November 2007 Archives

Strangely Attracted To Chaos


Brother Peter was fascinated by:

Chaos Theory,     Fractals,     M. C. Escher,     Op Art,     Möbius strips,    
Kline bottles,     Tessellations,     Penrose Tiling,     and     Puzzles,    

don't you think?

BTW, I found this unattributed limerick on the internet...
"A mathematician confided
That a Möbius band is one-sided,
And you'll get quite a laugh,
If you cut one in half,
For it stays in one piece when divided."


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I have long and often wondered about Peter and books.

For example, I estimated once to someone in a conversation that my brother Peter had probably read 100K books and that he was a "speed reader". Pure speculation. So I had occasion to tell Peter about my conversation (I went to the source) and he laughed and made his own estimate, somewhere in the thousands, but stared kind of dreamy-eyed, as if he wished he could have read a hundred thousand volumes.

A story he often told, (OK, so I prompted a few times, it was so incredible to me), was how he "proved" to Mom and Dad that he could read and understand most of what he was reading in a newspaper at the age of 4. The story always proceeded to include how proud he was at that age, having his own library card, and swore that he walked the couple blocks to the library and brought home books, BY HIMSELF, at the age of 4. (Oh, sure, anybody could do it at 5, and be motivated to, and keep up the routine for another 60 years, but at 4, Peter?)

Another common thought of mine was: how large was Peter's own library, at the end and/or through the years?

What were his favorite books? Which ones did he re-read?

I can tell you that Peter once told me that he read the book, (I hope I don't mangle the spelling), "Goedel, Escher, Bach" (GEB), all the way through, in one sitting, and then read it all the way through, again! Now, I would say, that GEB was one of his favorite books, wouldn't you?

He also always spoke very highly of Jeffrey Mishlove's "Roots Of Consciousness", (1975). I have Peter's copy here in hands. It is inscribed:

"To Peter Hartman,
Who taught me so much!
Jeffrey Mishlove"

I think one of his verymost, (I'm pretty sure that's all one word), favoritest (hargh! Peter had so many!) authors was Robert Anton Wilson (RAW), (Peter told me once that Marcy had met or knew RAW in Antioch, (early 1960's?), do you remember his story, Jed?), as he is mine.

Of course, not that many books survived the fire, or so I think. Peter said once that he didn't care so much for "things and money", because he knew he couldn't take those with him, but that knowledge, ah, knowledge could probably be carried discorporeally.

And he loved to share books. He had a tradition of a "book box", at least since the early 60's, which anyone was free to take any of them home and keep. A "freebie" book box. If you visited him at his home, Peter would invariably try to send some book(s) home with you. They were constantly in flow around Peter. Most of them not simply read by Peter, but, I would say, mostly devoured by Peter. In great stacks and by the tonage. In boxes, shelves or backpockets, no book was safe from Peter's hunger...

Sometimes I wonder how fast Peter read. I picture him flipping through a novel in under an hour, wouldn't you say, Jed?

Once, he had a stack of books he needed to finish and return the next day. I watched him take the entire stack, maybe 20+ books, into his room that night and he returned them the next day. I asked him if he'd finished them? He said, "some, I read all the way through, and some I heavily perused. The few others came in though my dreams." He was serious. He believed he could glean essential data from books through osmosis, during sleep.

Did Peter truly have eidetic memory for anything he read? (Did he pass the test of "what's the 3rd word down on page 23", or whatever, days after he had even looked at the book? The family story says he did, but I was too young to have direct memory of it.)

I asked him once if he had, or had previously had, eidetic memory for anything he had read, and I think he denied it, although admitting his "retention was high". I suspect he had a "fantastic" memory when he was a youth, but that 50 years of alcohol dimmed this into a mere "good" memory. I'd like to read feedback on this.

I know Peter bought books, sometimes, when he had virtually no money reserves. Books were very important in Peter's life, yet, I suspect that he didn't care much for the actual book itself, but craved the knowledge within, as an addict is driven, to find relief.

I hope you found relief, brother.

Teaching About Learning

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When Peter worked at a place in the Northwest teaching computer hardware and server systems about 8-something years ago, he had a co-worker he talked about sometimes.

