21 July 2018

Is This My New Desk? Hint: Yes!

By: Jon Katz

Is This My Desk?

A  writer's desk is not just a desk, it is something more, a base, an inspiration, a partner and muse.

For years, I've done all my writing on old farm tables, and they are getting worn and  wobbly. Today Maria and I went to look inside a refurbishment store here in Cambridge called Shiny Sisters, and there, I encountered a desk that spoke to me, had a rich history, a great amount of character, and low price.

Shiny Sisters is all about re-cycling, re-purposing and re-imagining old furniture.   A fun place.

This desk is what is called a partner's desk, two pedestal desks constructed as one single desk so banking partner's in England could look directly at one another in the mid 1800's. (The typewriter is not mine.)

This desk is a beast, with lots of room and lions on the drawer handles and claw legs. It is banged up pretty good, but I thought it would cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000, especially if it was being sold in New York City.

Important things will be written on this desk, it it has the weight of time and history going for it.

And it cost $230 here in Cambridge, and I bought it.

It is pretty scratched up. But then, so am I.

This promoted a major reconsideration of my study, if I write on this desk – great space for a big computer screen – I would move the farm tables along the walls (this idea advanced by my artist wife), hopefully have a less cluttered desk and a better place to store my photography equipment, major resource books and computer equipment and supplies.

Maria is hot to get her hands on all the junk in my study and clean it up, and I am eager for her to help me do it. I'm good at making messes, bad at cleaning them up. If you ever wish to see a living portrait of Dyslexia in action, come and look in my study.

It will take days to clean up my study and re-arrange everything to make room for my partner's desk. I will not have a partner, unless you consider  Froggie twanging his magic twanger or my brooding muse.

Partners desks are notorious for being made out of high quality wood like walnut and oak. So this is going to be my writing desk, and my study will undergo a big transformation.

We also bought a homemade red book case that is tall, cheap and funky. Probably from a farmhouse. Someplace to put stuff! I have a lot of stuff.

It is a big deal for me to get a new writing desk I am psyched, and I never imagined getting a desk like this for $200 bucks.

I love this desk, it truly spoke to me, it cried out to be my desk, a new inspiration and feel and I love old and heavy wooden things. This desk is dripping with character, and I can't even imagine how we can get it into my office.

And I can't wait to write on it.

There are some perks to growing older and one of them is that absolutely no one things I should be involved in moving it. I agree. I have pride, but I'm not stupid.

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Video: Feeding Worms To Chickens

By: Jon Katz

I'm on a campaign to get the know the chickens better. I don't spend a lot of time with the chickens, I'm not crazy about photographing them, but I do admire their industry and focus. Like Labs, they are smart about what they need to be smart about – food – and about nothing else.

They are free-range, they crap all over the place and they try to steal the cat's food, so we have some issues. I often chase them away from the porch, and so they are sometimes wary of me.

But I'd like to get to know them a little better, maybe become friends. So I got a big bag of earthworms and i'm  feeding them worms two or three times a day. It makes them very happy, and we are working on our trust issues.

Come and see.

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Refugee Rescue: Saving Camp For Thin Yat and Ka

By: Jon Katz

Thin Yat And Ka: Going To Camp

I got this message at 7:40 a.m., I was sleeping late. I heard the text ring for Ali – I knew it was  him – and grabbed the phone.  Someone was in trouble, a refugee or a member of the soccer team.

"Good morning, Jon. Sorry to bother you this early, I just got a phone call from two boys on the soccer team, Thin Yat and Ka. They are hoping to go to summer camp tomorrow with their Church for two weeks and they said they need hiking shoes and some other supplies and a couple of pillows, they leaving tomorrow morning, they was hoping for their parents to buy these things for them but they couldn't afford it. I was wondering if we could help them, I'm really shy of asking you this, i know we don't have a lot of money left right now, but I have no other way of helping these boys except thru you and the Army OF Good. I'm sorry I even asked."   

Ali is also shy and always reluctant about asking for money.

I am always grateful that he does, and that he and these boys think of  him and me when they need help. I tell him again and again: always ask. He will do anything for these children.

They have never taken advantage of me or the people who support this work. That feels very good to me. They ask for small things, and only when they are in great need.

I don't see these young people that often, we do not live close to one another, but I have come to love and respect them when I do get to see them and talk to them.

I am touched by their hugs and their trust. I'm not supposed to know about it, but I know they are making something for me, a surprise. I have no idea what it might be.

It is always a gift to help people who have nothing and ask for nothing. It reaffirms their faith in the world, I hope.

I called Ali back right away and I said of course we had to help them, I would get the money. We agreed to meet in an hour at our office in the Stewart's convenience store in Schaghaticoke, N.Y., halfway between Ali's house and Bedlam Farm.

Ali In Our Office

We both arrived a couple of minutes after 10 a.m., I bought coffee for the two of us, decaf for me, regular for him.

I wasn't sure what these things would cost, but when we were  at our "office," we would go online and see how much they would need.

