Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Make American Sane Again

After retiring in December, I headed off to Miami Beach for three weeks, then caught Holland America's Rotterdam back to San Diego from Fort Lauderdale. It was my first ever cruise, and though it was pleasant I'm by no means addicted to the lifestyle. Sixteen days on a boat is about enough, and as usual, I'm finding that no matter how old I get, I always seem to be surrounded by people a decade or so older. The bald heads, beer guts, and uncontrolled flatulence got to be a bit much after awhile.

Maybe I'll write more about the cruise itself sometime, but right now the salient thought in my head is how the whole cruise thing is open to criticism by those of a certain political persuasion. It's a bit odd to think of the fuel and resources pissed away on hauling a bunch of over-the-hill retirees pointlessly over the high seas for weeks on end, but the primary criticism would probably be about the labor practices. Holland America hires primarily Filipinos for food service jobs, and Indonesians for stewards and housekeeping. Apparently there are large training centers in both countries. It seems strange to be on a ship for over two weeks with a bunch of old white people being served almost exclusively by non-affluent young Asians. For someone like myself who has lived all over the world and also had to work fairly hard to get anywhere in life, I feel funny about having the same person serve me three meals a day and sweep up around the hot tub while I soak in it.

I was friendly with one lady on the crew, and told her as much. If ever she has time off in San Diego, she can relax while I do the work. Being about forty years younger than I am, I doubt she'll follow up, but I gave her my contact info anyway. There's nothing in particular going on in my head; I'd just enjoy letting one of the crew members actually see some of the places the ship docks in for a change.

For whatever reason, I seem to bond well with the older people I always find myself surrounded by no matter how old I myself get. There were several retired army-types who had been in the same places as myself at slightly different times, and any number of folks who lived in places I'd passed through or spent time in. My cross-country motorcycle trip from summer 2017 provided many a point of departure for conversation. Toward the end of the cruise, I got to talking with one of the entertainers during an elevator ride, and found that he was the nephew of a childhood friend!

One upside of a cruise is that just about everyone is in a good mood, and have their life together enough to be able to afford to go on a cruise. Though the entire Trump impeachment trial took place while I was at sea, there wasn't much discussion of it. The only consistent satellite channels available in most places were Fox News and MSNBC, so it was fun to switch from one to the other and marvel at how people can view the same event and have such a different perspective on it. During the Iraq War and the whole George W. era, I hated Fox and cheered on MSNBC. Now it's pretty much the opposite, with just about anyone with a brain willing to admit that invading Iraq was about the stupidest thing that ever happened.

Love the troops; hate the war... Remember that? Well, decompressing from the cruise and getting back to Realityville while retired and with lots of time on my hands, I find myself reverting to my default piss-and-vinegar world view. As Michael Savage once put it, in and of itself what's so great about somebody who wears a uniform? Firefighters save lives, but they also spend most of their time sitting around playing cards in the station and contemplating the unaffordable pensions they anticipate drawing on retirement.

Actually, since spending six years in the army myself, I've always thought this faux patriotism by people who wouldn't know which end of a rifle to clean was a buncha hooey. I served two tours in the Military District of Washington, the first in the immediate post-Vietnam era and the second during the Iran Hostage Crisis. I went from people flipping me off along M Street in Georgetown as I rode my motorcycle back to Fort Myer to having them come up and thank me for my service. In both cases, my basic feeling toward their behavior was a great big fuck-you.

It always seemed to me that, no matter how manly or macho the work might seem, firefighters, law enforcement types, and military personnel are all basically public sector weenies. Unlike the average Joe Schmo, they don't have to get up every morning and figure out all over again how to make a living. They don't have to hire a tax preparer to figure out how to keep from losing their shirt or having their pants pulled down as the government reams them. They just go off and play with big toys like a bunch of overgrown children. Occasionally it's dangerous, but most of the time that's just exactly what they do for a living, with no worries about healthcare or job security.

What's so High-Falutin' Great American about it? It sounds like the great socialist dream to me. Is it really so different from living in a communist country in the old days, sitting around on your ass without a worry in the world other than not upsetting the higher-ups?  Having spent so much time in the military, it would be hard to label me anti-military or some other sort of anti-American nonsense. I just don't see any particular reason to look up to somebody just because he wears a uniform any more than to someone who navigates the idiocy of everyday life in an advanced society while living by his wits.

In this stream-of-consciousness tirade against all that pisses me off about American society, allow me to now turn to the whole business of making a living and the so-called social contract. My dad was a pretty average and typical American, and like most typical Americans he wasn't that interested in being clever. He didn't want to start and run a business, or to spend most of his waking hours trying to out-maneuver and/or cut the balls off the competition. Herein lies a great irony that causes endless misunderstanding: It doesn't take that many ambitious or even intelligent people to run a society. What it takes is obedient people with a sense of faith in the system... believers in the social contract if you will. All you really have to do to keep a society going is avoid alienating them so completely and screwing them so blatantly that they cease to give a shit.

