Realizing this was Throwback Wednesday, when I randomly dig through 14 years of newspaper columns to save myself writing something interesting, for some reason I went to 2011. That was an eventful season, toward the end of summer, but this was waiting for me. Completely uneventful (for me), and in a way one final swing at the silly for a while. Things would get darker the next week.


Growing Up, Out, and (Sometimes) In
There are times, speaking from a parental perspective, when we’re better off not knowing.  This obviously covers a lot of ground, but I’m not talking about unchaperoned parties or the dark corners of teenage life where things can get lively.

I’m talking about The Moment.  Years of progressive loosening of ties, little freedoms assigned and allowed, stages passed through from infancy to drivers’ licenses to graduations, all of them momentous but in a minor way, orderly and expected, and then wham.  One day they leave and never come back.

Unless, of course, they do.

“Boomerang kids” was a primary example in Robin Marantz Henig’s New York Times piece on 20-somethings, published last month, of the new nature of “emerging adulthood,” a developmental stage that seems to be defined not by biology but by culture.  Family dynamics have changed for these Millennials, the article suggests, and for their families.  Large numbers of young adults are returning to or still living with their parents, although there’s no evidence I can find that any of them are mowing the lawn.  Which would be important to know, I think.

Ah, well.  Statistics help us move past the anecdotal, I guess, but then the anecdotal is where most of us live.  We know our own stories and our own little circles, and articles about whole generational swaths are interesting but might only intersect occasionally, if that.

I’d also note that this article felt suspiciously like something that could have been written 30 years ago, when I was 22 and, for at least half the year, living with my parents.   By then I’d graduated high school, gone to college, moved out of state, moved back, held a number of full-time jobs and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next.  I didn’t know I was in a stage of life; I just liked not paying rent for a while.

At any rate, we had The Moment seven years ago, when my 18-year-old daughter left for college in Texas.  I had an inkling, actually, got morose and wandered into her empty bedroom on more than one occasion, sitting on the bed and remembering reading stories to a little girl, and also wondering about moving her TV into my room.

And she never came back, not really.  She was a visitor only, holidays and quick trips, part of one summer in 2004 and a visit last spring when she attempted to organize her parents’ messy house (she failed.  EVERYONE fails).

So I take broad generalizations of this cohort with a grain of salt.  I know a fair amount of 20-somethings, her friends and the kids of my friends, and they all appear fully (and remarkably) adult.  They’ve graduated from college, they’ve had a variety of responsible jobs, they’ve moved and traveled and posted a million pictures on Facebook.

And if any of them are back home, living with parents, I might note that it’s a nightmare of a job market out there right now.

My role has changed, then, inevitably and against my will.  My daughter went to college, graduated, got a job, moved to the East Coast, got married, and moved again, returning to Texas, this time in Austin, where they have a large community of artists and, apparently, raccoons.

This is what she thought, anyway, and why she called her dad the other night.  Her dad was only too happy to take the call.

A large raccoon – or something that sounded a lot like a large raccoon – had somehow gotten into the cabinet under her kitchen sink and was making the kind of noise you’d expect.  She opened the cabinet door far enough to confirm that something alive was in there, something with fur.
Being home alone, with no friends or neighbors handy, and not quite sure of what to do, she carefully closed all the doors to the kitchen and retreated with a bottle of wine to the living room, from where she called me.

This could be considered dependency, I guess, some sort of sign that she still needs her parents, but I think mostly she just wanted to talk to someone and I was available.  She wasn’t looking for advice; she’d already been instructed by several people to open the cabinet door slowly and bang on pots and pans, apparently working from the theory that raccoons will be spooked if you threaten to cook for them.

It turned out to be a feral cat and a previously unknown hole in the wall, but as I said our lives can be mostly anecdotal.  Children have their own stories, and mature at their own individual rates, and as it turns out so do their parents.

I was glad to be needed again, in other words, because at my particular stage of development it suddenly feels important.  I was a 20-something myself once, callow and uncertain, but given the gift of a small human being who needed me.  And somehow it never occurred to me that one day, I would have to give her back.

