Shakespeare Sunday: Sad Bastard’s Complaint Becomes Sweet Love Song

Starting this “Shakespeare Sunday” thing, I really wanted to focus on a particular SHORT passage for emphasis, but by week 2, I’m failing utterly because I want to talk about all of Sonnet 29.  There is one particular passage that I favor, but to get it, I have to talk about the sonnet in its entirety. Sorry. If you have never read the sonnet before, here it comes. Bear with it–I promise it will only be 14 lines:

SONNET 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing åçme like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I used to really enjoy using this sonnet as an introduction to the language of Shakespeare because it is highly accessible and it deals with two common human conditions–depression and being in love (two things which oddly seem to often go hand in hand–or is that just me?).

The thing is, kids often entirely missed the “being in love” part of it.  They certainly could pick up the aspects of depression that the speaker wallows in during lines 1-8. In these lines, the speaker recounts all of the things that are making him feel isolated and sad. He is in full self-pity mode, cursing God and his fate, and even worse, comparing himself to others who in his mind at least, all are more fortunate than himself.  I certainly know the destructive quality of comparing myself to those who are slimmer, more gifted, richer, or less bald than I am.

Of all of the lines the speaker recored, the one that most spoke to me was (bolded) “With what I most enjoy contented least.”  When walking, or spending time in the garden, or enjoying a visit to the local pub do nothing to improve my mood, I know that I’m in bad straits.

What saves this poem from being a straight lament is the major shift that takes place in line 9 (“Yet in these thought myself…”).  Here is where the depressive dude dissolves into a mush of romantic goo–and I love him for it.  He describes how just the very thought of his loved one, lifts his spirits which become “like to the lark at break of day arising” to “sings songs at heaven’s gate.”

By the end, the sad bastard would rather be with his love than to “change [his] state with kings.”  Just the act of thinking of his loved one is enough to dispel his sadness and make him realize just what riches he does possess.

Must have been one lucky guy.

Heartbeats and Airplanes

One of the goals I set for 2016 was to throw myself out of a plane.  That is, to experience skydiving.

When I told my wife I wanted to do it, she was all for it. She has a friend who is really connected to the sport and has friends that run a company up in Lake Elsinore, I think.  She started to throw out ideas about getting a bunch of friends together, having a party afterwards, etc.  It was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to be alone when I did it because if I backed out at the last minute, I wanted me to be the only one who knew.

I have a pretty good track record of talking myself out of things that I perceive as being risky, even when the risk level is actually pretty low.  However, I started planning for the jump.  I researched a place nearby (the one out in Otay), cheap rates during the middle of the week, and had actually picked the day I was going to go, written down the directions, chosen a time.  I wanted to be sure it was a day that Mary was going to be working so I could just do it on my own.

And then, as it became more a reality, my heart began to skip beats. For years I’ve had something called “premature ventricular contractions” (or PVCs for short), extra, abnormal heartbeats.  It is generally a benign condition that I will have occasional bouts with, and have come to ignore them, pretty much knowing that it just means something is messing with my body’s electrical system and the heart is not getting the consistent messages it needs.  Stress, alcohol, dehydration all can contribute to starting off an episode that can last a few minutes,a few days, or even a few months.

But it’s still my heart, and while I don’t mind stressing it with a little exercise during an episode, it seemed to me that jumping out of a plane might be unwise while I was having symptoms.  So I scrubbed the first date I had chosen and decided to wait until I was symptom-free for a while.

And then it just sort of slid to the back burner of my mind.  The episodes still come and go, but I’ve had some pretty nice stretches of stability.  It’s just that when one of those stretches comes along, I don’t immediately think, “Hey, it’s a good day to jump out of an airplane!”

I really don’t think it’s the height thing.  I feel pretty secure with the idea that the guy I’m attached to values his life enough to make sure that I get to the ground safely.  I just want to feel a higher degree of confidence that my heart isn’t going to burst on the way down. It would really suck to only get to enjoy half of the experience.  I haven’t checked to see if my family would get a partial refund if I died half-way down.  I probably should ask.

So now, it’s an excellent goal for 2017, and I still have 8 months left to talk myself into or out of this particular five-minute thrill ride.

Perspective

One of the great things about getting old(er) is that you get to tell young people about the way things used to be “back in the day.”  It’s fun to play the numbers game with them.

When I got my first car, gas prices floated between 29.9 cents to 31.9 cents per gallon.  In 1973, I was dating my future wife who lived in Orange County which meant driving up to see her every weekend.  I started to worry about the future of our relationship the day I saw gas prices hit 53 cents per gallon.  How could I possibly sustain this?  Long-distance phone calls were very expensive, so we wrote each other at least once or twice weekly, which I described here.  The earliest of those letters carried a 6¢ stamp.

