Thursday, December 22, 2016

Holiday Tradition, or Just Same Old Sh-t?!

Like most people who had a reasonably happy childhood, my nostalgic memories at this time of year tend to involve my youngest years and my parents. Mom's been gone for 10 years now, and dad for 5. In the early to mid 1990s, I was still in Japan but coming home for Christmas irregularly, and sometime during that time frame the Big Responsibility for hosting everybody shifted over from my parents and in-laws to my sister.

I remember Christmas Eve 1995, walking down the church stairs after the candlelight service we'd been going to since I was an infant. My sister turned to me after glancing at our folks, and whispered, "Kevin, isn't it gonna be weird when they're not around?!"

It is. Yet I also remember commenting back to her, with my brother-in-law within earshot, that we were now making our own holiday traditions that perhaps some day we'd look back on as affectionately as we remember our childhood Christmases.

To briefly re-cap, I've been home for Christmas steadily since 1994, coming back from Japan during my last two there and being in the area since then... all but 1996 right here in San Diego. Last year I headed out to Miami Beach on Christmas Eve, saving a lot of money and not really feeling like I was missing that much... but just the same it isn't something I want to do again. I can't say that anything of particularly memorable interest happened during any of those last 22 holiday seasons. It doesn't mean they were unpleasant; it just means that we did all the usual stuff and nothing about it reaches out and grabs us as especially special.

We'd go to the candlelight service, which was always kinda the same but since it only happens once a year it's never become unbearably monotonous. We'd go to my sister's in the morning to open presents, then to her mother-in-law's in the evening for dinner. Over the years the routine varied only slightly, to where now we just forget about the morning activities and get together at my sister's in the evening to do it all in one grand gesture.

In the weeks before, I've gotten into the personal tradition of attending our community council's holiday party when they have one, which for reasons unknown doesn't always take place every year. This year's was typical, with a handful of people I've known for most of my life though not that well exchanging greetings and memories. I'll usually mention the old Christmas programs they used to put on each year at Henry Clay, the local elementary school, and several of us in our fifties and sixties will marvel that it could all be so long ago.

There was the year I got most of the class to do armpit farts in rhythm to the the refrain of "Joy to the World," most of the boys anyway. There was the year I caught impetigo and had to be replaced at the last minute as star of our third grade class's production. There was the year our class did a Hannukah song, and one of the families that didn't get along that great with their Jewish next-door neighbors complained about it... real down-home stuff.

I've also gotten into the habit of going to the annual Parade of Lights in Mission Bay. There's a much bigger one over two weekends in much bigger San Diego Bay, but the parking is impossible and every once in awhile something lousy happens there, like the fatality from a boat accident a few years ago. The only problem with the one in Mission Bay is that, until very recently it rained--consistently and with great intensity and discomfort--every year it took place. Most people only know about the ones in San Diego Bay anyway, so this meant that every year a small contingent of boats that didn't wuss out would be watched and waved at by a handful of hardy souls on the shore.

This year's had eerily comfortable weather, and it felt odd to see close to forty boats lit up with holiday colors and several dozen people on shore at Ski Beach cheering them on. I took along my best female friend for the third or fourth time, but the best friend I've known since kindergarten has been tied up with other activities the last couple of years, after we'd spent half a decade getting annually soaked in a freezing rain.

Less regularly, we'd get together with whoever we could round up and go to the OB Christmas Parade. For some reason though, one or both of us often as not had something else going on the evening of that rather fun event in Ocean Beach.

The other great, consistent tradition has been the climb up Cowles Mountain for the sunrise on Solstice Day. Aforementioned best friend has been with me every year I've done it, with the exception of last year, when I did it alone but had plenty of company at the top. This year we got together again for it, and for a hearty breakfast afterwards. I've missed it only twice in the past decade, before I had the condo in Miami Beach and was spending the week before Christmas there.

For about ten years, until four years ago, I was spending New Year's Eve in Phoenix after a few days working on the lot in Prescott. An old buddy there would round up his son or whoever else we could get together, and we'd go out to the desert around Tonopah early New Years Day to shoot various firearms and my archery set at whatever targets we could prepare beforehand. One year, just for the heck of it, I bought a 12-pack of Heineken and we shot at the full cans after shaking them up!

At times, the people involved wonder if we're just doing these holiday activities because we're doing them. I started going out to Miami Beach for New Year three years ago while shopping for my condo, and ammo was getting expensive anyway. My Phoenix buddy and I were the first to decide that that particular tradition was becoming more of a ritual than a celebration. Now we settle for a phone call to each other at the end of the year... if that.

Other traditions, though the people involved joke about it and sometimes refer to it as the SOS (same old shit), have become ingrained in our holiday consciousness. The season wouldn't be the same without them. Christmas Day with my sister and her family has become a chance to reminisce about times that truly WERE special. There's the picture of my brother and me sitting proudly before the small Christmas tree dad got for us and let us decorate ourselves in 1959, a couple of months before my sister was born.

There's the story about the year I made a snowman from styrofoam balls, and mom mailed it in to Johnny Downs' weekday cartoon program. He had a Christmas tree in his studio every December, and invited kids to send in decorations. When I saw my snowman on TV  hanging from his tree, it seemed like about the coolest thing ever! There was the not otherwise extraordinary Christmas of 1964, when I got the Schwinn American bicycle that I'd decades later convert into a beach cruiser, and that I still ride today.

More still... Though it's hard to believe I was a functioning adult 37 years ago, there was 1979, the first of the Really Cool Modern Christmases. I returned from Germany and three years with the army there on December 13, 1979. It was the first time I'd seen the U.S., or any of my childhood friends, since 1976... though my parents had visited Europe in the middle of my time there. I'd go on back to my old job in Washington, DC for my last year in the army, with an elation that seemed to infect everyone I came into contact with for weeks afterward.

There was 1987, when I came back from Guadalajara while working as a teacher in Mexico. My completed master's thesis was sitting under the Christmas tree at my folks' house. I'd completed it just before leaving for Mexico in September, and my folks proofread it together before submitting it to Thesis Review Service, where it passed muster with no observable typos. Mom and dad paid for the binding and printing, and it was about the best present I'd ever received.

Then there was 1991, now 25 years ago. I got tired of spending Christmas in Japan, and decided to come home without telling anyone. My dad, who normally didn't enjoy surprises of any kind--or even any deviation from predictable routine--thought it was about the neatest thing that had ever happened. The door to the folks' garage was open as I approached on foot, and I walked in and saw that mom was washing a load but had stepped away for a moment. She came back out, squinted, did a double-take, and asked if she could help me... She said she recognized me, of course, but that I was supposed to be thousands of miles away.

It doesn't take people long to get used to the unexpected, and perhaps that 1991 return was the best of them all. It was the last truly magical holiday season, and certainly forms a key part of my own personal holiday folklore.

