Hanging Around, At Least Until October

Dear Future Chuck:

As you sit there comfortably in the Twenty-Teens (let’s not look too far, and also: You ARE comfortable, right?), thumbing through this blog on a slow day, wondering what I, 2012 Chuck, could possibly have been thinking, I greet you with this: Your guess is as good as mine.

As you might recall, we started this here blog thing way back in 2003, when the form was new and the name a mystery (Blog?  What’s a blog?), but beginning on July 26, 2012 we decided to jump on a demographic conceit, invent an urgency, and mostly just get the fingers moving in the morning while maybe documenting a year in our life.

It’s been slow going, I gotta tell you.  Summers are kind of slow anyway, but we’re several weeks in now and while I’m (this is Me, 2012 Chuck; let’s not get confused here) still unclear of exactly what we’re doing, I feel better about it.

Given the general attention span of at least Americans, and the specific attention span of us, I thought I’d bring you up to speed so far.  This is (was) now officially the driest August in Seattle history, with only a trace of moisture, not measurable (meaning 0.01 inch or more).  It’s always dry in August, nothing out of the ordinary, just a statistic, something for the weather people to talk about because, of course, nothing else is happening here.  No storms, no floods, no ice, no wind.  Nothing but mild temperatures, morning clouds, sunny afternoons.

The GOP convention ended last night, although I didn’t watch any of it, which is why you, Future Chuck, don’t remember it.  So rest easy on that front.  The consensus seems to be blah, nothing new, a couple of excellent speeches (by women, interestingly).  There was apparently a remarkable acceptance speech by veep-to-be Paul Ryan, that same Mr-Ryan-Goes-To-Washington, fierce independence and commitment to fiscal sanity and speaking truth to power, who told a stunning number of out and out whoppers in front of the American people and his mother.  Even CNN was shocked.

And, finally, they had a “surprise” speaker last night, who really wasn’t a surprise, Clint Eastwood, who wandered on stage and talked to an empty chair.  Apparently, again.  My love for Clint does not allow me to watch, as I heard it was embarrassing.  I do wonder if George W. Bush was pissed because the GOP invited Invisible Obama but not him.

In other news, Future Chuck, Hurricane Isaac was not as bad as feared, but still leaves parts of the country cleaning up and suffering.  The rest of us have forgotten (see: Attention Span above).  The Mariners are inching their way toward .500 here at the tail of the season.  The Seahawks might be interesting, according to our friend Scott, who follows these things.  School and church are revving up for the Reverend Missus, and for the Prodigal Son, who actually went to church last week.

And as you well know, Future Chuck, today – August 31, 2012 – is the day I began The Goal.

You know how I feel about goals.  They’re stupid.  They set you up for failure, disappointment and relapse into old ways.  I prefer to make small changes, do them every day and see what happens.  Walk more, drink more water, be nice to people, etc.  We’re still on the same page, right Future Chuck?

But the world keeps turning and September looms, and I’m feeling a little directionless here in 2012, just a little.  And I keep staring at those pants.

You remember those pants?  For all I know they’re our favorite pair now in the future, but just to refresh: Our lovely wife bought them for us a few years ago, back when I was strutting around in new jeans with a slimmer waistline and feeling all cocky.  They should have fit perfectly, this nice pair of slacks, but they didn’t come close.  Not a big deal, just take them back, but cocky is as cocky does and I refused.  “That’ll be my goal,” I said, and so I hung them up and decided to slim down a bit more.  And that always works.

So they hang.  Sometimes they get close to…closing, but this ain’t horseshoes.  Really nice pants.

It’s been a summer of blahness on that front, rivaling a political convention.  I’ve actually gained a few pounds, nothing drastic.  A lot of these sunny days I’ve spent looking at the computer and only occasionally glancing outside, and certainly not taking 10-mile hikes.  I’ve done fine, we’re fine, completely unremarkable, all the clothes fit except for those pants, and those pants aren’t complaining.

But I felt the need for direction, so here we go: Give me six weeks, Future Chuck.  I’m going to slip on those pants on October 12, 2012, or give them away to some deserving slim person.  I need to shake things up, and so going against my nature I’ve decided to make a goal.  God help me.