Pressing Matters

AeroPress-review-koffiezetapparaatI have this theory about newspapers. Just pulled it out of thin air. But see if it makes sense.

I’m not talking about our long history of journalism, starting with Ben Franklin. I’m sticking to recent times, and change.

And since I hate beginning sentences with “When I was a kid…” I’ll just say that when I was a kid, reading (or at least subscribing to) the newspaper was a civic responsibility, like voting and not really stopping at stop signs. Not everybody did it, but enough that it was part of our Rockwellian landscape, the Americana of paperboys and missed porches.

We know what happened next. I certainly do, but we all do. No need to get into it. The future showed up right on time.

Here’s my theory, though: I wonder who or what is the last generation in this country to have a strong sense of reading the dead-tree news?

I’m guessing it’s practically no one under the age of 30. Not good news necessarily for foldable journalism, but not a bad demographic to scrape out a few more years of readers.

Not that a 30-year-old is going to subscribe to a newspaper, at least in most cases. But they’ll remember. They might pick one up. They might, in fact, sometimes prefer reading without scrolling. And at any rate, they’ll be around for a while.

Here’s another theory: Wouldn’t it have been great, back in the glory days of multi-newspaper towns, with daily papers chock full of advertising and personal ads along with solid journalism, if, aside from the few allowable letters to the editors, regular readers could share their opinions and feelings about a story or an issue that we all could read? Like a Newspaper-Plus! Wouldn’t that be a good idea?

Yeah. So mistakes were made with this Internet thing. It happens.


The reason this came up is because I’ve received my third email from a vendor today. I bought something from this vendor, although since I had a gift card on file at Amazon I actually got it for free. It was a metal filter for my Aeropress, my favorite and only way to make coffee these days. Not that the paper filters were expensive or particularly hard to use. It’s just that we were running out, and I’d heard about these metal filters, heard good things, so I spent the imaginary nine bucks (seriously? And that’s down from $20?) and got one. Works fine. Glad to have it.

But, of course, my responsibility doesn’t stop there, with the paying of the (imaginary, again) money and the delivery of a product. Now I’m being urged, every other day, to write a review of this product. I don’t have to just buy the damn thing; now I have to advertise it.

There are 165 reviews on Amazon already. I think I can pass.

I think, in fact, that I insist on passing. Write a bad review? Oh sure. That’s sometimes our only recourse, and sometimes it makes a difference. But it’s not the same; we’re talking, at least in my case, about a shoddy or misrepresented or otherwise unsatisfactory product that we paid good (if imaginary) money for. It’s a public complaint desk. I approve, in extreme circumstances.

There are times, of course, when one wants to write a review. For one of my books, just to give an example. I approve of that.

But you know. Sometimes you just want to vent, or express pleasure, or see your words published on the net. That’s understandable. Go right ahead.

Send me a bunch of emails begging me to praise your little overpriced sliver of metal with tiny holes that works as advertised? That’ll do it, sure. Let me just think of the right words. I’ll get back to you. Good coffee, though.

Counting Down

Apparently our little adventure with wind and rain this weekend will go into the record books. Not for the severity, just the calendar.

But we move on. Just how we roll here.

I’d also note that, yeah, as much as I find myself wandering through my imagination, trying to think of something even remotely interesting to write in this space (that part of my brain has been in a coma, apparently, since the spring), it seems that this was a good idea, just because some exciting things are happening.

We’re currently waiting to hear from a few more festivals, while this Saturday night we open in Montreal, by far our biggest and best exposure. Then Palm Springs and one that I’m really pulling for (I’ll let you know), and Seattle sometime in October. So there’s that.

And then there’s my new job, which is extremely parttime but has completely radicalized me, even as tangentially involved with this nonprofit before. Walking through the various locations, watching the men and women and children taken care of, fed, listened to, and helped in the ways they need the most (finding permanent housing, finding work). It’s hard to explain without sounding trite. Maybe another time.

Mostly, though, I’m looking at a busy week, lots of time in traffic, some projects that require my attention, and my acute awareness that in nine days, I’ll be heading to Austin. And Austin, I think, is right where I need to be, right about now.

