I was just thinking that it was a strange coincidence that my ancestors, at least well back into the early 19th century, were all farmers and carpenters and such living here, in Western Minnesota, and that my grandfather had left this cold frigid place for the West coast after WWII, where I was born…and now I’ve ended up right back here. Well, almost — my grandparents and great grandparents and great-great grandparents etc. all lived even further north, on the flat basin of old Lake Agassiz, where the prairie was utterly flat and the winter winds could howl across the farm unimpeded by pesky hills. Then I stumbled onto a small collection of old photos.

Here’s my great-great-grandfather, Jens Westad. No, I never met him. The photo has to be from some time around the turn of the century.

I very much like the formal style. The really tall kid in the back is my great-grandfather, Peter Westad. I did know him, visited him fairly often, did chores like weeding his garden for him, but he died when I was 13. He was a handsome man, with a lovely thick mustache.

I think that photo would have been taken in his mid-twenties, maybe around 1906 when he married my great-grandmother, who was also wonderful and could make an excellent pie or fishhead soup. Here she is in a family portrait.

This one must have been taken sometime in the 1930s, before my grandfather, the young man on the far left, got shipped off to the far Pacific islands to build runways for the army.

I think that sometime this summer I should take a few days to visit the north country up around Gary and Fertile Minnesota since I seem to have fairly deep roots in that region. Not that anyone would remember the Westads, or that anything is left of their residence — damn, but we humans are impermanent — but it would just be nice to see a bit of the land that shaped my family.

Also…spider collecting trip!

Physical therapy is magic

I just got back from my first physical therapy session, and I guess these doctors actually know stuff. She very quickly diagnosed my problem as an out-of-whack iliosacral joint — I was asymmetrical, one hip higher than the other. So she laid me out, gave me 3 hard yanks on the right leg, and bob’s your uncle, I was symmetrical again. But also pretty sore. I’ve got some simple exercises to do, an ice pack, and a warning to avoid sitting awkwardly. That’s it! I’ll live! And even better, I’m feeling less pain already.

Now all I have to is avoid doing anything stupid and quit pretending I’m as flexible as a teenager, and I’ll be out stomping the fields for spiders in a few weeks.

(Actually, PT isn’t magic, it’s science.)

Man, these drugs are a downer

This past week I’ve been afflicted with some serious pain issues — my back is all knotted up, and once I find a comfortable position, I have to stay in it or I’ll get these agonizing spasms. I’ve seen a doctor about it, and am currently taking 600mg of ibuprofen and cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxer, and am starting up physical therapy next week. I am getting better, I don’t instantly lock up with stabbing pains when I stand up or sit down, but I’m not exactly enjoying the new side effects.

My brain is currently operating at half speed, and it’s hard to concentrate on reading anything — the letters and words swim around on the page. Also, most distractingly, if I close my eyes, I don’t see darkness, I see an odd rippling moire texture. It’s a bit like a mottled red silk cloth rippling in a breeze, with folds going in and out of focus. Fortunately, it’s not interfering with my sleep, since all I have to do is close my eyes for a few minutes and never mind the groovy optical illusions going on, I’ll pass out wherever I am.

This is not optimal, but then neither is pain lancing up my spine. I’m going to have to put up with being a white punk on dope…

…sorry. Just went into a fugue state and had to listen to the Tubes for a bit. That’s where my brain is right now, and I haven’t even taken today’s dose yet. I think, though, one good weekend of zombie-like R&R should do it for me, and then just ibuprofen and physical therapy to get over this. I have spiders to chase, you know.

I learned long ago that grandfathers shouldn’t drive

Abbey has a whole post about turning my blog topics into a poem…a rather morbid poem, because I guess all I talk about is DEATH and SPIDERS and MORONS. It wouldn’t sting as much as it does if there weren’t a bit of truth to it. All right then, I’ll write about something else then.

How about alcoholism?

I have an ugly family history of alcoholism, which has given me a lifetime resistance to the disease. I’m not about to take up drinking unless, of course, I become suicidally depressed, which could happen, since depression isn’t under anyone’s control. So I’ll never say never, but sure, if my life took a tragic turn, I could imagine trying to drown my grief and end my life in a puddle of vomit while shitting my pants. That’s what I think of alcoholism: it’s an ugly way of destroying yourself if you have such self-loathing that you want to degrade yourself into oblivion. How I came to that opinion was by witnessing such destruction.

When I was a child, I had doting grandparents on my mother’s side. She was an only child, so we were the only grandchildren they’d ever have, and they spoiled us. We often spent weekends at their house, staying up late, watching TV, eating cookies, etc., all the things we do to take advantage of older relatives. My grandfather taught me interesting things: he had a complete woodworking shop, where I learned how to use a lathe and a table saw. He was also an eager adopter of new gadgets, and had an 8mm movie camera, and taught me how to edit film. He was a cool dude, at first.

And then, the drinking.

It was an occasional beer throughout the day, at first. Then a six-pack in the morning. Then he’d have a case by his easy chair, so he wouldn’t have to get up to pop a warm can of Pabudschlitz, or whatever, when he felt like it, which seemed to be continuously. By 10am he’d be soused, slurring his words and veering frequently into racial commentary. When I was a pre-teen, though, I’d sometimes still be left in my grandparent’s care, and sometimes Grandma would be off doing grandmotherly things, and the moment of dread would arrive (no, not what you think):

“Hey boy, let’s go for a drive.”