I hope you’re well, Future Chuck, healthy and happy.  I hope you’re still exercising every day, being nice to people, kissing your wife, talking with your son, laughing at politics.  I hope the unemployment rate is down.  I hope Mitt Romney is in the private sector, where he obviously has talent, and not getting us into more wars, which he seems to want.

And I hope those pants aren’t hanging up in the bathroom anymore, one way or the other.  They’re just pants.  It’s about the journey, right?  Here’s to six weeks, then.  Do ya feel lucky, punk?  A little bit, yeah.

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Don’t Dude Me, Mister

As any choir member can attest to, you churchgoers have no secrets from us.  Wear the same shirt two weeks in a row?  The basses know.  They know.  Tenors might be blocked by the altos, depends.

I’m the first to know, then, if someone is walking with a limp, or looks a little harried, or appears to be dropping weight.  The choir loft is a people-watching paradise.  If we could only skip with the singing.

And just because choir is on sabbatical in the summer doesn’t mean I’ve lost my powers.  I was talking with a young woman last Sunday and asked her if she’d started a new exercise program.  She always looks disgustingly fit, but there was just something about her.  A leanness, something.  I’m obnoxiously curious, particularly when it comes to change.

She acknowledged this, said she’d been working with a personal trainer, and we got into a conversation about aggressive work-out regimens that are popular now.  I mentioned that I just didn’t have the passion to commit to something that intense, and she gave me an interesting look.  Sort of a surprised look.  A look that said to me – and I could be overthinking this – “But…you’re almost…dead.”

This is me, then.  Completely lost in the world of age-appropriate everything.  It’s perfectly fine, I would think, for an otherwise healthy 54-year-old to embark on a tough exercise program, fighting off the inevitable, but you’re not supposed to talk about it.  Lest you frighten the 20-somethings.

It’s a lesson I’m constantly relearning.  It doesn’t matter that “dude” has been part of your vocabulary since you were 13; unless you’re having coffee with your best friend from high school, you’d better be dripping with irony when you say it if you don’t want to look like an idiot.  And don’t ever mention your abs.  You don’t have abs anymore.  You have something else, as it should be.  Something soft.  Something old people have.  Move on.

Appropriateness was on my mind this week when I wrote this column.  At what point in a man’s life, particularly his married life, does going out of his way to see an old girlfriend skip past the jokes, pitfalls, tension, and hairline to become what it is, an exercise in nostalgia?  I’m pretty sure I’m at that point, anyway, although it didn’t stop some teasing and reflection.  Act your age, dude.  I’m working on it.

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Wednesday Archives

Wednesday has been Column Day for 11 years, and over 11 years some stuff will happen.  My rule of thumb is that one should not re-read oneself unless one is willing to pay the emotional price, which usually involves groaning, but at least it’s some sort of record of what I was thinking, or not thinking.  Some of these are collected in my books, but I’ve decided to ignore that for the time being and just find one from the past, every Wednesday, and post.  If not for your edification, then mine.  Groans are acceptable.

From August 25, 2004.

———

You’ll never guess where I am.

I’ll give you a hint.  Travel in a south-easterly direction sixty miles or so from Dallas, Texas, into Kaufman County, and if you pay attention you will eventually end up in Gun Barrel City.

Gun Barrel City is the greatest name for a Texas town there ever was.  If Gun Barrel City didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent it.  Gun Barrel City sounds like a combination of a John Ford movie, a dime novel, and a cheesy Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with a show stopper called, “Smile When You Say That, Stranger.”

I can tell you some things about Gun Barrel City.  It used to be a small town until it got a Wal-Mart.  Now it’s a small town with a Wal-Mart.  I can tell you where the WhatABurger is.  If you’ve never lived in or visited Texas, New Mexico or Arizona, you don’t understand WhatABurger.  WhatABurger is a good reason to go to Texas, and sometimes I need a good reason.

But I’m not in Gun Barrel City.

If you head southwest from Gun Barrel City, you’ll eventually pick up I-35 South, which will take you through Lyndon Johnson territory.  I-35 will take you past Waco, Temple, lots of little towns, the state capitol of Austin, San Marcos, approximately 50 WhatABurgers (I stopped counting), and eventually into San Antonio, where you will find yourself on a Saturday night having Mexican food with a couple of old friends you’ve just met.

That is, if you’re me.

