Saturday, December 22, 2001

Making New Friends

Making New Friends

With the cold weather, we have not been too ambitious to do much other than take a walk to gather some sun rays while they last. Today, Mark and Hugh were coming, so it seemed our morning was wiled away in anticipation. We productively spent the time reading and getting our clothes to smell like mandarin and green tea. Ron was soaking beans to make into chili with some of our newly discovered chili seasonings and sausage.

Hugh and Mark arrived at 3:00 pm and we all decided to stay here for coffee rather than venture out. Hugh works as an Educational Evaluator and travels to Russia and surrounding countries a lot of the time. Mark just finished his first semester at Cambridge where he is working on his doctorate in Myths and Magic of South African Literature. They have lived in Budapest for two years and still enjoy it. They are both from South Africa. Mark will be heading back to London the middle of January to begin his second semester. Both of them are laid back types, so the onus of keeping the conversation alive was on Ron and I. They were very pleasant and seemed like people we would like to develop a friendship with, so we invited them to join us for Christmas Eve dinner. Regretfully, they had made plans with others for the evening, but as fortune would have it, they invited us to their place for Christmas day. They were having a potluck. We told them of our limited tools for cooking and the inability to read packages for ingredients, so we agreed to bring the snacks. By 5:00 pm, they left and we felt the whole in our social existence once again and without mindless situation comedies and unrealistic television dramas to distract us, the evening was long.

An hour away was my relief in cyber-space, where I could wile away the hours reading e-mail and surfing. Ron has a difficult time seeing the screen when he is sitting next to me, so it is not a joint venture. He also loses interest much faster than I, until he is alone on the web and can read the San Francisco Chronicle columnists that he misses greatly. After dinner, I usually forego the computer for his needs and he writes his letters in Word, then I upload them onto his e-mail for sending.

A few days ago, as I was checking our bank account online, I was getting upset with the $3.00 charge our bank slapped on us each time we made a withdrawal. Before leaving the States, I had read that this bank was going to stop charging the Automatic Teller Machine fees in Europe, but the only evidence of this was when we used the Barclays bank in the U.K. Every other time, there was that nasty waste of money. I knew there had to be a way around this, so I thought about the possible solutions. Then it dawned on me! Our global currency cards were rechargeable online, so I went to their site to read the procedures. They could reload your card with authorized withdrawals from your bank account that has been relegated for this task. I could not remember is we had arranged for this when we initially purchased our cards or not. If we had not, it was very short sighted of me not to do so. When I tried to do a reload, however, the need of authorization popped up. I was shortsighted, damn. The form was available online, but there were two obstacles. It was in a pdf form, which means you need the program Acrobat reader in order to retrieve it. That was not a problem as the program is available free on the Internet for downloading and my computer was already equipped. The first problem, though, remained that I do not have a printer. I have not found an Internet café in Budapest that has MS Word on any of their computers, I thought the chances of finding one with Acrobat Reader and a working printer were beyond hope. Then the second problem was that the form would need to be faxed to Global Currency. That created the second obstacle of finding a public fax machine that will fax internationally, if Global Currency even had an international fax number. The number they provided was a States 800 toll free number, which experience has shown me that you cannot call an 800 number from abroad. Since I like these types of puzzles, I had to think of a solution.

It did not take long for a key to unlock this puzzle to present itself. When I was online with the bank, they had installed new software that allowed you to virtually set up a payment with anyone from your credit card company to your grandmother. It did not matter and it did not have to be a company. I went to the Global Currency site to retrieve their mailing address and phone number, then went back to the bank site and set them up as a payee. Now instead of them having to siphon money from our account, we can freely hand it over to be deposited in our Global Currency access account. The bank does not charge per transaction, there is a monthly fee of $5.95 service charge. I tested this out by sending fifty dollars to the Global card and the bank processed it the next day. Now I just need to wait for the Global account to receive it, accept it since they did not request the funds themselves, and deposit it under my account number. If this works, I can set up a weekly or monthly transfer that will sit in the Global account with withdrawal access and no fees. Travel does broaden your knowledge base in many ways.

I have been patiently waiting for a Christmas card through either the snail mail or via e-mail from my brother. Nothing has appeared yet. I have written off hope for my father sending anything, he is too buried in Michelle’s life to be bothered with flesh and blood. What I have said for a number of years now, is that your family does not have to be related to you by blood. My aunt did send us an electronic card for Christmas. Some of my closest ‘family members’ are friends who are closer relations than my own legal relatives. It does not stop the hurt that comes with being forgotten. We have sent my brother and his family gifts from Ireland and Holland without a trace of knowing whether or not they received them. It was only when I forwarded a note from my Aunt Carolyn to my brother that I received any e-mail message at all.

My aunt had sent me a note saying that my father called her and made some wise crack. She thinking it was another crank caller for which they had been recently plagued, she hung up on him. When he called back, she let the machine answer the call and only picked up when she realized it was her brother. As she answered, she was commanded by her older brother to say “Happy Birthday!” She knew it was not his birthday, but said it anyway. He had Michelle on the other line and she responded, “Thank you!” My aunt never clarified with him what the purpose of that was, but it was obvious Michelle was still in the picture continuing her parasitic behavior. Dad also told my aunt that he rarely sees my brother anymore since my brother moved so far away (fourteen miles). I responded to her by writing, “You should have hung up on him a second time when you heard Michelle’s voice on the line.” Then I forwarded the note to my brother for a dual purpose. One reason was so that Kevin would know what our father was saying about him to relatives, the second was to try to elicit a response at all to see if he remembered who I was.

