Saturday, December 15, 2007
I woke up today to a blinding sight, sun on newly-fallen snow; I woke my husband Dennis. We smiled, went out, and shovelled the walk. We shoveled our next door neighbor's walk, too, since he's old and he's been using a snowblower for the last ten years.
We came in; hung up our wet clothes, some of which I had to crochet myself. We had hot chocolate. It's something we do sparingly even in good times. We had toast from bread I made.
We talked about Christmas, about how it'll be different this year, about how we can't really give gifts, but that it doesn't matter anymore.
Philadelphia is Philadelphia, which means that there are Red Zones and Green Zones, but that was true even before the oil crisis. Philly's been a hard--but interesting--place to live for years now. The city center has an infrastructure going back to before the Age of Oil; things will continue, life will continue.
Three hundred years ago or so, Ben Franklin invented the Franklin Stove, which proved to be more efficient than the regular fireplace. Den and I are saving up for one; my parents have one. I'm sure in the near future everyone (give or take) will be using one. It's practical, it makes sense.
Which means people will probably still go on burning oil or using a fireplace, because humans, like most animals, don't adapt well to change.
I've been thinking a lot about evolution. People think that evolution is about progress, about reaching some sort of Platonic ideal of your species, but it isn't. It's simply the ability of mutation. Everything mutates, and some mutations can survive, and some are a dead end. Just look at the dinosaurs--those that mutated and eventually became birds survived. Those that didn't, well, didn't.
Humans evolve. Slowly, I guess, until a massive event where only the fittest survive. The Ice Age springs to mind--humans in the north changing pigment, changing the amount of body fat, and you end up with Norwegians or Inuit, depending on the area and what the exact environment is.
We have to evolve. I know you know that, but it doesn't hurt to say it.
We have to evolve.
Eventually, the oil will become to expensive to extract. We may come up with alternatives for some things, but overall, I don't see ethanol or wind energy replacing oil--or coal for that matter. Not until the coal runs out. We'll find ways to cling to our lifestyles, like an alcoholic drinking mouthwash. We'll drink till we die.
But some of us will survive, because some of us can adapt. I don't know if I'm going to be one of them. I don't know if my children (hypothetical for now) will be among them. But I know that, just as some dinosaurs became birds, some people will go on, living in an age without oil, an age without ease.
We're the last, you know. The end of a golden age that maybe was only pyrite. It's like some Greek story, like Icarus or Atlantis. Like Camelot. I remember reading The Last Battle, the last book in the Narnia series. King Tirian laments that he lived to see the end of the world, and how much better had he died before-hand. I've been thinking about that a lot.
It's not so much the end, but the end as we know it.
And I feel fine.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
What people may not realize about wild game is that it's not tender like the nice cuts of meat at the supermarket. It's tough, and you have to cook it the right way. A goose takes 25 minutes per pound, and at twelve pounds it took about five hours. Turkey might take five hours, but we're talking a twenty-pound turkey.
At any rate, tonight we had goose, squash, peas, greenbean casserole (honest to god, mom still had those damn French's Onions or whatever they are. Guess they never go bad), potatoes, apple-walnut-raisin stuffing (my idea--putting fruit in a goose sounded good), and for the first time real cranberries, not the stuff out of can.
To be honest, I still like the canned jelly better. I'll adapt.
Everything but the cranberries was local; do cranberries only grow in New England? And we had pumpkin pie made with real sugar pumpkins. But again, I still prefer the canned mush. I guess I'll get used to it.
But, seeing as today is Thanksgiving, this is what I'm thankful for:
- my family, especially my husband
- I'm still employed
- we still have our house
- that Pennsylvania has a lot of farms
- that I'm still a pretty-good shot with a rifle.
November can be a dreary month, especially when it rains. We just sit at the computer, checking patents, breaking for lunch, breaking for dinner. We try to get the week's work done in about three days, so that we have four days off. The company pays us by the work we do, not by the hours, so it makes sense.
So we spend our days trying to fill the time. I've started crocheting again; I used to do it as a teenager, but never kept up with it after I went to college. Just wasn't that interested, and besides, I can always buy a sweater--why make one?
So I'm trying to make a blanket, but I'm not very good at it. I keep having to unravel and start again. And it's only one color--I can't really do much else.
To be honest, I'm bored.
Survival--when we're talking about just getting through the day, when every day will be the same--when survival means "here, eat this canned food that you've been eating every day this week"--when survival means you don't go to the movies anymore or buy CDs anymore because that money's going towards the heating bill, and besides, there aren't any movies being made and the theaters are mostly closed, except for the occasional repertory theater--when survival means just getting through the damn day, it can be pretty damn boring.
Maybe the depression's just getting to me. I've been off my medication for months now, and while sometimes I'm too busy to feel anything, there are other times--and I know the winter will be like this--other times when I despair.
And I still can't figure out what to give Den for Christmas. I dunno, I guess I'll crochet something. Last year, I bought him a Playstation.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I remember the Thanksgiving when I was ten; that was 1989. It snowed on Thanksgiving Day, and I remember being both thrilled with the snow, and a little mad that it hadn't come earlier and given us an extra-long vacation.
Now, of course, I'm hoping the snow won't come early this year. Last year, I don't think we got snow until January, but then again, last year it was in the 60s on Christmas. Bleh.
So it's cold. Not dead-of-winter cold, but cold nonetheless. And Den and I are trying to think of ways to keep warm.
Our house, being old, uses radiator heat. The system was updated before we bought the place--new water tank, etc.--and supposedly it's more efficient than gas heating hot air. Problem is, we're still relying on gas. Natural gas, unlike oil, supposedly hasn't peaked yet, but it's a matter of time. On the plus side, our windows are new, the roof over our heads is good, and we added insulation in the attic when we moved in.
