Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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Air organ

Chris told me a story today, par-for-the-course of his abusive upbringing. How his father never gave one shred of support or validation to anything Chris did.

Chris was about age 12. He had self-taught himself to play piano, and was pretty good. His father, who had refused to pay for lessons, didn’t know any of this. There was a school recital, and Chris performed beautifully. The teacher came up to Chris’ father afterwards, gushing, “You must be so proud!”

Chris’ father was dumbfounded. All he could say was, “Thank you.”

“After that,” Chris told me, “For my next birthday, my dad bought me an air organ.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, it was a toy,” he shook his head.

If you look it up online, you’ll see it’s true.

At first, I thought Chris had said “air guitar”. That’s about the size of it.

three-bladed wind turbines standing in the desert hills

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United we stand

Chris and I were on vacation. We were driving up the Gorge, and pulled off for lunch at the Braggs exit. It was all truck stops and travel centers, lots of tourist on their way. This wide open desert land along the Columbia River was all scoured rock and yellow grass. It had little to offer in attractions, other than convenience.

We went into a restaurant, “Gloria’s”, and sat at the counter. It was typical, good, basic road food. I got one of the breakfast-all-day offerings. Chris tried pork chops and eggs.

I had recently read a book about the founding of Astoria, the first European settlement in the Northwest, at the mouth of the Columbia. Two parties had traveled there, one by sea and the other overland. The overland route was right by here.

The ocean voyage was by sailing ship, which the author brought out in details we do not usually think of. It would have been like a bunch of people cooped up in a space not much bigger than a commercial airliner, with equally no option to go anywhere else. Literally, for months. Bad food. Low water. Personality flares. We can scarcely imagine it.

The overland party had the benefit of the Lewis and Clark expedition’s records, from a few years before. However, hostilities with some native tribes had flared, so the Astor party branched off to look for a different route. They found what we now know as the Snake River. This flowed along westward in a promising way for some hundreds of mile, but the travelers had no way to know about Hells Canyon. After deaths, and destruction of their boats, the survivors limped down the Columbia, right by where these truck stops are now, to their destination.

The settlement struggled along for a year and some. Then a force of British ships arrived and took it over. The Americans had to make their way overland, back across the entire continent, as best they could. Again, right past where we were eating lunch.

The author speculated that many early pioneers suffered what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, explaining for example the suicide of Meriwether Lewis a few years after the expedition.

So here we were, just about two hundred years later. We can drive in air conditioned comfort through the desert. The land is prosperous with wheat and fruit and wind turbines.

three-bladed wind turbines standing in the desert hills

wind turbines

How did we get from there to here? Yes, there were horrible injustices to the native peoples, and downright stupid policies that needlessly inflamed their wrath. There is still plenty of misery in the world. But a lot is working.

Chris had taken some pictures on his phone and wanted to text them to his sister. I didn’t much do texts, so I couldn’t help. But this big fat guy sitting on the other side of Chris started showing how. The guy looked to me like a gamer nerd, someone I wouldn’t expect to care about anybody but himself. But here he was, taking the time to help out this little black guy, with the sputtery cellphone connection. He suggested, with the low bandwidth, to only text one photo at a time.

Our waitress had a careworn face, but a kindly smile. A Mexican guy sat down at the counter and started puzzling over the menu. When he began to order, our waitress raised a finger, just a moment. She went in back and returned with one of the other staff, a Hispanic woman. Through this interpreter, our waitress, went back and forth over the menu. I have just enough Spanish I could make out, “… you can get bacon, OR sausage, OR ham…” She made sure our Mexican customer got just what he wanted.

This is who we really are, I thought. We help each other out. The news is full of brutalities and shootings. Sure. But they are, really, very few. That’s why they make the news. Instead, this is who we really are. We work together. The upcoming divisive election would have us believe we’re at civil war. But this is who we really are. One people, just making it all work, together.

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A little radioactivity

I’m going to have radioactivity in the house. Not often. But you keep track if you ever feel bad, and we’ll try to correspond it with when I had radioactivity in the house.

