A Pain In The Neck

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At age 63, I’m blessed with pretty good health. I won’t be training for a marathon anytime soon, but I’ve managed to dodge the scariest and most hideous forms of progressive diseases that give me nightmares.

However, I have had the same headache for 10 years now. It began as a dull throb at the base of my skull and now involves all of the muscles of my upper back, particularly extending along my right shoulder and down my right shoulder blade. I initially blamed the headache entirely on my problems with TMJ, but now realize that 50 years of poor posture have probably contributed equally.

On a good day, three ibuprophen will take the edge off and get me through most of the day. Some mornings though, I wake up feeling like someone has jammed a knitting needle down my neck and into my upper back.

The pain has successfully resisted $5000 in TMJ treatments, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, injections, massage, yoga, heating pads, topical creams, and a myriad of stretches and exercises that I’ve been told would help if I would do them daily, hourly, whatever.

All of these things have provided some temporary relief. If I could afford a daily massage, I think I would be pain free. Visits to my chiropractor also are particularly helpful; but then even if she could “fix” me, I’d continue to make up excuses to go in and see her because we’ve become friends and she is amazingly pretty.

So I manage the pain by using all of the above along with as few ibuprophen or Tylenol as I can get away with. I’ve read their warning labels and I know there is an almost inevitable downside to their constant use, but chronic pain is a bitch that I simply can’t tolerate day in and day out.

I recently discovered what seemed to be a lovely cure-all as a result of my adventure with sinus surgery. I was given something called Norco, a pain medication that combines Tylenol with just 5 little milligrams of Hydrocodone, a cousin of Vicodin. Having had little experience with opioids, I thoroughly enjoyed the 4 or 5 days that I felt justified in using this wonderful drug. I found that it didn’t necessarily eliminate pain entirely, but it took care of most of it and made me feel so good that I didn’t care about any pain that was left over. I was ready to try to find a friendly doctor that might keep me on the stuff until I read all the side affects. Just like all good things in life, it’s both highly addictive and likely to kill my liver or kidneys or both. Worst of all, to keep taking it I’d have to give up my affection for craft beer, an unacceptable trade-off. However, I still have 19 pills left—just enough for an occasional vacation from the pain if I feel I need it.

So that’s it. Big surprise! I’m getting older, and I wake up with aches and pains. I know how lucky I am that this is the extent of my physical troubles for now. I sure hope it stays that way.

 

 

 

 

Men: Why It’s Important To Keep Your Mouth Shut

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Even though this group is short on male contributors (and therefore readers), I wanted to share this piece–sort of as a public service.

Please remember my previous disclaimer. I love women. Love, love, love them. They are wiser, more beautiful, more loving, and more compassionate than men are. I have many more female friends than I have male friends. So, I hope you will still be talking to me after reading this. Or even better—leave a comment and tell me if, how, and/or why I am wrong. I will offer you my sincerest apology.

But, I’m not wrong. Not about this.

There will be times, many times if your relationship is long-term, when your female partner will come to you needing to talk. She will come to you with a problem about her friends, her work, the next-door neighbor who annoys her, her physical or mental health.

She will be distressed and clearly in need of your compassionate attention, and as a good friend and partner, you will listen patiently, occasionally uttering sympathetic noises (they don’t have to be actual words), indicating that you really care about her dilemma and that she has every reason to feel as though the world is ending and that she is currently, at this moment, the most justifiably unhappy person in the world.

Once she has exhausted herself, she may then look at you expectantly. And now, you must be very, very careful, my friend.

As men, we like to fix things. We are hard-wired to it and conditioned by our society to assess a problem and come up with a solution. If you have been smart enough simply to listen and let her talk uninterrupted, congratulations. But while you’ve been waiting for her to finish, undoubtedly you’ve been thinking about how to fix her problem, thinking about her best course of action. Her solution, you think, is painfully obvious to you.

If you are smart, rather than suggesting any practical solutions, your best play here is to shut the fuck up.