Still, I hope we can get through the winter like we have the last couple of winters--turn the dial back to 65°, wear sweaters, and when it's really cold, huddle. Heh.
In other news, we finally got Kate off to Reading. Den and I drove her down to King of Prussia, where a Greyhound terminal is still operating. It was the day after Halloween--Samhain, November 1. Old Irish new year, a time of ghosts and all that.
According to my stepfather, in the old days you didn't get candy at Halloween, you got cans of food and whatnot. It was more like begging door-to-door. Well, everything old is new again, I guess. Kids came in costumes, and we gave "treats"--raisins, oatmeal cookies (made with honey not sugar), and a few lucky kids got caramel apples.
If I was a kid, I'd be pissed. But the parents looked happy.
The next day, we drove Kate down.
"You'll call me when you get in, right?"
"Don't worry, Mary. It's Greyhound, not an airplane."
"I know. But you'll call, right?"
Den asked, "Do you think they'll finally reopen the Reading-Philadelphia line?"
"Pfft. They've been talking about it for ten years. If this doesn't do it, nothing will," I said.
The bus started it's engine. "Be careful, Kate."
And with that, the bus pulled out of the terminal. I followed it, down to the street, down to 202, and I watched it pull away over the horizon and out of site, like ships at sea, like all those people who sailed to the New World, leaving friends and family behind, into the great unknown.
Den put his arm around me. We went back to the car and headed home.
She did eventually call. She's with her family now in Reading, trying to figure out what to do with herself.
I just hope I get to see her again.
Finally, a brief couple of things. The garden did OK, but not as great as I would've hoped. I got some tomatoes, some peppers, but animals ate some of my tomato plants, and I know someone stole the carrots--they were pulled right out of the ground. I guess I dozed off. I've guarded it off and on--I rigged up a system where the lights go on in the garden, and sets off a buzzer in the bedroom, but sometimes I'm too slow to catch the thief.
Still, we've stocked a lot of food, and my folks' garden did great, as did my stepbrother. So hopefully we can mooch off of them to some extent. Sounds bad, but we're offering something in return:
- Den's relatively young and strong, and can chop firewood; so can I.
- I'm a good shot with a gun. I've been going out and hunting wild game for meat--geese, rabbits, deer.
There aren't a whole lot of deer around, though--I think they've been pretty picked over. But there always seems to be more Canadian geese.
The funny thing, is that I remember this one Christmas when I was seventeen. I'd gotten it into my head that we should have a "Dickensian Christmas". So my mom, humoring me I guess, got us a goose from Zerns (she also got a turkey--smart thinking), and I found recipies for chestnut stuffing and plum pudding. Well, we found out a few things:
- geese don't have a lot of meat on them. A lot of fat, but not a lot of meat.
- chestnuts explode if you don't cut slits in them.
- plum pudding has a hell of a lot of ingredients, and yet no plums, just apricots.
So. We're a week from Thanksgiving, and I've got some work--some hunting--to do. Be writing again soon, I hope.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Here's the thing. Pennsylvania has some of the best farmland in the country. We really do. We can grow almost anything here--corn, grapes, apples, wheat, you name it. Jersey's much the same. The thing about agriculture, though, is that it requires a lot of manual labor.
I wasn't sure when I read lead-tag's journal about FEMA the labor camps whether he was kidding or not. Well, not. Kate and I stopped down at a local orchard to get some produce, and we saw all these people out working in the trees. "OK," I said, "guess that's what ya gotta do." But then Kate said she recognized one of the workers.
"Over there, that's Lisa. She's--I worked with her. She lost her job when I did."
"What's she doing out here?"
"I-I don't know."
I walked up to the kid running the stand. "Hey--what's with the people?"
"Where'd they come from?"
"Oh, they're from the camp."
"Yeah, the camp. Outside of Norristown."
"There's a what?"
"You know, with the trailers and stuff. Refugees, I guess."
"Homelessness, I guess. Look, all I know is they're brought here to pick the apples."
We doubled-back after buying our produce, and snuck into the orchard. There we saw Lisa, up on a ladder.
"Lisa!" Kate's voice was little more than a hiss.
"Kate? Shh! Kate, don't let 'em know you're here."
"Quiet! Look, wherever you came from, go back. You don't want to get caught up."
"Caught in what?"
Lisa looked around, I guess for a boss. Nothing. "After you left, the government came through--told everyone who wanted that they could find work out in the country, and a place to live. So I went. I was tired of being shot at."
"Damn it, Lisa, you shouldn't've left. Arthur would've--"
"Arthur's got his own problems. There's a price on his head."
I laughed. "'Price on his head'--what is he, Robin Hood? Are we back in the Middle Ages now?"
Kate gave me a withering look.
Lisa continued. "A gang. Look, it's a long story. He's got problems with a gang; I got the hell out of there. Jumped on the truck and didn't look back."
"Why didn't you try to get back to West Chester?"
"Um... Because I'm a lesbian and they're devout Catholics?"
"Yeah. Well, I doubt you're gettin' any pu-"
"Shh. Look, guys, get going. Go home. I'll see if I can talk to you later."
Kate said, "I still have my cellphone."
We still haven't heard from her.
Friday, October 12, 2007
"I need your help."
"Obviously, if you're up here."
I brewed some coffee--something I rarely do anymore, due to the cost and scarcity, but this counts as a special occasion. We sat at the kitchen table, as I made some toast and preserves.
"I need to get to Reading."
"No--I mean it. I need to get home. To my parents."
"Why? What's going on? I mean, other than the end of the world as we know it."
"I was laid off. And I haven't been able to get to class--I can't afford it now."
"Can you help me?"
"Mary, please. What choice do I have?"
What choice do I have?
"Take a couple of days and stay with us. OK? We'll figure out how to get you home, but take a couple of days here and rest. Try and get a hold of your mom, see what's going on in Reading."
