Full Cupboards

A few weeks ago, I was approached outside the grocery store by people from a local food bank, asking me to do a little extra shopping for the other guy.

I started to tell them that I was in a hurry, but lying to food bank workers makes baby Jesus cry. I also was tempted to just hand over all the cash in my wallet instead, which I believe was 7 dollars, and spare them my shopping skills; I don’t have a lot of food bank experience but I have some, enough to know the cash is usually best, given the tendency of well-intentioned people to suppose that what hungry people really need is cherry pie filling and maybe Stovetop Stuffing mix.

I did my best, anyway, although that’s an interesting battle, at least for me, shopping for the needy. Pride, shame, ego — they all want to make an appearance, so usually I settle for soup. Soup works well.

This came to mind only because we have an abundance of brown sugar in this house now. Way too much brown sugar for one family, particularly a family that doesn’t bake much anymore. And while it’s not hard to imagine an unemployed, hungry family of cookie lovers, I can’t imagine hauling the surplus sugar down to the food bank. Also, both bags appear to have been opened, one of them in a hurry.

We had a perfect Thanksgiving in this household, which is an interesting concept I don’t really feel like exploring. It was a family affair, I’ll just say, with lots of interaction (except for John, who slept most of the day; having company completely throws off his schedule and he finally sacked out on the sofa while the rest of us played in the kitchen).

The division of labor was smooth: The ones who enjoy cooking cooked, and at appropriate intervals. My daughter was queen of the side dishes, everything spectacular. Cameron held the party together, wandering around the house with a cutting board under his arm, looking for a spare flat surface so he could chop in peace. Julie sipped a mimosa and kept the fire going.

I did the turkey, which I take credit for the way I take credit for doing laundry: Pretty much I put it in and close the door, and the appliance does the work. I’ve read a fair amount of griping in the blog world this season about what a sorry entree the turkey is, how it never turns out well and we should be eating goose or duck, but I sneer at this. You can brag about brining all you want, or get all 2004 and do the deep fry thing (I sincerely think people are crazy who do this. Really. I think they are at least temporarily mentally ill. I always will, too), but the truth is simple and easy. Stuff the cavity with fruit and aromatics, smear the bird with honey and then drape it with about a pound of bacon (more is better), cook it at 325 and it comes out fine, always does. Shut up.

I can’t take credit for the pie crust, even though it was my recipe, tweaked and derived from various sources, and I did mix it, refrigerate it, and roll it out. Still, a pie crust this delicious, light and flaky is obviously the result of supernatural intervention, a temporary transcendence in which my hands were controlled by angels or maybe the spirit of Julia Child. Really, at that moment I should have run out and bought a lottery ticket, jaywalked and maybe attempted a chin-up, things were going so well.

The week went too fast, of course, and suddenly it was Friday morning and the young people were heading for the airport. It seems quiet now, maybe a little darker and definitely more subdued, but it was fun for a few days. Texas whomped A&M, we had a fire going all day, nobody got mad, and as I said John slept through most of the chaos that was our kitchen for a couple of hours. It was all good. Cameron even learned how to poach salmon in foil packets, quick and dirty like (those of you here in the Northwest are rolling your eyes at the most basic way to get salmon on the table, the technique we learn as toddlers in this part of the country, but remember: The man is from San Antonio).

So we are left with good memories, some pictures and lots of mashed potatoes, a week well done, and with luck and grace we’ll be able to repeat it some day, maybe next year, who knows? These guys will be married by then, I suppose, and everyone will be older and wiser, but we learned how to throw a good Thanksgiving and I’m thinking the brown sugar can stay where it is, just in case.


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My So-Called Life

In theory we have company. My eagle eye sees everything, including lots of little cosmetic-type things in the bathroom and suitcases in The Room Formerly Known As Beth’s, but there’s been damn little human interaction. I only infer, intuit and deduce the presence of other people. Somewhere in the distance a dog is barking, and so on.

My daughter arrived at 2:30pm Saturday afternoon, for example; I saw her finally around 9pm, far down on her list, apparently. I am always serene in these situations, John not so much, but I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving because maybe she will stop moving long enough to at least complain about the way I dress.

Heh. Just a joke. She’s already done that, of course.

So aside from a few brief encounters, Beth and I didn’t get quality time until late Sunday, when we made a midnight trip back to the airport to retrieve Cameron. I apparently drive too fast and don’t pay enough attention.

But but but. We had penciled in family stuff, because for various reasons yesterday we were scheduled to — wait for it — get a family portrait taken.