Republican politicians tend to be ambitious, and intelligent in a running-a-business way that, in my youth, I used to refer to as "butt brains." They don't seem to understand that most people just want to put in an honest day's work without worrying about being laid off on a half hour's notice. They'd also prefer not to have to worry about the job once they've punched out for the day. Democratic politicians, on the other hand, are generally either guilt-tripping inheritors of great wealth or public sector weenies, though strictly of the chairborne variety; soldiers and cops almost always fancy themselves conservatives despite being wards of the state. Many more Democrats than Republicans are professional politicians, and as Thomas E. Dewey once put it, no man should seek a job in the public sector if he can't make more money in the private sector. This, however, is a foreign concept to most "progressive" types. With some important exceptions, Democrats generally know about as much about economics or the dynamics of generating wealth as I did when I got my first job at Jack-in-the-Box. The political views of both sides derive from their own world views, and neither side seems to recognize that not everybody thinks like they do.

First out of necessity, then because I genuinely liked the life I'd made for myself. I became quite clever at investing and keeping my cash flow positive. My only conventional job for the past 22 years was as a part-time community college instructor. It's another great irony that tenured professors are almost unfailingly knee-jerk liberal public sector weenies of the worst sort themselves, yet they tend to look down on their part-time colleagues (adjunct instructors, or simply "aaaaadjuncts") as inferiors who couldn't quite cut the mustard, even as they claim to champion our rights in the name of social justice. College administrators, the ultimate superfluous public sector dead weight--and seemingly possessed of an en masse Walter Mitty complex--treat us with ruthless expediency, even as they come out with position papers about the rights of "Dreamers" or some other whining assholes.

It certainly doesn't help that I've been on the wrong end of affirmative action since the day I entered the workforce. There aren't that many Males-Who-Look-Like-Me in my field, and a surprising number I met during my career had done exactly as I did. We took care of ourselves because we knew we couldn't expect The System to take care of us. We succeeded, and must have been something of an enigma to the full-timers--who apparently presume that all adjuncts are jealous of them--but there's always a certain resentment in the back of my mind that I had to devote so much mental energy to something as chickenshit as making a living without being stomped out by some quirk of the system beyond my control. As it was, I lost my healthcare for a few months--during that period when you were fined for not having any--through the sheer incompetence of some classified employee in HR. She actually giggled over the phone when I tried to discuss it with her. I'd have complained, but why bother? Nothing would happen to her, and I'd be regarded as just another grievance-mongering aaaaadjunct troublemaker.

This brings me to yet another sore spot in my One-Man War against societal insanity: Societies in general, and this one in a grotesquely exaggerated manner, don't reward those who follow the rules. This wouldn't really be a problem if everyone followed the rules, but it's precisely the scofflaws, incompetents, shrug-your-shoulders-and-fart ignoramuses, and all around irresponsible assholes that the system actually does reward. Go to work, pay your taxes and bills, and know the authorities will be on you like a jackal if you don't cross a t or dot an i. Thumb your nose at the system, tell the authorities to shut up and give you your free stuff,  or--if you lack the balls to do that--simply claim you are a victim, and a whole world of government "programs," private charities, special services, and fight-for-your-rights advocactes are there for the picking.

You can clog up the hospital emergency room and stiff the bill. You can claim that you couldn't understand the instructions for whatever bureaucratic procedure you failed to comply with. You can screw up on the job until the cows come home. You can enter the country illegally and get free legal services and other forms of human rights infused bullshit that no one would ever consider extending to a native-born citizen. Meanwhile, every knee-jerk liberal within shouting distance will holler about your "rights." You can defy teachers and police, unlawfully assemble... pretty much do whatever you want, then claim--successfully--that you were somehow treated unfairly when proper authority does its job.

The result is that we basically live in a society full of chickenshits. Everyone's scared to death of being sued, shamed, fired, or physically assaulted if they dare to apply common sense to a situation. Government and private business alike seem to specialize in warning people about the obvious, using ridiculous amounts of hem-and-haw verbiage in a country where half the people can't really even understand English very well. We're told that coffee cups are hot, that people with heart conditions shouldn't ride on roller coasters, that national parks might have wildlife. If the admonitions are oral, they are given inevitably over a poor quality PA system with every kind of background noise going on, usually by a bored functionary mumbling at a thousand words per minute. The point isn't really to communicate, but to ass-cover. The national motto ought to be "You Can't Say We Didn't Tell You."

Then, at the end of the day, this nation of scared-shitless people comes home to relax, and what do you think they favor as TV fare? Programs about cops and lawyers! Yep, turn on a TV and channel surf randomly. At least half the programs will feature police stations and courtrooms. Meanwhile, the rest of the world marvels at this nation's truly stupefying levels of violent crime and idiotic litigation. Me, I just have an antenna and don't watch that much TV anyway. Who needs to pay for 100+ channels of garbage when I can get half a dozen free? When it all got to be too much, I used to take late evening walks around the neighborhood, but too many people I didn't know would take to heart that When in Doubt Call the Cops mentality that is really just a reflection of the national paranoia. I got tired of explaining that I lived in the neighborhood and was just walking down the street at an admittedly odd time of day. When it happens to me, it's just life in the good old USA. When it happens to Someone Who Doesn't Look Like Me, I believe they call it profiling.