This was Gordon and Michael, who are, respectively, a Baptist minister and a radio news anchor.  Gordon is the minister of a small church in north San Antonio.  Michael is Gordon’s good friend, but also a deacon in this very same church. I have exchanged ideas, thoughts, philosophy, dreams, and concerns with these guys for a while now; in Gordon’s case, about a year and a half.

I just never got around to actually meeting them until Saturday.

This is the Good Side of the Internet, the side that dismisses spam and porn and creates friendships based on old-fashioned reasons: Things in common.  We’ve come to know each other, know about the families that enrich our lives and the goals that elude us, the little successes and the disappointments.  I know these guys.  And now I know what they look like.

I had to have Mexican food.  Everyone said so.  Michael and Gordon insisted.  I tried to explain that I grew up in Arizona, that I understood about regional differences but still I knew what an enchilada was, but they were adamant.  And they were right.  It was excellent food, and excellent conversation.

It was such an odd experience, hanging out in a strange town with strangers, but they weren’t, really.  They were friends, good friends, interesting friends, and I had a great time.

But I’m not in San Antonio.

My daughter and I flew into Dallas via Denver on Friday afternoon, traveling from DFW to Arlington to pick up a car we’d helped her buy on the (of course) Internet, driving from there to Gun Barrel City to see her grandparents and allow me to test drive this new car on the road to San Antonio.  I drove back to Gun Barrel on Sunday afternoon, stopping for my second WhatABurger, and this morning we packed that car and drove two hours to Denton, home of the University of Texas, where she starts her second year.

So that’s where I am, typing this on a desk in a dorm room, aware of an anxious editor in Mukilteo, having spent the day moving furniture and unrolling carpets, sweating like crazy and starting to think that 98% humidity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

See, she’s staying this time.  She’s a music major, meaning she looks forward to an uncertain life, and she figures she might as well start working on the uncertainty now.  She’s already a second-semester sophomore, and her plan is to attend summer school and start her third year already a senior.  Then there is the question of a job, an eventual apartment, all the accoutrements of an adult life that’s just starting.

So Dad came along, to help, to bring out his wallet from time to time, to look over the car and unpack boxes, and to see her off.  Dads do that.

Tonight, after more shopping for stuff and dinner and meeting some of her friends, I head for the house of my wife’s aunt, a wonderful woman who will offer me a room for the night and then drive me to the airport tomorrow for the trip home.  I look forward to it, really.  Give me some rain, please, and my own bed.

All the way home, of course, I’ll have my usual anxiety.  I’ll keep patting my pocket to ensure that I didn’t forget my wallet.  I’ll check my one carry-on bag to make sure I have everything.  I’ll worry still, as I always do on a trip, that being slightly muddle-brained as I am I may have left something behind in Texas.

And it’ll probably be a week or two before it finally sinks in that I did, and what it was.

 

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Dogging The Days

There are 23 days of summer left, although I can smell fall.  And even though we’ve been on a fairly long stretch without rain, I can smell that, too.  Pumpkins will be just around the corner, along with the World Series and any number of signposts.  Autumn is when we remember summer, the poets say, and remembering is what I’ve been trying to do.

Every day this summer, I’ve made notes, little ones, mostly trivial.  I started it with a cold that kept me miserable for a few days, but otherwise I’ve felt fine.  I’ve gained five pounds it looks like, unusual for summer but also pretty negligible, a hard week or so of exercise and attention and back to baseline.

No projects were completed, other than a couple of piece of furniture and new wheels.  The garage is still clean, but the old door remains, warped and rarely opened.  The morning glory and backberries have encroached back into the front yard after the last futile swipe, a few weeks ago.  I power washed the roof, finally, but the gutters still need serious attention.

And I haven’t managed to hold on to each day, and I never will, but the effort is the thing, right?  I begin, each morning, by noting the little things: The date, the time, the temperature, the headlines, good or bad.  I check the bank accounts, I skim the foolishness of social media, I save some interesting articles for later reading, I glance at the calendar, I lace up my shoes and take a walk.

I hand John a Dr. Pepper, his daily ration, the only way we can do it, put his obsessiveness at ease for another 24 hours.  Today I walked into his room, delivered his caffeine/sugar dose, and he nodded.

“Your tribute is accepted,” he said solemnly, and he does this every day, makes me laugh.  I’m grateful for this, and for summer.  And democracy, and sun, and paying attention.  I deliver a tribute to the day by noticing it, I think, and that’s what I plan to do.

