Sunday, August 28, 2005

Take Me out to the Ballgame

Warning: This essay consists of whining and complaining, and items that are designed to annoy one’s conscience. Those who have already mastered correct thinking need not go any further.

"To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."
- Gustave Flaubert

We went to a baseball game a Petco Park last night. I do not like Petco Park, for a number of selfish, inconsequential reasons. For those of you unfamiliar with San Diego, we citizens subsidized the installation of a wonderful baseball-only stadium in the heart of Downtown, which now solely belongs to a few millionaires. The majority of us now drive by the perfectly good former venue, Qualcomm Stadium (formerly San Diego Stadium), with the second-largest parking lot in the United States, to wend our way through construction zones and evening traffic to find parking somewhere near Petco Park. As our constitution dictates, the closer you get, the more you pay. We pulled into a lot a mere mile or so away, where a woman advised me that, for $10, we could park and someone would watch our car for 2 hours after the game. Wow. We got out, I handed her a bill, to receive the reply “A whole TEN?” This of course, indicated that some sort of tip was in order and I could probably expect some sort of minor damage resulting from my lack of proper downtown parking etiquette. This, gratefully, did not happen, but she was not there when we returned after the game, either. My guess is she didn’t get enough tips. It’s a little known fact that tipping is one of the things that drove the taller, smarter people West nearly two centuries ago, leaving most of the griping gladhanders in the Tri-State Area. Too bad they put in the Trans-Continental Railway.

“The rich get richer, the poor get the picture”
- Midnight Oil

One of the aspects of our vibrant, growing downtown – and it’s probably true for yours, too – is homeless people. I seldom go downtown, but when I do, it’s usually some sort of occasion – a fancy dinner, ballgame, sightseeing with visitors, or jury duty. On all but the latter, I’m on my best behavior to try and have a good time. This, by design, means that I will be spending what is euphemistically known as “discretionary income”. Therefore, the sight of my fellow men, women, and children curling up for the night under dirty blankets and sleeping bags tends to shoot my mood all to hell. The fact that I’m now feeling both ashamed and defensive as we stroll this gauntlet to the shiny venue with the perfect lawn; they are sentiments that haven’t dulled yet from my three whole visits there. I don’t even go down the mental road of circumstances, choices, “that’s just the way it is” (Bruce Hornsby), etc. much, this time. I just don’t like it.
I know I’m cheap. My grandparents slept under newspapers during the Great Depression, ok? But spending over $100 for three people to go to a baseball game is still too much, as far as I am concerned. Now this did include $35 for food – $3.50 for each fish taco, $7.00 for a chicken quesadilla, and 3 drinks (yes, we could’ve hauled food in, but one’s choices are limited when considering the hike in – it’s all cold by then – but then, so was the fish taco). The San Diego Padres use volunteer workers to man the counters, and then certain profits go to the charities that the volunteers represent – so I guess I can feel warm all over for that. Our seats, three rows from the top of the stadium (oops, park), were over $60. I particularly enjoyed the pre-game show, with a guided tour of one player’s home, including such items as the 60-inch plasma TV the Padres gave him last year, which is mounted on the patio wall in the back yard, near the putting green. OK, so now I know my place in the great universe – somewhere between his life and those lying on the sidewalk, outside. Ironies abound.
The game was what it is – watching the Western Division leaders play what looks like under .500 ball. They deserved to lose this game, and they did. A couple of great plays, too. The blessing and boon of baseball is that there is too much of it – plays become important only within context, to most of us. That there’s a lot of games means more of us get to see them, unlike say, football or golf. That there’s a lot of games means that some games don’t seem to um, command one’s attention like they probably should.
It’s hard to get into the game when there’s so many distractions, too, like the lousy sight line from our seats to home plate, where, if anyone in any of the 20 rows in front of us moved, was instantly obscured. Must I say that this was pretty constant? We had the distinct pleasure of sitting behind a large group; their socialization included constant seating changes and pleasant conversation. I think they had a wonderful time.
The game ended, and we made our way out into the night and the homeless-street-slalom back to our car.
My night ended, and I do mean ended, as we drove through the stoplights to the freeway home. Stopping at one intersection, I looked over to see a shape, under a blanket, in a cubbyhole at the corner. Parked next to the shape was an empty wheelchair. I turned to Vicky, who was looking with me, and said, “There has to be a better way.” She nodded. We drove home and got into bed.
It’s a great game. Or is it?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Lost Wages, Gained Perspective

Been gone on the weeklong, family road-trip vacation. I’m going to make some observations, omitting of course, those pleasantries that accompany most road trips. Things like the proliferation of white plastic shopping bags that accumulate everything from wet bathing suits to half-empty packages of broken cookies, which, after 4 days on the road, make one’s vehicle testament to the reality that you are indeed living out of your car.
I don’t like Las Vegas. I’m too cheap to pay a valet, so it’s hiking through the casino, bags in hand, feeling like a hillbilly; Ellis Island with shiny lights and air conditioning. The smell of stale cigarettes. Hangdog expressions of boredom on what must be ‘regulars’. The sidewalks with their mottled, sun-baked stains of desiccated fluids of unknown origin. The weirdness that is Fremont Street – both attractive and repulsing at the same time, ala Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena on New Year’s Eve.
My favorite Vegas experience this time – I’m up with Emma at 7:45 in the morning. We’ve already had breakfast, and I’ve pushed her stroller through the restaurant and arcade levels. I’m doing a slow circle around the casino floor when I spy a BMW convertible rotating slowly above some slot machines. I amble over and, with nothing better to do, am inspecting the rear disc brakes, grillwork, and suspension as they roll by, when I hear a voice: "You know, it’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the sudden stop at the end that gets you." I turn, startled, to see a fine member of the casino’s security force. "If a member of the Nevada gaming commission were here, you could be fined up to $500 – you can move through the casino, but you can’t stop." Thank you, very much. I’ve had a vision of standing in front of a judge, prosecutor explaining my intention to corrupt a 6-year old in diapers into a gaming prodigy. Before 8 in the morning. By someone who remembers every one of the 17 nickels he’s ever put in a slot machine. I’d ask for a jury trial, and 13 boxes of tissues – for the tears of laughter that would soon result. Book em, Dan-O! The poor guy was right, so I ambled on without external comment. He probably hates his job, too.
Changing gears, climates, and viewpoints, what is it that draws us to places like Bryce and Zion canyons? It’s easy to understand the science; The US Park Service does a wonderful job of explaining that with their maps, visitor centers, and programs. To say that Bryce Canyon is a place to see the process of erosion is akin to remarking that Michaelangelo knew how to paint ceilings. It was easier to point out, a little later, to Sam – after demanding that he shut off the Gamecube and look out the car window – that this was truly a unique place, by the fact that English-speaking Americans were in the minority at both locations. These are truly global treasures.

