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DHL, Serial Disorder and T.S. Eliot


I am using DHL to ship for the first time and getting odd results. They charge a premium price but the service isn’t premium.

To hurry up a mineral identification I had my local shipping store send a tiny package to Canada using DHL. Or, at least I thought it was sent to Canada. At 5:05 PM I got a call from an unidentified number which I didn’t pick up. They did leave a voice mail, though, so I did listen to that.

It was Las Vegas DHL hub, saying that they had opened the package to inspect for customs and discovered a ten dollar bill. “We don’t handle cash so please call us back to let us know how we should proceed.” Darn. I often send small amounts of American money through the US Postal Service without any problem.

I immediately called back, only to get a recording that said the office was closed and to call back during regular business hours. Which turned out to be 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. What? An international shipping company that closes at five? There weren’t any online or phone resources to help me since the package hadn’t fully entered their system.

Delaying my trip for today, I called this morning and was told the package could proceed but that I would need to fill out a commercial shipping form. DHL marks everything that isn’t a document as commercial, even if the value of a package is worth nothing. Like my crystal samples. My postal store hadn’t told me anything about such a form.

The hub said I needed to come downtown to fill out the right form but then later agreed to e-mail me one I could fill out. Instead of a clickable .pdf, they sent an Excel file that dated back to 1997. Whatever. If you don’t have Excel, Google Sheets can be used to read Excel spreadsheets and save them in that .xls format.

With that filled out and e-mailed back, my package is now supposed to be on the move, fully 22 hours after I first dropped it off. I will now send a check through the USPS to Canada, hoping the mineral dealer will understand the delay.

Serial Disorder

During my conversation with the DHL rep, I constantly tripped over the waybill number. I had carefully written it down after listening to the voicemail, but the rep couldn’t get find it in their system. I thought it might be that my serial disorder acting up [internal link] but I hate to blame my own carelessness on my condition. Besides, how could I know if it was acting up at this moment? Maybe, in recalling this number, I was just being stupid. Like all my math teachers thought.

The rep finally looked up my account with my street address as a key. He then said I had been telling him the right numbers but they were mixed up. I hid a depressed sigh and said I understood. After getting off the phone, I sent a text to my brother who also lives in Las Vegas. I needed to pick up the air compressor he had borrowed. I said I couldn’t remember, was his apartment number 1146? The reply, 1164. It never leaves!

As I said in my previous post on high school, a terrible problem with math and this condition is that you can never safely double check your work. Even in being careful, there is no guarantee that your numbers will ever match up. A pox on all those self-righteous self-help advocates [internal link]  who say you can overcome anything with hard work and dedication. No, some things don’t bend neatly to the system that you are selling. Peddle something else other than guilt and blame.

T.S. Eliot

I was trying to remember a quote by Eliot and found out I was instead quoting myself. The line was, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” It describes the plea of a wretch condemned to the pit who sees Dante moving through Hell, finally alighting on a staircase, seemingly able to leave.

But I couldn’t track down the quote. Where was it? With Eliot, as with the writing of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, “The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember.” Turns out the quote derives from the epigraph in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. But not the published epigraph, a draft. I’m sure I read this draft in hardcopy a long time ago but the best explanation is now here:

“The draft version of the epigraph for ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ comes from Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XXVI, lines 147-148:

‘sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

More fully (lines 142-148):

‘Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
consiros vei la passada folor,
e vei jausen lo jorn qu’esper, denan.
Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor!’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

In his essay “Dante” (1929) [87] Eliot provided this translation (emphasis added):

‘I am Arnold, who weeps and goes singing. I see in thought all the past folly. And I see with joy the day for which I hope, before me. And so I pray you, by that Virtue which leads you to the topmost stair–be mindful in due time of my pain’. Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.

I may have reduced Eliot’s quote to what I was comfortable with, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” I can’t find that exact quote on the net. Thinking about it now, though, that distillation isn’t bad. Not bad at all.

Finally, Dante’s Inferno is well worth reading, just find the translation that works for you. Too often a classic book in a foreign language is intimidating because it is poorly translated. Too many students give up on great literature because a teacher assigned them a difficult to read version. Usually, like Eliot, the greatest writers and poets make the greatest interpreters.


How I Graduated From High School

I graduated high school with the help of a sick, sadistic math teacher I thought an unredeemable cretin. His name was Van Pliet and I assume he is dead now. Good riddance.

We’ve all had terrible teachers as we have all had terrible bosses. Such is life. Teachers, though, hold a special responsibility to treat impressionable students well, lest those young people be permanently damaged, scarred by a social institution they were required to attend.

Although Van Pliet was a base animal, he must have had a stirring of humanity in him which helped me graduate. Perhaps he felt guilty about the way he treated me. Or perhaps it was a blandishment to whatever stone idol he worshipped. Or one good act to keep him from The Pit.

