Saturday, December 26, 2009

A child for life

Late on Christmas Eve my grandson spotted an intruder in our home.

I suppose "intruder" isn't exactly the right word since this old man was welcome and expected. Still, we never knew what time he will arrive and he never bothers to knock on the door or announce himself.

Isaiah was awakened by his dad about 11:30. They crept silently down the stairs and peeked around the corner into the parlor.

And, there he was! The man who keeps us tethered securely to our childhood sense of miracles, joy and wonder.

As we watch helplessly, first our children and then theirs grow inexorably closer to grownup problems and occasional tragedy. We want nothing more than to hold them on our laps, suspended in time forever, but they just won't sit still.

Some may argue that showing a child Santa Claus in his own home is an artful deceit that grooms him for disappointment. I beg to differ.

I never saw Santa in our house but he always came. I believe in him with all my heart.

On cold December nights I would perch in my bedroom window and scan the sky for a flying sleigh pulled by magical reindeer. I was no fool, even at seven or eight. But I believed it was possible to see Santa on his journey because I wanted to believe.

To this day I look at the sky every Christmas Eve and wonder where the old elf is at that moment. And while I'm looking for him I see something else, something I see nearly every night of my life and yet rarely notice.

I see the heavens. All of God's stars are there and somewhere among them is the One that made all this childhood joy possible and ageless.

And every Christmas Eve I am a child again. A child for life. And so shall my children be thanks to the miracle of one night every year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dearest friends and family,

So many of you have warmed our hearts and graced our home with your beautiful Christmas cards, family photos, personal notes and newsletters over the past couple of weeks I confess I have been enjoying them with a dollop of guilt.

It has been a tough year for Carolann and me financially and nothing stresses the heart and soul more than worrying about how to buy food, juggle the bills and remain employed with some degree of security.

And, most importantly, to always wear the infectious, beaming, loving smile our loved ones richly deserve.

I don't want to belabor the subject or start whining. Good grief, I have riches a kingdom couldn't buy: good health, honest love, and many hearts happy to see me waddling down a sidewalk or hallway in approach with my Popeye-squinty smile.

Carolann, of course, lights every room and heart she enters, and she bursts into them all.

So, I hope it's a small comfort to you to know that we are digging deep to get ourselves out of relatively modest debts with our modest incomes.

I'm not quite "pushing sixty" yet but I am pulling fifty and we want to retire eventually. We're trimming our sails, even to the point of cutting out 44-cents stamps.

This is your Christmas card.

We hope you're not offended that you can't hold it in your hand or tape it over your fireplace.

We love buying, wrapping and giving gifts and cards as much as anybody. But, for now we hope you'll read this and know it serves as a personal prayer from Carolann and me to each of you:

Bless you and yours. And please know that you have all our love for these sacred holidays and the new year to come.

God bless us, every one!

Dave and Carolann

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Things you'll remember: Part Two

Nothing lasts forever. Except, perhaps, forever.

Before I got onto that honey bee tangent I was talking about the things from our lives which are rapidly passing into memory. And, in a mere generation even the memory will be gone.

Technology does that. It creates new ways of doing old things and mind-blowing new things most of us could never imagine. That's cool stuff but what's even better, I think, is that technology sweeps us all forward in a stream, rushing past ever-changing landscapes.

Take my profession, for example: broadcasting. It is rapidly become anachronistic.

For my forty years of experience and supposed expertise I can't for a minute understand why music radio stations still exist. Who needs them? The human factor, camaraderie and entertainment, were distilled from them years ago. Now we're left with mostly mindless jukeboxes that play songs they merely guess we might like to hear (and commercials they know damned well we don't want to hear.) The fact that we all carry our own radio stations containing thousands of songs of our own selection in a device the size of a matchbox seems to have been missed entirely by my industry.

Talk radio is still viable but only because there is money yet to be made in it, which soon won't be the case because technology has given everybody a pulpit: a microphone, a web cam, and a blog.

I am a lamplighter in the twenty-first century.

Luckily for me, I am approaching retirement age. My younger colleagues need to get scrambling to learn new ways to earn a living. And honestly, as much as I have loved my career I won't bemoan its passing. That's the way things work in a world driven by creative human ingenuity. We dream, we strive, we achieve; we move down that stream.

Last week Carolann, our seven-year-old grandson, Isaiah, and I were singing along with Christmas songs on the car radio. When Feliz Navidad came on we all had a bit of trouble remembering the lyrics. (That's pretty funny considering there are, literally, just six words in that song plus a seven-word English translation.) Specifically, we were all butchering "Prospero Ano y Felicidad." When the song ended Carolann was repeating the words aloud so that she might remember them but still having a bit of trouble with that new year greeting en español. But Isaiah had a simple solution:

"Play it again, Nana."

He couldn't imagine a device that played a song one time, and one time only.

Goodbye, radio.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Things you'll remember: Part One

I just read an amazing article about the Top 25 Things Vanishing From America.

Some of them are obvious: fax machines, homes without cable TV, drive-in theaters, etc. These are mostly gadgets and ways of doing things that technological advancements have improved into oblivion.

Pit toilets is on the list. I won't miss those, will you?

Other things on the list will be certainly missed by those of us over fifty who will soon be boring our grandkids with wistful reminiscences that begin, "When I was a boy..." These include newspapers, magazines, barbecue charcoal and the family farm.

Kiss 'em goodbye.

The decline of the worldwide honey bee population is the one that startles me the most. Imagine one-third of all humans disappearing from the face of the Earth in just the past sixteen months. It sounds like the plot of a science fiction horror flick but that's exactly what has happened to honey bees.

When I was a boy...

...we feared for our bare feet in suburban lawns, parks and playgrounds that were all infested by hundreds of the vicious, stinging insects toiling in the white clover.

They were everywhere, remember? Who didn't get stung at least once every summer? Who among us didn't capture them in jars we prepared with fresh grass and flower buds for their enjoyment?

Your grandkids will probably never do that. Very likely they'll never be stung by a bee. Their kids may never even see one.

I'm sure technology will find a way to compensate agricultural industries for the loss of the honey bee. But I think it's very sad, just the same.

When a bee stung us we cried because it hurt, but a large part of the pain was in knowing that while we would survive in discomfort to eventual full recovery the bee, itself, would die from its defensive attack.

That's a metaphor our grandkids really need.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Advanced parenting

My son Jeremy stopped by yesterday and today at our request for assistance.

He’s almost thirty-three years old. He’s a husband and dad, he’s got a degree in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly and years of experience as a professional theater technical director. He’s a former Disney Imagineer and is currently a lighting and special effects specialist for the Disneyland Hotel.

I, on the other hand, am the unanimously acknowledged mechanical idiot of the family. Give me a picture of a hammer and three to five minutes of non-pressured peace and quiet and I’ll give you a fifty-fifty chance of correctly selecting the business end of the hammer.

I’m a smart guy. When I was eighteen, forty years ago, I tested for entry into the Air Force and scored above 95% on all areas except mechanical. I got 65% on that one and believe me, it wasn’t much tougher than the hammer problem.

All we needed Jeremy to do was install a new garbage disposal and help Carolann with her Christmas decorations and tree lighting. (Yes, we start early. Don’t bug me about that. We like Christmas.)

And so, he did.