I declared my independence from my parents on July 4, 1973 when I moved into my first apartment, a one-bedroom place in a four-plex just 10 minutes from San Diego State University where I would finish my degree and credential programs.  It was a delightfully seedy place called the Aloha Garden Apartments because there was a couple of unkempt palm trees on the property.  My rent was $95 per month.

A covered wooden porch/deck ran around the front of the four attached units, and I put a chair that my parents gave me out on it but never used it.  Apparently, it got taken over by neighborhood cats.  When I finally met the two girls who lived next to me, they told me that (because of the cats) they had decided that I must be a warlock.

By 1977, Mary and I had been married for three years and were ready to jump into the housing market (sort of).  We had $2000 and some change in savings and found a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom place in Spring Valley for $40,000.  We each borrowed $1000 from our parents to come up with the down payment and signed the papers on August 16, the day that Elvis died .

We were oblivious to what a dump it was, because it was OUR dump.  We did what amounted to a slow-motion flip of the house, taking three years to paint and wallpaper every interior wall in the house.  A friendly neighborhood carpenter volunteered to come over and put up cedar planking on one wall in our dining room, creating a cool feature wall before we ever knew such a thing existed. We replaced all of the flooring. We painted the exterior. We had every intention of staying there longer but when a garage band that we had battled over noise for all three years we had been there moved back in across the street for the 10th time, we put it on the market and it sold in a matter of weeks for $75,000.

With that profit, we bought the house in which we still live for $108,000 (3 bdr, 2 bath, 1600 square feet) but were saddled with a whopping interest rate of 11 3/4%.  Interest rates were absurdly high in the early eighties.

When I landed my first (and only) teaching job at Valhalla High School in 1976 my salary for the year was $10,000.  Since the district could not figure out how to spread that over 12 months, it meant that I got paid monthly from September to June–no paycheck for July or August.  Veteran teachers coached me on saving 1/6 of every check to get through the summer since I had no intention of working at a temp job for two months.  My wife tried it and lasted one day as a tele-marketer.  We were happy to tighten our belts and simply enjoy the summer being poor.

The numbers just seem ridiculous to me now.  It was a long time ago.  The cool thing to think about is that in 30 years, my kids will get to do the same thing to other youngsters. And, come to think of it, it will be most unlikely that I will be there to see it.  How’s that for perspective?

Road Trippin’

Every year since I retired in 2012, I have taken a road trip to Phoenix, AZ to watch spring training baseball, specifically to watch my San Diego Padres play meaningless exhibition games while sitting out in the desert sun.  I wrote about the experience of those games in a piece called The Hope That Only Comes in Spring. But, part of the fun every year is getting there–road trippin’.

Departure–8:30 AM

300 miles–no problem; I got this.  Car is loaded up with enough stuff for four people, 4 snacks, and two water bottles.  It takes me an extra 10 minutes to do all of the paranoid house checks I do–lock windows, check the doors, make sure the water is turned off.  Hit the road.

Buckman Springs Rest Stop–9:05 AM

First available rest stop.  Necessary because sometimes my bladder is the size of a teacup.  Hoping this gets me through to Yuma.  Ironically, I pack plenty of water and then force myself into a state of dehydration so I don’t have to stop to go pee.

Soundtrack

John Lennon (Imagine) and then Jackson Browne (Running on Empty) get me through to Yuma.  Imagine is OK because I haven’t heard it in a while, but Running on Empty is one of my standard traveling discs, just full of great road songs.  I let it run all the way to Yuma.

Yuma–11:00 AM

Making good time when I stop at the Arco on 16th St. and discover that gas is 78 cents cheaper here than in San Diego.  78 cents a gallon cheaper.  Of course, you have to live in Yuma to enjoy those prices. I find that I’ve gone through all my snacks already.  Do you know that there is virtually nothing edible at gas station mini-marts if you care at all about your health?  I mean, I have plenty of bad habits, but I can’t eat any of that crap.  The bathrooms are nice though.

On the road again–11:15/Soundtrack

I’m halfway there, but there is road construction everywhere slowing things down from Yuma to Gila Bend.  I pull out Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Yell Fire CD which seems much more relevant now than it did a few years ago.  I haven’t listened to him for a long time, and I just let it run all the way to Gila.

Gila Bend–1:00 PM

Time for lunch at my all time favorite greasy spoon, The Space Age Restaurant.  It is part of a motel there and has a mock-up of a space ship sitting on top of the restaurant.  It has been there for over 50 years, and I can remember stopping there when I was a kid and we were on a family vacation to Oklahoma City (relatives) and to see the Carlsbad Caverns.  I stop here every year for lunch on the way in and breakfast on the way home.  Gila Bend–population 1,917 souls.

