Power Strips

I WILL spend at least thirty minutes a day de-cluttering and cleaning my flat, and the garbage is to be taken out every day.

Today’s special project: unsnarling the horrifying mess of cables and wires in my bedroom that connect various appliances and form topological structures of a daemonic complexity, structures that literally and eerily model the mess my sciatic nerve is in.

I WANT MY POWER STRIP ON THE WALL, dammit, to keep it off the floor and out of the way of my helper when she cleans. And these big, clunky, British style plugs bat ya in the balls when you aren’t looking.

I WANT EACH CABLE LABELED AT EACH END with computer printed identification as to where the hell it comes from and where the hell it’s going.

I was going to write that I am a Poet and an Artist and a Dancer and need to Rise Above It all, am no good with tools. But that is not quite right.

I was indeed horrified by technology way back in the 1960s, big, pale green computers and noisy 707 jet planes gave me the willies. But I had to deal so I fell in love with doing programming in a structured and well-documented way of “simplicity” adequate to the problem.

I want structured wiring (which I understand is good practice in computer networking) if I have to have it at all.

I lucked out as regards hanging the power strip with those super-sticks because some guys love to use power tools, that make that an awful noise in the next flat when you’re trying to listen to music. Some guys like chain saws and leaf blowers.

They drive me mad, because power drills, chain saws and leaf blowers use electricity and petrol and make a racket. My grandfather taught how to use hand drills and band saws, and we raked the leaves up by hand, making a glorious bonfire of them in those bygone days.

I liked hanging out with grandfather but never wanted very much to be good with tools. I wanted instead to be educated and indulged as was Adorno. But that requires a bourgeois family AND a gold standard such that Father is serenely confident, as was Wiesengrund senior, that he has provided for his children’s future. It was demolished by the First World War, the Weimar inflation, and Hitler.

Even in the fat Sixties with a well to do father, we were expected to work during high school. My foray into the world of work was a disaster: two days at Baskin and Robbins in a strip mall on the old Northwest highway in Palatine, Illinois. I then was an actual usher in an actual “Call for Phillip Morris” monkey suit in a Loop theater.

I can still remember the burning shame and exhaustion in the Chicago and Northwestern Station at 12:30 AM trying to get the last train home all the way to Palatine…one hour away. Nobody seemed to care and in me an increasing anger. They had cigarettes and cigars in the Chicago and Northwestern station, and they gave a fuck if you were 17 and looked 12. King Edward became my new best friend.

Third time was the charm. In my first year at university I got a stock boy job at the uni bookstore and found I liked building and disassembling bookshelves, putting price tags on books, unloading trucks, etc. It helped through an SEIU union scholarship to pay for school.

Of course, given what my international school students in Hong Kong do to prepare for university, my father was being obtuse. The kids at HKIS and German-Swiss don’t have part time jobs. Instead, they study 24/7 and pass out at Starbuck’s.

But I can see my father’s problem. With five children per Catholic teaching, and not one like Wiesengrund, favoritism would have produced resentment. As the family genius-idiot at one moment praised and the next scorned for being so forgetful, questions would have been asked if my Dad had sent me to Princeton (assuming I’d had the grades I did have the ACT score).

‘Course, I “got into” Princeton…I got hired at the age of 36 as a programmer and from thence weaseled my way into for-credit classwork where I learned quite a lot, Firestone Library and various seminars with free food (which I appreciated at month’s end owing to my low university salary).

And, the Hong Kong parents, to be quite fair, do not realize what my father knew. You can get a first-rate education at a non-prestige school such as his own Case Western Reserve, Berea College or Roosevelt, and then apply for a prestige graduate or medical school.

A Princeton undergraduate degree means little. It means entry into Wall Street and some international jobs, the usual slog, and unless your parents are truly wealthy, crushing debt (but contrast Stanford which will give you tuition if your parents make less than 100K). Then you’re a loser with a Princeton tie in some Wall Street bar.

I increasingly have to be careful these days when meeting intelligent and well spoken twenty-somethings from the USA, for a standard question is, “where did you go to school”. Increasingly, highly intelligent kids in the USA simply opt out of university as I almost did since the student loan burden is so horrible.

Let’s get back to pure teaching and learning, please.

True Story

I’m going to say this here. Kind of buried at the bottom of a post.

I was “over the moon” when my eldest told me long distance on the phone that he’d just gotten 1560/1600 on his SAT (this was when the SAT did not have the new writing part and maximum score of 2400).

I tried to express this joy to my ex when she got on the phone, but she could do nothing more than snarl about my son’s latest mess-up.

Now, in like manner, my father once tried to tell my mother that he thought my classical piano improvisation late at night brilliant. My mother in precisely the same way dismissed him (I was there) with a snarl about the rest of my messy and fucked up life.

Now, women, it is the fashion today, women as mothers, are supposed to have an automatic excuse for today they work and mother 24/7**2. But note that my mother, as a mid-Sixties Betty Draper, did not work, save at the very real job of managing a huge house with five kids…and, of course, we had “maids”.

Now, pondering this, I think it’s correct that “work expands to fill the time available”. As Betty Draper, as a chauffeur, and home CEO, my Mom did have plenty on her plate and as Idiot Boy I certainly didn’t make her life any easier.

However, my father’s lack of aggressiveness, which was channeled by him into work, caused him to be almost as ineffectual as I was as a father, trying long-distance in Silicon Valley and Princeton to advise my son to try Outward Bound, making suggestions, making lists…and basically pushing on a string in an advisory and absurdified role, like Prince bloody Charles.

Mothers do assume too much and there is indeed such a thing as a Mama’s boy. Only he isn’t a “sissy”. Ted Nugent’s mother was quite a powerful figure in Mount Prospect and she used it to advance Nugent’s musical career while blowing off the fact (which the priests at my high school in Arlington Heights tried to point out) that Nuge was a psychopath.

Tiger Moms are great, but fathers have to cowboy up if they are married to one and be willing to stand their ground when they know they are right. I’ll never forget leaving my kids (again and again) to return to California or Princeton, standing in the Metra station that overlooked the house, and wondering if I shouldn’t just go back in like the 101st Airborne, in Mogadishu, in “Black Hawk Down”, and insist on my right to be a real Father. Would have been a battle Royale, would have scarred the children, and would have been a defeat.

Thinking of Beethoven and his struggle for Karl’s custody, thinking no, it won’t work with such as I. I take full responsibility for that decision and all its consequences. For after all, Oscar Wiesengrund, Adorno’s father (who dismissed a serving-maid for terrifying Teddy with stories of Hell), was one in a million. Misery under a domineering or ineffectual father so much more common.

Well…as Robin Williams says in Good Will Hunting, to Matt Damon, it’s not your fault. Rather, what is my fault is, and what is not, is not. My study now is Tom o’ Bedlam’s, how to avoid the Fiend and kill vermin. On that basis alone can I help anyone at all.

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