That afternoon, we went down to my parents' place for lunch; Lansdale has a shuttle going back and forth between the train station and Center Point in Worcester. Kate told my folks about losing her job, and how she needed to get to Reading.
"Are there still Greyhound buses?" Kate asked.
"In King of Prussia, there are," my stepfather said.
"Is--is there any way to get there? I know, I should've gone from Philly, but, I guess I wasn't thinking."
"It's alright, Kate," I said, "I'll take you."
And I will, but not for a few days--I'm going to try and get a collection for gas money.
I've got a bad feeling about this...
Thursday, October 11, 2007
"They laid me off."
"I'm sorry, Kate."
"No--it's OK. I--I can just spend more time on school."
"Arthur. I don't know if... I don't know how I'll chip in right now."
He nodded. "There's probably something. The co-op--"
"The co-op already has three people working there. That's all they can support. They want volunteers, not workers."
Arthur began fiddling with a broken radio. One of his sister's kids dropped it down the stairs that morning. "Kate, I'll help you as long as I can, but--"
"But this isn't a charity. I know."
Kate left. Arthur sat back. He knew what she was going to do, but he didn't feel he could stop her. Resources were stretched as it was.
That night, Kate packed two bags. There wasn't much left--the bed and dishes she knew she'd have to leave behind; she selected a few of her favorite books. A few favorite clothes. A few favorite cds. Her laptop.
She missed the apartment. The backyard, with her tomato plants; the mantel over the fireplace, where a Buddha sat next to a rosemary tree; her books. It wasn't much, but it had been hers. But that was over now.
"Where are you gonna go?" Lisa, who worked with her until the layoff, had been her roommate for the past two months here at Arthur's. She'd been let go too.
"I don't know. I just want to go home. I want to go back to Reading."
"I don't know. I just--look, I've got some friends out of the city. They say things are OK out there. I'm going up to them, and from there, I'll figure something out."
"Are you serious?"
"What choice is there? I can't stay here. I can't even go to school anymore. At least in Reading I have family." She paused. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know."
In the morning, Kate took the trolley to 30th Street Station, boarded the R5, and headed for Lansdale.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?
I haven't been telling some of the good news, because it's so easy to be distracted by the bad. So here's some good news:
1.) My parents' vegetable garden has had a bumper crop. Tomatoes canned for the winter, peppers turned into pepper relish, beans frozen for the winter, etc. Ate the latest zucchini tonight while visiting for dinner. They even have two pumpkins that survived--pumpkins have never really done well in the past, usually only one that makes it.
2.) Lansdale recently created a farmers' market in town, so that folks didn't have to trek all the way to Skippack or take the train down to Glenside. It's been in the parking lot of the shopping center just west of the town center; I think by next year they're building a permanent space.
3.) On the back of the Lansdale Farmers Market, it sounds like the communities of Lansdale, North Wales, Montgomeryville and the northern part of Worcester are banding together. Now, this is actually a pretty wide area--maybe ten miles in diameter. They're talking about petitioning Septa to increase their routes (Worcester doesn't have any connection to Septa). There's talk of starting a wind-farm, and getting PECO in on it.
The funniest thing I heard was from a couple of bar owners who've complained about the lack of beer in the area; so they're working with the Keystone Brew Supply store to start a local brewery. I don't know how much they can do at this point--it's so late in the season--but by next fall I guess we'll have some local beer being produced.
4.) Horses. Worcester has at least three horse farms, probably more. (There's also at least one sheep farm, but that's another story.) Well, the local communities are looking into getting them to breed a lot more horses. Let's face it--if we're not going to be running a lot of cars, there's always the Amish Way.
5.) Speaking of the Amish, there's apparently a move to get some Amish up here from Lancaster to basically teach us how to do what they do--that is, live without modern convenience (more or less--that's a very simplistic way of thinking about the Amish, but I'm not getting into that now).
So yeah, some things are OK. We're holding onto the house, at least as of now. While there's been some layoffs at the company, they haven't chopped off our heads yet, so there's still hope.
As for my folks, they're safe. The looters haven't been around lately, in part because Worcester's started a volunteer police force. They're a more visible presence now; and a couple of my relative (nephews, cousins, etc.) have joined. So while I doubt everything's going to be nice and normal, at least things are a little safer.
I'm writing this on the Autumnal Equinox. It's been a long, scary summer, but maybe the autumn will be better. It's starting to feel that way. But at the same time, I have to remind myself that yeah--it's autumn now. It's getting cold, and soon it'll be winter. And it's going to be a hard winter.
But for now, I'm just going to look forward to harvest, to Halloween, and to the work ahead.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I went downtown today, in part because I'm a fool and in part because I'm an ex-journalism student. Den has a lot of work to get through, though, so he stayed behind.
So I hopped the R5 from Lansdale down to Market East. There was a huge backup getting off because in order to leave the platform you now have to go through metal detectors and pass bomb-sniffing dogs and whatnot. So even if the Sunoco job wasn't terrorism, the cops aren't taking any chances.
I hate to say it, I can't blame 'em.
There are National Guard troops in the city now; not just down at the refinery, but posted outside Independence Hall, outside (and in the courtyard of) City Hall, down at the Stock Exchange--you get the idea. Let's face it--if people are nuts enough to attack an oil refinery, what's to stop them from attacking anything else?
OK, I'm feeling a little paranoid these days.
As I said, some two hundred people died from the gas leak. The city's in mourning. This is my city--I grew up here as a kid, I lived here until the spring. My heart is still here. And maybe that's why I felt like I had to come down.
There was a tent set up in the park next to the Constitution Center. Volunteers I asked what they needed--"Anything. Put together food packages, first aid kits. Head down to Graduate [Hospital], they could use some volunteers."
"What about down in South Philly?"
"You don't wanna go down there. Besides, only the National Guard is going down there."