On the road again–2:00 PM/Soundtrack

Neil Young.  Neil Young the rest of the way.  The more desolate the desert, the better his reedy voice sounds.  I play Only Love Can Break Your Heart over and over and over again.

Phoenix–3:00 PM

The upgrade to a Cabana suite that they tempted me with in an email I got yesterday (depending on availability) is not available.  Fuck!  I was imagining having my own sitting room with a fold-out couch and separate bedroom with a king bed AND promised access to the Sun Deck, and I don’t even know what the Sun Deck is, but I decided that for only $20 more a night, I wanted it.  Forget that I didn’t actually need any of those amenities.  They had dangled a sparkly thing in front of me, and I wanted it.

I get into my standard room, which now seems shabby to me, and discover that the cabinet that houses the fridge is minus one fridge.  I am told that the fridges are for customers “as available.”  I point out to the young lady that my reservation says that I get a fridge, and if I’m not getting the goddam Sun Deck, then I’d better be getting my own goddam fridge.  I don’t actually say any of that out loud.  She says she’ll work on it, and I get my fridge within 30 minutes.

Nap–3:30-5:30

One of the top ten best naps ever.  Just time enough to get showered and ready for the game.

Game–7:10-10:00  Peoria Sports Complex

It’s a balmy evening–shorts and t-shirt weather. I allow myself not just one, but two hot dogs during the course of the game.  Padres give up 2 in the first and then tie it in the eighth on a home run, win it in the 9th on another homer leading off the inning. I discover that despite the hotdogs, the victory has made me ravenous, so I stop at the Safeway on the way back to my hotel and buy a salad, some yogurt, and a fruit bowl which I eat when I get back.

Hotel–11:00 PM-2:00 AM

I’m out on the warm deserted patio writing because at the time I was involved in a 30 day writing challenge and I had to get my piece written for that day.  While on-line, I discover that there are other writers still up and active and we begin chatting through comments and FB Messenger. Since I never quite know how to go to bed on my first night of travel by myself, I linger on the patio long after I should. It’s a pleasant and unexpected way to spend the night.

Honestly, I Lie All The Time

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This whole honesty thing is something that I struggle with because I think of myself as someone who tries to be authentic and straightforward with people, both strangers and friends, and yet I catch myself shading the truth pretty constantly.

Take any doctor’s visit.  I’ve been claiming to be 5’8’’ since I was in high school, and yet I know that on my best day, I never have broken 5’ 7 3/4”.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m shrinking as I age.  I might not even break 5’ 6’’ on some days.  Before long there will be rides at Disneyland I won’t be allowed to go on.

No matter how many times I visit my doctor he will ask about smoking and drinking habits.  No, I never smoke.  Yes, I really enjoy drinking.  How many drinks a day would you say you have?  My answer now is always, “no more than two” because I know that that answer will not alarm him.  Plus, I read that doctors know all their patients lie about drinking habits and automatically double whatever number that the patient gives.  In other words, my doctor doesn’t trust me to be honest with him. It makes me sad that this has come between us.  It prompts him to say things like  “we have programs if you ever think you need help with that.”

Help with drinking?  Hell, no.  I’m drinking plenty without any help at all. The trick here is self-regulation.  I have many rules about when drinking is allowed and when it is not.  The problem is that I break my own rules all the time.  Well, not break exactly. I just find that words like “rules” are so inflexible.  i had a rule that drinking was something that I should reserve for special occasions, but if you love life (I thought to myself) isn’t every day a cause for celebration?  At 63, I’m pretty excited just to wake up every morning.  Any given Tuesday, seems like a special occasion to me.  My two favorite presidents, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama were both elected on a Tuesday.  My birthday falls on a Tuesday every few years, right?  I’m pretty sure I’ve had sex on a Tuesday more than once.  The more I think about it, the more Tuesday seems like a reason to celebrate, truly a special occasion.  And then there are Wednesdays…

I recently discovered that, not only do I lie, I’m even capable of theft.  I was picking up a few supplies at our local Target and opted for the self-checkout lane.  When I got to the car I was tossing things in the back when I discovered two packages of floss sitting in the bottom of the basket.  I had completely missed them when I was scanning the other objects.

I literally stood there in the parking lot holding on to my $2.78 worth of floss trying to figure out the best thing to do.  There was just no good option.  If I carried them back into the store openly, I might get accused of theft.  If I snuck them back in and then tried to pull them out of my pocket surreptitiously, same thing could happen. I imagined carrying them up to the customer service desk to explain my dilemma, but I’ve found that honesty confounds some people, and the folks that work customer service are usually there because they’ve failed at more complex tasks–like stacking boxes on the shelves.  I could just imagine how the conversation would go:

ME: “Hey, look, I accidentally forgot to scan these items so…”

HIM: “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t do exchanges on personal hygiene products like floss.”

