Monday, April 24, 2006

Spring at The Flamingo

On Wednesday, April 19, three more signs of spring appeared at The Flamingo:

  • The pair of concrete flamingos (although the accompanying birdbath seems to have gone for good)

  • The patio tables, chairs, and umbrellas

  • The annual draining and cleaning of the swimming pool

  • And the patch of yellow-green I see in the direction of 53rd Street, which I thought might be the crown of a tree, is really a dense patch of dandelions. Like the leaves, flowers, and grass, they seem to have sprung up overnight. I also saw my first butterfly yesterday, a black one.

    I can almost imagine being at home again, with the sun coming up over the trees, the cool air blowing the curtains, my mother in the kitchen, my dad in the garden, the yard and the field covered with the dandelions . . .

    Saturday, April 22, 2006

    Review: Rebecca

    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Highly recommended.

    Rebecca is a mystery novel in which nearly every character makes false assumptions that lead to false conclusions. From the catty and gauche widow Mrs. Van Hopper to the suave widower Maxim de Winter, nearly everyone in Rebecca is wrong about something. For the nameless narrator, her incorrect assumptions are founded on Mrs. Van Hopper's gossip and build on each other until they have constructed a person and a past that never existed and a future in which every action and utterance have two meanings—the one that the narrator perceives and the real meaning.

    For example, Maxim's sister Beatrice tells the narrator that she is nothing like his first wife, the late Rebecca de Winter, who died in a tragic boating accident. The narrator accepts this statement and remembers it as she learns more about Rebecca. She feels herself to be plain, uninteresting, shy, and unsophisticated. By contrast, and by all accounts that the narrator hears, Rebecca was beautiful, fascinating, charismatic, and witty. Even Maxim's carefully diplomatic estate manager, Frank Crawley, tells the narrator, ". . . I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life." Not surprisingly, the more she learns, the more the narrator needs to know about Rebecca—a first wife whom she cannot have replaced in the brooding, moody Maxim's affections.

    The narrator falsely interprets other people and what they say and do. The intimidating housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, gives her several hints that Rebecca was exacting and demanding in her management of the household and staff. The second Mrs. de Winter is also told how much Mrs. Danvers loved and admired Rebecca. The implication is clear; the narrator's only hope of coming to terms with the formidable housekeeper is to take charge. Instead, she decides that the best way to mollify Mrs. Danvers is to make herself unobtrusive and to let her have full rein over the household's management. Her naïveté and self-effacing behavior give Mrs. Danvers a reason to despise as well as dislike her.

    Many, if not most, readers are probably misled as well. Rebecca's appearance and charms are described by several people in several places, and her name or initials appear on nearly everything she owned. On the other hand, the narrator is never described or named. Even when Mrs. Danvers calls her "Mrs. de Winter" over the house telephone the first time, the narrator responds with a denial of her new identity but without reference to her former one. "I'm afraid you have made a mistake. Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year." Surrounded by Rebecca's belongings, Rebecca's servants, and Rebecca's friends and husband, the narrator sinks further into anonymity.

    There are few clues to the narrator's looks, other than that she has "lank hair" (compared to Rebecca's "clouds" of black hair) and that she is "plain," according to herself. Yet Rebecca's cousin, Jack Favell, flirts with her and repeatedly hints that she is a fresh, attractive younger wife of the sort that affluent older men like Maxim often choose. The reader should also ask why Maxim does marry someone who apparently is so different from the first wife he adored.

    In Rebecca, passion seems as repressed as open communication, but sexuality is not far beneath the surface. The relationship between Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers is full of sexual overtones. While Maxim may be willing to replace Rebecca in his affections and his bed, Mrs. Danvers clearly is not. As a comfort, she clings to Rebecca's old bedroom suite and to her apparent contempt for men. Mrs. Danvers says of Rebecca, "She had all the courage and spirit of a boy, had my Mrs. de Winter. She ought to have been a boy, I often told her that." Even Maxim says, "She [Rebecca] looked like a boy in her sailing kit, a boy with a face like a Botticelli angel."

    The narrator also refers to herself as being like a "schoolboy" or "boy." The incident at the costume ball and Mrs. Danvers' ensuing description of Rebecca begin the narrator's transformation into Rebecca, or at least a woman more like Rebecca—confident, assertive, and, later, sexualized. She tells Maxim, "I've grown up, Maxim, in twenty-four hours. I'll never be a child again." With her new knowledge of Rebecca, she makes an offer to Maxim: "I'll be your friend and companion, a sort of boy." It is this offer and admission that finally elicits the truth—a truth that was under all the cascading false assumptions, misinterpretations, and lack of communication.