With Great Power Comes Something

MXINEOS8OVYesterday a fairly normal, if upper reaches of intensity, November storm showed up early to the party. So early that it really hasn’t happened before, not quite like this.

Again, it wasn’t out of the remarkable category except for some serious gusts in places (up to 90mph). And it was in August. And we lost power.

Which we never do. Really. We’ve been in this house 27 years and I can count the power outages on my fingers, and probably 7 out of 10 were of the 10-second variety. There was one lasting several hours, maybe 23 or 24 years ago. Otherwise, zilch.

So 14 hours was a long time for us, coming at noon on Saturday and ending around 2 a.m., as we fitfully slept, dreaming of a morning rush to church and no coffee. Nightmares, really.

All’s well that ended with electricity, as it turned out.


Weighing Saturdays

UHEDRVOEQNTo regular reader(s): To avoid tedious blogging about this subject, and because I belong to a Facebook support group for healthier eating, I decided that every Saturday I’ll blog a little about what I’ve discovered in this particular journey, at my advanced age when I’m constantly wondering why I even care. Maybe it’s just curiosity.


A friend of mine said yesterday, out for a walk, “It’s trying to rain, but it’s forgotten how.”

That was my impression, too. After a markedly dry and early-arriving summer, a November-ish storm is passing through our area this weekend, bringing some wind and, in one way or another, moisture. Our flowers and grass are getting a treat. The rest of us just wonder about this free water that falls from the sky. It’s been a while.

But back in May, when the warm weather started and never stopped, I dug through the top shelf of my closet and started thumbing through pairs of shorts, of which there are at least ten. They cover a range of summers and waist sizes, although I’m sure I either ditched the really big ones years ago or else never wore shorts when I could fit into those.

So I was left with sizes that ranged from 32 to 36 in waist size. Since in my particular fashion world, shorts don’t count except for comfort, and the 34-inchers fit but were snug in the thighs and waist, not comfortable for long walks, I went with the slightly baggy 36-ers. They were fine for a while.

And then in June I started this food-change thing, and within a week or so those 34s were fine. Another week or so, during a heat wave (for us, anyway), I would actually just sleep in them, they were that comfortable. So progress.

Which marches on. So while I was wandering the air-conditioned stores of Salem, Ore. last month, staying out of the 106-degree heat, I decided to upgrade those baggy 34s for maybe a smaller size. They were on sale, they were 32 inches in waist, and they fit perfectly. And so those became my go-to shorts.

Until I wore them to the store the other day, and found myself holding them up with one hand. A belt would have helped, but belts are not worn with shorts. NEVER.

So progress, if that’s what we’re calling it, has come calling in a dramatic way, even if the end result has comic potential (guy with shorts that fall around his ankles suddenly in the produce section). The mirror can be tricky. The scale is good but needs to be understood.

When your pants fall down, you know.

I just wanted to get out of the habit of late-night munching on calorie-dense food. Losing 10 pounds would give me an entire closet to wear. This was philosophy only, then, just an idea to try to break a habit and see what would happen.

Even though I knew. I used to tell people that I worried about giving up my food vices, or at least limiting them, because what would I eat? I’d gotten into a habit of mixing those indulgent days, even if they lasted a week, with some days of very light eating. Now I was stuck with just light. My appetite went away. I nibbled on chicken and fish and vegetables and once or twice some brown rice. Sometimes I tried the old favorites and they were too much, too sweet, too heavy. I started drinking lots of water.

I’ve lost 25 pounds, then. More quickly than I imagined, quicker than I would have thought possible at my starting weight, and so quickly that I began to worry about lean muscle loss and wasting, etc. I started lifting weights, and continued to walk, although I cut it way back. There’s just no way to walk 7 miles a day when some of those days you’re only eating 800 calories.

I know. It’s crazy. I’m working on it.

But no one has expressed alarm, even if they’ve noticed, so I think I’m safe. Time to level off, try to add in more items. I’ve always said that a man over 50 has no business wearing a 31-inch waistline, or at least no one my size, but that may have to happen.

So at this point it’s a tale of the shorts. Let’s see where we are when those go back on the top shelf. In the meantime, I meant what I said about belts.

