The One in Which I Say Goodbye

I wrote my last column this morning; it took me an hour, which is a little long. I tend to write one 850-word column in 45 minutes these days, which is usually the time it deserves and it shows.

Maybe not the last; we’ll see. Last for a while. An excerpt:

I’ve enjoyed the experience, all in all, but eventually it came down to numbers.

Eight years of a weekly column; call it 415 in total. And that just this one space; add in other publications, essays and articles, a couple of books, and of course blogging, and the number of words triples and maybe more. I guesstimated last year a number around a million, and of course that was last year. Over a million words written for publication? That’s the equivalent of around 20 novels of reasonable length.

Ah. Here’s the problem with foolish consistency: You can hammer all day and still not build anything. I didn’t write 20 novels, or even one. I didn’t devour an entire cookbook or restructure my energy use; I just wrote, every week, usually every day, seeing the world through my window and filtering it through one set of (damaged) eyes, and here at the end it seems it’s all been, more or less, about me.

I’ve been heading here, taking occasional detours and trying not to trip over stuff, for a long time. Every year at this time, actually, the anniversary of my first column, at least for the past few years, I reconsider the relentlessly examined life.

And to be honest? There wasn’t exactly gnashing of teeth and rending of garments at the newspapers. Some things run their course, and then there’s the overstayed welcome theory. Time to go, maybe.

Nothing is permanent. I may be back in a couple of months; we gave it six weeks of sabbatical standing, with a meeting at some point to talk. We. Shall. See.

There’s more, though. Julie questioned this decision, all these decisions, because of the awkward timing; as I mentioned in this space, I recently got one of those rare rude, critical emails, and she didn’t want that to be the reason, knowing me. “It feels like the terrorists have won,” she said, so I had to explain.

I didn’t have a plan, not with the column, not with the blog, not with writing. I just started, and having no expertise in anything except me that’s what I wrote about. For a long time it was fun, too; I had stories I wanted to share, funny things happen to normal people, my neighbors did strange things, etc. It was an adventure in trivia mash-ups, the search for coherence among the ordinary.

But it was still all about me, really, and eventually that got old. Then uncomfortable. Then disturbing, and distasteful. And still I continued, because I had a deadline and I liked the discipline of writing to time and space. Then there was this summer, and adventures in road tripping and matrimony, and now I’m done.

I want to observe without hearing paragraphs (or status updates) in my head. I want to walk, eat, cook, drive, take out the damn trash and the damn dog without documenting the damn thing, justifying it and finding a joke or two. I’ve been writing about my life for eight years, and I don’t want to anymore.

So I won’t, or at least for the time being. I’ll stay away from social media sites. I’ve erased my bookmarks. I’ve culled my personal blog reading list down from the WGAS ones to the truly interesting (WGAS=Who Gives A Shit? This has been a WGAS blog most of the time).

I can’t stay away from the computer; I make money on it. But I can limit my exposure and time, and that’s my plan. For six weeks, anyway; I’ll at least make an appearance here in November to say hi, to start again, to stop again, something.

And, finally, the true point. There are writers who sweat every syllable, who lean over the keyboard and weep until something appears, dribbling out quality and insight. Then there are writers who blehhhhh and it pours out.

I’m a Blehhhhh Guy.

I write fast and I write long. Quality aside, I write a thousand words in less than an hour, usually, piece of cake. And I have a project I’ve been messing with for a couple of years that finally feels right. Write, whatever. And since I have rudimentary math skills, and I know that six weeks is 42 days, and I know what 1000 times 42 is…we have sort of a plan.

Or maybe I’ll weed.

But I’ll see ya. Email still works, I’m still here, things are fine. I’m looking forward to fall, as always, to smells and sights and thoughts and feelings, and mostly to not having to say anything about it at all.

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Try To Remember

(First published Sept. 11, 2002)

My father doesn’t remember his fifth birthday, but he knows what day of the week it was. Even if sixty years have diminished its memory a bit, that particular Sunday is hard to forget, December 7, 1941.

My wife’s parents remember their 17th wedding anniversary. They celebrated by going out to dinner in an unusually subdued Dallas that Friday night, November 22, 1963.

My nephew turned 21 last September 11. It’s a big birthday, our statutory introduction to adulthood, but it probably wasn’t his favorite. He’ll remember it, though.