Christmas 1959, with our own little Christmas tree

A styrofoam ball snowman, similar to the one I sent to Johnny Downs

Hiding from the weather during a typically wet Parade of Lights

One of the annual New Years Day Shoot-'Em-Ups

Monday, November 14, 2016

Channeling Two Progressive Presidents

Between them, John F. Kennedy's and Lyndon B. Johnson's presidencies spanned my impressionable elementary school years. The latter left office in the middle of 8th grade, when Nixon's term began, and thus did Tricky Dick become the president of my entire high school experience. Kennedy and Johnson weren't great friends, though JFK had greater respect for Johnson than his brother Robert did. LBJ, for his part, resented JFK's popularity despite his relative lack of experience at getting things done, but was always respectful to him once he became president and seemed to genuinely want to honor his memory after his death. Both were part of a very special time in U.S. history, when all human problems seemed solvable and the road to the solutions was not yet strewn with wreckage.

In 1961, Kennedy famously told us that the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans. Fifty-five years later, I never would have thought that, at age 61, the two major candidates for the presidency would still be nearly a decade older than myself. It seemed at times like an affirmation of the long-time criticism of the baby-boomer generation, that it was the generation that never grew up. Yet, for all the muck-raking and emotionally immature behavior from both sides--which in my opinion derived more from the constant exposure and instant analysis that defines this age than from the actual character of the candidates--there was something uplifting in that election. I see it as yet another example of this country's surprising ability to re-invent itself.

For words that articulate prophetically what has just happened, we need look to the inaugural address of LBJ, the less gifted speaker of the two. The full text of his January 20, 1965 inaugural address can be found here:

Inaugural addresses are normally not something to get that worked up over. They are prepared in celebration of the beginning of a new presidential term, and most are quickly forgotten thereafter. Kennedy's is an exception, though it probably would have been no different had he lived to make many of the same mistakes Lyndon Johnson subsequently did. Johnson's own speech was well-received in its time, though one journalist stated that his delivery gave the impression that he was dictating to a stonemason.

Choosing several segments of it, we find some very insightful turns of phrase:

"Our destiny in the midst of change will rest on the unchanged character of our people and on their faith... It is the excitement of becoming-always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting, and trying again--but always trying and always gaining.

"...We are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in justice and liberty and in our own union, …and that is the mistake that our enemies have always made. In my lifetime--in depression and in war--they have awaited our defeat. Each time, from the secret places of the American heart, came forth the faith that they could not see or that they could not even imagine…

"For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest that is sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say farewell. Is a new world coming? We welcome it, and we will bend it to the hopes of man."

The final phrasing might be familiar to some as one of several quotations by former presidents to be found on the inside pages of U.S. Passports. For many, fear of the new world coming began with the election of our next president a week ago. Today, the current president made some interesting observations on his successor. He was clear to say that he had advised a certain change in tone, that the style shown during the campaign might not serve the new president-elect well in carrying out the awesome responsibilities of his office.

He also expressed some surprise with the pragmatic streak in Donald Trump. He seems to be driven by a desire to solve problems rather than by ideology. Why this would be so surprising, I do not know because I think it is at the very essence of the president-elect's flawed yet exceptional character. Trump understood that he needed to take over a major party if he were to have a chance to win, and so he did. On the national level--thanks to eight years of George W. Bush and the Iraq fiasco--it was an embarrassment and practically a sign of mental deficiency to claim anymore that one was a Republican. He took a moribund party on the verge of extinction, grabbed it by the horns, and re-invented it... all the while telling those who thought he couldn't do it to F-off. Historians might one day observe that, indeed, he saved the two-party system in this country, at least as far as national elections.

The world we once knew is gone. A new world is coming. As they used to tell us during my military service, today's army ain't what it used to be... and never has been. We are observing a miracle of transformation, an evolution that is not a break with the election of our first African-American president eight years ago, but the continuation of this evolution of always becoming. The evolution doesn't necessarily require us to have a female president here and now, though I'm sure it will eventually happen. Certainly, it doesn't require us to forever make everyone who isn't a "disenfranchised minority" the scapegoat for all the ills of society. If anything, his election signifies that everyone has rights, that no group should be expected to silently pay taxes while its interests are actively undermined.

The only issue that seems to matter to some is whether the president-elect at one time or another was a groper of women. Maybe he was, but he also lives in the era of the 24/7 news cycle and the instant social media posting. He was a rich celebrity, and in his younger years not terribly bad looking. Women are attracted to money and power like men are attracted to... other things. He wasn't exactly stating absurdities when he said--with little or no awareness that he might be videotaped--that he was allowed certain liberties by virtue of his wealth and power. I don't want to get into comparisons of who was worser, but two of the great progressive presidents of mid-century, JFK and LBJ, were not known for their great day-to-day regard for women, or for choosing their words on such matters with particular care.

We survived eight years of those guys, and--for that matter--eight of Hillary's not-so-virtuous husband as well. It's hard to imagine Nixon groping women or becoming involved in a sex scandal, but he had other problems and we survived five and a half years of him too. Many millions of women voted for the new president while keeping their eyes on the Big Picture. There were only two real choices, and if you discount those who voted early and often he probably won the popular vote as well as turning the electoral map a bright red with only a few streaks of blue.

Kennedy and Johnson were always bullish on the future, on the ability of Americans to improvise and, where necessary, change up the entire game. Neither intended for the New Frontier or the Great Society to last forever as programs. The latter had many unintended negative consequences, and began the half-century long cycle of institutionalizing the concept that anyone not white or male is automatically more virtuous than anyone who is. Just the same, I am no more afraid of the new world coming than they were in their own time. I also believe that anyone willing to think of us as a diverse union, but just the same a union worthy of our loyalty in all our daily pursuits, has nothing to fear.

We don't do everything right, but whether you see diversity as our strength or as a constant source of discord, this society supposedly created by white males for the benefit of white males handles it better than almost any society ever has.

JFK and LBJ had a good working relationship, though much
of the latter's staff was less than respectful toward Johnson.

LBJ and RFK were capable of working together, as when
Johnson supported Kennedy's 1964 campaign for senator.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"At... This... Tiiiiiiiiiime," and Other Annoying Things

When you've lived outside the U.S. for as long as I did, certain American idiosyncrasies--sociosyncrasies?--that people take for granted or just don't notice tend to jump out and hit you like a punch in the nose. Now that I've been back for over twenty years, I've probably become desensitized myself. In clear moments, however, the sheer lunacy of our society reminds me that America is really just another place rather than the great sanctuary of correct thinking that so many Americans regard it as.

There's that blank, mute look that service workers give you whenever you complain about something, particularly when you genuinely have something legitimate to complain about. It is apparently unique to America, as I've never encountered it in all my travels abroad. Anywhere else, people will either express regrets and assure you that they'll try to do it better next time, or they'll tell you simply to take your business elsewhere if you want to be such an annoying fuddy-duddy. Here in the land of E Pluribus Unum, however, for God's sake don't apologize for fucking up. That might incur l-i-a-b-i-l-i-t-y, which has taken the place of quality as the number one concern of any right-thinking commercial enterprise that deals with the public.

There's the general paranoia of the middle-class suburban population, full of soccer moms who love to call the police any time they see someone unfamiliar walking down the street in their neighborhood. Just try exercising in a public park, actually stretching and running outside instead of driving your SUV to a gym like everybody else and standing in one place on one of those dumb machines (the American obsession with exercising while standing in one place is itself considered bizarre by much of the rest of the human race, BTW). Bend over to stretch your legs, and before you know it someone on the other end of the park is accusing you of mooning them. Spread your arms out, and someone will claim you were making obscene gestures. Really it says more about how the middle-class paranoid thinks than about you, but inevitably and eventually, a couple of cop cars will show up.

