Saturday, April 24, 2021

I Just Finished Reading My Father's Diary From 1973

This was an incredibly bad year, much of which I remember with great pain.  My older brother descended into schizophrenia, becoming increasingly unpleasant, irrational, and occasionally violent (at least to strangers on the street).  There was much that I either have forgotten or that my parents shielded me from: my mother went in for what might well have turned into a radical mastectomy (it was a benign cyst).  My father battled with both short-term disability insurance and Social Security Disability.  A brother-in-law was charged with heroin possession (which later caused his death).

His diary records as near as I can tell every penny they spent (hospital copays, car repairs, lunch with me at Jack-in-the-Box).  Yet for all sorts of silly projects by me (grinding a 3" telescope mirror) he had money to spend on abrasives and Pyrex blanks.  (I finished that mirror in the 1980s.)

One of my father's weaknesses was get rich schemes.  One letter from the mid-1950s from some remote part of Washington State (where he was doing construction) to my mother says to stop sending boxtops.  There was some sort of contest at the time that required them, but that deadline had passed.  I remember a scavenger hunt contest in the 1960s or 1970s by one of the Los Angeles radio stations that had obscure clues ("Simon Rodea would go north and west from here": somehow I knew enough to correct the spelling to Rodia).  We saw a lot of Los Angeles.

Along with attempts to get rich at gambling, he was teaching himself enough about stats to look for non-mechanical bias patterns in Keno games.  More usefully, he was designing some pretty clever methods for extracting power from waves and tides that I have never seen used anywhere.  His interest in wind power led me to tell him (although I do not remember it) about scientists building tornado generators for developing tornado disrupters.  He apparently built a small one without telling me.  His comments suggest it worked at a level that exceeded both his expectations and risk willingness. 

The amazing discovery that British Leyland had not mastered the science of interchangeable parts by the 1960s came out as we rebuilt the transmission of my sister's Triumph.  (For a very long time, we used the gear missing almost half its teeth as a candlestick holder.)

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