While Jeremy lay under our sink with a crescent wrench (I’m just making up these tool-thingy details, you know,) I sat on the floor and talked just to keep him company. When he put the lights on Carolann’s Christmas tree we listened to the Beatles’ Abbey Road album together and discussed the group’s history, strength and weaknesses.

During the Beatles Anthology early years recordings, I scrubbed the kitchen with bleach and ammonia.

When the work came to an end and he had to leave we hugged and smiled, having enjoyed a special father-son day of doing chores together. Except now, in some ways which don’t bother me in the least, my son is my dad and I am his son.

What goes around comes around and when you still enjoy each other’s company there’s no need for defining roles.

Dad; Son.

We know who we are.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where's my TV guide?

I suppose this falls into the category of not appreciating the marvels of modern technology
just as we all curse the microwave from time to time for making us wait four minutes to do what it took our moms all day to do. But, dammit, I want to know where my TV shows are and when they start again and why they just up and disappear for six months at a time after only four new episodes!

Back in the days of three networks and your fuzzy, local "educational channel" The New Fall Season was an exciting part of autumn that sort of made up for having to go back to school. All the new, exciting shows and new episodes of our old favorites splashed across our snowy black and white screens one after another all on
the same week!

Now it seems that shows come and go like unexpected guests. When I find one I really like it disappears and I don't know if it's gone for good or if it's just on "hiatus" and will pop back up in January after I've forgotten what it was all about.

And, that's another thing... Why all the serial dramas? If you don't see the very first episode and be sure to watch them all in order you can't figure out what's going on except that everybody in the show and everybody else who watches it is keeping some big secrets from you. It's like walking into a movie theater ten minutes late and missing the exposition.

I know, I know...

Unlike my "good old days" I'm not only watching TV in glorious, High Definition, forty-seven inches of vivid color, I have three hundred channels from which to choose and a wonderful machine that lets me watch whatever I want whenever I want and skip all the commercials.

I just want to know what happened to Men In Trees.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Redefining relevance

At twenty I attacked my life dreams the way I had pounced on Christmas presents just a few years earlier. The future was forever.

By thirty I had created a family, a strong identity and an impressive professional reputation. The world was my oyster.

Turning forty brought me the good-natured joshing of my many friends, family and colleagues who had come to admire and respect me. I was at the top of my game.

Fifty was a bit daunting. My father died. My kids were grown and gone. Friends of my youth were away on their own adventures. Work was more of a challenge but life, overall, was comfortable and easy.

Time remained, I told myself, to do things.

Now that I’m pushing sixty I find myself struggling to remain relevant. In my own mind, at least.

For the first time in my long life, I’m neither the rising star nor the top dog. I’ve started the inevitable, slow slide.

And I begin to wonder, for the first time ever, how much time I have left.

There. I’ve said it aloud.

One phase of life ends and another begins. I get it. I always knew it was coming.

But I’m still not quite ready.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spontaneous felicity

There is nothing in life more exciting than impulsive action.

It's that phone call you get on a dull Saturday afternoon from a good friend directing you to "grab a toothbrush and a clean shirt, we're headed to Tahoe to raise a little hell!"

It's deciding to call a few people and tell them to come on over right now because you're going to grill some meat and make some margaritas.

It's deciding to go east instead of north.

When our boys were still young Carolann and I took them on a cruise.
That's a pretty exciting vacation for an eight and twelve year-old. But when we returned to port in Los Angeles after a week of great food and fun on the Mexican Riviera the letdown was palpable in all of us. We were happy, just not ready to end the vacation. Not quite. So, rather than drive straight home to Sacramento as planned we decided to take the boys to Disneyland as long as we were in Southern California anyway.

Off we went!

That evening in our motel room, as we tucked our happy, tired boys into bed, that letdown feeling started to return. I picked up a map and looked at it for a couple of minutes.

"You know," I told my wife, "the Grand Canyon is only four hundred miles from here." And that's where we spent the next night.

Carolann and I have done this at least three times. We're great vacationers. We're just not good at ending them.

Once we were sitting in the Honolulu airport waiting to board our return flight. When the announcement came that the flight would be delayed we took it as an omen, blew off the reservation, phoned work and told them I'd need another couple of days and then we left the airport for another day and evening in paradise.

Another time it was a driving vacation that took us to Idaho, then north to the fabulous Canadian Rockies and across to Vancouver. On schedule to return home in time to go back to work in two days, we suddenly headed west instead of south because driving the Oregon and California coastline is so much nicer than I-5. And it added a couple of impulse days to our vacation.

The luxury in spontaneity is in breaking schedules and commitments. It is reminding yourself that you are free to do as you please whenever you wish.

It has been too long. I'm ready to do something impulsive again.

The problem is, you can't plan to be spontaneous.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A real pain in the @ss

(Before we begin I'd like to say I have no idea why it is somehow okay for us to substitute a symbol (@) for a letter that looks exactly the same without the 3/4 circle around it, but...whatever. Okay. If you're less offended than if I had put a real "a" in that word I’m just fine that.)


Over the past thirty years or so I've probably been to the doctor half a dozen times.

There was that time I fell off the roof in 1990 and needed five hours of reconstructive surgery, a week in critical care and three months in a wheelchair.

And now that I’m knocking on the door to Sundown City there are suddenly a million niggling things that send me running to the doctor's office every three or four days.

First it was an ear infection. I get those every year. Then it was an infected finger that started when I clipped a tiny piece of skin with nail clippers.

Then, another ear infection.

And now I have MRSA, something the Mayo Clinic describes ominously, thusly:

"MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It's a strain of staph that's highly resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it. MRSA can be fatal."

Fatal? Oh, please.

I have a gigantic, red, painful infection on my ass.

Oops! Sorry. I mean, “@ss.”

So, I'm sitting on my left cheek as much as possible, swallowing antibiotics and taking sitz baths every forty-five minutes or so.

They tell me this should clear up eventually, or it won't.

If it doesn't, they tell me they'll have to cut into the infection and drain it. But considering what the Mayo Clinic said up there about this being "highly resistant to the broad spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it" I figure my doctor has no idea what to do at that point.

And, it will be neither fatal nor temporary.

Thirty years from now I expect my obituary will confirm that I died, quite literally, from a lifelong, chronic "pain in the @ss."

This getting old sh!t is not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What I learned from Elvis

I never cared much for Elvis Presley.

Nothing personal, of course. I never met him. I just didn't care for his music. But that's because I'm a mid-Boomer and was too young to get wrapped up in the frenzy of the emergence of rock and roll in the fifties.

I started paying attention to music in the early to mid-60s when Elvis was in the Army and pre-Motown R&B groups like The Orlons, The Marvelettes and The Shirelles had the charts pretty much to themselves. Then the Beach Boys and Beatles came along and changed everything as Elvis returned from the Army and resumed making badly-written, suddenly very old-fashioned beach movies.

In 1973 I got to see Elvis perform in Las Vegas and I fell asleep. Literally.

Wasn't just me. Elvis knew he wasn't cutting it. He actually interrupted his band at one point and apologized to the crowd because, he said, "We can do this better." And then they started again but the magic had escaped the room like air from a badly-tied balloon.

Ironically, less than two years later I was living in Memphis and working as the Program Director for top-40 radio station, WHBQ. My morning deejay was George Klein, Elvis's best friend since high school.