Why? Why not help her with her problem and “fix” it like you would a dripping faucet or squeaky door? After all, she wouldn’t be sharing all of this if she didn’t want your input, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. Your solutions are the last thing she wants right now. Why? Because she already knows the solution, already knows what she has to do next. Remember, she is smarter than you.

You look confused. This is normal. Try to get used to that feeling. Embrace it.

All she wants from you right now is for you to empathize with her, to agree with her. In a pinch, you can even repeat things she just said to you with added emphasis to show that you were listening, that you understand, that you care.

In fact, as spontaneous and anguished as her recital may have been, you may be the third or fourth person with whom she has had this exact same rant. She most likely has approached her girlfriends first, and they’ve already sliced, diced, and dissected this problem over wine, chocolates, and ice cream. They will have tried to sooth your partner with affirmations and oddly communicative woman noises that we (males) cannot duplicate or understand, and they have supplied her with the kind of comfort that only calories and alcohol can bring.

Even knowing this, you will have to battle your impulse to help her slap a patch on the problem. If you find yourself start to say something like, “Well, you know, you could…” or “It seems to me like the best thing to do…” or even worse, “Well, if I were in your place, I’d certainly…” put both hands around your throat and squeeze until you are unable to speak.

Make all of your responses as non-specific as possible. Remember, she’s hurt, unhappy, and angry. Take some comfort that it is not because of something you have done. “That’s terrible,” “I can’t believe this,” “You have every right to be upset,” are all appropriate. You can use any of these more than once because it doesn’t matter what you say. What matters is that she thinks you are listening, that you are concerned.

Finally, she may even articulate what she feels is the solution to her problem and what she plans to do. Your job is to agree enthusiastically. Maybe now it’s time to put your arm around her, offer her a glass of wine, take her out to dinner. After all, she’s been sorely wronged by life, and she sought you out to be her person of the moment. You are one lucky guy. Just try to keep your mouth shut.

No Love for the Tour Guide

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As much as I like to travel, I have to admit that I’m not a confident traveler. I don’t like driving in unfamiliar cities because I may be the only sighted person who needs a seeing eye dog to avoid getting lost. With the amount of traveling I’ve done over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten better, and smartphones are my new best friend when I am on the road. I have learned to research my destination, prepare a list of activities, and determine if I can rely on public transportation or if I have to deal with a car rental agency.

I’ve always held a bias against taking a guided tour. It has always felt like a form of cheating. I imagined being trapped on a double-decker bus, forced to socialize with octogenarians, while the guide peppered us with a constant stream of trivia most of which was eminently forgettable.

However, when I was preparing for a trip to the Bay Area to see Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds perform at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, I had an extra day that I was having trouble figuring out what to do with. A friend sent me a link to a tour company that for $100 would fill up my day by taking me for “spectacular” views of the Golden Gate Bridge (are there any other kinds?), a walk in the Muir Woods, followed by wine tasting and lunch in scenic Sonoma. For the price, this seemed like an easy way to see some sights that I knew I’d enjoy and beat the heck out of wandering aimlessly around the City.

When I arrived at the pick-up location in downtown San Francisco, I was happy to see that the majority of people waiting for a tour were not using walkers, but were in fact, young international travelers. It appeared as though I was going to be the aged geezer of the bunch. When my mini-bus pulled up, it turned out that I was one of only two tourists, the other being a young man from Singapore in San Francisco on business.

Our annoyingly upbeat tour guide assured us that the trip would go on even if it were just the two of us. Originally, I thought of the trip as being a bargain. Now I felt I was being gouged if the tour could turn a profit on only two customers.

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I had to grudgingly but happily admit that I could not have had a more pleasant traveling companion. We chatted easily as we got across the Golden Gate, and strolled through the Muir woods trail enjoying a peaceful walk and taking pictures for each other. We sampled wines together discussing the pros and cons of each at a rustic winery outside of Sonoma and then were whisked away in time to catch lunch at a sports bar where I got to watch Seattle come from behind and destroy Green Bay in the NFC playoffs. My new friend and I dozed most of the way back to the City stopping once to get one more lovely view of the Golden Gate Bridge being swallowed up by the incoming fog at sunset.