    Rebecca is an outstanding mystery and character study that captures a world on the cusp of irrevocable change. Maxim's marriage to Rebecca seems to have been made in the old tradition; as his grandmother says, "She's got the three things that matter in a wife . . . breeding, brains, and beauty." Their marriage is a contract in which each plays a role. In contrast, Maxim's second marriage is modern; it is based on impulse and emotion, and thrives away from the constraints of society and tradition. When Maxim and the narrator come to Manderley, they are bound by the past—Rebecca's past, as well as a past world in which they are surrounded by servants and constrained by a decorum that requires the suppression of communication and feelings.

    The world around them is changing, however. When a ship wrecks off the coast and a crowd gathers to watch the rescue and salvage operation, a tourist points out to the narrator how Manderley, and all it represents, has become an anachronism. "Those are nice-looking woods over there, I suppose they're private . . . My husband says all these big estates will be chopped up in time and bungalows built . . . I wouldn't mind a nice bungalow up here facing the sea."

    From the memorable opening, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," to the well-paced unravelling of every false assumption and conclusion, Rebecca is an engaging, evocative, thoughtful novel that acknowledges the past before moving toward the future. The next time the night is deep and you can imagine both the silence of the woods and the roar of the sea, read Rebecca.

    Saturday, 22 April 2006.
    © 2006 by Diane L. Schirf.

    Saturday, April 15, 2006

    Social insecurity

    Under the current Social Security system, the age at which you can start receiving full Social Security benefits depends on the year in which you were born. According to the current table, I won't be able to get full benefits until I'm 67, which means I'll be two years older than my father was when he retired with full benefits.

    With Social Security allegedly in trouble, the leading edge of the Baby Boomers getting set to start collecting benefits in just a few years, life expectancy continuing to increase, and fewer workers paying into the system as the Boomers retire, there's been talk of increasing the ages even more. After all, if I'm going to live longer, I'm going to collect for a longer time, so I need to be kept in the work force longer to keep paying in and to prevent me from receiving 20+ years of payouts. Somewhere in the bowels of the Social Security Administration, actuaries have undoubtedly run the numbers, and they undoubtedly make sense on paper.

    Life isn't lived on paper, however, and I wonder if anyone has taken a hard look at the variables. Americans are living longer, but does that mean that serious health declines are beginning later? Do arthritis, heart disease, joint disorders, incontinence, cognitive conditions, and other age-related problems set in at a later age? It may be that they do, but is there solid evidence of this? Before anyone raises my normal retirement age to 70, I'd like to see some proof that the odds favor that I'll still be healthy enough to work between ages 65 and 70.

    Next, what will I be doing during those years? Employers aren't allowed to practice overt age discrimination, but the reality is that many do—often beginning with employees in their 40s and 50s. Anyone over 40 who has been "downsized" will tell you how difficult it is to find a new job that is commensurate with his experience and past salary—and sometimes how difficult it is to find any but a low-level job, such as working in a store for a retailer—because that is the nature of our economy. In addition, while employers may not be able to talk about age directly, it takes only a brief review of a resume to accurately ascertain a candidate's age. Are employers really going to retain or hire aging, more highly paid workers at the middle and lower levels when these positions can be filled by younger people who are physically healthier, who are comfortable with rapidly changing technology and business requirements, and who may cost less in salary and health care benefits?

    If an older employee loses a job, who will hire him? How many employers seek, say, an office manager with 40 years of experience? If you look at employment ads today, you'll see most employers are looking for 5–10 years of experience except for a handful of senior executive positions. Employers are going to be concerned about an older candidate's comfort level with new and upcoming technology and his ability to adapt to changes. Does this mean that, for many of us, our hard-earned educations and careers will culminate in earning minimum wage serving a retailer as a greeter? Realistically, what work will I be capable of at age 65, and realistically what work will I be able to obtain? At what pay and benefits level?