"Why the hell do you think? Look, you wanna help or not?"
"Yeah, I do. What can I do?"
So they set me to putting together food packages. Canned goods, mac & cheese, the usual food drive stuff. What amazes me--and encourages me--is that people, despite their resources being tight, are giving.
Around noon, they let us take a break, so I headed over to the Reading Terminal for some lunch. Normally (or at least normally being six months ago) the place is packed, every day of the week--but now, well, not so much. Oh, there were still folks getting lunch, mostly in suits, but the crowds definitely weren't there.
So anyway, I sat and had spinach pie at the Middle Eastern place, and a pretzel from the Amish pretzel guys. I knew I was spending a lot of money--money we need--but I was famished, and it'd been a long time since I'd had anything special like that. And, I don't know, I figure the sellers need the money too.
I also bought some fish and packed it in ice. I haven't had fresh fish in months--you just don't find it for a reasonable price up in the suburbs anymore. I admit, I'd packed a soft-vinyl cooler just for this. There's nothing wrong with killing two birds with one stone.
After lunch, I headed back to the volunteer station. Talked with some other people--a lot who lived in town, but a few from the suburbs who came down on the trains like me. (I'll get to what we talked about in another post.)
So anyway, I called it a day around 6:30 and tried to get on a train. Well, stupid move, because the station was packed, and I ended up sitting for an hour and a half waiting for a chance to get on a train. Den offered to pick me up in the car, but I told him not to waste the gas. I did call him when I was near the station, though, and he walked me home.
God, I'm exhausted. Anyway, this is a really abbreviated version of what happened. I'll post more later.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I bring this up for two reasons. The first is that I don't know if we can keep the house here in Lansdale. Jesus, I hate even thinking about this, but it's getting too expensive, and I'm afraid the bank will foreclose. We didn't get a crazy subprime loan, we have a tradition, fixed-rate mortgage that back in May was only 31% of our income--which is about standard. But now, with gas being more expensive, food more expensive, electricity more expensive--you get the idea. The cost of the house hasn't gone up, but everything else has. And while we've still got our jobs, I don't know how long that will last--they've started laying off some of the lower-skilled and recently hired folks at the company; they had tried just using attrition, but it wasn't working fast enough--who wants to retire now?
So one of these days, the ax is gonna fall. And what'll we do then? Foreclosure, I guess.
Unless someone blows up the bank that holds our mortgage. I don't know if that would even work, but hey, a girl can dream, can't she?
So when that happens, we really have only one alternative--move back in with my parents. God, I never though I'd have to do that again...
But that's not the only reason I mention my parents. The other is that Worcester, where they live and where I grew up, isn't much of a town--I think it's technically a "township", which means it doesn't have much infrastructure. There aren't any local cops, the firehouse is all volunteer, and there isn't a public sewer or water system--everyone's on wells. So things are really isolated, and it's typical that people have several acres to themselves.
Well, a few days ago, they got a call from my stepbrother David, who lives down the road from them. His next door neighbors had been shot and the house ransacked. Now, we're talking about a town where the worst crimes were speeding and the occasional domestic disturbance. Not a place with a lot of murder or robberies. But the Johannsons were murdered. Valuables stolen. Dave doesn't know who did it, and really, who knows? Could be local, could be someone from Philly, or one of the near-by towns. No one knows anymore.
Anyway, so now my parents--who've always been cautious, and who already owned a few guns--are pretty much in a siege mentality. Hell, I am too. And now I wonder if Den and I should be living with them just to keep everyone safe.
I don't know. I don't know what'll happen next. But damn it, I don't want to lose my house.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
And then one day I was driving down to school--to think I used to drive from Worcester to West Chester, 30 miles each way, every day. And I heard about the first plane, and then as I listened to channel 6 on the radio, I heard Charlie Gibson suck in his breath when the second one hit.
Class was canceled, as was the night's Philly Fringe shows. As I drove home, the B&N I worked at was closed up and the parking lot empty. I just remember drinking a lot, because my parents were down the shore on vacation, and my sister was back in school up in Edinboro.
I guess where I'm going with this is that as messed up and terrifying as things seemed back then, it wasn't anything compared to what's happening now.
There was an attack on the Sunoco refinery down in South Philly this morning. No one's sure exactly what the story is--channel 6 says some low-level mafia trying to steal oil and sell it themselves and botching the job, while channel 10 puts in on more Muslim terrorists, like those guys at Fort Dix. What we do know is that there was a gunfight, two explosions, and a large leak of "anhydrous hydrogen fluoride"--thousands of gallons, they're saying. Hundreds of people are dead--refinary workers, folks asleep in bed. Anyone on I-95 seems to have gotten away in time, but maybe we just don't know about it yet.
Because this happened early in the morning, around 5 am, it wasn't as bad as it could've been--no one was at the Linc or a Phillies game, and while folks were on I-95 going to work, rush hour wasn't in full swing.
That's all I know. I don't think Kate's hurt--she's over in West Philly, and the wind doesn't blow west usually.
It's only ten o'clock, but damn it I need a drink.
I'll write more if I know what's going on.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
He'd lived alone for years now, since Hannah left. But with the crisis, he'd opened his house to friends. In some ways, there wasn't much of a choice.
Kate moved into Arthur's house; the apartment was too much, too expensive, and it wasn't safe to be alone there anymore. With her came a coworker who used to live out in West Chester with her parents; the girl hasn't seen her parents for two weeks now. They shared a bedroom on the third floor, along with Kate's two cats.
There were others, mostly friends who worked in the city and couldn't afford to go home anymore, couldn't go back out to the suburbs. Sarah, a paralegal, came with her husband and baby; Arthur'd never wanted a baby in his house--he wasn't good with children--but he couldn't say no. They took over what had been a second-floor "drawing room" in better days. His cousin John came, bringing an Irish wolfhound. "This is worse than the baby," Arthur sighed. But again, there wasn't a "no".
