The Hope That Only Comes In Spring

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On March 21 I’ll pack up the car and make the 5½ hour drive from my home in the San Diego area to Phoenix, AZ where I will spend the next three days jetting around this sprawling metropolis to watch entirely meaningless baseball games.

I will follow my San Diego Padres around to Peoria, Glendale, Scottsdale, Goodyear or wherever they might be playing on a given day and find a place in the shade to sit and watch. Like a baseball scout, I’m curious about the team they have put together, and the only way to evaluate is to be there and watch maybe twenty players and 5 or 6 pitchers rotate through the game as I play along with the coaches and trying to figure out which players will bust out as stars and which players will simply be busts.

I will probably even go three hours early to one of the games to do nothing other than stand with other fans and watch both the major and minor leaguers go through drills and batting practice. It is boring and repetitive stuff, but you get to be so close to the players, watch them trip up, listen them razz each other.

And then as the players rotate to different fields, they will stand near a fence or cordoned-off area and the gracious ones will sign autographs, chat with fans, and allow them to take pictures. Others will load their hands up with gear and trot quickly on to the next field ignoring the fans or promising to sign, “as soon as I get done.” They never do.

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I watched former Padre stars Huston Street and Jake Peavy go out of their way to sign every item thrust at them and lean in for every selfie requested. I watched former skipper Bruce Bochy sign a ball for my daughter and kid around with her about a question she asked him about an impending trade.

I caught the great Tony Gwynn a couple of times back when the Padres trained in Yuma, once as he took the long way around the fields trying to sneak in the clubhouse away from the throngs of fans who adored him. I spent two or three wonderful minutes chatting with Jerry Coleman, the voice of the Padres for so many years, asking him about his days with the Yankees before he got dragged away by someone more important. I stood in line to get an autograph from the forgettable pitcher Eric Show, passing on a chance to ink a promising young second baseman, Roberto Alomar. After all, he was just a minor leaguer—a minor leaguer who would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame.

Two years ago I contacted Corey Brock who covers the Padres for the MLB.com. He writes articles almost daily as the season begins and is a frequent contributor on sports talk radio and does TV interviews as a “Padre insider.” I emailed him about my interest in sports writing, we exchanged phone numbers, and eventually arranged a time where he came out of the Padre offices and sat with me for about ½ hour just talking baseball and the business of sports writing before he got called away to cover a press conference.

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There is an intimacy in spring training that you just don’t get anywhere else. The ballparks are small, and players will frequently sign autographs and hang out with fans before and after the games. While I don’t certainly don’t venerate any of these guys, I get a kick out of watching them up close before they get to the real season, playing real games in their cavernous stadiums. That being said, I will undoubtedly become a drooling, idiot fan if I stumble upon Trevor Hoffman this spring and happen to have a fresh baseball and Sharpie in my hand.

If you hate baseball, you probably did not read past the first line of this one. If you are not a San Diego fan, almost none of the names I mentioned will mean anything. It’s OK, I get it. But for three glorious days, I will be toasting in the warm Arizona sun, drinking beer, and rooting for Tyson Ross to find his rhythm, and for Andrew Cashner to get his head screwed on straight. I’ll be cheering if there is any sign that Matt Kemp might find his swing before July this year, and that Wil Myers will get through the season without having his wrist fall apart.

Any baseball fan knows that spring training is the season of hope—the hope that this is the year when the gods of baseball will choose to smile on their team.

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If It’s Friday, It Must Be Barry White

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To be honest, I think most of Barry White’s music is pretty awful. That being said, two songs—“Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe,” and “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”—belong right up there in the Catchy-Ass Music Hall of Fame.

I first got hooked on just how great these tunes were when I noticed that one of the sports guys I listened to on the radio as I was driving home from work every day,  ended his program with a small clip of “You’re the First…” and with the words, “Hey, if you ain’t getting any, it ain’t Barry White’s fault.” The words made no sense, and had nothing to do with sports, but I loved the fact that he did the same thing every day. It was his send off. His ritual.

