Connecting The Dots

A local business started following me on Twitter today (maybe yesterday).  This happens; I don’t take it personally, or seriously.

And I don’t take Twitter seriously, although there are reasons to, depending on what you’re trying to do.  I rarely tweet and only go there when I’m bored and looking for something to distract me.  I’m not integrated, in other words.  I haven’t figured out my place.

My latest notification reminded me of something that happened a few weeks ago, though, when Chick-fil-A started following my Twitter feed.  I passed this along to Beth, amused by the algorithm wackiness that led to a Dallas-based store (this seems to be a particular franchise, not corporate) coming up with my meager feed.

So Beth informed me that Chick-fil-A was Evil.  First I’d heard of it.

Here’s the point: I’m certainly aware of why Chick-fil-A is in the news lately.  It’s hard to avoid.  And I’ve read some crazy commentary and some reasonable stuff, and I certainly get the appeal of the bigger picture of consumer activism and corporate behavior and personal freedom, etc.  In small doses, it holds my attention for a bit, but only for a bit.

Because I don’t know what a Chick-fil-A is.

I don’t, either.  I mean, I know it’s a fast food chain and they obviously serve some sort of chicken-like product, but other than that I’m pretty clueless.  The nearest Chick-fil-A is 400 miles away, in Boise.  They certainly won’t be getting any business from me anytime soon.  The bastards.

Also?  I kept thinking it was Chick-A-Fil, although that makes no sense.  I wonder about myself.

I worry about this all the time, our cultural reference points and how rarely they intersect these days.  This is personal worry, vocational worry.  I like to allude to things we have in common, and my list grows shorter.  This week I wrote a little about my wedding anniversary and a lot about the Olympics, both general interest subjects that I assume many people have at least some relationship with, but I don’t think the Olympics are going to carry me every week.  Just a feeling.

We are a niche culture now, leaving somebody like me flailing for relevance (and references).  I like to watch “Breaking Bad,” an excellent show with a fascinating, eerie arc of a story line, classic in many ways and also contemporary, one ordinary man’s journey from an unremarkable and unexamined life into evil.  Chicken sandwiches do not play a big part.

But as successful as it is, tons of Emmy awards and critical praise, “Breaking Bad” is watched regularly by…what?  A couple of million people?  A drop in the bucket, a grain of sand, a lousy metaphor away from statistically not existing at all.  I end up talking to myself about episodes.

It wasn’t always this way, but then it wasn’t always this hot in the summer either.  I’m not complaining, just baffled.  My wife asked me who Ryan Seacrest was the other night.  What does he do?  What’s his job?  What’s the point?  Dunno.  He’s somebody, I guess, somebody famous, but he’s never intersected with our lives and so we end up staring at his hair and glassy eyes and speculating.  Maybe he’s evil, maybe not, you tell me.

The danger in all of this, of course, is that in a niche world we can lose sight of exactly how discrete our choices are.  I suspect we begin to assume that we share traits and interests and opinions with those with whom we connect on the graph of life in other ways, skin color or neighborhoods or taste in cars.  And this is pretty benign compared to the dark side: We begin to see The Other everywhere.

I think that’s where we are, too.  Somebody else is not like us, and we don’t like it.  We can’t share a love of “Bonanza” anymore, and I worry that what should be superficial has turned into something else.  Something worse.

So maybe I should just celebrate the Olympics, and be grateful.  Lots of people seem to be following the games.  I managed to meet a deadline with their help.  Maybe strangers will have conversations about floor exercises in the grocery store, black and white, gay and straight, Christian and Muslim, and we won’t feel so much like strangers, but I’m not exactly hopeful.  So I worry.

And I’m not driving to Idaho for a chicken sandwich, just drawing the line right there.  Bastards.


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This Side of Thirty

Frances McDormand and Bill Murray stare at the ceiling in a scene from “Moonrise Kingdom,” contemplating a family crisis and, apparently, just about everything else.  After offering an apology that sounds specific but turns into a general, catch-all “sorry for whatever caused you pain”
thing, McDormand’s character turns and adds, “We’re all we’ve got.”

This is an excellent thing to say.

And Murray replies, “It’s not enough.”

This is also an excellent thing to say.