George was a sweetheart. He didn't wear Elvis on his sleeve but he did wear the "TCB" solide gold lightning bolt necklace that Elvis gave every member of his so-called Memphis Mafia. George didn't talk about Elvis incessantly but I quickly became aware that everything George had ever accomplished, he attributed to Elvis. That was his perspective and I guess that makes it true.

George did occasionally talk excitedly about Elvis's promise to buy him a small town Tennessee radio station someday. I believe that promise outlived the King.

One evening in 1975 Karen, my first wife, and I were in our duplex in Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, eating watermelon and watching TV. The phone rang.

It was George. He wanted to tell me he was at Elvis's house.

He waited a moment for a reaction but all I gave him was, "Okay..."

George quickly explained that Elvis had bought a new airplane and wanted him and a few other friends to see it. He wanted to know if that would be okay with me.

(I was only twenty-four and even though Elvis's music left me cold I was living and working in his town. I was impressed and even a bit envious. For a moment I thought excitedly George might be calling to invite me to go with them.)

"George," I asked, "why would you call to ask my permission to go see Elvis's new airplane?"

"Because it's in Dallas," he explained. And even though George was nearly twenty years older than me I was his boss and he waited for a reaction like a nervous teenager calling to ask his dad if he could stay out an hour later.

"George..." I said, realizing I wasn't being invited, "are you telling me you won't be at work tomorrow morning?"

"OH, NO!" He was horrified. "Elvis promised he'll fly me back in time to get to the station and go on the air at six!"

Elvis was good to his word.

George was on the air at six the next morning and spent the next three hours between records telling the tale of his wild transcontinental trip to see Elvis's new airplane. But you had to hear it to appreciate it. It wasn't the kind of hype, tease, slap and giggle you would expect to hear on the radio or TV now. George was very earnest and reporterly. He and Elvis were kids from Tupelo and except for Elvis's money that never changed.

George talked calmly on the radio that morning about his adventure with Elvis as if he was simply talking about a drive-in movie they'd gone to together. But even if he wasn't a born storyteller his was a fascinating and unique perspective.

I didn't live in Memphis long but I met lifelong residents and friends of George Klein who had never met, nor even seen, Elvis and never expected to.

In a very tight group, George was Elvis's best friend.

And he still is, I guess, because at the age of 74, thirty-two years after Elvis Presley's death, George Klein is still living back in the day. He's written a book about his life in Elvis's shadow. He gives interviews to everybody who asks. He is constantly telling how Elvis gave him, George, a new Cadillac every Christmas and his wife, Barbara, a new full-length mink coat.

You might think, as I did for many years, that's sad.

Now I just think it's George's life and he's probably grateful for every moment.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The mirror lies.

My blogging buddy, Anita, just posted one of her typically charming and smile-inducing pieces on the subject of aging, Fifty is the new forever. I suppose that's what we do here whether we address the subject head-on or just obliquely, through our personal kaleidoscopic lives.

One of the things I love most about Anita is that aging never seems to give her a moment's pause or stress. I, on the other hand, am borderline obsessive.

I look in the mirror only out of occasional necessity and all I see are lies.

I stopped growing older in my mid-thirties. It was a good age for me. It's the age I chose to be for the rest of my life. So, as I push sixty (though I prefer to think of it as pulling fifty) my thirty-five year old spirit peers into the mirror at an old man and while I've never been especially attractive nor self-conscious it just doesn't work.

I can't feel like this and look like that.

I know the only option I have in order to re-frame myself is to give up and be my age because I can't possibly look thirty-five again. That's fine if I can figure out how to age without getting old. That's really what concerns us, isn't it?

Do I have to turn grouchy? Will I be forced to wear khaki pants and sensible shoes?

I'm going to work on this self-image thing because I don't believe it much matters what anybody else thinks of my appearance as long as I'm clean and semi-tidy.

The thing is -- at thirty-five this stuff never crossed my mind.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I love mornings, even though most of mine begin at 1:30AM.

When I retire I'll get up each day just before dawn and it will be perfect because there is no more grand metaphor for the wonders of life and the certainty of God than the dependable, eternal, daily sunrise.

It may surprise some who know me to learn that I have this thought nearly every day upon awakening. In a way, each morning is like Christmas morning. I don't know what gifts the day will hold but I'm excited to find out.

I'm not always so optimistic and enthused, of course, but I usually am. And maybe I'm just in an unusually philosophical spirit this morning but I don't think so.

Consider the hundreds of simple, yet significant, decisions you will make today. Will you have coffee or just juice? Will you turn left or right? Maybe this is a good day for going to a flea market or taking a walk in the park or just staying home and watching a couple of movies. None of these activities or decisions are a big deal and yet all of them and every other thought that flows through your head is momentous and magnificent because you have the freedom of all choices in your life, every waking moment.

Oh, yes you do.

Thanks for deciding to read this note. I hope it was a satisfying decision.

And, have a wonderful day however you decide to spend it!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Conflicted in the 21st century

"The medium is the message."

Marshall McLuhan wrote that famous unfortunate sentence forty-five years ago in his most celebrated work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

Now, if that title alone doesn't make your heart flutter with adoration as you briskly snap your fingers in hip approval, (the early sixties beatniks snapped their fingers to applaud) on, McDuff!

"Five word proclamations are cool."

There, I just wrote one myself.

"The medium is the message."

But if you persist in plunging (with a sturdy plumber's helper) the depths of McLuhan -- who, by the way, is also credited with giving us the term "global village," damn his simpleton soul -- you run into passages such as the following from the same ponderous treatise on American culture.

Mind you, this gobbledegook has been hailed as genius for decades:

If the work of the city is the remaking or translating of man into a more suitable form than his nomadic ancestors achieved, then might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?

Well, now. As the green guard of the gates of Oz proclaimed, "That's a horse of a different color!" Or, as we sneered in those days...

"Far out, man!"

We all want to be smart. We wish we were smarter than we fear we are not. We try to achieve wisdom by wearing its overcoat and shiny shoes. That's just human nature, I think. We want people to like us, that's all. Well, that's not all, exactly. We also want our spouses and children and grandchildren to think we are the smartest people in their very personal lives. It would be lovely if they said so at our funeral.

Only now, just after my 58th birthday, having spent half a century trying to measure up and show it off, have I suddenly realized what I need to do about myself.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

It doesn't matter that my job involves telling hundreds of thousands of people what's going on in the world (as far as I can guess or presume to sell as truth.) Occasionally I also give them one man's free perspective for the mere purpose of kick-starting a few brains. That's what I get paid to do.

I do not get paid to be smarter than I really am.

I'm starting to think my family is on to me, anyway.

Forty-five years after he published his ultimate intellectual achievment I wonder if McLuhan would be shocked to find that the age of information is a Chucky Cheese cacophony of noise, a digital blender of childish delights, proclamations, accusations and constructed horrors.

We have so many sources of information, rumor, implication, insinuation, views, opinions, counter-opinions, perspective, conspiracy theories and wild-ass guesses we've just about run out of any reason at all to try to understand the world all by ourselves.

I have absolutely no need for my brain for such purpose. I've decided from now on to use it just to amuse myself.

I guess you're on your own.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dog Days

As I type these words it's 106 degrees outside our home and not yet 1:00PM.