Bullshit is the glue that holds societies together, and when a society's sense of self comes to completely lack any semblance of verisimilitude--and no one is afraid to point it out anymore--it implodes with surprising quickness and lack of fanfare. The Soviet Union was a recent example. The Japanese have the concept of "honne" vs. "tatemae," meaning the unadorned truth vs. the company line, the just-tangential-enough-to-the-truth bullshit that everyone knows is bullshit but no one dares to point out as such. It was one of various aspects of that society that annoyed me endlessly when I lived there, yet it seems to have taken root in politically correct America... and it's all the more annoying because Americans love to go on about how straight-talking they are. Of course, straight talking isn't always a good idea when everybody is going around with a gun and/or a lawyer on retainer, and tends to take offense at everything they see and hear. It's a toxic mix, and the situation is desperate; we are running out of bullshit!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

King Apathy III

A few days after my 65th birthday last month, I gave final exams for the final time, had a fine send-off from my department, and slipped away into retirement. It was all rather nice and neat, finishing up a semester, applying for Medicare and CalSTRS, and celebrating my birthday all within a few days of each other.

After a week or so of tying up loose ends, I headed out to the Prescott place. The management company still keeps an eye on it--supposedly--since it reverted to my personal use over the summer. It seems to suck a lot of money through the management fee, heating it minimally with propane during this cold winter, and replacing the roof with a metal one even though the original 1996 asphalt shingle roof still seemed to have some life left in it. The unpleasant surprise was under the house, where I discovered a water line leak due to rats gnawing at it, and a nightly cacphony of the hated rodents trying to get into the house through the heating vents and drain pipes.

Though hardly happy with the management company, I'm kinda stuck with them unless I want to battle the problems myself. I seem to have scared the critters--which included a skunk--out from under the place, and so sealed up the holes they'd been getting in through toward the end of my ten-day stay. I caught a huge fat rat, probably pregnant, and the others laid low, apparently abandoning the place altogether. The management company sent out a subcontractor to repair the water leak, and promised to check under the house from now on during its monthly inspections... Yeah, do that!

All told, I now have three part-time residences. San Diego will remain the primary one, the address of record and mailing of official stuff, but I'm going to have to spend time in Prescott lest the animals return to take up residence again. Miami Beach, where I am now, remains a fun little hideaway on the opposite coast, and apparently free of rats since a small invasion of the complex three years ago alerted us to seal up any possible entrance ways. The neighbors' cats like me, and I encourage them to come inside, take a look around, and leave their scent. The San Diego condo, since flooding due to a ruptured water heater during a stay in Miami Beach three years ago, has remained trouble-free. I now shut off the water main before leaving on any trip of more than a few days.

The folks' old house in San Diego, now a rental, has been a money-sucker during the recent turnover of tenants, Then, a week or so after the new ones had moved in, the house next door to it caught fire. I'm sorry for the neighbors, but awfully glad the damage was limited to their own property.

The other San Diego rental, a duplex, of course chose this moment to provide me with a low-level headache, as the tenants can't get the oven door to close and there are no replacement parts for such an old model. More $$$ pissed away on expenses expenses EXPENSES!!! Don't ever think that owning rental properties is just a matter of living off of other people's earnings. There are time periods where I don't make a dime off of them. This is turning into one of those extended periods.

I'd stopped in Yuma on the way home from Prescott to take a look at the place there. To persuade the tenants to stay, I'd agreed to put a cover over the patio and to replace the flooring. This was my first time seeing it since the work was done several months ago. Then, this morning, I get an email from the management company there telling me that they are applying for a loan and apparently getting ready to move. Oh joy, just what I need right now...

Despite this bombardment of aggravations as I start out my retirement, the problems at the Prescott place galvanized me. I'm getting older, but can still rise to the occasion and work day and night to deal with a crisis. The thing is, left to my own devices I don't want to. Retirement is just exactly what I thought it would be ever since I was a kid and the concept reached me that I'd have to spend a large part of my life doing things that I really didn't want to do while on someone else's schedule. For all the talk about the love of teaching, I found a good number of students obnoxious twits, and am proud to say that I can't even remember their names a month later. The evenings in Miami Beach have consisted of cooking up a nice meal, and enjoying it at the picnic table on the boat dock with plenty of sangria or Scotch and soda.

The cats enjoy lounging around, and don't even seem to expect me to give them anything from my plate. Two of them look quite well-fed by their owner anyway. The third one is a black and white "tuxedo cat," virtually identical to the one my folks had from the early '80s to mid-'90s. It doesn't really like to be picked up and cuddled, but will put up with it for a minute or so with some half-hearted squirming around and vocal complaints. When I let her go, she just hangs around as if she wants more.

Will I grow tired of this, and wish I had new challenges, mountains to climb, annoying people to deal with? Not likely. I was always rather oddly apathetic, content to entertain myself with simple things and enjoy whatever is going on around me with a sort of amazed grin on my face. In the back of my mind, the only worry is whether the rodents in Prescott will stay scared away long enough for me to return and freshly terrorize them. Other than that, I wish only for a minimum of complications as I prepare to head out next Thursday on a cruise through the Panama Canal and back to San Diego.


San Diego

Miami Beach

Monday, October 14, 2019

Nearing Retirement and Getting Crankier

I was born on Pearl Harbor Day 1954. This means that I'm less than two months from 65 years old. It's sobering to go through all the applications for CalSTRS, Medicare, and Social Security, and to notify the college that I'll be retiring at the end of the semester, a few days after my birthday. I've booked a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego through the Panama Canal in late January/early February, after planning to hang out for a month at the Miami Beach condo. This is really happening!

Then today, some woman in her eighties with a walker tried hitting on me after I'd bought a bottle of booze at the Rite-Aid. She was driving me crazy, taking forever to shuffle her way through the exit, but I managed a smile when she turned and apologized... and that set her off. Once finally in the parking lot, I straddled my motorcycle, and she expressed amazement that someone so old could still ride one. She asked how old I was, and I hesitated just long enough to show mild irritation before telling her.

