Zeroes and Ones, The Hard Way

For reasons that are unclear but I’ll go out on a limb and attribute to a sudden organic spasm of wanting to spend money, I bought one of those turntables that digitize your vinyl albums.  Digitizing For Dummies, in other words.  I’ve seen these in stores, always sneered, how hard is it?

It’s not hard.  But it’s a hassle, and this makes it easier, and we’ll ignore for the moment the necessity because it was a close-out sale, less than 40 bucks.

OK.  Back to necessity.  As Tommy Lee Jones eloquently pointed out in the first Men In Black movie, some of us are going to be buying The White Album over and over again for the rest of our lives.  Ignoring the current movement among the kids and others to get all aesthetic over the clicks and crackles of authentic vinyl, music the way God intended, I’d much rather just buy the latest digital version of whatever.  Particularly since I probably only want one or two songs.  Our vinyl collection is large and only slightly more sentimental than our collection of college text books, serving pretty much the same function (i.e., taking up space and encouraging dust mites).

But.  There are a few albums that aren’t available in digital form, particularly from Julie’s classical collection, so there you go.  And yesterday she handed me Bernstein’s Mass, which is remarkable by the way, a two-album set, additional lyrics by Stephen Schwartz in his pre-Wicked days, and I turned it into four mp3s while I did something else.  It was a nice feeling.

Just noticed that it’s available (of course) in digital form, but hey.  It’s about doing it yourself, right?


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Counting Down

This is the 151st day of 2012.  I know that offhand for a very specific but trivial reason, although it’s not a big secret.  You could look it up.

This bothers me a little, although I don’t think in a crazy way.  And I don’t want to get off on a theme here, or start spewing Hallmark aphorisms, that’s not my mission.  It’s not like I had big plans for 2012.  Stay alive, get some sleep, etc.  The usual.

But when I notice something like that, it activates a neuron, maybe.  Like a tiny hoarder neuron.  I ought to be able to do something with all those National Geographics…

Anyway.  Those days are gone.  I have no regrets.  I’m not even going to think about it as soon as I’m through writing this, which will be very soon.

But I’ve been trying to stand more often.  You know all about this, how over the past few years we’ve been all pretty seriously terrified by the ramifications of sitting.  Sitting has become the new standing, we’re told, and it’s really, really bad.  Bad things will happen, and might be happening right now.  Clots and decreased metabolism and joints disintegrating and brain cells mutating, etc.  Last part maybe not so much.

So I heard a lady being interviewed the other day, just about general physical fitness, and she talked about this, and studies that had been done.  Up until then, I’d been pretty conscientious about getting up and at least stretching once every 30 minutes if I were involved in a long session at the computer.

This lady said that wasn’t going to cut it, although she was nice about it.  She talked a lot about ideal situations.  And she said that getting up every 20 minutes was better, and if you could move around a little, for two minutes or so, that was even way better.  You fool your body, or something.  You don’t mutate, certainly.

So, sure.  Every 20 minutes now, by the clock, I get up.  I started taking a lap around the house, grabbing some water, stretching my back, etc.  What the hell, not a big deal.

But this nice lady had other things to say about fitness.  She mentioned walking, of course.  Everyone mentions walking and how great it is, although they never give me credit.

She also talked about squats, though.  Deep knee bends.  If you can only do one thing, she said, squatting might be the one.  I’ve heard this before, too.  You use big muscles.  It helps balance, and it goes a long way toward perfecting a necessary function of life, which is rising from sitting (see: Sitting, above).

So now every 20 minutes I get up from the desk, walk around the house, drink some water, and do five squats.  This is pretty new.  New since, like yesterday I think.

The thing is, I could have been doing these squats for the last 150 days.  It would have been easy.  Down, up, down, up.  Try it.  Not hard.

And now I wonder what the result would be.  Stronger legs?  Better mood?  Firmer butt?  I actually have no idea.  I just know that it’s easy to do these, so I’ll probably keep doing them, and in 150 days or so maybe I’ll let you know.