Dog days, huh? Does that make any sense?

Well, yes, now that you mention it. Having nothing more to do than busy my mind in front of a whirling fan blade I decided to look it up.

The Ancient Romans called it, caniculares dies, (days of the dogs.) It arose from the notion that Sirius, the dog star, was angry this time of year and caused the Earth to get very hot. To appease the star's rage the Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of Dog Days.

No, I don't know why it had to be a brown dog.

The Romans, of course, thought nothing of committing carnage upon any creature that moved if it might be even remotely possible that a good screeching, bloody sacrifice would serve some useful or noble purpose.

This is why the Greeks were the brains of the outfit.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Apples and oranges

It is August in the San Gabriel Valley and though we haven't had a day that hit one hundred degrees recently it has been in the nineties and the past couple of days have been Deep South humid.

Two days ago the air conditioner in our house stopped working. The diagnosis is not good: dead compressor. We're looking at a large fix-it bill we can't afford and it will probably be several more days before the fix is done.

I don't like to complain for the sake of complaining and yet I do it. I think most of us do it because it must be human nature, which is a perfectly fine excuse for fishing for sympathy. But you know what drives me nuts? When I say something that evokes an apples-and-oranges response.

"Boy, it's hot. I can't wait for the AC to be working again," I might say.

"When this house was built nobody had air conditioning," is the likely reply. Or:

"When we were little we didn't have air conditioning, just those awful swamp coolers."

Both of the responses are true, but so what? How does that help? We didn't have AC when I was a kid and I'm sure I was uncomfortably hot. What has that got to do with the heat of now?

When our house was built in 1903 not only did they not have air conditioning, they didn't even have swamp coolers. And, people dressed in multiple layers from throat to toe! I know this and I am grateful to be living now rather than then.

But dammit, I'm still sweating and unhappy about it!

And now, even I have no response for that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Boy in the Bubble (wrap)

"Isaiah," I called across the yard, "please pick up that empty box and take it to the trash cans."

It's grandpa and grandson clean-up-the-back-yard-day on an unusually cool and pleasant Sunday morning in August.

I was scrubbing the barbecue pad and smoker oven as I watched him run to the box.

"Grandpa," he called from the patio. "Can I make a club house in the box?"

The auto-dad in me started running my mental computer through all the reasons I
should say no.

He wasn't doing what I told him.

I don't have all day.

It's just a crummy little box, not even big enough to play in properly.

Grandpa didn't hesitate.


Within ten or fifteen minutes he had wrung all the fun out of that stupid box and threw it away where I had asked him.

We're going to fix lunch now.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Living legends

In this era of hyperbole run amock where we no longer have mere movie stars, only “superstars,” there is one descriptive term for an elite and rare level of talent and performance that still holds its water: living legend. You just can’t pin that label on every actor, singer, dancer or athlete who ever performed or competed at the highest level of his or her craft. Only a handful of even the greatest performers in any field manage to reach the rarified air of that loftiest of accolades.

Last night I had the pleasure of nearly three hours in the company of a living legend doing his thing.

I saw Topol perform Tevye in his farewell tour of Fiddler on the Roof.

I’ll leave the reviews to the critics, although I can’t imagine anybody having the audacity to suggest that this actor, who has performed this particular role more than 2,500 times in the past forty years, is lacking in any nuance or that he left any fragment of his massive talent or energy in his dressing room.

This is not so much about performance as it is the experience of seeing a globally-beloved entertainer doing the one thing that made his fame greater than his own existence.

I’ve had this experience three or four times before. I saw Sammy Davis Jr. perform in Vegas. He did two hours that kept me spellbound to the point that the time and place of my existence were irrelevant. Sammy held a large room full of people in hypnotic suspension of enraptured animation. You wanted to cry for being so fortunate as to be in his audience.

The same was true when I saw George Burns onstage no more than fifty feet away at Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe. That man could milk more laughter out of a slightly raised eyebrow or a turn of a cigar than the greatest of today’s comics. When you saw George in his nineties you knew you were watching one of the greatest performers from an age already-past.

I saw Elvis in Vegas just a handful of years before he died. I was never much of an Elvis fan but living legend status does carry the weight of one’s body of work and the universal adoration he commands. Elvis certainly had that and the air crackled with the magic of his presence.

And, I saw Rex Harrison as Professor ‘enry ‘iggins in My Fair Lady. Show me any other actor who was beloved by millions for mumbling his songs in the essence of fabled British understatement.

This is my very small collection of times trapped in bottles. And now I have added a precious summertime evening in Los Angeles when the world’s best-loved piece of musical theater was given to me in its full orchestral celebrated glory. And for this evening the man who did not invent but became the synonymous face and distinctive voice of Tevye, the milk man, was — as the song goes, the master of his house.

Tupperware: Satan's tool

My friend and blogging partner Anita just posted a loving ode to Tupperware and it has me seriously concerned for her health and sanity.

In thirty-eight years over my two marriages, and in my mother's home before them, I have had a love/hate affair with Tupperware.

Tupperware is a cook's blessing until wild-eyed, greedy dreams of organizational nirvana overtake breathless You.

Now you have too much of this wondrous thing which merely jams beyond stacking in one cabinet closest to the ground.

Fat and feeble, weary from the evening's wine and culinary chores, as you lie on the floor groping into the nether-reaches of darkened cupboard for the the proper size plastic container while praying beyond hope to find its mated lid, the damned pieces begin literally leaping out of the shelf at you, snapping at your eyes and nose like a demented chihuahua, snarling in derision!

You'll never get them back in their places. You know that's true.

For salvation you turn to the Saran-Wrap in the pantry and vow you will never go near the plastic cupboard of the damned again.

Never, at least, until it beckons you with demonic insistence.

Tupperware is the very essence of Biblical temptation. A little of it is a blessing. When you start to get greedy it is a curse that never leaves you in peace.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The swimmer

This morning our phone rang and Carolann answered. When she immediately began chattering like a demented kindergarten teacher on a sugar high I knew she was talking with our youngest grandson. Tyler was calling to ask if we could come to his house and swim with him today. While it's true that the plot was hatched last night between his mother and me a four-year-old issuing such an invitation is a mighty big deal for children of all ages. Carolann practically shrieked our acceptance. All three of us were pretty darned excited, I can tell you.

We arrived a short time later and Tyler whooped as he ran to the door to admit us. But when he couldn't quite solve the considerable mystery of the system of locks on that particular front door, (which stymies every adult I've ever seen fiddle with it,) he did what any level-headed person would do. He stepped back and settled for waving at us through the window. Mom arrived a moment later, swept away the hinged barrier, and the hugs and giggles commenced.

Carolann and I are blessed to have wonderful and loving children and grandsons. And we are doubly blessed to live near them so that we can watch and help them all grow. It is a treat that requires no purchase or qualification.

Grandparents in proper families are quite rightly V.I.P.s.

Most of us feel we somehow weren't qualified to be parents when we were much younger and we're right about that. As Carolann likes to say, those kids didn't come with instruction manuals and when you're barely outside of childhood yourself, perspective and wisdom must be earned through eighteen or twenty years of 24/7 OJT. You screw up. You learn. And generally the progeny grow up in spite of us in remarkably sound condition and showing some promise.