When they do, another one of those strange and uniquely American cultural manifestations ensues. Why do cops always ask you whether you live in the area, and whether you have a job? In my case, the answers are "yes" to both, but in the scheme of things what fucking difference does it make?! A public park is just that, paid for by the considerable taxes I get socked with because I make a fair amount of money. What would it matter if I traveled halfway across town to jog in a park that has a nice running surface that I happen to prefer? As far as a job, I have one that makes me sound like a great upstanding pillar of the community, even if I only work at it part-time and have any number of opportunities at mid-week to exercise and such.

Suppose I possess the cleverness to make a good living without getting up at the same time every morning, putting on a uniform or a business suit, and sitting in a traffic jam for three hours a day? Does that make me more likely to be arrested for exercising in a park in the middle of the week? Is it a crime to arrange one's life in a manner that doesn't make one a conformist putz? So, I answer the questions cooperatively, and the cops apologize for wasting my time. I don't bother to ask how many hundreds of dollars of tax money it costs to send out two patrol cars uselessly on a frivolous call by a double-digit IQ soccer mom.

The scary thing is that, when I relate this anecdote to almost anyone, I'm told that that's just the way things are nowadays. Times have changed, and anyone who has kids has to be, in essence, a vigilant, suspicious nervous wreck in order to be considered responsible. Honestly, if that's the expected mentality in this scared shit-less society of ours, I don't see what the upside is to having a couple of rugrats running around in your life anyway.

Of course, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.  Which brings us to that bizarre late-eighties to early millennium American automotive accessory called "The Club." One day I come back to visit, and this petite female friend I've known since graduate school is lugging a heavy metal bar over her steering wheel every time we park somewhere and leave the car for any length of time. It seemed to be all but proclaiming:

"Abandon all hope of someone not smashing your window and breaking into your car! Once they do though, this handy-dandy device will keep them from disabling the steering column lock and driving away. Recommended by law enforcement, who as we all know are never around when you need them. Is this a great country, or WHAT?!"

However secure or insecure you might feel about life in these United States, it's also hard to avoid reminders of what a traveler's nightmare this country is, particularly for those who don't speak legaleez as their native language. Public facilities seem incapable of providing clear signage with simple-to-follow directions for anything from processing through customs to buying a bus ticket. Loudspeaker announcements are routinely indecipherable, to the point that it's hard to identify what language is being spoken. Service workers mumble at one thousand words per minute. It's virtually impossible to order a meal without answering twenty questions and making twenty instant decisions about things you don't really care about. Legal disclaimers are run through with great boredom; it doesn't really matter if anyone understands what's being said--or even understands English--as long as you can prove you said it.

Getting around to the reason for the title of this entry, imagine Yours Truly parachuting into this strange environment after most of two decades abroad. The gibberish and squiggly writing that most people jokingly associate with public places in Japan constituted useful public information to me. A person can actually figure out how to get something done by reading the directions and/or listening to the public announcements that re-play periodically; you just have to understand Japanese at a rudimentary level. There was none of this presuming that everyone possesses extrasensory perception, or can decipher Byzantine Rube Goldberg written instructions or process what some bored minimum wage worker is mumbling about in the midst of background noise, as every American urban planner seems to believe.

Nothing, however, was so jaw-dropping to an outside observer than the development of feminism and the weird manifestations that grew from it seemingly year by year as I came back to visit my native country from time to time. On one of my early nineties visits home, just before the Internet took off, it seemed like every female in the workplace was photocopying jokes about that Ecuadorian woman who'd cut off her American husband's penis. Their teeth flashed, they cackled and horse laughed, and some of my female friends even tried to get me in on the joy of it. All I could do was stare in wonder. What kind of demented place had my native culture devolved into?

It was actually earlier, in the mid-eighties, that women in management positions started wearing those pads on their shoulders that made them look like gigantesses in Pop Warner uniforms. This was often accompanied with heavy raccoon-like eye liner, which some women themselves referred to as "war paint." To any rational outside observer, it looked like what it was: a ridiculous attempt to appear masculine and ergo strong, and it made about as much sense as female genital mutilation. The fact that it didn't last as a fashion statement just shows how inane an idea it was in the first place.

My particular pet peeve, however, was the expression, "At this time." It appeared sometime during the early to mid-nineties in business contexts, as an all-purpose filler phrase to preface or punctuate just about any declarative sentence. I can find only a single reference to it as a linguistic fad on all the worldwide web, but the way it grated on my nerves soon after moving back to the U.S. makes me feel a duty to call it out.

For the record, I never heard an Alpha Male use the phrase, though it was characteristic of female speech and males who worked as bank clerks or human resources types or such. A plumber or mechanic or sheet metal worker would say something like:

"We don't have the part in stock right now, but I'm ordering it and it should be here around Tuesday next week."

Translated to at-this-time speak, that would come out as something like:

"At this time, we don't have the part in stock, but it is being ordered at this time, and at this time it is anticipated to be here on Tuesday of next week, as far as we can determine at this time. So, at this time I am informing you of that fact."

Before the linguistic insanity took hold, an incompetent employee would be told that his services were no longer needed, Then, out of seemingly nowhere, they were being told that at this time their services were no longer needed. Instead of letting someone know that they were going out to lunch, I'd hear that they were going out for the purpose of having lunch at this time. When I'd answer the phone, instead of someone asking if it were me on the line, they'd ask if they were speaking to me at this time. Every conversation in a business or other office context seemed peppered with this superfluous filler, which among female managers tended to come out as, "At... this... tiiiiiiiiiime, ..."

Between the shoulder pads and that idiotic phrase, I had to consciously search for other redeeming qualities to keep myself from wondering if women in management hadn't somehow been abducted by the Pod People and turned into dedicated followers of fashion with no minds of their own... at least concerning speech patterns and sartorial armor.

Like the shoulder pads, the phrase faded into memory as the New Millennium progressed, and good riddance to it. You'll only occasionally hear it anymore from a very low level first-line supervisor type, usually while discussing something unpleasant. It's a very wonderful thing to be able to discuss a problem with most female managers nowadays without having to hear that at this time, they are researching the matter but have reached no conclusions at this time, although at this time they are planning to come up with a position that at this time is scheduled to be presented around the end of the week. At least, that's the plan... this time.                                          
The average American has no idea how bizarre this looked to
someone who'd never seen such a thing before.

Ditto this.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Officer Friendly is Our Hero

Five years ago this month, I was relaxing in my condo on busy University Avenue in San Diego when a multitude of police sirens could be heard blaring outside. I and several neighbors ran out to encounter what seemed to be half the La Mesa Police Department and a number of SDPD cars heading west at great speed. We could only speculate as to what was happening, but we figured it would likely be on the evening news.

As it turned out, an officer had been shot in troublesome City Heights, a few miles west of us. Units from several jurisdictions had rushed to the scene, though there wasn't much that could be done. The perp was a mentally-disturbed type who had shot the officer suddenly for no apparent reason.

