The term “Hispanic” does not refer to a race. It refers to an ethnicity that may involve people of several “races.”

The organization La Raza is an advocacy group for Hispanics. Like the NAACP, for only one example. And while “la raza” can be literally translated as “the race,” in this case it means “the people” or “the community.” (Source: La Raza Web site).

Also? “Factoid” means “fake fact,” not “little fact.”

Just trying to help here.

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Say Anything

One of the side effects of getting myself hip deep in the world of social networking has been my awareness that people have desires, and what they seem to most desire is to tell other people what to do.

This sounds so obvious and redundant that I’m actually regretting I wrote that, but here we go.

I’m no stranger to opinion; I get paid for mine, as a matter of fact, although in the past couple of years my opinions have mostly centered around what a doofus I am. Not a lot of angry letters come in on that subject.

And I get it. If I could persuade the rest of the world to do everything my way, I’d probably be happier myself.

It’s just a little surprising, I guess, the public nature of this opinion, and the bravura. People opining on national economic policy who have no clue about economic theory (most of us). Political opinions from people who obviously have a tenuous hold on reality (and are suspicious of reality). Childless people lecturing on parenting. And so on.

Then there are unattributed quotes, usually pretty famous, passed off as personal status updates. That’s fun.

Or mini-memes that gather steam and seem to escape scrutiny. Like the one flitting around a few weeks ago, about how the government ought to fix the economy by giving all 44 million Americans over the age of 50 and still working a million bucks. You know. They quit their jobs and suddenly there are 44 million jobs. They each buy a car and pay off their mortgages and credit cards, and voila. Problem solved, although our stupid politicians would never do something that made so much sense.

Unless you’re comfortable with adding zeroes, or invest in one of those newfangled calculators, in which case you’d see that 44 million multiplied by a million is 44 trillion dollars. Of course, you’d have to know the Gross National Product is…what? Around 13 trillion?

I just notice. I don’t care, particularly, and sometimes I’m amused, and mostly curious.

I read a rant on Facebook recently about Oprah and her relentless war on fat. I know. Sort of like complaining that Jay Leno tells too many jokes.

This person expressed the opinion that we should all stop worrying about calories and simply listen to our bodies, eat when our bodies need food, that sort of thing. And shut up Oprah.

My theory is that listening to our bodies is useless, because obviously our bodies are lying to us, but hey. Just my opinion. Don’t yell at me. Blame Oprah.

I guess I count calories. I keep track of them, anyway. I started it a couple of years ago and haven’t found a reason to stop, and I sure don’t trust my body. Put me in anywhere in the vicinity of French fries and my body would start lying through my teeth, so it’s easier to watch numbers.

Then again, I suspect I have a tenuous hold on reality myself. But feel free to ask me my opinion on the economy. Or Oprah, your call.

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Me = Twit

Duh. Took me a while, didn’t it? But finally thought to put a Twitter widget in my sidebar (on the right there, if you haven’t let your eyes wander yet), so updates from the road will be readily available for all six of you who are mildly interested.

I’m now pretty much totally integrated into social media. So far my life seems the same. Although my wrist hurts a little, no idea what that’s about.

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Dixie Doings

Our road trip (26 days and counting) is firming up, although the day the details are set in concrete will be the day…after, I’m thinking. We’re flexible.

Still, after looking at our options and calendars, we’re heading south. This is fine with me — either trip would have sights I haven’t seen, but I’m suspecting this way might be less concrete and more country.

States? Ah. Connecticut, NY, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, W VA, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

That’s 17, counting Massachusetts, which we count.

From a Left-Sider, that’s mind boggling, but only because this edge of the country is different. Traveling to another state is a serious trip, requiring planning and an ice chest. On the East Coast, you can switch states by sneezing. A trip to buy cigarettes can change your accent completely. Weird.

There are missed opportunities, friends I won’t see that once seemed possibilities, and the now-nearly-mythical Effingham will have to wait. And I know there will be dead spots, stretches of highway with nothing much, and impatience to get where we’re going.