I’m not sure when I started incorporating music into my classroom (I taught English) but it came from noticing how often some periods began with such lethargy that I felt I was lifting a boulder of boredom before I even got started. So, I started picking out two or three songs to play from the start of the passing period until I had shaken hands with each of the kids, taken roll, and was ready to start the day. When the music went off, kids knew it was time for class to start. I created playlists I thought they would like, made them listen to some international music like Manu Chao, Mexican fusion from Los Lobos and Ozomatli, and lots of Beatles and Motown—basically anything that I liked. Occasionally my son or daughter would advise me to slip in something current, just to keep the “cool factor” up, so I’d surprise the kids with that.

But Fridays were always reserved for Barry White. Monday through Thursday was  a mixed bag, but every Friday was a Barry White Friday. I didn’t explain why, or tell the story about how I had come upon it. I just wrote on the board on the first Friday of the year, “Today is a Barry White Friday.” For some kids, it took months to even notice. Some picked it up right away, that Fridays were different. Fridays were to be celebrated.

Kids are so immersed in so many things that I had to laugh at the number of times I would crank Barry up, and I’d hear someone exclaim, “Oh, my god! It is Friday!” Dancing would then sometimes ensue.

At least two or three times a year, I’ll get a text or FB message from a student telling me about how they were walking through a grocery store or listening to the radio and one of his songs would come on, songs that I had played for 36 almost-consecutive Fridays, and they would be flooded with the memories of senior year.

I don’t think anything about Barry White made my kids better students, improved test scores, or fundamentally changed the arc of their lives. It was just one of those very little things that made our class a little different, a little special. Something that their friends in other classes wouldn’t get, and would never quite understand.

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom Thing And Why I Don’t Think I Have It

Day 15—I have been part of an FB writing group for the past three weeks or so. The challenge was to write at least 500 words a day for 30 consecutive days. This post is specifically addressed to those participating group members.

I’ve gotten a couple of very kind comments from members of the group that indicated that they thought I possessed some kind of wisdom or insight, and it’s a label I’ve always been uncomfortable with. I know part of it comes with age. I think I may be the senior member of our group from what I can tell, and just because I’ve lived though a few more life transitions than others doesn’t make me feel qualified to impart anything to anyone.

I told my wife I was struggling on how to approach this topic, and she suggested I try to define what I felt wisdom was.

Reading all that you have shared about your lives, I’m always so impressed by the depth and breadth of your experiences. You have traveled so much and so adventurously. I’ve never even seen the inside of a hostel. I can get lost walking out the front door.

In addition, you’ve worked in so may fields, had big failures, big successes, or are still trying to make your way, still inventing yourself, still figuring it out. I admire that. You’ve experienced a multitude of relationships, and I feel awful when I read about how painful some of them have been for you, but you keep finding your way through, showing a resilience that is admirable. In time, you will have a breadth of experience to share that I think really approaches wisdom.

My “wisdom” is deeply rooted in a lack of experience. I’ve been married for 41 years and we’ve been together for 43+. She is the only woman I have ever been with. What do I have to tell you about relationships? I have lived in the same house since 1980. I worked at the same job in the same high school for 36 years. Notice the pattern here? And, of course, only I am aware of just how fallible and foolish I can be, about my epic failures of judgment, about my continued and sometimes purposeful acts of poor judgment.

When I taught I school, I always felt deeply honored by students who came to see me as a mentor of sorts. One of my classroom rituals was to shake hands with each student in every class every day, just to say hi, offer them a greeting, cajole them about their work, tease them about the bad hair day they were having, whatever. Sometimes, I’d see a change in mood or demeanor and I might stop and ask if they were OK, or hit them up later and check in with them. Some sought me out on their own. Some simply came into my room and dissolved into tears over their latest crisis.