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Money Spent Well

Some sort of political gathering occurs this week, assuming the creek doesn’t rise, although I doubt I’ll pay much attention.  I used to love these things when I was much younger, the really interesting, historic political conventions not being that far in the past, although nothing has happened in years.  I’ll pay most attention, I’m sure, to the one in which I have a personal stake, just to try to feel better.  That would not be this one, though.

Barring some sort of breaking news, in fact, nothing much will happen, and what does happen we won’t know about until later.  This is the way history always works, delayed edification.  Although I still doubt there’ll be anything much to read about, maybe a few backstage arguments.  Things have pretty much been settled.

History is still available, though.  This was a fascinating interview to read with reporter Michael Grunwald, whose specialty/interest is in environmental journalism.  He began to notice projects coming on line after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which we all generally refer to as The Stimulus.

Grunwald has written a book titled The New New Deal, which illuminates for us what all that money, poured and dribbled into our economy, approved by both political parties, at certainly the scariest economic period in my lifetime, actually accomplished.  Turns out, according to Grunwald, quite a bit.

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Dunning-Kruger and Me

I had a little fun with semantics in a post the other day, which shows you how easily entertained I can be.  Since my old friend Jim seemed to be curious, I’ll try to clarify.

I think of belief and all its grammatical stepchildren as pedestrian, casual words, something we toss around and get sloppy with, all good fun.  When it comes to the spiritual side, it doesn’t hold up for me.

For me.  When you say I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, which you might, I understand what you mean, absolutely.  I will say that too, sometimes.  I don’t roll my eyes or anything.

But I believe has never seemed quite big enough for me, which is why the other day I tossed out aware as a substitute.  I don’t believe today is Sunday; I’m aware of it, and you can’t talk me out of that awareness.  I might even say I know it, but now I’ve probably used too many italics for this conversation.

———-

I had a fun conversation with two friends yesterday, all of us writers, all of us old enough to remember well when Neil Armstrong took that first step, although the passing of Mr. Armstrong never came up.  We are of a certain age, though, and a certain awareness of the world.  We like to pay attention, in varying degrees and to various things, and there is enough similarity that we manage to pass 90 minutes every few months without anyone yawning.

And when we talk about our beliefs, we’re well in the semantic realm of opinion.  That’s pretty good fun, too.  Most of the time I’m tempted to shut up and just listen to these two, but I rarely get to engage off the page and they inspire me to blather.

What’s fascinating to me about these conversations, stretching back a ways now, is that occasionally one of us will bring up our concern that we’re missing the truth, that we’ve snuggled up underneath our biases and it’s uncomfortable outside in the cold.  What if what we believe is wrong?

This is always specific, of course, and usually political.  You love your children.  You might qualify that love from time to time, depending on your mood and whether one of them stole your favorite shirt, but it’s not worth much reflection.  You love your children.

What we believe, though, when it comes to our peculiar institutions and society and economy and everything else, can be questioned and analyzed and approached from another side, if you’re willing to do that and have plenty of coffee.  Once again, this is very good fun.

One of us recently had his eyes opened a bit when he spent some time with Texans.  I should have given him a head’s up, but it was a good story.

And when we began to dip into politics and talk about facts, shake our heads at some of the crazy things we read – and we all stay pretty engaged in this arena – this same man laughed at us trying to apply logic to what seems an awful lot like a form of insanity.

There’s the judge (in Texas, again; but of course) who seems to believe that the re-election of Barack Obama means the U.N. (I had no idea people were still worried about the U.N.; how 1990s of them) will enter the Lone Star State, and a bunch of other states, and do mean things, take away guns, force everyone to speak Spanish, something.  We can laugh, but this is a judge, and this is also a tiny step from death panels and forged birth certificates.  Once you open up to beliefs that have no foundation, you can pretty much buy anything that gets you up and moving.

Or you can just believe routine nonsense.  You can believe that we went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9-11.  Lots of people still do.

You can believe that ACORN was a nefarious organization that stole an election and encouraged child prostitution.  I still hear that a lot.

All of this is easily dismissed by about five minutes of research, but there’s no joy in facts, sometimes.

But questioning one’s beliefs?  I can find some joy in that, particularly when it’s shared, and suddenly yesterday I realized that the three of us were walking around inside a Dunning-Kruger thought bubble.

