There Will Be Water

Once more, I spent a day digging, getting some sun and exercise and a twitchy trapezius. As you can see (if you can see it), my inferior-product water line, only 20-mumble years young, developed another leak. Actually, it developed this leak around the time I was repairing the other leak a few weeks ago, which is kind of a twitchy situation all by itself (first, I don’t actually do any repairing, just digging. But I was there). This isn’t unexpected given the nature of PSI, but all sorts of things happened in between, including my former plumber apparently leaving the country immediately after cashing my first check. So water dribbled down the hill for a few weeks, not particularly bothering anyone but creating wetlands at the edge of my neighbor’s yard and sending my usage to a new, exciting place.

The geyser above, by the way, reached about 8 feet in height with no special effects or help, once we got that pesky dirt off.

At any rate, a friend with a useful skill set came over and we dug, exposed and got all nice and muddy, and then we he patched the line and we undug. So far so good, although this is only temporary and the next project is trenching, unfencing and laying a new line. Fun fun.

Actually, it was. Digging is fun. I’m not sure if it’s a reverb from childhood or just doing something constructive and physical at the same time, but there’s some pleasure, if pain today.


Four years ago I started getting some good advice, and it went sort of like this:

Look, buddy, sorry to tell you but you’re not allowed anymore. You’re not allowed to be grumpy or blue or pissed or lethargic or lonely. Too bad. From now on, you’re going to have to keep track of this and figure it out. It’s OK to feel that way – you can’t help how you feel – but you damn sure better know WHY.

This isn’t psychobabble or transcendental or self-helpy, just common sense. Everyone feels rotten from time to time; most people don’t handle the rough times by exploring the insides of a very large bottle of vodka. And thus a new habit is born.

And that’s what it is, a habit. Just an inventory, constant and relentless, making sure I know what’s going on. In four years you can hone a habit.

So I’ve been mad at the world lately. This is a useless feeling but completely understandable, I would think. Lots of frustration and fear, lack of control and some dread. It’s better now, and it helps to know what’s what, but I’ve surprised myself. We were walking the other day and I saw a Crazy Person. He might have been just eccentric, or different, or even perfectly ordinary with just an odd way of walking, but I immediately categorized him and mentally sent him a warning.

Back the FUCK OFF, Crazy Person.

This is sort of unlike me.

My wife is sick, seriously sick, although also bright and upbeat and bouncing around as always. You’d never know it to look at her. And really, this may all turn out just fine, just another life blip, some complications, some surgery, some other stuff. This is nobody’s fault, not really (maybe one lazy doctor, but that’s hard to pin down), there’s no satisfactory way to blame society or corporate America or Glenn Beck, although God knows that would be fun. It’s just one of those things. We’ve had other things, so it feels sort of like, puhleese, could we get a little break, but we’ve had lots of breaks. It’s just a scary thing.

And I’m grateful for that common-sense advice I got four years ago. It helps to know, to understand when I’m being a wee bit irrational and indulgent and irritable. Sometimes you get mad at the world; you don’t have to drink over it. Lessons, lessons.

But sometimes it helps to dig, and it did.

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This Perfect Day

It’s a beautiful morning up here, I want to note for the historical record, for the months to come, for the gloom and the clouds and the joy and the fear, the holidays and the weekends and the visits and the rain. This Monday, August 23, started off nice. Mid-50s and all sun, a Coming Attraction. I can almost smell a turkey roasting, hear a carol, see a Seahawk drop a pass.

I could look backward if I wanted to. There’s a perfectly functional aspect to blogging that charms me occasionally; I can see what I was thinking about, years ago, just by clicking. Or the old-fashioned way: A year ago we were decompressing from all the wedding stuff. Seven years ago, when I first started blogging, we were sending my daughter off to college, and the next summer the same. I have eight Augusts to choose from, in that sense.