What Arthur couldn't do was convince his mother. She stayed in her rowhouse the Great Northeast; Arthur hoped she'd made friends with the Russian mafia. He called her every night, just to make sure she was still alive.
And there were others, drifting in and out. Friends from the zendo; artists; friends from his day job who needed a place to crash.
He liked his quiet life; he'd had enough excitement in Iraq. Now, there was no such thing.
The riots haven't touched Philly yet. Septa, in a move that shocked everyone, was still running. Full capacity, every trolley car, every subway car, every one of the dwindling buses. They promised they were working on a diesel-electric hybrid, but they'd been promising for at least seven years.
There's still time, he thought. If we can just keep things going, if we can just avoid--
A gunshot; it sounded at least a block away.
The riots may not come, but Philly was still Philly.
The mantel clock chimed; it was one a.m. In four hours, he had to get up. It almost didn't seem worth going in.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
My job consists of proof-reading patents for the government; I don't work for the government, just a company contracted to it. So I get to see all sorts of patents; it used to be they were mostly pharmaceutical or golf-based. (No, I'm not kidding about golf.) Lately, though, there've been a lot of patents coming through on energy technologies. Solar batteries, hybrid cars, anything that can save on energy use. I don't know how many or if any of this stuff will ever really hit the market, or at least if it'll be seen by anyone other than the wealthy.
I did one smart thing before all this went down--I bought a SW/AM/FM radio that can be powered through a crank. I originally bought it for camping. (Huh. Only last summer we went up to Promised Land Park. Don't think I'll ever see that again. Haven't though of it till now.)
Anyway, with the radio, I'm able to pick up stations from all over. KWY is still running, as is WHYY, but a lot of stuff is intermittent; and WHYY had a habit of conking out even before the oil shocks. However, I can pick up the BBC World Service (though it's very faint). Unfortunately, I don't speak any modern languages except some muddled Welsh, so the Spanish-language stations aren't much help to me, other than (swear to god) Radio Havana. Yeah, I know, communist dictatorship, but at least it's in English and comes in really clearly.
So today Den and I were in the basement, working on our brew*, listening to the radio, when we heard about this. I don't know what to make of it yet. White supremacists, the radio said. Wonderful--just what we need. I knew it would happen some day.
Meanwhile, Den's cousin is being shipped off to Iraq. Army translator--the kid's good with languages. Jesus, I'm scared for him.
You know, nine months ago, it was Christmas. Den and I and our friend Mike went to see Children of Men, and found it the second most depressing film ever**--though I did love it.
Well, I came across this post from the UK--chilling ain't the half of it.
Guess that wasn't so brief after all. Better sign off now and crank up the radio.
*We brew mead. I know that sounds kinda odd, but I'm an amateur medievalist. Or was, I guess. Anyway, mead is easy--just water, honey, and yeast. And some chemicals, but I bought a good supply a few weeks ago, back when the store shelves hadn't run out.
And of course, now we have the bees dying off...
**Oddly enough, the most depressing was Pan's Labyrinth. Again, awesome movie, but man, I needed a drink afterwards. The third most depressing is Requiem for a Dream, which I don't think I can ever watch again.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Three days ago, I rode my bike out to a local poultry farm over in Hatfield, hoping to get some eggs. They were sold out. "Sold out? How can you be sold out?"
"Look, chickens aren't magical, you know, it's not like you can just wish up some eggs from 'em."
And so I tried riding down to Merrymead, the dairy. It isn't far from town--in fact, it's halfway between my place and my parents down in Worcester. There was a line when I got there--people are panic-buying, hoarding whatever food they can. I admit, I'm trying to do that too, but you can't really hoard dairy or eggs--they go bad quickly.
"Half-gallon of 2%, please."
I didn't know what to say.
"Look, you wanna go somewhere else? They'll probably charge you ten."
"For a half-gallon?"
"You think it's cheap to run a farm?"
I know how expensive it can be, though not in the sense they mean.
A few tomatoes and squash had started coming in two days ago--small, of course, not ripe yet.
Yesterday morning, they were gone. Picked off, presumably eaten.
This is my food. I planted it, I'm going to harvest it.
So I got a shotgun. I just want to scare the thieves, I don't want to shoot them. I can't really blame anyone who's hungry for stealing, but they're taking food out of our mouthes.
So tonight, I'm sleeping on a cot in the mudroom. I've hooked up the motion sensors, and if they go off, I'll be right there to scare them away.
You know, I'm not anti-gun, but I've never wanted to own one. At least not until now.
God, I just wish this would be over.
In other news, I haven't heard from Kate for a couple of days. I don't like it--I don't know what's going on with her right now, and I'm worried. I offered her the spare bedroom, but she still won't take it.
I just don't know what to do.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
I've been looking into CSAs--there are a few in the area, but they're several miles away, and so we have to ride our bikes. Well, now that we don't have to go to work, we have the time to ride several miles a day, but bringing back the eggs or milk is a pain. Den tried jerry-rigging baskets to our bikes; they're not as stable as we'd like, but we make due.
I got a call from Kate; things aren't going so well in Philly. Go figure. Her bike was stolen by a group of kids; she'd be worse off, but a friend of hers scared them away by shooting at them. Didn't kill anyone, thankfully. I told her that if she ever needs a place to stay, if the city gets to be too much for her, we have an extra bedroom and would be happy to have her. I hope she knows we're serious.
I haven't been this dependent on my bike since I was fifteen and living up in Boyertown. Out there, there aren't any Septa lines; there's really no way to get around without a car. I can't imagine what they're doing. I posted a photo from the farmers' market up there at my flickr account:
Every Friday they've had car auctions--folks would pick up a car, maybe work on it, give it to their kid when they turn 16, whatever. The funny thing is that a couple of years ago they stopped having the livestock auctions on Saturday nights; I don't know if it was an economic thing or a health hazard, or what. But they continued with the car auctions, since it was so popular.