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If it weren’t for the tour guide I would have given the experience a solid “A” grade. I suspect many a tour guide is actually a failed stand-up comedian who feels compelled to fill every moment with a stream of amusing anecdotes and historical minutia that, for me, evaporates the moment it hits my ears. As we started off down the city streets headed for the bridge, all I really wanted was some quiet and a second cup of coffee. Even worse, since he had only two riders, he wanted his shtick to be interactive. “Hey, how many stories do you think that building…?” “In what year would you guess this bridge…?” “Hey, I bet you didn’t know that…?” Please, shoot me now. My mind feels like it is about to explode. I begin wondering if Singapore brought any heroin with him.

With only two of us on the bus, even I couldn’t summon enough rudeness to put on headphones and tune out this endless stream of information. Because, see, what I forget sometimes is that these guys really, really want you to like them and have a GOOD TIME, a memorable trip. They want this for you because they are hoping that as you leave you will be slipping them a memorable tip. My Singaporean friend did not know or did not care about the tipping protocol and, even though the guide was nice enough to drop him back at his hotel, he skipped out with nary a word. Since the guide took me directly to a nearby BART station, I tried to be generous and gave him twenty bucks, hoping it made up a little for my friend’s oversight.

I have jumped on several tours since and for me, the jury is still out. I think the whale tours on Maui may have the best formula: out on the water with free food, free beer, and guides who say things like “whale on the port side.” Perfect!

 

Hating the Heat

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This is a re-post of one I wrote last September.  The heat is back.  Time to share the misery once again.

Living in Southern California (San Diego, specifically) leaves me so little to complain about when it comes to seasonal weather that it is downright discouraging.

I mean, how can I complain to people from the rest of the nation who year after year live through blizzards, followed by “mud season”, the spawning of Mosquitos of Unusual Size, and locusts for all that I know. Outside of my SoCal bubble, there seems to be a brief period of lovely spring-like weather followed by monsoonal storms, and then tornados, blistering summer heat, and mind-numbing humidity. I hear fall is nice, but can the beauty of fall colors get a person through the inevitable knowledge that the blizzards are on the way once again?

I get it. Even throwing in our occasional earthquakes and wildfires, my meteorological complaints can’t compare to those of the average Nebraskan or Upper Peninsula Michigander.

However, as the climate changes, a fact universally acknowledged by any everyone except the 30% of Americans who get all of their wisdom and opinions from Fox News, summers are getting longer, hotter, and more miserable here in paradise. For me, it means longer periods of frayed nerves, slothfulness, and despair.

If you aren’t from around here and you keep an eye on the weather pages, you might regularly curse the seemingly endless reports from San Diego of temperatures that never exceed 85 degrees. Please understand that those temps are being recorded on the coast, in the shade, and I suspect, in an air-conditioned room, so that San Diego will have an endless appeal to tourists. Each mile inland from that thermometer means a one degree increase in temperature, so that in my corner of the county, 85 on the coast usually means 100 degrees in my inland valley. The thermometer seems to be stuck there for long stretches from June through the middle of November. It is becoming increasingly popular to plan Thanksgiving as an outdoor picnic.

I try to adjust. I really do. I get up earlier, get my walk done before the worst of the heat begins or take late evening walks. I blow through my outdoor chores sometimes as the sun is just coming up. As soon as the sun goes down, if the heat has not beaten the life out of me, I try to enjoy the warmly comfortable evening out on my deck or at a nearby bar that features an outdoor, big-screen TV with endless sports coverage.

As summer comes on, I become obsessed by the daily forecasts. None of them accurately anticipates the suffering I’m going to feel the next day. I recently bought a digital indoor/outdoor thermometer so that I continually, throughout the day, can check the exact temperature so that I know EXACTLY how miserable I am and EXACTLY how much I should be able to complain about it. My family has grown weary of my constant updates as the heat climbs toward triple digits.

