Archive for February, 2010

ORDER AND SYMMETRY

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

ORDER AND SYMMETRY

It is morning. I’m sitting on a chair in my bedroom, getting dressed. It’s a straight-back wooden chair with a thinly cushioned seat. The light blue faded upholstery is worn at the left front corner. It may stay this way for a long time. At my left is my dresser. It is thirty inches high, eighteen inches deep, and sixty inches long, with three drawers on the left side, and three on the right. Each drawer has two square pull knobs fastened to escutcheons. The escutcheons, about four inches square, are of a darker piece of wood than the drawer, and have a small concave cut-out on each corner. Each drawer has a thin vertical groove to the inside of the escutcheons, thus forming, with the edge of the drawer, a rectangle around each pull, giving the whole drawer a pleasant symmetry. I would say that the dresser wood has a walnut finish. The front is in beautiful condition, I enjoy looking at it, but as I gaze at its top, I am less pleased.

To the left of the dresser is a window, a window to the south. After thirty five years, the sun has taken toll of the left side of the dresser. No finish at all, just rough wood. And a portion of the dresser top, that area near the window, is flaked, but the rest or the dresser top is as beautiful as the front. I never see the bad end of the dresser, and the top is still livable, so it may be a long time before it is refinished.

That window, through which the southern sun pours, is on a corner, with panes on both sides, so that, when I gaze through it, I get a panoramic view of the park adjoining our back yard. From this elevated second story, the view is hypnotic. I cannot pass this window without stopping and gazing. Straight ahead, a Monterey pine, surely two hundred feet tall; to the right of that, a eucalyptus equally as high. To the left of the pine are three dawn redwoods, which were brought as seedlings from Northern China by a westerner who discovered them in the late 1940’s. Linnaeus would object to calling them redwoods, for they are deciduous. The trunks spiral up to the limbs with their airy needles, calling to mind the mysterious rock formations, the Karsts on the river Li in central China. And through these trees, I see a great expanse of lawn, and paths, and other trees. It is early morning, and the rising sun illuminates the tops of the trees with a rosy glow. And on the lawn I see a woman romping with her dog off leash, which is a no-no but never enforced, and I am pleased.

But what concerns me now, as I reach for my shoes, is that the left, lower drawer is slightly open. This is not orderly. It detracts from convention; drawers should always be closed, so I close it. As I am putting on my shoes, the old ones, for I hope to get out in the yard today, I note my black pair, which I will wear tonight when I go to choir practice, is sitting beyond me near the dresser. But, heaven forbid! The left shoe is sitting to the right of the right shoe. This disturbs my senses, so I re-arrange them according to natural order.

Why this preoccupation with orderliness? Is it to bring order out of chaos? It may be, for doesn’t nature continually try to bring order into its creations? So I look to nature, and I find much order, but even where there is no order, there is the constant striving to balance the forces of nature.

Now, take a look at animal and flora life. What surprises me when I look at humans is the symmetry of their bodies. Run a vertical line down the center of their body and fold the two sides together. Perfect symmetry, a mirror image: two arms, two legs, eyes, ears; two of most external organs or appendages. And when there is but one, such as the nose, the mouth, the genitals, it is centered. And as we look at other animal life, we find much the same symmetry.

At first thought, as I look at floral life, ah, here is chaos. I gaze at a distant meadow of wildflowers and I see a mishmash of color. I could even call it a riot of color, but it is not a riot; each individual plant has its own symmetry. The stem, with alternate or parallel branches; the blossoms, each with the same number of petals.

So I conclude that order is akin to symmetry, and symmetry is inherent in nature, and this is good.

But where is all this leading? As you know, composers of music frequently write exercises, known as “études” so musicians can practice certain types of composition. This little essay of mine is an étude, just a practice at expressing thoughts and views. You may disregard them.

And now, I head up the staircase to the third floor and my office. There is much work to be done. Seven steps lead me up on a worn beige carpet, light blue walls surround me, and a dark wooden hand rail on the left gives me confidence even when I am not using it. At the landing: a closet door to the right contains clothing that hasn’t been worn for twenty years, and to the left, is a bathroom that I conjured up out of attic space some thirty five years ago. Its cedar panel walls house photos and other memorabilia of my life.

Straight ahead, I open the door to my office and enter.

UTTER CHAOS

RODIN’S GATES OF HELL!