The calendar is arbitrary, invented by humans in a futile attempt to gain some control over relentless time. This day we call September 11 has no relation to the last one, other than the position of the earth in regard to the rest of the universe and maybe the color of the leaves on the trees. We mark it, though, and we will in the years to come. How we do so is still a question.

Pearl Harbor Day is a muted memory now, worthy of only a few words on the nightly news. In late November there might be a picture of Kennedy family members in Arlington Cemetery in the paper, but the rest of us will pay little attention. No one remembers the Maine anymore, or Shiloh. We are a positive people and prefer to dwell on happier things. National tragedies become dim, left for only the survivors to mark.

This one is still fresh, though. We have the images still, the planes and the smoke and the terror in the streets of Manhattan. We think of the smashed walls of the Pentagon and the last words from the passengers of Flight 93. We still hear the murmurs of the broadcasters who, like us, could not find the words to express their shock.

I always think of the ones who waited that day. They were at work or got there quickly, professional and prepared. They went over triage protocols and set up equipment. Doctors and nurses, support personnel and specialists all over New York were ready that morning, ready to serve and save whom they could. They were waiting for survivors. They waited a long time.

Time passes. We will grieve a little less this year. We will rebuild. We will prepare for the future. We will have speeches and sermons. We will still have birthdays and anniversaries. As I say, we are a positive people.

Every Veteran’s Day, my father-in-law goes to the local cemetery and puts little American flags on the gravestones. Every year, this is what he does. He served in North Africa and Europe, two straight years on the front lines, and he won’t talk about the war much but he remembers, and this is how he marks his day. He is a survivor.

We are the survivors of September 11, you and I. The 3000 who died that day are mourned by their families and friends and we can’t truly share their pain, but we remember. We rediscovered our patriotism that day, not the marching band kind or the flag-waving kind, not the superficial kind or the shrill, bitter kind that peers suspiciously at those who dissent, but the best kind.

We remembered that we are a community, with more in common than we thought. We share a history and a dream, and our disagreements, faults, prejudices and preferences were set aside because our family was suffering.

We took it personally, as families will, and we reacted personally. We gave blood and money, we lit candles and placed flowers at fire stations. We remembered who we were, and faced with evil we found goodness in ourselves.

I wish for my nephew a happier birthday this year. He’s grown into a good man with a big heart, like his father, and 22 is a nice age to be in any time.

I wish for the rest of us a day to remember, to pray for the victims and their families, to honor those who serve us, and to think about the nature of a national community.

We have been hurt, but we’ve cleared the rubble. We’ve been connected by tragedy, and if life is back to normal now we’ve still glimpsed a sense of family, and that’s changed us.

Families are rainy day friends, arguing and fighting over simple things but always there when another is in trouble. It’s good to try to remember where we were and how we felt, for that was the best of us.

There’s no need to wait for survivors. They’re all around us, hurt or suffering, hungry or homeless. If we remember who we are, then we are compelled to help them. And we will, we always have. We just forget sometimes. Which is why we have calendars, and why we mark certain days, and why we should.

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Reader Mail!

I wrote a column this week in which, after meandering around as usual, I mentioned at the end that I’m currently one of the 47 million Americans who don’t have health insurance.

This has been a fairly recent development in this household, exists for several different reasons, and will (I hope) be rectified soon. It’s scary, though, and unnerving.

And after 30 years of making a fair portion of my living in the healthcare field, I have opinions surely about our current discussion, if not necessarily any real solutions. And maybe not so much hope.

I did think maybe now that all the family stuff is off my plate, I might dig around in the dust that passes for my brain and write some thoughts, although the environment out there is so wacko I’m not sure there’s much of a point. People who share my sentiments will nod. People who don’t will…

Well. Not long after the current column was posted online, I got some feedback from a reader:

Having taught in Seattle for 35 years, I was afforded excellent health care for me and my family. And you’re right; after 7 years, please find something new to write about. Or better yet—get a day job!

I guess some point could be made about holding a state job and therefore having access to that nice insurance, and wouldn’t it be great if we all had a shot at it…but mostly I just wonder about people. But hey: It’s nice to get email.

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Writing about narcissism on a blog sweeps us way past irony and into the realm of tautology. Some things are self evident, particularly self. Particularly when you have pictures of yourself all over your Web site.

Still, I don’t feel embarrassed about embracing my inner narcissist. I’ve suddenly realized that I’ll probably not live forever, although exactly how long seems very unclear. I would like more information, please. I feel very healthy and I wear seatbelts, but statistics are cold. So maybe I’ll just write about whatever I want.