Raising kids is damned hard, wonderful work. And when it's finally finished they leave you with something that feels very much like a hole in your heart. The love remains but the work is gone. You tell yourself what you already know but need to hear: that they'll never be back. Not in the same way.

Here's the epiphany:

When the children we were as new parents finish the job, we can finally continue raising ourselves.

Tyler carefully put his toes on the edge of the pool, brought his little hands together above his head...

"Watch! Grandpa, watch me! Nana, watch! Watch me!"


The air left me like the eye of a cyclone. He had never done this before! He couldn't even swim without his floaty vest!

But that was last week and this is now.

He surfaced in front of me, a river of water pouring into eyes and mouth sputtering to open with excitement.

Tyler is a swimmer. And, a diver! And it had all happened when Carolann and I had our backs momentarily turned as Mommy and Daddy were doing their hard, wonderful work.

A friend of mine told me not too long ago that if he had known how great grandkids would be he'd have had them first.

I'm nursing a bit of a sunburn this evening. My eyes are chlorine sleepy and I'm wearing a silly grin that won't leave my face.

About an hour after we finally left our liquid circus, as I sat in a soft, fat leather chair, my grandson climbed into my lap, got unusually close to my face, looked directly into my eyes and asked with deadly serious amusement:

" was that swimming for you?"

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Hazy sunshine; 60s at the beaches, 70s and 80s inland..."

What's the first thing you think about when you awaken each morning?

It's different every morning? I suppose that's technically true. It is for me if I've been dreaming and can still remember the last few seconds of my ET life in Neverland. But once I've whitewashed my always ridiculous life in slumbering absurdity, check my limbs for flexibility and my brain for purpose; once I decide that consciousness is doable, I'm pretty sure the first lucid thought I've had nearly each morning of my nearly fifty-eight years is the absurdly pedestrian wondering about the day's weather.

You may well disagree. Maybe you don't think about the weather first thing.

Then again, maybe you do but just don't realize it.

The weather is ubiquitous. Except when it threatens your comfort or very existence it is well worth ignoring. I've never understood how TV weather-casters can spend three minutes on "sunny and warm for the rest of the week." Unless you're planning a garden wedding or luau, who cares?

Why am I even prattling about weather?

Because my friend and partner, Anita Garner, has put my mind to something I describe two dozen times each morning on the radio but rarely give a second thought.

You should pause now and go read her delightful and insightful, "Weather-watching obsession..."

I'll wait right here.


Anita has plugged into something most of us have forgotten.

" country born-and-bred father had a set of weather instruments on the back porch and glanced at them several times a day, always remarking out loud on what he saw there. He often disputed what the dials told him, and he was always right. He could feel changes in his bones."

This passage slapped me in the face with a crystal clear memory from a parched, rocky slab of Wyoming hardpan more than fifty years ago.

I barely reached my grandpa's waist, standing there in his unfenced Rock Springs backyard which stretched all the way to Nebraska. The clouds were few and unremarkable. It was barely nine in the morning but already hot and unusually still. Grandpa shaded his eyes and looked first one way and then the other.

A moment later we were back in the house and he told my grandmother she should hang the day's laundry on the line early because it would rain by that evening.

I awoke the next morning to the open-window smell of soggy clay and prairie.

They knew, back then, because they needed to. Somehow that inclination to know still reaches us eventually.

When we're old coots, obsessed by the weather.

Isn't that wonderful?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Starry night

Our four year-old grandson, Tyler, is an aficianado of fine art and classical music.

Seriously. He's been like this for half of his life, since he was a mere child enthralled by the cartoon series Little Einsteins on the Disney Channel.

This painting may be familiar to you but in case you don't know the title and artist, you could just ask Tyler. It's the renowned Starry Night by Dutch impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.
Tyler has it hanging in his bedroom. Oh, not the original, of course. Just a poster. It's there, right next to many others including one his Nana and I considered a startling discovery in the bedroom of a very little boy.

There, among the Thomas the Train tracks and electronic piano is Edvard Munch's alien nightmare, The Scream.

I don't get it. Art, I mean.

Oh, I recognize the craftsmanship involved in combining all those tiny brush or pen strokes to create a picture which is recognizable as an image from life or imagination. Even impressionists leave an impression on me. (Though, don't get me started on the chaos of abstract, or modern, art.)

No, what I don't get is the marvelous functioning of minds that perceive with dazzling clarity worlds I cannot fathom. The ability of genius to sense beyond my senses is a divine gift which challenges the concept of normal and allows me an occasional glimpse into a greater reality.

I find it enormously comforting.

Sometimes a child so young that he struggles to express himself verbally may also be dancing in the heavens while picking out the classic melodies of Mozart and Chopin on a toy keyboard with nothing but a cartoon and an undiscouraged potential to guide him.

The gifted frolic like otters in many realities at once while the vast rest of us cling to "normal."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Forever and ever, amen.

Twenty-one years ago today CarolAnn and I stood together in front of a small lake before a crowd of some three hundred seated on hay bales. They were all dressed in Western boots and hats and beaming with love, or at least anticipation.

The minister was perched above us, standing on a small platform on the back end of an ancient buckboard wagon adorned with flowers. We were in white, he was in his black robe wearing a silly looking cowboy hat with feathers sticking out of the brim, a last-minute donation by a member of the congregation.

He was proud of that hat.

The horses and carriage on which we had arrived held their respect.

Under an overcast sky which had threatened to rain on all of us since our arrival a few hours earlier, our minister began the traditional address:

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God to join this man and this woman in the eternal bonds of holy matrimony."

A peacock cried out from the distance: "Help! Help!"

That is truly how peacocks sound and what they seem to be yelling. It cracked everybody up.

I mugged mercilessly.

The ceremony continued. Our sons, ages seven and eleven, dressed in their own little Western tuxedos and cowboy hats, brought forth the rings.

"If any man can show reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in marriage, let him speak now or forever hold his peace!"

My six groomsmen, a rugged gang of cowboys, drew their revolvers and scanned the crowd with a scowl and certain threat. Everybody laughed again.

And then, God chimed in.

The clouds that had covered the proceedings all day parted slightly, dramatically, and an array of golden sunbeams shot through the sky and landed squarely and solely on CarolAnn and me.

I swear, that's just how it happened. The crowd noticed. We heard the whispered exclamations.

The minister glanced up with a hint of awe.

"By the power vested in me by the state of California and the County of Nevada, I hereby pronounce you man and wife."

I kissed her.

Gunshots rang out from my groomsmen, hooting and hollering as the crowd laughed, cheered, and cried.

Twenty one years ago today.

Our love is all grown up. We are grown up. And happily honeymooning, still.

In the words of "our song," (which I talked Randy Travis into singing for us live on KABC radio in Los Angeles...)

"As long as old men sit and talk about the weather,
as long as old women sit and talk about old men.
If you wonder how long I'll be faithful
just listen to how this song ends...
I'm gonna love you forever and ever..,
Forever and ever...
Forever and ever...
Forever and ever...


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Here's what's up, Doc...

Like most men my age I don’t go to the doctor often enough.

Why should I? I’m fine.

The last time I paid a visit to my local learned disciple of Hippocrates was sometime last year when I had a panic attack. It had never happened before and with no experience I was concerned that I might be in the early throes of a heart thing. Not a heart attack. You know, just a “thing.”