One in particular comes to mind, although I’ll either ignore it or think about it later. Really, you can only take out the scrapbook for so long before it stops being fun and starts feeling counterproductive. That moment, that time, that summer, that party, those people…

This day, instead. It started off sunny here. I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends. In between, who knows, and that’s pretty much what makes it perfect.

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Well, I guess we could talk about the weather. Had a little heat wave, got uncomfortable for a few nights. Now it’s cooled back down to nice.

My sabbatical from ice cream continues, about to enter its second month (with one exception, one night, sort of a trial; too sweet now). This is a tiny, insignificant thing (my pancreas might take issue with that) except for the mild satisfaction I get at hog-tying another questionable habit. And I’m a little thinner, back (barely) into the 170s again, a place I feel more comfortable at if for no other reason than it completely opens up my clothing options (meaning that one last pair of jeans that’s been hanging around, unworn).

I’m a quality of life person, which made it interesting to me to get mail from readers last week. I’d written about the Silver Lake Walking Man, mentioned my own routine of hitting the road, and I got the distinct impression that certain people were saying Shut Up. It’s barely interesting to me what anyone thinks about what I do, but it’s kind of funny if readers think I exercise because it’s good for me. Ho boy. Exercise would have to get in a long line if that were my motivation. I do it because it’s fun, because I feel better, because it makes me happy. But some people don’t like it to read about it, I guess. Note to self.

In the spirit of bucking that sentiment, then, I’ll also note that it’s now been a month, almost, of lifting those weights in the basement, every other day for an hour or so. There was no mission and there still isn’t, and if you ask what I’m doing down there I’ll have to shrug. Mostly, I guess, it’s an hour alone, me and a barbell. I’m burning off 300 calories or so. I don’t ache as much. The range of motion of my postop shoulder seems a little better.

Really, it’s just my awareness, learned the hard way, that either I create my own habits or they create me.

My daughter and her husband marked their first anniversary on August 15, spending it driving from Santa Fe to their new home in Austin. This is exciting stuff, happy stuff. I can’t wait to visit. It’s nice to remember, too, as I have lately, the summer of 2009 and all the anticipation and joy. That will always be the summer of Beth’s wedding.

This will be another summer, noted for another thing.

SIS is my personal acronym for Self-Imposed Silence. It’s not because I can’t think of anything to say; I just can’t think of why to say it. Eventually, probably, I’ll come up with something, given me and my nature.

I told Julie the other day, after getting a look in the mirror, my shirt off, a month of pumping iron, that I reminded myself of an aging boxer. A little bit of toning, and now I sort of look like someone who once was in reasonable shape, and now is thicker and more rounded. It was a funny thought.

Boxing is a garden of sweet metaphors. Bells, rounds, opponents, battling, on the ropes, on the mat…harvest at your own peril. And there’s nothing quite as dramatic, or at least theatrical, as the fighter flat on his back, blurry, disoriented, beaten, who hears through the noise getupgetupgetupgetup. I hear that all the time. I hear it a lot these days.

Reflecting on all the success in his life, years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a comment in an interview I’ve never forgotten. When he started to feel too comfortable, he said, he just had to go back to the gym.

“A hundred pounds is a hundred pounds,” he said. “It will never give you a break.”

Sometimes you really want a break. Too bad. You keep lifting. You heed the crowd. You get up. It’s a quality of life thing.

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Dog Days

We are being herded, finally. Being too young and strong-willed of a family to succumb to his breeding when Strider was a puppy, now he gets sweet revenge in the twilight days. He runs us ragged. I’ve actually seen him smile.

So our mornings — and with our summer schedules “morning” has always been sort of conceptual – are managed by an old dog, who needs to go out, needs to eat, needs some company, and mostly (apparently) needs to drive us crazy. It would be one thing if this was the last act of a long doggy life, a moment of compressed morbidity when he gets confused, needy and lonely, when we could all suck it up and do it for the dog.

But he seems to be thriving. I think he just likes messing with us.