It does not take Kevin to get his Italian/Irish up when he is confronted, but he will never do it in person; writing is so much safer. He responded within twenty-four hours stating that Dad has no qualms about calling him once a month to remind him of the loan payment they have with him, five days before the due date. Kevin also was angered by the fact that my father uses the excuse of Kevin’s buying a house for his not being in touch when we had plainly made it clear when I was still there that Michelle was the reason for the discontent. What he did not include was a thank you for the presents or even an acknowledgement of receiving them. He was too busy defending his honor to think about wishing me a Merry Christmas.

I also forwarded the same e-mail to my sister-in-law for the same reasons as my brother. Sometimes I wonder if they ever talk since information does not also seem to be communicated, especially from my brother to my sister-in-law. She responded as harshly as my brother did and included that they received the gifts that we sent and really liked them. Again, no mention of the holidays, the state of our health or well-being or anything else personal.

In cycles, I either buy presents for my nephews or not. For years, wanting to be the good uncle, I spent hours and hours trying to figure out what would please them. When they were little and Power Rangers were as rare as feathers on pigs, I called every store in the State of California trying to get them Power Rangers. I wanted to be Super Uncle and be their hero. Ron coming to the rescue stood in line at a toy store that was getting a fresh shipment and beat off fifty crazed mothers that also craved Power Rangers for their little monsters. The scenes at the stores at the time were like what we see on the news of people killing each other over food hand-outs and it makes me realize now how shallow we can be. But at the time, it was important. Since I did not see my nephews that often with them in New Jersey and I in California, I needed something to make an imprint on their minds. Ron was successful and the Power Rangers went in the mail with insurance coverage worthy of an ingot of gold. Weeks went by and I never heard a word. Now I think about it like an e-mail. You know you are sending something into the cyber ethers, but you are never really sure whether or not it has reached its destination or not until you get a response. It was not until I heard from my mother, who obviously was alive at the time, that I found out they did indeed received them and they were ecstatic. Their ecstasy never flowed over into a thank you note or card.

Two years ago, I bought the two of them a hundred and fifty-dollar telescope for a joint present and a half dozen individual presents each. The oldest nephew was in Boy Scouts and the younger in Cub Scouts and they were doing a lot with stargazing both at their local troops and at the Scouting camps they both regularly attended. Again, no mention was made of receiving the gifts from them. My brother and sister-in-law did not acknowledge the presents that were for each of them nor for the kids. In return, we did not receive a Christmas card, a thank you note, or a birthday card. I had to call to see if the presents arrived or did I have to have them traced with the post office. They arrived, but later found out the telescope went to live in the basement and never surfaced again until they moved.

Deciding that ingratitude does not deserve action on my part, I quit sending gifts to see if anyone noticed. There has not been a trace of response that it has made a difference and they still do not send greetings for holidays or birthdays. With great remorse, I get pangs of guilt that this will go down in the chronicles of time that I was a worthless uncle and their maternal aunt and uncle do give them gifts, so I bend my rules on occasion. Then I start to wallow once again in the feelings of being an orphan and stop caring materialistically once again. It is an emotional cycle that can be exhausting. The benefit of all of this is that I am truly overwhelmed when friends old and new are generous towards me/us. The rest of this sentiment should be apparent.

Speaking of which, Ron’s old friend, and my new friend Sheila and Fred, the couple that we had visited in Wyoming was planning to send a CARE package via United Parcel Service. When they went to ship it off, they discovered that it would cost $100.00 for shipping. Deciding that that was a bit pricey, they held off for the U.S. and Hungarian postal services to perform the task. Sheila picking up my loss of not having pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving was going to send us the makings for a pumpkin pie and a pound of Starbucks coffee. If it has arrived after their spending so much to send it, I would have had to hire a baker to create it for fear of screwing it up. Then I would have had to shellac it and hang it on the wall for future posterity, since a pie that costs that much should not be wasted by eating it. It is always the thought that counts.

Daphnee, my oldest friend in terms of knowing her, wanted to know what we wanted for Christmas. She wanted to send gifts like she does every year. I told her not to spend the money, thinking about the shipping costs. We settled on a phone call. She will call us on Christmas Day at an established time.

All of these thoughts do not make for a happy holiday season for me and I have to confront them year after year. It was an escape for the last seven years to take off to different parts of the world where I could completely ignore the family thing. It was just depressing since the last Christmas we spent with my parents, my mother made the trip miserable and we did not speak after that time. Traveling in different cultures at Christmas assists in diverting your attention from your own emotional voids, but this year, having a ‘home’ brings all of that to the surface once again. Ron on the other hand is able to revel in the romance of Christmas past with his family and has the notions that if he were there, everything would be as it once was. It is with great relief that he thinks that way. If both of us had my attitude, we would be taking our anti-depressants with Scotch.

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