I have the feeling they're back to auctioning pigs and chickens instead of Ford Escorts.
A few months ago--November--my husband and I were on our honeymoon. We went to the U.K.--England and Wales specifically. Two nights in London, Halloween spent at Glastonbury, and the rest of the time in Wales. Well, the funny thing is that we stopped at the University of Wales in Lampeter, because they have an online masters program in Celtic studies, which is my hobby.
Anyway, skip ahead to the end of April, and I read this:
The age of cheap oil is drawing to a close, climate change already threatens, and politicians dither. But the people of Lampeter, a small community in the middle of rural Wales, gathered together earlier this week to mobilise for a new war effort. They decided to plan their "energy descent".
When Den read this, he laughed. "It's like they're finding ways to get you to move there."
But not only that--I wish that we'd do this here. In Lansdale, in Philadelphia, wherever. Pennsylvania has a lot of coal and several nuclear power plants, so while we're not hurting for electricity, the stress is obvious, and sometimes electricity doesn't replace oil.
We need to get off it--completely off it--as soon as possible, or we're dead. And we're at the point where there's no choice.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Kate was riding to the co-op on her bike. She'd been warned that it wasn't safe, but really, what's the point of having a bike if you can't use it?
A group of young men stepped out in front of her. She tried to go around, but they grabbed her, caught her, took the bike and her wallet. They left her self alone, though, when a neighbor came out side and fired a gun in the air. For this small miracle, she was grateful.
The neighbor--Arthur--was an artist; she knew him from the local Buddhist zendo. He didn't seem the type to own a gun.
"What, and Buddhists don't practice martial arts, either?" he laughed, picking her up off the ground.
"I--yeah. Well, thank god."
He offered her an escort to the co-op. He went back into the three-story house; old houses, Victorian, full of gables and back staircases, and backyard gardens. She followed. He grabbed a handgun, concealed it, and put a jacket on.
"Isn't that illegal?"
"I thought you were an artist."
"I am. I'm also not stupid."
"I didn't mean you're stupid. Look, I'm an artist, but I was also a Marine."
"Desert Storm ."
"Wow. I had no idea."
"You ready to go?"
Kate paused. "Do you think it's safe?"
"Probably not. But we've gotta eat, right?"
She nodded, and followed him outside.
I'd just like to thank WWO for awarding this post. :)
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Basically, being a homeworker means that we're given computers by the company to do our proofing and editing on, and then once a week come to the main building and turn in our work.* Which sounds like a good deal, I suppose. It also means no health care.
We're both relatively healthy--physically anyway. I've suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, and I don't know what I'll do now without being able to afford my medication. I don't know what to do--I could try something herbal, but I'm skeptical. On the other hand, what choice to I have?
And how can I not be depressed when things are going like they are? Jesus, what a hell of a time to buy a house.
On top of that, I've been taking birth control for years--and now? I don't know. If we can't afford contraception... God, I hate the thought of the rhythm method. But I'm not sure what else to do. It's not like there's many condoms around anymore--latex may not be made from oil, but transporting them takes as much oil as anything else. And oil is being diverted to emergency services and the military now--not to Trojan.
So we're homeworkers. We've canceled our cable, canceled our cell phones. We still have the internet, and rabbit ears work just as fine as when I was a kid in the '80s.
We're spending a lot of time around the house now. But at least I have time to tend the garden.
*Why they don't just have us email the work to them I don't understand. For an IT company, they're very scared of new technology. However, I think they're getting the idea that work is going to have to be emailed.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Of course, his 13 hours in Canada consisted of having his truck broken into and stealing his birth certificate. It's a long story.
So hearing that we've invaded Canada, his first response is, "First we stole Wayne Gretzky... They won't like that."
So much for the longest peaceful border in the world.
They're talking about rationing, but no one seems able to get off their asses and get it started. My stepfather lived through the Depression and WWII--he remembers rationing. It can be done, it can even be orderly. But these days we're too goddamn stupid, greedy, and lazy to do it right.
We can be just as bad, Den and I. We want chips, we buy chips. We want pizza, we buy pizza. It's hard to break the habit. I've never thought of myself as an addict, but the idea of rationing just shows how addictive "freedom" is. I can't say that buying pizza whenever you want it is actual freedom--I don't know what it is. Middle class, I guess. But just that one little encroachment--"no, you can't gorge yourself anymore, you have to share with everyone"--is still hard for me to grok.
God, I'm hungry just thinking about it.
The garden is doing well. After a cold, rainy spring (with snow in April--I'm still bitter), June's been pretty good. The tomatoes and peppers are coming in OK. Haven't seen signs of the potatoes, and I hope the squirrels didn't eat them.
I know I need to learn how to can. Again, I'll be asking my stepfather. I feel lucky, knowing someone that connected to the past.
One last thing regarding shortages--I've been skipping some of my doses, so that I can slowly stockpile my meds. I don't know if this is a good idea or not, but if I can't get them normally, at least I'll have a small supply to ween myself off of them. You know, if it gets desperate.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Don't be slow
Cause I got somewhere I got to go...
I don't know whether Septa is a boon or a curse. (I also don't know why I just used "boon" or "curse", but I think I should put down the damn fantasy books for a while.) Septa is notoriously badly managed--every two years or so they talk about funding shortfalls and rate hikes. I can't help but wonder where all the money is going, and I know I'm not the only one.
But having said that, Septa is all we've got. We need it--especially now. Since the crisis, Septa's been adding more buses and trolleys, and running the trains more frequently, but as Baltpiker points out, there's a labor shortage. We need more drivers.
