Weighting For Summer

I bought my wife a scale yesterday, as she was good-naturedly complaining about looking fat in a recent picture. In fairness, she was wearing a summer dress that sort of billows. Paris Hilton would look heavier in this dress.

But I definitely get it. After trying to at least get up to 120 pounds for most of her adult life (achievable during pregnancy, but only for those situations and towards the end anyway), with marginal success, always a thin woman, around the age of 50 she gained a few pounds. Then surgeries and lots of meds and a very busy but sedentary life, with no regular exercise, and it happens.

The positive news is that this is nothing, at least not in America. She weighs less than the average (American, again) woman and looks wonderful, but hey: If it bothers her, I’m perfectly willing to help. Since I hold the philosophy that the only way to keep an eye on the weight creeping up is to step on the scale every morning, under the same circumstances (naked or as few clothes as possible, and always the same type, e.g., underwear and bare feet), and since my scale is in a corner of my work room and offers little privacy, I bought her a scale to be used in our master bathroom with a door that locks. Get as naked as you want.

Of course, I say that a lot.

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Not that I want to dwell, even given my obsession on this subject. At a certain point – and under a certain point – the health effects of being a bit overweight are meaningless. The rest is comfort and vanity. And few people discount vanity.

And then there’s age, the great equalizer in terms of hey, we’re still alive. We can live with love handles.

But there are clothes we wish we could wear before carting them off to the thrift shop, and there are cameras everywhere.

So maybe the scale will help. My suggestion is to write the weight down, expect some fluctuations from time to time as water is retained or meals are eaten late at night, or just heavy meals that stick around until the next morning, and watch what it does. Up is bad, down is good in this scenario. We shall see.

And after some wifeless indulgences these past couple of weeks, and spotty exercise, I could use some help myself. I keep rigorous accounting of the calories I consume, good ones and bad ones, just an old routine that has locked itself in, I got pretty good at predicting my weight, even if I skip the scale for a few days. I even put it all in a spreadsheet, calculating what I should weigh, matching that against what the scale says, revving up my optimism and counting the late-night eating and so on, but this is starting to look foolish.

So I decided a goal was in order. My 57th birthday is in 29 days; I think clocking in around 175 pounds, an excellent weight for me, is in order and not out of the question. Goal posted then. I’ll keep the updates coming.

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For those of you who have your own problems with summer, I’ll just mention in passing that western Washington has been warm and sunny, unusual for our normal June gloom when the marine air pushes inland with low clouds. Sunny, and maybe more than warm for our area, although nothing to speak of for most of the rest of the country. Mostly 70s, which of course is perfect. Lately, into the 80s and creeping toward 90 and beyond the next week or so. It makes us uncomfortable, given the strangeness and lack of air conditioning, but really, we manage. Windows open, fans buzzing. Very manageable. Not 115 degrees like Phoenix recently went through. Little humidity. Warmish.

Prof. Cliff Mass, Northwestern weather guru, suggests that we’re getting a preview of 50 years in the future, when the heating of our planet increases and we do nothing about it. Of course, barring some advancement in science, I won’t be around in 2070 to see if he’s right. In the meantime, I’m sort of enjoying it. A mild reminder of my years in the desert, and better than cold, definitely.

And if you want to weigh? Naked has its advantages these days.

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In Roanoke, VA, in 2009. About where I’d like to be by July 26. Let’s do it.

Drinking It In

I was unloading the dishwasher the other day when I had an epiphany. It can happen at any time.

Putting away glasses, I ran out of room and wham, there it was. My wife had been gone nearly two weeks, only my son and I rambling around this house, drinking liquid periodically but not, apparently, out of glasses.

It’s not as weird as it sounds. We mostly drink out of bottles, and one coffee cup (me). Both of us like cold water, so our fridge is filled with (reusable) bottles of that, plus some Diet Cola that I make with the SodaStream (it’s not great, but sort of reminds me of Diet Coke or maybe Coke Zero, and it’s fun to make).

So we don’t use glasses. A lesson learned, although I’m pretty sure we’re not getting rid of any.

Or any of the 25 or so coffee mugs, since mugs always have a story.

John and I are alone around this time every year, and every year is different. He gets older, I get older. Our socialization is limited but constant, considering we share a house. He’d be in hog heaven if I sat down and played video games with him for a few hours, but that’s not going to happen. I’d be pretty pleased if I could get him to go see a movie with me, but that will not come to pass, either.

So we’re left with bumping into each other in the kitchen, commenting on the weather (very nice, too warm for his taste but even in a heavily insulated house with no air conditioning, 85 degrees is very livable, as many of you know, particularly with rare humidity). The grass is losing some green luster but I don’t care, grass is stupid. We’re due for a long, warm, sunny summer, slipping well into autumn if we believe the long-range, El Nino-based forecasts, so better get used to it.

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“Winning Dad” opened the Kansas City LGBT Film Festival last night, assuming people stopped celebrating long enough to watch a movie. It felt appropriate in an exciting way, a story about two men who want to formally commit to each other, and about one man who resists change and grasps tradition tightly. There are no bad guys, if some marginally bad behavior.

I regret, a bit, that the film has been relegated to LGBT festivals, to the genre cellar of independent, low-budget films, because I see it as a family story, ordinary and frustrating and painful and full of love, the trickiest love, the love that requires sacrifice and transformation, or at least acceptance, in order to express it.

But it’s being seen, and it was cheering to have it open on a big day. A very big day.