Dunning-Kruger?  It’s a fun thing to read up on, but briefly it’s a documented, studied effect in which poorly informed people grossly over-exaggerate their own competence, while people who actually are competent doubt themselves.

It’s easy to see the first group, unless you’re blocking them on Facebook (guilty as charged).  They sneer at education and science, they seem blissfully unaware of pretty basic civics and even more basic history, and they’re completely confident in their ability to understand, say, macroeconomics.  It’s fascinating to watch.

And maybe they’re right.  I don’t believe that, and the facts are on my side, but there we go with semantics again.

I do believe in God.  I believe it’s Sunday today.  I believe that summer is ending, that my coffeemaker needs to be cleaned, that one more day in the 80s would be nice, that nobody from the U.N. is going to knock on my door, and that I need more conversations with people who are unsure.  Those are the best kind, as it turns out.

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Lost and Lost

I got some good-natured teasing last night – and I’m putting the best face on it, thus the good-natured, hoping for the best – about driving over 200 miles yesterday just to spend an hour or so with a former girlfriend.  I’ll admit that it was a borderline thing to do, in the context of a marriage, although I’d argue for mitigating factors.

Or throw myself on the mercy of the court.  Really, whichever works.

The idea of taking a little road trip always intrigues me.  I had a good excuse, then.  And I was curious for several reasons, and I do like the whole time travel aspect of these little reunions, what I remember and what I really don’t, seeing the results of choices and years.

It also pointed out something I sort of knew, confirmed a truth, and it happened in a specific moment.  We wandered downtown Ellensburg, this woman and I, catching up, stopped at a café and had some coffee, and then it was time to leave.  We continued to talk about nothing much as we walked, and then this nice woman gently put a hand on my chest and stopped me.

We’d arrived at the place where I’d parked my car.  I had absolutely no idea.  Not mesmerized by the conversation, just clueless as to where we were.

And so the truth.  At a very serious level, and for certain men, men who closely resemble me, relationships take on an urgency.

Some of us, in other words, marry our navigators.

I am lost in a world of mysterious directions, like North.  Remember Pin the Tail on the Donkey?  You wouldn’t need to spin me.  Or even use a blindfold.  Just tell me the donkey is in another room, a room that faces west, and begin laughing.

The only reason I know the difference between up and down is that “up” has clouds and the other place is where I land when I fall.

So while I do appreciate the women in my life, each and every one, and particularly the one who tolerates my adventures in nostalgia, these days sometimes the one I most depend on has the voice that comes out of my GPS app.  That lady got me to where I was going yesterday, and got me home.

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I Am The Bear

Piglet: Tigger’s alright. Really.
Christopher Robin: Of course he is.
Pooh: Everybody is. Really. That’s what I think.
Pooh: But I don’t suppose I’m right.
Christopher Robin: Of course you are. Silly old bear!

If you strip coincidence of its mysticism, its romance and magic and whimsy and woo-woo, it’s still fun.  There’s a geography to random events that snuggle up together, an implied map that would make sense if we only held it.  I can go all day on a single nice coincidence.

And when they bunch up, when I hit a stretch of oddness, coinky-dink city, it’s just fun.  Put several déjà vu episodes back to back and it feels creepy, but coincidence?  It makes me feel as though a strong wind is blowing and I’m facing in the right direction.  It’s magical thinking for the GPS generation.  Continue on this road for two-point-forever miles.  It makes me think I’m doing something right.

I’m not a magical thinker, though.  I understand the construction involved, the small-world aspect, the proximity effect, the serendipity that in retrospect was always going to happen.  And chance, of course.  Ignoring chance is like ignoring oxygen and just breathing.  It’s still there and important.

I’ve had such a stretch of weirdness lately, just a few things, moments, all of them easily explained or at least understandable.  The other day, for example, Julie and I were heading to the beach for some photos, and we were talking about Lisa.

Lisa was my penultimate girlfriend in college, the one I broke up with because I had the bad manners to fall in love with someone else.  That someone else was sitting in the car next to me, and while there are periods in marriage when you maybe don’t want to bring up former romances, I’m pretty sure we’re past that point.

And then we hit the beach, and I met Megan, the young woman who’s going to play my daughter in this film next summer.  Later I mentioned to Julie that Megan seemed to be a doppelganger of the Lisa I remembered.