But I get to see my country. Swaths of it, flyover land no longer. I get to visit with old and dear friends in Atlanta, a city I visited 20-plus years ago and always meant to see again. We’ll cut through the middle of Alabama and Mississippi and Lord knows what this Yankee will be thinking, but I can’t wait.

And mortality, which has been nudging me (not in a good way) for months, gets indulged. I’m going to see old friends, as many as possible, most in Arizona but some scattered, and I’m going to beat Someday at its own game. Someday is here, or will be. I’m seizing it this time, and if you sense nonchalance you are sensing wrong.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot see
Courage to see the things I can
And the gas to get me there.

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Marking The Day

I’ve said for a long time that Mark Evanier’s site, News From Me, is the Best Blog In The World. It is, too, at least for me. Interesting, anecdotal, plenty of fun links, insight into a world I don’t know, and updated regularly. He knows how to do it, obviously does it for fun, and has a tremendous following.

Although he has an odd habit of capitalizing medical terminology. Not that his blog has anything to do with health care, per se, but I notice this sort of thing. Odd.

Today he talks about personal health, his, and that today is the 3-year anniversary of his gastric bypass operation (or, for Mark, Gastric Bypass Operation). He wrote about it when it happened, in a matter-of-fact manner and with all sorts of caveats and plenty of caution. He did this after a lot of thought, advice and research. Although he’s a pretty tall guy, he was pushing 350 pounds (as I recall) at one point.

He actually was a minor inspiration for me to do something about my excess poundage. Minor. Another story.

You should read it yourselves. He made three points today, though, that I appreciated. He noted that people pressuring him out of the goodness of their hearts was not a particular help. It had to be his decision, and this resonates strongly with me. Big decisions need to come from somewhere inside you, I suspect, or it can get dicey. That’s been my story, anyway.

Secondly, he expressed his opinion that despite all the people who kindly say, “You saved your life!” he doesn’t think he did. He thinks he saved himself some serious complications down the road, along with the other benefits, but he doesn’t feel that he necessarily extended his life.

I like this because he agrees with me. Of course. Weight is one of those subjects when it’s hard to see the forest because of the statistics. Take the Body Mass Index, for one example (problematic for a lot of people but I also don’t think it’s well understood, generally). According to the BMI, to just throw numbers around, I am at a normal weight when the scale says 186 pounds. When it says 187, I’m overweight. In other words, I can elevate my health risk by simply weighing myself after, rather than before, I drink 2 cups of coffee.

Or eat a pound of broccoli, although now we’re really getting into fantasy.

So yeah. Just like smoking cigarettes won’t kill you (but might), being obese won’t shorten your life. Necessarily. And even though we have a lot more obese people in this country than ever before, it seems, with the associated health complications, there’s a bigger (sorry) picture and it involves lots of factors. A happy fat person who gets lots of sleep and doesn’t smoke, for example, may be far healthier than most. It’s just worth saying, and he said it well.

And finally, Mark makes a point that he hasn’t in the past, and that was: He couldn’t seem to just eat less and exercise more, although that would have been a lot easier than dangerous surgery. I don’t blame him at all for not going into great detail about his personal compulsions (note to self?); he’s worn them on his sleeve, anyway, as fat people do. But it was nice to see the acknowledgment that he had some issues with overeating and was doing the best he could, and now he’s better.

And by better, I should add that he’s nowhere near being thin now, or even normal, at least judging from the pictures. Still looks overweight to me, although not very. And as I said, he’s a tall guy. He just lost 100 pounds or so, made his life easier. I pretty much admire all of this.

The biggest change in my thinking, I’m certain, over the past year or so has been the acknowledgment that all I have is my story. Assumptions about the motives, habits and choices of other people are pointless, worthless and stupid, as far as I’m concerned.

As far as what I think, I mean. I can’t know, I don’t, I won’t, and if maybe I get snotty about strangers when I’m in a bad mood, I do my best to shut up about it, keep it to myself, because I don’t know.

Also? I seem to have this big log in my eye…

What I really think, usually, is that most people are doing the best they can. It’s just nice, once in a while, to see someone find a way to do better. *applauds*

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T(o) Wit

I started with a weekly column in a single newspaper. Then an occasional op/ed piece or Sunday essay in a large daily newspaper. Then another paper. Lots of readers, maybe, although no one really knows. Fifty-thousand, maybe, maybe more, given the Web, maybe far less, given newspapers.