Today is our 29th wedding anniversary, although we manipulated the calendar enough to celebrate yesterday, in the sun and the Sunday afternoon.  Following church, we stopped at the music store to get me a hobby, which I certainly don’t need or have time for, a toy that caught my eye and has hours and hours written all over it; more on that another time, maybe.

Then we window shopped and people watched, had some fishy food at Anthony’s and good conversation, and then saw “Moonrise Kingdom.”  We loved it.  Would you love it?  How the hell would I know?

And what do I know about marriage, either?  I’ve only had the one.  And if 29 years is an impossible number, too long to sum up or offer general statements about, I do know that both of us need other people in this world to make us work, and that ultimately we only have each other, and so I’m thinking I’m awfully glad she picked me and I picked her.


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Don’t Cry For Me, Ethan Allen

We’re in the fifth day of a garbage driver strike, which is personally relevant only in that my Sunday night is a little freer.  For 24 years I’ve made that walk down our little hill to the street on Sundays, dragging cans, but it’s not like my life will be empty.  I’ve got stuff to do.

As with a lot of families, as we’ve developed better recycling/composting habits (those are also affected by the labor conflict, BTW), our garbage has become less impressive, although it doesn’t really improve my mood.  Actually, I look at our recycle bin and can’t help thinking: Why do we use all this anyway?

Simplify.  It’s been more necessity here than actual choice, although it’s a good fit and the line is a little blurry.  If you don’t count the healthcare costs – and God knows you have to count that, at least in our house – our spending has shrunk remarkably over the years, along with the garbage.  And what’s maybe more remarkable is that it soothes me, this thrift.

I like a checking account with no surprises.  I like to pay bills ahead of time and not warp the calendar or, worse, pay late penalties.  I like to walk to the store and the bank, knowing it means we’ve successfully negotiated our way into a one-car household by ambulation.  I like that I can spill things and not worry about ruining something nice.  Because I will spill things.

Still.  Occasionally we think our lives might be improved by the addition of a little materialism, just a little, and lately we’ve thought that maybe, just maybe, we need a new chair.  Or sofa.  Maybe a loveseat, a happy medium.  Our TV, which was cheap but actually is very nice, brilliant picture, sits in a corner of a room that really has no name, served at the moment by a couple of Ikea chairs.  They work, but maybe we’d actually watch something together if we had something comfortable to sit on, and we’re off to the furniture races.

And here’s the thing: There’s a furniture predator in this house, and it carries a lot of my genetic material.  He doesn’t do it on purpose, and he gets all huffy and defensive if I bring it up, but put a nice $700 loveseat somewhere in my son’s peripheral vision and serious entropy starts to happen.  He’s just a big man, with a tendency to sprawl and hurl himself down onto comfortable surfaces.  Buying furniture for us is like buying a new car: It loses value before you leave the lot.

This is why we can’t have nice things!

Sorry.  We don’t actually say that.  But it amuses me.

This was my argument, anyway; Julie had another view, although she saw my point, and we talked and looked and surfed, and eventually she got on board with my suggestion that we might just look – just look, just to see what was there – at the thrift store.

So we walked in Value Village yesterday, and the first thing I saw was a sign that said “50% off all furniture today,” which I took as personal handwriting from God.  Not to mention the dual-recliner loveseat (which actually reclined), and the oversize chair with ottoman, both of which were marked at slightly under 100 bucks, and even I can take 50% off.

This isn’t Antique Roadshow stuff.  It’s not a find.  I’m not going to discover a first draft of “Tom Sawyer” stuck under the cushions.  Actually, both pieces are sort of borderline garish, probably gratefully discarded by some nice people who could finally afford to re-do the den.

But it feels like recycling to me, and they’re comfortable and completely guilt-free, and maybe I can be excused for feeling a little redeemed here, maybe, or affirmed.  Somebody’s junk is somebody else’s new stuff, and somebody else is us, and assuming John and I can get them up the stairs next week I’m thinking it’s a win for thrift.  Don’t feel sorry for us, buying thrift store furniture: It’s a good fit, and bills will be paid on time, and I’m taking Trash Night off, completely free of guilt.

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The Quantum Leap

In honor of the Olympics, I participated in the power washing event, getting the last remnants of moss off the garage roof and ending up with the silver medal only because the driveway is still sort of a mess.  Wind was not a factor.