As much as anyone I thought it sucked, but for the life of me couldn't figure out how sending so many squad cars from other departments to the scene was supposed to accomplish anything productive. A few days later, when an evening memorial vigil for Officer Henwood was announced, in the park that would later bear his name, I got on my motorcycle and putted over to attend. There were a number of biker types there--ironically, the sort who were so often at loggerheads with cops during the times I grew up in--so I parked beside and joined them. There was also a contingent of low-rider cars, also not normally known for their pro-cop sentiments during my formative years. It was a solemn ceremony, and the sense of community was genuine.

Something similar occurred earlier this month, and made national news. Officer DeGuzman was the first SDPD fatality since the unfortunate incident five years ago. Then last Monday, another ceremony was announced in the same park to honor both officers on the fifth annual observance of Henwood's death. I also attended that, though being on a work day in mid-afternoon it wasn't quite as well attended as the evening vigil five years ago. The free barbecue was an incentive, though I did genuinely feel a need to be part of a public showing of support. Police officers seldom hear a word of thanks for their efforts, and--times being what they've been--could use some positive feedback at this particular moment. We all seemed sincerely to want to honor them on that day.

As Abe Lincoln once said, it is fitting and proper that we do so. Yet in a larger sense, I just can't get on board with this Officer-Friendly-is-Our-Hero business. It's the times I grew up in and my own life experiences. Most cops do the best they can, but the world's a dumb place. Police work, like most work, is generally routine and pretty mundane. Chances to be a hero are rare, though I suppose a good deed like helping an old lady get her stalled car started is in its own way heroic. I've read in several places that the average officer never draws his gun on duty during the entire course of his career. Cops are paid pretty well, and most have retirement plans the rest of us can only dream about. They go to work every day and enforce rules other people make, no matter how blatantly ridiculous or inapplicable the rules might be. Their reward is job security, and the assurance that they don't have to think too hard about the basic aspects of making a living.

My idea of a hero has always run more along the lines of someone like Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Soichiro Honda, or Steve Jobs. Someone who works for the government and obeys orders doesn't quite do it for me. If the person does the job conscientiously, it's honorable--yes--but what's so heroic about it? I recall working the graveyard shift at a retail job just after high school, and the boss told me it was their policy to provide free coffee to police officers. When I questioned him mildly about it, he replied that it was less a matter of honoring them (not exactly the term he used) than of keeping up a good working relationship; a 24-hour retail business tends to need their help from time to time!

Frankly, I think most police officers would agree with me once they get around the erroneous notion that I'm anti-cop. Some would argue that they have tremendous discretionary power to take into account specific circumstances, that their primary role is to "keep the peace" rather than to give a ticket to everyone who commits a minor infraction. The problem here is that police officers, much like public school teachers, are under great administrative and societal pressures to produce certain outcomes while keeping up appearances, and everything about my own experience tells me that societies--whether democratic or authoritarian--are basically ridiculous. You simply can't administer a policy impartially to thousands and thousands of people without various absurdities arising with great regularity.

I was catching some documentaries last week on KPBS, about recent U.S. presidencies. Nixon's and LBJ's were particularly impressive as narrative histories of the times. They were the presidents of my teenage years and late childhood. I grew up in a rebellious time as a clean-living Eagle Scout type. By nature, I was respectful toward any duly appointed authority at a time when anyone wearing a uniform was regarded as a mindless automaton.

Watching these documentaries reminded me of how terribly divisive--and riddled with absurdities--those times truly were. The war in Vietnam was a source of rancor, in some cases approaching open insurrection, in a way that makes our current societal problems look like a case of diaper rash. The bitterness spread into all areas of society, and left anyone impressionable at the time--like myself--indelibly affected.

Like just about everybody, I grew my hair out around that time. If you didn't grow up in those times, it's hard to fathom how contentious the matter of hair length could be between parents and their male offspring. My parents, however, had to admit reluctantly that mine didn't look half bad. It was copper colored with streaks of several other colors, wavy and thick. My little brother, on the other hand, had straight stringy hair, and my father never tired of telling him that it looked ridiculous. Still, by some peculiar logic my father could never get the notion out of his head that I, as the oldest, had an all-powerful grip on the imagination of my siblings and was therefore responsible for every undesirable tendency they ever adopted on their own.

Dad was a public school teacher who came home pissed off virtually every evening. His overriding desire in life was to wallop the living crap out of any kid who caused him disciplinary problems. This, of course, was impractical on the job, so he settled for doing so to the nearest kid--who happened to be me--upon arriving home, regardless of how quiet, compliant, obedient, and diligent I might be. It didn't matter whether it was my brother or my sister who set him off; I was always the one who caught the nasty end of his outbursts.

Such was my introduction to the concept of fair treatment, and I've never really had high expectations for it since.

Given the incongruity between my appearance and my personality, peers didn't treat me a whole lot nicer. I was the "square" who found their non-stop inane conversations about the pot they'd just smoked, the person they planned to buy more pot from, and the place where they planned to smoke it... stupendously tiresome. I was "one of the smart ones," as if being dumb were a badge of honor. I was the Boy Scout who stayed active mainly because I enjoyed hiking and camping, but found the ideals of the organization a wonderful code to try to live by. In contrast, too many of my peers seemed to revel in being as untrustworthy, disloyal, hindering, hostile, rude, cruel, defiant, cheerless, spendthrift, craven, dirty, and irreverent as possible.

In those hap-hap-happy days, cops had a distinct dislike for long haired teenagers, partly because so damned many of my contemporaries fit the disrespectful, drug-addled stereotype. I got my fair share of being "profiled," but being not inclined to mouth off at authority figures I talked my way out of several tickets and situations that another person might not have been able to. This is why I don't have a lot of regard for certain segments of the population who think the police target them unfairly. If you don't act like an ill-bred jerk with no manners, a stop for an equipment violation will likely not escalate into a felony arrest or shooting... despite whatever preconceived notions a cop may harbor.

Then again, there was that experience in December of 1981 that I will never forget for as long as I live. I was less than a year out of active duty military service, and had decided to grow long hair and a beard just because I could... even though it really wasn't much in style at the time. I was riding my motorcycle to whatever place the Foreign Service Exam was being conducted that year. It was 6:30 on a Saturday morning, and I came to a stubborn red light at a cross-street that was the entrance to a shopping center. Everything in the shopping center was closed, and there wasn't a car in sight. I sat there at the light for what seemed like forever, but it refused to turn green.

Motorcyclists encounter this problem from time to time, and the common sense thing to do is to proceed after waiting a reasonable amount of time, as long as there's not a chance of any cross traffic. As my usual luck would have it, just as I decided to go ahead and ride through, a police car came around the curve behind me and tripped the light green. He pulled me over, and I reasonably and patiently explained the circumstances. He gave me a ticket anyway. Though I was annoyed, I didn't argue with him but decided instead to contest the ticket in court. I figured that reasonable people would reason with me.