And then a blog. Far fewer readers, but looser, fun, pictures, more personal, musings, links.

Then Facebook. Short, snippets, mostly connections with former friends, high school classmates, family. Still fun, different.

Now Twitter. Abbreviated. Snips. Write, bits, moments, done.

I am devolving. It’s weird.

I’ve snarked about Twitter but honestly? I don’t have much of an opinion, other than it confused me. “Needed coffee this a.m. Husband a grump. God I hate my job.” Twitter feels like comic strip balloons of relentless trivia, mildly compelling (or I wouldn’t know to make fun of it, obviously) but a mystery to me, and yet. It’s here, and will be, at least for a while.

I’ve read the commentary, and I resist adding to it. It’s a sign of our limited attention span. It’s narcissism on a global scale. It’s a desperate cry for help from an alienated society.

I think people like to stay in touch, is what I think, and like to think their lives have meaning, and like to make notes. It’s easy, it’s quick, it’s microblogging, which I understand, and now it’s me.

In a half-hearted way. I had this idea that while I hit the road with Beth, wander through a chunk of nation and see the sights, I could document it and maybe create a little picture. Twitter seemed a good way to do that, notes from the road, pictures of the World’s Biggest Frying Pan, gas prices through 12 states, commentary on rural versus urban. It’s an experiment, maybe just here, maybe for the newspapers to push, maybe just some summer fun for a country of staycationers this year.

I will need followers, though, so that’s where you come in.

I don’t know enough about it, at least not yet, but I think you can follow me without actually getting a Twitter account (I’m sure of it, really), but I don’t think that shows up as an official “follower.” Again, I don’t know, and I guess I don’t care, although since “followers” is a pretty prominent statistic on the site and since I currently have a grand total of 4, I might need to ask my ego.

The trip is four weeks away, so you have plenty of time. I’ll be playing with it until then, figuring out how to use it, whether or not Verizon is charging me for sending pictures, whether I can say anything in 140 characters other than bad words.

It will be a way, though, to share what feels like an adventure coming up, and I’m all for sharing, so come along for the ride. You can find me on Twitter.com, feedback is always welcome, and I promise to close my account once I make it back home if you all ask nicely.

(UPDATE: As Phil noted in the comments, I’m not showing up on a Twitter people search, although I’m wondering if that’s a holiday weekend backlog sort of thing. Anyway, email me if you’re on and want to follow, otherwise I’ll figure it out eventually and link)

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My Secret

We had dinner with old friends, sort of impromptu and sudden, a spontaneous reconnection, at Amici Bistro in Mukilteo, a place I’ve driven by countless times but never visited, a little restaurant so inviting and soothing that it almost broke my heart, wondering if they’d survive this economic climate. It looked a bit empty on a Saturday night.

I note that Amici Bistro was a favorite of my friend Janet Eaton, and in fact our dinner was, in several ways, a last gift from her.

The couple we met were, and are, the Kurtenbachs, former coreligionists (we’ve all moved on to other churches, as people do) and the holders of one particular story that is a favorite of mine, for obvious reasons if you read it. And you should, of course.

Mostly, though, our night was about catching up. After over two hours of this, with fabulous food and lots of wine for the three of them while I had some excellent water, Mrs. K turned to me and asked if I had experienced some sort of life-changing event. She sensed something, I guess, and she was right.

“Yes,” I said. “I now wear linen pants.”

I’m not embarrassed at all, either.

OK, no, I didn’t say that. But I was thinking it. It was a warm evening and linen is really comfortable. Julie bought me three pairs and so I wore one last night. Very summery, linen pants, although not really good if you spill things in your lap, which I didn’t do but God knows I will, sooner than later.

As I mentioned before, Julie grabbed these because there was a big sale and because she thought they’d be appropriate for our Santa Fe trip in August, and surely they will be. And I joke, and pants are inherently funny things, as evidenced by the fact that you all are laughing like crazy. My pleasure.