I've been on some stupid dating site for the past several years, and have NEVER not once met ANYONE on it, or even had anyone under retirement age look at my profile. Was all set to meet a lady a few years ago in Miami, but when I sent her a selfie with a neighbor's cat a couple of hours before, she went on about how she was allergic to cats and therefore had to do the usual female cancel-out. Can you see how fine it makes me feel to be hit on by an old lady with a walker? I have enough negativity about anything hinting of romance as it is, and don't really need that to make my day.

Since the year I got out of high school, people have been telling me that I look 10-15 years older than I am. I don't really give a shit, but why must they keep telling me? My best childhood friend is limping around with a cane, and takes about 25 different kinds of pills every day. Nobody tells HIM that he looks old everywhere he goes. What is up with that?

At some point today, I'll have to get around to deep-cleaning my little bitty condo. I love it when it's clean, hate cleaning it, but don't trust anyone else to get it the way I want it. Like the motorcycle, it looks like something a much younger man would have. It is, I suppose, the late adulthood equivalent of a child's tricycle and playpen.

The simple fact is that I've never been that keen on adulthood. I've never wanted to be married, and never cared for any of that other grown-up crap. Kids annoy me as it is, so why would I want any of my own?! Women never seem able to express a 10-word thought in less than 500 words. Visitors leave peanut shells, potato chip crumbs, and fingerprint-smudged glassware all over my nice clean condo. Dealing with people gets on my nerves.  Thinking gives me a headache. In fact, I've never really enjoyed working; I just managed to find something I could do for a living that didn't drive me crazy or bore me to death.

Soon enough, the whole world can kiss my ass. Ever since I was five years old and had to go to kindergarten, I've always wanted just to be able to lie around in bed or on the sofa any time I wanted to without anybody hassling me, and to tell my mom or my teacher or my drill sergeant or whoever was on my case, "PPPHHHFFFRRRTTT!!!" to you! It looks like--finally--I've achieved my life goal.

SDSU Donor Wall, with the oldest man in the world

Teachers' conference in Sacramento early this year.
Oldest man in the world back and center.

Hangout of the oldest man in the world

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Older Than the President of My Childhood

Perhaps you're familiar with the most popular entry of my modest blog, "The President of My Childhood." I've been in an odd frame of mind for the past week or so, realizing that our 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson, died at the age of 64 years 4 months and 3 weeks on January 22, 1973. I was a a senior in high school then, and he seemed impossibly old. His passing wasn't much noted by people my age, as the Vietnam War was still going on and the rancor of American involvement there was still very fresh.

You see, around the first of May, I turned 64 years 4 months and 3 weeks old. It's hard to imagine that I'm now older than LBJ was when he died, barely a month after this video of his last public appearance was recorded at the end of a civil rights symposium at the LBJ Library in Austin, TX. This might seem an odd fact to carry around in one's head, but there's a sort of following among those who have visited the LBJ Library and Museum, much facilitated by social media of course. He was a fascinating individual, tremendously conflicted and of two minds about most things. He hated the Vietnam War, and spent too much time listening to "experts" rather than following the intuition that told him that South Vietnam was simply too underdeveloped as a nation to resist the north's determination to unite the country under one government.

His true sense of pride, and the place closest to his heart, was the civil rights legislation passed during his five years and two months in office. If you understand the background and have a sense of history, this is a difficult video to watch. LBJ went into a deep depression after leaving office, resumed smoking and drinking heavily, and--aside from overseeing closely the construction of his presidential library--seemed hell-bent on his own self-destruction. Roy Wilkins and other leaders present were reportedly dismayed at the former president's appearance, the hesitancy with which he began his remarks. He got stronger though, and by the end had several audience members in tears. Jack Valenti described it as seeing the champ enter the ring one final time, not as strong as he was in his prime but rising to the occasion.

It is, in the end, a pretty good speech from a man who was not that good a public speaker. As one of the commenters to the link puts it, regardless of all that he did well and badly in his life, it's hard to see this man as anything but a good and decent person who loved his country. If you've gone as far as finding your way to this blog, give it a listen and try to understand the spirit of the times and the enormous changes his actions brought to American society in less than a decade since the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It makes me feel that my own life's accomplishments, and those of most of us, are but nothing in comparison.

LBJ was particularly proud of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
of Texas, shown here during the symposium with Vernon Jordan.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Wayfaring Stranger, 2019

It's getting onto summer vacation time. I've had unusual difficulty deciding what I want to do with the 12 weeks or so I have off between semesters. Now, I think I've figured it out.

Since 2012, I've had some consistently memorable summers. Even during Japan days, students would comment that I nearly always managed to come up with something interesting to do with my long time off. There, over several years, I attended all the northern festivals while making my way up to Sapporo from Osaka. One year, 1990, I climbed Mr. Fuji before hitting the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori. In more recent summers, I've travelled to Europe, taken a Colorado River raft trip, visited the hometowns and final resting places of relatives from both sides of my family, signed legacy gifts in Washingon DC and taken the train from there to Miami, re-visited Peru, ridden my motorcycle cross-country, and traveled around Mexico by train, bus, and ferry.

What does one do for an encore at age 64? Well, since 2014 the trips have been built around the concept that I have a home on each coast, in San Diego and Miami Beach, and can make my way from one to the other as part of the adventure. This time, I think I'm just going to buy a one-way ticket to Miami, then make my way back from east to west as I damned well please.