ME: “No, you don’t understand.  I don’t want to exchange the floss, I want to pay for it.”

HIM: “Do you have your receipt, sir?”

ME:  “No, of course I don’t have the receipt.  I haven’t paid for them yet.”

HIM:  “You are trying to exchange two packages of floss that you haven’t even paid for?”

ME:  “No, you idiot, I don’t want an exchange, I…

HIM: (on the loudspeaker)  “Security, could you come to customer service, please.”  (to me) “There’s no reason to use abusive language when I’m trying to help you, sir.”

I look around and I don’t see a cadre of security guards converging on me so I toss the floss into the back seat without another thought.  There are times when being honest is just not a convenient option.

Surviving the Trump Apocalypse

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I was in bed by 9:30 on election night because I could see the ship was sinking and I couldn’t stand to watch the inevitable.  I drank pretty heavily the next night as the reality sank in, but tried as hard as I could to not think about it.  As the next few days went by, I turned off NPR, didn’t bother to open the New York Times, and stayed away from any television news.  I simply could not endure the post-mortem, the intimate dissection of this horrible election season and it’s horrible outcome.

I felt oddly calm and serene about it all even though I am convinced our country is entering another era where it will be hard to feel proud as an American, that Trump will usher in a court system that does not understand the concept of justice, that efforts to improve the environment and create a sustainable energy culture will suffer greatly.  Efforts to create a more fair and transparent justice system will cease, and women’s health and reproductive rights will wither.  We are still nearly a month away from his inauguration and we are being given daily reminders that our leader is an erratic, self-aggrandizing buffoon. Americans voted for this, after eight years of the principled, educated, visionary presidency of Barack Obama.

So, how can I be calm when I feel we are headed for the abyss?  It’s because my capacity for outrage was exhausted by eight years of George W. Bush. I simply cannot allow myself to read about every tragic misstep, every deception, and the constant brushing aside of the norms and values that I used to think of as being uniquely American and react with the fear and loathing that came with the Bush years.

So, what to do.  Being prone to depression as I wrote about here, it would be easy to sink into a quicksand of funk, but I’ve decided instead to “fight against the dying of the light” by dusting off the once-popular concept of “thinking globally and acting locally” that had us all snipping up those plastic soda can holders to save the seagulls back in the 80’s. As I’ve talked with friends, most of us are still feeling as if we are in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. Most of us know we are still in some stage of shocked denial, and all of my friends have mentioned self-protective measures they are planning to take, so nothing I suggest here may seem or be original.

Regardless, for the next 4 to 8 (shudder!) years, I intend to do the following:

ISOLATE

I already don’t watch much TV news, but I’ve been dedicated to following print news, with subscriptions to the New York Times and my local paper, listening avidly to the NPR news program, reading political posts on Facebook, and daily scanning through the Daily Beast website. No more.  I now will only get the NYT on Sundays so I can have the travel and book review sections, and the local paper will allow me to scan the headlines and get the short version of any news I need.

I simply can’t spend a couple hours a day reading about and listening to news that will tear down my spirit.  I’ve already noticed, that I have freed up a full hour of time in the morning simply by letting go of the news.  I have better things I can do with that time.

EXERCISE

That means I’m often out the door by 8 AM for my morning walk around our neighborhood.  As a slave to my Fitbit device, I need to put in a good 4 miles to enjoy the satisfaction that those damn 10,000 steps require.  However, I’m determined to live long enough to watch the nation realize the terrible mistake it has made and begin the necessary course correction that will eventually come.  If I happen to lose weight and lower both my blood pressure and my cholesterol levels, I will have Donald Trump to thank for it.

I’ve also added yoga as a daily practice.  I try to spend an hour a day now either in class or communing with Rodney Yee on the DVD as he soothingly takes me through an hour of stretches and exercises designed to ease my aching back.  I am lucky to have discovered a wonderful yoga teacher through our local adult school, and I go to three of her classes per week. I am enjoying the community that exists in each class.  There is such a comfort in being around a group of people dedicated to the flow and spirit of yoga. However, I also thrive in the quiet of my own room as I clear the hardwood floors to begin my practice in solitude (well, me and Rodney).

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CREATE

It is time to join the choir.  Or take up painting, learn a language, sculpt something, build a deck, deck the halls, write a poem, or immerse yourself in any kind of creative activity that will allow you to bring light and joy into the world or into your own soul.  As hard as it has been to write these past few months, I’ve decided I need to re-dedicate myself to my writing for my own sake and maybe for the sake of my 12 avid readers.

I began my retirement with lots of projects in mind.  There was that pergola I wanted to build in the back yard, landscaping and painting to be done.  I was determined to actually learn to play the guitar.  Some of these I’ve finished, some I’ve started, and some have fallen by the wayside.  I’m starting the list again and considering other creative avenues that are entirely outside of my comfort zone.