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So I washed the car on Thursday, did two loads of laundry (one the bedding), mopped some floors, and otherwise welcomed my wife home to a house that was marginally cleaner than when she left, which was not hard. We don’t use glasses, and we don’t make much of a mess.

And the atmosphere has changed again, now with our little family complete once more, and summer is well on its way. No more waiting for after July 4th; we’ve got summer, now and for once on time. Our fans are in place, the grass requires less mowing, the windows are always open, strawberries are still in season, and we’ve got plenty of glasses. If you’re thirsty. And here.

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John and constant companion.

Google “Hate.” You’ll find it.

My mother mentioned the other day that I must have been busy; she rarely saw posts from me.

Ah. Well. Busy, in a way. Lots of lawn work and minor landscaping. Lots of dealing with the son and his issues (minor, but sometimes he needs a dad’s ear. And car). Lots of résumé tweaking and submissions submitted, some writing work for my daughter’s business (fun to see some album liner notes I wrote show up on a website). She’s right on this, too: Most musical/artistic types have your basic bio, which lists their accomplishments and cause the eyes to skip paragraphs and glaze a bit.

So I spiced up a little. It was easy, but a skill in my set.

But busy? Nothing major. I was very busy and I got less so, and there are only some many 30-mile hikes I can take before it looks less like an adventure and more like avoiding life.

Although that was fun.

So I don’t post because I don’t have anything to say. I think a lot, but I couldn’t even manage a decent column on the events of last week. I was sad, and frustrated, but completely uninterested in the politics. Yes, I know the hateful history of the Confederate battle flag, I understand the Civil War, I’m constantly amazed at the weird, historical 1984-ish redrawing of an act of treason by South Carolina and then the rest, searching for heritage and memorials and meaning in, once again, an act of treason. A shot fired at Fort Sumter, attacking the United States of America, all because a Republican candidate (a third-party candidate, essentially) was elected with a fairly famous reputation as holding the opinion that slavery would eventually run its course, and maybe in the meantime try to hold it in check in terms of spread until we could come to some consensus. That mild position, reasoned and nuanced, was enough. He was a conservative on this, at least in the classic sense, but well before he took the oath of office the plans for treason, espionage, and mayhem were being hatched. In South Carolina in particular.

Sure the Civil War was about state’s rights and tariffs and local control. Sure it was. They taught their children well down there.

But that wasn’t the issue in Charleston, in my mind. I’d like to see that flag, as the President said, in a museum (I wouldn’t like to see it at all. But it’s a sad part of our history. Not to be hidden). Not hanging around courthouses. A reminder of treason, and the most deadly war in a country’s history.

And then Jim Crow and so on. Really, I don’t see that as the point.

I think Dylann Roof just got some bad information.

And that’s what worries me most. Not to jump the gun, but what’s come out so far shows a shiftless, maybe confused young man who paid little attention to the news, and when Trayvon Martin happened he started looking and there’s the problem. If you’re not aware enough, or smart enough, to see bogus when you read it, you’re ready made for politics on the Internet. Or cable news.

The gun is relevant, because it murdered nine people, and our laws are in sore need of some common sense precautions, but I doubt it would have mattered in this case (still worth discussing) and nothing will be done, as Jon Stewart pointed out. And maybe nothing can be.

I know so little. Certainly Dylann Thomas may have an underlying personality disorder, some depression, who knows? Maybe something worse. But he picked a powerful symbolic target, two hours from his home, and then there’s the manifesto and so on. So the deranged killer argument strikes me as specious, or at least weak. This was planned, and carried out as planned. Kill as many black people as possible, in the most symbolic way possible, start your race war, imagine your own Nathan Bedford Forrest-esque statue…he might have been deranged, but he knew what he was doing. Not sure that’s a contradiction, but I’ll stand there for right now.

I’ve read pages and pages of commentary, and some of it touches on my point, although mostly to comment on a particular culture, while I think it’s a pervasive culture. I find the Internet an indispensable tool in digging into a news story, finding contrary views, checking facts, etc. In other words, being a responsible citizen, or trying.

But free speech is free speech. Right-wing talk radio and FOX News like to fan the flame, or else pretend that racism is a liberal bogeyman to raise taxes (or whatever they think, or pretend to think), and they’re free to do that this side of something vaguely legal (e.g., libel or slander), but the Council of Conservative Citizens was an easy find for a dumb kid, and there you go. Nine bodies.

So take down your flags, fine, about time. Make your speeches, try to mollify your base but avoid the pitchforks, but the pitchforks (real or figurative), I think, are coming. And try as they might, they can’t stop the spread of bad information. They can only tell the truth, and hope somebody hears. Flags don’t kill people. People do.

And I have a feeling Dylann Roof knew exactly what he was doing. Because he’d been told to.

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Funny People

Every year, around this time, and in the past several years exactly at this time, my wife gives her final final exams, grades like a bat out of hell (do bats not care for hell? How do they escape? I have many questions), then boards a plane away from us for a long time. Or a couple of weeks.

In the past, this left me trying to earn a living while simultaneously parenting a couple of children. One of those offspring grew up and moved away, taking a cue from her mother (in more ways than one). The other, no longer a teenager, still lives here, and while the two of us are accustomed to seeing his mother only occasionally, usually when she’s imitating bats making a run for it from Lucifer’s evil lair, it creates a slightly different dynamic, which means we declutter and make fun of his mom for her cluttering ways.

And I always write about it. Every year.

As I always write about at least one adventure in trying to trim back the blackberry brambles that invade every spring. Already I look like I’ve been in a knife fight. That column is coming.