There isn’t a lot of photo documentation of me over the past 20 years or so. Part of this has to do with the fact that it’s usually me behind the lens, but there’s also been a fair bit of avoidance. Denial is a LOT easier when you don’t have evidence.

Most of this was just because I didn’t like to be reminded that I’d gotten really fat. Also, there were haircut issues.

I’m better about this now, although the absence of an evidence chain tends to shock me. Who’s the old guy? Yikes. I looked at the portrait proofs yesterday with one eye closed and the other unfocused, at least until I got used to the idea (and the pictures turned out well, all in all; eventually will post).

I tried to explain some of this to Cameron last night, and sure it’s a cliche — we all feel to some extent that we’re stuck in aging bodies by some giant cosmic error, that we’re still 23 and all the rest is some nasty CGI effect.

I’m going to posit here, though, as I’m sure I have before, that a couple of decades ago I essentially resigned from life as we know it, at least in terms of conventional landmarks of personal growth (with some exceptions). I cleaned out my desk at the age of 30 and moved home, and here I stayed, most of that time self employed and unmoored from reality.

(There’s also a recovery trope out there that likes to pretend that addicts freeze, emotionally and psychologically, at the age they were when their use began; this is way overused and irrational, in my opinion, but there’s a smidgen of truth there. And given the fact that I was sort of a late-bloomer on the compulsion scale, I still wind up 20 years ago. So there’s that.)

It’s disorienting, though, and I keep looking for an analogy. Seriously: When I run across a 50-year-old person, my first reaction is to defer to their age and wisdom, and my second is to feel guilty for being such a young whippersnapper who knows nothing. This is crazy.

Obviously I look my age. Obviously I am my age. Still, I wander through a middle-aged life feeling incognito, unattached to convention and observing my contemporaries from a distance, a stranger in a strange land, and I keep trying to find an explanation and now I think I finally have.

I’m a spy.

Listen up, old people: I am Jason freaking Bourne. I may look like you and act like you and walk like you and even eat like you, but don’t make any quick moves or I may breach your sense of security with some entirely inappropriate vernacular. Chill.

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The Last Wave

PROLOGUE: My wife is 8 years old. She, her brother and her parents visit the Montgomery Ward store (they call it “Monkey Wards,” as a lot of people do) in the Wynnewood Shopping Center in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, where they live. They’re looking at carpet, and the salesman is courteous and helpful. He pats my wife on the head. “I’ve got a boy at home about your age,” he says, but my wife is actually a bit older.

They don’t buy any carpet. My father-in-law was cautious when it came to spending money on anything but necessities.


The above is a little fantasy of mine, entirely unsubstantiated except for the thing about my wife’s dad. He retired comfortably at age 55 after working decades in a machine shop, and not by recarpeting the house just whenever he felt like it. He’s alive and well, too.

Here’s another fantasy, although a lot more likely. Somebody I went to high school with, shared a few classes or maybe a football season with, suddenly thinks of me, out of the blue. Maybe he finds a yearbook or something. He wonders whatever happened to me, so he fires up Mr. Google.

He finds me. Everybody finds me. I’m remarkably findable. You could start from scratch and be sending me an email in under 30 seconds if you wanted, although it doesn’t seem as though many people want to; that’s OK.

And you can find out lots more, if you have the time. Lots and lots. I guesstimate that I’ve written somewhere around a million words for publication in the past seven years, the majority of them available online. You can learn pretty much all you probably want to know about me. Sometimes this makes me less than comfortable, but that’s life in the big city.

The thing is, you might be surprised at how hidden other people are, in this day and age. I know people, actually, successful people, outstanding citizens, good jobs, involved in the community, even wealthy, who are real hard to find on the Internet. This is generational in a lot of ways; I could probably find their kids a lot easier. But in some ways, it feels like a throwback to the casual respectability of another age, when you were expected to see your name in the newspaper three times over the course of a life, birth, marriage and death; you kept your nose clean and your name quiet.

There’s a guy my age I look for sometimes. I have no idea why, really; I don’t know him, and I don’t know what I’d say if I found him. Or if I’d try.

I wrote about him five years ago, and you know what’s funny? If you Google his name, that newspaper column shows up at about number four on the list. Surely he’s noticed it, and maybe even read it, unless he’s the least self-centered person on the planet or lives in a cave somewhere without broadband.

Or doesn’t live at all. I have no idea, really. Although today I found someone with his name, in a plausible location and with a plausible status for a 50-year-old man.