Julie didn’t quite see that, and I assumed it was just the conversation that inspired the connection.  Probably so.  I looked through some pictures when I got home and decided I couldn’t decide.  There was something there, some resemblance, but I was probably making too much of it.  Both are tall women, so it was probably just that.

We were talking about Lisa because she’s in Washington for a family wedding.  We had a brief e-mail exchange back in April, when we were all chatting about our college reunion in Arizona.  She opted out of that, but mentioned that she’d be up here in August and we should try to find time for lunch or something.  I forgot about it until last week, when she emailed a reminder and gave me her schedule.

The wedding is in eastern Washington, a bit over the mountains, about 100 miles from here, but the timing was fine.  I had a free schedule for Friday, and a new car.  A coincidence, maybe.  I’d certainly drive further to see all sorts of old friends, and after some discussion I decided to take a little road trip today.  Drive up I-90, over the pass and almost to Ellensburg, visit for a bit, drive back.  Listen to music, think what I think, have a little reunion, get some sunshine and warmth that has gone missing on the western side.  It’ll be fun, and uneventful.  And it’s been a few years since I headed east.

*********

Actually, it’s been six years, now that I think about it.

*********

Actually, it was on August 24, 2006.  If you must know.

*********

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

In this scenario, I am the bear.

What grace I was born with was of the spiritual sort, good luck and good genes, a couple of innocuous talents, fine parents and an above-average brain.  And to be fair about all of this, my sense of rhythm was not bad, enough to allow some musical ability and a reasonable jumpshot, although both of those placed me well in the unremarkable category.

There was still an existential gracelessness, though, something I always sensed, a feeling that what connected my imagination to my hips, for example, was tenuous.  I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t sway even, and as time went on I couldn’t even walk a straight line, although sometimes there were special circumstances.

My rhythm was off, in other words, and it would get worse.  I was for all appearances, and as far as anyone knew, potential with a bullet, star student, star son, star boyfriend and star-to-be.  And when that never panned out, when that stardom never happened, when enough time had passed and expectations were never fulfilled and disappointment crept into the conversation, I recognized the feeling.  I can’t dance, don’t ask me, so I didn’t.

*********

I used to drink this awful vodka, bottom of the shelf, 10 bucks a fifth.  I’d cut it with whatever, Diet Rite, Kool-Aid, whatever.  It wasn’t a good drink, just a functional one, and I drank it functionally.  I would gulp it at first, then sip a couple of times, then repeat.  In some way, that mediated the awfulness, made it just another routine, and by that time I was left with only a few.  And they all, more or less, involved drinking that rotten vodka.

But it amused me a little, this habit, this rhythm.  Gulp, sip, sip.  GULP, sip, sip.  And it occurred to me one day what it was, that I had somehow begun to drink in three-quarter time.  I was a mess, but look at me: I was waltzing.

*********

I had my last drink on August 24, 2006, the morning I left for the treatment center in eastern Washington.  It wasn’t a farewell party, just emptying the dregs, trying to stave off the shaking that would come from withdrawal.  My brain had learned by then to live on alcohol, to leech some sustenance from my basic food group, and it tolerated a lot.

The human body will tolerate a lot of anything, actually.

And when a person feeds himself a diet of mostly psychoactive chemicals, and then stops, our reliable bodies get to work on homeostasis.  On restoring balance.  The effects of a CNS depressant are reversed.  Blood pressure goes up, etc.  Hands start to shake.  Some people hallucinate.  A little alcohol will sometimes moderate the withdrawal, as will a sedative hypnotic, a benzodiazepine like Librium or Valium.  Just in case it ever comes up.

So that’s what I did, and when I did it, and then I got in a car and headed east on I-90, and here I am.

********

I don’t believe in coincidence, or in the magic of serendipity, anymore than I believe in God.  I believe the Mariners need some pitching help.  I believe Mitt Romney would be a mistake.  I have lots of beliefs.

I am aware of God, though, aware of grace, aware of bad choices and uneasy roads, aware of change and possibilities.  Aware of hope.

It just worked out this way, that I would take this trip on this day, a schedule that was not mine, a reunion that will be mild, I’m sure, casual and mostly fun.  I’m always up for a reunion.