And I’ll write about warm weather, and weird people I see in the neighborhood, and the occasional movie I’ve seen, and with luck I tenuously link these pieces to something relatable, maybe an article or event in the news, maybe not. But I write them. Every year. And I expect no different results.

Sometimes, though, I get the urge to go rogue. Pick a subject and write it into the ground. Doesn’t matter what it is. The challenge alone intrigues me, much like the challenge of incorporating the personal observations of a man who doesn’t do much into the 900 words I write every week that get printed on real paper and get read by somebody.

I’m too lazy and timid to do this, but lately I’ve had this crazy idea to deconstruct the FX series The Comedians for a few months.

I have no business watching anything, other than personal pleasure or boredom. And if you catch me watching a reasonably obscure cable show (since I don’t have cable, and have to find another way to watch online, either buying the episodes or sitting through commercials), you can be pretty sure it’s boredom. Not a good sign.

The Comedians premiered back in April and they’re wrapping up season one in a couple of weeks, 12 episodes. We can picture the ostensible star of this show riffing on abbreviated TV seasons, having been there when a season had twice as many shows and probably three times the budget and nice weekly paychecks.

This ostensible star is Billy Crystal. His costar is Josh Gad, whom I’ve been watching for a few years now, catching snatches of small parts in film and TV, and now gathering some momentum from his star turn in The Book of Mormon and the voice of the snowman in Disney’s Frozen. He’s as hot as an actor like him can be. He is, then, in all probability, toast in terms of a future career, but I wish him well. He’s talented, funny and carries tons of presence.

The show is interesting in that it’s a mash-up of two contemporary genres, the mockumentary and the two-person sketch comedy show (e.g., Key & Peele). Some differences: This is a show about making a two-person sketch show. This is a show about a generational divide, with possibly a fading star and an up-and-comer.

And, to add a third genre that I just thought of, they play versions of themselves, as Louis CK and Marc Maron do on their weird cable networks (IFC for Maron, which apparently a lot of people don’t know if their cable company carries). It’s on the FX Network (like Louie, and as is their pretend show). Billy is Billy and Josh is Josh, although they generously use their less-pleasant sides to give us at least a partial picture of how this business works, how ideas are tweaked and massaged and focus-grouped, how network suits interact with talent, how fear and desperation lead to choices that may or may not make this “show” a success (with three of them left to watch, the actual “show” has yet to premiere).

Every week. I would just deconstruct this insignificant offering on a borderline cable network, discussing the generational conflicts and the reluctant bonding and, I dunno, maybe a King Lear reference tossed in.

Look: I found it by accident. I was looking for Louie, wondering if I could take another season of brilliant but slightly uncomfortable and dark stories with laughs. FX is promoting the hell out of it, especially now that Louie has wrapped.

So I can’t swear anything. It might turn out to be good. It might be a nice try, but ultimately a failure.

Still, I’ve seen some very funny moments, and been moved (there’s nothing resembling pathos here, but people are people. They have bad days, and sometimes other people try to help when they’re not trying to fire them). But there’s also something weirdly anodyne about the show, as if it’s intended (or unfortunately ended up being) fluff for somebody. Somebody bored.

Hey. There’s material here. I could write about it.

Except I watch very little TV. I’m not an authority. I love Key and Peele but don’t watch full episodes. I think Silicon Valley and Veep on HBO are exceptionally smart and intriguing comedies, far more sophisticated than The Comedians.

Then again, it’s Billy Crystal. While my comedy tastes led from Cosby albums to Carlin to the burst of creative, conceptual comics like Andy Kaufman and Robin Williams, all the time Billy Crystal was there, a throwback to just funny. Funny bits, funny voices, funny observations. He does voices for animated films. He did a successful Broadway show. He’s hands-down the favorite Oscar host, perhaps of all time. He’s still funny, even if films aren’t popping up in his inbox. He’s 67, fully aware of the contemporary world and only occasionally sniffing a little at the bizarre ideas that come out of his co-star, most of them dumb and vulgar.

And Billy can be conservative, and so on. We’re set up. Add in a cast of supportive characters who vary in interesting qualities.

The generational relationship has the most promise, so far (nine episodes in). I’m a little fascinated.

But, again. This is not something on my radar, usually. We’re back to boredom.

I’m really tempted to do a comedy exegesis on this, though. I think it has potential, including the potential to disappear, but I’m curious.
And something Billy Crystal said in an episode encapsulated in a single sentence the reasons well-established actors, dramatic or comedic, find themselves grasping at television and steady paychecks, a comment that resonated with what I’ve learned about filmmaking and that world in the past couple of years.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week in the paper. Probably a column about the guys being alone will appear, though. Old habits. Arm scars. Warm weather. Long walks.

It’s a pitch for a TV series, maybe. A writer about nothing. Probably will try IFC.

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Pilgrim, Part Two

I wasn’t locked into 30 miles, you know. I mean, I wasn’t married to it. Thirty just was the distance Google gave me for my walk from home to church. It just turned out that way. If it had been 25 miles, I wouldn’t have stretched it for the big Three-Oh.

But it was 30, or 29.8 to be exact, and with a couple of minor retraces (once I went in the wrong direction for a minute or so; another time I realized I’d dropped my phone charging cord and went back to retrieve it), so with that and various sweeps through parking lots to stay away from traffic I ended up with 30-1/2 miles.