The reason I see this as an immunization against the poison of Trumpism is that I believe that anyone involved in the creative process brings light into the world, and in this time where some of us feel surrounded by darkness, it is important to bring our light together.  I’m not strong on spirituality, but I am so struck by the simple greeting that often ends yoga practice.  If you look up definitions for the word “Namaste” you will find many, but my favorite is, “The Divine light in me salutes the Divine light in you.”  I think creativity brings out the “Divine light” in all of us and gives us an opportunity to share it with others.

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Rendered by Scott Knox, friend, and self-taught artist

PLANT SOMETHING

The Trump administration is shaping up to be the most aggressively anti-environmentally oriented collection of scoundrels since, well, since the last time the Republicans controlled the White House.  Clean air?  Clean water?  Sustainable energy?  Psssh.  Who needs it?  Oil and gas, baby.

I’m looking around my yard and trying to figure out where I can squeeze in a few more trees.  I’m looking at ways to expand my year-round vegetable garden.  I feel like I need to grow as much as I can in my drought-affected part of the world to make my small contribution to the health of the planet.  Trump came along just when it looked like the country and the world were bonding together to make a concerted effort to battle the effects of climate change.  I guess that was part of the anger Trump tapped into.  The anger of those folks that were just mad as hell that someone was going to make them change over to LED bulbs.

If you live in an apartment, find a window where you can grow some basil, thyme, or parsley.  It won’t stop a coal plant’s production, but you’ll enjoy the greenery.  Every new bit of natural growth that you foster is now an act of subversion.  Welcome to The Resistance, my friend.

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VOLUNTEER

Lots of organizations are going to be hit hard by this administration, especially ones dependent on federal funding.  Groups that support the environment, women’s reproductive health, and immigration support and reform are going to need more than an occasional donation.  Organizations that support LGBTQ rights and social justice causes are going to be likewise vulnerable.

I currently do volunteer work occasionally for the Solana Center which promotes sustainability practices throughout the county and weekly for Mama’s Kitchen which provides food support for clients throughout San Diego County that are affected by cancer or HIV/AIDS.  I can do more.  Of course, I have the luxury of being retired and my kids are on their own, but too often I still find myself saying “I’ve just been so busy,” or “I just haven’t had time.”  It’s bullshit.  We all have time.  It’s just awfully hard to reorder one’s priorities, especially if you are someone like me who thrives on routine.  I have to make the effort.

CELEBRATE

Within the last thirty minutes, I heard the news that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to deny the easement for the Dakota Access pipeline.  Some people who sacrificed greatly and worked countless hours and those who supported them with money, supplies, and encouragement have every reason to celebrate tonight. It’s a big win, even if it proves to be temporary.

But I’m also talking about celebrating every small local and personal success that keeps  us positive and hopeful.  Today I met two neighbors I’ve never spoken to and enlisted them in providing lawn clippings for my personal composting project.  They were so kind and enthusiastic and ready to provide me with far more material than I can process.  That’s a win.  If your garden squeezes out a head of lettuce or your new tree flourishes, grab a neighbor and break out the champagne.  Make sure you tell everyone who will listen every time you hit a new personal fitness goal.  Post your artwork, photography, writing, and other creative pursuits on Facebook and let us honor your efforts to help to raise each of us up during this dark time.

I might be wrong about just how bad this presidency will be, but I doubt it.  I do have faith though in the swing of the pendulum.  Look where we were as a country in 2008 when we elected the first black president of the United States, voted for vision, hope, and change.  Eight years later, I’m not sure what people were voting for, but the pendulum will swing back once again.  In the meantime we will need each other more than ever before. We will need to come together to be “keepers of the light.”

A Day In The Life

The most frequent question any retiree gets asked is “What do you do all day long?” sometimes followed by a forlorn statement of “I don’t know what I would do without work.”

So sad.

I know you think I’m going to wax on about all of the obvious glories of retirement that include things like travel to exotic places, making the world a better place by volunteering for organizations that no one has ever heard of, or training for that ultra-marathon that no one in his right mind should be thinking about doing.

All of those are great things.  But all of them take a lot of time, and/or planning, and/or money.

No, the best thing about being retired is taking care of shit around the house that you’ve just never had time to do.  Believe me, if I have prepared well and constructed an excellent “to do” list, I can putter about with the best of them and not feel a moment of existential angst over whether my life has meaning. I have important things to do.

Feeding the birds

I have taken on the responsibility of feeding all of the birds of Spring Valley, my community.  Ever since I hung, not one, but two, wild bird feeders on my back fence, the word has gotten out, and birds come from far and wide to pillage my feeders.  What used to last all day now gets savaged in a couple of hours, and then they line up along the fence, moping and staring at me inside the house hoping I’ll come out and fill them again, ignoring the two inch carpet of seed they have wasted, throwing it left and right as they look for the good stuff, whatever that is.