It occurred to me a while ago that I was maybe more charmed by the idea of the Olympics than the actual experience, which began yesterday, of watching.  For one thing, we no longer have cable and so don’t have access to the Canadian coverage, which always seemed cleaner to us, fewer commercials and less American network glitz.  We came home from a church staff party last night and Julie and John watched the opening ceremonies, grumbling at the commercial breaks, probably trying not to think about how it had all happened eight hours before and probably was easily accessible online.

I wasn’t in the mood, except to walk through the room and note what sounded like snarky commentary from Bob Costas, a good way to get me not to care.  My Olympic memories are good ones, stretching back 40 years, back to when I entertained actual dreams of being on the medal stand.  I had other sports fantasies, most of them involving circus catches in the end zone, playing for the L.A. Rams, but track and field called me from a young age and that was the Olympics to me.  I tolerated swimming and diving, and my attention could be diverted a little by boxing, but I really just waited for the running and jumping.

I was fascinated by the high jump from early on, and did that for a bit in high school, good but not great, never would be, but jumpers remained my favorites.  Some people were born to run faster, it seemed, and there wasn’t anything you could do about it, but jumping?  It seemed to me that anything could happen, at any given moment, and of course at one given moment, 44 years ago, something did.

I’ve written about it before, my fascination and passion for those few seconds in 1968 at the Mexico City games.  I’m still fascinated and passionate, even if I’m not quite sure why.  There’s the historic nature of Bob Beamon’s long jump, but it’s more than that.  Dissecting that, figuring that out, is why I come back, again and again, endlessly called to a few seconds in time.

Beamon was actually the favorite in the long jump for that Olympics, having had a good year, but of course no one expected it.  It was his first jump, anyway, when no one was particularly paying attention.  It would be a short competition, as it turned out.  Beamon ran, hit his mark, left the earth and landed in the future.  In an event in which records are broken one inch at a time, Bob Beamon jumped nearly two feet further than anyone ever had.

It took them nearly 20 minutes to announce the results, as they scrambled to find a measuring tape (they hadn’t been prepared for time travel).  Beamon collapsed on hearing the news.  And it would take nearly 23 years, an inch at a time, for his mark to finally be broken.

So what was that?  I have no idea.  Altitude and thin air?  Surely it made some difference, although no one else jumped spectacularly (other records were broken, though).  Beamon never sneered at gravity again, not like that, not even close, and no one else did either.  He just ran and jumped, once, and something happened.

I imagine the Olympics will be background this summer, something to turn my head as I walk through the room.  There’ll be some stories to follow, some great ones and moving ones and sad ones, and I’ll get into that, but again: It’s the idea, I think.  The emotion, the achievement, the victories and defeats, the families and the background and the politics.  And the idea that maybe I should at least keep an eye on things, because I know that anything can happen, because once something did.



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The Day

I had a FaceTime conversation with my mom yesterday, which always makes me think of that Louis C.K. monologue on Conan about how nobody appreciates technology, how we should all be screaming in amazement on a plane because we’re flying through the air.  I agree and I still participate.  How we like to grumble about miracles, from cell phone reception to slow internet connections.  Guilty.

But I can marvel a little, particularly about how superior FaceTime seems to be compared to other video-chat software, and how nice it is to see my mom’s face wishing me a happy birthday, and how nice it is to have a birthday.  And how nice everything is.  So, I’m maybe a little giddy.

Mom noted that I was always this way on my birthday, always loved the day as a kid, got out of bed expecting good things to happen, and she’s right.  Most of this is probably because I was the only one in the family with a summer birthday, and summers were generally good times anyway.  It was a good excuse for a party, for a barbecue and swimming, and so My Birthday got capital letters, at least as far as I was concerned.

And yesterday was no exception, if a little heightened.  I’d scheduled a mini-vacation, my only obligation being to happiness, and the weather (as it always does in late July, except when it doesn’t) played along.  Spectacular, sunny and 75, jumpstarting my day.  I took a walk with John at 7 a.m., another one solo, wandered around Whole Foods with Julie, and watched “Galaxy Quest” with some pretty alarming pizza and ice cream.