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written in the past few years, you might see me as a guy who is very much into self improvement. You are very nice people. You are wrong.

I get bored easily, is all, and I’ve Iearned that boredom and Mr. Chuck do not mix well, and don’t go lazy on me and think “oil and water.” Think “Wicked Witch of the West and a bucket of water.” Think of my son and a bunch of burritos. Think whatever you want, but don’t bore me. It’s not a good fit.

So, let’s talk about shaving.

I’ve worn a beard most of my adult life. There have been plenty of periods when I didn’t, but hirsute has been my default mode. It requires less work than shaving (or that’s the theory) and it’s socially acceptable. And there’s a nice aesthetic to a well-groomed beard; I admire these, although mine rarely was in that kind of shape.

But beards tend to go gray faster than the top floor, and in my case it made me feel weird, whiteness on my face and no sign of it on my head (I think there are more signs now, but it’s still sloooow). And then there was just the general mood of mixing things up, a couple of years ago, and I’d dropped weight and one day I shaved. And I’ve stayed shorn.

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written in the past few years, you might see me as a guy who is very much into self improvement. You are very nice people. You are wrong.

So this was a learning experience. Remembering how to do it, figuring out the best time and the best materials. I’ve created a mess o’ blotch from time to time, using a dull blade or shaving too quick, or letting it go too long, etc. It took, as most things do, practice.

It’s not a big deal; I’m not looking for the perfect shave, or at least I wasn’t. But I clicked on an article that caught my eye and it changed everything. Now I’m a shaver, and don’t get me started.

What interested me was cost. The tag line on this piece had to do with saving money, and this was a peeve. We all know the jokes about the multibladed cartridges — some executive at Gillette needs a new pool, so hey, let’s add a fourth blade and call it good, force everyone to buy new razors. And not just razors, of course, but replacement blades. And that drove me crazy. It’s like ink cartridges; you feel it’s cheaper to buy a new printer, sometimes. And THAT’S WHAT THEY WANT.

So this article talked about a guy who finds old safety razors on eBay or somewhere, the kind my dad used to use, and then buys blades in bulk and the whole operation costs him about 4 bucks a year, something. I liked this idea a lot.

But I’m lazy, and I figured I wouldn’t go hunting for an old-fashioned razor. I did finish the piece, though. This guy really liked shaving. He knew a lot about it and he’d obviously thought a lot about it. People funny.

One thing he did fascinated me – he used a shaving brush and soap. Just like in the movies. And this made sense, too: The brush gets the hairs on your face to stand up, just like in the commercials for the multiple blades. Hmmm.

Last week, then, I saw one. A shaving brush, right in Bartell’s (our local, homegrown drugstore up here). Made of boar’s hair. And right next to it was a nice little ceramic shaving soap bowl with an actual bar of shaving soap. Seven bucks for the brush, seven bucks for the soap/dish combo, and I bought it. What the hell.

You know me, or you should. I’m a skeptic when it comes to the good old days. I like indoor plumbing. The Middle Ages really sucked. Segregation was bad. Using my debit card at the pump still makes me feel efficient, even 10 years after it became routine.

But those guys? Those olden days guys? They knew what they were talking about when it came to shaving, that’s what I’m thinking.

This was great.

It’s the nature of the Web (and humanity) that there are serious shavers out there. I’m not that guy. I just hated spending a lot of money and wandered down a road that led me to a boar bristle brush and a smooth shave. I buy disposable razors now, use one a week (shaving twice, too, at a session, with and agin the grain). A 2-dollar bar of hypoallergenic shaving soap looks like it might last me six months, hard to say. I not only have smooth skin but 24 hours after I shave, it’s still pretty smooth.

But really? Lathering that baby up, covering my face with soap, feeling the bristles scrape and the tickle in my nose and the tingle afterwards? It’s fun, and who knew?

Which is why yesterday I bought one for my son.

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It’s Labor Day and that means I have to write my traditional Labor Day column, which is just like all my other Mondays except the banks are open, which doesn’t really matter.

But soon, I’m going to be writing about THIS:

You can’t wait.

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Yes, It’s Different.

For those of you reading this at the actual site, as opposed to a feed, I’ve cleaned things up. Simplified. Went basic. Put a picture of me in mah hat right thar on the front.

Some links don’t work. We’ve lost some flash, but the flash was bothering me.

