Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Musings on April Fool's Eve, 2020

Wouldn't it be awesome if we woke up tomorrow morning to CNN's banner headline

The good thing about common experience is that everyone knows and understands what you're expressing.
The problem with common experience is that everyone already knows and understands what you're expressing. If you can't bring something new to the party, you'd best just stand over there in your usual corner, smirking and murmuring like you always do(and by you I mean me).

I am a reactor. I rely on others for the setup; I can usually provide the punchline. Nature abhors a vacuum - my life sucks if I can't find material. The proper levels of pressure and anxiety typically induce humor; If I seem to you to have no sense of humor it would be wise if you increase your social distancing exponentially. My sense of fun has been self-isolating for a couple of weeks now. I actually laughed out loud, last night, in a group conversation online with my gaming friends. It was respite, it was recharging, and ultimately (and alliteratively - as a preacher's kid who has heard a few lifetimes of sermons, alliteration forms in my head quite effortlessly) restful.

In an effort to possibly divert us both, let me relate the following: I am in a live and let live struggle with a rat. A few weeks ago, I opened up the hood of our Kia to find a plethora of rat feces and palm tree seed shells all over the top of the engine cover and battery. Gloves, Shop vacs and Simple Green are made for times like these. After cleaning that up, I spent an hour or two down the rabbit hole of internet pest removal and deterrence, from elixers to electronics. As it is the internet, each remedy had enthusiastic boosters and acerbic critics. I did consider placing a trap on top of the engine, but, as the critter had done no real damage to things like wiring, I really just want(ed) the problem to go away. I decided (since we already have a supply) to strategically place some dryer sheets around the battery and hoped for the best. Didn't check it for a week or so (the car's going nowhere right now) mainly due to these other distractions, like facing the horrific proposition of no lettuce or sour cream, ultimately solved by aggressive shopping. Opened up the hood a few days ago to find a smattering of the aforementioned poop to nuts. I think it's more due to the fact that I swept up a large portion of said palm tree fodder on an actual sunny weekend day a while back. The dryer sheets probably just served as a tablecloth - FOR HIM TO POOP ON (thank you Triumph the Insult Comic Dog).

I then decided to purchase a spray bottle of "Rodent Vehicle Natural Repellent . . . peppermint and other essential oils to deter rats, mice, and squirrels." Assuming that this description dos not actually imply that I now own a "Rodent Vehicle", I forged ahead  and applied it to the engine bay, wiring, and battery. It actually smells kinda nice, hope rattus inconsiderous doesn't take it that way. No new action as of yesterday; my new hobby for the forseeable future fills me with anticipation.

I think my mood is improving. I don't know the expression for a feeling north of ennui yet south of ecstasy (oh the allure of alliteration), I was quite happy to only have to go to one grocery store for 98% of supplies (I so wanted to type sundries and supplies, but I suppressed it, sorry), yesterday. I smirked at those driving by with masks on ALONE IN THEIR CARS on the way home.

If you've read this far, I'd like to read of your recent misadventures or things you might like me to react to. Or just say hello. I think we need to match social distancing and flattening the curve with closing the gaps we've created. Thanks.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving, 2019

“Well my life is filled with songs, but I just could not get along without my friends”
-Larry Norman, “Song for a Small Circle of Friends”

    We had dinner with a couple of our best friends on Saturday; it had been too long since we’d seen them. The four of us have been under some great stresses lately; some unexpected, some inevitable yet magnified by their timing. We gradually unwound our stories, some hurts and joys and concerns with each other as only one can with someone you’ve got ‘history’ with. Who loves you, anyways and always.
     I’ve had some pretty great friend times, lately. I cannot express how much these friendships bring me peace. I am thankful.
     I love my family. We are quite a unit, redefining ‘normal’ on a daily basis. The courage, resilience, and strength of those closest to me bring me peace. I am thankful.
     I enjoy a secure workplace, a great home, working transportation, comfort, and freedom from want. I am thankful.

    As it was when President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, there are too many things clamoring to divide us - even the nature of the origin of the holiday itself - to rend the sentiment and meaning of setting aside this day to reflect. Lincoln realized (or I’m saying it?) that the nation needed to change, if only for a day, to widen the focus to gratitude, even in the midst of war.
     Others have said that Life is about loss, and that certainly becomes an inevitable aspect of growing older. One can’t help but realize and come to terms with it. It also means that a present and shrinking personal future make events, seeing friends and family, more important, more eventful. Warren Zevon’s advice about moving forward with a terminal diagnosis was “Enjoy every sandwich.” He was not kidding.

