nostalgia

IT’S GOING ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD

Last night, watching Star Trek: Next Generation, Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) disobeyed a direct order given by Captain Stewart, er, I mean, Jean-Luc Picard. Although he survived his misadventure — barely, I might add — Picard told Geordi that regretfully, he was going to have to “put this incident on your permanent record!”

Oh my god! His permanent record. Even in Star Fleet, you cannot escape your permanent record. It’s four hundred years in the future and they still have that record.

Back in our golden olden days, the thing that was held over our heads — the veritable Sword of Damocles — was that our bad behavior would go on our permanent record. From elementary school through our working years, we were warned our permanent record would follow us. Marks against us might even (gasp!) prevent us from getting into college at all, in which case we knew we might as well die on the spot. If you didn’t go to college, you would never have a decent job or find someone to love. I knew that right into the marrow of my bones. Didn’t you?

little colorado rocks

The Permanent Record is (was) (will be) like the Rock of Gibraltar. Huge, unchanging. No matter what we do with our lives, everyone will know about our misdeeds. All they have to do is check the record. They’ll know I sassed my eleventh grade social studies teacher (he deserved it and worse) in May 1962. That Garry ran over his allotted time while reporting a news event in Boston and was not even repentant when confronted with his foul deed! The evil that we do will be revealed.

You might want to see Lamont Cranston, because the Shadow Knows.

So, here’s the deal. Now and forever, every one of us has a permanent record in which all our misbehavior is cataloged. I know because I’ve been told. I’m not sure who has custody of these records, however. As far as I can tell, everyone on the planet has one, so there must be a gigantic storage unit somewhere, where everything is filed. That’s a lot of records to keep.

But they aren’t being stored around here. I’d have noticed a building that big.

permanent-record-file

I expect when we die, if there actually are Pearly Gates and a gatekeeper who decides if we can enter, he will be clutching a copy of our permanent record in one angelic hand. That’s right. You talked back to your teacher in fifth grade, cut school in high school. Told a professor the dog ate your final paper in college. Now, you won’t go to Heaven.

Sorry buddy. Your permanent record just caught up with you.

MY REMEMBERER IS BROKE

Forgetter Be Forgotten?

My forgetters getting better,
But my rememberer is broke
To you that may seem funny
But, to me, that is no joke

For when I’m ‘here’ I’m wondering
If I really should be ‘there’
And, when I try to think it through,
I haven’t got a prayer!

Oft times I walk into a room,
Say ‘what am I here for? ‘
I wrack my brain, but all in vain!
A zero, is my score.

At times I put something away
Where it is safe, but, Gee!
The person it is safest from
Is, generally, me!

When shopping I may see someone,
Say ‘Hi’ and have a chat,
Then, when the person walks away
I ask myself, ‘who the hell was that?

Yes, my forgetters getting better
While my rememberer is broke,
And it’s driving me plumb crazy
And that’s really not a joke.

Jim 1999
James Casey

How come what I remember of the past bears almost no resemblance to the memories of the people I knew while I was growing up? I get notes from people with whom I went to school. High school — even elementary school. I’d swear they went to different schools than I did.

They have wonderful memories of our relationships while I remember them as brats who gave me the cold shoulder. Wouldn’t even talk to me because I wasn’t one of the “cool kids.” I recall them as petty tyrants and bullies, but they swear we were the best of friends. Which is interesting since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even invited to their parties. Or ever visited them at their homes.

Is it me? Is my memory damaged?

I grew up in the 1950s. I get a dozen emails a week extolling that decade as “the best of the good old days.” I do not remember the 1950s as a better time. Just a different one.

Racism was rampant. Sexism and ageism weren’t even part of our vocabulary. Women and old people were treated horribly and it was just fine because that was the way it was and no one was trying to fix it. They didn’t see it as broken.

It was not a simpler time either. Sure, we had less technology, but we were constantly embroiled in trying to get whatever it was we had to do the job for which it was intended. Our refrigerators were layered in ice, our ovens couldn’t maintain a constant temperature. Our televisions barely registered a signal, even if we were lucky enough to have an antenna on the roof. And people were so happy, they were building bomb shelters in their yards so when someone nuked us, they could survive. Clearly better days.

GoodOldDays

To my mind, the social issues were no less complex than now. And we were busily polluting our environment. Enthusiastically polluting our environment, I should say. We are still cleaning up the mess we made in those good old days.

Life was not easy. Assuming you had a decent job, your pay probably allowed you to live reasonably well, but a lot of people — anyone of color, for example — was lucky to get a job at all, much less one on which a family could be supported.

Nor was childhood all sunlight and roses. Abuse was common and by a kind of silent, cultural consent, never spoken of. No laws protected us. No agencies would aid us.

A few years ago, Garry went to his 50th high school reunion. He came back shaking his head, wondering what school they went to. It obviously wasn’t the same one he attended. I chose to avoid my high school reunion a couple of years back. I kept getting notes from former classmates about the great years we enjoyed at Jamaica High School.

I don’t have those memories. I remember a racially divided school with bigoted teachers, bullying classmates. Cliques of privileged kids who ostracized anyone who was different. Sad teenagers lost between childhood and a frightening, uncertain future. Hoping for help from counselors who denied the existence of the problems many of us faced at home.

Is it me? Am I the one who is broken?