    As a culture, we are so enamored of work that we work far more hours than the 40-hour work week that previous generations fought for and won. Employees routinely work 50–80 hours a week; some love it, some hate it, while some feel they have little choice—it's the price we pay for job security. Now we're asking people to work past an age at which the faculties decline and past an age at which one would think the elder has earned rest, if that is what he desires. Will we ask them to work 50–80 hours a week? Or will we simply hire a 30-year-old who is capable and eager to work long hours in return for immediate rewards and possible advancement? What will we do with those who do suffer from ill health that prevents them from working? What about those with chronic age-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension? Ask them to make do with less because they couldn't last until full retirement age (a lot to ask, given the high price of prescription medication)? Or put them in the position of having to work, thereby hastening their decline? I am aware that there are many people in this situation today—but there will be many more in the future.

    My dad retired at age 65. He didn't mind working, and he thought of trying to work past age 65 (which was, I believe, a mandatory retirement age per union rules or agreement). But he had already given up many things in concession to age; his once-extensive vegetable and flower plantings had shrunk to a small patch of flowers with a few outliers here and there. Within about a year and a half of his retirement, he was diagnosed with diabetes. My mother, who didn't have a job, was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes and died at age 64. By the time my dad was 77, he was a candidate for assisted living, with a history of strokes, transient ischemic attacks, and congestive heart failure. Even though he retired at 65, he never had the opportunity to enjoy the so-called "golden years." Most of the men he worked with could tell similar stories, that is, those who had not retired at age 62 or earlier with disabilities.

    In contrast to the growing number of wealthy entrepreneurs who are retiring in their 40s on their investments, there is a growing number of elders who can afford to retire from their careers but who continue to work or who take jobs that give them the sense of purpose that work provides. My aunt retired early from her federal government position and then spent several years in a part-time clerical position for a D.C. think tank. After a few years, she left that job; I'm not sure why. She enjoyed a few years of retirement but was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 70. She died at age 71.

    It can be said that the concept of retirement is a recent innovation. In past times, people worked until they no longer could; there was no set age to quit, and no expectation that benefits would be provided. In many cases, the elder might have depended on the extended family for financial support, even for a home. In any case, elders generally did not live long past their ability to support themselves. In our fragmented society, where families are spread out across the country and in which broken marriages interrupt the continuity of family and responsibility, a layer of complexity is added that that is addressed by such things as assisted living facilities—a costly solution for the average worker or family. Of course, the past is not the best standard against which to judge how issues should be handled now; after all, no one today, I hope, would advocate putting 8-year-olds to work.

    Mostly, though, I believe the raising of retirement ages is not a practical solution. I honestly don't know what is. There will be a palpable imbalance someday between the young and the old, and the former cannot be expected to sacrifice all for the latter. Employers will have to find, or be given, a reason to cease the practice of age discrimination (against anyone, whether 40 years old or 70 years old). They will have to make concessions, realizing that performance declines with age, and that accommodations will need to be made, just as for the disabled. Vision and hearing loss, slowing of physical reaction time, cognitive decline—they are all part of the aging process that begins earlier in life than most of us realize. The beginnings of many of these, for example, the development of the need for bifocals, corresponds roughly to what is mostly likely our natural life expectancy—say, 45–55.

    Jonathan Swift warned us of the dangers of desiring a long life span, which comes with no guarantee that robust health will be similarly extended. I can't help but think of the cliché, "Be careful what you wish for." We wish for longer lives and make them possible largely through technology. Now we must do more than wish for solutions to the problems that we have created. Whatever we decide to do must be fair and practical. How many solutions to problems are fair and practical—and don't raise even greater problems?

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    It's spring

    Spring isn't a date on the calendar, of course. Spring is an attitude, a way of being that predates the written word and the written date. Spring is the killer of winter, the mother of summer. It's a time of sexual and reproductive energy, when everything has an opportunity to start all over again.

    Here at my abode on Lake Michigan, spiders seem to be the harbingers of spring. There are nearly a dozen on my bedroom windows, and at least seven on one of my living room windows. They vary in size from tiny to large (for a garden-variety species). They seem to favor a northern exposure, for I never find them on the east-facing living room windows. I suppose they could simply prefer the view of the Shoreland and the lighthouse at Navy Pier, or they like to watch the rush-hour traffic as rounds the bend near 53rd Street. (There's also the possibility the northern exposure offers better dining opportunities.)