Of note: After years of technical wordsmithing, I’m well aware that the U.S. stands alone with its customary units, as obstinate as we are (used to be that Liberia and Sierra Leone were the other non-metric users, although that appears to have changed. And there are variations within the British imperial system, if colloquial and minor). So when discussing distance, for example, in miles or segments of miles, we use fractions, not decimals. When I see someone write, “2.5 miles” I shudder from nerd alert.

So it wasn’t about a number. It was about finishing. You get that.

And I wasn’t married to that, either. The safety valve in this long day was that an injury or other situation that kept me from going on was a spouse with a car, never too far away. If I had to, I could stop.

I hit the willingness wall at 25 miles, then. There was gas in the tank, although I was out of water and getting thirsty. I wasn’t in the desert, just wandering past businesses and private homes and the occasional school, all of which had water, I assume. It just wasn’t that bad, yet. A dry mouth.

I could still pick up my feet and put one in front of the other, though, and even straighten my posture and pick up my speed. But I sat on the curb on a busy street, cars whizzing by at 50 six inches from my toes, and I stared at the hill I was required to climb, and I momentarily gave up. I texted my wife.

But she was in the middle of a celebratory dinner, and as they worked it out for a minute, who at the table was willing to leave and pick me up, I decided that I had come far but not far enough. And the longer I sat, the stiffer I’d get, so I stared at that hill and decided I’d at least see what was on the other side.

Turned out there was a grocery store, and I got hydrated, and that made the difference. I dropped my speed and tried not to look at the distance left, which would have been a nice walk on an ordinary day, but then. This wasn’t ordinary.

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Moreover, you must walk like a camel which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.” – Henry David Thoreau.

“Ruminate” comes from the Latin verb ruminari, which essentially means to chew over, like a cow and his cud. Take it in, then wrestle with it for a while. This is rumination. This is walking. This is me.

Thomas Jefferson was adamant. “Walking is the best possible exercise,” he wrote. “Habituate yourself to walk very far.” I’m not a particular fan of Jefferson in a historical sense, as he saw his future country as agrarian, a land of self-sufficient farmers, an apt philosophy from a solitary man who preferred thinking and reading. He was a conservative, if only in that simplistic way we try to connect centuries of political labels and thinking. It’s not a good match, not with today, and I prefer his arch-enemy, Hamilton, at least a little, when it comes to visionary republicanism (and no one had vision like Franklin), but we could say that he mastered a simple life, if bordering on luxurious (although, as with other Founders, particularly Washington and as opposed to Franklin), he carried a lot of debt through his later years, maintaining his lifestyle.

He ate sparingly and was a modern nutritionist’s dream, a semi-vegetarian who tolerated a little meat but mostly fruits and vegetables. He eschewed tobacco, the crop that made America and that he grew, and drank weak wine at dinner, which he enjoyed but kept in its place. As he did his teeth.

And he walked, daily rambling his estate, letting his mind go where it went.

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I’ve run. Running is different. Biking is fun, and fast, but tricky and dangerous, and lends itself (from my limited observation) to a seriousness that doesn’t look appealing. Plenty of exceptions to that, but I like following Jefferson’s advice and letting my observations guide my mind. Thirty miles of walking will give you stuff to think about.

I listened to a couple of podcasts, one of which was fascinating and the other more resembling prattle I wish I hadn’t overheard, but mostly it was me and mine. I walked through neighborhoods I’d never see, not in a million years, and took in sights I would have whizzed by in a car.

And, eventually, I remembered. Even as a boy, I wanted to wander. I didn’t, not really, but I thought about it, gazed at hills stretching away from the highway on long family trips and imagined walking over them, to see what was next. I’d forgotten that boy, and so that was a benefit, a little reminder of who and what I was, and what I thought about way back when.

A lot of it was pedestrian, too, if you’ll forgive that, ordinary and necessary. Checking the map. Watching for cars. Stopping to sit on a bench or curb, long enough to rest a minute and post an update, then back to the road. There was plenty of time spent just negotiating with a world that moves a lot faster than a walking human, waiting at stoplights, looking both ways, staring down drivers who got too close.

But there were other things, covering my bases of rumination. Some were observational, particularly as I walked through Rich People Land (they walk their dogs very stylishly), and of course the sunshine made the beauty pop. I live in a great place.

There were other things, but this is getting long and I’m still ruminating. I walked to a church because that’s where my ride was, so it wasn’t a pilgrimage, but then of course it was. This is a home for me, a place and people I love, people who laugh and sing and then serve, not as a golden ticket to heaven but because that’s what you do when you laugh and sing. You want everyone to.

But I’d still call it sacred, or at least in the neighborhood, and I was grateful. Nine years ago I was dying, lost in my own screwed-up psychology and biology and sociology, addicted and sour and completely disconnected from The Other.

And I walked 30 miles the other day, as I told a few people, because sometimes I need to do something that’s hard, because sometimes when I’m confused and a little lost it helps. Just so I can say, if you can do this, you can do anything. It’s something I’ve repeated several times since 2006, and I hope a few more times to come. It was about the future, then, and also the past.

I didn’t get unlost. I just got a chance to see where I had been, where I started, what battles I found myself in and which ones are to come, and to know that on this particular day, I won.

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Pilgrim, Part One

You can’t miss Lake Washington if you look at a map of the Puget Sound area. It divides Seattle from the communities of Bellevue and Kirkland on the east. It’s narrow, as lakes go, freshwater and fed by a couple of rivers on each end, with two famous bridges crossing from west to east and vice-versa. It’s 22 miles long, although even though I walked the length I didn’t cover that distance completely (which would have meant walking on water).

And the Chinook name for it, if slangy, is Hyas Chuck. I will leave it at that, even if I ponder.

