I respect religious faiths even though I belong to none. I was, however, raised as a Catholic and discovered as a child that respecting the religious faiths of others was not something that came easily to many. I had one person in school pass me an anti-Catholic Jack Chick comic and someone on m block who lived a few doors down from me told me I was going to go to hell because I was a Catholic (and that, naturally, being a Catholic was somehow not being a Christian). Sometimes people have trouble even conceiving of people with different ideas about faith. The first atheist I met, a Swiss foreign exchange student in my high school, once brought up in a history class that he was an atheist. “You don’t believe in God?” one female student asked in a shrill voice (it helps to remember this was in Texas). “No,” said the Swiss student. “But,” she cried, “What about the devil???” She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the notion that he didn’t believe in any of the whole ball of beeswax.
I’ve given passing thoughts, from time to time, as to what I’d like done with my body once I die. While parts of me—the egotistical and historian parts of me, mostly—would like a burial and headstone, ideally with a pithy comment from me on it, the plain fact is that no one would ever see it or care. So basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d like my body disposed of by whatever means is the cheapest and most convenient, whatever that is. Society in general disagrees, with the results that people like me have fascinating cemeteries to examine from time to time.
I’m almost schizophrenic about going on my little photography expeditions. On the one hand, when I haven’t gone on one in some time (as is presently the case), I start jonesing to go. On the other hand, the closer I get to a planned or prospective trip, the more I begin to regret it—primarily because I am very much a night person and getting up early on a Saturday is akin to being tortured—and the more I tend to look for excuses (“Well, it looks like the weather will be bad, so maybe I will wait until next week”). How I ended up with a hobby that is directly antagonistic towards my body clock is beyond me. On this mid-October day, however, I was indeed jonesing to go take some photos and I couldn’t back out of it because I was going with my friend, Tsuki. Houston, we have liftoff!
I never worked at a factory. I did, for a few months, between my graduation from college and when I went off across the country to graduate school, work at an oil refinery, which at least is another industrial setting. That was the summer of 1988, which not coincidentally was the last time I was shaven; the refinery prohibited beards for safety reasons. I did a variety of things there; some clerical work, some gopher work, some light manual labor, so I was not bored. I find it difficult to imagine myself in something like an assembly-line job, doing the same thing all day long; I think my personality is not suited for that and it would be very hard on me. Other types of factory work are much more varied.
February 2016. How long ago that seems, and how innocent those times were. Children played and built snowmen, while a Trump presidency was a distant and unlikely proposition. Not so crazy about today’s reality? Journey back with me a glorious twelve months and let’s explore a bit of southern Ohio from those bygone days of 2016.
When last we met, we were in the middle of a sunny but cold February 2016 excursion into southeastern Ohio, just a couple of miles from the Ohio River itself in Washington County, whose county seat is Marietta. Washington County is one of the more prosperous counties of southeastern Ohio—its per capita income is 25-33% higher than that of neighboring counties—but everything is relative. Central Ohio counties have incomes similarly higher than that of Washington County. You can find prosperity and poverty both along the Ohio River here.
When I was in high school, I was a member of the Math Club. Yes, you heard me correctly, I did not lose my virginity in high school. One year we traveled to Monahans, Texas, about 250 miles away, for an academic competition. It was probably more than just a math competition, because we went in a school bus. On the way back, after a long day, I stared out from the bus into the darkness of the west Texas desert, listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park on my Walkman knockoff. When the song “Homeward Bound” started playing, I was suddenly swept up, listening to the lyrics, by a feeling of incredible melancholy. To this day, when I hear that song, especially when I am traveling, I still feel those strong emotions—there is something in that song about a desire to be rooted, to be anchored, to belong somewhere, that to me is very powerful. It may speak to me so strongly because it sometimes seem to describe my entire life rather than merely an episode in it.