Thin Yat and Ka are members of the soccer team, hard-working, shy students who grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand after religious fanatics burned their village down in one of the vicious religious conflicts that still rage there.

They fled for their lives and got a refugee camp where the boys spent the first five or six years of their lives.

They have both been in America for two years, and are still learning English. For all their troubles,  both made the honor roll in their school.

On Ali's soccer team, the Albany Warriors, grades can only go one way for players: up.

The parents of Thin Yat and Ka are refugees who lost everything, like most refugees.

One set of parents is elderly and on a very small pension, the other work several jobs and have little or nothing to spare. Summer camp is essential to the kids, but not as important to the parents as food or electricity.

When the kids ask for help, or need it, it is always for something small – shoes, pants, class trip fees, shin guards, money for movies or pizza after games.

Ali and I dance this dance all the time, we know the drill, we even have our own favorite corner bench at Stewart's. The cashiers know Ali and are used to him shouting and waving his hands. Some people there even recognize him from the blog.

The kids call Ali when they have no one to call, and Ali calls me when he has no one to call.

I am very proud of the fact that in the year we have been working together, Ali and I have never turned down a request for help from any member of the soccer team, or failed to help. And like Ali, these are people who hate to ask for help and rarely do.

Ali said he noticed one of the players looking pale and sick this week, and on impulse,   he asked him when he had last eaten. The boy said it was 24 hours ago and he wouldn't why. Ali got him to McDonalds and got him a cheeseburger, which he wolfed down. We might need to make a grocery run together.  This happens too often.

This morning, Thin Yat and Ka were in a bind. Ali could hear the panic in their voice.

The Church bus to summer camp was leaving early in the morning Sunday, and the Church requires the campers to bring hiking boots, pillows, sleeveless T-shirts, towels, soap, sheeps,  deodorant and bug and tick repellent. They called "Mr. Ali" in a panic because they realized this weekend their parents couldn't afford to buy them these things.

For most summer campers, these are just things to collect from home. For these children, they are major expenditures, usually out of reach. We often give money to these boys to pay transportation and other fees for class trips, otherwise they can't go.

They were running out of time for camp.

So they called Ali, and Ali called me.

And I am the lucky one, because I have an Army to call.

Ali and I went on the Wal-Mart and Amazon websites to figure out the cost. I wrote him a check for $300 which should cover the items requested and anything else they need. We do our shopping at Wal-Mart, where Ali will take the boys this afternoon.

Our office was crowd as it would be on a summer Saturday morning. Some of the regulars waved to us, they always kid me about my big black camera, they ask if I work for the CIA.

I will pay for this one myself out of my own money, i just feel it's important for me to contribute to do this when I can,  since I so often ask others to contribute.

This is a joy and gift for me, Maria said I had a big smile on my face when I got off the phone with Ali, I never look so happy, she says,  as when Ali calls me for help for the boys on the soccer team.

I do love this work, it just speaks to me to help these children. They have suffered more than their share, they ought to be able to get out of the city for two weeks in the summer and be free. They ought to have the things they need to live in America as our brothers and sisters.

It is my only way of supporting the refugees, people like my grandparents, who came to America in good faith hoping for safety and a better life for their children. I hope do what I can to keep that dream alive, even as so many of my fellow citizens have abandoned it.

I believe it to be a patriotic duty.

I don't like asking people for money any more than Ali does, but if I am going to do it, then I have to put my own money there as well. And I often do. I am often surprised when people thank me for letting them help, this deep and forthcoming generosity is a miracle to me.

These two, Thin Yat and Ka are good kids, I know them well.

I will sleep sweetly tonight knowing they will be on that bus to camp with everything they need.

I had the money for this outing, but Ali is right, our fund is low right now, we have been doing a lot of good. If you wish to help, you can contribute by sending a  donation to The Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com.

Thanks so much.

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20 July 2018

Into The Silence, Ed And Me

By: Jon Katz

Ed Gulley, Portrait

It always fascinates me to see how even the most traumatic and painful experiences in life can become routinized. Human beings are adaptable, they acclimate and adjust and rationalize even during the hardest times in their lives.

As we see from the news every day, almost anything becomes normal after a while. It is now normal for me to see Ed in bed sleeping,  barely moving. That is the new normal.

Ed and I have slipped into a new chapter in the suddenly dramatic story of our uncommon friendship. I call it the Silent Time.

It is really that mystical time, the waiting time, the unnatural time  between life and death, the time i try to capture in my photography, the time that sticks in my mind later.

Every afternoon, after the hospice aide has left, I text Carol to see if she wants me to come over, or if it's okay to come over. I never go there without checking in first, sometimes it isn't okay to go. And she will tell me so. She knows I won't be hurt if it isn't a good day to visit.

And the last thing I want is to visit someone who needs something else.

If it is okay – she always asks Ed – I drive to Bejosh Farm. I stop on the way at Moses Farm Stand, run by the descendants of Grandma Moses herself.