George Parker
November 2009

I Don’t Understand

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

I DON’T UNDERSTAND

The other day I was driving down the street in my old Ford pick-up when I saw a crowd of people standing around a parked automobile. In my usual curious way, I had to stop and see what was going on. There, was parked, a sleek little automobile. A two-seater convertible in bright red, with white upholstery. What a beauty! And standing nearby was the proud owner. He was explaining that the car was all electric, and all one needed to do is plug it in to an outlet in one’s garage at night, and the next morning it was ready to go again. He said it is made right here in California. It would only hold two people and cost about 100,000 dollars, but it was going to save the planet.

The assembled people would gaze at the car, and then gaze at the owner in admiration, for it’s true – a man is known by the car he drives. There he was, in suit and tie, and a halo over his head. I decided, right then and there, that I would buy one of those and be an admired owner, an important person; though I knew I didn’t qualify for a halo.

That evening I thought some more about it, and realized that when I plugged it in at night it was going to take nearly all the juice coming into the house, and I might have to give up television or my furnace, but this was for the planet, and for my ego. I also figured out that the cost of twenty two cents per kilowatt hours to charge this little beauty would be more than the cost of gas for my Ford. Even worse, I would have to give up my over-alls and wear a suit and tie. But, what the hell!

So, I talked with a salesman at the sales room and made a deal. Ten percent off if I paid in cash. Now, if I was going to buy a car made in California, I wanted to borrow the money from a California Bank, and, by George, there was such a bank right in my town – The Bank of The West.

The bank officer was very nice, offered me some coffee, which I declined for I had had my daily quota at breakfast, and we drew up a lot of papers – a 100,000 dollar loan secured by my house. He suggested a car loan would be more appropriate, but knowing the interest rate would be higher, I insisted on the real-estate loan.

So then I said, when the papers were drawn up and signed, “I would like that in one-hundred dollar bills.”

“Oh no.” he replied, “you don’t understand. We don’t give you cash; we just give you a check book.”

“No, no,” I said, “I want it in cash so I can get my discount. The salesman told me if I paid in cash I would get 10,000 off.”

“Well,” he answered, “we don’t have that much money here, you see what we do is…”

I didn’t let him finish. “How can you lend me the money if you don’t have it?”

“You don’t understand.” He said. “Here is what we do: on our books we debit loans receivable, and credit deposits. Then we give you a check book and you can pay your bills. Now do you understand?”

“I’m getting more confused.” I said. “How can you lend me money you don’t have, and how can I give my car dealer the cash to get the discount? I want to talk with your president. Is that his desk over there?”

“No,” he said, “He sells our IRA and ROTH retirement accounts. Would you like to sign up for an IRA?”

I answered “The only Ira I know wrote music. Would you like me to hum “Fascinating Rhythm” for you?” I threw that in to relieve some of the tension that was building.

He ignored my offer, which was probably best, for I wasn’t too sure of the tune. “You don’t understand.” he said, “Our president doesn’t work here. Just sign the checking account papers and then you can go buy your car. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cup of coffee?”

“Where does your president work?” I requested, ignoring his latest offer. “In San Francisco? I see you have an office there. I’ll go there and get my cash. If you don’t have it here, they should have it.”

“No, no, you still don’t understand. You see, our president lives in Paris, and that would be a bit out of your way.” He made a joke of this, but I was serious. “You see, The Bank of The West is owned by The Banque Nationale de Paris.

“O.K.,” I said, “I’ll just take the cash in francs. Oh no, that would have to be in Euros.”

“No.” he said, “they don’t have the cash either, all banks operate this way, they merely debit loans receivable, and”

I finished his statement. “And credit deposits.”

“You’ve got it now,” he added. “This is the way banks all over the world have always operated. It’s called the fractional reserve banking system. You sure you don’t want some coffee?”

“Wait a minute,” I was getting pretty annoyed by now. “You charge interest for money you don’t have?” I’m pretty slow, but then it dawned on me. “And you call yourself The Bank of The West though you are a French bank, so people will think they are dealing with a local firm.”

He started to reply, but stopped as I reached across his desk, picked up all the papers, tore them in half, then in half again. He started to talk again, but I just held up my hand and stopped him. And as I walked out I said “I guess I’ll just drive my Ford pick-up a few more years and be a nobody, because I just don’t understand.”

Then I phoned the auto salesman and cancelled my order. I was a bit surprised when he casually replied “No problem, I’ll just call the Lotus factory in London and tell them to cancel the order.”

Lotus? I didn’t order a Lotus! Now I really didn’t understand. No California car and no California bank.

George W. Parker
January 2010