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I’m a big fan of the cumulative approach to daily life.  I like the simple interest applied to days of doing something, just a little bit, and seeing it amount to something bigger and better down the road.  It’s become a philosophy in recent years, even, an approach to living.  Today I will change this little thing, and in three months I will reap the accumulated benefits, on top of the daily ones.  It can be anything.  It can be imaginary.  I’m really not that picky.

But – and I don’t need to tell you this – things will add up, and sometimes they’re not such great things.  Our year or so of lurching from one medical crisis to another would come with a price, at least we told ourselves, and we weren’t talking about those familiar envelopes in the mail with the Swedish Cancer Institute logo.  Eventually you just sigh, or something, don’t you think?  We’ve discussed it.  Maybe perspective will point out how it affected us.

I just know what I know, and that is for the past year I’ve had a fairly structured life, even with chaos.  It may even be my job, The Structure Guy, out of necessity.  I’m the one at home, I’m the one with John, I’m the one who doesn’t have cancer or a brain tumor or a sticky left anterior descending coronary artery (at least, not that I know of).

And I work from home, always have, really.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s a little crazy.  For the past year I’ve had a steady part-time gig that has come in real handy, taking up my afternoons and early evenings, not exciting, actually pretty boring, but the pay is good and pay…is good.

But.  It’s been a year.  And more than most, I can feel it on my back, this year.  And here’s the thing: I’m really, really good at facing sameness down.  I have to be; I know from experience that boredom will kill me, literally kill me, I know what literally means, I mean kill me, and if my lot in life is to have to deal with boredom on a daily basis then, well, man up, bub.

And I do.  There’s always something that needs doing around here, someone who needs help, who needs feeding, something that needs laundering or scrubbing or mowing or pulling.  And if income-producing things don’t exactly inspire me, it’s not hard to look around and get some gratitude going.

But we’ve downsized in so many ways in recent years.  Some of the usual releases are not around anymore.  I decided that I could manage without a second car hanging around (it still hangs around, just has a dead battery and bad brakes, and one of these days I’ll get it to a good home), and I can, mostly.  Plenty of necessities are walkable distances, and I can define “walkable” in a lot of ways.  Public transportation still works, too.

Something has happened, though.  I’m thinking it’s cabin fever of a sort, odd given that I’ve taken a couple of quick trips this winter.  The walls are closing in, and I get outside a fair amount and even outside has walls.

Just stray thoughts.  Summer is almost here, when Julie gets to relax a bit, get off the road so much and sleep in some.  That will be a change.  Weather should be nicer, plenty of yard work to do, long walks are a-waiting, and so why do I feel like slitting my throat sometimes?  In a musing sort of way.  Theoretical.  No intention of carving, no worries.  Ennui, is all.

So I guess I need to make a list.  Things to change.  Things to accomplish.  Little things that will add up down the road, and make the sameness go away.

But somehow I keep thinking I need to get out of town, and I don’t think that’s possible, and still I keep thinking it.


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I’ll Be The One Throwing Rice

A new column is online, something about love and marriage.

What we have with my friends, then, is two people who love each other, and are committing to a legal relationship, mostly out of happiness and timing but also because it’s good to have that piece of paper in certain situations. Renting a car. Buying a house. Filling out a tax form. Medical decision-making


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Camera Guy

Over the course of months, while we waited for a thumb’s up on the ordination, I played around with the idea if doing a live stream of the ceremony. It would never be perfect without far more audio work and more cameras, etc, but I thought at least I could get a decent picture and sound. On one dry run I tried using my PC and Webcam, but that had limited range. It struck me, then, that I could use a Ustream app with iPhone. Better camera, more mobility.

I went through a range of tripod things, all of which ultimately broke (and the best one was delayed in shipping and arrived after the ordination). With this spider-like contraception, though, it would hold the iPhone still, and one night, looking at an empty plastic deli container, I got an idea. Shoving the legs down into the plastic provided a solid base to haul the camera around.

And it worked reasonably well. Sound was still an issue, something to be worked on, but this was really ad hoc (and I was out of town the weekend before the ordination, so no dry run).