This co-worker was not very informed on the subject, according to Peter, but at the same time was very cock-sure about his knowledge, waving his hands and mumbling if push came to shove about some topic. (Peter felt badly for the students assigned to this co-worker.)

What I remembered recently about this was what Peter told me once; when he took this co-worker teacher aside and explained something to him that he obviously was misinformed about before Peter's intervention, this co-worker would invariably end the explanation with "I knew that", seemingly by reflex, and this happened a number of times.

Peter's comments about this were twofold.

First, Peter felt dissed that this fellow obviously did NOT know the topic, and after Peter showed him, he should have thanked Peter.

Second, according to Peter, this fellow was teaching his own subconcious mind to reject any new thoughtforms because he "already knew it", so his mind would then NOT make the pathways permanent, rejecting the new information for long-term storage. He was, according to Peter, beyond learning anything new!

I'm sure I used that phrase myself occasionally, BEFORE Peter told me that story.

Since that time, if the phrase was ever about to pass my lips, this story came to mind, and I would change what I was about to say.

I decided that I needed all the learning I can get!

Thanks, Peter! (And Happy 23rd!)

Juggling Life And Leisure

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Peter taught me to juggle in the early 1960's. He wasn't professional or anything at it, but he was good, very entertaining. While I never attained his skill level, I admired his accomplishments.

One of the "tricks" he did with juggling was to juggle two balls with the right hand, and then lift the third ball, up and down, in perfect timing, AS IF it was being juggled! I was never able to do this one, but I loved to watch it.

Another "variation" (as opposed to the "standard" juggling of three balls, with both hands throwing and catching) Peter had taught himself, was to only toss the balls with one hand, and then let the other hand simply feed the throwing hand by letting the ball "fall" into it. I think it's called a "waterfall juggling".

Paul had learned to ride a unicycle, in Ellensburg, (which he got really good at). Peter really wanted to learn this and spent many hours falling off of it, but was never proficient, to his regret. (It was Peter's wish that the two could be combined, that he could learn to juggle while riding a unicycle, although he never did, to my knowledge.)


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Whenever someone complained about being sore or having aching arms or legs, Peter would say:

You know what they say: "If you get stiff in the joints, don't go in the joints!"

I was always amused, but found that when I repeated this to friends, they just looked puzzled, or thought I was making some kind of sex joke. And I would have to explain that one meaning of "stiff" is "drunk," and that a "joint" could be a bar, and by the time I explained it the joke wasn't funny any more.

At least, that's the meaning I always assumed Peter meant. I could be wrong. Some words have entirely too many meanings.

Peter's 21st birthday

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On a more entertaining note than my last entry:

When Peter was 20, he was a regular at a local bar--presumably he had a fake ID, or else he looked old enough that the bartender didn't check.

On his 21st birthday, he went to the bar and told the bartender, "Buy me a drink--it's my birthday!"

The bartender said, "Congratulations! How old are you!"

Peter said, "21!"

I don't remember if there was more to that story. (Somehow a bunch of these stories I've been writing up turn out not to quite have punchlines when I finish writing them up.) I think the bartender winced, but bought him a drink anyway.

Peter's last birthday

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Sometime in 2004, Jay and I noticed that Peter's 65th birthday was coming up. We decided to have some kind of party for him, and then set the idea aside and forgot to come back to it.

Shortly before his birthday, we realized that we hadn't put together a party for him. I was embarrassed and sad to have failed to do that. We arranged to go up to WA for a visit, but for various reasons we couldn't make it for his actual birthday. So we planned to go up the weekend of December 4-5 instead.

The rest of this entry may have happened that weekend, or it may have happened the weekend in January of 2005 when I flew up for Grandma's birthday; I'm not sure which. I was pretty sure that I wrote about it at the time, in email to friends if nothing else, but I have no record of having done so. But I'm going to assume it was the December 2004 trip.

I vaguely think that Jay couldn't make it after all; Jay, do you remember?

I flew up to SeaTac that Friday evening; not sure where I stayed, but it may've been a guest apartment at the nursing home where Grandma was living. On Saturday, I went to hang out with Peter, but he didn't seem sure what to do; he seemed to feel that he needed to keep me entertained, so after casting about for a while, he hit on the idea of taking me to the Museum of Glass.