     My hope for this Thanksgiving is that we can, perhaps, be mindful of not only those immediately around us, but to seek to make better connections with our wider circles. I often sit in a cafeteria or break room with several people, all silently staring at their phones rather than connecting over a meal. My workplace offers ‘mindfulness sessions’; while appreciated, it feels awkward enough that I have not attended. I’ve tried to be more mindful, lately, to see and encourage others informally, rather than just be silent except to be critical. I see it as one of the values I can bring to my younger (and they are all younger now) co-workers, rather than just talk about how much better it used to be.  I can’t solve the breakdown of our social discourse and current rancor, but I can do better in my day to day.

    I saw a sweatshirt recently that said “I don’t talk to strangers – so introduce yourself!” I don’t know if I could wear it, but I’d like to think that I could; maybe not every day. We need more safe spaces beyond our growing isolation to be together; to demonstrate our better selves to each other.

    I may have said this before, but I think that Thanksgiving should preclude Christmas. Be grateful, then giving. That this could perhaps even be woven into daily practice. Imagine.

The Erudition of Nutrition

If only I were gluten free,
Then everything would be alright.
No more sagging lethargy
The world would soon be fair, and bright.

If only I were sugar free,
Then everything would be alright.
Insulin would be my friend
Again, and I'd regain my might.

If only I were red meat free,
Then everything would be alright.
Cholesterol would then soon flee
If only I could see the light.

If only I were caffeine free,
Then everything would be alright.
Jittery I would not be
And juiced, I might sleep through the night.

If I could get more Vitamin D,
Then everything would be alright.
The Sun won't do enough for me,
So little golden pills I bite.

If I could cut out all the Carbs,
Then everything would be alright.
Chicken breasts on oily greens
With cheese to make it outtasight.

Alcohol is evil; everybody knows.
It warbles every dendrite, it stiffens up your toes.
Even though it makes you warm, and loosens up a scene
Chronic use makes you obtuse, soon you're behind the mean.

Could I go back to '65
Then everything would be alright.
Takasaki could be stopped
HCFS would be no blight.
High Fructose.
Corn Sugar.
It only rhymes with booger.
This stuff is inside everything
Avoiding it is so tiring.

I need some "5-Hour Energy"
That stuff cannot be good for me.
I only eat fresh greens and cheese
Some chicken, fish, and things like peas.

So we can't meet for coffee,
Or pizza, beers or steak.
But I'll be sitting at my screen
Between the bathroom breaks.
I'm really dull and listless,
But everything's alright.
At least that's what I tell myself
Before I go to bed each night.

If I should die before I wake
I pray my soul the Lord to take.
And in the house that's made for me
There'd better be Starbucks. Coffee.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Ed and The Birthday