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I went out last night to talk with them about the wastefulness, the expense, and their apparent lack of gratitude.

“Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap,” was all they had to say.

Ungrateful bastards.

Cleaning stuff up

Do you have any idea how many years it has been since I had cleaned out–I mean really cleaned out–my workbench drawer and cabinet?  No one with a real job has time to do that sort of thing.  I actually took everything out of every container on every shelf and threw away a full trash barrel of stuff and ditched a Christmas tree holder that I have come to loath but have been too cheap to replace.  I went so far as to wipe down each shelf.  The grime was impressive.

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The drawer was a revelation.  It too had plenty of trashables, but more remarkable was how many things of value I discovered.  Like, why can I never find a tape measure when I need one?

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Why can’t I ever find the right drill bit?

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The result of my many years of disorganization has been me frequently storming around  the house in the midst of a project, angry that I can’t seem to keep myself equipped with even the most basic tools.  By the way, has anyone seen my Phillips screw driver?

Organizing stuff

I am in a continual war to create enough space in the garage for both of our cars.  The battle began in ernest when the kids started moving away to college in 2000 and using my garage as their free storage unit.  Well, to be fair, it was the ripple effect caused by their leaving and my wife and I reclaiming the two bedrooms that we had loaned to them for eighteen years. This meant boxing up all of their toys, trophies, games, and books so that we could re-take the house.

The lack of wall space available because of their boxes of stuff means that I’m continually looking for creative solutions of where to put everyday household stuff that we are continually tripping over.  There are just not enough corners to pile this crap into. Part of every day is coming up with solutions to complex problems that can only be solved by a simple 29-cent hook.

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Planting stuff

I like to grow things.  It started when we bought our place in 1980.  It was move-in ready on the inside and a barren wasteland on the outside.  One of my greatest joys has been watching my pine trees grow from one-gallon twigs to the 80-foot sentinels that surround the front yard.

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On a smaller scale, I try to keep a vegetable garden going year-round now.  Most recently, I rescued this tomato plant from Dixieline.  I felt sorry for it because it was sickly looking with drooping yellow leaves, sort of dried up and spotted.  Kind of reminded me of me.  I brought him home and replanted him in a pot with some good soil and home-made compost, and as you can see, he is no longer the 98-pound weakling of the garden department.  I can’t wait for the yellow tomatoes he is going to give me as summer comes on.

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So, you see, it doesn’t take much to fill up a day.  This doesn’t even include exercise, yoga, reading, napping, and doing absolutely nothing–all things at which I excel.  But just getting through a few items on the ever-present to-do list can leave me feeling completely fulfilled and satisfied, ready to reward myself with a cold brew out on the back deck where I can relax and listen to the sounds of evening coming on.

“Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.”

Bastards.

“He Swings, and Hits a Loooong Drive to DEEP Centerfield…”

 

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…where I loped after it as I watched it sail over my head, chased it down, and ran it in toward the infield until I felt I could make a respectable looking throw into the pitcher.

It’s a warm night in Kalama Park in the town of Kehei on the island of Maui and thanks to my brother-in-law’s invitation, I’m chasing fly balls around the outfield as the guys on his team take their weekly batting practice.  It is the first organized baseball activity I’ve done in maybe 25 years and the first time I’ve put on a glove since 2009. I know that because on a spring night in 2009 I, along with the other four San Diego County Teachers of the Year, got to throw out the first pitch at a San Diego Padres game.  From the mound, I threw a perfect, 47 MPH fastball for a strike, and the entire experience was much, much cooler than I could have ever imagined.

Tonight though, I have very modest goals.  I would like to avoid injuring myself, and I’d really like to catch at least one fly ball hit to me. And while this is the most casual of practices, in the most casual of settings, it only takes moments before my imagination kicks in, and I’m getting into a “ready position” and imagining that I’m the new centerfielder for my San Diego Padres.

As I adjust my cap to shield my eyes from the lights, and as balls start flying toward the outfield, I can hear the Padre radio announcer begin to narrate my every play.

Ground ball right up the middle.  Rookie centerfielder, Tom Waldron, is on it quickly and flips it in toward second base holding the runner to a single.

I discover the ground balls are pretty much a cinch except for the fact that my arm isn’t warmed up properly and my shoulder gets cranky on me almost from the first throw. That’s OK.  Have to play through the pain.

There’s a drive into right centerfield.  It looked like Waldron had a shot, but he didn’t get a good jump on it, and it’s past him.  This one will roll all the way to the fence.

In fact, any ball hit past one of us rolls all the way to the fence since it is a fairly small field, but I’m definitely having trouble tracking balls as they come off the bat, trying to judge just how hard they are hit.  This is tougher than it looks.