This story calls for some background, and it relates strongly to what I have written about the soulless self-care industry, a trade that flourishes on blaming the individual while picking the patient’s pocket.

A few months ago I read that California politician Gavin Newsom was receiving attention  for admitting that he suffers from dyslexia, first diagnosed when he was five.

A recent interview (external link) went like this, “Newsom is gratified when parents tell him how inspiring it is to their dyslexic children to know he shares their disability and has achieved success, so they can too. The key, he tells students, is to ‘develop discipline, for when you can apply discipline to a problem in life, you can solve any problem.'” Really?

While I applaud him for raising awareness, he oversells his own story as any politician might, promising success if only discipline is applied. That demeans the intense effort that so many people make against their disabilities with no results. For too many people with severe learning disabilities, there is nothing society can do.

Newsom says that he struggles to this day with reading and writing. I can tell you, therefore, that he will never be a successful writer. I am sure that as an editor I would never approve his writing for publication, you can’t continually mix up words and syllables and spelling and hope to be published. Unless someone wrote or edited for him before submission. But that’s not really getting on with one’s disability, is it? Not if someone else is doing your homework.

The discipline he advocates for other people has not overcome the problem he is afflicted with. Instead, he got into college on a partial baseball scholarship; his pathway to a larger world and what he terms success. His condition also seems to have improved by itself, which is indeed hopeful although that does not happen to everyone.

I started falling apart with mathematics in the seventh grade. I could barely do fractions and I am sure I could not do them right now. At the end of eighth grade mathematics, Mr. Estes, a kind teacher, pulled me and another student aside. He explained that he would give us an “A” for effort at the eighth grade level. But he would give us a “scholastic “C” at the seventh grade level. That didn’t matter to me as I was moving on from the  horror show that was Jonas Salk Junior High.

My freshman year in high school math only confirmed my deficiencies in the subject. My Dad tried quite hard to help, he being a math major in college. Yet I couldn’t follow what he was saying. I was then enrolled for many months in The Learning Center, an after-school tutoring facility.

These people were quite nice and the atmosphere of their building was relaxed and comforting, compared to the constantly high threat level of Encina High School. After several months they conducted a series of tests, quite lengthy, and shortly thereafter my tutoring stopped.

I only learned much later from my Dad that I had something called serial disorder, or at least that is what they called it at the time. Among other things, I routinely mixed up numbers, never being able to recall a long number in its right order.  Double checking math problems didn’t work for me since that means reversing a process, errors occurring on both ends. As I read about it now, this condition hosts a whole suite of learning problems with math.

The tutoring must have stopped because their was no fix. Just like dyslexia, “Treatment can help, but this condition can’t be cured.”

Instead, I was kept back a year in math while in high school. It was humiliating to sit in a freshman class when I was a sophomore. And worse when I was a junior in a sophomore class. Since I had passed fractions in my second year the next step was Algebra. This was taught my a monster named Van Pliet who insisted that I go to the blackboard as everyone else, to solve a problem written on it.

Every time I went to the blackboard I saw a haze of white chalk, completely incomprehensible, visibly swimming in front of me. I’d stand at the board with my chalk, the figures dancing in front of me. I never had a clue. Unable to decipher anything, I would stand for minutes at a time while my junior classmates laughed and made remarks behind my back. Eventually Van Pliet would ask me to sit down. This continued every day or two throughout the entire semester. The only time I got an answer right in his class was when I guessed correctly on a multiple choice test.

The final was handled in a similarly poisonous manner. The day before the exam, Van Pliet came up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder, and told me there was no point in showing up for the test. He said that my final grade would not change despite no matter how well I scored. Even though I was very young, I knew adults shouldn’t treat kids this way. I showed up the next day out of spite for his damned test and of course completely failed it. That obstinance might have saved me.

To my surprise, and I didn’t realize the consequences at the time, Van Pliet gave me a D- for my final grade. That probably explained why my senior year class schedule didn’t require a math class. No more torture. It must have also allowed me to graduate since passing algebra at the time was a prerequisite.

Passing that course at the college level was unthinkable, of course, but at least I got out of that prison and got on to working with my hands, the most open path to those who cannot graduate college. I later learned to develop my writing, which I always tested three to four grades ahead in high school. Never once, though, did they advance me a grade in this subject. That would have helped my confidence, but that institution couldn’t care less.

Again, I will never be a math wizard no matter how hard I try. That door is closed, just as a dyslexic cannot be an Orwell. We all must adapt to our talents and gifts. Gavin Newsome’s pap about applying discipline to solve any problem must be dismissed as the glad-handing that any politician extends at any time to a crowd of his sycophants and to everyone who delights in blaming people for conditions they can’t control. And for people who won’t raise a hand to help. A pox on them all.

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