There are some things about taking that long walk, covering a range of thoughts and odd ideas, including a history and a philosophy, but honestly I’m tired today. Legs are a little sore and my body feels it otherwise in terms of physical exhaustion. It’s a gorgeous day today (as it was yesterday, except today started off with sunshine and the temps will rise even more, although moderately; meaning pushing 80 at my house, warmer in the south Sound).

So before I get into aboriginal practices, long essays by Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau on the self-actualization achieved by walking, my personal journey on all levels, and how many errors I made (carrying only 2 liters of water, knowing there would be stores along the way, and then entering a long stretch without such stores, leaving me moderately dehydrated as I started at my long uphill climb to get to my final destination), I may stick with a few trivial moments today and otherwise take a nap.

One is that my legs are stiff, but not particularly. Getting better as I move around. I’ll be fine.

Also, I had a Diet Pepper when I finally got some liquid, just on a whim, and I enjoyed it (I never drink Diet Dr. Pepper, or regular Dr. Pepper, or any sugary soda; I like water and carbonated nothing, meaning some Splenda and carmel coloring, sometimes a little caffeine). I just felt like it. Not bad. Maybe it was the rediscovery of how special Dr. Pepper is. But without the sugar.

Not trusting myself to get sucked into a fast food place and feeling sluggish, I went with my default energy choice, which was trail mix (nuts and raisins, and yes, an occasional M&M. Seriously, you would deny me a couple of M&Ms?). Whether the mix or plain nuts, they provide plenty of calories for a day, if on the light side, and always work fine, keeping me feeling energetic and light on my feet.

Although after a couple of handfuls, I felt fine and it wasn’t until I was in my store-less area that I realized eating nuts without something to wash it down was a bad idea. And I was doing OK, all things considered.

I don’t need to mention the obvious, but walking is an eye-opener just in terms of geography. I saw things I’ll never catch from a car window, including this beautiful Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, right in the middle of nowhere, with a lovely building and grounds. I wanted to hang around, in fact, but places to go, people to see…

St Paul

As I anticipated, the last six or so miles were brutal, with steep climbs up the hill toward the church. As I crossed I-405 and headed up, I looked at that hill and gave up. I texted my wife (who was at a last-choir-of-the-season dinner in a restaurant) that I wouldn’t make it, but I was sitting on a curb on a treacherous road, cars zooming downhill a foot or so from my feet, so by the time I heard from her I was back on my way, saved by a grocery store a mile up the hill, where I procured my Dr. Pepper. Sat on a bench and downed it, then made the final 2-1/2 miles, slowly but steadily.

And at the end, around the corner from the church as I trudged my way there, the remaining choir members, our pastor, and our other pastors (we’ve got lots) stood on the street, taking pictures and singing, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” I mean. Love spills out of that building and does amazing things. It may water the lawn.

One more observation: I think most of us know that pedestrians and bikers face a constant threat from cars, either driven by thoughtless, unaware, or just mean people. I don’t bike but I completely get it.

But on a trail, no cars, just bikes and walkers, of which I was on several? Total asshats, the bikers. Only one shouted “Left!” as he came from behind me. The rest whizzed by, 6 inches from me, needing only a stumble on my part to cause much pain and grief.

I personally know bikers and trust that this is not them. But they may be the only non-assholes for all I know. It was probably the scariest part.

As for the rest, the silliness of a 56-year-old man taking a 30-hike just to do it, not for the exercise but for the experience? Some thoughts as they come, but not today. Today needs rest.

The scale was down 6-1/2 pounds this morning, by the way, but then I ate very little. Statistically, I lost a little less than 2 pounds if you look at the calorie expenditure/intake, but you can’t do that every day, not if you want to do something else. And not if there are bikers around.

So more later.

Tomorrowland

I think I could explain this. I think.

But it would get a little hairy. I’d start tossing out subjects like Dwight Stones and Franz Mesmer, animal magnetism, “On The Road,” John Bunyan, Robert Kennedy, and God. Also maybe “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a little Tom Robbins, and SodaStream. It would be typical me stuff.

So here’s the deal: I like to walk, particularly fairly long walking, an hour at least and preferably 90 minutes. Occasionally a longer and usually more challenging one. I’ve been doing it for 8 years now and haven’t shut up about it since.

But then you have your yoga, or your cooking, or your bike rides. This is my thing. It unravels me, sometimes, string by string, until all that’s left is sweat, serenity, and some guilt-free ice cream.

And I thought about a super-long walk a lot. The right day, the right weather, the right arrangements. The right willingness.

Other things are in play, too, but that’s maybe for later. Since my wife works at church in Renton (30 miles from our house) on Wednesday afternoons, then holds choir practice in the evening, and this Wednesday had nice to very nice weather expected, low 70s, maybe some morning clouds, and I see nothing on the schedule, I thought, maybe.

Still maybe, too. I could decide to abort, or postpone. But my default position is go, and I think I’ll head out at 9am for a 30-mile crazy idea. Maybe a quixotic goal, maybe a personal challenge, maybe a cry for help. I say we vote. But later.

Easy first leg, as I did a dry run on Monday of that. Head toward Alderwood Mall, then cross the bridge over I-5 on 196th, then down Poplar through Lynnwood and the outskirts of Mountlake Terrace into Kenmore, where I pick up the Burke-Gilman trail at the northern shore of Lake Washington.

Veer off the B-G when it heads east and I go south, through Kirkland and Bellevue, nice, green, quiet roads (thank you, Google Street View), parks, and nice views of the lake.