I get six ears of corn, strawberries if they are available, blueberries if they are not. The peaches from Pennsylvania have arrived and the sweet melons are in. Today, I got a small box of peaches, the sweetcorn, and a melon for Carol and her family.

She loves fresh fruit.

I know this is good to buy, because the ones I bought the day before are always gone when I get there.

I know those are things she likes. Ed isn't eating much any longer. I brought Carol a book of daily prayers and inspirational sayings, she loves books like that.

I don't say much to Carol when I knock on the door and walk in. She is almost always right by Ed, watching him, handing  him a cup of water,  straightening the sheets.

I glance over to see if Ed is sitting up or sleeping.

Carol doesn't need conversation from me, she needs me to sit and watch Ed while she runs to the bank or the grocery store or goes out to the barn to visit the calves or writes on her blog, or tries to take a short nap.

If there's something she needs to talk to me about, she will say so and we go into the kitchen.

Otherwise, we hug, say hello, she takes the food and brings it into the kitchen to put away, I take out a novel and put down my camera bag and go and sit in a metal chair right across from where Ed is sleeping.  I don't take many photos any more.

By this time of day, and after visitors,  Ed is exhausted and is sleeping. He used to greet me, sit up and talk or draw and sketch with me. We don't do that any more. I say hello when I sit down, to let him know i am there if he can  hear me.

In recent days,  he doesn't move at all,  doesn't open his eyes or stir, I hear his breath is uneasy and I see his eyes open and blink. I see his arms getting thinner every day. His left arm, the one he can't move any longer, is usually hanging out between the bars of the hospital bed.

I see someone who is  gathering himself to leave.

If he knows I am there, he doesn't say, and I sit down with my book and start reading.

Carol said she got Ed to eat something before I came.

He wouldn't eat or take any medication last night or early in the morning.  Ed's brother came to visit today and Carol believes that inspired Ed to eat and take some of his medications. Is that a good thing, I wonder?  He calmed down then, and Carol felt he was better than yesterday.

Carol is all about family, and when family comes, she is happier. She looks exhausted to me, she said she sat up with Ed all night.

I sat with Ed in silence, Carol was in the next room, writing her blog posts for the day.

It is a peaceful time for me, a meditation, and in its own way, a conversation with Ed. I turn off my cell phone, I listen to the silence.

I have learned in my life that you don't have to speak to have a conversation, you can just be present. I feel Ed's presence, and on some level, I believe he knows that I am there.

I love the silence, it wraps itself around me, it calms and heals me. I hope Ed is feeling the same thing.

And that is what is needed from me now, a silent presence, a chance for Carol to break away and take care of her life without worrying about Ed falling out of bed or tangling himself in sheets and blankets. She has come to trust me, she will go out for an hour or so sometimes.

Ed, too, is okay being silent around me. That is also what he needs.

I  read about 50 pages of my novel, then got up to find Carol and tell her I was leaving to call the Bingo game at the Mansion.

She thanked me for coming, and for the food. Every day she tells me I am doing too much, and every day I tell her I am doing  very little. I get to go home. She always laughs or smiles at this. Every hour she gets to rest or do her own work is precious.

I say goodbye, I'll check in tomorrow after lunch and come by if she or Ed wants.

We hugged again and I leave. I am tired, Maria thinks my fatigue is emotional. I cancelled my writing workshop until September.

We are in a pattern now, a rhythm. We are in the Silent Time, the time of waiting and listening and feeling.

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Joan – Mansion Bingo Player Of The Week

By: Jon Katz

Joan; Mansion Bingo Player Of The Week

We named two Mansion Bingo Players Of The Week tonight, Matt, who won six games, and Joan, who won one game, her first in several months. Joan has memory and sight issues, so either Maria or I have to sit with her during the games to spot her numbers when they are called.

Joan is a sweet and loving person, she loves to be a part of things, and has as much fun as anyone in her own way. When she won, Maria called "bingo" out loud and every one in the room gave her a round of applause.

Joan was thrilled, even though she asked a minute later what had just happened, why was everyone clapping? She won a stuffed horse and loved it. Joan takes every gift or present and packs them away in her suitcases, they are never seen again.

She believes her son or her husband are coming in the morning to gather her things and bring her home. She has no son and her husband died some time ago.

The staff at the Mansion – or me if I'm around – will distract her by singing a song or taking her for a short walk, and then she forgets about home for the day.

There is nothing on the walls or tables of her room, everything is packed and ready to go. I think that's where the horse was going. I love Joan, she is a  wonderful spirit  at the Mansion with a great heart, and she always gives me the greatest kiss on the cheek when I show up.

She has the most radiant smile.

She and I have weekly reading lessons, and we both laugh and joke through most of them. It was great to see Joan win at Bingo, even if she isn't quite sure what Bingo is.

You can support my reading program with Joan by contributing to the Mansion work. You can send a contribution to The Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com.

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