Maybe I’ll try to contact him. Maybe, even, I’ll write another column this week about him. I’m sort of curious.

His dad had the day off work that Friday, 45 years ago. He took his son downtown to see the President. They stood across the street from where Abraham Zapruder was taking his home movie. Across from the grassy knoll. Right next to the “babushka lady.” You can see them in the film pretty clearly.

The motorcade approaches them. The dad waves. The son waves too. Kennedy sees the little boy, turns a little, smiles, and starts to wave. Then all hell breaks loose, of course.

Kennedy’s hands spasmodically jerk symmetrically to his neck, probably the result of a bullet severing his spinal cord. The car slows a little as the driver wonders what’s going on. Another bullet takes off part of the President’s skull, parts of which land near the man and his son.

A third bullet whizzes over their heads, missing everything but prompting the man, who as a 19-year-old was on Normandy Beach on D-Day as an Army Ranger, to throw his boy to the ground and shield him from gunfire.

Later on the man, the carpet salesman who worked at the Wynnewood Monkey Wards, would be interviewed over and over again. No one interviewed the 5-year-old boy, of course.

And as far as I can tell, no one ever has.

Millions and millions of words about the Kennedy assassination have been written, but very few that deal with the fact that there were little kids there. No one seems to have wondered much about what they remember, if anything.

I’ve wondered a lot. I was 5 then, too, so maybe that’s it. I have fuzzy memories of that time, but they’re there. And I suspect that if my dad had pushed me to the grass, and then I’d been surrounded by cops and reporters, and then put into a police car with my dad and then taken to the police station for more interviews, I’d remember something.

Again, who knows? Maybe he died of a childhood illness, or a dumb car accident, or any number of other things. Or maybe he’s doing what I imagine he’s doing, what I found during my search today, right there in Texas. I wrote about him once, I’ll probably write about him again. Maybe I’ll send him an email and see if he’s the right guy. Maybe he’ll email back. Really, this is getting silly. It’s my history-loving/Kennedy-aware/theatrical side, is all. Forget it.

But it occurred to me today, as I was mulling all this over, taking a long walk on a sunny but brisk autumn day at noon, probably similar to the weather in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, that this little boy, waving like his dad, was quite possibly the last thing that Jack Kennedy saw, and I wonder if, all grown up and middle-aged, he ever thinks about that.


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War, Etc.


I was going to write the following:

“War profiteering, of course, has been around as long as the Industrial Age”

but then I thought about that a little, and was going to write

“War profiteering has been around as long as, well, war”

but then I thought, Shut up.

I mean, you wouldn’t believe the crap I think about writing.

And let me just throw out the name of Roman playwright “Plautus” right now to get my humiliation out of the way.

I saw John Cusack’s “War, Inc.” last night, streaming from the fine folks at NetFlix in nice 15-minute increments (my situation, not theirs) as I moved files around and changed punctuation in the meantime. This is a lousy way to watch a movie but I do it on weekends and I’m sort of used to it, an artificial limited attention span that maybe isn’t that artificial anymore, who knows?

I don’t intend to review it here, or encourage you to see it, although you might want to. It doesn’t quite get there but it makes an effort. John Cusack, who produced, co-wrote and stars in it obviously is passionate, but he’s in trouble from the get-go: First, the time it takes for a film to go from conception to screen is deadly to topical subjects, which is why I think virtually all of the Iraq War-based films have failed (we’re not talking about that anymore, we’re now talking about this).

Mostly, though, this is serious satire, which suffers from the same suspension of disbelief problem that any stand-up comedian knows — we’re supposed to pretend we’re just listening to some guy talk about his girlfriend, but we know he’s supposed to make us laugh and we know he knows we know, and so on. Knowing (and you really must) going in that this is a satire about war profiteering and the privatization for profit of national policy puts a chip on our shoulders right away. Go ahead, make me all satirical if you can.

A couple of thoughts to get out of the way: I’ve read several reviews of it, before and after, and while some have noted that this feels like a sequel to Cusack’s “Grosse Pointe Blank” (for good reasons), I haven’t seen anyone draw the obvious parallel to “Catch-22.” OK, there, I said it for the record.

The other observation I really have to make, from my theater student snotty side, is how even this obviously well-thought-out script couldn’t resist pulling from the giant treasure trove of the Roman New Comedy, with its stock characters (smart slave, dumb dad, etc.) and plot devices, all of which you would recognize and none of which I’ll reveal here in case you want to see this movie (“reveal” being the operative word, ha! I’m so smart).