It fits into the general self-improvement kick I'm on at the moment as well. Though always on-the-go during vacations, I tend to spend weekends and days off during the semesters about as active as a beached whale. My San Diego condo isn't big, but it's filled with all sorts of me-stuff that makes it very comfortable just to burrow in and stay home when I don't have a lot of time to wander... even the exercise equipment I need to stay reasonably in shape. I suppose the self-centered nature of the place--and of its component part in Miami Beach--goes a long way toward explaining why I've never settled down with a woman. I like wandering around drunk and naked. I like eating what I want when I want it. I like burping and farting whenever the urge overtakes me, with no one around to take offense. I like being only a few steps away from whatever I'm looking for. I like having things just so.

Most of all, perhaps, I like the feeling of being affluent, and as secure as a person can be in an uncertain world. It doesn't take all kinds of expensive stuff and ostentatious consumption to feel this way, mind you; I also get a kick out of owning no computer of my own while having access to all of them I could ever need. I find it very cool that I can watch TV free, with an antenna, when I watch it at all. I enjoy dressing sloppy, and not shaving or showering, when I have no outside responsibilities and no one to impress. I like having a full head of long, wavy, multi-colored, completely natural hair that I suppose must be striking because so many people have told me that it is. If there's any social aspect to the enjoyment at all, it's in getting the stink-eye from some shallow, conventional soccer mom type, knowing that she'd probably turn instantly obsequious if she knew my passive income exceeds what most people make by working... and having no particular desire that she know.

For a time, the only concern about this pleasant if unhealthy lifestyle was that I might have been becoming something of an alcoholic. Now, however, I'm three weeks into a planned six weeks of drinking no booze at all, and am surprised by how little I miss it. At home--and only when I had nothing in particular to accomplish the next day--I'd been in the habit of going through entire fifths of scotch, rum, or tequila in a single sitting, waking up to a dead TV and splayed clumsily across my second-hand, custom-rebuilt sofa. In a social setting, on the other hand, I've always been pretty moderate, even watching out for other folks who've had too much. On a road trip, I never drink anything stronger than beer, and that usually only as a way to quench my thirst after a long summer day. This made me wonder how much my habit was actually a problem rather than simply an enjoyable form of relaxation.

In the end, I suppose it comes down to my being too wary and untrusting to truly bust loose and get scheissgesichtet around anyone but myself. As an old NCO during my time in Germany once put it when we were idly discussing such things while loading a truck, there's nothing you can do in a bar that you can't do better at home.

Besides all this, I have a rather ritualistic approach to booze. I own a matching set of rather fancy glasses of various types, accumulated second-hand over the years until they've evolved into something rather impressive to behold. Each piece is somewhat valuable, but acquired through garage sales and thrift stores. I always clean them nicely so that they won't have water spots or fingerprints, and--most of all--I'm always careful to drink the booze of my choice from the appropriate glass. I'd rather not drink at all than drink a glass of wine from a champagne flute or such. I can hardly even stand to drink scotch with ice from a tumbler, though I will if there's just a little bit of ice left and no soda water to finish things off.

Thus am I not too worried about my pleasant habit, but just the same it will be a healthy break to get out of town for awhile, and away from my comfortable surroundings and fancy glassware. The plan at this point is to buy a one-way ticket to Miami Beach, and hang out there for a few weeks. With my mostly matching set of glassware there, if I lapse into several drunken nights at the boat dock, watching the planes take off from Miami International, listening for dolphins surfacing to breathe, and dipping in the pool, so be it. I'll stay as long as I want, within reason, and then I'll head back by whatever way suits my fancy.

A song comes to mind, "The Wayfaring Stranger." My piano teacher gave it to me to learn when I was about 9 years old. I'd never heard it before, but it stuck with me. About a year later, I heard it sung in the movie How the West Was Won, but by then I was already familiar with it... and even a bit surprised to hear it somewhere else. Since I was that age in the mid-1960s, I've always had a vague image of myself as a much older man (until I in fact became one) wandering and drifting across this great wide land. I'd be dressed in rags--sloppy clothes anyway--with a floppy hat, a walking stick, an old backpack, and a few days beard growth. Other people dream of being a five-star general, or a corporate CEO, or the president of the United States or something, but I always fancied myself as a kind of carefree vagabond. Whenever I've had higher aspirations, I realize that this is really my essence, and that where I am is where I always wanted to be.

I suppose this is the summer where I "Live the Dream." The plan is to make my way north toward Minnesota. I'd like to take an old friend up on his long-standing invitation to see the rural paradise that he bought after marrying his wife, a former secretary at the first language school I ever taught at in Peru. Then I'll head west, hoping to see Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Missouri River, and some of the scenes in Montana from Robert Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In Idaho, I'll make a big left turn and maybe pass through Reno to visit my brother and his wife for a few  days (if it's OK by them). Then on back, via familiar roads, to San Diego.

Mind you, I'm the first to know that living like a vagabond is tremendous fun only if you have the means to head for the nearest airport and fly home when/if it all gets to be more of a hassle than a glorious adventure. This was, after all, what the whole sixties hippy movement was all about: a buncha spoiled white kids mooching off their parents and posing as counterculturalists. Me, I can do such things now without mooching off of anybody or shirking any of my life's responsibilities. I don't care if it's hypocritical or fake or what-not; it's what I want to do... and I'm old enough that I don't care what anyone else has to say about it.