And we need more trolleys. Having more buses on the road is good, but it's temporary. The oil is drying up. The LA Times said that there's no way to avoid fuel shortages now. So what good is a bus when you can't run it?
And that brings me to our problem. Den and I are stuck in Lansdale, and have to get to work in Horsham. Now, normally this wouldn't be a big deal, since Lansdale and Horsham are both right on Rt. 63--a straight shot. But there isn't a busline that goes down 63 from Lansdale to, say, Willow Grove (which is east of Horsham). The easiest way to get from Lansdale to Horsham is to take the R5 to Glenside, and the 22 bus up to Horsham. It's like taking the wrong sides of a triangle when you could just take one leg. The trip is theoretically over an hour one way--which, granted, could be worse, and often is, with the trains and buses being overcrowded.
I shouldn't have quit my job at Temple. An easy train ride down the R5, and I'd be at work in 45 minutes at the most. But no--I had to quit. I had to get away from my weaselly little boss. It sounded like a good idea at the time...
If the fuel runs out... Look, in Pennsylvania we're kinda lucky, because there are a lot of farms. Dairies, vegetables, poultry, we've got it. But do we have enough? Is everyone gonna descend on the farmers' markets this weekend? And a lot of stuff, a lot of vegetables, aren't even in yet and won't be until July or August.
The good news--and there is good news--is that Den finally got to pick up a bike. We were gouged on it, of course--$300 for a used Cranbrook. But I don't see an alternative.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Kate works on the eighth floor of the EPA building. She is a record keeper; by night, she works on her MLS at Drexel. Eight floors being a long way up, she takes the elevator.
The air conditioning didn't seem to be working right. It was humid; the polyester shirt she wore stuck to her, not letting her skin breath, her sweat to escape. Four people got onto the elevator with her; at least one could use another shower. Kate tried to subtly breathe through her mouth, but that isn't something you can do subtly, and so she made her way to the back of the elevator so that none would notice.
Between the third and forth floors, the elevator stopped. Then the lights went out. "Crap--I've got a meeting in ten minutes," one of the men said.
"Eh, it'll be back on in a second."
"I thought they fixed the elevators," Kate said.
"That's not the elevators--that's the electricity."
They stood, shuffling a little, loosening collars, joking about the weather, the high gas prices. "See, that's why I live in the city and take public transportation," Kate said triumphantly.
"Yeah. The city's a great place to be when society's falling apart."
"Let it go, Paul," said a woman, who'd been silent until now.
"No--I mean it. The city was a cesspool before the crisis, and it's only getting worse. Did you hear about the shooting--"
"Which one?" Kate asked.
"Yeah. Exactly. Which one. And that was before--"
"Before the oil shock. Yes. We know."
"Three shootings a day. Did you know someone siphoned my car?"
"Huh?" said Kate.
"Siphon. Stole my gas. If I'd been there--"
"Yeah. God, it's stuffy in here. Do you think we'll run out of air?"
"I'm telling you," said Paul, "if it wasn't for the security in this building, I'd carry a handgun."
"Thank god for security," the woman said.
"Yeah? Let's see you say that when you get held up again. You were lucky last time."
The lights came on. The hum of the air conditioning kicked on. The elevator slowly lurched up to the sixth floor, and then the eighth.
Kate came to her desk, sat down, and opened her email. It was already a long day.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
"19.99. This case of beer. It's usually $17.76." My husband put the case of beer down on the linoleum. "We're gonna have to drink this slower than usual."
So much for beer at the cookout.
We'd been planning a cookout to celebrate moving to the new house. But I went to the store this week to pick up hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, the usual stuff, and the bill came to $150. Two months ago, that was more than I spent in a month for groceries. Now?
"Have you heard from anyone about next weekend?"
"Yeah. Well, Bert isn't sure he can come down from Bethlehem. Roger's not coming, 'cause he's all the way in Jersey. Kate says she's coming, and so are your parents."
I hate that my friends and I are spread out. It wasn't a big deal, when you could afford to drive ten, twenty miles one way to hang out with someone. But now?
My sister lives in Florida. Other relatives are out in California, Missouri, Colorado. It was only seven months ago they were out here for our wedding.
Don't know when I'll see any of them again. Just can't afford it.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
I can go for days without watching the local news. It's usually the same: fire in Kensington, shooting in West Philly, robbery in North Philly, racial strife in South Philly. It's like MadLibs--all you do is move the crimes, going round-robin. Shooting in Kensington. Robbery in West Philly. Fire in South Philly. And so it goes.
A few blocks from Kate, when you cross over into West Philly, there was a shooting at the Hess station. Hess is known for carrying the cheapest gas--them and Wawa. Well, whatever cheap is these days, I don't know.
But it was at a gas station. Two men arguing, one pulls a gun, shoots the other, drives off. That's what I heard, anyway. There's so many shootings these days, it's hard to keep them separate. A shooting. A fire. A robbery. A drug bust. A kid shot in crossfire. There've been at least 130 murders this year, and it's only May. Probably more. I've lost count.
But it was at a gas station. Three blocks from a police station on Chestnut. And a lot of us can't help but wonder whether this was the normal kind of shooting--drugs, a woman, a botched robbery.
Or fighting over gas.
I'd say it's gonna get ugly, but it's already ugly in Philadelphia. It was ugly before the shortage, and it ain't gonna get pretty any time soon.
The Hess station ran out of regular gas two days later. I drove by, on my way to see Kate, and saw that only premium was left. So much for the cheapest gas in the city.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
When I was a kid, both my parents worked. We were poor, working class Irish--my father didn't finish high school and so bounced from job to job, until getting a job with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Man, that feels weird now, just thinking about it. He died of cancer, and I sometimes wonder if it was being around those exhaust fumes for 8+ hours a day that did it.
My mom was a nurse; in the 1980s, this didn't seem to be anything special, but by the end of the 1990s and on, being a nurse meant you had a good-paying job, albeit dealing with sick people for the most part.