Maybe the new design will prompt new thoughts. That’d be a change, but then it’s September. I tend to change in September, so.

I’m keeping the hat, too.

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The Summer Of Love

Since the newspapers where my column appears online have had some issues, apparently, thought I’d post this week’s version here. Which will probably show up next week there. Or the week after. At any rate, I’m assuming this is the last one in which I mention the wedding. I’ve been wrong before, though.

Don’t let me forget to tell you about the boots before this is over. Remind me if I forget.

But let’s first return to 1983, right at the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan and Bill Cosby. Barack Obama had just finished college and Bill Gates was toiling in relative obscurity across the lake there. Tom Cruise was about to break into the big time with “Risky Business” and I was living in an apartment with no furniture. So the scene is set.

After a summer in northern Arizona, where we sang and danced for dollars and got married in late July, my wife and I made the journey up I-5 to Seattle, looking forward to our new life together and probably not speaking to each other most of the way. We found a small one-bedroom place on Capitol Hill just off Broadway. We got jobs and settled in for the long haul, which would be our first winter in the Pacific Northwest.

If you’ve experienced something similar, moved from the southern part of our country up here, you know what I’m talking about. If not, let’s just say it’s a good idea in this situation to keep sharp objects hidden. The transition is a bit painful.

My wife was going to sing and I was going to write plays. And we did, both of us, with varying degrees of success (the variability being mostly mine). Her first show, right away, was a little community theater production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Federal Way. She commuted every night down south, and occasionally gave a ride to a fellow cast member.

This was Sunga Rose, a high school student, a nice young woman who sometimes would stop by the apartment before the trip and look around. Like she’d never seen a place without furniture. Kids.

Years passed. Sometimes we’d think about Sunga Rose, mostly to marvel at how much time had gone by, and to imagine that 16-year-old now grown up.

And this summer, while in a music store, my wife noticed a poster for a ukulele workshop, and there was Sunga Rose, teaching a class for beginners. Turns out she developed an affection for music of the 1920s, and now has a musical group, Miss Rose & Her Rhythm Percolators. You can look them up; they perform all over.

So my wife signed herself and my son up for the class on a whim. Ukulele music is undergoing sort of a renaissance these days, in case you haven’t noticed; they have whole uke orchestras now in Europe. It’s all over YouTube.

They had a little reunion, then, the two of them, and although my son seems to have lost his interest in the instrument my wife hasn’t. And when my daughter’s wedding came around, and it seemed like a fun idea for my wife to sing something appropriate, in this case an aria from “The Marriage of Figaro,” and this was a casual setting with no piano or orchestra in sight, the answer was obvious.

This is a charming picture, as strange as it might sound. My wife, performing at the wedding, strumming a ukulele. It was beautiful and appropriate, and only happened because a tiny knot had been tied 26 years before.

This sort of thing happened all summer.


This is a charming picture, as strange as it might sound. My wife, performing at the wedding, strumming a ukulele. It was beautiful and appropriate, and only happened because a tiny knot had been tied 26 years before.


There wasn’t a plan, not really. It just worked out that I spent this season traveling both in space and time. On a cross-country road trip with my daughter, helping her move temporarily from Boston to Santa Fe, I took advantage of the locations and reunited with several old friends. A lovely woman I met in high school brought her husband over to a Starbuck’s in suburban Atlanta for 15 minutes, just to say hello. We spent the night with my college roommate and his family in that city.

There was a rushed meeting in the Albuquerque airport with another college friend. A high school buddy picked me up at Sky Harbor in Phoenix. I spent an evening there with several old friends, and more down in Tucson.

And then, of course, the wedding, when several of these people made the trek to Santa Fe, basked in the sunshine and the funny way that babies grow up and we grow older.

I would wish this sort of summer on all of you. A summer of time gone by but no regrets, just reunions and love. I love all of these people, they created me, they sustained me and made me what I am.

And the last one was Camille, the director of that show all those summers ago, my wife’s matron of honor at our wedding. She came into town last weekend and we had dinner, a fabulous visit, and then I went home and found my boots.

I wore them all summer in 1983, waited on tables with them and danced around on stage, cowboy boots, the most comfortable footwear on the planet, and then they ended up in the back of my closet for a couple of decades.

They fit, too, and we all laughed, for they summed up the season, made me taller and somehow younger, taking me back to when all this was ahead, and here I am, surrounded by lots of furniture and three ukuleles, and thinking that this was the best summer of them all.


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