The officer showed up for my appearance, and the judge--an irritable black woman who seemed to think that riding a motorcycle with long hair and a beard constituted a crime in itself--would not even listen to what I had to say about common sense or anything else. The-law-is-the-law-is-the-law-is-the-law, and it was my duty as a law-abiding citizen to sit there like a dolt in an empty intersection at 6:30 in the morning for the next hour, if necessary, until the light turned green. Never in my life have I been so angry, and few times in my life has an experience so strengthened my conviction that society and the laws that govern it can under certain circumstances be utterly 100% bum-fuck stupid.

On the other hand, I had enough future-time orientation not to turn something so trivial into a night or more in jail just because I'd been "dis--re--SPEK!!!--tud" by a small-minded functionary.

Many years later I would be sitting through jury selection, watching what could only be called Fascism With a Friendly Face. A rather pudgy and harmless looking black fellow was to be tried for buying a small amount of cocaine from an undercover officer. The female judge acknowledged that it really wasn't a very major case, but the-law-is-the-law-is-the-law-is-the-law. She seemed to want to make the point that we were all just reasonable people there while we contemplated how to ruin this guy's life for perhaps a $50 illegal transaction; I can't remember whether it was his "third strike" and whether or not he would be facing life imprisonment. When I expressed my sentiments in more or less this way, I was excused from the case.

My experience as a soldier in the active duty army during the post-Vietnam era also did little to make me feel that life was fair, or even delineated particularly clearly between good and bad. I had a cushy job in Washington, DC, but was forever receiving packages of cookies and such from my folks' church, which had a policy of sending nice stuff to any of the congregation's family members who were in military service. It was a fine gesture, but really rather simple-minded considering the comfortable surroundings I was in already. On the other hand, when I'd ride my motorcycle in uniform back to Fort Myer over the Key Bridge near Georgetown University from time to time, I'd be flipped off, cat-called, and occasionally the target of a poorly aimed piece of fruit.

Came the Iranian Hostage Crisis during my second tour in DC after three years in Germany, and now these same assholes--or the latest generation of them anyway--are waving to me and thanking me for my service (in the same cushy desk job as before). I was always polite about it, and tried to comport myself as a professional, but my deepest feeling was one of contempt. The derision seemed dumb four years before, and the adulation equally dumb at the time. At both times, I was doing a job, and expected to be neither derided nor adulated.

The bottom line is that I grew up in a time when the popular thing to do was to question authority. Having had some sour experiences both as a member of the armed services and at the hands of authority figures myself, I find it difficult now to wrap my mind around the idea that we're supposed to admire--even love--every public sector weenie who wears a uniform and does whatever he's told to do. It seems simple-minded, insincere, not quite right, and even rather wimpy. I get the distinct feeling that most of the people who do it never wore a uniform themselves beyond perhaps that of a high school marching band.

It reminds me too much of the mindless pinheads with their "Support the Troops" rhetoric, who thought George W Bush was doing a wonderful thing by invading Iraq. They'd throw around military acronyms and abbreviations they'd picked up from CNN and Fox News--tiresome B.S. I hadn't heard since my days on active duty--like some sort of half-assed military wannabes. When it turned out--yet again--to be another situation where good people were sent on a fool's errand, the rhetoric switched to, "Hate the war; love the troops." Well, yuh know something? Fuck that! Who were those people, anyway? Maybe the sort who protested in Chicago and blamed The System for everything in 1968, all grown up now and hoping to atone?

Sorry, but I just couldn't get on board with it. I'd have gladly endured cat-calls, bird-flips, and poorly-aimed pieces of fruit again if it would've helped keep us out of that fiasco!

Typical scene from the 1968 Democratic Convention. The Chicago
Police, pushed to the limits of their patience, were themselves said
to have "rioted." Yet, to their credit, no one was killed there.

Easy Rider. The theme here was exploring America in a counter-culture sort of way.
Though different in temperament from the "outlaw" biker gangs of the era, Mainstream
America categorized us all negatively and the police tended to treat us accordingly.

No cops at all made for not much fun at Altamont in late 1969.
Anti-cop sentiment among the counter-culture then faded a bit,
with a little help from Charles Manson. The "Officer Friendly"
meme appeared around this time in public schools.

Henwood Park in City Heights, named for a policeman who,
apparently, actually did fill the "Officer Friendly" role.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dreams

Just returned from five weeks at the Miami Beach place, with a nine-day trip to Peru in the middle. With each trip, I learn a little more about the history of my surroundings and the stories behind familiar sites.

We see below the Akoya, third highest building in Miami Beach and distinguished by the "crown" on top. It's in the North Beach area, is visible from very far north (almost to Hallandale), and looks much smaller from a distance than it actually is. The Deauville Hotel, where the Beatles stayed during their first trip to America in 1964, is just out of the picture in the foreground. It's actually a rather unimpressive looking structure, both from the street and from the beach, so I won't bother posting a picture.

The Akoya Condominium Complex

The Blue Diamond and Green Diamond Buildings are the tallest structures in Miami Beach, They are located a couple of miles south along "Millionaires' Row," near the end of a stretch that has no beach access from the street, and were developed by the same folks who built the Akoya. . All three buildings were "grandfathered in" when a new height regulation for structures in the city was imposed.

The Blue and Green Diamond Buildings are primarily condominiums, but appear to have some public areas on the ground floors as well. Strangely, while walking on the beach these buildings--and anything south of them--are not visible from the north until you pass the Akoya.

The Blue and Green Diamond Buildings

Pictured below is an old image of the Doral Hotel. It is visible on the left in the picture above, and is now called the Miami Beach Resort and Spa. The Eden Roc and Fountainbleau Hotels are just a little farther to the south, but back in the day the Doral was regarded as the most luxurious of them all. It served as George McGovern's headquarters during the 1972 Democratic Convention, and is the setting for the original "The Heartbreak Kid," which was filmed earlier that same year.

The old Doral Hotel, now the Miami Beach Resort and Spa

My own place is a little more modest. This was the first trip where I made extensive use of my new kitchen appliances. As mentioned in an earlier entry, I had to go all-electric when a gas leak damned near blew my place up while I was not there. It works quite okay, and is proof that you don't need a lot of space or fancy equipment to whip up a tasty meal.

My own humble kitchen in the North Beach area

So now we get to the source of the strange title of this particular entry. You see, it's taken me almost a week to decompress from that five week trip, where at the time it seemed lazy and relaxing, yet so very much happened. The trip to Lima was my first since living there in 1982/83 as a student and language teacher, and it was as nostalgic and meaningful as it sounds. I spent the whole week in Lima, and made the trip fairly short because it was an experiment; I wanted to see what I thought of the place and if I could still tolerate the inconveniences of a third world country.

I found it a much better experience than expected. The Miraflores area of Lima, in particular, seemed more affluent than in the eighties, and though I'd never considered Lima a particularly dangerous place, I felt surprisingly comfortable walking around the downtown area after dark. I know a bit about the recent history of Peru, and know it isn't all sweetness and light, but there's an optimism about the future that was encouraging.

The price of all this is that there is--literally--a cop on every corner in Miraflores. Peru has always had a bewildering variety and number of uniformed authority figures, but never so many as now. They are polite, and seem to keep an eye on each other as much as on the citizenry. There are now tourist police who cater especially to foreign visitors, and along the beach I even saw uniformed security standing guard over portable toilets!