My self-esteem sinks on days like this as my motivation to accomplish anything wanes. Sweeping out the garage seems like a monumental task. Watering the roses?—Herculean. I stare at the phone but the idea of actually picking it up to make an appointment to have my car serviced is just too much. On such a day, can’t watching 5 episodes of Scandal be considered an accomplishment? My lethargy weighs on me.

Essayist Joan Didion described this phenomenon brilliantly in her essay on the effects of the Santa Ana winds, a weather condition that brings high temperatures and hot, dry winds howling through the inland valleys, frequently in September and October when the tips of the palm trees turn brown and we start to hope for fall. It’s good to read her words and know that my desperation at day-after-day heat is not isolated. She recounts the effects as the populace senses the onset of the super-heated winds: “The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever is in the air.” She further quotes Raymond Chandler who wrote about the winds saying, “On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”

It gives me comfort to know that external forces are toying with my actions and emotions. I know that I will rise again once our three weeks of winter begin some time in January. Until then, I wait in quiet desperation for the sun to go down. I give thanks for Netflix. I lie in bed at night waiting for the first cool breeze of the day to come drifting in my window, listening to the sirens wailing and the coyotes singing in the canyons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panic Attack–A Bridge (Way) Too Far

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Ok.  Top 5 things I am afraid of:

5.  Dying as a result of mere inattention either by me or some other idiot.

4.  Dying while trying to fix my own plumbing or electrical problem.

3.  Dying at the hands of a crazed, spandex-clad bicyclist.

2.  Dying slowly of some kind of progressive, degenerative disease.

1.  Having to drive my car over a bridge.

Clearly from the list above, mortality is on my mind, as I imagine it is for most members of the over-60 club. The good news is, when you join the junior geriatric set, you get an increasing number of discounts. The bad news–you don’t get to enjoy them for all that long.

Death, however, in all its bizarre and mundane forms, still seems very abstract to me. I do not worry that I am going to die—that much is certain. However, how I go about dying is of much greater concern to me.

The difference between fears 2-5 and #1 is that the former are all somewhat existential concerns that don’t cause fierce heart palpitations, hyperventilation, and a desire to leap out of my car when I am faced by them.

I used to love to talk with my students about their various phobias. I was surprised to find out how many were still living with what we think of as child-like, boogieman fears. It was a revelation when one girl offered that as she prepared for going to bed, she would turn off the room light and leap into bed from the spot of the light switch. For years, when the subject of fear would come up in class I would share that story and always find others who still, even as 17 and 18-year-olds, practiced the same behavior.

I don’t remember many of the fears I had as a youngster or an adolescent. However, I do remember when reading the novel The Exorcist late into the night, I reached a point where I simply could not turn another page. I put the book down, and sincerely prayed that none of the evil spirits that I was convinced were now swirling about me would invade my body and turn me into a head-spinning, projectile-vomiting creature.

And, of course, I was fearful of having my adolescent heart crushed by someone like Theresa, a girl that I met when I was a sophomore and developed a huge crush on. We worked together on a project and I convinced myself that I was somewhere in her league—convinced myself so much that I finagled an invitation to her house on or about Valentine’s Day and gave her a gaudy, Hallmark V-day card. I met her mom, and she seemed happy that Theresa was “dating” a “nice boy.” Theresa traded on that impression to get her mom to let her to go to a dance with me. I was over the moon about the whole thing and still wondering at my luck as we entered the gym and she quickly informed me that she hoped it was OK with me if we didn’t stick together for the whole dance, and before long, she disappeared. She was kind enough to make sure she got back with me for the final slow dance and she managed somehow to hold me closely enough that it almost made up for the whole, slow burn of humiliation that I had felt during the night.

But these are all fears that I would think of as being common human experiences, just as I think we all worry about the onset and manner of our eventual deaths. It wasn’t until I was fully adult that I discovered the white-knuckled, heart-pounding, breath-taking fear that came on me unexpectedly when I was doing something as simple as driving over a bridge.