    Last Friday was far from spring-like. Overnight, it was very windy and close to freezing. Apparently, my neighbor went away and left a window open; when I walked past his door, I could feel frigid air flowing under it out into the hallway. Friday evening, and later that night, the temperature in my bedroom dropped. I had to report it to the manager, as Saturday remained cold. Jim and I had dinner at Medici's and tried to walk some of the calories off, but we were underdressed for the temperature. It warmed up during the week; by Thursday it was 80ºF.

    I've been watching the trees for buds. Last weekend, I thought I saw some early signs, but couldn't be sure. On Wednesday, I saw one or two early bloomers. On Thursday, I was too sick to go to work or even to get dressed and go for a short walk. I felt better this morning, so I went to work. The moment I walked out the front door, I was struck by how many trees had greened. Those to the east of Montgomery Place must be pioneers—it looks like they will be fully crowned within a week. Others are just starting. There will be a few holdouts, those that are also among the first to drop their leaves in fall. Today was another 80ºF day, so between the unseasonably hot temperature and the lengthening hours of daylight, the trees and flowering shrubs should be feeling their oats (so to speak).

    To celebrate spring, I opened the last bar of Crabtree & Evelyn violet soap that I had. To give you an idea of how long I hold onto things, the pretty box these violets soaps had come in had a copyright date of 1982. 1982. My 21st year, and the beginning of the end of my University of Chicago career. Perhaps it was also the end of the spring of my life and the beginning of its summer, as now seems to be the beginning of its autumn.

    Cold, dry, hot, humid, snowy, windy, wet, barren, then fecund. Ah, spring. I hope my sap never stops running.

    Thursday, April 13, 2006


    My 16-year-old niece took the SAT on Saturday. Unlike me, she seems capable of planning her life. Without any regard for my abilities, limitations, or personality, at her age I was impractically focusing on Indian studies, international relations, or even—I'm not sure how this occurred to me—physical therapy. I was certainly not thinking about what I would be doing in six years. I'm told that she has looked into a career that interests her, at least now, and even how much it pays.

    What I was going to do with the rest of my life, and how I was going to support myself, didn't occur to me until the Monday after graduation, and then only because I woke up with nowhere to go for the first time in my life.

    That was 23 years ago. As I've written elsewhere, nothing has changed, that is, I have not changed. I will retire long before I know what I want to do with my life. I will mostly likely die first, before I have lived.

    It was nearly 30 years ago, but I remember what it was like to be 16. I wanted to be liked and respected. I worked hard at my classes. I didn't think of good grades as a ticket to college; I didn't think of them at all. They were something to have. At some level, I must have thought of them as a way to get attention and praise—to be noticed, to rise above the hoi polloi. Others were noticed for their athletic abilities, their looks, their personalities, their money, their social standing and relationships, or even their criminal records—all things I didn't and couldn't have.

    The only thing I could claim were a few limited academic abilities and interests, so I made the most of them.

    I also wanted to please my dad. Perhaps because my mother had been left adrift once, he believed that women should have an education, equal opportunities, and the ability to support themselves. We take all that for granted now, but 30 years ago this was not the usual thinking for a man born in 1913. As for me, I knew I wanted to be independent, or that I would have to be, but I did not understand what that meant in practical terms.

    I also did not know anything about graduate school; a career in academics never occurred to me, nor did I know much about specialized professions. Aptitude tests indicated I was suited for a counseling or teaching type of career, but for some reason I never considered the former and was too stubborn to pursue the latter. I did not want to do that which was expected of me.

    Then, as now, there was nothing within my abilities that inspired me. I remember other kids who seemed bright and interested in the sciences who became salesmen and accountants. What about sales and accounting inspires them that the stars did not? Or are they more like me than I realize, in their case doing what they are expected to do but not what they could wish?

    Most of us seem destined to live exactly like those before us did—doing jobs that have no real significance other than in the very short term, sustaining the way things are rather than creating what could be, enjoying the comforts and travel that money buys, frustrated by the senselessness of how the work world is structured and by the politics, and wishing for the courage to make a meaningful change—but ultimately resigned to what seems inevitable and unchangeable. Our dreams remain in our beds.

    Each of us lives for himself, and often and naturally we take the easiest way that allows us to enjoy the most. Academics rarely make anyone rich, and research funding is at best uncertain. Working in the corporate world provides a reasonable assurance of reliable income, benefits, and retirement. With the myriad of egos, the pointless assignments and initiatives, the work that is rushed through only to be put on hold, the changing whims of decision makers, the back stabbing, and the general pettiness of office life day to day, it's surprising to me how many people are willing to spend one-third of their adult lives taking orders in return for some personal comfort during the decreasing amount of personal time that actually remains. For most of us, the idealism of youth, the sense of a greater purpose seems to diminish in proportion to the hardening of our arteries.