At any rate, it did the job, and John manned the deli tray like a good soldier, although he got curious looks. Including from the photographer, who took several of him holding it. Call it jury-rigged, call it innovative, call it whatever you want. Some folks far away got a glimpse of a special day.

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This Day In Extraordinary Time

We got a save-the-date card in the mail the other day from good friends, planning a September wedding.  This is A Happy Thing, calm joy, two lovely people taking their time but tying the knot the old-fashioned way, and at a moment that inspires me.  I can’t remember ever attending one of these weddings in the middle of life.  Looking forward to it.

It reminded me, and both of us really, of when we heard the big news.  It was a year ago, a nice dinner with friends, and there was a fun back story, bended knee and a secret ring, etc.

We had news, too.  Not as fun, but we kept it light.  We didn’t know what else to do at that point.  Or now, really.

So that card in the mail led to talk, and then wandering around the archives, looking at emails, looking at blog posts, nailing down the exact date because…why?  I have no idea.  It’s good to remember, I guess, mark the days and count the blessings.

Eight months and three days following brain surgery, exactly one year ago today, it was hospital marathon all over again.  This time it was cardiac catheterization and stent placement, not a complicated procedure at all, but there were plenty of memories there.  Not to mention wondering whether we’d have to do it again soon, which we would.

Have I ever mentioned how complicated this was?  Resecting a brain tumor requires intermittent MRIs to check up, to make sure it’s not growing back and causing problems.  MRIs are problematic when you have metal in your body.  Coronary stents are made of metal, and so on.  There’s that.

There’s also the need for anticoagulation, keeping the blood thin to improve the odds against another traffic jam in those very important arteries.  These days, they have drug-eluting stents that release anticoagulant into the blood stream all by themselves, but those were out of the question.  She would have to take her Plavix daily for six weeks or so, then come off for a week for the breast biopsy.  Then go back on.  Then come back off, if there was need for surgery.  Which there was.

I mean, doctors were calling each other like teenagers the week before prom.  It was crazy.

So that was 2011.  Part of 2010, and a good chunk of 2011.  Hospitals.  Preop areas, waiting, gowns, nurses, wheelchairs, gurneys, consultations, plans, drugs, recovery.  It started when my wife sang a high note, but it feels like it really began a year ago today.

And then there was the biopsy, which was depressing.  And then the beginning of the ordination procedure, which should have been a slam dunk but was corrupted by misunderstanding and maybe some pettiness and politics.  And then the breast surgery, and then the radiation again, and more drugs and more recovery.  A school year starts, a rainy summer ends, an autumn begins, a heart keeps pumping, and here we are.

She had some pain the other night, and I watched her in silence for what felt like two whole minutes, as she assessed what she was feeling and my hand hovered over my phone, knowing the numbers, three of them.  I was this close.  This close.  No messing around, but it was something else, just a long day, just a pain.  Just a reminder that nothing is certain, and nothing is the same.

And if it ended – if it can end – maybe it was on that Sunday afternoon in April, with a fair amount of sun and lots of love and people, when the ordination finally happened.  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s today, or maybe it’s never.  My money’s on never, since life moves in only one direction, but I’m perfectly willing to mark moments and be arbitrary.  We’ve gone from some place to somewhere else, and we’re still here.  She will always pay attention to aches and pains.  Medical bills will never, ever go away, I think.  My hand will always hover.

I’m all about new days, though, if I can’t help but remember the past.  It’s worth noting, anyway, and then moving on.  Her heart is fine, mine seems OK, blood flows, cancer can be arrested, summer is coming and this one will be different, it has to be.  Calm joy is all we ask, and I’m thinking we can make that work.


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Remove Scales, Apply Sunglasses

Writing about…numbers, I think. Or things we can’t control, like the weather. Maybe something else. Really, deadlines are weird. Anyway, new column is up:

But they don’t understand, these others. They don’t get the Northwest Dividend, those spectacular days that Nature banks for us, waiting for just the right moment so that our jaws drop and our eyes widen, and we remember why we live here. We’ve learned to be patient, but the past two years have been miserable, and now it’s over.