It was very responsible of me. “Honey,” I told Carolann, “I think you should take me to the emergency room just to have this thing checked out.”

Aside from the fact that those hastily-spoken words cost me hundreds of dollars despite months of haggling with my insurance company, it was probably the most grownup thing I’ve done in decades.

It was only a panic attack. Twenty-nine people in my office had been fired that day. Go figure.

But, doctors need to understand something and if you know one personally, please do us all a favor and send him or her the following note:

Your holy Magnificence;

Mindful as I am of your superior breeding, social standing, intellect, training and anthropological evolution, I will make this as brief as possible. I am, of course, properly awed to be graced by your audience. As a mere mortal who has mindlessly placed my very life in your hands simply because you have a waiting room (EXCELLENT choice of name, by the way!) littered by the moaning, wheezing, coughing street denizens from Oliver!, and by the very impressive framed, yellow sheets of mumbo-jumbo accreditation posted on the wall nobody ever read, I beseech you:

Please remove the scale from the hall between your gatekeeper’s station and my holding cell, wherein I await you.

I am in your office because I’m sure that I have contracted cancer. Prostate, heart, throat, lung, stomach, hair or nails cancer — whichever it is, I’m sure I have one or more. (I work in the news business.) If not cancer, a malignant brain tumor. Or maybe I have something medical science hasn’t yet discovered. Terminal toe fungus, perhaps. The point is, I’m not visiting you and your insurance poltergeists just for my health.

You people scare the shit out of me and I know it’s by design.

But then you insist on conditioning me for Your Highness’s arrival. Protocol must be observed.

I am called forth from my leisurely repose in the company of the unwashed, looking at, but not actually reading, a six month old copy of Parenting magazine.

Your unholy Host hands me yet another clip board with still more pages to fill out, pages that require long answers handwritten into very short blank spaces. She bids me forth, into your lair. First, however, inevitably as death itself, I am ordered to stand on the scale.

I could be clutching an obviously broken arm, a compound fracture with bone protruding from my elbow; I might be spewing blood from an otherwise empty eye socket, and still you would need to know my weight.


I’m sorry, Excellence. Guess I’m just a little self-consciousness.

I do note, however, that your big, professional, no doubt expensive scale inevitably registers me at fifteen pounds heavier than the one in my bathroom.

Nevertheless, I swallow that indignity and step into examination room 2 or 3. Sometimes 4, but that’s okay because you might already be in number 3! Or maybe you’re in number 5 and I have another hour to wait. Who knows? Not me. Nor, do I have a need to know! And certainly, your staff isn’t troubled to take a wild guess.

And so, I sit… rising occasionally to examine the enlightening, if not fascinating, forty-year-old charts of the unisex human abdomen revealed in full — though, no doubt, inaccurate — color.

And then, suddenly, the ultimate indignity — your twenty-three year old female assistant, undersecretary nurse, or whatever the hell she is, enters and tells me to strip to my waist so that I might sublimate myself to await your esteemed arrival.

She leaves me to my privacy. She gives me a pleasant smile.

It’s not a personal smile. It’s nothing at all like the “checking you out!” smiles I got from twenty-three-year-old women when I was twenty-six. It’s a smile like my granddaughter might give me if she had just met me for the first time in her life and thought I smelled funny.

She leaves, closing the door before I gather the presence of mind to ask, “When you say strip to the waist, do you mean from the top down or from the bottom up?” At my age I can’t ask a twenty-three-year-old girl something like that, anyway. I’ll wait for you, Herr Doktor!

And I wait. And I wait some more.

I want to phone my wife for support but there is no cell service here.

I peek inside the drawers. Very long q-tips; ancient, barbaric looking instruments which have uses I can’t imagine.

I play with the pump on the wall-mounted blood pressure monitor which is never used because you have newer, better ones in the bottom drawer, purchased at CVS Pharmacy.

I don’t mind that the issues of Sports Illustrated in your examination rooms are eight months old. I never read them in the first place. I’ll start now, as I conscientiously forget about my terminal earlobe cancer.

Finally, you arrive!

The door fairly bursts from it’s insignificant hinges in your ethereal presence!

“Mr. Williams!” you boom, thrown into an unearthly relief of backlit brilliance. “How are we today?”

I begin to stammer that “we” are fine but I never quite get the words past my trembling, genuflecting lips.

“I see you still haven’t lost that weight,” you intone, with a wink and a flash of a teasing smile. But I know the underlying prognosis is terminal. I’m going to die very soon because I’m fat. You told me that the last time I was here and now you’re reminding me as gently and cruelly as possible. My fault. My bad. I haven’t lost weight and now I shall die.

By the time you’ve looked in my wax-impacted ears, my decay-laden, bad-breath mouth and my relentlessly bloodshot, darting eyes…

I have no idea why I came in here to begin with.

I just want to go home. Now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nostalgia run amuck

As I get older and have determined as a pert-near certainty that the time of my life will never pause or reverse itself, I increasingly find I am comparing life in America when I was a child with the great fears and uncertainties of now and tomorrow.

I get a lot of emails from my contemporaries (an odd word to apply to people well past midlife) which tickle my brain to call out my happy, youthful self and to remember:

…when Mom stayed home and cooked and cleaned while I went to school and Dad brought home the bacon.

…when every breakfast was eaten at the table with the whole family there to discuss their daily plans and hopes. We’d reconvene for dinner to discuss our daily achievements.

…when we had no virtual technological distractions except for three channels of black and white small screen miracles.

–when Sundays were for church and family; when nobody had what they wanted but everybody had all they needed.

You get those emails, too. They’re fun. But maybe the most engaging ones are those which remind us how much more safe and sane our old world seemed.

We didn’t have “drive-by” random murders in the fifties and sixties. Never.

None of my friends was ever snatched off the street by a gang-banger or boogie man.

None of the kids I knew was ever physically assaulted or molested. Not that I ever heard of, anyway.

Inevitably these journeys through the past offer us wistful glances of a world that was much easier to navigate and in which we could lay our heads at night, secure in the comfort and peace of our own bedrooms, on our Spin and Marty sheets and pillow cases, and with a quiet “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” we could revel in the day we just lived and exalt in the gift of yet another day tomorrow. And for all the tomorrows we could imagine and more.

So, here’s how I see it.

It doesn’t matter when you were born. My four and six-year-old grandsons will have the same wondrous journeys and make the same magical memories as I did, and as did my father and grandfather before me. And fifty years from now they’ll tell their kids and grandkids how primitive life was in the early twenty-first century.

And they’ll love the memories.

No time is better than another. The magic lies in being young enough to have nothing with which to compare it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'twixt Tweet and Text...

This morning in one of my KABC radio newscasts I read a story about British scientists who are developing digital technologies to assist the elderly and disabled in matters of everyday living.

The story explained how one invaluable tool we'll all soon have to help us find our way through the labyrinth of our old-age dodderage is a Global Positioning System to find what we need in the grocery store.

Need to track down the canned peas? Check your GPS.

And they're serious.

At this point in my life, as a young elderly man, I still bear enough conceit to believe that if I eventually get so befuddled as to be unable to find the canned vegetables without consulting my Garmin Geezer I should probably stay home.

How the hell am I supposed to find the store in the first place if I can't find the peas once I get there?

And, we all know how adept the elderly are at figuring out how to use new gadgets and how much they enjoy the challenge!

