib. I didn't have a lot of clothes; I didn't realize other people had way more. When a hand-me-down box came from the well-to-do Mauerman family, there was a somewhat-used too-large child's coat. It became my coat. It was so warm. I didn't realize how cold I had been walking to school until I got that coat, but I still didn't know that I was poor. My father worked full time as the night manager at Griffin Fuel and attended University of Washington by day, earning Bachelor’s and Master's Degrees. With degrees completed, he got a job as a teacher and when I was nine, we moved to Wenatchee, Washington. I went to the dentist for the first time. I had seven cavities. But the thing about all this is that I had a privileged childhood. My life was filled with classical and all kinds of music, from the radio and my mother's singing, accompanied eventually by a ukulele. She loved folk songs of all kinds. We had a hand-me-down record player and a 12-album collection of 78s with all different kinds of music organized for children; I learned all Gilbert and Sullivan’s greatest hits. We had Peter and the Wolf and Manhattan Melody, both of which I know pretty much by heart. I danced like a gypsy in a skirt from the "dress-up box" and loved life. My life was rich in art, almost all from books. The book mobile stopped right across the street. My life was expanded by literature. My mother read to us from Mother Goose and fairy tale books. I "read" the New Yorker Magazine (the subscription was a gift to my mother from Uncle Noel) from back to front, only the cartoons, before I learned how to read. When I did learn to read, I started reading the New Yorker immediately, at first only the captions to the cartoons, but then adding the shortest bits of text - poems and such. I still read The New Yorker today; my mother paid for my subscription for decades until she became too old to remember to buy it for me. Now I buy it myself and thank goddess - I can afford it. One picture that I loved in The New Yorker of my Seattle day was an ad for travel to Fiji - with a photo of a man in native garb on a beach with the Southern Cross taking up most of the frame. I kept the picture and longed to travel to the southern hemisphere by ship and see the Southern Cross. I had lately made plans to fulfill that ambition in early 2021, but times have changed. Now I appreciate that I have Medicare, a tiny teacher's retirement, and a loving family who help me negotiate my own personal end of times. We all gotta go sometime, babe. I still have work to do, but I can see the reaper from here. I am grateful to my mother for my blessed life. I am grateful to my father for the gift of the freedom to be queer. 2020-08-24
Death Trip One of my dearest friends was in a hospital recently negotiating the death of her mother. The woman was in her 90s and suffered from paranoid auditory hallucinations that made her very unhappy. Before she was hospitalized (her bones were crumbling) she managed daily to get shit all over her, including under her fingernails. Her doting children cleaned her up constantly. At least in the hospital, that job fell to someone else. She didn’t eat much, didn’t make much sense, and didn’t much want to be on the planet any more. Her children struggled to fulfill their mothers wishes – to avoid a lengthy hospitalized death. She suffered from a variety of maladies. Doctors pressured my friend to have her mother submit to emergency surgery for one of the more minor of several problems, even as she was struggling to recover from the current round of mal-treatments. As she walked the hospital corridors, my friend happened upon a hall lined with rooms. In each room were housed patients on ventilators. These isolated brain-dead vegetables were being kept alive to serve no greater purpose than billing someone. No visitors, no nurses, no staff visible. Just an empty corridor with rooms of undead.
Getting old is the process of becoming useless. How will I justify my existence when I cannot contribute to my own survival? How can I justify my existence if I am not contributing to the betterment of the world? We all end up there, sooner or later. Dead.
Coco Cay, Bahamas At Coco Cay, I waded into the water and saw a needle nose fish – transparent mostly, long and skinny with a very long pointy snout. There were little fish as well, yellowish – in schools. As I moved forward I saw that the dark places in the water that I took for cloud shadows or sea weed were actually schools of fish that moved away from me as I approached. On my left I saw two larger log shaped grey fish about three feet long and about 6 inches in diameter. I backed out of the water and went straight for the life guard. We had a little chit chat about whether the fish in the cove were dangerous.
The life guard smirked at me and said that the fish were not dangerous and even if there were barracuda, that they would not bother me. I think the shocked looked on my face caused him to add that if there were any dangerous fish, he would call out to warn me. I decided to rent a flotation raft (or what I would call an “air mattress” but which was made of foam covered in thick plastic). They came in four colors, yellow, green, blue, and what I labeled “red.” The rental guy looked around and then said, “I don’t have any in red but I have these pink ones.” I was corrected on my color description buy the flotation device vendor. I am still amused by that. Not red, pink. In my own defense, may I point out that it was a very dark pink.
So I got it in the water, and arranged the flotation devise crosswise so I could paddle around with just my upper body on it. The water was fine, only a bit cool, but fish bigger than a dollar bill, creamy white with perhaps yellow markings, kept bumping into me. After the third or fourth bump, I struggled my way all the onto the air mattress and looked down into the water – there was a school of the fish swirling around me, stalking me. I thought they might have liked the shade I was creating but perhaps they were smelling/attracted to all that sunscreen I had on. It was equal parts creepy and fascinating. Eventually I drifted away from them or they moved on.
It was easy to paddle around. There was a slight wind that made slight waves that pushed me down to the end of the man-made cove – to the left. I paddled my way to the right side of the cove and then let the wind and wave action push me back to my starting point while I scanned the waters for more fish. I saw none and when I looked up, I had drifted almost out of the cove through the small opening. Surprised I was and I paddled quickly back to the shore in front of the life guard, where I had left my sandals. I pulled the flotation device onto the shore, donned my sandals, and made my way back to the lounge chairs where my daughter was reading her book.
Why the Teacher ate the Donut It was an ordinary day of teaching fifth grade. I came in early; as was often the case my car was among the first in the teachers’ parking lot. I stopped by the staff room to check my mail and noticed a big box of fresh Krispy Kreme donuts on the table. How sweet! I sailed passed the fragrant gorgeous confections, confident that I could skip those empty calories, no matter how well-intentioned the gift.
At lunch time, there were still six donuts left in the box. They were no longer fresh, and any Krispy Kreme devotee can tell you that the donut is best eaten as soon as it is cool enough to wolf down. It was easy pass those donuts up and eat a wholesome lunch.
At the final recess, there were still some donuts left. Someone had carefully cut one of the donuts in half so that only one and a half donuts remained. I laughed out loud – stale Krispy Kreme donuts are not that enticing and yet someone longed for a bit so much she or he had cut one in half.
After school ended, I was forced into a hall-way ambush-meeting with the mother of poor dysfunctional Danny. I had called Danny’s mom the previous day to let her know that students had reported to me that Danny smelled of pee. I checked and he did smell of pee. Upon questioning, Danny had told me that he had slept in his clothes, wet the bed, and not bothered to change his clothes before coming to school. He told me that his mother had to leave for work before he got up, so he and his younger brother got their own breakfast and got themselves ready for school without help. I had called Mom to give her a heads up.
Now here she was, in my face, yelling at me. Danny’s mother was outraged at me! I don’t recall her claim – perhaps she said it was none of my business or defended her mothering. I was stunned and not taking much in. She told me she was going to remove Danny from my class. I told her that this would be a problem for Danny, who had made friends in our class. Their concern for him was not to complain or get anyone in trouble. Nonetheless, she was adamant. She marched off to find the principal.
I sighed for poor Danny and then continued on to the staff room. There was the Krispy Kreme donut box, still sitting on the table. I inspected the contents. There was one (1) donut left. I sat down and ate it. And that is why the teacher ate the donut.