So my mornings are godawful early for a night owl, and Julie seems to get her best sleep between 9am and noon, when he shuts up for a while. She’s usually the first responder, usually around dawn when he seems to really, really need to go outside, but I’m up soon enough. There are mornings when I swear – I swear – I can’t sit down for more than 2 minutes without having to deal with the dog, tell him to shut up, feed him, move him, something. I’d be seriously thinking about getting all Old Yeller on his butt by now except that it’s summer, I sort of enjoy having more time to savor warmer temperatures and sunny skies, and I have coffee. Without caffeine I would be Al Pacino in a bad movie with a big gun.


Dog duty will not be the only thing to remember about the summer of 2010. We’ve had some nutritional changes, although this is the sort of thing I always look at as transient until time sorts it out. Still, it’s been over two weeks since I decided I was bored with my habit of watching Jon Stewart at the end of a long day with headphones on and a quart of ice cream on my lap. I keep meaning to go back but I keep putting it off, although I’m not sure what I gain (or lose). I’m probably better off, I think we can agree. But it was a completely spontaneous breaking of a pleasant habit, not planned.

John, on the other hand, abruptly decided to give up soda. Cold turkey. We’re talking a parting of the Red Sea category event here, one of those things we’d all like to see some improvement on but, y’know, there were other issues. But this is my boy, these days, all forward thinking and proactive, and he just up and decided to abandon his sugar fix. And it was sugar, not caffeine, which is a bad match for him and has been controlled by us for years now. One Dr. Pepper a day allowed, but the orange soda (used to be Sprite) has been a fixture in the fridge. Not this week, anyway, and again we’ll have to see, but this is a good thing, we all agree. Monkeys are for the zoo or the wild, not our backs, which have enough to carry.

I’ve still got plenty of monkeys myself, including my coffee, but chipchipchip, that’s what we do, a little bit at a time, it’s summer, and the dog is starting to bark. Stay away from my caffeine, or say hello to my little friend.

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On The Other Hand

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an ode to ice cream; also summer, but mostly ice cream. How I was a huge fan, loved my cold and sweet, indulged and overindulged and dug it.

I’ve certainly mentioned it over the years enough, too. It hasn’t always been this way, and it has an origin story: A couple of years ago I realized I could eat all the ice cream I wanted, is all. After months of counting calories, losing a bunch of weight, I’d suddenly developed the Rosetta Stone of my metabolism, by accident. I knew what I needed to keep my weight the same, to lose, or to gain. As long as I paid attention, didn’t eat it every single day, and compensated somewhere along the line, I could float along on a diet rich in…well, rich. And I did.

Then a habit formed, as they do, and then it was less the taste than the anticipation, etc. You know how it goes.

So, funny thing: Almost as soon as I wrote that piece, I lost interest. I ate ice cream on my birthday, because you’re supposed to, and that was it. Two weeks now. Maybe I’ll have some tonight, but I sort of doubt it. Somehow it just ran its course, and I wonder if writing it down did the trick.

This week, I write about my passion for love handles.

I also mentioned last week that I don’t dwell on morbid things, don’t count dead celebrities or hair in the shower or former teeth, don’t cry over high school yearbooks or ersatz sports teams. I’m a today guy.

And then a lady in my neighborhood went for a walk one day, stepped into a crosswalk and wham, truck versus pedestrian, end of life. A few days later a local musician, conductor, lecturer and radio host, loved by many in this area, a familiar person to my family, was driving to an event in a storm and wham again. Some kid crossed the median.

An old friend reminded me of the early death of a mutual one. Christopher Hitchens, wonderful writer, feisty, always looking for a fight, one of those Brits who is never at a loss for words and also drinks and smokes like he’s never heard a word opposing that, was diagnosed with metastatic esophageal cancer. He’s written wonderfully about this, too, but I mean. Shit.

This is what fouled my mood the other day, I realized. Just darkened my day a bit, made me cranky and no fun, and now I’m feeling my throat for imaginary swollen glands and looking out for trucks.

I should embrace my contradictions, I guess, pay attention and count them up. That’s what I’ve been doing for a while now, counting everything, watching and being aware. I should be used to it.