This where I acquired my grim Nordic fatalism. We’d get in his land yacht, which was always some huge monstrous boat of a vehicle (it was a rule in the 1960s that the older you got, the wider your car had to be), and set off on an Epic Journey. He’d never get above 10-15 miles per hour, wobbling all over the road, terrifying the telephone poles, and stopping at every intersection to peer around blearily to figure where he was going. I could have told him. North on 1st Ave, left on Willis and a quick right, on to Meeker street, then left and right one block up, then pull into the parking spot. Our destination was a bar, of course. I think it was called the Moonlight Inn? Moon something? I don’t know, I’ll just call it the Memory Hole Inn.

We’d stop. He’d say, “Wait there, I’ll be right back.” He wouldn’t be. I’d sit in the car for maybe an hour or so. One time I got fed up with waiting, and walked into the Memory Hole Inn to see what was going on. It was the only time I ever set foot in the damned place.

It was dark. Lights were dimmed, there was a long dark wood bar, there were dark booths, dark tables, dark chairs, some benches upholstered with cracked red vinyl. It was dead quiet, except for the occasional clink of glasses. There was my grandfather, sitting alone at a table, slumped over a half dozen empty shot glasses. He noticed me and without a word we went back to his boat of a car and drove back to his house.

I cannot communicate the terror of driving with my grandfather, because I took it like a good little nihilist. He didn’t drive fast, just erratically. We were doomed, I’d probably end up with a broken neck or a face lacerated with shattered glass, but I would just sit there quietly as the world lurched by in unexpected proximity. Not even a seatbelt — this was the 1960s, after all — and I just contemplated with despair the tree branches that might punch through my eye or what ditch my sad little corpse would adorn.

I loved my grandfather, you see. If he saw fit to take me on a cruise on Naglfar, who was I to object?

Far more revealing, pehaps, was when he drove with my grandmother (she had no license, had never learned, 1960s yadda yadda). She lacked the Norwegian grimness, you know. When Grandma was in the car, she clutched the armrest with one claw, had the other braced against the dashboard, and would frequently shriek “NEHMEN!” Every moment we were one second away from Hel, and she let us all know it. While I was sitting quietly in the back seat, calmly thinking “we’re going to die any moment now” and goggling about owlishly, resigned to my fate, she was howling “WE’RE GOING TO DIE” while preparing to murder Grandpa in revenge. She was obviously the bravest woman I’ve ever known, with the courage to repeatedly mount the doom ride.

Also, she managed to stay with her husband as his drinking worsened, as oral cancer mangled his face, as he descended into foul-mouthed impotent rage, sitting in his chair howling his hatred of women and Asians and black people. At least he was unable to drive at all!

So today I am a grandfather, and my wife is a grandmother, and we’re getting ready to get into a car and drive across the state to see our granddaughter. There won’t be even a whiff of alcohol vapor anywhere in the car or from my person, because I learned my lesson early on. I learned a lot of things I shouldn’t do from Grandpa. Mary will still be terrified of my driving — I think it’s a Scandinavian Grandmother thing. We’ll probably survive, especially if I let her do all the driving.

So. I’m getting ready to go to Wisconsin. We’ll probably make frequent stops to see how the spider population is doing along I-94. Iliana won’t have to wonder what Grandpa is doing, he’ll be hunched over a spider web rather than a collection of shot glasses, which I think is an improvement.

Giving up

Yesterday I procrastinated by cleaning up my home office. This morning I’m going in to the lab to feed the little beasties and wash some more glassware. Then I’m going to come home and buckle down to nothing but grading for the rest of my life. It’s all over, I’m resigning myself to nothing but drudgery for eternity. Goodbye, everyone. Time to crawl into the pit of despair and make it my own.

Definitely a senior moment

I’m puttering about in the lab, waiting for students to show up, and was mainly just cleaning a lot of glassware. Then I had to make up some solutions and culture more flies, and then as reflex dictates, I had to label everything.

This is a rule. Every time you make a bottle of something, you slap a label on it that says what’s inside and the date you made it. If I didn’t, I’d probably have a seizure trying to get to the container, even if gorillas charged in and snatched me away. It really is that important.

So tape goes on, sharpie comes out, I start writing. “16 March…”, and then, brain freeze. I forgot the decade. “81”, my fingers itched to write. I was in grad school. This is when I got into this habit. It must be…

No, that’s ridiculous. It’s not the 20th century anymore, that’s over. “01”? Maybe?

20 fucking 21? NO WAY! That’s the distant future, I’m a young man working in the lab. After a brief discombobulation, though, I realized it really was 2021, a date that belongs in a science fiction novel, and most of my life had just flown by. It’s going to take a while to get used to this.

So that must be what senility is like, just a whole series of shocks over the most mundane moments. Maybe my brain is going.

Nah, not really. I got very little sleep last night, work has been piling up again, I’m dog tired and stuck doing the most mindless routine tedium. I’ll mention this incident next time I see a doctor for a checkup (that should happen next month, once I’m fully vaccinated), but I think what I really need to do is catch up on my sleep and put a lot of work behind me. A nap and a vacation, that’s what I need.

It’s not too late to shower us with rubies

Last year was our 40th wedding anniversary, which we had to spend apart because Mary got caught by the lockdown in Colorado. This year, Tuesdays are my heaviest teaching days, so I’m just spending the whole day on zoom and in lab.

We’re such a glamorous couple.

I note that the traditional 40th anniversary wedding gift is rubies. If you’ve got a few you can spare, drop them in an envelope and send them here. You all forgot to send them last year; to be honest, I didn’t even notice then.

The day after

I had my shot of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday. Today, I’m feeling it: my arm is sore, my limbs in general feel like lead, and my brain seems to be running at half speed. This must be the possible lethargy they warned us about. It’s nothing too bad, and even if I’d known the specific effect ahead of time, it wouldn’t have dissuaded me in the slightest.

Fortunately, as an early anniversary gift, I bought us a larger coffee maker, which helps a little. Also, it’s not as if professoring takes much brain power, right?