    Villagers might work together to make sure the lands are cleared and filled, the animals are fed and cared for, the laws protecting the individual and the community are upheld and enforced, and the enemy kept out. We are so many, so diverse—what common goals can we have? We assume—or hope—that the government and the military will defend us against terrorism and other horrors and the justice system against crime. Food, clothes, and toiletries appear almost magically on our shelves, produced far away and shipped almost invisibly. For product or service support, we call an anonymous soul in a country that is an ocean or two away. Many children do not realize that hamburger comes from a once-living animal. It is a pre-packaged world in which it is not our sense of community that connects us, but our sense of economy. We are as need-driven as the people of a village, but it is not our neighbor who fills our needs. It is the garment worker in China, the support staff in Bangladesh, the farmer in Honduras. Our only community may be that which we find at work. That is why it seems so important to find the right work, and to make it mean more than a small problem solved today, a paycheck, and a commute home. Someday we as a community may need to drop our desire for comfort and work together to solve larger problems—environmental degradation and change, overpopulation, weapons proliferation, genocide—all those things that have the capability of killing us all. That has not happened yet, and will not until there is a crisis that no one who is left can deny.

    I know that many have richly rewarding professions—nurses and other health care providers, teachers, clergy people, that is, anyone who can see their effect on individuals and on the surrounding community, or those whose work will have an impact on the future. I know that others enjoy what they do because it satisfies a need to solve problems or to expand on knowledge. Then there are those who can brush off the bad things that happen and enjoy the simple things.

    The rest of us, the stressed and unhappy and trapped, keep the world spinning on its well-worn, tired axis, ourselves feeling just as worn and tired. Knowing now what I didn't know when I was 16, 21, or even 31, I would not have sought this life, but I do not know what I would or could have done differently.

    Either I have missed my calling, or I was never qualified for it. And now I feel alone, isolated—no longer part of the community, realizing for the first time how I never really belonged to it or contributed to it. After all that I have done, learned, and tried, the most I can say for myself is that I exist. It doesn't seem enough.

    Thursday, April 6, 2006

    Can you hear me now?

    Lately, I've been reading even more complaints about cell phones. Cell phones at restaurants. Cell phones in public restrooms. Cell phones on buses. At concerts. At museums. At sporting events. At poolside. Cell phones everywhere.

    Once a status symbol, cell phones have become almost as much a necessity as T-shirts, jeans, and clean underwear. I wonder why.

    When I got my cell phone, I used it mainly to keep track of people I was meeting, or to let them know if I was going to be late. When I still had dial-up Internet, I used it at home when my phone was otherwise engaged. I don't know of any reason why I would get into line at Subway and suddenly want to "reach out and touch someone." Most of the time, I don't have that much to say or a pressing need to say it right now. In front of dozens of strangers.

    In the not-so-distant past, when we were restricted to land lines and the phone rang during dinner, the person who answered was instructed to "tell him we're eating dinner. I'll call him back later." That was in the privacy of our own home, when we felt that finishing a meal sitting down was an important part of the ritual of eating. Now, whether we're in a busy family restaurant or a fine dining venue, if the phone rings we feel compelled to answer it. Then we carry on a personal conversation within earshot of 20 people as though we are oblivious to them—as though we were in the privacy of our own home.

    Before cordless phones became popular, it never seemed to occur to anyone to use their bathroom at home as a phone booth. Now, if you go into any public restroom, you're likely to hear half a conversation—held over the sound of running water and various bodily functions. Once I walked into a restaurant bathroom and heard a woman speaking loudly. I waited for a response from the other stall, which I assumed was occupied, but none came. After a moment, I realized that the woman in the first stall had retreated to the bathroom to have what appeared to be a long, deep conversation on the phone about relationship issues. When she came out, she didn't even notice me at the sink. I wondered if the person at the other end had enjoyed hearing my bodily functions.