But sometimes I’ll be out walking, music playing in my ear, mind wandering all over the place, and a car will turn the corner fast, just up ahead.  It could have my name written on it, that car, my fate sealed by a distracted driver.  I note this, and I step to the side, and I smile and think nimble nimble.  Bet you couldn’t have moved that fast six years ago.  Continue on this road.

I take grace seriously, then, physical and spiritual, no difference to me.  I am here through the grace of God, through the support of family and friends, through luck and chance, through choices made and not made.  There is a rhythm now to my life, nurtured by the idea that maybe I should keep moving, and so I do.

Turns out I could dance after all.  Silly old bear.

 

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Toy Stories

I read a couple of interesting stories last week, inspiring me to tie them unneatly together into a column about living in the “post-truth” era, a term I put in quotation marks only because it appears it was coined by writer David Roberts.  In a post-truth world, neologisms deserve credit.

No surprise, I ended up two-thirds through column length before I realized I was just writing about the process of us buying a used car, completely unserious and with no redeeming value, although at least one reader got a laugh.  My job here is done, then.

My buddy Sid, who writes quite a lot about truth and lack of it at Cutting Through The Crap (warning: Political and lefty at that, so read with caution if you’re easily offended by facts and opinion), sent me a link to this Scott Adams (Dilbert) blog about his experience with car dealers.  It’s a different story than mine.

Mine was even pleasant, although it was a sunny day and I could have passed those three hours doing something else.  Still, I was happy with the experience and didn’t feel dirty afterwards, manipulated by undercoating or baiting and switching.  Since I buy cars on average every 20 years whether I need one or not, it could have been a lot worse.  Not relying on the kindness of dealer financing helped, as did the fact that we could have easily walked away, even feeling pressured to get rid of that dying Saturn.  A car which, by the way, they paid me three times my (unspoken, of course) established asking price for the trade-in, which was pretty low.  Really, I might have given them 50 bucks to keep it, although that never came up.

Tomorrow I take that new blue car over the pass to eastern Washington, by the way, a mini-road trip, so we’ll see exactly what I have wrought.  Probably more on that later.

There seems to be an acquisition instinct, though, or neurotransmitter or activated neuron.  New stuff inspires the need for new stuff, maybe.  Even if it’s used new stuff.

I’m aware of this, and usually circumstances make it moot.  I’m not going to buy another car.  I’m not going to buy much of anything, actually, and certainly nothing over $75 or so.  I just recognize the urge to spruce life up a little with newness.

So I also recognized that I had gone into full Wells Fargo Wagon mode the other day, waiting for a package from Amazon.  I do a lot of shopping with Amazon, and I have automatic text messaging alerts set up, and on Tuesday that began to drive me crazy.  I knew that I’d get a “package delivered” text within 30 minutes of it being dropped on my doorstep, which is handy for lots of people I’m sure but not me.  Since I’m here anyway, looking out the window.  I’d prefer updates on where the UPS truck is, what neighborhood, what street, where the driver is stopping for lunch, his mood that day, etc.

It was a refurbished Google TV set-top box, a Logitech Revu, which I found dirt cheap.  Google TV is like Apple TV, except it’s Google and not Apple, and while I have many Apple products I prefer to keep my distance from their controlling clutches.  I hate iTunes, for example.  Other things.

We’ve tweaked our cable TV-less home in various ways in the past couple of years, so this was just one more.  Mostly this box just saved me the trouble of hooking a laptop up to the television, which I would do for various Web-based TV that wasn’t available for the Roku box, which is itself dirt cheap and a wonderful non-Apple product.  Specifically, I wanted to watch the end of this sort-of exciting Mariners season (they’ve won 7 in a row; it’s a rebuilding year, like all of their years, but it’s still fun) and I needed a browser, not the Roku, for technical reasons I won’t get into (it involves fooling MLB.com into thinking I don’t live in the Seattle area, so games aren’t blacked out).

It also allows me to take advantage of the BBC’s remarkable web site, where they’ve stored all those hours of the Olympics that we didn’t watch.  Last night we saw some dressage.  Pretty soon I’m going to watch the entire decathalon.

So the urge for new toys has passed for now, safely and with no bad decisions (fingers crossed).  There’s even a lesson here in taking some joy out of little things, functional things that still stir up the excitement just by virtue of being new, preowned, or refurbished.  I’m not proud of this urge, but I’m not beating myself up either.  A little joy and excitement go a long way, anything that keeps Apple at arm’s length is potentially a good thing, and hey: It was dressage.