Just like when I lived there in the eighties, the people still gripe about low wages and underemployment, but I've never seen such an overwhelming number of places to eat and drink... with virtually all of them seeming to do a booming business well into the night hours. The overhead associated with having such an overwhelming security presence must be awfully high, but it also employs a lot of people and--if wages aren't high enough to suit the average worker--the society appears intent on showing petty thieves that crime doesn't pay at all!

Below are a few pictures from the trip. Larco Mar is a newer shopping mall built on the edge of the cliffs over Miraflores. The second picture shows me there with a couple of old friends from teaching days. The lady next to me lived in Miami Beach until a couple of years ago, so it wasn't that long since I'd seen her. Much of the trip was spent hangin' out at her house, which I'd never visited in 1982/83 but saw plenty of this time.

The house in Barranco where I'd lived is now a wreck. It was very very old when I lived there, and I'm not sure how it has fallen into such disrepair now. The rest of Barranco looks more prosperous than in the eighties, though it's still rather rustic compared to Miraaflores, and quite recognizable as once-familiar sights jogged my memory little by little.

The park in Miraflores is full of stray cats, who were brought there originally to take care of a rodent problem. They are very used to people and really kind of moochers. The last picture shows me with one of them.

After a couple more weeks back in Miami Beach, I'd head for San Diego and a few more weeks of time off before the fall semester starts. Each leg of the trip was a direct flight, and I really got the feeling on this particular adventure that I'm kind of loosely connected to EVERYTHING. Miami is a nice way-station for launching a trip to Latin America, and I'm pretty sure I'll be doing that more often. The condos in both places have similarities that make me feel like I'm never far from my essence.

What's strange is the dreams. Most every night I have vague impressions of being different ages and in different places I've lived. Like most dreams, I can't quite remember the details of them. From time to time I'll wake up anxious, like I'd been faced with a bizarre problem I couldn't solve and hadn't quite grasped yet that it was only a dream, but overall they leave me with a pleasant or vaguely nostalgic feeling. Some of them are quite funny, with me speaking Japanese to Peruvians in the middle of a German city with a beach. It seems to be a way of sorting out memories in the mind's file cabinets.

Also, for almost a week I've been trying to fully appreciate this rare opportunity to live with no responsibilities or obligations at all in the middle of a warm summer. I can eat and sleep whenever I wish, and know I'm not neglecting anything because I took care of business when it required my attention. The biggest rental, the duplex, now has the new roof that I've dreaded having to eventually replace, saving up for over the past year. Both condos got their thorough cleaning before I left, and have been trouble-free little hideaways.

The gal's gone for good, at least as a romantic partner. We spoke by phone and agreed to keep in touch casually, but the 44 year old dream we both clung to for so long has died. She feels--at this particular moment in time anyway--that I decided to buy a vacation home in Southern Florida not because of her but to explore my extensive family roots. Maybe she's right. Indeed, half my parents' aunts and uncles--both sides of the family--ended up in the area. I've made the acquaintance of distant cousins, and come to understand a lot of connections that I wouldn't have otherwise learned of.

On the other hand, people don't make general life decisions for a single, simple reason. One of the few concepts I retain from the high school physics class I took around the time the gal and I met is that of "vector sums." This is the principle that an object moves or stands in a particular way because of the multitude of forces that act upon it. I've often thought of that as an analogy for many of my own life decisions. It's pure Newtonian physics, and probably, when new, it had its effect on philosophy and the belief that human behavior could also be determined mechanistically if all the factors were factored in. It's funny how it was almost right, and describes so many behaviors, yet in the end oversimplifies both motion in the universe and human psychology.

In the end, I didn't do what I did only because of her, but probably wouldn't have done it if not for her. Thus did the forces of the universe converge to bring me to buy a waterfront condo in Miami Beach, but I digress and need to come back to earth. Just joined one of those free dating sites the other day. I alter my posted location between San Diego and Miami Beach, and seem to be getting a lot of lookovers. The only problem is that--as I've noticed since my twenties--the only women who pay attention to me are about half a decade older. When I'm 95, will I be pursued only by women over 100?!

Panorama of Larco Mar, Miraflores (Lima), Peru

With some old colleagues at Larco Mar

What remains of the house I lived 1982/83 in Barranco (date on the camera was set wrong).

A new-found friend in Kennedy Park, Miraflores

Monday, April 11, 2016

Life Neatly Divided Like an Orange

Generally I don't have that much to say, which is probably why I didn't pursue writing as a career. Was reading an old biography of Lenny Bruce I've had for over 35 years, where Albert Goldman points out that comedians have the most difficult job of any entertainer. They aren't showing off any particular skill like juggling or musicianship, and it's easy for an audience to take the contemptuous attitude that the guy standing up there is just an annoying twit. What's so great about him? He's standing up there talking, and we're supposed to think he's so very f-u-n-n-y...

Same goes for writing on general topics, as opposed to academic writing or writing on a specific area of expertise... though I guess if you bothered to seek out this site there must be some interest for you to what I'm saying. At any rate, I'm not always particularly conscious of audience; some of this stuff's as much for me as for anyone else to read.

My gal turned 62 last Thursday. Depending on the particular day or even the time of day, she'd be alternately enchanted and annoyed that I refer to her as "my gal." She definitely feels that she has staked some claim on some important piece of my life--as I have on hers--and she'd be right. She's exactly 8 months older than myself, which seemed like a lot when I met her in high school but doesn't mean diddly now.

It's going on 6 years since I re-connected with her in a bigger way than we ever had as teenagers, so before you know it we can say we've been in constant contact for 10% of our entire lives... which really isn't that much when you think about it. Just when I was ready to bail a year ago, she decided to do the female equivalent of going nuclear, giving me what women always say is the only thing men really want and figuring it would keep me around. When I adopted the attitude of it's-about-F'ing-time-we-did-it, she got annoyed. Well then, aside from the fact that I never imagined as a teenager I'd still be doing such things at age 60, that's all I've got to say about that.

This month then, I'm 61 years and 4 months old. To make the arithmetic easier, think of it as 60 years and 16 months. It seems like a lot, especially after Obama 8 years ago became the first president younger than myself, but now all the major candidates except Cruz are older than I am again. It's the world we live in, I guess, with 70 the new 40. Apparently, the older baby boomers are all grown up and finally feeling the need to act like adults before the onset of senility. Meanwhile, everyone under 30 is wandering around obsessed with smartphones, earbuds plugged in and staring blankly with mouths agape if anyone tries to interact with them in real space-time, possessing all the self-awareness of spoiled two-year-olds and voting for Bernie Sanders. On the other hand, who can blame them after those same older baby boomers--now their parents and grandparents--spent their own early adulthoods talking about peace, love, and the end of war before growing up to administer, or at least advocate, our nation's endless butting into the endless violence in a certain part of the world, simply for the high-minded ideal of reasonable gas prices?

I digress. The important thing here is that 60 years and 16 months divides neatly into fourths. This means that half my life ago was August 1985, the summer when Rambo and Back to the Future were new and I was already over 30, thinking I was doin' pretty good to still be with it as far as my knowledge of music and pop culture. I was at my first teaching job in Japan, and it was a nice time in my life. It isn't really that hard to accept that it marks the halfway point.

