Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have


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Psychic vs. Knowlege

I was talking to my psychic friend, who I fictionalized as “Deva” in previous posts (here and etc.). As I’d said, from knowing her, I came to quietly see that psychic is a real thing, although of course there is also a huge amount of hype and fakery about it in the world.

This time, I was asking her what it’s like to be able to read people. She laughed and explained it took her a long time to understand that other people couldn’t.

“Well,” she said, “I look at someone, and I fall in love with them. That’s just something I do. Then, impressions start to emerge. Some things are obvious. Like, as soon as Chris walked in, I knew he was a good person. But I pick up the high points, the turning points. Like I might say to someone, ‘So, tell me about what happened with your teacher, and the peanut butter sandwich, when you were in the third grade?’ And they’ll say, ‘How did you know about that?'”.

I asked, “So, is it a matter of emptying yourself, so your own stuff doesn’t get in the way? Or knowing your own stuff so well you can compensate for it?”

“Both,” she answered. “As I stay with it, more and more images emerge about a person. Finally, it can be almost like watching a movie about them.”

It gave me a lot to think about. I am anything but empty. I am full to the brim, in learned knowledge. The maturation in my life has been curbing myself, so as not to spew it out indiscriminately. Rather, I now wait for people ask. But it’s always what I bring to the situation; learned information.

I worry that I come across as a pedant, or a know-it-all. But I have got feedback that people like it. On a hike, they can ask me if what kind of tree that is, and I can say whether it’s a limber pine or a whitebark pine, or if I can’t tell why I can’t tell, and what you would need to be able to tell.

At my best, I weave a safety net of knowledge. People feel secure. They sense that nothing bad is going to happen because — this guy knows. He knows what to watch out for. He knows what’s poisonous and what’s not. He knows how to fix things. He knows how to keep bad things from going wrong in the first place.

But now I think, what would it be like to be some other way? To just fall in love with everyone I see? And, without knowing, let myself know all about them?


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Jury selection

Three days of jury selection.

It wasn’t brutal. It wasn’t like the lawyers were grilling you. It was sitting in a room, fifty of us, gradually coalescing into a forum.

The lawyers would pose a question about something. And you’d have to think if that would be an issue for you. People would raise their hands, the judge would recognize them, and they would say their piece. That would get you thinking in another direction. And you’d have to decide whether you had anything to say. And always, in the back of your mind, whether what you said was going to make it less or more likely you’d end up on the jury.

Nobody “wanted” to be on the jury. Like the Monty Python line, “Nobody ‘expects’ the Spanish Inquisition.”  There’s never a “good” time to sit on a jury. It’s always inconvenient. It’s always an imposition. It’s always a bother. Lost pay, childcare, canceled trip, or what. It’s always a bad time for it, one way or the other.

Another thing in the back of your mind is if what somebody says is a stunt to get rejected from the jury. Sometimes it sounds like it is. And, over time, that comes to seem pretty low. Like, here we all are, all in the same boat, having to risk whatever we do to be on this jury. And you’re pulling some cheap shot, to bail.

Of course I can’t tell you anything about the legal case itself — except it was clearly going to get complicated. The judge estimated the trial would take about a week. That was when the fifty of us were first called. Jury selection alone took twice as long as expected. That raised the specter that the actual trial might be in proportion.

No, the process wasn’t grueling. But it was like starting a new job. You weren’t exhausted at the end of the day, but you felt like you’d done a good day’s work. It was time to go home, chill out, and not do a whole lot of anything else.

The judge was very sweet. She was firm, professional, but very sweet. I couldn’t help wondering if there were evaluation forms for judges, and over the years there had been a steady — something. Like water dripping on a rock. Comments, “The judge was so strict,” “The judge was too stern.” Till finally all the strictness and sternness of judges has been eroded away, and they have to be sweet.

The closest she came to being sharp was when one of the jurors got lost after a break, went to the wrong room, and sat there about an hour, holding everybody else up. She dispatched clerks, sweetly but firmly, to the jury assembly room, where our lost juror had gone, to find out why they hadn’t caught the mistake. And she impressed on us, trying not to make it personal, the importance of being where you’re supposed to be.

It took us awhile to get it that, even though we couldn’t talk about the trial, we could talk to each other. We formed the natural human connections that always happen. You come to know about other people, from hearing what they say. Sometimes it’s common interests. Sometimes it’s things you glance at, scribbled in their notebooks. Sometimes, it’s that he or she is just kind of pretty. So you strike up a conversation. And there ends up being plenty of time for conversation, waiting for whatever the legals are doing, off in the other courtroom.

So, what determines the final jury cut? It was all over so quick. After waiting in one of the other courtrooms for over an hour, they called us in, read the names, and that was that. The jury was seated, and the trial began.

During the preceding days, some people had spoken a lot, and raised issues. Not many of those people were seated on the jury, but some. We had declared our hardships; kids at daycare, out-of-town conferences, software releases, first day of college classes, upcoming exams. Not many of those people were seated, but some. It seemed like a lot of the quiet ones, the individuals nobody had much noticed, were seated. I would like to think a judge who was so sweet could not be so petty, but the juror who had got lost was seated.