The first of several sheet music illustrations
for the song, and the closest to the one I
remember from childhood.

Another sheet music illustration, and
perhaps the closest to the way I fancy

An interesting illustation, though not particularly like me.

Using the proper glassware is important to my drinking habits.

It drives me nuts when people drink
from the wrong glass.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Asian Fetish? Phooey! (or is it "Fui?")

Sometime in my early-to-mid twenties, while I was stationed in Frankfurt with the army between tours in Washington, DC, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to get an advanced degree in linguistics some day. It didn't seem like the most practical of things to study, but I took to heart the advice of a retired literature professor who'd taught some of the evening classes on Fort Myer that enabled me to start and finish my bachelor's degree while on active duty. He told us one day toward the end of a course not to worry too much about being practical, that studying what one is passionate about is the best way to prepare for a career.

Well-me-now, in the Age of Trump, I wonder just how practical it is nowadays to worry not too much about being practical. All the same, I finished up the coursework for a master's in linguistics in my hometown of San Diego after getting out of the service. The thesis would take a bit of time to finish, but I did it eventually. I was pushing 30, full of interesting life experiences but basically broke, so the important thing at the time of coursework completion was to find a way to make some money.

My coursework was itself broken up by a stint in Peru, where I studied at a university there and got a taste of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), the first cousin to English as a second language (ESL). The difference is that the latter is used to refer to teaching in the U.S., while the former refers to teaching abroad (or, at least, in a place where English is not used as the primary language).

I'd always had a soft spot for Latin America, but it was hardly the place to make money teaching English. I had a girlfriend in Peru whom I'd met in Washington during my last year in the army, and spent the year there deciding that she took me much more seriously than I took her. I was very fond of her, but didn't think the long-term prospects were good. Then, as now, I really think that intercultural romance is an overall bad idea beyond the, um... exotic aspect of it.

After a bit of research into the matter during the spring of 1984, talking to exchange students and to people who'd taught abroad in those pre-internet days, I eventually found my way into a choice between Saudi Arabia and Japan as potential moneymaker destinations that would serve the added purpose of giving me even more interesting stories to tell. I chose Japan, and ended up staying there off-and-on for over ten years in two different and distinct jobs and locations.

The first was "the fun job," in the northern city of Sapporo. I was there about two and a half years. Then I came home, finished off my master's thesis, and spent a few months in Mexico helping to start the UdeG-affiliated PROULEX program in Guadalajara. Early in 1988, I followed up on an interview I'd had the year before and got hired at an ESL/EFL convention for what would turn into an eight year stay, working mainly for Panasonic's training center in Osaka. The company was known then as Matsushita Electric Industrial Company.

During this time, I studied with limited intensity the Japanese language, and made progress year by year in both the spoken and written languages. Though never completely proficient, there was a time when I felt more comfortable speaking Japanese than Spanish, and I was able to take care of everyday business without translations or other help.

I left Japan in March 1996, feeling I'd satisfied my curiosity about the Mysterious East and, more importantly, that I'd saved enough money to never again have to seek full-time employment in the notoriously unstable field of ESL/EFL. Throughout the years there, my love life was hit-and-miss, mostly miss because I simply wasn't that interested in pursuing Japanese girls. I'd tend to have better luck when I'd come home each spring to attend that annual convention. After a few years in Asia, Western women came to seem somewhat "exotic" to me.

I'm not talking about the scowling water buffalo types who might as well wear a large chip on their shoulder at all times, the ones who cackled like Popeye's Sea Hag when that Bobbit woman cut her husband's dick off. I mean the ones who take care of themselves and thrive professionally, who can be logical--and assertive when necessary--yet gentle in their private moments. My "type" had long been Latinas, but living in Asia was giving me an appreciation for my own kind, though during army service I'd come to appreciate a nice down-to-earth black lady's company as well. Asians were on the list, but by no means at the top of it. In my more mean-spirited moments, I found their often fake cheerfulness tiresome, their deliberate blandness boring, and their appearance somewhat cricket-like.

By sheer law of averages and the age I was then, I had something of a girlfriend in Sapporo, but she was really a Japanese version of the one in Peru. I was fond of her, but had no desire to spend the rest of my life with her and, in fact, usually couldn't wait for her to leave after I'd cooked her breakfast in the morning after she'd stayed over. In Osaka, I managed to go the entire eight years without a girlfriend to speak of. A number of colleagues there had married Japanese women, and in one case I knew a female with a Japanese husband. Some of them were well-adjusted; living in Japan was like living anywhere, and Japan was where they'd ended up. Many others were miserable, often divorced with kids in limbo. I never devoted a minute to the thought of getting myself into such a situation.

Since leaving Japan, I've had no desire to return, though once in awhile I'll have a dream about being there since it comprised such a large chunk of my lifetime. I was reasonably curious about things while I was there. I went to all of the major summer festivals over the years. I ate a lot of good food, and drank a lot of sake. I enjoyed participating in teachers' conferences all over the country. I got along OK with my neighbors, and left them some of the souvenirs I'd collected in other parts of the world when it was time to pack up and leave. Once re-settled in San Diego, I became active with the Japan Society and the San Diego/Yokohama Sister City Society. There's a girl or two in Japan that I have pleasant memories of, even the one in Sapporo who so often overstayed her welcome.