I’ll also note that I’m not a clothes person, which I guess is not hard to imagine, for lots of reasons. I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy, lots of sneakers and white socks and sweatshirts and sweatpants, a baseball cap and rolled-up sleeves. The standard uniform for the disinclined.

Although I admire men who dress well, and they come in surprising flavors. You just never know who’s going to be into clothes.

Me, not so much, but then I’ve had a Life-Changing Event.

Here’s what I’m embarrassed about.

We had to take these back for an exchange, since they seemed a bit big and summers are summers, I dunno, I might lose a few more pounds, the wedding is still 11 weeks away, wouldn’t do to have the father of the bride swimming in linen britches, trying to hold his pants up like a rapper.

And I had a GREAT time. Me, shop? I’m usually more eager to go to the dentist. I don’t get it, I don’t understand it, and I don’t like it. Some guys do, I don’t. And I especially don’t care to try clothes on, parade in and out of the dressing room while my wife waits and chats with the nice salespeople about my inseam issues.

But I went down to a 32-inch waist and they fit. Right away, pull, button, zip, they’re on, they’re good, they’re comfortable, and as superficial and silly as it seems, it also struck me as bizarre and almost impossible, and fun in a weird way. An off the rack way.

So I tried them on, several pairs, walked in and out, turned and posed and endured my wife hiking up my shirt to check the fit like my mom when I was 13, and I was good with all of it.

Vanity. Comfort. Health. None of the above. I’m not interested anymore in explaining what I’ve done, where I’ve been and where I am now. People get crazy about weight and body issues, want to assume, feel threatened, get defensive or snotty or whatever. Cast aspersions, cast pearls before swiney stuff, something.

So I’m done explaining that I felt compelled to change everything I could, felt it necessary, felt it crucial. Yeah, I’m more comfortable on planes, the mirror can give me a boost, and my doctor was pleased, but when I started this I was a pretty happy overweight guy and I would be again, I think. And may well be.

Although not this summer.

But 32 inches says that I was somewhere and now I’m somewhere else, which means I’ve moved and changed, and I’m grateful for that. For that nice evening at the restaurant. For good friends. For the fun of shopping with my wife, looking forward to a wedding, great food, comfortable clothes.

And new shoes. Got those on the way out of the store. It’s all about movement.

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Petty Pace

It’s not how well the bear dances, but that the bear dances at all — Russian proverb.


My flights are booked, a pretty pleasant experience, partly because I’m taking 3 one-way trips, partly because they’re all nonstop (yay), and partly because prices are low. So I’m definitely going.

I leave, in fact, exactly one month from today, which is also Father’s Day and the summer solstice, both good signs. The longest day of the year begins my longest journey in…

I mean. It overwhelms even me, the dumb symbolism I could find lurking in the corners of this calendar. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to a trip and stop with the stupid.

After two days in Boston, while Beth settles her affairs and (according to her) gives Dad marathon piano lessons (I’ve been playing again after decades of leaving the music to the ladies, and she senses a student), we’re anticipating some long days, regardless of the position of the sun and the earth (but that will help). Friends are going to be left at the wayside, old friends who will be close but no time, no time. Shoot.

What we’re doing, in fact, is trying to drive from Boston to Oklahoma City in 2 days. That’s 1700 miles, and so solstice helps. It’s not out of the question, impossible or even daunting. I drove the nearly 1100 miles from Dallas to Phoenix one time damn near by myself (Julie had a horrible earache at the time), so I know it’s a matter of music and mental alertness, maybe caffeine.

So, although nothing is set in stone, I’m thinking we’ll skip the South and go north, heading through Massachusetts into upstate New York, gliding past Buffalo and Rochester, diving through Cleveland (find me more verbs) and then who knows? Columbus? Indiana? The mysterious Effingham? Our day awaits.

And then to Oklahoma City, where a former college professor has graciously offered us beds and anything else we need. From there it’s a relatively short trip to Santa Fe, hopefully by Friday afternoon.

On Monday I’ll fly to Phoenix for a week, to visit with Mom and see old friends in the area, then back to Seattle on July 6.