Copy That

TWOh, hubris. So much more than a simple noun, you are a way of life, leading us down a smooth path of assumptions and expectations until a bear eats us.

I love “The Office” (American version). Love it. Watched it several times, all seasons. Jim and Pam, Dwight and Creed, everyone. And I loved a lot of the time I worked at an office job, from 1986 until 1989 (other jobs were mostly in clinics and hospitals, or restaurants, not really offices).

And then I moved home to work, and stayed. But freedom! I could explore the brave new world of technology that was about to explode (it was ticking really loudly in 1989) without having to convince a business owner with one foot in the 1950s and the other in an employee’s backside (it was a tough environment sometimes).

I became an early adopter, partially out of just joy and partially because I wanted to spend less time on drudgery and more time on the non-drudge part of life. Maybe mostly joy, now that I think of it.

So don’t try to fool me, or teach this old dog new tricks. I know the tricks. I’m not that old.

And if there was a new toy out there, a new gizmo that did fancy things, I knew about it even if I wasn’t interested. No Apple Watch for me, but I get it. I’m on top of the tech news, and that’s not hubris or even an exaggeration. I like to know.

But I went to church yesterday, for a meeting with our development group (new job, uncertain responsibilities, but at the moment we’re prepping for a big auction to raise money so it’s all about that), and I had culled a bunch of info into about 10 pages of solid stuff. Just got there a little early to photocopy and staple.

And of course I can staple. That’s pretty analog.

What I can’t do, apparently, is operate a modern photocopier.

Remember: It’s been 25 years.

Many years ago, I stood in a line at an ATM that was getting longer, waiting for a woman who was getting increasingly frustrated until I peeked and realized she was trying to withdraw $17.

That’s become my rule, then, when facing familiar but maybe altered technology: What are the basic parameters? With a photocopier, I figured the basics were about the same as 1989. Paper is needed. Something to be copied is needed. A number of copies needed would be helpful. Ready, set, go.

I learned lots of things. I learned how to refill the paper trays. I learned how to enter the proper user code. I produced reams and reams of paper, in fact, spewing out of this copier with abandon. Different sizes, too. It was fascinating. It took longer than I thought, and toward the end I found out that it was actually unnecessary, since the intended recipients already had the PDFs emailed to them. Sometimes this happens. I wasn’t upset.

I would note, though, that at no time during this process, which was nearly 30 minutes, did I, in any way, shape, or form, produce a copy of anything.

Hubris. As I said.

I did get $17 out of it, though. Not sure how.

The Change of Life

I take meetings now. Didn’t see that coming. Not sure how I feel.

You understand, right? I work alone. Alone. It’s been that way for a long time. I’ve had to drop by offices, talk on the phone, do a little teleconferencing…but not meetings. Not work meetings, anyway. Not when you work alone.

So that’s new.

When, over the years, friends have described their jobs, and meetings as part of their daily routine, my eyes glaze over from the gratitude of not having to have them.

I like it, though. Maybe because I like the people, and I like what we’re doing. And maybe I need to remind myself – and I should be the last person who needs to – to get out of the house once in a while. Even if it means sitting in traffic for 90 minutes.


I drink coffee now. For years, most of my life, I had no interest, yuk. Bitter, hot. Caffeine, sure, from iced tea or the occasional Diet Coke, but not coffee.

Months of sitting in cold church Sunday school rooms at night, though, drew me toward the joe, and now I’m some sort of coffee fussbudget. I grind my fresh beans with a bur grinder (not cheap), then pour 198-degree water over those grounds into an Aeropress and slowly press until I have a smooth cup of alertness.

And then I dump in Splenda. Because it’s still bitter. Habits are weird.


If I had the chance, if I found a genie and got my share of wishes, there are probably a lot of things I’d change (I’d need a lot of wishes). Since I don’t and I didn’t, I just change what I can without magic and as seems possible, and sometimes for no good reason at all.

It’s as close to the unknown as I get, at least in the mundane, everyday world. Change. Messing around with routine. Lifehacking. Changing the very fabric of the future by an act of willingness; it can make you feel pretty special, sometimes. Almost magic.