The rub is that time is perceived oddly when one has been around for 60 years. The 75% mark is December 2000, and that seems like about a half a year ago. It was a few months after I bought the condo I live in now, and there have been a number of little improvements to it over the years, but it looks basically like it did after my initial renovation on moving in. In fact, day-to-day life isn't radically different than it was 25% of my life ago! The turning of the new millenium was one of those life events that stick in the mind, especially since I spent it on a barge in the middle of Mission Bay shooting a fireworks show with a friend I've known since kindergarten... and December 2000 was a year after that! I remember reminiscing with him at the time--on another barge in the middle of Mission Bay doing another New Year's Eve fireworks show--that the year had passed so quickly, and now 15 more of them have since passed.

Strangest of all, though, is to think that April 1970 marks the 25% point. In and of itself, I suppose it isn't hard to accept... but April 1970 to August 1985 doesn't seem a remotely comparable span of time as December 2000 to April 2016. In August 1985, I was an adult, over 30 at that. I lived on my own, made money, bought and drank beer and such. In April 1970, I was a kid, all of 15 years old! The Beatles broke up that month, and if you've seen Apollo 13 you know that some people found that a bigger story than the by-then-routine moon launch. Heck, even in the midst of the crisis and the incredible efforts to bring Lovell, Swaggert, and Hayes home safely, I had a child's confidence that the adults would figure things out, albeit a confidence probably better based in the reality of how adults were expected to behave in those long ago days, when competence and assumption of responsibility was considered more important than making excuses and evading liability.

If I sound like a grumpy old man, it might be because I am. We're living in the world Jimmy Carter warned us about. He knew it didn't have to turn out this way, but failed to generate any meaningful followship. Now it's accepted as perfectly natural that we have to go to war from time to time when the geographical area that has what we need turns politically hostile. Sometimes you just have to kill people is all, and what's wrong with that when they hate you anyway?

Me, I was in the army the entire span of the Carter Administration. The idea of regional economic self-sufficiency--of needing not depend on people who don't like you in the first place and have nothing more in common with you than two arms, two legs, and a head--sounded pretty good to me.

Instead, we got g-l-o-b-a-l-i-z-a-t-i-o-n and d-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y. The first is the strange idea that it makes perfect sense to manufacture, assemble, and distribute industrial products wherever it's most economically beneficial to do so--often in three distinct corners of the world--as long as we're willing to do what it takes to keep transportation costs (fuel) cheap and to kill off anyone or anything that threatens "stability." The latter is, in essence, the concept that--at least until it's time to "protect stability"--everybody's just great as long as they aren't white, male, or Christian. Being as it is a basic tenet to what amounts to the State Religion of the USA, that's all I've got to say about that.

We've also got a good number of veterans who, come to think of it, don't necessarily have two arms/two legs anymore... and the cool thing to do about that is to talk about how much you love them for all the wonderful things they did. I distinctly recall that time in the army, from the immediate aftermath of Vietnam to the end of the Iranian Hostage Crisis when I went from being flipped off and cat-called while riding my motorcycle in uniform, down M Street in Georgetown on the way back to Fort Myer after work, to having people stop me to say thanks for my service. Personally, I thought it was dumb then just like I think it's dumb now. The difference is that I think I understand now how the average American is intrigued--and maybe a bit guilt-tripped--over the idea of someone who serves unquestioningly (outwardly, at least) and isn't pumped full of blame-shifting excuses whenever something goes wrong.

Time keeps passing faster and faster while people keep getting dumber and dumber. In another 15 years 4 months I'll be pushing 77 years old. If I'm still driving, I hope I'll be cognizant enough to watch out for younger slack-jawed, self-centered ass-bites stepping into the street while ignoring reality with whatever communication device is then in common use.
Late 2000, renovating the new place
Mid (not quite August) 1985
April (Easter) 1970.
Dad had the odd habit of posing us in front of the next-door neighbor's
house... probably because the neighbor would take the picures.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Self-Contained World on Every Coast

Spent spring break, the week before Easter, back at the Miami Beach place again. Left on a Monday night and returned the following Monday in the early afternoon. Both ways were direct flights from San Diego, with a fare of under $300. Once I'm there, I have a place to stay and no other expenses than incidentals. I feel like something of a half-assed jetsetter.

Since last leaving there in January, I noticed that the gas bill seemed unusually high, considering no one was staying at the place. It had also seemed then like the oven was unusually warm for just having the pilot light going. I contacted the gas company in Miami, TECO, and they shut it off as a precaution and arranged to send someone over on the morning I arrived. Well-me-now, it seems that there was indeed something wrong with the oven, which wouldn't shut off completely, and there was also a leak in the system.

This unusual combination would have led, eventually, to an explosion in the enclosed, sealed, and unoccupied space. Thus was my spring break not much of a break. I spent the first day trying to figure out whether to repair the gas system, or to just switch to electrical appliances. A real four-burner range with oven would have required a 220-volt outlet, which the place didn't have. I took the bus up to Aventura Mall, had a look at appliances at Sears, and bought a new bicycle to replace the stolen one from January. Having arrived on a red-eye flight that morning, I was a bit wobbly during the ride back to Miami Beach on the new bike, and crashed out (figuratively) utterly exhausted shortly after.

By Wednesday, my second full day there, I'd decided to go with a couple of Oster appliances from the Target in North Miami, a double-burner hotplate and a convection oven large enough to cook a whole chicken or a 12-inch pizza. The two of them together cost less than $100, fit easily onto the back of the bike with its new rack and saddlebag baskets, and could be plugged into the existing kitchen outlets.

I pulled out some unattractive cabinetry next to the space for the gas stove, figured out how to disconnect the fittings to the stove, wrestled it out the back door, arranged for Salvation Army to pick it up, took some measurements, and found an inexpensive way to mount the appliances with some plastic shelving from Home Depot. This required cutting the poles to obtain the right height for cooking, but when it was done it looked surprisingly professional and I'm quite happy with it.

Just the same... not much of a vacation.

Since returning, I've alternated two 12-hour days per week at the college with a lot of idleness, which really isn't much different from my usual routine. Gave and graded midterm exams, among other things. I'm also maintaining the facebook page and doing general publicity for a state conference coming up in the fall. This is not as busy a life as it sounds.

A couple of years ago, I picked up an anthology of I Love Lucy at the swap meet. It's just a thick coffee table type book full of illustrations and synopses of every episode. Have come to learn that the sequence of episodes where they move to Los Angeles for several months ran right around the time I was born; the famous scene of Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethyl singing "California Here I Come" first aired when I was a few weeks old. I was born in the middle of the show's original run, and watched re-runs of it sometimes on weekday mornings when I didn't have to go to school.

It's The Lucy Show that I better remember as an evolving series, though. It ran from 1962 to 1968, and since my folks were fans of it we watched it every Monday night for most of those years. Gale Gordon as Mr. Mooney was one of my favorite characters from it, with his frequent explosions of temper and exagerrated mannerisms. Thinking of watching that show's original run, and of some of our other family rituals of the early to late 1960s, fills me with a melancholy feeling for a long ago and far away place that I know I can never return to.