I don’t exactly remember when I discovered that I had gephyrophobia –yes, it actually has a name. For me, it is truly the mother of all completely irrational fears. I had a hint of it the first time I drove up to Carmel and my new bride and I took the scenic Hwy 1. I could not relax once in that three-hour stretch as I hugged the north-bound lane and hoped to God I wasn’t about to plunge over the all-too-close cliffs and down to the rocks and ocean below.

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I do remember that it became an issue for me when we were headed home from a trip to the Napa/Sonoma area. Heading back toward Oakland, I was totally unprepared for the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which as I approached, began to look like a piece of ribbon about six inches wide. As the bridge shrunk in size it also took on the appearance of a huge roller coaster ride that I had not signed up for. Suddenly, I couldn’t grip the steering wheel hard enough, as if at any moment some (Exorcist-like) force would make me veer off, break through all of the guardrails and send us to our deaths. I tried to find a lane that felt comfortable, crossing back and forth without consulting my mirror or using my signals. I did not give a flying fuck about anyone behind me. I was in full-blown panic mode and was trying to find any comfortable space where I could survive the five minutes it was going to take me to get across this span.

Of course, a fear like this feeds upon itself. I started to study maps of our driving trips and if I spotted a bridge crossing, I’d worry about it for days. Often the bridge would be so short and flat that I’d be over it before I would even notice but one successful crossing did not breed confidence. Once when I was at a conference in Palo Alto, I wanted to go over to Oakland to visit with my son who was living there at the time. To get there, I would have to cross the Dumbarton Bridge or take a very circuitous route through San Jose. I actually looked up the bridge using Google images to find a picture of this beast and see if it looked passable. I made it, back and forth, but not without a lot of concentration and deep-breathing exercises.

This means there are a lot of cities I will never live in. San Francisco, New York, and Seattle come to mind right away. We are currently planning a trip to the Adirondacks and there is just so much water there. I don’t even want to look at a map and start thinking about it.

I’ve come to realize that it is bigger than just bridges. I don’t like to be near the edge of the abyss. If I can see a dramatic drop-off, I start to panic. I don’t like mountain driving, or even hiking on a narrow trail with a steep drop. Strangely, I have gone para-sailing without incident and stared over the edge of the observation deck of the Empire State Building without any problem. I suspect that I could do a parachute jump although I have not yet taken that one on.

There is something about being near the edge though, that continues to haunt me. Maybe that drop-off is somehow metaphorically connected in my mind to the Abyss with a capital “A”—the fear of death that permeates the other four of my top five fears.

Or maybe I just hate bridges and will assiduously continue to avoid them at all costs.

 

 

 

 

Competitive Backpacking

Mount Mendel, Mount Darwin and the Hermit, Evolution Valley, Kings Canyon National Park, Sierra Nevada, California

In the late 80’s and early 90’s every summer meant one week away from the family for the annual “guy’s backpacking trip.” Three or four of us, depending on availability, would gather together and plan a trip, usually in the Eastern Sierra. You would think that backpacking would be the ultimate in collaborative camaraderie, but for some reason, in our group, there was a strong streak of competitiveness.

Part of getting a “win” meant spending the year scouring backpacking and sports stores for some gadget that would make one’s life better for the week on the trail and inspire jealousy among all of one’s partners. My friend Scott was consistently the most creative and that’s why we generally hated him. His one epic fail was a “solar shower,”  a small, black, plastic bag that one was supposed to fill with ice cold stream water, lay out in the sun for an hour or two and then experience the joy of a steaming, hot shower in the wild. In truth, the water never reached anything warmer than tepid and drizzled out in a stream that wouldn’t be strong enough to shower a moderately-sized rat.

But in subsequent seasons, Scott was first to discover the Thinsulite air mattress, a “self-inflating” waterproof sleeping pad far superior to the 2-inch foam pads that we had lugged around for years. He followed that with a sling chair that weighed about 1.5 pounds and allowed him to sit in comfort while we perched on rocks. By the next summer we all had Thinsulite mattresses and sling chairs and that’s when Scott came up with his most perversely successful innovation. He spent an entire $1.95 on an insulated plastic mug.

