. . . an almost comminuting blow . . .

I’m indulging in a surreptitious pleasure. Not “pleasure.” Necessity.

Is the the alterer of reality?

Is he the alterer of reality?

I’m supposed to be grading student essays. I have no choice. I must finish them today. But the writing must come first. This writing. I have no choice.

A couple of days ago I was driving home from a satisfying workout at the Landry Fitness Center at Baylor Hospital where I walk for an hour in the therapy pool as often as I can. (Thank goodness for Tim Berners-Lee. He, of course, made it possible for me to get on with whatever I’m writing at the moment without having to go back and explain everything in detail, and I can simply link to it. I’ve already this hour been spared three essays—three hyperlinks to Berners-Lee’s WWW.) I heard a snippet of a conversation with Berners-Lee on NPR’s “Science Friday” as I was driving home—recorded in 1999—because this past week was the 25th anniversary of the worldwide web. The interview had been recorded on the 10th anniversary of the worldwide web.

My first use of the internet—email—was in 1993. My partner had moved from Boston to Dallas to work for Hewlett-Packard. Out of the blue one day he called to tell me I should check the computer of one of my colleagues. I can say without hyperbole that I was dumbfounded by mystery to see a message to me on her monitor. I replied, and the rest . . . My life changed forever in that instant. By the time I moved to Dallas, Jerry had internet at our apartment, and a magician from Hewlett-Packard came to do whatever was necessary to hook my computer to the internet. I don’t need to tell anyone who was born before 1989 what an astounding change came over our lives—shall I say an almost comminuting blow (not almost) to the way we (at least I) thought about our place in the universe.

Suddenly I could be connected to everyone in the world who had access to a computer. My ability to “search the web” for information it would have taken me hours (days) to find the day before I hooked up to this worldwide phenomenon was more astounding. My experience is not unique and hardly interesting. I need, however, to remind myself of the person I am that I wasn’t the day before Roseann’s computer at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston received that message from Jerry at Hewlett-Packard in Dallas.

I ask myself if I am in fact a different person.

My selfie is blurred

My selfie is blurred

Affirmative. One example: Were it not for the internet my world-view would not have been shattered by my first trip to Palestine in 2003. On the WWW I researched the possibilities for that trip. I received the information that led me to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, with whom I toured Palestine, by email from Ann Hafften—who through email became my friend and colleague.

(If Yahoo can interrupt news stories with links to related stories, so can I. If you ever ask, “What can I do to make the world a better place,” go to this website – on the miraculous WWW –and make a donation.)

One might think that pondering the miraculous change in human activity that has occurred in my lifetime (the first computer that stored data instead of punching cards was built the year I was born) would bring wonderment and joy. I have to admit it was fun listening to Ira Flatow reminiscing for all of us about the history of the WWW.

And then grief.

Why should listening to Ira Flatow and Tim Berners-Lee talk in excited and at the same time almost reverent terms about the enormous changes in our lives brought about by computers and the internet cause me grief?

It’s grief that is not unhealthy or debilitating. It’s a joyful kind of grief. It’s knowing that I am already unable to keep up with “technology.” I can’t figure out how to download the app for my “senior pass” for DART onto my iPhone. I can’t figure out how to edit pictures on this computer (I’ve had it for three months now). I don’t have any idea how to use the “rubric” function in the Blackboard program to grade student essays. I who love music and used to listen to CDs all the time cannot for the life of me figure out how to use iTunes. And please don’t tell me—if I call you and ask me how to drive to where you are—to use the Google maps on the iPhone with which I am calling you. Much of the time I feel out of focus. My “selfie” is not clear.

This is not frustration (OK, it is) or sour grapes from an old man who sees the world passing by. It’s deeper than that. Not being able to use all of these devices that I used to see as playthings but which have become essentials to living in our society (if not in the entire world—I’m not sure about that) is a constant reminder, a daily, hourly reminder, an inescapable reminder that I am mortal—not simply mortal, but living on borrowed time.

Anyone my age who doesn’t understand needs more ROM. Or is it RAM.

I'll never figure it out

I’ll never figure it out

Who are all those people shopping at the downtown Neiman Marcus. . .

If only they had a sign! At least on the parking garage behind.

If only they had a sign! At least on the parking garage behind.

. . . and why isn’t it pronounced “ ī ” as in “ice” as any self-respecting “ei” word would be?

The summer is almost over, and I have only two accomplishments to show for it. A glorious trip to Scandinavia and St. Petersburg, Russia, and an arthroscopic invasion of my right hip. Which is more important (if either is ultimately important) I can’t say.