What I don't have is any sort of "Asian Fetish." It's one of those terms that come up if you do some casual reading about Asia and the topic turns to romance and dating. It took much reading of these articles--usually written by self-righteously indignant Asian American females--to really gain awareness of what often turned me off about Japanese women while I was living there.

The self-esteem of women everywhere, I guess, is very much tied up in how they look, and whether or not men go to great lengths to look at them. Granting the differences between various Asian cultures--meaning East Asian of the type that used to be referred to as "Oriental"--as well as the great differences between a native-born Asian female and one American-born and/or raised, they nearly all have one salient group quality that stands out like a sore thumb: They are so full of themselves! Try doing a google search of men who don't find Asian women particularly attractive. What you get is a potpourri of indignant Asian women griping about how obsessed white men are with them. I mean, no matter how you word the search, you can't find a word about men who aren't obsessed at all with hitting on the nearest Asian female.

Though not a big-time user of dating sites, I'm reminded of the Japanese female attitude toward these things on the once-in-awhile occasion that an Asian female views my profile and contacts me. It's as if these women presume that all they have to do is wink their eye or send a casual "Hey there..." to have me panting after them like a thirsty dog. I made the mistake of dating one some years ago, a Vietnamese-American hairdresser who spent several hours talking about nothing but how hot she was, how living in America had made her more curvaceous and sassy than the average Asian girl. I was polite as always, but couldn't wait to get her back to her place so that I could drop her off and be rid of her!

It brings back unpleasant memories of nightlife in Osaka, where most of the time I simply wanted to relax with a few beers in a different sort of place, only to constantly have complete strangers drunkenly try to introduce me--in English, and always in English--to some simpering Ja-pa-neeez woman that I had no particular interest in dealing with. Once in awhile, the woman herself would approach me in an overly familiar way, apparently presuming that I would be captivated to be breathing the same air as she. I seldom to never was.

Asian ladies, you can whine online all you want about the horrors of being objectified by white men. I'm pretty old now, have been all around the world, and have been objectified aplenty myself. We're not all obsessed with you, and everything isn't all about you. I can hear a little of myself in some of your whining, but realize now that, sometimes after I'd had my fill of pretentious Asian girls or drunken salarymen's B.S., I could lapse into hypersensitivity. Every once in awhile, I probably saw things that weren't even there. The difference between you and me is that I don't have an entire cult following to keep reinforcing an inflated sense of myself.

You complain that this is a white male-dominated country, and you're right. Wouldn't it follow, then, that people might be curious as to what in the world you're doing thousands and thousands of miles away from the place of your ethnic origins? I know a thing or two about the construction of the southwest railways, the borax mines in Death Valley, the mass immigration of agricultural workers from Kyushuu in the late 19th century, the Vietnam War refugees. I know a bit about the different language families of East Asia. I see you as individuals, and being the polite and sociable person I tend to be, I might try to ask you a half-way intelligent question about your background. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm all that interested in you, and certainly, it doesn't mean it when you cop that Everybody-Wants-Me-Cuz-I'm-an-Asian-Hottie attitude.

In Sapporo, my buddies for hangin' out tended to be a fluid group
of housewives who studied at the language school where I taught.
Some were in my class; others were former students. They were
older, and I enjoyed flirting with them harmlessly. 

One of my best friends in Japan was actually happily married.
He owned a house in Sapporo, where I often stayed while on
vacation from Osaka.

The Hanagasa Festival in Yamagata, Northern Japan. No, I had
no romantic interest in the girls... but bought a festival costume
for my friend's little daughter when I visited later in Sapporo.

At Panasonic's training center. There were always more men
than women taking English classes, just as there were more
working in the company. I tended to like Japanese women
better when I knew them a bit from working with them.

At a teachers' conference in Matsuyama. I joked at the time
that the photo demonstrates a white man exploiting human
labor while presumptuously helping himself to the women. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

How Kids Learn Basic Life Skills

Spring break started for me on Thursday, March 21st after I'd taught my last class of the week and graded a few papers. I flew off to Miami Beach for ten days that evening, returning late on Monday, April 1st because I had to teach the next morning. This is cutting things closer than I usually like to do, but the trips, with direct flights between San Diego and Miami, have become quite routine to me. There's little anxiety because I know just what to expect.

On the after-dark return flight, the pilot announced the route we would follow, and I was even able to identify from the air every major urban area as we passed slightly north of them: El Paso, Tucson, Casa Grande, Yuma, Calexico/Mexicali. The latter two are easy, as Yuma is shaped like a long snake that winds along on either side of the I-8. I could even identify the neighborhood near the eastern end where my rental house stands. Mexicali comes up shortly after, a huge sea of lights with a small wedge jutting out northward which is the city of Calexico, on the other side of the border.

I like this sort of comfortable familiarity for a definite reason: my childhood was extremely traumatic. It wasn't that my parents didn't love me. It's that my mom and dad, who was a public school teacher, didn't have the slightest aptitude for teaching their three kids how to function in the real world. For years, things like answering a phone call, crossing a street with a traffic signal, buying a few items in a supermarket, or sweeping a floor were extremely anxiety-producing for me. I didn't really know what to do because my parents never showed me, and my difficulty with accomplishing such tasks confidently and correctly often led other people to be quite impatient with me.