Really, all I want to say is that I hoard watchable actors, and keep it to a few, and John Cusack is one of them. Also Robert Downey, Jr. and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (sorry for being trendy), and suddenly now, in the past year, Marisa Tomei, who really is fabulous and just happens to be in “War, Inc.”

I’m having trouble thinking of actors who’ve held my interest over decades; the ones I liked to watch, whatever their abilities (some less, some more), in the 1970s stopped drawing me a long time ago. I can barely stomach Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman seems sort of silly and Robert Redford frankly is too embarrassing to watch.

Looking at Cusack, then, from Lloyd Dobbler to this middle-aged assassin is a lot of fun. He’s already got two decades under his belt and I haven’t got tired yet, and last night I was trying to picture him at 60 and got very interested. I hope I live that long.

In lieu of a review, let me say the film doesn’t quite make it, can’t pull the pieces together but I still enjoyed it. It’s bloody and profane, too, FYI.

And that “War, Inc.” owes more, ultimately, to Plautus than Heller, and not in a good way, but that’s all I’m going to say.

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I’m under the weather currently, physically and emotionally, although at least on the physical side I’m now thinking it’s just a cold.

And in a week we have Bostonians! In this very house; so psychologically I’m hopeful.

At any rate, a couple of articles to pass on.

Historical parallels, particularly when it comes to personalities, are empty calories for me; I just enjoy them and try not to think too hard. And standing our current President-Elect next to Lincoln and looking at them together, as historian Garry Willis does in this short article, doesn’t add a lot to the conversation on first blush.

But in a real sense, Lincoln is the presidential standard against which all are measured, and maybe not so much because he was the very model of a perfect President (the case can be made, and unmade) but because his experience was literally as bad as it gets. Lincoln’s job as leader, ultimately, was keeping our country from disintegrating, and so he had to deal with war and death and bending principles and compromise and setting absolute goals. This could be the definition of the job, in some ways, so maybe it’s not a bad idea to look at Lincoln’s life, see how his character was formed and in what way others are similar or not so much. As in this not-so-much assessment by Willis:

One apparent difference between the two is that Obama lacks the uses of humor that let Lincoln defuse tense situations with a funny story. Obama has a wry sense of the absurd, but he is not a master of the appropriate anecdote on a level with Lincoln. Nonetheless, he has the empathy that underlay Lincoln’s knowledge of what tale would fit the situation and the personality of the person he was dealing with.

Moving on, in 2004, just after Obama had won the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Senator from Illinois, Chicago Tribune religion writer (now columnist) Cathleen Falsani interviewed him, one on one, about his faith, and now for the first time she’s published the entire transcript over at BeliefNet.

Upfront, I would note that while he seems pretty frank and articulate, Obama’s Christianity is definitely a personal one, and for those of you who feel your way is the only way (or that Christianity is the only way, actually) this will probably help solidify any notion you have that Obama is some sort of “fake Christian.” Not my problem or my concern, but just so you know.

For me, I recognized a lot of myself and a lot of what I’ve heard from people I like, so there’s that.

It’s amused me for a while now when I’ve heard people refer to, for example, George W. Bush as a “Christian” president, as if this is an unusual (or desired, or overall good) thing. All of our presidents have been at least nominally Christian, most of them serving during a time when “Christian” was not only a faith system but a synonym for “good” and “decent” and all other nice things. Of course, some of them didn’t come close in a spiritual sense (including Lincoln, who was arguably an agnostic and certainly not a Christian), and even the most recent men to serve in the White House were all over the map (along with George W., both Carter and Clinton were very outspoken about their Christianity, while to Nixon and Johnson it seemed an afterthought, Kennedy was pretty agnostic, and Reagan was a monotheist, completely incurious and unaware of some basic tenets of the faith and more of a “the man upstairs” believer).

Anyway, I found the whole thing fascinating, and particularly this section where he muses aloud on the Holy Spirit:

That’s something you learn watching ministers, quite a bit. What they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down before they’re preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it but what I see is there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a deeper source. And it’s powerful.

There are also times when you can see the ego getting in the way. Where the minister is performing and clearly straining for applause or an Amen. And those are distinct moments. I think those former moments are sacred.

Maybe not so under the weather, huh?