He arrived at the baggage claim carousel. I suspect that I recognized him first – I’d aged more visibly than he had in the years since we’d last seen each other. He was, as I am, frailer than when we’d first met in 1973 or 4, but his unmistakable smile and manner erased all of that. We chatted and he remarked that his daughter in-law had tied a ribbon to the suitcase to differentiate it from the mostly other black bags passing by. I spotted it, and he nodded. Picking it up, we made our way up and down the necessary levels to cross to the parking lot. Nearing the hotel, Ed’s phone rang. We had taken the wrong case. Turning around, his phone rang two more times nervously asking where we were before we were able to return to the airport. Reaching the rendezvous, I exchanged someone else’s bag with Ed’s, sporting the correct ribbon. I mouthed “He’s 93” to the nodding airline employee, realizing of course that I had been the one ‘helping’ to get the bag. Ed, whose eyesight I quickly learned was not 20/20, had borrowed the suitcase from his son, whose nametag was attached. The airline had called him to get Ed’s number. . . we were once again partners in the pettiest of crimes to the chagrin of at least one family member. The adventure had begun.
 Ed had flown into town to attend a birthday party for a friend – a 95-year old friend whom he’d known since 1954. Their families had shared churches, births, vacations and more, longer than I’ve been alive. I had readily agreed to assist him – to be his chauffer for the weekend, not fully realizing the depth of that commitment. While it turned out to be a bit more than I’d bargained for, the result was a series of time spent and a depth of conversation that rarely happens in this world. It was also with a singular person of experience and understanding that I was able to learn more about, which only made me appreciate him more.
Aside from being a devoted husband, father, and church member, Ed and Kathy had raised and taken in – I asked him this time – about 20 teenage and young men, sometimes temporarily, sometimes longer. I was just a slightly troubled preteen who Ed would take out occasionally for a coke and conversation in his VW bug. As I grew older and moved away, we kept in touch. Living several hours away, Ed would call me up every so often, or I would call him, and we would converse, always encouraging. As a retiree, he would sometimes just show up at the TV repair shop I worked at to take me to lunch, in town for some other reason.  A year or more would go by, but we shifted to email as well as phone calls, every now and then. It was and is a singular, consistent friendship with nothing but a shared interest in each other’s lives. I tried to support him from a distance as he cared for Kathy through Alzheimer’s for many years. I took a measure of pleasure in showing up unannounced at her funeral, surprising him for a change.
We talked of all of these things, catching up and filling in details and sharing pictures and stories, sometimes both of us unable to recall certain faces and names. We were together long enough to correct some of the lapses as a memory would eventually surface. We talked of church business, pastors, and changes. The time when, in Long Beach, an arsonist had burned 3 churches down. Ed volunteered himself and some male teens and young adults to take turns camping out in the church for a few weeks until, I think, the arsonist was caught. Typical Ed – innovative problem solver using a seemingly unsolvable problem with an opportunity to build relationships. He didn’t say that, but I recognized it for what it really was.
Sunday afternoon, he spoke of his childhood. “I didn’t like my father at all,” he said. “He used to beat me with a cat-o-nine tails with razor blades at the ends. I hated that man.  At dinner, I sat on one side, my sister on the other. If one of us said something wrong, he would just backhand us.” This and some more. I began to finally understand where this loving, compassionate, purposeful investor in so many lives had come from. I’d always wondered. There is, of course, more to the making of an individual, but I felt that I had found a ‘why’ for this man who had made these efforts for a lifetime.
In the truck on the way in from the airport, in the environment where we’d spent so much time together when I was a kid, I shared some very personal news with him that I was apprehensive about sharing with someone who was born in 1927. He listened to me, and his response was completely supportive. No advice, no ‘direction’, no platitudes.  On the way to the airport on Monday morning, we expressed our mutual happiness at our time together. He talked about my family and the realities that we face, and he said matter-of-factly, “It’s going to be alright.”
Earlier, He’d told me, with a gleam in his eye that, at the party, his friend, a renowned pastor, educator, author, and master of scripture, told him “I hope you live to be 100, and I get to bury you.” Friends.   That would be awesome.
