Jan. 4, 2010

I Was Mean to You Today

by Pat Schneider

Things were difficult
and I was impatient.
You were trying to explain
why I must reorganize the files
on my computer, why
they all have to have project numbers,
why I can't put them
where they've always been,
what the tax consultant said,
what you need for your report
to the Board of Directors,
and it boiled down to my files
have to be re-filed, and they
have to have titles with no more
than twelve letters to leave room
for project numbers,
and I said, Well, dammit.
And you said, Don't talk like that.

You sounded pained
and I was mean to you.
I was bored and tired
and mad, and you were
trying hard. Later,
I went out in the rain.
I went to the mall
and bought us both really
expensive pillows. Down
pillows with 100 per cent
cotton covers, 400 thread count.
I have lusted after them for years,
ever since Mama told me
that she asked Grandma,
who was 86 and dying,
"If you could have anything
in the world, what would it be?"
and Grandma answered,
"A down pillow" and Mama
didn't have enough money.
I bought two down pillows for us all,
to say I'm, sorry.

"I Was Mean to You Today" by Pat Schneider, from The Patience of Ordinary Things. © Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, (books by this author) born in Woolsthorpe, England (1643). He solved many mysteries of physics involving light, optics, gravity, and motion. Newton always gave credit to his scientific predecessors for his achievements, and he wrote in his journal, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

It's the birthday of Louis Braille, born in Coupvray, France (1809). When he was three years old, he was blinded in an accident. He invented a system of six raised dots that could be read by fingers, so that blind people could read easily. His idea didn't catch on during his lifetime, but it eventually became a worldwide phenomenon.

It's the birthday of one of the Grimm brothers, (books by this author) Jacob Grimm, born in Hanau, Germany (1785), who, with his younger brother Wilhelm, collected more than 200 German folk tales of the early 19th century and published them as Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812), including "Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Snow White."

It was on this day in 1952 that a 23-year-old medical student from Buenos Aires, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, hopped on a motorcycle with his biochemist friend and began his journey through Latin America. For Che, it was a journey that would last nine months and in which he'd traverse 8,000 miles by motorcycle, hitchhiking, steamship, horseback, river raft, and cargo plane. He'd return home a changed man, dedicated to the causes of alleviating poverty, unifying Latin America, and to armed revolution. This journey became the basis for his New York Times best-selling book The Motorcycle Diaries.

Guevara came from a well-off Argentinean family. He didn't get very good grades in medical school, and he didn't seem that interested in politics. He really just loved to ride his bicycle and to travel. He'd biked around Argentina all by himself a few years before. So when his older friend, 29-year-old biochemist Alberto Granado, mentioned the idea of taking a motorcycle from the south end of Latin America to the north, young Guevara jumped at the chance. He decided skip his upcoming final exams and put medical school on hold for a year.

And 58 years ago today, Guevara and Granado mounted a rickety old motorcycle, which they nicknamed La Poderosa, the Mighty One, and departed Buenos Aires. On their way out of Argentina, they stopped at a resort where Guevara's girlfriend's family was staying for the summer so that he could say good-bye. His girlfriend gave him $15 to buy her a swimsuit from North America, which he swore hed starve rather than spend on anything else. Weeks later, he handed the money to a homeless couple.

In Santiago, their sputtering motorcycle broke down for good, and they resorted to hitchhiking for the rest of the trip. From Chile they went to Peru, to a leper colony along the Amazon River where they hung around to treat patients. There he spent many nights awake into the wee hours talking with a Peruvian Marxist; he later cited these conversations as having helped to define his politics.

Guevara and Granado traveled on to Colombia and Venezuela, where Granado stayed to work treating people with leprosy. Guevara boarded a cargo plane to fly back to Argentina by way of Miami. But the plane had engine problems, and Guevara was stuck in Miami for several weeks, and he waited tables and washed dishes to survive.

He made it back to Argentina, sat down and reworked his travel notes years after the journey and wrote contemplative commentary around the descriptions of landscape and people that he'd jotted down while he was out on the road years before; his book The Motorcycle Diaries is actually a memoir. There are a few English translations available, including ones by Ann Wright (1996) and Alexandra Keeble (2003).

Che Guevara wrote in his diary: "I will be on the side of the people ... I will take to the barricades and the trenches, screaming as one possessed, will stain my weapons with blood, and, mad with rage, will cut the throat of any vanquished foe I encounter."

Che Guevara died in 1967 at the age of 39, executed by members of the Bolivian army.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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