Thursday, May 27, 2010

Roadtrip and Graduation

Erin and his father spent Tuesday walking (slogging) the Freedom Trail in Bawston. Blistering hot day. We lack no humidity hereabouts. This comes as a shock to those used to drier heat, viz Erin’s father from Idaho and even 10 year New England vet Erin. To unwilt them, we made a day trip up the coast to Maine on Wednesday.

We got on Route 1 and hugged the coast. It was much cooler than Tuesday. We got up past Oguncuit and swung back home. I do not know the extent of Dunkin Donuts’ reach, but we saw a pantload along the way. It is a cultural signpost, taking cultural in its murkiest connotation. The inescapable commodity of gloppy pastry and water-flavoured caffeine.

We had a picnic lunch by the beach in York. Lots of people were on the beach, but those actually in the water were few. Surfers wearing rubber suits had good surf to play with, or is it vice versa?

We later wandered on another beach. Tide was just coming in. The water on the flats was warmed to a plausible survivability. Stepping into the surf left my feet numb. I think the bestest thing was seeing some life in the puddles on the flat. Snails, barnacles, hermit crabs, and a fingernail-sized crab scuttling sideways. I love and a half looking at this evidence of teeming. I do not want to catch fish or any of the critters—I do not regard fish as food, thank you—I just like seeing the bluster of life.

No traffic jams along the way but a good bit of ready up for Erin’s graduation.

Which happened today.

Erin has slept at the motel with his father, which made it easier to provide a bed for Beth’s mother (who drove up Monday). We conglomerated around 8am for the drive to the city of Lowell, just the next town o’er. Erin attended the Bedford campus of Middlesex Community College, but the ceremony was at the big city.

The city of Lowell possesses uncommon beauty in architecture, with vivid factories and fancied up whatnot. When you look upon the landscape it is really lovely, with the Merrimack River and the canals and the rolling hills. The place is also a worn out dump, despite federal money poured in to the brim (the city itself is a national park). Don’t take my word for this, come check it out.

I went in with Erin as the others parked the phaeton. Lowell Auditorium teemed with wildlife, lots of nervous excited people. Erin had to locate the group he would walk with (Liberal Arts and Sciences). Easier said than done. Oh yes, and he had to put that gown on.

We tramped thru the crowd until we came to the end of crowd, then worked our way back. Eventually, we found where Erin belonged. I left him properly in line and gowned to a fare-thee-well. Including the goofy hood thingie.

I hooked up with the family, and with invited friends. I went back to give Erin a last hand slap and get a few more of my patented poorly composed pictures. I did the normal  thing, scanned for the tallest person in the throng (Erin is 6’6”). I realized I went too far and came back. A grad caught my eye and pointed down. Erin was sitting cross-legged and meditative on the floor.

And then the ceremony. Not for high school, AA,  BA or MA did I walk. I’m not proud of that tho I guess I was at one time. The point is, I have not seen graduation before.

Most of the speeches were brisk enough. The highlight was Liz Murphy (I think  her name is). She was a homeless teenager who managed to not just graduate from high school, but Harvard too. It is an inspirational story, of course, but she was more interesting than that. She was lively and well-spoken, tho a trifle nervous.

I jumped ahead mentioning her.  First the processional. The familiar sounds of Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance Numbers 12 & 35 rose up. I know there are several P&Cs, and somehow, I associate the music with my father. After a few bars, some bagpipe music was delivered from the lobby. Three bagpipers, and three drummers marched in. The two musical forces tussled then P&C backed off until the pipers and the mysterious entity called The Student Marshalls had entered. Then the Elgar beat returned and the grads entered.

It was a slow process getting the grads into the auditorium and seated. Is Erin coming? Yes, finally. He bowed as he walked down the aisle.

Of course the big punchline of graduation is the doling of diplomas. This was a long process. The process was made worse by the obnoxious use of air horns, and several crying babies with heartlessly immovable parents. Erin tipped his cap when he got his diploma. The gestures are not typical of Erin, but that fact somehow is typical of him. Expect the unexpected.

Okay, this was just a community college, and only an AA, but I had tears in my eyes. The accomplishment is magnificent.

Erin is uniquely gifted, as are we all, but his gifts are balanced by difficulties. It has been wondered whether he has Asperger’s and finally doctors have said no, because his empathy places him outside the spectrum. The autistic spectrum, it is becoming clear, is extensive. It encompasses many more of us than was formerly thought.