HEY, SANTA BABY! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s that time of year. Decision time. What do you want from Santa? Whether you are 7 or 70, there’s stuff you’d like to see under the Christmas tree. Yes, Virginia, I am 72 and still believe I am among Santa’s chosen few.

96-SantaPops-12-9-12_121

I’m a big fan of the NCIS TV series, but my wife has cleaned out that store for me. Some days, I’m a walking clone of Leroy Jethro Gibbs. I even stretch my neck in Gibbs fashion. Today it’s real because my back aches something fierce.

72-drone-advert_10

So, I’m set with Gibbs stuff. What do I want? Wait for it. Wait for it. It’s from the Geek Love store. My very own At-Home Drone!

I saw it in this past Sunday’s news magazine section. I want it! The Protocol Dronium is remote-controlled. It soars through the air. It snaps photos you can later share via USB connection. It’s only $99. I want it!

I’ll be the NSA deep cover agent in my town and valley. I’ll spot perps before they pull their caper. I’ll share my intel with local leos. I want my drone, Santa!

Dwight Eisenhower was our President-elect the last time I felt so strongly about a Christmas present. My wishes were fulfilled when I found the glistening 2 gun Roy Rogers set under the wonderfully decorated tree that seemed 10 feet tall. My Dad looked 10 feet tall too, as I strapped on my guns.

Dad has been gone a dozen years now, followed by Mom. I’m sure both would agree I deserve this Christmas present.

My own drone.

I’ve been a good boy this year, Santa Baby. Surely, you know I’m counting on you.

(Note from Santa: Don’t call me Shirley.)

SALAD DAYS, SALAD BARS

Salad Days — Is there a period in your own personal life that you think of as the good old days? Tell us a story about those innocent and/or exciting times (or lack thereof). Note: If WordPress is going to keep repeating the same prompts and themes, I’m going to rework my material. Good for the goose, […]

JUST SHOW UP IN A TUX

We just celebrated our 24th  wedding anniversary. As I ponder the upcoming 25th, I hear distant bells. I remember the wedding. The thrill of ultimate victory, the agony of getting there. How, by the time I got to the altar, I was a nervous wreck, but Garry was cool as the proverbial cucumber and looked dashing in his tuxedo.

72-Bette'sPix_05

Photo by Bette Stevens

After it was clearly established that we were definitely, unquestionably, without any doubt, getting married, it came down to details. Dates. Rings. Caterers. Bakers. Flowers. Music. Photography. Videography. And (trumpets) a ceremony.

I had been married twice before — okay, three times, because I’d been married in a registry office in London, then the whole Jewish medieval ceremony in Jerusalem. Having been there and done that. I wanted to elope or maximum, go to city hall, have the mayor marry us. He would have. We knew the guy. We could have been married at City Hall, I’d toss a bouquet, someone would throw some confetti, and voilà. Married. After that, us and our actual friends could all go out for Chinese.

Garry wanted a Real Wedding.

He was 48 years old. Never married. This would be his one and only wedding and by golly, he was going to Do It Right.

“I want a real wedding. In the church in which I grew up. In New York,” says Garry. “And I want my old pastor to officiate.”

“Pastor G. is retired … like fifteen years ago.”

“I’m sure we can work it out.” When he said we, I thought he meant he and I would do this thing together. Because where I come from, that’s what we means. I was deluded.

“Why can’t we just have something here in Boston? New York is 250 miles away. You haven’t lived there in nearly 30 years. Everyone you know except your parents are up here or in another part of the country entirely.”

Garry’s face is set. Stony. He wants a hometown wedding in the church he attended as a child. With the minister he had when he was a kid. Did I mention my husband is stubborn? He is very stubborn.

“This is going to be a lot of work. It’s hard to plan a wedding long distance,” I point out. “And I have a job too, in case you’ve forgotten.” Garry is unfazed.

“We can,” he repeats, “Work it out.” There was that we again.

“Fine,” I eventually agree. “We’ll have a wedding. In New York. At your church.”

There were caterers to hire. Music to be arranged. A bagpiper (don’t ask). Battles over the guest list. A cake to be designed. The cake was my favorite part. It went like this. Having settled on a vanilla cake with lemon filling, we needed to decide on decorations.

“Do you want the bride and groom in white or black?”

“Can we have one of each?” No, we could not. In 1990, they do not have a mixed couple cake topper. I offer to take a marker and paint the groom black, but inexplicably, Garry finds this objectionable. I suggest they take two sets and cut them in half, but it is deemed too complicated. In the end, I opt for wedding bells, the DMZ of wedding cake toppers.

So, Garry got his wedding. It was (for him) as simple as simple could be. Marilyn arranged the wedding. Garry showed up in a tux.

You see? We worked it out.

WINNING

SWEEPING MOTIONS: My desk and bedroom are fine. Even our car is tidy. I’m sure I have a messy closet somewhere. It’s my brain which could use a thorough tidying. Here’s a great memory moment from the clutter of my brain. One of my favorites.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

IF ONLY I HAD AN EXTRA HOUR

Twenty-Five Seven Good news — another hour has just been added to every 24-hour day (don’t ask us how. We have powers). How do you use those extra sixty minutes? If there were another hour in the day, it wouldn’t be enough. If there were another 5 or 6 hours in the day, it still wouldn’t […]

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