My bad mood lifted pretty quickly. Now I have a couple of days when some pressure is off, when I can wander and work out and work, sleep and play, and maybe eat some ice cream, who knows? These love handles aren’t going to stick around without some effort, and you know how I feel about them.

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Walking Away

I am a prodigious walker, I think. I think that might be the right word, prodigious, although it’s a big word for a big thing, and then there’s relativity. What’s prodigious for a child is not all that interesting coming from an adult, for example. So maybe I’m pushing an adjective.

And even though I’ve walked my way into a solid habit, now not satisfied, really, with anything less than 6 miles and that had better be interesting, hills and winding roads, obstacles and sometimes unfamiliar neighborhoods, I’m not setting any records. There are people who walk more.

Still, six miles, or eight or 10, is not nothing. I walk at a cruising speed of 15-minute miles, 4 mph, but that seems to be the Speed of Chuck, a physical barrier beyond which lies time dilation and at least sore knees. And I never manage to maintain it anyway, not with hills (and there’s nothing but in my neighborhood); I start my iPod stopwatch at the beginning and 6 miles almost always take 95 minutes, sometimes 98. I just have to live with that.

I listen to music while I walk, or podcasts or myself. Mostly I elevate my moods with these walks, come back transformed or at least mellowed, but I can also return agitated and grumpy, depending upon where my mind went while walking. Sometimes I walk through metaphorical graveyards, etc. Sometimes I dwell.

On average, though, I just walk. What started as purely functional, a way to expend energy and lose some weight, has wandered through the continuum of regular behavior, past routine and habit but stopping short of compulsion. It’s just what I do, now; I feel better after and miss it if I skip more than a day or two.

None of this is interesting, I’m afraid, although that’s never stopped me before. And it’s on my mind since this article in the NY Times has been sneaking around the nets, mostly because of this other article. To save you the clicking energy (walk instead), a middle-aged man in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, a community not known for busy sidewalks full of walkers, died recently, after years of being a familiar face on the streets, walking 15-20 miles a day. People missed him, and there was an article, and then Michael Kinsley wrote about how that might have been the most boring article ever written, and so on. Summer fun.

I have no opinion one way or the other. I just noted it, and noted that this man walked more than I did, and wondered about the possibilities, and about whether people would notice if I stopped. And let’s hope no one starts musing about the most boring blog post.

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Office Space

I went outside last night to look at my work of last week, a couple of hours spent harvesting morning glory that was starting to get pushy, testing my basement windows and crawl space vents for weaknesses. It couldn’t have grown back in a week but I haven’t gotten to be 52 by taking Mother Nature lightly; I like to double check.

And immediately I thought of Harvey Pekar, who died a couple of weeks ago, creator of American Splendor, odd guy, interesting, a footnote in my life but I saw the movie.

This was because I’d been listening to a Fresh Air podcast while I was weeding, and they were playing an old Harvey Pekar interview. No mystery here, just a memory bounce, an association echo. It’ll fade away, and eventually I’ll look at my yard and think of something else. But funny, brains.

And last week I was down in my former workspace in the basement, putting together a weight bench that I’d bought on a whim, listening to Mad Men Music. Someone had designed a Pandora station based on the music used in the show, and again on a whim I was listening. It appealed to me the same way Mad Men appeals to me, which is mostly evocative. The show is good, well written, well acted, interesting, but mostly I keep watching because of the echoes. The production values are high and by all accounts extremely accurate, and occasionally I’ll get a glimpse of something – a vase, a picture, a piece of furniture – that hits home. Is home, my home, one home, once.

The early 1960s are misty for me. Of course. So it’s funny to recognize familiarity, even in a pretend, re-creation way. Funny what I remember.

I listened to the music while I bolted (and unbolted; I always do this, put stuff in backwards and have to start over), and I was surprised by how evocative that was, too. I’m no stranger to Dean Martin and Doris Day, Ed Ames, The Tijuana Brass, Vic Damone. But hearing them as soundtrack music, background to a mundane job, stirred all sorts of fuzzy memories.