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Wednesday Archives

Wednesday has been Column Day for 11 years, and over 11 years some stuff will happen.  My rule of thumb is that one should not re-read oneself unless one is willing to pay the emotional price, which usually involves groaning, but at least it’s some sort of record of what I was thinking, or not thinking.  Some of these are collected in my books, but I’ve decided to ignore that for the time being and just find one from the past, every Wednesday, and post.  If not for your edification, then mine.  Groans are acceptable.

From August 22, 2007.

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A couple of weeks ago, my wife and son left me alone for a few days.  Not in the “please leave me alone” way, but in the packed bags, full tank, don’t-forget-to-feed-the-dog way.

There were times in my life when that was sort of a thrill, solitude and space.  A friend of mine once summed up the situation pretty well, having the women and children in our lives out of the house for an extended period of time, leaving us to our own devices.

“It’s Pop-Tart time,” he said, and he was right.

It’s possible that my friend and I are exceptions to the rule (that’s come up before, actually), but I suspect there’s something in the chromosomes and culture going on here.  Something about a taste of anarchy, about freedom from female supervision, about true nature and caged beasts.  I could be wrong.

But I ate a couple of frozen pizzas that week, something I never do, and I stayed up real late watching spy movies.  Ice cream was also involved, as were unmade beds and some really loud music.

The problem with pretending that you’re a 15-year-old and your parents are gone for the weekend can be found in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which notes that entropy always increases.  “Entropy,” in this particular case, refers to the irreversible aging of the human gastrointestinal system.  I should have a T-shirt made:

“My family went on vacation, and all I got was this stupid heartburn.”

Aside from a poor diet, though, and an odd choice of movies (they combined one night to produce a very strange dream, which I decided to call “The Bourne Appendectomy”), I discovered that I’ve apparently grown out of solitude.  There was a time when I craved it, when I dreamed of long, solitary weekends with good books, silence, and no small people asking me to make macaroni and cheese or find a stray Lego, but I’m apparently past that now.

It was lonely.  I wandered the aisles of the grocery store, never once going to the produce section, got way too excited over a sale on paper towels, cornered a neighbor I saw and blabbed to him for a good 10 minutes, and whined to my favorite check-out person, Gayle.

“Look at me,” I said.  “I’m buying frozen pizza and diet soda.  What kind of life is this?”

She was sympathetic.  “Try Subway,” she said, but then she had customers waiting.

My ideas about being industrious went out the window.  The bedroom didn’t get painted, the bedding didn’t get washed, the garage didn’t get cleaned and the floor didn’t get scrubbed.  I listened to talk radio, ran the dishwasher twice by mistake, watched a few Mariners games, and once, when Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” came on my iPod, I tried to do that dance Kevin Bacon did in the movie and I think I broke something.

I couldn’t sleep.  There was something about having a bed to myself that gave me too many options; I stacked and restacked pillows, I tossed, I turned, I swung my arms around, knowing I wouldn’t hit anything human, and still I ended up the next morning sort of sideways, with a sore neck and the dog licking my feet, inquiring about breakfast.  The bed looked like someone had searched it for weapons.

I freely admit my domestication, but then I’ve known that for years.  The dirty clothes go in the hamper, milk is to be consumed in a glass and not straight from the carton, the vacuum cleaner and toothpaste cap both have functions, and the toilet seat is to be left down, period.  I get that.

I just didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to the company of others, to need and be needed, to share dumb experiences and instant replays of walk-off home runs.  For five short days in early August, I became a theoretical human being, a philosophy lesson, an empirical question.  If a man is alone in the house, and he stubs his toe, does he make a sound?

Well, yes.  He does.  He actually makes lots of noises when he’s alone, but I don’t really want to talk about noises.

The point is, the toe will hurt a lot longer without someone else around to feel sorry for you, even if they might point out that the dining room table has been in that exact same spot for years now and nobody else seems to be stubbing their toes.  It’s the sympathy that counts.

My wife and son came back late one night, sunburned and covered with mosquito bites, full of stories about the beach and the people, glad to see me and pretending not to notice the pizza boxes.

The next day, John mentioned that he’d missed my super-special macaroni and cheese.  I sighed, said “I guess I could make you some,” tried to look put out, and failed, of course.

 

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