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.