My brother-in-law steps in and waves me over into right field so he can practice hitting to the opposite field.  This puts a wicked slice on the ball and makes them even harder to judge.  Plus, he’s the teams best hitter and sprays the ball around everywhere.

Urban hits a rocket into right.  Waldron is giving chase, but the ball is curving away from him, and he will not get there.  Another double for Tom Urban.

I try standing on the line and letting the ball curve toward me, but nothing works.  I’m either too deep or too shallow or just too darn slow.  I’m getting a little winded chasing after his line drives and I’m starting to not like him very much.  However, I’m happy that I’m running fairly well and haven’t pulled or sprained anything yet.

I can tell practice is beginning to wind down and starting to despair that I will have spent an one and one-half hours chasing down balls without a single catch. And then suddenly there it is.   One of the players lofts a ball into short center, and I drift over and feel the ball settle into my glove as if I do this kind of thing all the time.

It’s a pop fly to center field.  This should do it.  Waldron trots over and….he’s got it.  Routine play, for out number three.

I’m actually delighted beyond words.  I have to pretend that it’s no big deal, because it isn’t, but it just felt so darn good–outdoors, on a beautiful night, playin’ ball.

Let’s Elect a President Who Has Already Been President

I really have resisted for as long as I could. It is simply not possible to be a writer and not long to comment on the 2016 presidential campaign, especially as it becomes weirder and more unpredictable by the day.

As of today, the front-runner on the Republican side is reality star/businessman Donald Trump, who almost daily spews out some kind of new outrage, continually lies about what he has said in the past, and stomps all over any kind of decent political discourse. Most disturbingly, his clone-lets across the country continually mouth his rhetoric about “making American great again” and profess their loyalty because “he’s someone who tells it like it is!” even though he never actually says anything.

And on the Democratic side there is the surprising candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who I thought simply wandered into the race by accident. He is from a state that is about as big as my garage, but he has a strong, idealistic, and completely unrealistic agenda that is capturing the imagination of yuuuuge numbers of young people pulling for the old dude to upset the presumed coronation of Hillary Clinton.

You can’t make this stuff up. It’s beyond what fiction would allow. Every day that I read the paper, I feel like I’ve stepped into a Dali painting. It reminds me of how I felt in 2003 when California, in the midst of a deep energy and economic crisis, recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with an Austrian weightlifter—and then we kept the Governator on the job for 8 more years!

So nothing seems particularly outlandish to me anymore and I am ready to unveil my radical proposal. Let’s elect someone for president who has already been president!

No, I’m not suggesting we bring back Bush, Bubba, or Barack. Let’s choose from some of the fine actors who have pretended to be president in film and TV because, after all, isn’t being president all about pretending that you know what you are doing most of the time?

So, let me suggest the following five candidates, in no particular order chosen based upon two criteria. One, they showed the ability to give a great speech, one that inspires and unifies, and two, that they showed the ability to get something done.

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 As far back as I went in my research, America’s first African-American president was not Barack Obama, but rather Tom Beck, played by Morgan Freeman in the 1996 film Deep Impact. Personally, I’d feel very comfortable with Freeman at the helm given the air of thoughtfulness, honesty, and wisdom that he shows in this film. After all, he faced an oncoming ecological disaster (a comet racing toward earth) without pretending that it didn’t exist or that it was no big deal (see all Republican candidates re:climate change). Not only that, he came up with not one, but two plans to see that life would continue on earth after the catastrophe and helped to calm the nation both before and after.

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Kevin Kline also gets my endorsement as a candidate for his role in the 1993 film, Dave. Kline is uniquely qualified because as an actor he has already pretended to be a guy who is pretending to be the president! Kline plays Dave Kovic, a look-alike for the sitting president, Bill Mitchell who takes over the role when the president suffers a catastrophic stroke. Not only is he able to stand up to his scheming chief of staff, he works cooperatively with his cabinet to cut ridiculous appropriations to save his not-First Lady’s pet homeless shelter project, and launches an ambitious jobs program. He addresses Congress by owning up to the sins of his predecessor and summarily exposes all of the corruptions that had been allowed to flourish. His ability to pretend to be warm and honest would serve him well as our president. I would have no problem endorsing Kevin/Dave/Bill for president.

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My third potential candidate would be Dennis Haysbert who played President David Palmer from 2001-2004 (in season 1, he is candidate Palmer) in the action series, 24. During his presidency, he faced an unprecedented series of potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks, supported by CTU, possibly the most inept counterterrorism unit ever created. I realize they needed to keep the crisis going for a full 24 episodes, but honestly, not once did a CTU leader say the words, “you guys cover the back in case the terrorist decides to sneak out the back door when we storm the front.” Just never occurred to them. Despite this, Palmer inspired calm and confidence and managed 3 full seasons without ever being shot or tortured by Jack Bauer, no small accomplishment. And through every potential disaster, he kept it quiet that he had our back—he had an Allstate Insurance policy lined up for the entire country.