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Until that moment the Sierra Cup was considered state-of-the-art. Generations of backpackers used this dysfunctional piece of crap convincing themselves that it was as essential to the backpacking experience as a Swiss Army knife. The angular, wire handle was meant to hang on your belt so that at any thirsty moment one could dip the cup into a stream and be instantly refreshed. In truth, there was no place to hang the cup without it banging about and there are no streams in the Eastern Sierra that are considered free from contamination. No one drinks unfiltered water. In addition, if you were to use it for soup or food you had two choices. Wolf down the meal while it was still hot, scorching your mouth and esophagus or wait 60 seconds and eat your food cold.

It wasn’t enough that we recognized his genius immediately. At every meal, Scott had to make a production of blowing repeatedly on his soup or hot chocolate or coffee and explaining to us that it was just too hot for him to eat. For six days, he went through the same thing repeatedly no matter how loudly we cursed him.

Finally on the last night, we were in a cold and windy pass with little protection, and he started blowing on his cup again.   Before he could even start in on us I interrupted.

“Scott,” I said, “if you say one more word about that cup, I’m going to kill you and bury you up here under a pile of rocks and when people ask me what ever happened to my friend Scott, you know what I’m going to say?”

“What?”

“Scott who?”

Six days of freeze-dried food and taunting can bring out the worst in a man, but he just smiled, biding his time until he would be able to outfox us again the following summer.

 

High School All Over Again

Maybe because I lived more than half of my life in a high school environment, it occurred to me that this daily writing group is starting to feel like a high school party, like the high school party that I would never have been invited to back in the day because I wasn’t cool enough.

But this time I was cool enough to get invited because a friend of mine was looking out for me and thought (I think) that I might have a good time doing this. But after getting the invitation, I sulked around for a bit worrying about fitting in, trying to decide if I really wanted to go to this party, trying to talk myself out of it even though I knew I desperately wanted to go and hang out with the cool kids.

So, finally I decided to go, and after reading a few pieces realized that these really were the cool kids. There were some great writers—some were so funny, others so real and honest, some so creative. Man, how was I going to fit in?

Because I could see right away that the cliques had already begun to form. Some people were always “liking” each other and “commenting “ to each other, all the time, and right in front of everyone else! And for some reason there were mostly women at the party, and everyone seemed to be talking about yoga.  It made me want to curl up into Child’s Pose and try to hide.

But, god, I was there–I had to at least try. So, I pushed out of few observations and tried to be social, reading some other people’s work and “liking” the ones I liked and making a comment here and there. And before I knew it, I started to get some responses. People were reading my work, and some people seemed to stop by and “like” me all the time, so I started to read their stuff and “like” them back. Sometimes we even began having little conversations. I was making friends! I was so proud of myself.

I mean, there are lulls in the party at times. Suddenly, no one seems to “like” me and believe me, I am checking ALL of the time. That’s right. I’ll admit it. I live for the “likes.” I mean how can a piece be “seen” by 35 people and only liked by 8? Were the other 27 people just stopping by because they felt sorry for me, sitting alone in the corner there for a while? That’s when the insecurity creeps in, just like when I’m roaming around at the party and suddenly I don’t have anyone to talk to.

Just when I’m ready to bolt and slip out the door, hoping nobody notices, Kirk drops by and “likes” a couple of my recent pieces. Oh, man. Kirk, who’s like the captain of the football team walks by me and says, “S, up, dude?” on his way to the back to grab a beer. He calls me “dude” because he doesn’t actually know my name, which is perfectly OK right now because the big dawg noticed me. I mean it’s his party after all, and one of the cool girls invited me, and maybe, maybe, I’ll just hang out a little longer and see what happens.

 

 

Compost Geek

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I’m not sure how to explain my affection for rotting, organic material, but it all started in the spring of 2013. Having been a “yellow thumbed” vegetable gardener most of my adult life, I had a vague interest in composting, but no real working knowledge. When I saw that a non-profit in San Diego was offering a 4 consecutive Saturday workshop on composting and that completing the course would qualify me as a “master composter” I decided to suspend my ban on signing up for anything organized to attend the class.