Sometimes late at night, I just need to give myself a radiation treatment. Burn off a wart, or something. I’m sure nobody in the house will mind these little experiments I’m doing on them. This way we’ll know for sure if radioactive dust in the house is ever a problem.

And we’ll have clear communication.

As clear as you can over something so loaded!

 After the talk on “just a little smoking, in the house”.

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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:


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.

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Journeys to Heaven

In the past year I have tried to get through two books, “Heaven is for Real” by Colton Burpo and “My Journey to Heaven” by Marvin J. Besteman. Both books, I got so annoyed I had to put them down.

For these Christians, everything in these heavenly sojourns that matches scripture, they take it as absolute proof that the complete Bible is literally true. Anything that doesn’t match is some new revelation.

I believe there is some kind of greater reality. I have no proof. There can be no proof. This is my one point of my faith.

Now, what that greater realm is, I don’t know. I hope this analogy isn’t too insulting, because it’s insulting to me too: Humans trying to understand the higher realm are like little children trying to get a grasp of adult life. One of my favorite quips is “People arguing about religion are like two little boys on the playground, fighting over whose dad can beat up whose dad. Only — the boys are brothers.”

The evidence (though of course not proof) that a higher realm exists is that people bring back from it information that would otherwise be hard to explain. Any denizens of the higher realm are overwhelmingly beneficent. If they were inimical, they would long since have destroyed us.

To this extent, I am in agreement with the Christians. So far so good.

But the Christians seem unable to think of spiritual beings in even the most rudimentary psychological terms. There are hints of presentation, such as “I was shown this”, or “God meant me to see that”. But these Faithful gloss over the huge point that the souls, saints and angels they meet know at least as much about us as we do about them.

Heavenly journeys entail a great deal of fulfillment of expectations. Marvin meets Saint Peter, who was always one of Marvin’s most meaningful spiritual figures. Now, how is it that Peter speaks to him in Marvin’s own language, accent, and idiom? When Christians from France go to heaven, surely Peter talks to them in perfect colloquial French. Think about how hard that is. If you were a spiritual being, and you’d mastered the voice, you could do anything. From there, any garments, body, or face would be child’s play.

When Colton went to heaven, the spiritual beings knew he was a little boy from Nebraska. If he’d gone back to his Christian family talking about a bevy of houris riding around on camels, or dear elephant-headed Ganesh, he’d not only be disbelieved, he’d have been exorcised! So the spiritual beings he met were Jesus and cetera.

Marvin sees babies in heaven. Lots of babies, from newborns on down to little nubbins of fetus. I just about put the book down at that point, permanently. His heaven would be my hell. I can see how, for the many parents who have lost an unborn child, this would be a numinous blessing. The idea that their little lost one were somehow held and loved, and its dear existence had gone on to fulfillment and grace. Me, though; that quarter of heaven was a miasmic vision of the Undead. All eternity, rubbing elbows with the likes of tadpoles — or slugs! This must be part of that new revelation. There’s no mention of “embryo” in the Bible.

But what finally got to me was the aridity of it all. The idea of a journey to the greater realm, an eyewitness account, holds such promise. And there are tantalizing hints, but buried in slag-heaps of wish fulfillment. I mean, this is eternity. You meet loved ones. What then? You hear heavenly choirs, see celestial colors. What next? After the first day, week, millennium; how could any of that be enjoyable, or even tolerable? Or do we become bliss-ninnies and don’t know how dead bored we are? If we’re “drugged” into happiness, what kind of heaven is that?

Can you ever feel productive in heaven? Can you develop new expertise? Do you ever get the fulfillment of feeling useful? Can you ever find new love?

It’s harrowing, the idea that all these good people, Christians, have a vision of paradise that goes no further than comfort. Call it what you will. Peace. Happiness. Bliss. However you slice it, they are revealed as hedonists, sybarites, only looking to their eternal pleasure. I hope I am wrong about this. It’s too awful. The churches full of only the basest souls.

The next time some of them come to my door clutching their bibles, I want to shake them by their lapels and demand, “Weren’t you ever born for anything?!?” Or is life to you so horrible you only want to get it over?