    On public transportation, there are people who call their friends to tell them, "I'm on the bus. It's passing 35th Street. Nah. I saw her last night. I'm on my way home." Or to describe every detail of their work day, often with much profanity, as though there weren't 15 people nearby who can't help but hear it all. Sometimes the conversations are so painfully mundane that I can't help wondering about the quantities of energy expended upon so little. "She got her car fixed Tuesday . . . No, it was the computer . . . Well, she's had it three years . . . I don't know." At this point, I don't know and I don't care. It's amazing that the human brain, capable of inventing the technology behind wireless communications, often has so little to communicate and yet so great a need.

    Do you remember when teenage girls would take calls on the living room phone, and, glaring at the rest of the family, who were pretending not to listen but who were paying close attention to every word, would say, "Do you mind?" Such girls would plead for their own phones in their own rooms so they could have some privacy to discuss their lives and loves. Now you'll find them in coffee shops, at juice bars and malls, and on the street, gossiping with their girlfriends and billing and cooing with their would-be lovers, with no regard for privacy. As long as the listeners aren't prying relatives, it must not matter.

    Of course, cell phones give the "Bickersons" even more opportunities to fight in front of an even greater audience. These are those couples we all know who can't carry on a conversation without getting in a few dozen digs at one another and making everyone around them uncomfortable. Now everyone can listen to, "That's not what I said . . . You said you weren't busy Friday night . . . How was I supposed to know? . . . Well, you should have thought of that . . . You always do this . . ."

    Are we so extroverted as a species that we have to have an audience for every thought? Are we so insecure that we need to have every feeling validated immediately or that we must act out every personal drama publicly?

    Or is our dependence on cell phones, the Internet, gaming, iPods, and other marvels of everyday life one symptom of a mass variation of AD/HD? "Typically children with AD/HD have developmentally inappropriate behavior, including poor attention skills, impulsivity, and hyperactivity."

    We are a generation, or two, afflicted with the "fidgets." People can't focus on on doing one thing at a time. We can't sit still on a bus or in a restaurant without finding something else to do. We can't drive a car—a function that should require all of our attention—without eating, drinking, singing to the radio, playing air guitar, putting on makeup, shaving, or talking on a cell phone. We can't eat a meal, even in the company of others, without talking on a cell phone. We can't walk down a sidewalk without talking on a cell phone. We can't read a magazine on the bus without talking on a cell phone. We can't even perform the basic bodily functions without reading and/or talking on a cell phone. The moment the body or mind is engaged with one task, simple or complex, it seems to seek out additional ones. Despite the popularity of tai chi, yoga, meditation, and similar disciplines, we fear introspection. We do not want to be alone and vulnerable to the power of thought, an interesting concern on an overcrowded planet of 6.5 billion people. We seem to be afraid of quiet and stillness, of not doing anything.

    I do wonder if this is our newest way of being alive and connected. Our sedentary, indoor lifestyles have severed our connection with the life of the earth. To know what it is to sweat, we go to a gym, where we watch television and listen to music on our iPods. The senses that were once stimulated by the activities of survival and life are now stifled by our climate-controlled environments or overwhelmed by the noise of crowds and traffic. To sit still with nothing to do is too much like death, too much like being alone in a crowded world.

    Or perhaps we talk all the time, everywhere, on our cell phones simply because we can.

    Saturday, April 1, 2006

    Dream: My dad and Hodge

    I was napping, as I was (how often does that happen—that what I was doing in my dream was what I was actually doing?), then I needed to crate Hodge because he'd bitten me (which he'd done this morning for the first time in months). When I woke up (in the dream), I had a snarling, twisting cat to contend with—but his crate had been dismantled in the oddest ways. The door was gone, but it was suddenly two half doors, parts of which I found later. A square was missing from the top, which I also eventually found. It occurred to me that this was possibly the work of my father, and depressing evidence he might have dementia problems (my father hasn't been in Chicago since the 1950s, and he passed away in 2001).

    My dad came thundering in the door after I had jury-rigged a crate together from what seemed like disparate pieces from two jigsaw puzzles. He was furious about something, screaming at me about something I had done that was beyond all pales, all norms. My brother (who has never been in Chicago past O'Hare International Airport) was behind him and explained that Dad was upset that I had not visited and/or gone to the funeral of a particular Mexican woman to whom we owed so much (I don't think my dad ever knew any Mexican women). Dad pretended not to see the cat carrier and wouldn't calm down enough to listen to my questions.

    I was just dazed.

    Although I hated being yelled at, I didn't want the dream to end, because at least part of my family was together again.