Each class was 3 hours in length and we quickly learned the basics and then, in groups, began building our “hot piles” of compost, using a variety of materials that we had all gathered in preparation. By the following week, we were learning how to turn, aerate, and water our piles after checking the temperature to see if we had achieved the desired balance of materials. After four weeks, while hardly feeling a master, I felt I had the basic to get started on my own.

I raided several local Starbucks coffee shops for grounds that they will gratefully give away to gardeners and composters, and began begging, borrowing, and stealing any lawn clippings I could get from the neighbors. Mary and I found a container for the counter where we could begin to collect vegetable food waste and my gardener brought me bags of dried leaves from his clients who had groves of trees.

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I then assembled my first bin and began to mix the ingredients and in the end, had it filled to the brim. That’s when I began to go a little crazy and continually monitor and make daily reports on how just how hot the core temperature of the pile was to anyone who would listen. It fascinated me that if I just mixed together the right components, in the correct ratios, I could generate temps up to 160 degrees, a point at which they warn you that your pile could spontaneously combust. While I’ve never tried to make this happen, I’m intrigued that it might.

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My son tells me that he thinks I show more enthusiasm about composting than anyone he knows, but the weird thing is that any time I start to talk about it in a group, there always seems to be someone with questions, someone who needs help getting started, or someone who has started but needs some help troubleshooting a problem. I’ve helped numerous friends get started with their own bins and had people come out to the house and visit my small composting complex to get tips.

I am amazed at the amount of food waste that my wife and I create in the course of a week. It has changed our behavior entirely. I can’t just throw away a single banana peel or egg shell without feeling totally irresponsible. I can’t even guess at how many pounds of kitchen waste we have diverted from landfills over the past two years and instead turned it into amazingly rich soil amendment.

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Cleaning out the refrigerator!

I actually started to think about teaming up with the local Starbucks and the nearby Subway restaurant to begin regularly composting all of the perfectly compostable, but currently wasted food product that they throw out every day. However, I was daunted by the endless nature of such a partnership. I would need a team of people to keep up with the volume of compostable product and set up a network to distribute all of the wonderful soil amendment that it would produce. I pretty quickly decided that my sustainability project would be unsustainable.

So, for now, I will simply tend my own garden.

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Just A Few Things I Don’t Understand About Women

Day 11

First, let me say that I love women. Love them. Could not live without the lovely friend and partner who has been my wife over the past 41 years or any of the women I’m lucky enough to have as friends. And this writing group seems to be populated by so many brilliant and thoughtful women. It has been a pleasure to get to meet you all. In fact, the fact that I get confused by the behavior of women is probably entirely my fault.

Have I put in enough disclaimers that I can broach this subject now?

Gift giving. I have always thought that on any occasion it was best to give your friend or partner something that you know that she wants.   So, early in our marriage, when I the electric wok that I purchased for my wife as an anniversary present was met with less than enthusiasm, I was confounded. I knew it was something she wanted. She had said so repeatedly. To explain her disappointment she actually sat me down and told me, slowly and using small words, that kitchenware of any kind was just not an appropriate gift for special, personal occasions. Honest to God, I had no idea. Where was the manual for gift-giving procedures?

Christmas gift giving seems to be more easy-going. Three months, three full months, before a recent Christmas, my wife saw a hanging lamp in a favorite boutique shop that she declared to be the perfect replacement for a dated chandelier-type lamp that had hung in our dining room for years and years. However, she declined to buy it at the time, and I swooped in like a shark. The very next week, I went back on my own, bought the lamp and put it away. On Christmas day, I saved it for after she had opened the more personal gifts (having learned my lesson from the wok debacle), and she seemed truly surprised and delighted as she unwrapped it and opened it up. Hah! I knew it! Perfect gift, perfect surprise! Then she made maybe the most contradictory statement I have ever heard any woman say, “Gosh, honey, this is great, but just because I say I want something doesn’t mean you have to rush out and buy it for me.” WHAT!!?? I thought it was EXACTLY what we were supposed to do. I thought it was exactly what the attentive and thoughtful spouse would be expected to do after 40 years of careful observation. Hmmmm.