In the end, I was not. I left the courthouse, out through the security cordon, shifting gears back to my usual life. Relieved. Liberated. But, at the same time, a little disappointed. Of course I can’t tell you anything about the case, but that trial was bound to be interesting!


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The “big one” earthquake

This entry was inspired by a friend on the other side of the country, emailing to ask if I knew about this:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

Of course, everybody in the Pacific Northwest knows about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the long overdue “Big One” earthquake. But it’s not going to sink in until it hits.

Near the top of my list when I bought my house was earthquake retrofit. A lot of gay guys, their first thought would be “Decorate!” Mine was “Earthquake safety!”

I researched, and it emerged that the most concrete (so to speak) thing you can do is keep the house from jumping off its foundation. That means bolting these big metal plates between the concrete and wood. At first I was going to do it myself, but like most one-time jobs I would have made a lot of mistakes, and have to re-do it later. So I got bids and paid for the work. A good thing too. I had bought the wrong length bolts. They would have poked all the way through the foundation wall.

I went with the contractor who was the most, shall we say, neurotic about earthquakes. I knew he was my man when my eyes began to glaze over as he rambled on about shear planes and foot-pounds. This guy was into it. He’d to the best job that could be done.

But of course, nobody really knows. Earthquake bracing is not something you can test, and then have a second try.

When the job was done and the inspectors came by to sign off, they expressed a range of opinions. One related a city in South America, I’ll call it “Terremoto”. Terremoto had similar architecture to Portland. Terremoto was struck by an earthquake of similar magnitude to what’s expected here, and “80% of the houses survived”. That sounded pretty heartening. On the other hand, another inspector thought the situation would be like your whole world inside a rotary clothes dryer for three minutes. Not so heartening.

But humans are pretty hard to kill off. The Johnstown Flood of 1889 is distant enough in human memory that it is no longer part of pop culture. If not for that Big One, there would have been no “the” Johnstown Flood. Johnstown flooded every time it rained hard. Tiptoeing across their city streets on planks, balanced above sluicing water, was a way of life. The decrepit dam upstream, which everybody knew about, had cried wolf innumerable times by resolutely not breaking in flood after flood.

The Big One for Johnstown arrived in the middle of the night, in the form of the homogenized remains of the lake and dam. This roiling mass was so high and swift it snapped the telegraph lines, precluding any warning. It had picked up various miscellany on its journey. Among these were the stock and infrastructure of a barbed wire factory. After covering Johnstown to a depth only its taller buildings poked above, the watery mass took a siesta. It clogged the arches of a bridge down from the city, and so lay as a lake over Johnstown, until rescue workers finally blasted the debris some days later.

So: Zero warning. Complacent population. Woken from sound sleep in the middle of the night. What do you think the death rate was? This was an ordinary town, with its share of babies, elderly, the bedridden and infirm. What percent? Less than ten percent. Pretty hard to kill off.

If I had the time to accumulate a Ph.D. in Sociology, I’d study what people do when the game changes. “Game change”, is, after all, what people worry about. Big game changes: Global warming. Economic collapse. Solar flare. Alien contact. Or personal game changes: Losing your job. Cancer. Your teenage daughter getting pregnant. But always, changing the game. The old rules are gone. You won’t know what to trust. You have to figure things out all over again.

In the sociology of it, there would be lots of questions: What’s the correspondence of people who come out on top in the new game vs. the old game? Are they the same persons? Is it random? Do new folks come to the fore, who nobody ever noticed in the old game?

More important for the individual, are there some personal qualities that go with being able to make it, no matter the game? If I had to guess, I’d expect those qualities would include health, good attitude, and a wide range of practical skills. What I suspect even more is that people who have not mastered the current game are less likely to make it in the new one. Particularly, if they are so wrapped up in preparing for some particular game change they’re out of touch with current reality.

Doom sayers are occasionally right, by the law of averages; but it seldom does them or anybody else any good. And they have low odds on the particular doom.

That said, I do have fairly complete earthquake kit made up, though housemates keep borrowing the duct tape. The tape is for strapping plastic over the hollow frames of the windows, after the concussions have smashed all the glass out.

For a couple years, we saved all the two-liter plastic soft drink bottles as they got empty. Rinsed, filled with water, and tucked away, they wait. In field work, I came to like these for emergency water. They don’t expand and contract with temperature and elevation, as those cubical water containers do, and so wear little holes in their corners. The cubitainers might only drip, but those slow drips add up to empty, when you finally open them in the middle of the desert.

Those two liter bottles could jostle around under the seats of the rig, all the summer field season. When we cleaned out in the fall, we’d play catch with them. They could survive a bounce on pavement, from up to a six foot drop.

So maybe we’ll make it through the Big One. Or maybe the archeologists will dig up my earthquake bracing plates and be impressed with my design makeover after all, how I artistically placed them all around the perimeter for feng shui. The sociologists will wonder why we needed so many plastic bottles to play catch.