To this day, it's not clear why my parents were so clueless about such things. They used to complain that their three kids were passive, and they were right. They waited on us hand-and-foot, treating us as if we were helpless infants until we were nearly into our teen years, meanwhile complaining loudly and bitterly that we never seemed to do anything for ourselves. Tired of hearing this, we'd try, and the results would usually leave my dad, in particular, yelling at us about how stupid we were. Then, we'd sit around passively until the cycle started again.

My mom did teach me how to ride a bicycle, but it was a huge, ancient full-size monster with balloon tires that my godmother had given me when her daughters no longer wanted it. The other kids had stingrays and such with training wheels, and those training wheels came off long before I was able to do much more than coast a few yards before crashing painfully. Once I was able to make a turn on the small lawn in the back yard, mom let me take the bike out on the street.

The problem is that we lived along a very busy street, and that she'd never bothered to show me how to stop the giant machine. The brake was in the hub of the rear wheel, so of course to a 6 year old kid the bike appeared to have no way to stop it other than to jump off. I smashed into sign posts and over picket fences, each time coming home to a tirade from my dad about how stupid I was. Finally, the older brother of my best childhood friend figured out that I simply didn't understand how to work the brake. He lifted up the rear tire, pulled the pedals back, and showed me how that stopped the wheel. I never had such problems again.

For Christmas 1964, my parents impounded the money my maternal grandparents sent me and made up the difference to buy me a new Schwinn American two-speed. It was actually a little bigger than the balloon-tired monster, but I'd grown by then and the dealer was careful to adjust the seat to my height... something that was far beyond by dad's mechanical aptitude. My brother inherited the old one, and apparently knew no more about operating the brake than I once had. We'd moved to a quieter street on level ground, so the problem didn't come to light until about a year later when he crashed into a garage door at the bottom of a steep hill, breaking his nose and knocking out his front teeth. I don't think my parents ever figured out that neither of us knew at the time how to operate a rear hub brake.

Once, while I was taking swimming lessons at a YMCA around 40th and University Avenue, my dad told me he had a meeting after school and couldn't pick me up after the lesson. He handed me a dime, and told me to take the bus home. He told me the bus number, and that I should get off at College and University; that was it. Well, after the swimming lesson, I managed to walk to the bus stop and get on. I had no idea what to do with the dime, and the driver and other passengers began yelling at me. Finally, someone took it from me and told me to sit down on one of the seats. I watched people pulling a cord to ring a bell as their stops came up, and figured that out without much problem.

Once off the bus, I had no idea how to cross University Avenue to head north to our house on College. I stood at the corner nervously, as various people yelled at me from cars. After a few false starts, I ran halfway across to the island in the middle just as cars began bearing down on me, their horns honking. I stood terrified in the middle of the street while a woman in a car at the light kept telling me patiently to go ahead and cross while the light was green. I hesitated and hesitated, then set off just as the light turned red. She began yelling in exasperation as I sprinted across in panic. My mom, of course, began screaming at me as soon as I crossed the doorway because it had taken me so much longer to get home than she thought it should.

One holiday season while my paternal grandmother was visiting us, my mom needed some tomato sauce for a pasta dish. Dad threw me a dollar, and told me to go up to the supermarket and buy a can of tomato sauce. Once at the store, I had no idea where to find it. After searching around, I picked up a can of tomato paste, then wondered what to do with it. I got into a line, with several adults cutting in front of me because they figured I was with somebody else. Finally, I got up to the cashier and gave her the dollar. I knew enough to wait for some change, but couldn't understand when she told me several times, then yelled at me, that I should wait for my receipt. I had no idea what she was talking about, but took the strange piece of paper from her and waited to see if there was anything else I had to do before I could leave. Several customers in line told me impatiently that I could go.

When I got home, dad exploded with rage that I had bought tomato paste instead of tomato sauce, berating me once again about my stupidity. My grandmother was appalled at his behavior, and came in to console me as I cried uncontrollably in my room. Dad came in to scream at me to stop blubbering, but left when he saw my grandmother talking to me. I told her that I couldn't do any of these things right because I didn't know how. I wondered at the time how anyone ever DID learn to do routine things if they'd never in their lives been shown.

This led to a lifetime of anxiousness about unfamiliar situations. It seemed as if everything I did for the first time inevitably ended with a group of people standing around screaming at me. Often I'd simply freeze up in confusion, but that would only make it worse. When I joined the army and went through basic training, it was like 8 weeks of that... except that it was pretty much the same for everyone else there. Though considered somewhat dim-witted for my difficulties with such things as making a bed or mopping a floor, I got through it, and was surprised at how unnerved many of my comrades were about the constant yelling. After all, to me it was like any average day of my childhood. It's a miracle, really, that I ever became a functional adult. I suppose I am now, but I still don't really like getting outside of my comfort zone, and I take unnatural satisfaction in doing routine things without having someone scream at me or tell me I'm stupid. From conversations with my brother long after we grew up, apparently he feels much the same way.

From time to time, I notice parents letting their kids do things like pay the cashier at the store. The kid fumbles around with the money, taking forever while people wait behind them in line, but I have a patience for that sort of thing that some people don't. I understand that the parent is trying to teach the kid the kinds of things no elementary school teacher covers in class, and to this day I don't understand why that was such an alien concept to my elementary school teacher father. He's gone now, and I don't like to speak badly of him, but it was an inexplicable blind spot that both of my parents had.

Early 1965, with the new Schwinn American

Still have it!