Charles Olson’s words, I have had to learn the simplest things last, have been something of a motto for me. They seem even more apposite for Erin. He is a wonderful, creative person, innocent in the best way. He is also socially awkward, and faceblind (as is his grandmother): he does not easily recognize faces.

Erin was homeschooled because of his difficulties, plus growing up in Alaska where schools were not the best. He took some courses at the community college as part of his homeschooling. This enabled him to get into college without a high school degree or GED, but certainly well-educated. Fulfilling the 2-year degree allows him to enroll in the UMass system, which he has. Community college, then, was like prep school, except without the silly sweater tied around the neck.

This last semester was not pretty. He expected to have four courses, but he also had two incompletes to finish, and an advisor error meant he was a credit short unless he took one more course. It was a ragged run to the finish line, but he got there.

So I am proud of Erin. We understand education as a collection of information, a simple acquisition. In truth, education is a process of individuation, defining ourselves as joyful singularities. The university chime of diversity is fine in a promotional way, but it charges the barriers more than brings us together. Our singularities join us. Erin’s unique gifts, or yours, or mine, or Beth’s, are the chances to deliver light. Emboldening cultural distinctions will not. Erin’s uniqueness is not embraced in the campgrounds of normative education. Humanity’s progressive steps, however, will be made by those keyed to the individuation.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dalai Lama Live

We spent the weekend with two foci: visit Beth’s mother and aunt, and see the Dalai Lama. Beth’s folks live in Brick,  NJ, on the Jersey shore. The plan was to have Beth’s mother join us in NYC, to see the Dalai Lama, but plans changed.

We left civilization around noon on Friday. We had a brisk run down the parkways, which clearly is the most pleasant way to reach NYC from Massachusetts. The traffic never seems bad, and the tree-lined roadways are beautiful.

We reached Lakewood and the Hilton Gardens Hotel at some dinnerish hour. Time to relax.

Oh wait, need a screw up! Beth’s mother offered to put us up in a hotel because there isn’t enough room where she is. Checking in, I was asked for a credit card. I thought the room was paid for. The clerk said it was for i.d. Yeah well, in sooth, somehow Beth’s mother’s attempt to reserve a room for us became thru the Hilton’s machinations simply a commitment to commit. The desk clerk ended up putting not just a charge but a hold  as well on our card, which was our debit card, which was our funding for this trip. I shan’t bore you with the details (go to my new blog: Bore You With The Details dot com). Suffice to say that fol-de-rol occurred, some ruction followed, a donnybrook was barely averted, and no one actually died tho imprecations were voiced. Buzz kill. AVOID HILTON GARDENS HOTEL.

We got together with Beth’s mother and aunt. Mother was under the weather, but we had a nice dinner. The next day we largely hung out. Beth went to a hair salon and I sat around there, wrote and doodled and wandered a bit in Point Pleasant. Tra la.

Saturday night we had another nice family dinner. Oh, we learned that the hotel had not quite gotten rid of the hold on our card. AVOID HILTON GARDENS HOTEL.

Sunday we learned for sure that Beth’s mother was not joining us in NYC. We fashioned a fancy itinerary or travelogue, an adventure, to wit:

  • Drive up to Newark Airport
  • Take the Air Train to Terminal B
  • Take the train to Penn Station
  • Take the Subway to 5th Ave
  • Walk to Radio City Music Hall

You think the Donners had a rough go?

Really,  it all worked well, even tho it felt like Heart of Darkness. We would periodically stop people for directions and they were helpful, even those who did not know. At RCMH, I saw a woman and child holding a sign requesting a ticket. We had the extra. The woman explained they were part of a group. She couldn't pay for the ticket but we weren’t looking for that anyway. Beth asked if it was okay that they’d be spread out thru the theatre and the woman said yes. That was serendipitous.

The Hall is mid-size and plain. Our seats were mezzanine, I think, decent enough. Arriving to sit in the seat we gave away was a Tibetan monk. Who knows how that happened. Periodically he cupped his cellphone in his hand and conversed. Perhaps we just assumed that the tickets were for the boy.

The stage was busy with people. Monks either sat and chanted or wandered. Others helped wandering procedures. A flute played at times. Eventually the stage got full and Richard Gere came out.