Both their parents worked; my dad's mom, because his dad died when he was four, and my mom's mom because her dad died when she was sixteen. My dad died when I was seven, but since mom was already working, this didn't change much her being home; we had less money, and she worked more hours, but otherwise, things went on as before, only a little more empty.
I'm starting to notice a pattern.
At any rate--work is what my family has always done. We didn't have any stay-at-home moms, no housewives.
Where am I going with this?
My job--my boring, stupid, data entry job--has the option of working from home, and only coming in one day a week to drop off what you've done.
It's a tempting offer.
Right now we carpool, my husband and I, since we work at the same company. But it's getting more expensive, driving to work. He's talked about becoming a homeworker, suggesting I should too.
No health care for homeworkers.
Well. That's one hell of a wrench to throw in. I currently spend $50 a month on medication--birth control, anti-depressant, and allergy medication. No health care means pregnancy. No health care means depression and anxiety attacks come back. No heath care means... well, I can live with sneezing a lot.
I'm not sure what to do. There's got to be something. Maybe a new job, something closer to home.
I'm at a loss.
Some good news: we moved into the house last week, and I went out to Lowe's and picked up plants for the garden--tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeño peppers, squash and zuchini. I had to go to a local independent to find the onions, potatoes, and herbs I wanted to plant (mint, parsley, the usual stuff).
Now I have to sit and wait. And weed. I don't really like either.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
"No--but I've got another one lined up. Don't know if I can afford it."
"How much is it going for?"
"Well, that's not so bad."
"Well, dude, you take the trolley to work. I gotta drive."
I keep looking at our mortgage. Right now, we can pay it pretty easily--you know, as long as we don't go to the movies every weekend or buy every CD we want on a whim. Piracy is our friend; it was before, copying movies or downloading music, but now, I swear, it's probably the only way I'll hear the new Wilco album. Which sucks, because I usually go and buy their records, not just download, like somebody who's dead or rich as sultans, like the Beatles.
But I look at the mortgage, and I look at how much money we put in the car this week, and I get nervous. I know, everybody has to tighten the belt, but...
Well, I guess I could stand to loose some weight. Let the tightening begin.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Kate has never owned a car. She never even learned to drive. On moving to Philadelphia to attend Temple University, she found she didn't need a car, that Philly's public transportation was decent enough that she could get around without needing a car; and besides, her boyfriends usually had one.
When she found that her boyfriend of the last five years was cheating on her, she threw him out--well, the relationship had been falling apart for the past year, with her in grad school and him not even holding down a job. Change was needed.
A car, however, was still not needed. Even without a boyfriend.
Public transportation is Kate's friend. SEPTA--that institution both dreaded and necessary for Philadelphians--was enough to get her from her apartment in University City, to her job at the EPA in Center City, to school at Drexel after work, and back home again. This particular rout is one of the few running on trolleys.
Kate loved the trolleys. Running above ground and below, avoiding the jerking terror of a bus, she happily paid her two dollars a ride.
And then they started talking rate hikes. Again.
"What're you doing Friday?" she asked Mary.
"I dunno, probably watching a movie with Dennis. Why?"
"Wanna come down and hang out?"
Mary, unfortunately, didn't live around the corner like she used to when they both lived in Fairmount; instead, the two girls had gone to different ends of the city, Kate to University City, with its students, anarchists, and Ethiopian immigrants, and Mary to Mount Airy, with its liberals, Unitarians, and strong community organizations.
For being in the same city, they didn't see each other as often as they'd like.
Mary sighed. "Yeah, but can you take the train up here? I don't wanna drive down."
"Dude--have you see the gas prices?"
"Four dollars a gallon. I'm putting more than $200 a month into my car. Just in gas."
"Wow," Kate said flatly.
"Easy for you to say--you don't have to deal with any of this."
"So are you coming down?"
"Are you coming up?"
"Yeah, I'll come up, if you'll drive me home--I don't like taking the train that late at night."
"Well hell, we might as well come down if we're going to drive there and back anyway."
Kate smiled. "Cool. We'll go over to Dahlak's and get a drink? I'll chip in for gas, too."
"You don't have to... Hell, yes you do." Mary gave a caustic laugh and hung up.
Monday, April 30, 2007
"What are you looking for?"
"On eBay," my husband said. "What's are you looking for this time?"
"A record player."
"We have at least two."
"Yes, but they run on electricity. I want one of those old hand-cranked Victrolas."
He sighed. He's used to this, I guess.
Back a couple of years ago, when Katrina was still swirling in the Gulf of Mexico, I told him that the New Orleans was done for. He laughed--"You're always predicting the end of the world."
"It's not the end of the world--just New Orleans. Look, I'm not the only one who sees it--National Geographic wrote about it, their local papers wrote about it."
And when the levees broke, he nodded his head and said he wouldn't doubt me so quickly anymore.
In less than a month, we move to Lansdale, a small town about twenty miles outside of Philadelphia. The reasons are varied--it's cheaper there, low taxes, low crime, a nice house we can actually afford without having a subprime mortgage. There's a nice backyard, with room for a vegetable garden, and we're on the R5 trainline, so getting into the city isn't difficult.
The other reason, the more esoteric reason, is this--I want land. Even if it's just a small plot. I need to get away from living in a small apartment with my husband, depending on fast food and surrounded by junk. I need to plant a garden. I need to be within biking distance of my parents and their four acres.
Maybe it's just a mental security blanket, but as I watch the gas prices get higher, and going to work costing more and more, it makes less sense to stay in the city. Even if they do have the best farmers' market in the Delaware Valley.
This blog is mainly a work of speculative fiction, working with the World Without Oil game. My fiction revolves around a small group of friends and family spread out across the Delaware Valley, and how they cope with the oil shock.