I faced what I guess could be called an existential crisis these past 8 months or so, not much work and not a lot on the horizon, and me being at an age where spending a few years in school getting degreed up for a new occupation seems a little wasteful. I’m all for starting a new career over the age of 60 (if that is to happen to me eventually; there’s some denial); I just think some things are impractical. Especially things that require tuition.

And let’s face it: For a long time now, I’ve known I would have to make my own way. I’m the puzzle piece that was probably a mistake. I have to find my own corner. Sometimes it works out.

But the best part of this uncertain life I stumbled into? Besides losing certain of those habits and gaining a couple of at least marginally better ones?

People ask me to do things. And sometimes, I know how.



New Mexico is on my mind lately. Lots of things are on my mind, but my thoughts around the Land of Enchantment led me to this piece from 10 years ago (gulp). And I suspect will lead me to watching this film again, very soon.

From August 31, 2005


There’s a place just out of eyesight that I think about sometimes. I know it’s there, like I know the light in the refrigerator goes off when I close the door, but I don’t actually see it.

Sometimes I get philosophical and call it Hope. Or The Future. Sometimes I get depressed and think of it as The Road Not Taken. And sometimes I get faintly sacrilegious and call it Godland.

I’ve been there. I’ve lived there for long periods, secure in my serenity. Other times, it’s been just a concept, something I believe in but can’t wrap my brain around at the moment. It’s a place of spiritual sustenance, in other words, and life being as complicated as it is I sometimes lose track of it. I stare out a window and the blinds are closed. It happens. We can get sort of disconnected.

So I’m always glad to find a reminder, and the other night it came, as sometimes it does, in words and pictures and performance. A movie, I mean.

“New Mexico is a very powerful place.”

Campbell Scott is the 45-year-old son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst, a gene pool that sends shivers down my spine. He’s done a fair amount of acting, and a little directing, and a couple of years ago he took a play and turned it into a film that not enough people will see, I think.

“Off the Map” is about Charley, Arlene, George, William, and Bo, although sometimes she calls herself Cecilia Rose. Bo is 11, and she has big plans, most of which center around leaving home.

Home is northern New Mexico, in the middle of nowhere, off the map. Somehow, for some reason, Charley, a Korean War veteran, and Arlene, half-Hopi, leave the modern world and make their own rules. They own their house, what it is, no plumbing or electricity, grow their own food, find all sorts of stuff at the dump, and manage. George, Charley’s best friend, stops by a lot, is a member of the family, although he has a real job and some real dreams.

One day William, currently an IRS auditor but formerly a short-order cook with a law degree, stops by to discover why this family hasn’t filed a tax return in seven years. Arlene explains that they used to, but since they make less than $5000 a year they just thought it unnecessary after a while.

“They still like you to file,” William says, sort of ruefully, and then he gets sick and stays on their couch and eventually he just stays.

I can’t tell you how much this film moved me, or really even why. Part of it is memory, being a child, driving through the desert with my family from Phoenix to California on trips, wondering what was off the highway, imagining taking a right turn down that dirt road and going on to something else.

Part of it is my self-sufficient side, the side of me that has always said, “Leave me alone and I’ll figure it out,” the part that wants to be free of instructions and demands, and marvels at a story of people who actually do that.

Part of it is New Mexico; the true Southwest, I thought on my first visit. Phoenix was processed culture but New Mexico was real, and this movie, among all its other charms, has some stunning scenery.

Part of it is that the characters are all basically good and decent people, with no agendas, just staying alive and reading Melville aloud by kerosene light, saying prayers over the animals they kill for food and drinking water by the pitcher, because water is good and it’s hot outside.

And part of it is that Charley is sad, this summer, the summer of 1974, the summer the movie covers. Catatonic sad, sometimes. He barely speaks and he stares at nothing, and those around him do a dance, keep moving in hopes that he’ll catch the rhythm again, raise the blinds, find his Godland.

The film has its own pace, so be prepared. No shooting or helicopter crashes. No sex. No mysteries, except the ones we all deal with daily. And maybe you won’t like it. Maybe it will bore you, if this sort of character study, small story, isn’t what you look for in a movie.