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Goodnight, Mr. C.

I watched the American Masters documentary on Johnny Carson last night, happy that PBS had put it up on their site so quickly after it premiered, since I’ve yet to get even a hint of a signal from our local PBS station over the air. It was excellent, using a nice variety of sources (old family movies were the surprise; the man developed his famous tics early on, it turns out). Bravo, public television.

Other than sentiment, though, and nostalgia, I kept thinking about how our world has changed. And I kept thinking I had thought those things many times before. It took me a while to remember.


From February 2005.

I decided to give it a week, just to see what, if anything, I had to say.

I don’t have any anecdotes, after all.  I never met him.  I was never on the receiving end of his encouragement or generosity.  He didn’t change my life, as far as I know, or particularly influence the way I thought or what I wanted to do.

I was curious, though, from the moment I turned on the TV that late Sunday morning and saw that Johnny Carson had died.  I watched the coverage off and on that day, until both the clips and Don Rickles began to get a little repetitive.  Maybe it’s because it’s a Sunday, I thought, a slow news day, but I suspected something else.

As the remembrances and testimonials continued into the week, someone mentioned that it was as if a head of state had passed away.  I tried to remember if the death of another show business personality had ever got as much attention and I came up empty.  It seemed that a good part of America got a little wistful for a week.

And I wondered about that.

There are good reasons, of course, and we’ve heard them all by now.  How his Midwestern roots endowed him with heartland sensibilities that appealed to all of us.  How his ownership of “The Tonight Show” (first figurative and then, eventually, literal) and his personal passion kept the quality high over that amazing run.  How, during tumultuous times, we waited to hear Johnny’s spin in that opening monologue, to laugh before bed and talk about the next day.

But as I listened to, and read, the reactions of ordinary people, people like me, people who never sat on the couch and joked with Ed and Doc, I sensed something else, and I finally realized that I was hearing “I grew up with Johnny Carson” a lot.

It makes sense, too.  That big chunk of demographic, the Baby Boomers, would have been anywhere from teenagers to toddlers when he started on “Tonight,” and while maybe their parents caught less of the show, sacrificing a few yuks for that 6am alarm and work the next day, a lot of us were night crawlers, at least in the summers and holidays, and Johnny owned the night.

It was that way for me, at any rate.  Over the years, first as a teenager with a small black-and-white TV in my bedroom, then in college while I was supposed to be studying, or after the occasional swing shifts I worked in my 20s, I passed a lot of years with Mr. C.

The pictures that have been painted of this man in the past week or so are interesting, if only for the glimpse we get of a very private person who spent the last 13 years of his life out of the spotlight.  We understand that he was painfully shy, uncomfortable in large groups or with strangers off the set.  He battled booze, apparently.  He was intelligent with a wide range of interests, including astronomy.  He never lost his love of magic.  He smoked like a chimney.

And, of course, he had that particular constellation of talents and traits that made him, simply, the best that ever did that peculiar job, and probably ever will.

Still, I wondered about all the fuss, and then realized the answer was there all the time, in my own house.

I went into my son’s room that Sunday, sat on his bed, and told him the news.  He sighed, hung his head a bit, and said, “Oh, no.”

Think about this.  He was born in 1990, two years before Carson left for good.  How could he possibly know?

Because I taught him.

Ten years ago, for Father’s Day my wife gave me a set of Carson tapes, collections of moments, monologues and skits.  And a few years later, I passed them on to my son, just to see if he liked them.

He wore them out, literally.  He thought, this then 10-year-old boy, that this was the funniest stuff he’d ever seen, even if it was thirty years old.  I thought so, too, and now, suddenly, I know what I think.

I think we used to share a lot more, all of us, families and strangers.  And even though, as today, we could be divided about politics and war, we had things in common, things we saw and heard.  Now our choices are seemingly endless, so you have your show and I have mine, she has her music and he has his, I’m on the Internet and you’re listening to your iPod and he’s playing a video game and she’s watching ESPN.