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Off The Grid

They’re rarer, but I’m still surprised when I get a message informing me that a friend or family member has a new email address, because they’ve changed ISPs; it not only feels archaic but a little barbaric. Like using an outhouse, maybe, although that’s a really weird analogy and I’m sort of sorry I brought it up.

And the truth is, I probably haven’t been using web-based email for that long, but in this world a couple of years makes a huge technological difference. We assimilate (or get assimilated) a lot faster these days; it seems incomprehensible, for example, that YouTube did not exist during the last presidential election, four years ago, but there you go.

Anyway…I found out that independence is a myth today (sorry it took me so long), when for about 30 minutes Google seemed offline. I’m still not certain if this was just a firewall burp or something else on my side of things, since I haven’t read any news about an issue there in Mountain View, but for a short and painful period I was sort of lost.

How sad is this? I was disconnected from email and my Reader for half an hour, during which I could have been showering or walking or eating or doing any number of Googleless things and not noticed, but since I wasn’t, since I’d just gotten home and wanted to catch up, it was a strange sensation. I felt abandoned, orphaned, given up for dead, and I couldn’t help but notice a sense of dread.

What would happen if one day Google just stopped?

Calendar. Email. Documents. Reader. Searches. Pictures.

I’m scaring you, I know. Sorry. It’s over now, probably just a glitch. Go about your business. Nothing to see here. The show’s over, folks.

But for a short time, things looked very dark. Sort of a combination of the last third of “The Birds” and imagining President Palin. Awful.

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Time's Arrow

NOTE: This is not about politics (attn: Kathy B.).


Most of us have seen variations on the above picture over the past couple of days. Julie and I were remarking last night on a couple of things.

One is the physical difference between the two men. Pres. Bush is of average height, and by all accounts is in fantastic shape for any age, much less early 60s, but next to tall and skinny Obama he looked different. I think it has most to do with the fact that we’ve gotten used to seeing both men a lot, particularly the president, but not together.

Secondly, Pres. Bush looks…old. This is juxtaposition, too, but also the fact that a person does age between 54 and 62, and also the wear and tear of the office. It would have been scary, I think, to watch President John McCain over the course of his first term; the White House is an aging machine.

And Obama is 15 years younger. Which is really what I want to talk about.

Whenever I hear him referred to as “the young Senator” or “the young President-Elect” I do a little semantics dance. Because Obama is my age.

OK. He’s 3 years younger, but we’re pretty much the same age. We both grew up in the 1960s, graduated high school in the late 1970s, went to college in the early 80s. We both remember watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson when they played college ball. We can probably both name all of the Partridge Family. We’re cohorts.

So I am now officially young. Cool.

The big difference, aside from career choices, is that Obama started a family in his late 30s, whereas my daughter was born when I was 26. Otherwise, we’re basically twins.

I spend a lot of mental energy trying to defend my psyche against senior citizenry, a lot of it here. I make lists of people from my generation who are still youthful, active and good-looking (Viggo!), and I insist that you read them so you’ll know, too.

And I admit that I enjoy noting that, for example, Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann, who are both a little younger than I (by 4 years and 1 year, respectively), have lots and lots of gray hair, whereas I do not (although they apparently have more of it, although I never see the backs of their heads so we could all be in the same boat).

And then there’s all this exercise I’ve done over the past 14 months, which has made me lighter and peppier.

But during the past week, since my little tummy tuck on Election Day, I’ve not been able to do much walking; I tried a couple of times, but the movement made my stomach ache. So I’ve had essentially a pretty sedentary week.

And yesterday, as I mentioned, I walked up to get a haircut, a round trip of around 4-1/2 miles. I also walked to the grocery store, so let’s round it up to an even 5. Five miles is nothing, a pretty average day for me, all in all, in terms of walking.

And this morning I’m sore.

Not crippled. Not screaming in agony. Just sore, sore muscles, sore joints, sore tendons, sore molecules, apparently.

I know it’s a cliche, and seems obvious, but I just wonder if I’ve discovered the truth here, and I’d like someone to tell me. Is this as good as it gets? Is this what they mean by “use it or lose it”? Does this mean if I want to continue walking with a strut, swiveling my hips, curling my lip and being sarcastic to anyone in authority, dancing in the kitchen to the stray song on my iPod and alarming my son, and turning the heads of the 50-something women in the grocery store with my flabby but still somehow sexy buttocks, I’m going to have to exercise every day? And probably more than I do now?

That sucks.

I’ll bet Barack is going to be really gray in four years, I’m just saying. And Viggo’s got to get fat one of these days. Sooner would be better.

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