As does the space, now. For 17 years I worked there, had my stuff there, computer, printer, phone, the stuff of business. It was a convenient home office in the basement, and only gradually did it turn into something else. Lately I’ve been thinking of this a lot, that coherence only comes with the chronology, looking at what happened and then what happened next. It was an obvious choice; I had the room, it was quiet and away from the noise of children, an IRS-worthy discrete working space, and how was I supposed to know it would turn into a cage, given enough time?

It took me over a year to finally get rid of all the bottles. They sat there and it sat there for a long time, a museum piece, a testimonial to how bad things can get when you don’t pay attention, and other things. Eventually I emptied it, then filled it with stuff, bookshelves and bed frames, until it became a neutral space with no memories at all. I’m in and out every day, never think anything of it, never think of how I was in that room and what I did, where I went and how I couldn’t come back, or thought I couldn’t.

So now I’m stuck, playing Mad Men music while I lift these dumb weights. Some of it is interesting, even unknown, and some is so cliché I have to smile – When the moon hits your eye/like a big pizza pie – but it has become my weightlifting soundtrack. And during this routine of lift-rest-repeat, reminding myself during every set, every rep, that I’m 52 freaking years old and let’s examine our choices here, OK? it struck me, the other day. The chronology.

Maybe I won’t keep this up; it was a whim, a thought, maybe it would be a good routine to do, couldn’t hurt (it could), might make me feel good, might do me some good. Just a thought, one more positive habit, more or less, to play with, in my little dance with order and chaos, seeking my level, and I realized mid-lift suddenly where I was, what I was doing, pumping irony, neutralizing or maybe consecrating. I used to do something else here, I thought, and then I thought, Doris Day actually had a really nice voice, which is how you move on, or I do.

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27 Times

There’s nothing new about a staycation, no matter how many headlines we see. There’s no equation that balances only when you take time off and leave home at the same time, and there’s nothing new under the sun, anyway.

Although I will note that I’m in favor of sun.

We marked our 27th wedding anniversary on Friday, but decided to mark it again yesterday, when we both had the day off from responsibilities and the dishes can just sit in the sink sometimes, you know? We had stuff to do.

And it’s not like we can go anywhere far, but the awkwardness of having a grown son who needs people around is always overcome by the bubbly feeling we get on getting out and alone, even for an hour or so.

We took more than an hour yesterday, and even though it did nothing good for John’s stress level it was a great day, wandering through the mall, stopping at a bakery, seeing a movie and having dinner at an old restaurant we just discovered. This is how you do anniversaries, young people; you focus.

The movie was “The Kids Are All Right,” something that’s been on my radar for a while and finally showed up in suburbia, where I doubt it’ll stay long; there were three other people in the theater. It was the second film in a row I’ve seen with major names and an indie feel (“Cyrus” was the other one), no glitz, no glasses, no extra dimensions except for what the actors, writers and directors managed to insinuate into 90 minutes.

It was a good anniversary movie, although marriage wasn’t mentioned (the two women, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, are long-time partners but their legal status wasn’t ever brought up). The story is easy; there are two teenagers, one borne by each woman and both having the same sperm-donor father (Mark Ruffalo). The kids decide to find their dad, out of curiosity, and there is plenty of humor and subtle performances and easygoing trivia about serious relationships, some domestic conflict and pain, and a resolution that resolves only to keep trying.

It was about family, in other words, no matter how they might be constructed or maintained, and about what fuels them, and that would be the calendar. This is my take on both the film and family, at any rate, an idea that seems both provocative and so simple it’s hardly worth mentioning. Time matters; put in the years and it will change you.

So years is what we thought about yesterday, a little, but mostly just celebrated. There is equity here, never the goal but always the eventuality, and it’s worth looking at, more than once a year but at least that. We’ve done this 27 times now, and at least yesterday it was nice to remember that we’re pretty good at it.

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