In these places, we can see the forces that we’ve gotten so good at manipulating, but not controlling, and we wonder at the cycle of upheaval and wearing down, as well as the beauty of how our earth is constructed. If you’ve been to places like the Grand Canyon, or Canyon de Chelle, you can appreciate how they appear in the midst of plain earth, almost wound-like. To this battered mind (and I mean the deep-fried, not beaten variety), it’s what makes these places spiritual – the confluence of life-giving water, wind, and fertile ground in the middle of desolation; stark colors and human-figured hoodoos rising from cool canyon floors. And the views. There are poets unlike myself to give verse to landscapes that reach multiples of miles, clouds displaying lightning and thunder, the smell of rain far away. Call it a sense of place, a sense of awe, the lack of oxygen at high altitude. A temporary change of perspective, clearing the senses, then back in the car to Elmo on the portable DVD and pizza for dinner.
Everything I’ve come to expect from the family vacation.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Just another Manic Wednesday

I worked in a TV repair shop for seven years. For nearly all of them, M*A*S*H re-runs were on at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. There was always at least one TV on in the shop; there are certain shows that I have nearly committed to memory. I’ve been thinking of one, these last few days.
The main story revolves around a package that Col. Potter receives at the beginning of the episode. He’s mad and moody. Eventually, the main cast members are asked to assemble in his tent one evening.
Col. Potter was a veteran of WWI, and he and some buddies had found a cache of liquor in a French chateau where they were pinned down. They had formed a "tontine" – the only time I’ve heard that term used – wherein they would save the last bottle, and it would go to the last survivor of the bunch. Col. Potter is now the lone survivor. He’s been mourning for his lost comrades. His current circle of friends listen as he describes each one. Then the tone changes. "As much as I loved these friends, I love you even more," he says to those gathered around him. He asks them to join him in a toast to his departed buddies. The toast is, "Love and Friendship." I have to say that it’s a scene that moves me, just thinking about it. On those rare occasions when I choose to use it, it’s a toast that I can barely get out. Guess I’m just a sentimentalist. Big surprise.
I’ve been thinking about it lately, most likely because I’ve had the opportunity to rekindle some friendships that have been dormant for some 20-odd years. One of the things that I didn’t fully grasp until recently was that the relationships we build are "eternal" (scope of that word still yet to be fully realized by this larger-than-average, yet not-quite-ripe cranium). Some go stale, some go dormant, and some are forcefully terminated only to return via all of the complicated means available in this world. Six degrees of separation really isn’t that much. In fact, I’m considering having Kevin Bacon’s love child. The technology is here. But that is another story.
I don’t think it hits most of us until our mid to late 30’s is that the only thing that separates those octogenarians sitting at a park bench from the 6-year olds wildly to-and-fro-ing on the swings is time and the probability of a broken hip. As my mind begins to tick off a growing list of those things that I won’t do again, or can’t now, from piloting a plane (heart’s decertified) or climb the Matterhorn (too fat), to include riding that roller coaster or even trying kayaking, I feel a sense of loss of my own potential, but not desire.
So, here I sit, across the table from my Best Man. I see his face, which reflects my own subtle (but not really) maturation from my memory of our shiny, youthful foreheads as we stood on those church platforms half a generation ago. His eyes are the same, and the mannerisms, and the things that bound our intellects together oh so very long ago spark and sizzle and it’s as if nothing was ever any different. Rekindle is the right word, because there is a warmth between us that, sadly, I do not feel as often as I’d like. That we are both now staid members of our respective communities belie the sheer goofiness that we participated in adolescence, it provides a foundation for understanding each other’s current shenanigans.
I also got to spend some time with my "current" and geographically closer friends, recently. They mean so much to me in ways I can’t express, well, I just can’t express it. For reasons that could probably stand several years of expensive analysis (or that I could probably sum up in 3-4 paragraphs for you at a later time), I don’t have many friends. Let’s just leave it at that. The friends I do have, well, I like them a lot. Through the ebb and flow our our relationships, I feel like I’ve been taking more than I’ve been giving lately, I hope that I can edge the balance sheet back the other way, someday.
I hope the device of using someone else’s writing to set up what I’d like to say has worked for you – it’s part of the constant drama in my head. A little observation, a little humor, a little gratitude, a little confession, a little essay from me to you. Thanks to online community, there are some of you I’ve never been remotely physically close to. Some of you, I may never see again, this side of the veil. I may see a couple of you in a week or so. Thanks, today, for all of you.
Love and Friendship.
And no, I’m not drinking and blogging, but I am in the hospital. At work. Thanks for asking