Those three little words. Every partner cares about three little words. However, I suspect that the exact words may be gender specific. For me, there is nothing more heart-warming, nothing more life-affirming than hearing my wife whisper in my ear, “you were right.” On the two or three occasions per year that this happens, I usually feign deafness so I can have her repeat it once again, just to extend the satisfaction of the moment.

The expectation of the power of mind reading. As a high school English teacher I worked primarily with female colleagues and individually, I could hold my own with them. But once they assembled in a friendly group, they would all begin talking at once with lots of gesturing, head-nodding, eye-rolling. I would watch them smiling, frowning, smirking all in quick succession all leading to a lull and a sense on my part that something had been decided. Finally, as the token male I would be asked, “What do you think about it, Tom?”

“About what?” I’d ask.

Ah, thank goodness I get to stop at 500 (actually 600) words. I suspect I am in enough trouble already.

 

 

 

“Dude, I Said I Was Sorry!”

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I’m a very careful driver. I almost never run over bicyclists. I give them wide berth even when they are doing something obnoxious like riding two abreast on a street with no bike lane, or wearing those garish neon, spandex outfits, or walking around the coffee shop in those ballet slippers they wear.

So you can imagine my confusion, when I was confronted by an angry—no—apoplectic, spandex-clad, black-helmeted, bicycle rider after having just pulled into the parking lot of a popular regional park that was the meeting site for my weekly hiking class.

“Hiking class” is one of those things that as a retired person, I can sign up for and attend because I have time. The teacher draws up a list of hikes for the quarter, emails us notes and directions the night before, and then at 8:30 every Wednesday morning we hearty retirees meet up to trek about the local hills and valleys.

“YOU IDIOT! YOU CUT ME OFF DOWN THERE AND NEARLY HIT ME!” the irate man screamed at me.

I stared at him dumbly for a moment as I started to pull my gear from the back of my car. I hadn’t even seen him.

“I didn’t even see you,” I told him.

“I KNOW YOU DIDN’T SEE ME, YOU ASSHOLE! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?”

Actually nothing was the matter with me except that this large man was screaming at me, and I was puzzled how I could have nearly hit someone in a wide- open area, someone that I had not even sighted. I decided repetition and an apology might work.

“I’m sorry. I-Never-Saw-You.” I said the last part more loudly and more slowly, as if he perhaps had not heard me the first time.

“I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME!” he yelled. “YOU ALMOST RAN ME OFF THE ROAD DOWN THERE. BEING SORRY DOESN’T HELP THAT.

He had a point. But since I HADN’T hit him, and he HADN’T fallen, and I HADN’T damaged him or his bike in any way, I was stymied about what to say. By now I had withdrawn my walking stick that weighs all of about 8 ounces because I was starting to think I might need to whack him with it if he became violent. I’m a lover, not a fighter, but angry people are unpredictable, and I can get flustered easily when confronted by one.

However, he seemed content to sit on his bike and continue to berate me some more at which point I apologized a third time, although I was finding it harder and harder to be sincere since I had no idea what I was apologizing for.

Finally, he grew tired of yelling and turned to ride off, screaming a few more insults at me as he left, and I strapped on my hiking gear and set off on the trail enjoying a rare cool morning, but I found myself going back over the incident in my mind and wondering if I could have handled it differently.

How could I truly apologize for something that I wasn’t even sure I had done? Maybe he was just an angry guy, hiding in the bushes, waiting to ride out and scream at someone. A guy who felt persecuted and needed someone to take his rage out on. Maybe it was a hobby for him, confronting and making people uncomfortable, and then riding off gleefully knowing he just might have ruined someone’s day.

But what I most pondered, as I enjoyed the hike that wandered down along the San Diego River and then back up to the visitor center, was what does one do when an apology simply is not enough?

I don’t have an answer for that one.