I am a better man in so many ways because Ed has been my friend. We’ll keep in touch.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I am nearly finished with Facebook. It's becoming so . . . MySpace, with more ads.  It is addictive, because one in about 70 posts are quite interesting, or connect me to remote friends in ways otherwise ignored in this multi-tasking attention-energy-sucking meaning-diluted swirling first-world juggernaut. One of the principles of behaviorism is that intermittent reinforcement will increase the likelihood of the persistence of the desired learned behavior much more than constant reinforcement will. Think gambling. As of this writing, I have not found a filter that will allow a friend's family pictures while preventing their re-posting of videos of skateboarders sterilizing themselves on railings, or pictures of dogs with signs around their necks written by their owners bemoaning the latest cushion dismemberment. As we enter what may be the ugliest, most idiotic political seasons in this country's history, I fear that my ability to remain will not survive.
My account contains a fairly diverse population, which guarantees that the full spectrum of opinion and insensitivity on any popular topic will be displayed for my entertainment, judgement and often, disgust. I would characterize my friends into four general, overlapping categories: Family, the church people, the disability crowd, and gamers. Toss in some co-workers, and I think that you can see the opportunities for any and all to be offended/offensive to each other, no matter where I fall into the Venn Diagram that is my life online.
I have many friends from other countries and continents. Their insights (and involvement) in the United States of America's goings-on is both fascinating and embarrassing for me. Just as I do not know what it is like to be *insert country -ish/egian/ian*, they interpret our goings-on through a foggy american cultural lens that often leaves me screaming (only in my head as of this writing). It does sting quite a bit when they're completely correct. Ignorant of their government structures or functions, I'm not capable of commenting on their internal issues. Educationally obtuse and linguistically, er, inarticulate in only one language, I attempt to at least acknowledge my 'ugly american' status to retain their affections.
My family experience on FB is weird. Isn't yours?
Church People. Very much like the attendance at my wedding, and at my father's funeral, for that matter. My Dad pastored 6 churches officially, and many others as the result of his various leadership positions. What this meant at these two particular occasions was that one could not predict who might show up, how many, or what they'd bring in the form of memories. It makes for some pretty weird combinations. There was a couple who came to Dad's funeral who were from his first church in Sierra Vista, AZ. In 1959.
We in the 'Disability crowd' ( There is no good term, ok?) promote diversity and acceptance. I suppose that's what makes it difficult to 'unfriend' a fellow parent with whom I share a diagnosis only. In my struggle to learn this path, many of us shared an emotional journey that turns out to be like summer camp or, more aptly, a plane crash. Once the circumstances subside, there's not so much left. As with every other group noted here, there are exceptions, where we find common interests that go beyond the generalizations.
Then there's the gamers. From Australia to Italy and points in between. I have moose pepperoni in my freezer from CrazyMoFo from Canada. One is a working ventriloquist who's been on Letterman and "America's Got Talent." Some are gifted, most are goofy. Many of them are prone to posting content that my other three constituent groups would find, well, pretty offensive. I will fail to stereotype them any further; let's just say that they play a lot of different games, some of them are online, some in real life. How else would I learn about things like tanks and snowmobiles and beekeeping and WWII ordinance(one guy operates a prop shop up in Los Angeles with uniforms and all the accoutrements)? 
While I would like to think that I can use all of the friends that I can get, I know that the word 'gregarious' does not pop into anyone's head when describing me. My growing dilemma with Facebook is the signal-to-noise ratio. The "don't just like - cut and paste this to your timeline if you love me and support penguin rights, it's the only way I'll know you care" crap. "Match up the month and day of your birthday to these lists to find your Leprechaun name." The post, this week, that intrigued me: "Never buy laundry soap again!" The link then directed me to buy cakes of Fels-naptha, shave pieces into a bowl, then use a mixer to combine it with other purchased ingredients to MAKE MY OWN LAUNDRY DETERGENT. Perfectly in context if I'm looking through the aisle at the General Store before I mosey back to my sod house on the prairie. Are you kidding me? I buy pre-made soup and a cooked chicken from the grocery store, why would I MAKE MY OWN LAUNDRY DETERGENT? I believe I've made the point. 
Moving, personal information about my friends' lives. Cat videos. Kardashian news. It all has equal weight on this platform. I realize that ads make it 'free', but we've been conned into passing along all of this crap without thinking about the effect we're having on each other. I've fallen victim to it; I did, yesterday. Something I thought was fun and entertaining turned into something I never intended it to.
I have to make some changes. I'm not sure what to do. Winnowing the list may help some, but I know that a few folk that I truly care about clog my news feed with dreck. What, then? Throw the Facebook out with the ice bucket challenge? I was tempted, then. Until Alex did the challenge with a tub of rocks, out here in drought-stricken California, and it was nearly worthwhile. Ya gotta love family.

