Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Just One Little House

I was in my early twenties when I first recall having the dream. In the dream, I drive to my parent's house, and come to a stop abeam it. It's the house I spent my growing-up years in, between the ages of two and eighteen. But now, although the color of the house is the same, it looks darker. Now, the lawn and the tree outside haven't changed, except they look less alive.

My Mom and Dad aren't there. They're gone.

I would usually wake up from the dream with a feeling of dread. Underlying the dread was a sort of low-grade horror. My parents should always be there.

When my employer offered me a position in California in 1982, I moved back to my home town in southern California. It was wonderful to spend time with my Mom, Dad, and sister again. The dreams became less frequent, but they still came.

My dad died, suddenly, in 1991, nine years before my son was born. I had a dream one night that Dad was still alive, and that Rhonda, Dylan, and I were visiting. In the dream, Dylan was twelve instead of five, and I watched from the kitchen window as my dad and he bent over the engine of a 1959 Chevy pickup.

My mom did live to meet her grandson. She held him and talked to him and marveled over his development. When I would tell Mom about some new thing that her baby grandson had done, she would often accuse me, jokingly, of making it up. "Oh Honey, he's too young for that," she'd commonly reply. Then, as I learned later, she'd almost immediately call one of her sisters to brag about how well her precious grandson was doing in the Milestone Derby.

My Mom died in 2001, of complications from lung cancer. Dylan was fifteen months old. He remembered her until he reached three-and-a-half. Then he didn't.

My sister and I are renting out Mom and Dad's house to a young woman my sister knows. We could have sold it easily, but the young woman has a daughter, and if we sold the house, she'd have no choice to move back into a small apartment. Also, my sister and I aren't ready to let the house slip from our grasps.

In April of last year, I drove a car from home in northern California to Louisiana, where it would serve as my "airport car." I stopped for the night in Ventura, where I met an old girlfriend and her daughter for dinner. As I drove away the next morning, I made the short detour to Oxnard, and Mom and Dad's house.

It was early, and the street was quiet. I stopped across the street from the house, got out of the car, and leaned on the hood. There was the house I'd grown up in, with other people now living there. There was no sign of stirring yet from the house, nor from the entire street. I looked at the house for ten minutes or so. It looked pretty much the same, and yet it didn't. I wanted to walk up on the lawn, and perhaps pinch a leaf from the tree, but I didn't.

I got back in the car, then headed for the Pacific Coast Highway, where I passed Point Mugu, Malibu, and Santa Monica, enroute to join Interstate 10 eastbound.

I remember thinking, "I need to walk into the house, someday."

I will. Someday.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Privacy Ain't Dead, but it's Lookin' a Little Wimpy

In a recent blog, Algernon provided some wry commentary on the proliferation of video surveillance in the United States. Privacy has indeed taken a major hit due to video surveillance, but on the horizon I see something even more worrisome.

It's called Radio Frequency Identification--RFID--and if you thought video surveillance threatened your privacy, wait until these little tags become commonplace, which seems inevitable.

Those "little tags" harbor minuscule radio antennas and microchips. They transmit an identifying number to an electronic reader, which then links to a computer database. Sounds a lot like what bar codes do, right? Yeah, but these little gadgets allow the identifying number to be read from as far away as 750 feet. According to a recent Consumer Reports article, RFID's are already more a fact of life than many of us realize: through early 2006, sales of all RFID's, since their inception into the market, totaled 2.4 billion. In 2006 alone, sales are expected to reach 1.3 billion, and by 2015, sales could reach one trillion.

RFID's are now in the new contactless payment cards, some items in Walmart and Best Buy, in library books, and in U.S. passports. As the use of RFID's proliferates, more and more information about the consumer will be available to corporations and to the government. It would appear that in the future, nearly everything we buy--from lightbulbs to lipstick, from shampoo to socks--will be traceable to the consumer's credit card. According to Consumer Reports, RFID's may soon even be sewn inside clothing, or even in the soles of shoes.

RFID's can even be inserted in people. In the U.S., about 100 people have been "chipped," mostly folks with serious medical problems. (The idea is that if you're incapacitated, an ER doc can access your medical records.)

Security is another issue. It will likely be possible for electronic eavesdroppers to glean sensitive information when data is transmitted from RFID's to readers.