So I’ll be gone from home two weeks. I sat here this morning, thinking that I couldn’t remember being away for that long in…since I used to play the piano a lot, maybe. The above Texas trip was maybe the last time, but even then we were newly married and in between homes. Dunno; maybe I’d have to go back to being a kid to find two whole weeks without sleeping in my own bed. Sounds sort of sad, but I’ve never had a vacation-based life anyway and I’m fine. Just funny to think about, a little, wondering about my lawn growing, what John will be up to, if the trash gets out, what the kitchen and bathroom will look like that sort of thing.

And then, of course, I remembered, that three years ago I was gone for 21 days.

I’ve been working on this…this thing…for a long time. Manuscript. Project. Book. I’ve got thousands of words, scattered on my hard drive and on the Web cloud and on an external drive, saved, waiting. It lacks coherence, I’ve said. There’s no theme, no meaning, no point. And I think, these days, maybe it just needs a nice ending.

I keep changing titles in my mind, hoping for inspiration. And when I first mapped out our middle ground, little Effingham, Illinois, population 12,000, and I thought, it’s in the middle of nowhere and then I thought, “In The Middle of Everywhere,” that sounded really good until I realized it also sounded like a fake book title from a bad movie.

That’s the issue, though. There is no ending because that’s not the model I’ve been following. In going from A to B, I’m not particularly interested in B. I’m interested in going.

But as a bookend? Maybe this works.

I’m looking forward to the road, and the time with my daughter. I’m excited about seeing the Beauchamps, the family I haven’t met. I’m pretty eager to visit with as many old friends as I can, if for nothing else than to get the taste of a winter of funerals out of my mouth.

And if I look back, over my shoulder, and see three years ago, see a man siting on his front porch, incapable of properly packing his suitcase, waiting for a ride to rehab, and then note the current guy, preparing to drive 2200 miles cross-country with his daughter six weeks before her wedding, thinner, fitter, happier, with new glasses and a decent haircut, and I see some symmetry or at least a story, well. I am in the middle of everywhere, in the moment, and moving, which you can only do if you’re alive.

And because I stopped counting a long time ago, and because I was writing this and curious, and because suddenly I had a sense, I went to the online sobriety calculator a second ago and saw.

This is how I do things now. This is the walking, and the push-ups, and the notes and the to-do lists and the new skills and the thousands of words and everything else. I need to keep moving, and so far I have. So far so good.

I haven’t had a drink in 1000 days. Today. Funny.

See, I don’t think it’s about how well the bear dances.

I don’t, as it turns out, think it’s about the bear at all.

I think it’s about the dancing.

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000019884(Kevin James explains the nuances of security work to Keir O’Donnell in Paul Blart: Mall Cop)

The bad side to dropping NetFlix and relying only on the local video store? Let me count the ways. Lousy library, no classics to speak of, an in-store searchable database that only occasionally works. I could go on.

On the other hand, it’s not a bad way to grab new releases on the first day.

I snagged “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” yesterday because I read a review when it hit the theaters that said it was surprisingly good. Surprising for…what?

For a movie written by and starring an actor on a fairly successful, now defunct, sitcom (i.e., Kevin James and “King of Queens”).

I agree.

Although that’s an interesting bar to set.

No, it’s not very good. It’s a sitcom movie. The plot is ridiculous, the actors are B or C level for the most part, the resolution is surprisingly weak given what I assume was a lot of leeway to be unbelievable.

You could do worse, though. There’s no bad language at all, so it’s friendly if that’s a concern. It’s short. There’s a pretty excruciating scene of humiliation (James’s character accidentally drinks margaritas instead of lemonade; does not handle it well), but only because we feel for the man.

Paul Blart is kind of a nerd, unlucky in love, not very successful in the career thing, and hypoglycemic! (what happened to narcolepsy as a near-fatal and amusing flaw?)

And fat. Pretty fat.

But Kevin James is why you might like it. Because Kevin James is the real thing. He’s the reason a pretty common sitcom ran for years. He’s a comic actor with excellent timing, a nice subtle delivery, and honesty that leaks through dumb material. Put him in a buddy movie, pair him with, say, Bruce Willis, make them FBI or CIA, and you might be surprised.

For what it’s worth.

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