At the 24-mile mark, I turn east and head up Coal Creek Parkway, probably the brutal leg, six miles to church and most of that uphill. Heartbreak not ruled out.

Or not. I could do it another day.

Or I could explain that animal magnetism does not mean what you think it means.

Options, options.

Which is sort of the point. Narrow those options. Head off in one direction, aware that the first 10 miles are mildly boring, mostly neighborhoods, and turning around at that point means more boredom and at the end, 20 miles to end up back home. I think with every mile, my options get more limited, which I like.

My left foot has some twinges this morning, which is concerning but probably nothing. Otherwise, I’m off on a pilgrimage on a free day.

This is not a test of myself. I have no interest in running a marathon, or running at all. Ditto for age-bracket-based triathlete competitions, etc. I don’t want to walk across the country. I don’t want to set any records, as if I could.

I just want to walk a long way, to see what happens, and then see what tomorrow looks like.

walk

No Blanche Dubois Here

Nodding in the general direction of Tennessee Williams, I’ve always depended on the kindness of friends. Strangers are good, too, but the intimacy of long friendships gives me some solace. These impromptu lunches and coffees are keeping me in the outside world, while my inside world stays confused.

The freelance (read that: Content provider) market has become overloaded with English majors and people who just retain sentence structure from somewhere, although nothing exciting. Technical, press releases, blogging anonymously for various sites: This was a fall-back position for me, when I couldn’t find something solid and parttime that paid well and gave me the flexibility that drives all this uncertainty, but it’s saturated and a young world, anyway.

————

Family caregivers know all about this, and I’ve spoken of this often, but I started working at home, in this house, 13 months before my son was born. He’s never known a dad who wasn’t there, usually in the next room, comfort by proximity. And in this phase of his life, he needs a proactive parent, along with a chauffer to his various appointments. Eyeing poorly paid but solid positions in fields I could probably find a job would mean several hours of commuting as well as landing in cubicle land.

The social aspect of that is a plus, at least. But I have trouble picturing how it work. In the summer, sure; JK is not teaching and I could pull that off.

In the meantime, I’m supported by people who may or may not have trouble grasping my peculiar life situation, while I try to brush up on all my MS Office Suite skills (when’s the last time I used Power Point, other than to mess around? Probably that would be never), along with possibly coming up to reasonable skill on SQL database management, something I barely understood a decade ago but seems a useful skill.

—————–

In the meantime, I’m still working on producing my audio book, which I’m pleased with but done here in my makeshift recording studio, which involves a lot of noise-absorbing quilts (thanks to my wife’s relatives) and trying to trick my brain into reading the words on the page, and not rewriting as I speak. Then there’s the sound quality, which is fine for me but interrupted by the planes that nearly brush my roof as they land at Paine Field, a mile away. Sunshine and longer days means private pilots are taking advantage, and a plane (and leafblowers and string trimmers and even the lawnmowers) make clean sound a challenge. It’s taking a while (I had to restart, noticing distortion only after I’d recorded half the book), and I have no idea how many listen to audio books, but I’m up to the job. It’s just the plane, boss.

I’ve not been successful in getting word-of-mouth publicity, but then there are lots of books and not that much time, and sharing a post and writing a blurb sometimes takes more effort when you’re just checking in. No hard feelings. Many nice reviews have come in, for which I’m grateful.

In the meantime, I rewrite resumes, trying to capture an adult life of minimal entrepreneurship and self employment. Three companies I actually worked for — thus establishing a record and recommendations — are defunct, closed, boarded up, at least for the most part. My history has been erased by market forces.

So my friends save me. They offer suggestions, they buy me lunch, they comfort me in a time in which I fight back a growing awareness that spontaneous decisions made for the purpose of earning a few bucks has left me out of the networking loop, and at my age…it’s a bit ugly, but not hopeless. No point in regretting the past, since I seem to be unable to change the past and unwilling to spend the time trying.

————-

But there’s sunshine, and I attended a wedding on Saturday between two young-ish (I have no skill with ages, but they seem like young adults) women who started attending our church a while back. I was absent during a solid year from church, needing Sunday mornings for work stuff, but I’ve grown to appreciate them from a distance and they invited the whole church, along with families. Plus food and dancing.

I refuse to dance, thinking it unbecoming of the aging male unless he’s really into ballroom classes (Richard Gere, J.Lo, Susan Sarandon: I should watch that again, just for the fun and growth that comes by just learning how to tango).

SHALL WE DANCE?, Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, 2004, (c) Miramax

SHALL WE DANCE?, Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, 2004, (c) Miramax

But we danced, my wife and I, as hesitant as I was, and discovered a little joy in movement together. The music was fun, the atmosphere lively, and I can twinkle-toes from time to time. It has to be the right song.

Joy, once again. Find it, embrace it, dance to it. Encourage your friends to friend you, and take up their invitations. Search for answers. Try to get the words to start coming again, and ponder how stressful it would or would not be to be a shuttle driver somewhere (I can drive, and the pay is probably dismal, but the socialization aspects are intriguing). But there’s something else that might need SQL.

In the meantime, back to the recording, back outside to walk in the sunshine, cut back the morning glory, run the lawnmower over my well-trimmed grass, maybe dig out a few more flowerbeds…I’m not retired, can’t, won’t, don’t see the point, can’t afford it, but it’s fun to pretend some days.

And all shall be well, as my wife says, and I trust my wife. I might amend that to say, “Some things shall be well,” but I suspect she’s right all along.