Friday, October 03, 2014

A Simple prop, to occupy my time

It's time, once again, for the annual houseboat weekend on the ever-shrinking reservoir.

Day One, or "Getting there is not half the fun"

"Day One" is actually quite misleading. Weeks of preparation have led to this moment - everything and anything one might imagine that one needs to make and/or acquire to both maintain and entertain oneself on a 50 foot long floating Single-Wide for 5 days has been considered, downloaded, purchased, cooked,bagged, batteried, and packed; charging cords and adapters double-checked, inflators procured, and transportation maintained. Let us not forget the coordination of multiple caregivers and preparations to keep the household running in your absence. Mental checklists overlap and repeated inquiries are made to verify the contents of each container of supplies.
At last, we set out on our 5 hour run across the desert border to Henderson, Nevada, home to the Fiesta Resort and Casino, familiar meeting point for our fellow travelers. Decompression slowly begins as we catch up by the pool to the music of the freeway and railyard, sun setting an orange glow over the smoggy dome that is Las Vegas to the West. Some nachos, then off to bed next to the cycling wall air conditioner that is the hallmark of the under $80/night hotel experience. The alarm chimes much too soon.

Day Two, or "Let's move into this apartment with a truckload of stuff in 100° heat!"

Shopping and moving - two of my favorite vacation activities. Perishables must be procured, and four of us fan out into the community to acquire them, including 40 bags of ice to be quickly transported the 30 miles or so to the marina. The big Wal-Mart has 9 types of salsa in 4 different locations, which ones shall we buy? I hope we have enough limes. The providence of instant communication ensures that we arrive with 2 packages of E.L.Fudge in a timely and gracious manner.
Off to the marina, into the basin that forms Lake Mead. Past the marinas that have closed up altogether, due to the lack of water, to Callville Bay, which is now really Callville Cove. The main launch ramp has been lengthened over the years to the point of abandonment, another one built. New concrete has been poured to the latest water's edge, and we begin the task of loading said supplies onto the houseboat. This is accomplished with the aid of large wheelbarrow-like carts, making it a process of unloading, loading, pulling said carts for a quarter of a mile, and then unloading. In the desert. Supplies and belongings are duly put away in their proper places, and we are piloted out onto the lake and left to our own devices - well, mostly their devices, but you'll see what I mean. Brunch is lovely, and we settle in to traverse The Narrows and the Virgin Basin. Crossing to the other side, we approach a spot to stop and swim. It turns out to be unexpectedly shallow and, one broken prop and a visit from the marina staff, our berth for the night. We swim, lounge, read, and ponder our predicament. Sliders and mac'n'cheese are a hit, and we settle in for our first night under the stars.

Day Three, or "Nightmare on Mushroom Cove"

6:30 am, and the extremely helpful mechanics arrive early to replace the broken prop and pull us off the rocks. It goes as smoothly as pulling a multi-ton fat catamaran off an uneven shelf can be. Thanking them, they advise us that tonight will bring rain and 40 mph winds. They advise us to seek the shelter of Mushroom Cove, as well as telling us that they are recommending that the many boats that they are sending out today stay on the other side of the Narrows. This means that we have the majority of the lake all to ourselves. That is, except for the helicopters. More on that, later. We happily cruise Southwesterly toward the familiar Southern edge of the lake, to a spot that looks good to ride out the oncoming storm. We set our large
steel stakes and tie the boat securely to the shore against the prevailing wind. The water temp is wonderful; the gathering thunderheads brilliant white against the pure blue skies and the crumbling Mushroom rock formation to the East.

Ribs and Rice in the dining area, A/C cooling as we bob about into the dark.
For those who have never been out in the wilderness, the night sky is a major attraction. The Milky Way is spectacular, and one can always see shooting stars to the East, away from the dull glow of the greater Las Vegas valley to the West. On this night, the thunderstorms seem to surround us, and the night was pierced by lightning-light in a spectacularly strobing display. I crawl into bed, as usual, before the others.
There is a particular timbre to the sound of steel rebar being struck. We were all instantly brought awake by the tinkling sound of them being dragged down the face of the cove shortly after 1 am. We had just become unmoored. One sprung into action, firing up the outboards to attempt to hold us in place while the other 2 nearly able-bodied of us scrambled to recover and subsequently re-attach said moorings. In the dark. In the sandblasting wind. I did not feel like Thor, holding a 4 foot-long shaft of steel in the middle of a lightning storm. Looking down on the boat from my elevated position on shore, It looked like a Spielberg movie - light spilling from the windows as it pitched and rolled, props churning as the wind shifted and blew the boat promptly into the shore, sideways. Scratch prop #2. We killed that engine and tied the boat to shore that way, settled in uneasily, and all gradually returned to sleep except for me. I listened to a couple of podcasts until I finally dropped off shortly before dawn.

Days Four and Five, or "Relaxation under the Helicopter Highway"

We pushed off that morning, prop chewed but still productive, only one of us fell in getting us underway. Off to Temple Bar Marina for gas and ice, then off to another cove for some peace and quiet.
Starting at around $200, you can take a helicopter tour from Henderson or Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back. This route will also afford you terrific views of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. They begin at 7 am and run pretty much every 5 minutes or so until about 4 pm. If you looked straight down from said helicopter while over Lake Mead, this last weekend, you would have seen us looking up at you while we interrupted our conversations to send you a special greeting. It reminded me of the time my family went camping at San Onofre State Beach, where the sound of the freeway is only interrupted by the sound of the trains going by, all night long.
We did have beautiful weather, those last two days, and I actually enjoyed a nap befitting one of advanced years such as myself. Good meals and relaxation, brochure-worthy in all respects.

Monday afternoon. Let's move again! The great unmingling of provisions back into boxes and then carts and then cars and, after another 5 hour dash home, back into the cupboards and garages to be stored for the next adventure.

Four days later, the vertigo has nearly subsided. The insect bites and scrapes have become more evident as the sunburn abates, and I've had two really good nights' sleep in my own bed. I'm looking forward to the weekend.

 Happy Campers, all.