You could tie a bow around this one, in other words.  And while I’ve never lost a little bit of superstition about this day, a little suspicion that Good Things will always happen, that luck will come my way, that I should buy a lottery ticket (forgot), that this is the sort of day when the “service engine soon” light comes on in the car and you take it to the dealer and the only thing wrong is that the “service engine soon” light has a short, when the Birthday Stork comes in the night and leaves you a bag full of Arby’s coupons, a day that the Lord has made and the stars have aligned for and the high pressure systems plan on, when the squirrels smile at me and the crows take the day off, mostly it’s just being alive.  Alive, relatively well, relatively happy, home with my family, free time, good food, and not done yet.  That’s a birthday, my friends.  Never give up, never surrender.  Wait ‘til next year, too.

(Celebrating my 12th)


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The Area 54 Project

Six summers ago, I began to pay attention.  It wasn’t exactly voluntary.

Helpful and clever people constructed a little proof for me, a series of logic statements designed to show me that if I didn’t start paying attention, bad things would happen.  Exhibit One was that bad things had already happened.  So I listened.

Twenty-one days is said to be the minimum time required to form a new habit, most of this based on a dusty idea (“Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz) and now pretty persuasively debunked.  Habits are hard to come by, particularly if they’re ones you’re not all that excited about.  It can take longer, in other words.  It took me about a year.

But at the end of that hilarious year, during which I lurched and bounced and baked and thought a lot, I’d developed some attention-paying skills.  I became a third-person secret agent, spying on myself, watching what I did.

And then I decided to take my new talent for observation into the real world to make changes.  I started to gradually exercise, something that had been pretty theoretical for years.  I managed to drop pounds.  Other things.  And I did this mostly in an old-fashioned way, a way that would have inspired Benjamin Franklin to coin the word “duh.”  I wrote stuff down.  I tracked stuff.  I reviewed it, altered it, projected it, and did it.  All of it worked out well, or I changed strategies until it did.

On June 20, 2011, aware that some of those lost pounds had found their way back home, and using my new iPhone with its magic apps, I started another round of paying attention.  I tracked calories in and miles walked, minutes spent cycling to nowhere.  I got rid of the weight over the summer, but the ease of having a little electronic notebook in my pocket kept me tracking.  Through the fall, through the winter, through the spring.

And on June 20, 2012, I thought, huh.  I’ve been keeping a record of trivial statistics for a year now.  Cool.  What next?

Since June 20 was also the first day of summer, and since we’d been told to expect a somewhat nicer summer season than in the past couple of years, I thought maybe I’d start keeping a daily record, just notes on the weather, memories to sustain me in November when we return to black and white.  Or maybe just memories, because after all these years of writing about my particular uninteresting life, there’s one thing I’ve learned: It’s not how you remember it.

But weather didn’t seem like enough, so I added other trivia that might one day be interesting to dissect for patterns: What time I woke up, my overall mood, etc.  I journaled, in other words, something I had not much enthusiasm for, and the consistency of that felt like just one more thing, another routine to relieve the chaos, not a big deal at all.  Little notches made in the calendar, not to mark time passing and not to seize the day, but to save it.  I want to save the day.  Like Mighty Mouse.  If a little less ambitious.

And then I grasped my theory about being 54, that I was quickly moving into statistical insignificance, and here we are.  I’ve decided to blog my Last Meaningful Year.

There’s no plan here, understand.  And of course this is self-serving, a way to restart the engines, warm up the fingers, find a phrase.  Blogging is starting to feel archaic, or at least quaint and weird, but I still have affection for the form.  I’m not changing anything, mood or style or attitude, either.  I don’t want to save the world, just the day, as I said.  This is an experiment in retention only, in paying attention, knowing the alternative.  Here we go, then: 364 left.  I feel better already.


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Just The Two Of Us

New column is up. Some thoughts on relationships while not sleeping:

I don’t understand the mechanism of this, either. My impulse, if asked, would be to tell you that I can count my long-term relationships, the ones that cover decades, on the fingers of one hand, but the truth? I would need more fingers. There are dozens of them, in fact, helped along now by social media. Some of these attenuate by the facts of life, get stretched out over time and thinned, geography and a million other reasons to have nothing in common anymore, and still they have strength.

I actually have more to say — about my last six weeks (busy), and my next year — but various reasons I’m waiting a couple of weeks.

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