Choices are good, and change is inevitable, and there’s no going back to 1975, anyway.  But my son and I sat and laughed again together that day, watching the clips, and it occurred to me that there used to be more of that.  A time when a lot of us laughed together, at the same moment, at the same things, up later than we should have been, unable to resist, knowing that going to bed with a smile is a good thing, knowing that millions of your neighbors were smiling, too.


You can watch the entire show, for the time being anyway, online here.

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Scale Fail

Given that we’ve been having some relatively warm days recently (meaning my relatives would laugh at “warm”), I spent five minutes the other day putting on a pair of shorts.

This is my personal philosophy, you understand.  Anything that is theoretically possible, if perhaps unlikely, can be achieved, depending on how long you can hold your breath.

I wore them for a while, took a little walk to the store, and they looked fine and actually fit mostly OK, but snugness is fine for certain things and not fine for others.  Certain areas are not meant to be snug, so I ditched these for another time, thinking they’d be more comfortable if I lost five pounds.  Maybe eight.  Not out of the question, and even though we’re warming up this weekend I can live without shorts.

Julie found them somewhere the other day, in some basket somewhere, and after I peeled them off I read the label and understood.  These were 2009 shorts, probably Santa Fe shorts.  Explains a lot.

That summer I dropped 10 or more pounds, unintentionally, just the result of busyness and some stress, a crosscountry road trip, my daughter’s wedding in New Mexico.  I got home and the scale said 168, a number I never saw again and might not in my lifetime, no big deal, but now it makes sense.

I’ve managed to lose some winter flab this spring, some in a burst of dedicated stationary biking, the rest just changing a few things.  All without getting near a scale, a personal triumph.  I haven’t stepped on one of those since last summer, and with some discipline I’ll avoid doing that until I’m in a doctor’s office, at which point I hope I turn my head away.   Some things you’re better off not knowing.

Which is my point.  I spent a lot of time with the scale and have, over the past few years, until, like staring at the word “sausage” too long, it became too abstract.  It’s a dumb device with no nuance, telling you what you weigh without taking into account the two cups of coffee you just drank (that’s a pound of fluid right there, at least) or how bulky your shoes are.  I stood on it too many cold mornings, naked and shivering and dehydrated, hoping for the best, and now I’m done.  I quit you, scale.  Go spoil somebody else’s day.

The iPhone helps, or a couple of fun apps, one that tracks via GPS my walking routes, miles and minutes and calories, and another that just lets me keep track of intake.  I started doing that last June, using the scale only to calibrate and make sure I wasn’t crazy, and sometime in late August I was done with that.  I still keep track of everything, self-quantifying as always, but now I have a virtual scale that goes up and down in my mind with no nakedness involved.  Totally cool.

And it works, for me.  Those jeans that don’t fit until I’m at least under 185?  Pulled them on at 184 on the virtual scale and snapped them shut.  Now they’re loose and comfy, and my VS says I’m a hair under 180, which means the Santa Fe shorts should fit but maybe be snug…and there you go.  I won.  I’d throw the scale away if my wife didn’t have bouts of masochism from time to time.

Because I’m nearly 54 and I’m not trying to impress or woo or fix a cholesterol level, I just want to be comfortable and not have to search for clothes that fit.  I want to sit in a tiny airplane seat and not be miserable, or make others miserable.  That’s it.

And I’m at a time in life, maybe, when I don’t want to be bothered by things I can’t control, stupid political posts and gossip and strangers on the street and certainly lima beans, and the whims of a spring scale.  Been there, over it.

I could be delusional, too.  I think I weigh around 178, and maybe it’s really 210, and the pants have stretched out and the world has gone crazy, and I don’t care, and I’m real sure you don’t.  Also, you’re probably still staring at “sausage.”  Stop.



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Cosmo’s Moon

Latest column is now online:

I loved “Moonstruck,” even if it suffers from the limitations of the genre, impossible coincidences, unbelievable events, compressed narrative. It’s a romantic comedy; we excuse things, we want to believe, we need to. What this 25-year-old film did make me think, though, was how ill-suited movies are to portraying real romance, lacking the extra element of years. The best love stories take time. My favorite one did.

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