It was fun, and neat, in a low-key sort of way. We hung out there for a while, just the two of us, and then we went back to his house.

And it became even clearer that I hadn't adequately explained that the point of my visit was to belatedly celebrate his birthday. I offered to take him and Nancy out to dinner; I think he said he didn't really want to go to a restaurant, was just going to eat some leftover soup they had in the fridge. After some further discussion, there was briefly a plan to go out to a nearby cheap Mexican place where they apparently ate fairly regularly, but we never made it out of the house.

I had been thinking of going up to Seattle that night to see friends, but the timing was uncertain. I made a couple of surreptitious phone calls; I felt like if Peter was up for doing something, then I should stick around and Do Stuff With Him For His Birthday, but if he wasn't, then I'd rather go see friends than sit awkwardly and silently around the house.

So there were various changes of plan, and Nancy didn't really want to go out or to do anything, but in the end Peter convinced Nancy to play pinochle with us. We had a reasonably good game, in which Nancy got very lucky and (iIrc) won by quite a lot. And then I felt my familial obligation had been discharged, so I drove up to Seattle, and if I'm right that this all happened on the December trip, then that was the night that I ran into friends completely by accident in a little Mexican restaurant in Capitol Hill.

But the bit of that unsatisfying day that stands out most for me, unfortunately, was the moment when I tried to give Peter a birthday present. I'd had a story published in a book of zeppelin-focused pulp adventure stories earlier that year, so I decided to give Peter a copy of the book for his birthday. Only again there was a communication breakdown. I had told him about my story being published, but he didn't remember, and he still didn't realize that my presence there that weekend had anything to do with his birthday. So when I pulled out the book and tried to give it to him, he sort of glanced at it and said something like, "Oh, okay, but it doesn't really look like my kind of thing, so you'd better keep it."

At which point it was kinda too late to say "This is your birthday present!"

So, hurt but not sure how to proceed, I opened the front cover and said, "The editor quoted my story here on the first-page blurb." And after a little further confusion and back-and-forth, Peter said, "Oh! This is the book with your story in it! Well, then of course I'll take it!"

So the evening worked out okay in the end, I guess. But not my finest hour in either communication skills or present-giving.

I later retrieved the book, singed but intact, from the house. It's on my bookshelf now, along with a bunch of his other books. I had intened to spend some of today working on the long-delayed project to deal with his books, but didn't have the energy for it.

Peter's Birthday, Veteran's Day, November 11, 1939

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I don't remember the first time I realized that Peter was born on Veteran's Day, a holiday at some companies. He always seemed to get that day off, and I remember him telling me once how much he liked that. I don't seem to ever remember a traditional birthday for Peter, with a birthday cake and candles. I'm sure it must have happened, I just have no memory of it.

Although I was never very good about getting birthday cards off to him, (or anyone...), I always remembered his birthday, (and doubt if I missed many of his birthdays since the 1960's without calling him or seeing him) with a phone call.

I remember the last birthday gift I gave him in Tacoma. I had painted a yard sign for him which said "Fnord!", but it had a small GO game in progress on the sign as a graphic. This sign was never found, so far as I know. I believe it must have been burned in the fire. I believe he never put it in the yard, or outside. The last time I ever saw it, it was just outside the kitchen area on a table stand.

I did see him in his birthday suit. Several times. Once, we were making a home movie on the Peninsula, and Peter volunteered to pretend he was sunbathing in the nude, the twist being that there was snow on the ground, and very cold out! I don't think that video survives, but I remember seeing it at least once. Jed and Jay were there, along with Marcy. We were traveling around the Olympic Peninsula for a few days and looked up an old friend of mine for a place to stay for the night.

The second time I remember seeing Peter nude was in the Folk's house in Tacoma. He had told me privately to go down and watch what happened when he came down. When he emerged downstairs naked, Mom didn't think much of this "joke" and proceeded to abuse him. I won't say how, but it must have hurt Peter. It wasn't one of Mom's finest moments, and I always wondered why Peter did it...

I miss you Peter, and I remember and honor you, on your birthday.