All of those people shopping at the downtown Neiman Marcus aren’t, that’s who they are. Most people in the Dallas area wouldn’t know the store from the Dollar Store on Maple Avenue if it didn’t have a sign. That’s NM’s problem!—they don’t have a sign! If they’d put up a sign, they’d have more business.

I walk past NM on the average, I’d guess, six times a week. I use the NM parking garage across Commerce Street from the store three nights a week. It’s cheap. $2 overnight. No meter-feeding (Dallas is insanely vigilant about parking tickets). That is, I use the parking lot on Commerce Street when my hip doesn’t allow me to take the train downtown.

Taking the train comprises a walk across the new Parkland Hospital employee parking lot to the DART station, a ten-minute ride, and a four-block walk to the Merc on Main. A total of about half an hour—ten minutes longer than it takes to drive, and there’s no parking hassle at the end of the trip.

A friend who has lived in Farmers Branch (the first suburb north of the city) for 25 years told me not too long ago he’d never been to downtown Dallas. He’s been to basketball and hockey games at the American Airlines center, but it’s possible to get there without setting foot in downtown.

I don’t think St. Petersburg ever did much to destroy itself in the form of renewing its urb. They’ve had a couple of pretty disastrous wars that destroyed big chunks of the city, but I didn’t see much evidence that they’ve willfully gone into the center of the city and torn down old buildings in order to make room for ugly new ones. Perhaps they have and I didn’t notice those places.

Dallas, on the other hand, is fixing to tear down the oldest building in downtown (for all I know, in the entire city) to widen a street. That kind of self-mutilation is endemic to Dallas. As it is to almost every other American city. You know, urban flight (a self-delusional term for racism) and all of that demographic mumbo-jumbo. Urban renewal. Destroy the heart of the city to make a few hundred billion dollars for a couple of “developers.” I’ve written about it before.

Klyde Warren Park - renew or rebuild?

Klyde Warren Park – renew or rebuild?

Everyone knows the process.  White flight, urban decay. Urban renewal, decimation of the city. Suburban growth. Freeways. Freeways. Freeways. Homelessness. Homelessness. Homelessness. Billionaires. Billionaires. Billionaires. Tear down a few more buildings. Gentrify. Gentrify. Gentrify. So predictable.

You know what you can’t do with your own body? Stop suburban flight or renew the urb. There’s this suburban flight going on from the day we’re born, I think. I’m not going to press this metaphor because it’s too obvious, and I don’t have the poetic skill to make it anything other than ridiculous. The metaphor has been around for at least 3,000 years. “Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth. . .” (1)

You can have all the arthroscopic surgeries you want, and you can’t renew the urb of your own body. Can’t be done. You can work out at the gym three times a week from the time you’re 20 until you’re 80, and you are not stopping the process.

Neiman’s stayed in downtown until it was—quite literally—the only retail store left. How could it leave? It WAS Dallas, Dallas WAS Neiman’s. Shall I carry the figure to its (il)logical conclusion? Neiman’s was (is) in some way if not the soul of Dallas, at least an image for the soul of Dallas.

Now it’s having a facelift (literally, there’s a sign that says so). And a little cluster of retail stores and restaurants and such is growing up around it. And more than a few of the old empty buildings (both retail and high-rise) are being refurbished, completely gutted and rebuilt and made into new businesses and  apartments. Thousands of people (with their thousands of dogs) are moving back to downtown. Not the kind of people who were pushed out when old downtown was obliterated, mind you. Not the poor, the tired, the humble masses who huddled in the rooming houses and inner-city apartments.

The urb is, once again, being renewed. And I love it. I want to live there.

Neiman’s can have a facelift. Dallas can build the Klyde Warren Park. My hip can be fixed (at least temporarily).

But it’s that soul, or the image of that soul that won’t let my mind rest. Dallas can’t be renewed. It can be rebuilt, but it won’t be the same city. Renewal is not the process. Remaking is, finding a new soul is.

Do I need to push this metaphor to its limit? A human body cannot be renewed OR rebuilt. To say nothing of a human soul.

Damn! I wish that had worked out.
____________
(1) Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, KJV.  Hebrew Scriptures and Urban Renewal

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

Towne Square Apartments; Employee Parking Lot; DART line rail (with yellow train); New Parkland Hospital. Can the urb be renewed?

Towne Square Apartments; Employee Parking Lot; DART line rail (with yellow train); New Parkland Hospital. Can the urb be renewed?