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.