Nonetheless, I picked up a used DVD of several episodes from the series the other day, and watched it last night after a long day of teaching classes, grading papers, and generally taking care of obligations. Then today I read a little online about the characters, about their real lives outside of the series. I made some coffee, then sat there in my underpants in my comfortable little place, thinking that it's really very similar to my place in Miami Beach, full of little things that please me and remind of all that made me happy when I was an easily entertained kid in the 1960s.

Gale Gordon lived in Borrego Springs. He commuted to Burbank to film the series during its run. It's funny to think that his "Mr. Mooney" character was not the real he, that he lived a real life as a real person not far from where I grew up. Desi Arnaz had a place in Rancho Santa Fe, also not far inland from the beaches I've walked along and the surf I've played in off-and-on for more than half a century... half a century!. Come to think about it, Lucy herself was a nodding acquaintance of my parents, as she was a regular visitor to the La Jolla Playhouse like they were. When you're a kid, the people on TV seem to have a separate reality. Now you see them as folks not so different from your grown-up self, and it's odd to do the math and figure out that Gale Gordon was my age during the 1967 season of the show, while Lucy was about five years younger. In fact, she looks quite "do-able" now that I'm an older man... and it's weird to think of that because she was about a decade older than my parents!

Thinking of such things puts me in a sweet-sad mood, and today I'm glad I have the kind of lifestyle that allows me just to shut down for a day at mid-week and think about things that are gone forever that meant much to me as a kid. It's just a very thin string now that connects my 61 year old self to the child of the 1960s who knew he was growing up in a very special era. I get a kick out of having an adult's understanding now of things that seemed so intriguing and mysterious then. Once in awhile it brings tears to my eyes, though I keep in mind that it's unseemly and a bit silly to cry over such things.

My gal in Miami will be 62 tomorrow. I wonder what the heck I'm doing involved with someone so old, and then I realize that I'm only 8 months behind. It doesn't seem like I should be that old. It doesn't seem that long since I was a Cub Scout, a kid in elementary school who thought the coolest thing in the world was to come home from a pack meeting and sit up on a Monday night enjoying The Lucy Show with my parents, then talking to the kids at school the next day about the funny things we saw. I wish everyone in the world had a chance to feel that way at some time in their lives.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Warmth of the Sun

It was two years ago this month that I bought my little condo in Miami Beach, and last month that I stayed there for the fourth time. I arrived on Christmas morning and returned to San Diego on January 20th. The relationship with my off-and-on girlfriend there is on the skids again, and I'm not sure whether we finally realize that we're wasting each others time, or whether this is just an interlude to another round of making each other miserable.

She quoted some Biblical passage--as she often does--that says that two animals unequally yoked make a poor team. She's a public school teacher with a job that basically sucks, and she lives paycheck to paycheck. I'm a part time community college instructor, and at this point something of an investor in real estate. She has three grown sons that she frets over as if they were still schoolkids, while I don't even have any live plants in my place. I get pissed off because I only see her once or twice during my visits, and feel like she's making excuses. She gets pissed off because I apparently don't understand how hectic her life is, even when she's off from school, and because I feel that she actually enjoys being stressed out all the time.

I arrived in Miami weighing close to 250 pounds, with my pants getting way too tight. I left 15 pounds lighter, with everything fitting better and my body in pretty much the same shape it's been for the past decade or so. I'm working on losing another 15 pounds, which would make me downright lean as there's a lot of muscle under the unneeded poundage.

It was a deliberate regimen of eating less and exercising every day, either bicycling, long walks on the beach sand, or road runs along the Surfside and Bal Harbor walking paths. The north end of the Open Space Park (just a couple of blocks from my place) to the jetty and back is about 3.2 miles, and on my last day there I was able to run the complete distance for the first time. I did it with 5 pound weights on each arm, even though it probably would have made more sense to work up to finishing the run without the weights first, then add them later.

At any rate, it was not-too-shabby for a 61 year old who loves food and alcohol.

My bike got stolen during a rare foray into South Beach. The cop said it was likely one of the homeless types who hang around outside the branch library on 22nd. They wait until you go inside, then fetch some bolt cutters from the bushes and cut the lock. Then they sell it to other types who ship it far away from Miami Beach, often to places like Haiti and Cuba.

When it happened, I decided to walk back home along the beach. It was getting toward dusk, and it was a moody feeling to follow the wooden boardwalk to the end, just past the Eden Roc, then walk on sand in the dark, the only person on the beach. There's no beachfront path again until you get to the Akoya, the tall building in North Beach that looks like it has a crown on top. Then you can follow a concrete pathway to the beginning of the Open Space Park.

I'd never done such a thing before and didn't have a very good conception of the distance, but I remember passing the Blue Diamond and Green Diamond Buildings, then trudging trudging trudging along until the Akoya came into view in the distance. Some songs, particularly the title above, ran through my head during that long walk, and when I got home I made a new playlist from the 800 or so on my phone. I called it "Early 2016 Mood."

I thought of my gal, and of my loneliness. I thought of my two little condos on both coasts of the United States. I was also bummed about my bike, which had served me so well since summer 2014, when I hauled any number of furnishings and other items across the causeway as I made the new place my own. Toward the end of the walk, I'd even sung aloud:

"What good is the dawn
"That grows into day?
"The sunset at night
"Or living this way?
"For I have the warmth of the sun
"Within me at night."

She came over on my last evening there, even though she had an early day at school. We talked until almost two in the morning. My flight would leave not long after daylight, so I didn't go to bed that night. I gave my place a final cleaning, turned off the appliances, locked up, and walked all the way down Collins Avenue to the Arthur Godfrey Causeway where the airport bus stops.

The flight back to San Diego was uneventful, and a friend who works near the airport picked me up in the late afternoon. We stopped in Shelter Island and had a drink or two with some happy hour snacks. Life was good.

The Miami Beach place now has a lot of the same stuff I keep in San Diego. I bought another bluetooth speaker to use with my phone for music there, and the same model DVD player. Until my return from Miami last summer, I'd never even owned a DVD player. I'm not a big collector of videos, and everything I wanted I already had on VHS.

On return last July, I went on an upgrade kick, digitizing all my music and loading it into a new smartphone, buying a flat screen TV and dumping my cable company for an indoor antenna, and just in general becoming less of a 61 year old fuddy-duddy using 30 year old technology. Changing my surroundings several times a year has been good for me. It's neat to own two somewhat similar places on two coasts, and to be able to keep in touch on matters no matter where I am physically.

Millenial types just take this for granted, but for me there's still some appreciation of what a wonder it is. I'm not the sort to walk around staring down at my phone while working it with both hands. In fact it's hard to resist the urge to punch one of those self-centered, ever-connected, narcissist wussies in the face when they bump into me because they're not watching where the fuck they're going. My phone is usually at home, turned off. It's nice though, to know I'm as connected as I want to be.

In Miami Beach, I love my waterfront view. In San Diego, I love my stone lantern and my rock garden. In both places, I love my cozy little space, designed by and for myself. In a few years, the Prescott property will cease to be a rental and become a third hideaway. Life's OK.

Outside the San Diego condo

Outside the Miami Beach condo

Inside the San Diego condo

Inside the Miami Beach condo