There was a strange run of random memories yesterday that led me to wonder whatever happened to David Hartman, the former actor and then original host of “Good Morning, America,” who served in that role as a steady, calming baritone presence. He quit after a decade or so, and he either died or retired or did something else, so I googled and found his Wikipedia page on a whim.

On the day of his 80th birthday, as it turned out. Strange. I have no idea. Just a weird coincidence, but the universe is expanding and maybe I’m picking up that vibe.

That, and the affirmation I’ve gotten from the few book readers and those who’ve had peeks at Winning Dad make me wonder if the universe is just being playful, of which I approve, and about which I think, all shall be well and am starting to believe.

Poor Me

It’s no secret, or at least to my son and sometimes my wife, and perhaps other sensitive people, that I’ve been depressed.

This isn’t a surprise. First, people get depressed, and for those of us who’ve wrestled with it most of our lives, this is pretty minor. A little bummed. A little stasis. Too much time sitting, not enough moving, you get it.

And for good reason, which happens with depression: Sometimes you get sad for legitimate causes. Grief would be one. Transmission problems possibly another.

I have a good reason. Much of my income suddenly disappeared, and I’ve been here before, as I held on to part-time work I could do from home, so fast and efficiently that the pay was good, at least on an hourly basis. I’ve subcontracted from companies that lost contracts overnight, on at least two occasions being really the last one left, closing up shop.

And none was surprising. It was stupid work but, again: It paid bills and allowed me to do what I need to, which is be home as the caretaker of a disabled child, one who is much more independent and adult now, but still would be making slow if any progress if he had to stay home alone every day, only occasionally wandering down the block to volunteer at the animal shelter. And I usually drive him there, the typical Asperger’s muscle tone issue causing him some distress for the walk, particularly in the rain.

And it allows me to write, which pays but not as much as the occasional reader seems to think.

I mentioned casually the other day that I needed a brain trust, people who knew me and what I could do, just some creative thinking on where I go next. There were plenty of good ideas, all of which required enough education that I’d arrive, with luck and some way to pay the tuition, prepared to start a new career at around the age of 60. That’s certainly possible, but not in the areas these kind people were suggesting.

This is nothing new. I understood long ago that I’d probably be creating my own jobs for the duration. I just am at a slow spot.

In the meantime, my book still dribbles out sales, most of them Kindle versions these days, which is great but not so much in the way of royalties (as I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I love e-books but see no reason to price them anywhere the cost of the paperback. So a Kindle or two every day, with a royalty per of around 3 bucks; call it $100 or so a month. Not helping with the mortgage).

Again, the depression is mild, and I have a couple of wild ideas that who knows? Maybe. Or maybe I stock shelves somewhere in the middle of the night, so I can be here during the day.

And ideas are always welcome. But you have to know what I can and can’t do.

At any rate, it was time to get started recording the audio book version of Learning to Walk, because some people like audio books. I’ve set up a makeshift recording studio, deadening most sound except for the occasional plane.

And my neighbor, who leaves town a lot and so hired a guy to mow his lawn every couple of weeks, come rain or shine, winter or summer. I’m not crazy about the job he does, but it’s not my lawn.

But it is my recording, and after struggling through four chapters, maybe a little too monotonous and with some technical issues that I needed to learn, I was on a roll until that lawnmower cranked up. It’s not that good of a recording set-up to drown out that gas-powered engine (I myself use an electric, quiet and spewing nothing into the atmosphere aside from blades of grass). So today I buckle down again.

And unless I’ve seriously underestimated the audio book market, this isn’t going to do it either.

There’s plenty of time to write, too, and it may be time to entertain an idea about a series of comic novels, which why not? Turn out one every three months, focus on e-books…lots of people do. Romance is big. Erotic is pretty big. Neither of these are in my wheelhouse, really, except for being romantic and I seem to remember something about sex. It’s a little faint. But I could probably manage comedy.

I’ve donated to quite a few GoFundMe projects, but these are for people with health problems or suddenly unemployed, needing help to tide them over. I’ve seen some success here, but GoFundMe isn’t an option. My wife is employed, we’re not starving, and if come August and September suddenly the utility companies get aggressive, we’ll deal with that as we can. Come November we’re back on a reasonable basis, and we tend to be frugal, and are working on food (biggest expense after the medical bills and other basic bills).

Then there’s the house, in a seller’s market up here, still nowhere near underwater as much as we used our equity to stay afloat and out of bankruptcy court (which would do us little good at this point, since it mostly seems useful for credit card debt, which we don’t have. And I take unreasonable pride in my credit score that is way above 800, for some strange reason; I’m guessing lack of credit card debt and paying my bills on time, really).

We hate this house. It’s home, and familiar, but it’s sort of falling apart. I figure we need at least $50,000 to get it ready for market, which still might net us a fair amount of equity but this updated, overborrowed mortgage is what we’d pay to rent even a smaller place, and then there’s the tax break, perhaps a questionable allowance but one we take gratefully. Also, I don’t have the 50 grand.

None of this is anyone’s fault except mine and some misbehaving tumors, but I could have gambled away the family fortune on blackjack and the situation would be the same. Blame is useful as prophylaxis against future mistakes, but it ain’t doing a damn thing for me at the moment.

We’re so much better off than so many others, too. Don’t worry about homeless Sigars.

Or unstocked shelves. That remains a possibility.

In the meantime, though, it’s time to finish this audio book, pop it up on Audible and iTunes, and then get busy in my new career. I’m hoping one shows up soon.