I got to be pretty good in these moments to just let them talk, to be an active listener, and to qualify any advice I might give them with the disclaimer that I was completely unqualified to give advice. In truth, I don’t think it mattered much what I said. What mattered most was they had found a caring adult who would stop everything for the moment and listen to whatever they had to say without appearing shocked or judgmental, even though they sometimes shared incredibly intimate details of their lives. I think it was especially important that I was a parent, but not their parent. If I gave them anything, it was reassurance, not wisdom. Those experiences have continued to this day with students who have chosen to stay in touch with me. I feel very honored by those relationships.

A small group of my students once got into a heated discussion before class over whether I was more like Gandalf (the wise and kindly wizard of The Lord of the Rings) or Albus Dumbledore (the wise and kindly wizard of the Harry Potter franchise). I found it a little disturbing. I didn’t like them having a perception of me that was so different than the perception I have of myself, as complimentary as it might have been. I told them it was the dumbest conversation I had ever heard them have, and that they should sit down so I could get class started.

(The answer, by the way, is Dumbledore, always Dumbledore.)

 

“The Kids Are All Right”

My children are now 28 and 33, and yes, it makes me feel old to write that down. Typical of their generation, they are both single and both still testing out a number of possible career choices. Luckily, they are both bright, hard-working, loving individuals and I don’t spend as much time worrying about them as I used to, maybe because they live in different cities and we only get edited versions of their daily lives.

But I have no trouble remembering the early years. Emily (our youngest) did not sleep through the night for the first two years. I have no idea how my wife and I soldiered on with heavy work schedules, early mornings, and no sleep.

We went through the usual number of medical emergencies including several broken wrists due to horses and soccer. When he was a toddler, my son, Nico, implanted a purple button so deeply up his nose that we couldn’t see it and had to take it on faith that this justified a run to the urgent-care clinic. I remember thinking to myself, “You’d better have a button up your nose.” He did and the doctor calmly took some tool that looked like a cross between pliers and tweezers and snaked it out for us.

Emily, my youngest, scared the living shit out of us when one afternoon she suddenly seemed to lose all strength in her legs. She must have been 5 or 6 and seemed quite happy to squirm about on the floor, but we were quickly again off to urgent care for an exam and blood tests. They started throwing around scary words like meningitis. That night we got a call that they wanted to us to come back in the morning to re-do a blood test. The first one had revealed a very high (or was it low?) white cell count and they needed to confirm the results. I called my mom, the registered nurse and asked her what this meant and she hesitated before I pressed her. “Well, it could mean leukemia, but…” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation.

The next morning, they got her right in and drew blood and my wife and I sat with her in an exam room waiting very nervously. Visions of losing my baby girl to some awful disease filled me with dread as we waited. The doctor popped in and without hesitation said “Everything is fine.” The original test had been faulty. By then, Emily was running about like a normal kid again, but I felt like I had aged.

Looking back I can pick out two things about which I was incredibly naive when it came to parenting. The first was my assumption that everything we had learned raising the first child would be applicable to the second child. Not even close. I remember trying to give Emily a pacifier, which Nico had taken to as if his life depended on it. Emily kept spitting it out and looking at me as if to say, “Why do you insist on sticking this piece of plastic in my mouth?” Everything was different. We were five years older. Emily had a sibling to contend with which Nico never did. Her temperament was entirely different.

My second grand misconception was that my job as a parent was pretty much over once I had gotten them off to college. Wow, was I wrong about that. It wasn’t just the financial support; it was everything. I’ve come to believe that kids need more parenting in their twenties than maybe at any other time in their lives. As my father-in-law used to say: “Little people, little problems; big people, big problems.”

I’m proud of the adults they have become. If anything, I would worry that I had made them boring and overly-cautious like I am, but they seem anything but. They seem to be enjoying life and making their way just fine, despite broken bones and purple buttons.

 

 

Ooops!

Coming home from Balboa Park the two days ago, I got into a car accident on the freeway and I handled the whole thing in a totally uncharacteristic way.