The advent of RFID's hasn't seemed to cause much of a ripple with folks at large. Perhaps as long as we have sufficient multitudes enjoying their SUV's, iPods, and low-interest mortgages, the potential pitfalls of this new threat to privacy won't seem to loom too largely.

Perhaps therein lies the real heart of the problem.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thoughts of Mothers' Day, and the Guy Who Loved Her Too

It's Mother's Day. I'm thinking of my own mom, and of my wife, the mother of my son.

She can be tough as nails, yet inside lies a tender heart, and a little girl's sense of wonder. She's one of the bravest people I've ever known, and a mere kiss on my cheek from her still seems to travel straight to my soul.

I'm also thinking of Wade Harter, who died thirty summers ago.

When Rhonda and I started dating during our senior year in high school, Wade Harter, a friend to us both, confessed to me that he'd been in love with Rhonda since he'd first met her. It was a strange moment, but Wade was such an earnest, honest, stand-up guy that the episode really didn't live up to its potential for awkwardness.

Rhonda loved him too, but not in that way. I already knew that.

Wade came from a poor family, and had no hope of attending college through any help from his parents. He carried college prep classes, worked thirty-six hours a week after school and on weekends, and was an overachieving average-sized guy on the football team. Despite a country-bumpkin demeanor, he was smart both in the academic and practical sense. He was also one of the genuinely warmest, kindest, and funniest people I've ever met in my life. He was the sort of guy who would drop everything to help someone out, despite the fact that he hardly had enough spare time to blow his nose.

I expected that Wade and I would no longer be friends. I was wrong. Wade, being the special man he was, stayed friends with Rhonda, and with me. At one point, I remember being worried that I would somehow ruin the developing relationship with Rhonda by overthinking things. It was Wade who reassured me and bolstered my confidence, all the while with a hurt look in his eyes. I was lucky to keep him as a friend. I was lucky that he happened to like the guy who'd won the heart of the girl he loved.

I went off to Army flight training a few months after graduating from high school. It's an old, sad story: boy gets girl, boy goes into military, boy loses girl. It wasn't long before things grew strained between Rhonda and me. We tried to hold on to what we had, but then came horrible news.

Wade had secured a full-ride scholarship at the University of Wyoming. It was his dream come true, as he wanted to live the rest of his days in Wyoming. But then, on the Fourth of July, between his sophomore and junior years, a drunk driver crossed over a double yellow line and slammed into Wade's car. Wade was killed instantly.

Wade's death seemed to dissolve the remaining glue that held Rhonda and me together. We'd already broken up, but after Wade's death, we talked less and less. Soon, we would simply stop talking.

The feelings between us didn't disappear, though. Rhonda and I saw each other again in 1993, eighteen years after breaking up, and we married five months later.

Hey, sometimes I still don't believe it.

So now, I wish my wife, and all the mothers out there, a Happy Mother's Day. Our little boy will soon turn six, and I cannot think of a mother alive who has showered more love on a child. I'm thankful that she fell in love with me back in 1974, and not the guy who I know in my heart was the better man.

As for me, I think of myself as a good husband, and a good father, but I hope that someday I'll be as good a man as Wade Harter.

That's a tall order.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Iron-Fisted Parenting

Our five going-on-six year-old, Dylan, has pretty much been a little gentleman since starting kindergarten. Although he's bigger than most of the kids in his class, he doesn't push his classmates around. We were warned by other parents to watch for profanity sneaking into his speech once his schooling started, but that didn't happen. Like his mom, he's both sweet and headstrong, but overall, he's what you'd call an "easy" kid.

That sets the stage for tonight. Rhonda and I are lying next to him in bed. He's had a bath, we've read him a story, and he's winding down. Rhonda asks, "What word do you break just by saying it?" I started to think about that one.

Dylan didn't think long at all. Immediately, he answers, "Ass and shit."

With hands covering our mouths, it took a few minutes for Rhonda and I to cease our choked, muffled laughter. Damn, it can be really hard not to laugh at your kid when you know laughing ain't the most parentally appropriate course of action. Finally, we regained our composure enough to explain to Dylan that those weren't the words to use, and why.

But sheesh, he knew we were laughing our, er, asses off. I hope we had some credibility.

Oh man. Parenting can be such a challenge.

Oh yeah. What word does one break just by saying it? Silence.