My dear mother, bless her heart, is one of the smartest people I've ever known. Her sharp wit, her native intellect and her instinctive, loving charm have been an inspirational influence in me for fifty-eight years. They still are.

But the computer we bought her for Christmas several years ago is just a giant paperweight in her dining room. It's furniture, actually. She placed doilies on the monitor and speakers. My bronzed baby shoes adorn the keyboard. She sprays lemon-scented Endust on the cpu tower, carefully avoiding the power button so as not to accidentally activate the thing.

And I'm starting to get it...

I've been paying bills and shopping online for nearly two decades. I embraced the interactive charms of the Internet back in the day when Prodigy allowed you to post notes on bulletin boards and anxiously await responses from people thousands of miles away.

I play Lord of the Rings Online and before that I spent years with my wife and our international friends playing Everquest and Everquest II. We talk into microphones in real-time with people around the world while we're playing. (Though, we don't know the next door neighbors.)

Email is the twentieth century invention of the wheel and fire.

I IM (Instant Message); I have a Facebook page which commands about 40% of my semi-wasted life (much more if you subtract the time I sleep) and now, dadgummit...I have been sucked into Twitter.

I admit this with a mix of confusion and shame:

I am tweeting.

I don't get it, but I'm curious and trying to keep an open mind.

Twitter, for those of you who have real lives with face-to-face personal relationships, is a means of communicating with people in the most shallow way yet devised, with very short bursts of written expression. You have a limit of 140 typed characters for each message with which you decide to annoy your friends and loved ones. These are called "Tweets." These can be read by your "followers" on computers and Internet-enabled cell phones like Blackberry and iPhone.

For example, imagine you're at work between conferences with your law partners and a potential major corporate client. During a quick break you check your Twitter:

"I'm trying to decide whether to take a nap or go buy milk."

"I need a nap. Or a beer. Or both."

"Wish you were here. Not really, LOL! :-) I prefer being alone in my cave but I want you to think highly of me."

And, the honest tweet you'll never receive:

"The best thing about Twitter is that I can tell you what I'm thinking without having to listen to your response. C-ya!"

Minute to minute intrusions throughout the day, meaningless mind farts to and from people you love and used to admire.

I swear...

Among the many gifts God gave us none is greater than the ability to keep our thoughts to ourselves and the inherent good judgment to do so.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Theyyy'rre off!..."

On Mondays I figure out how long I've been unemployed.
Today begins my twelfth week as a victim of the depressed economy. (That was wry humor. I'm not a victim of anything. I just have a long subscription to life.)

I'm neither ashamed nor much concerned by my layoff. I know Americans take pride in working hard and I did for nearly forty years. Now I'm taking pride in catching a break and spending my free days wisely. I'm resting, seeing more of my family and Carolann and I have taken up a new hobby: horse racing.

I suppose most people with extra time on their hands discover gardening or join reading groups. Carolann and I have discovered how to box exactas and read racing forms. Yesterday we spent our third full day in three weeks at Santa Anita Park and we love every minute of it. The storied home of Seabiscuit absolutely oozes a dramatic history involving magnificent animals and courageous, short men. The weather is perfect, the landscaping is immaculate and every thirty minutes is spent in brow-furrowed study, the anticipatory trip to a parimutuel window and the race itself, a climax of mass excitement!

I'm convinced that Santa Anita is populated by Central Casting. Everybody you've ever seen in a racing movie is there: old men in frumpy hats pulling on cigarettes and studying charts, young men filled with too much beer and testosterone, and happily, though somewhat oddly -- families with young children looking as if they took a wrong turn enroute to Disneyland.

The sweet aroma of fresh grass, rich turf and plush floral displays, the Call to the Post, the clunk and ringing of the starting gate and the roar of the crowd is all quite invigorating.

If learning to gamble seems like a ridiculous pastime for somebody unemployed and pinching pennies, consider this: Six hours of outdoor fun and wagering excitement yesterday cost us about seventeen bucks. Next week we might win*. Try to beat that at a movie theater.

* In the spirit of full disclosure I must report Carolann actually did win yesterday. My losses dragged down our average.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Of grace and acceptance

When I look at the younger generation, I despair of the future of civilisation." -- Aristotle, 300 BC

Not exactly an original thought, is it? Who among us over forty-something hasn't worried about the future because we just don't understand kids today? And if you're like me, as I suspect, you are also annoyed that over the years you have apparently turned into your own father.

He was a good, strong man in every way; a loving dad and a good provider. He could make me think, make me smile and he hugged me when I needed courage. But at some point he just stopped going along with all the nonsense.

My dad used to rail against the collapse of American values, the corruption in American politics and the loss of American jobs (to China, mainly.) He figured all the problems in this country started in millions of homes at empty dinner tables while moms as well as dads conducted their own lives outside of the house. Kids were left to raise themselves, he'd say. Parents, feeling a certain amount of guilt -- though, not enough to stay home and mind the store -- would allow the kids freedoms they weren't ready to enjoy responsibly.

Life, my dad thought, had gone down the crapper. As he put it to me more than once, "I like people individually but as a species we're not worth a damn."

Sometimes I think that way, too. It annoys me, not because I'm channeling my dad but because it feels like a sign of giving up. I'm edging closer to the rocking chair and I don't want to go there.

Yesterday the Rocky Mountain News published its last edition. Newspapers across the country are losing their grip on the Information Age. There is just too much competition from electronic gadgets and cyber sources. Nobody wants to read anymore. "News" is gleaned from sound bites on television and YouTube. Nobody wants to talk anymore. Our kids would rather text and twitter than actually talk with their friends on the phone and I suspect it has to do with convenience. Oh sure, talking is easier than texting but it lacks the convenience of not having to listen.

As I watch the world evolve beyond my personal comfort zone I have come to understand why each succeeding generation eventually reaches a point where it can't or won't keep up. We all fall victim to the inevitable grip of nostalgia and wistful expressions of "Back in the good old days..." We long for a simpler time that probably wasn't really simpler, we were just younger.

We just get tired, I think. That's okay but when we do that we have to accept a very hard truth: time is passing us by and our culture won't stop to wait for us to catch up.

Whether that is aging gracefully or giving up, you'll have to decide for yourself.


Bonus blog: My buddy Chuck Woodbury is about my age and has spent most of his adult life doing what the rest of us just dream of: traveling. He has seen this country every which way from west to east and outside in. He's a Charles Kuralt of print and has logged as many words as he has miles, writing in his beloved Out West newspaper and he is now the owner and editor of

Chuck's personal blog is a constant delight of heart and simplicity. He's a "stop and smell the coffee" kinda guy. Check it out here. You'll love it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"There, but for the grace of God..."

I always thought that seemed a smug presumption.

You know the rest of it: "There, but for the grace of God, go I." It presumes that the poor bastard you're referring to did not have (and by implication must not have deserved) the grace of God and you are therefore thankful to God that it was somebody else and not you who was dropped into life's dunk tank.

A couple of weeks ago I got a note from a special friend telling me that he had just attended his son's 32nd birthday party. It was a joyous affair with many friends and members from both sides of the young man's family in attendance. The birthday boy's own daughter was there. You can just imagine.

Then, my friend told me that a couple of days later his son, his pride and joy, had been killed in a car crash while going to the mountains for a day of snowboarding with a friend.