I have no business reviewing movies anyway, not here, not anywhere. I don’t watch enough of them, or have the background to write an intelligent critique.

But sometimes I find a gem, and it’s hard not to mention. Last week, my wife and I both got some spiritual sustenance from a story. And there’s joy here, and sweetness, and a couple of surprises, and a sailboat.

And watercolors. But that’s all I’m saying.

So rent “Off the Map,” if you’re in the mood for a movie. It stars Joan Allen and Sam Elliott. It didn’t make a lot of money. It was a quiet film, a reminder, maybe, is all. That there’s beauty in family. There are powerful places. The sky touches the earth in surprising ways. And open the blinds, from time to time, and look.


The State of the State

We’ve already established over the years that I’m not particularly mechanical. Not all that comfortable with power tools this side of lawn equipment. Uneasy with a measuring tape. Taking risks with a hammer. You get it.

But some things shouldn’t be an issue. Turning a key in a doorknob, opening a Ziploc bag, turning on a light switch.

I’m going to note, though, the Catch-22 with coffee, something we use to get alert. Something that requires us to be alert to make it. Follow?

And then there’s the joy of no coffee but a brand-new bag of beans, just waiting to be opened and brewed, but sealed with some sort of spell that before 9 a.m. can only be opened by Thor.

This has been my day so far.


Smoke is covering a lot of Western Washington skies this week, drifting westward from wildfires in Eastern Washington that are devastating. It’s just a thing, not a welcome visitor but unlike the high-tech workers trying to turn Seattle into Silicon Valley North, we don’t resent it. We get it. It reminds us that it’s been very dry.

And it has. Summer, instead of beginning in mid-July, too off like a rocket in May and never looked back. Our normal spring rain just never showed up, and with the snowpack last winter at approximately 25% of normal, one might expect California-like emergencies, but there was much preparation and full reservoirs and we did fine. We’re scheduled to be warmer than normal for the next year, but it will rain. We know where we are.


And in two weeks, I see this guy. So no complaining from me.


Always Be Packing

I’m not going to do anything tomorrow, because tomorrow doesn’t count.

Tomorrow is important in the story; don’t get me wrong. It’s just sort of a technical thing.

Today would count more, I think.

Not doing anything today, either.

I’m very much in favor of anniversaries. And birthdays. And they can be totally made up, too. I just like looking back, looking at today, marveling at time, groaning at the drawbacks of so long life. Maybe balloons.

These are just days, though, or numbers. They’re worth noting; I note them.

It’s a peculiar thing, though. An analogy might be a massive construction project, once scheduled to take decades, in which on the anniversary of the very first nail being driven or concrete poured or whatever construction people do, everyone takes a moment to pause, and consider how far they’ve come.

Then it’s back to work. It’s not nearly finished.

Me, neither.

But today I sat out on my front porch, trying to hide the fact that my suitcase seemed poised to explode, and I waited for a ride to 2015.

Just wanted to let you know I got here. Pause. Now back to work.

That was the summer I didn’t mow the lawn, not really. I sat on the front deck early one August morning and tried to imagine it as it was when we’d moved in, 18 years before, weeds and dirt.

I planted grass and dug and mowed, tossed baseballs with my daughter, ran with my dog and other dogs, and watched my son roll in the grass, my grass, tended and taken care of, and now it was me. Life as a lawn, unmown, wild and crazy as a bedbug.

I wondered for a moment if some neighbor would take pity on my poor wife, notice that I was gone and mow the grass. Probably not; neighbors were out of the loop by then.

I was no longer 29, holding a 3-year-old by the hand and following a realtor into this odd house, moved onto an empty lot, jacked up so a basement could be built, remodeled and reworked and then left alone when the contractor ran out of money. I was dubious back then but it was big, this house, and we liked the neighborhood. The basement was unfinished and the landscaping was nonexistent, but it was a house with possibilities.

Now I’d used up all the possibilities, and I sat out front and waited for my ride to Drunk Camp, and I noticed a little issue with my suitcase.

–From “The Suitcase,” Learning to Walk