It Only Hurts When I Live

My first response to hearing the news that Netflix had premiered a new series, a comedy called Grace & Frankie, starring (eponymously and respectively) Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, was irritation. How could Netflix not prominently place this new show, which I assume they hope is successful, right there at the top of my splash screen, a Suggestion For Chuck? I had to look for it, while their algorithms spin out suggestions that look OK, but I only have so much time. A quick human glance at my Netflix viewing habits would suggest, I think, that I have a limited capacity for absorbing new material, considering how many episodes of The Office and Parks & Recreation I’ve watched, but it might also suggest that I’m susceptible to nontraditional situational comedies.

It doesn’t matter. I heard about it, read about it, thought about it, and watched it. Grace & Frankie, that is. The first two episodes. That’s where I am. There are some issues with my wife, who on Mother’s Day seemed determined that this would be something we could watch together, although God knows when she thinks she’ll find the time. It’s fine; I don’t mind watching things twice (see: The Office, above), although after a few decades of my own marriage I think I understand how this will go down on the domestic front: I’ll watch the episodes, then sum them up for her.

But how could I at least not be intrigued? It’s not just the star power (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play the male counterparts, although there are complications and “counterparts” is pretty funny), although these are all actors I’ve enjoyed watching in the past and are worth at least a look.

The set-up is mildly interesting, but we may have already outpaced the novelty of a story of two men coming out of the closet in their later years.

In fact, it’s the “later years” aspect that drew my respect, if not attention. Exactly how old the characters are supposed to be hasn’t been established by the two episodes I’ve watched, and actors playing younger is such a convention that we barely notice any discrepancies, but a quick check shows me what I already knew: These four actors are firmly septuagenarians (Fonda is the elder at 77; Tomlin is 75, and both men are 74; all will bump up one year before 2015 closes out).

I’m not surprised at this, just impressed. Happy, too, that these actors can still find some acting to do, although they seem to have been pretty busy anyway.

GF

The story, in case you missed it, is straightforward if a little contrived: Two men, law partners for decades, break the news to their wives (who tolerate their social contract as spouses who must occasionally socialize, but just barely) that not only are they gay, but they’ve been lovers for 20 years and have decided to divorce these two women after 40 years and marry each other.

And we assume that the point of this not-so-cutting-edge storyline is a retread of The Odd Couple, throwing these two disoriented and devastated women together and watching the hilarity ensue. Both play to type, or to a type that feels familiar and comfortable to us: Fonda is the body image-obsessed, high society-finessing wife of a successful man; Tomlin is a hippy, who keeps a supply of peyote (and pot) in the fridge for a special occasion, when she and Sol (Waterston, so far the most interesting character of the bunch) can vision quest together at the beach house the two couples bought together.

Oh, right. And these people are rich.

None of this matters. It’s just a show. I wish it well. I’ll probably watch the remaining eight or so episodes, just to see how it plays out. Lots of good shows out there. I won’t watch most of them.

I’m watching Grace & Frankie because of one line, delivered by Fonda as she stares at her aging face in the mirror, removing her hair extensions and eyelashes absentmindedly, at the end of the evening of truth telling. Her husband, Sheen, tries to communicate, to express understanding of her feelings, to apologize for the pain he’s causing, but she’s nowhere near ready for that (possibly, given her attitude, this might come in season #3, if ever).

“It would have been easier if you’d just died,” she says to him, and there it is.

This isn’t a comedy about social upheaval, or cute older men who are finally true to themselves (although they’re pretty cute a couple of times). This isn’t about marriage equality, or self-actualization, or even about the complications of very long marriages.

This is a comedy about heartbreak, and it doesn’t spare us. Fonda knows she and Sheen didn’t have the romance of the century, but she thought they did OK (did I mention they were rich?). Tomlin beats herself up a little for not processing the signals, but Sol was her best friend.

I can imagine all sorts of stories with a few minor tweaks of this one. Two women, very different, suddenly widowed in their later years, as happens. They make discoveries. They bond. They learn secrets their dead husbands kept, they explore options, they become free at last, free at last. Saddened by loss, but loss is inevitable, particularly if you’re a woman and you’re married to a man. Statistics, etc.

But no. Whatever Grace & Frankie turns out to be, if anything at all (I have no idea if there will be more episodes), the creators have given us a topical, startling, life-altering syllabus for a comedy and they blindside us with pain. Lots and lots of pain.

And laughs, or at least my wife found them. I smiled a little, but I couldn’t help suffering along with these women, and that was my surprise. Death is painful. A later-life divorce, driven by the aging male ego with a young trophy wife on his radar, would be humiliating.

But this? This lights up every emotional pain receptor, and the show doesn’t hide it. The thoughts of forty years’ worth of fraudulent cohabitation are there, but mostly it’s the future that is biting these women, and hard.

You can start things over in your 70s, absolutely. But not everything. Life doesn’t let us. We don’t live long enough. These were couples looking at 10 to maybe 20 years of life left, optimistically, and they had no reason to expect it to wind up any other way. Together. Husbands and wives, friends and partners, houses and children.

I could find myself surprised. I could see some senior citizen self-actualization after all. There may be a lot of laughs, and I’ll be impressed that the writers gave us the hard truth from the beginning, working their way toward humor. There’s always humor.

This show belongs to the women. First, it’s just a matter of talent: Waterston and Sheen are solid actors, but they’re not in the same league as Tomlin and Fonda. It’s going to be up to them. I’ll watch, anyway, to see how or if they pull it off, but it won’t be for lack of chops.

But make no mistake: This is a show about loneliness. Laughter will only help. I suspect it can’t heal.