I reject the smug presumption and yet, I can't stop thinking it.

My own son's 32nd birthday was two days ago, barely a week after my friend lost his. We went to dinner, gave him gifts, sang to him, lit candles, cut the cake and when the evening was over I hugged him tighter than usual and told him this story.

"You're not supposed to bury your kids," I told my son as he held his own son in his arms. "When you were born I made a deal with God. I promised to raise you and give you all the things you would need to make a wonderful, happy life for yourself. In exchange I simply asked that he not let me bury you."

I hugged him again. I hugged my grandson and my friend, though he wasn't there.

And I gave silent thanks to God in the form of a seemingly smug presumption. But now I realize it isn't like that.

It's just the natural confluence of relief and faith.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nothing special

This morning I took my almost-four-years-old grandson to school.

His parents are out of town and though he spent the night with his maternal grandparents they both leave for work very early. So, I had the pleasure of driving to their home at 4:30AM and being on hand when Tyler awoke around 7:00.

He was very pleased to see me.

"Oh, yeah!"

Still wiping the sleep from his eyes he suddenly remembered that I would be here for him this morning. He flashed a drowsy grin and ran to me, bare feet slapping the wood floor, his favorite soft baby blanket slung over one arm. His arms went up as mine went down and I lifted him high over my head. We hugged and smiled as is our habit and standard greeting.

I guess he thinks I'm sort of special and for that great honor I know he is right.

At first I just sat on the couch and held him on my lap, allowing him to wake up gently.

I don't like brisk, lively beginnings to a day. I like slow, quiet starts and I think Tyler does, too. At least this morning he did. I held him in my big, bear-like grandpa arms and spoke to him softly.

"Did you sleep good?"


"Are you ready for a great day?"


We talked like that for maybe ten minutes, me asking leading questions designed to put him in a happy frame of mind, him responding affirmatively and with increasing animation. Finally, we decided it was time to get dressed and off to school with a stop at McDonalds for breakfast.

And that's the way my day began. No big deal and yet quite remarkable.

As I look back on nearly sixty years of life I am always amazed at how little of it I remember with any degree of detail or certainty. I remember the big things but not much of the ordinary and that just makes sense, really.

On a cold, dazzling-bright February morning Tyler and I ate eggs and sausage at McDonalds surrounded by old men in ballcaps sipping coffee and solving the world's problems.

He's not going to remember this.

I will never forget it.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Confession of an American Heretic

The young man was clean, well-groomed and polite.

“Going to watch the game Sunday?”

“Isn’t everybody?” I replied glibly without a split-second’s hesitation. I don’t know why. I’ve never done anything like that before. I know from more than fifty years of living that lies corrode one’s soul. Besides, when you lie about sports or politics you inevitably get caught in your own web.

“Who’s going to win?” he smiled.

“Steelers,” I assured him. Where was this coming from? What malignant spirit had taken possession of me? Why was I fibbing about something of absolutely no consequence? And yet, I wasn’t finished.

“Is it going to be blowout?” the young man pressed while guiding the courtesy shuttle toward my home, which suddenly seemed a continent away. We couldn’t get there soon enough to shut me up.

“I don’t know,” I said with wrinkled brow, the very picture of a man examining his superior expertise, “I don’t think so but Pittsburgh’s defense is just too good for the Cardinals.”

Ten minutes earlier I had no idea who was playing in the Superbowl tomorrow. When I’m sitting in the waiting room of the Toyota dealer’s service department I’ll read anything I can find. Ten minutes earlier it happened to be the sports page, which I never read anywhere else.

And now I was lying to a clean young man, well-groomed and polite.

I could brush this off as a victim of cultural insistence. I am an American man. We worship at the alter of the NFL. While I have boldly, even cheerfully admitted to preferring chick flicks to action movies and my inherent ineptitude when the subject turns to Motor Trend magazine this — this is beyond the pale.

I don’t care about football. Not even the Superbowl.

Those were the most painful two sentences I have ever written. The shame is coursing through my stomach. I can’t stop thinking of my father and my sons. They expect more from me. I am grateful my camping buddies aren’t here to witness this. Confession may be good for the soul but it can torture the heart.

I don’t care one whit about football.

Please, let me be alone.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The way we were.

Sometimes I wonder if I have changed much over the past, say, fifty years. Beyond the obvious, I mean. Sure, I’ve learned a lot and had as many personally defining experiences as I’ve had heartbeats. I just wonder if I am essentially the same person I was as a child, a teenager; a 20-30-40 something.

Do we really change over time or do our personalities simply undergo the same sort of superficial aging that our bodies do?

I’m always looking at total strangers and trying to imagine them as children. Transients for example, the people we used to call “bums.” When you see a dirty man in tattered clothing drinking from a paper bag or pushing a shopping cart do you ever wonder what series of misfortunes took him where he seems to be? I say seems to be because none of us can fairly judge the lives of others but still, it seems clear that this downtrodden man is not the current visage of a once happy, fresh-faced child. Surely somebody once loved him. Maybe somebody still does.

What happened?

The other day I was in line at the supermarket and the woman in front of me was taking forever getting through the process. The checker had finished totaling the woman’s modest basket of products but now the customer was digging slowly through the contents of her purse looking for coupons. She found plenty but apparently not the ones she needed. As we all waited patiently the checker sent the bag-boy off to find the manager who then began to search through his office for the correct coupons. Meanwhile, the lady in front of me seemed oblivious to the growing line of increasingly irritated people behind her.

I was fine. I was in no hurry and found it kind of funny. I had a small wager going within myself that once the coupon crisis was solved, then and only then, the woman would begin looking for her checkbook and spend another five minutes writing the check, entering it into her records and deducting it from her balance. She might even pull out a handheld computer.

The oblivious are truly oblivious.

Meanwhile, the man behind me was commenting on the procedure.

“Can we get this thing going?”

“Jesus Christ, is everybody on strike here?”

“What the hell’s taking so long?”

He crabbed a new sentence approximately every thirty seconds. None of us responded but the checker looked at me and slyly rolled her eyes. I smiled. The oblivious woman saw and heard nothing.

At some point in all of this I began to wonder why this man in his sixties or seventies was so grouchy. Sure, he had only two items and had been waiting, as I had, for an inordinately long time to get through the checkout but it was a pleasant day. I couldn’t imagine that he needed to get somewhere with a bag of potatoes within the next five or ten minutes. Probably he was just going home to park himself in front of the TV and crab at his wife while she fixed his dinner.

How’d he get like that? And if I, a perfect stranger, thought he was being an ass what must his own family and friends, assuming he has any, think of him? What lovely part of his happy, gentle nature am I not seeing? Did he even have another side to him?

Not that it’s any of my business, of course. But, keeping my thoughts to myself I worked the process through to a logical conclusion.

What nice things would people find to say about this man at his funeral? They’d probably say things like, “He was strong in his convictions,” and, “He never backed down.”

I could be completely wrong, of course. I may well have just seen an unflattering moment in the life of the most wonderful husband, father and grandfather who ever walked the earth. But it did remind me that the way we treat others has eternal consequences. We make ripples.

I want to be remembered smiling, tolerant, patient, wise and goofy. I should start working on that memory right now.

Oh, and I was right about the checkbook.

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