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My toughest-to-make endorsement goes to Kevin Spacey who has now completed two seasons as President Frank Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards. Sure, he is unprincipled and ruthless, but those certainly have never been presidential disqualifiers. We have seen his ability to work behind the scenes to push legislation through, cajoling, charming, threatening, and occasionally murdering individuals that might resist his agenda. Frank has also shown to be modest and compelling in giving a speech, even as he lets us, the audience, know that he is dishing pure, undiluted bullshit. Kevin would have to reign in some of Frank’s rough edges to get my full endorsement, but let’s face it, there are scarier people than Frank Underwood who are currently being taken seriously as candidates today.

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My final recommendation is certainly my most heartfelt. From 1999 to 2006 on every Wednesday night, I could comfort myself that for one hour my president was named Josiah “Jed” Bartlet played by Martin Sheen on the immensely popular television series, West Wing. Bartlet showed toughness, compassion and a strong intellect as president. As long as writer Aaron Sorkin was nearby, he was never at a loss for a speech that was comforting and forceful. Maybe his most important contribution was helping me to hold faith in the American political process while suffering thought eight years of George Bush. For seven years, Jed Bartlet was my president. I’d have no problem voting to give him another four or eight.

Fanciful? Maybe. But look at the five remaining candidates and tell me if you think that the primary winnowing process has produced the five most trustworthy and qualified people to lead our country. Tell me you have complete confidence in any of them. Now, look at my five candidates, each one of them with extended experience in being a pretend president. I’m not even sure where the write-in box is for the presidential vote, but I may be looking for it when November rolls around.

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz Hater

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I suspect that I would be infinitely cooler as an individual, if I could say that I knew jazz, that I got jazz, that I loved jazz—but in truth, I just don’t. I really wish that I did. I’m sure I’d be considered more suave, more debonair if I could talk jazz instead of baseball.

I don’t think I could even name 5 jazz artists depending on how you define jazz. Let’s see, there’s John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and……er, ….. yeah, not even five. So there’s the problem. There is a big gap in my musical education.

I can actually name only one jazz classic, Brubeck’s Take Five which is a perfect example of why I hate jazz.   It opens with a tight, memorable melody and then wanders away into a confusing maze of solo performances that don’t sound anything like the opening, that don’t complement the opening, that sound as if the musicians have forgotten what song they are playing, until they swing back into that great, memorable melody to end the song. By the time they get there I’m likely to have missed it because I’ve dozed off.

I had two recent experiences that reinforced this antipathy. The first was on my annual pilgrimage to see the Dave Matthews Band at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. I had read that they were going to feature Herbie Hancock (OK, there’s my fifth) and I was kind of excited to see how they were going to integrate him with the band. Dave opened his song Mercy at the keyboards and then gave way to Hancock who proceeded to go into his own riffs. Within seconds, he had lost me. Even though the band bobbed their heads, and tapped their toes, and just looked delighted with Hancock’s contribution, he was playing something that didn’t sound anything like the song that Dave had started.

It’s my problem with solos in general. They just seem so fucking self-indulgent. The artist is allow to just wander off into a musical Neverland, playing whatever the hell he wants regardless of the structure or integrity of the actual song he’s supposed to be playing. Hancock basically hijacked the show for about half an hour. Whoever thought that was going to be a good fit had badly miscalculated. It was like trying to integrate Riverdancers with a ballet company.

The second and more miserable of the two experiences was when Mary and I visited a jazz club in Montreal, one that had been recommended to us by a local, a local who clearly hated American tourists. Ever since then the words “jazz club” have become synonymous in my mind with “dentist office” in terms how I feel about the possibility of having to go to one.

It was a cute space and I always like live music—honestly. I was predisposed to give the music a chance especially given the local endorsement of the place. The group consisted of a man who played trumpet and a woman who played bass. Once they began to play, I realized that once again, I had entered jazz hell. Occasionally it seemed as though they were playing the same song, but mostly it felt like they teamed up just to get in some practice playing whatever melody (and I use that term loosely) came to mind. I could not distinguish one song from the next. It pained me to watch some of the patrons nodding their heads, sometimes with their eyes closed, clearly grooving and getting something that I simply could not hear. I started to hate them unreasonably. The saving grace was that the bar served a strong, American IPA that I liked and the musicians eventually took a nice, long break that I enjoyed much more than I had their musical performance.

I should probably take a “History of Jazz” or “Jazz Appreciation” class at our local community college and see if I can expand my musical knowledge. Hopefully, it will contain lessons on how to properly nod my head in time to the music.