Gere gave a brief, relaxed intro to the Dalai Lama, then an entourage entered the stage. It looked like standard issue celebrity entourage including, I surmise, the person in charge of regulating the color choice of M&Ms in the bowl in the dressing room. Amidst this milling group was the man himself. An armchair was brought for the DL, and a small one for his interpreter. One does not immediately remember that the Dalai Lama is a head of state. There were obvious, and I am sure not obvious, security onstage and around.

The DL has quite a presence. One gets the impression that he is more than 6’ tall but indeed he is well short of that. He was stately in a friendly, common way.

He sat in his chair, and resurrected Mr. Rogers by elaborately removing his shoes and cleaning his eyeglasses, which caused the crowd to laugh. His own laugh is infectious.

He spoke very good English, tho strongly accented, which I mean in two senses: his Tibetan accent is thick, and he emphasizes the wrong syllables at times.

This was a secular talk. He gave more spiritual talks previously in the weekend. Buddhism is a fine tool for understanding and proceeding, to my lights. I will not proselytize. I like the practicality of what he speaks, and his playful humour. Following the Buddha’s own advice, the DL said check it out and see if it works for you. If  it doesn’t work for you, he said, then fuck it. Did I hear aright? Yes, I did. He did not say the phrase for shock value, but used the most direct words. I respect that greatly.

The Nobel Peace Prize seems pretty shady with the likes of Obama (on the basis of what?), Kissinger, and Mother Theresa Incorporated winning, but the Dalai Lama seems absolutely appropriate. His open-minded stance towards science is a blessing in contradistinction to too many clerical views. I could go on. Check out my new blog I Could Go On dot com.

He had a number of straightforwardly chastening remarks about China, and a puckish comment about women’s makeup. He said, that blue around the eyes, not attractive. She won’t get a date from me.

The DL visited a local Buddhist center a few years ago. The person who wrote the report said that someone in the DL’s entourage came up to the writer and said in his ear, indicating the DL: Do not trust that guy! Only later did the writer learn that the person with the advice was the DL’s brother. Runs in the family.

The DL did some Q&A and then, basically, wandered off. He wanted to go into the audience, it looked like, but an efficient suit drew him towards backstage.

Afterwards, Erin and I made the grand journey to the bathroom downstairs, where the throng lined up then darted to an open facility. When we returned to the lobby, Beth decided to ready her bladder for the trip back to Newark, so she went to the bathroom. By now, ushers were ushering. They accosted everyone who was not moving briskly towards the door. We told them we were waiting for someone, and they said wait over there. Then en masse the ushers moved forward, pressing laggards ahead. We were removed from each place they told us to go to. I do not want to overplay this, but the impression was as of Tiananmen Square. The bully ushers heard nothing,  just pushed forward. Really, really out of key with the afternoon.

As I waited outside, I saw Marvin Hamlisch leave the building. I am sure other celebs could have been noted.

The trip back was fine until we reached the airport. Rt 95 barely moved. I think it took 3 hours to reach the George Washington Bridge. Add that we were low on gas. Cars shifted lanes in that relentlessly hopeful way, sure of certain gains tho actual visibility of the road ahead amounted to a couple of car lengths.

At Fort Lee, just before the GW toll, we simply had to duck off the highway and find gas. We asked a pedestrian, who said just over there, tho 4 blocks further the price was better. We opted for the close one. Expensive gas in NJ is what we gladly pay in MA.

The attendant, dressed in a spiffy clean uniform, would not take a card. Our cash had been whittled down and we still had tolls to pay, so we had to limit our purchase. Tank was nearly empty again the next day, because…

On 84 past Hartford, around 11pm, we found another lovely snag. Roadwork. That was another 90 minutes of life I will not get back.

Home to a happy cat.

This afternoon we drove in to Logan airport to pick up Erin’s father. He was flying in from Idaho for Erin’s upcoming graduation from community college (more about that anon). Holy cow! All major arteries out of Boston were choked with traffic. Had fun calling 511and getting reports of the traffic misery. Figured out an overland route.

The parking garage at Logan had a wide area of available parking inexplicably set off with temporary barriers, no way to get to them. Things these days are baffling. Accept the unacceptable. This traffic biz seems to be a lesson, keyed to the DL’s talk.