A car re-entered the freeway slowly from the shoulder, causing the guy in the first lane to swerve into the guy in the second lane, causing that guy to hit me a glancing blow on the right side as I swerved into what was luckily an open space. I looked in the rear view mirror and could see some dust and debris flying up in the air but it didn’t look like anyone was spinning out or slowing down or pulling over.

By instinct and training, I knew I was supposed to pull over to the side of the road, exchange information, and call my insurance company, but at the moment that just seemed like an enormous fucking hassle.

Strangely enough, I was uncharacteristically calm. I did not feel shaken up at the close call and wasn’t feeling that huge adrenalin rush that usually accompanies such a moment; I wasn’t angry at the idiot who had caused the mess; I just felt annoyed that I might get sucked into some god-awful mess when everything had happened so fast that I didn’t even know the color of the car that had hit me.

So, I just decided to drive on and hope the damage to my car was as minimal as I imagined that it was. I was kind of surprised at my reaction but figured it this way:

First of all, I was most definitely a victim. Through no stretch of the imagination could I have been considered at fault. I got hit in a chain reaction and had luckily avoided hitting anyone else. It didn’t really occur to me that someone could have been seriously hurt, but I suppose that was a possibility. I just didn’t feel it was my job to stop and try to sort things out.

Secondly, I didn’t want to get into the legal hassles that were going to follow a chain-reaction accident. This had happened to me once before when I was sitting at a stoplight and a young woman plowed into a car, three cars behind me. I ended up being the last in line to get popped, just enough to get some free chiropractic and massage treatments. But I also got sued by someone in the line who sued everyone involved in the accident even though I had no possibility of being at fault. I called my insurance and the guy said, “Yeah, this happens all the time. It’s why you have us.” The estimate was that it would take 3 months and $6– $10,000 to extricate me from the suit. I did not want to go through that again.

Lastly, I’m not crazy about the car I own now. It’s a small 2007 SUV that I’d like to replace, but it only costs me about $500 a year to insure and it’s paid for. It is eminently reliable and functional for hauling around my yard and garden stuff. I’ll probably drive it until it dies. All the dings are on the passenger side, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s in pretty pristine condition as long as I don’t walk all the way around it.

It did vaguely occur to me that I had “left the scene of an accident” and that I might get a visit from the Highway Patrol if someone had been fast enough to get my license, but for me, someone who worries about just about everything, I felt oddly unconcerned. You could say that it barely put a dent in my day.

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.

 

 

 

 

Unsubscribe Me

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I am at war with my email. At this very moment, I am looking at the top two messages which are addressed to Frank and Henry respectively. My name is Tom.

Frank is being thanked for his prompt response to something I have never heard of and Henry is being praised for the terrific agenda that he and Phil prepared before our last meeting. I don’t go to meetings any more, and I’m sure Phil did a fine job, but I have no idea who he is.

I am plagued by these messages. I get many messages intended for “Thilda” a name I’m not sure actually exists and for months I fielded emails with reminders about “our” big “Ring the Bell!” reunion which a lot of people seem awfully excited about. Just not me.

Occasionally, I will get focused and purposefully spend a solid hour “unsubscribing” from every junk email that is cluttering my inbox. Somebody, somewhere besides thinking I am Frank, Henry, and Thilda also thinks I am a doctor, so I get tons of professional medical emails. I cannot seem to convince them that I am not a doctor and have no interest in being one unless they are giving out free samples of medication that makes me feel good.

Likewise, my home phone’s only purpose seems to be to field pitches for donations, something I thought we were supposed to be protected from now. Usually, I just ignore the landline entirely, but occasionally I will go on a rampage and answer every call, demanding that I be put on their “do not call” list once they take a breath in making their pitch. It’s frustrating and tiring and does not seem to diminish the plague of annoying, nap-interrupting rings.

My impulse to “unsubscribe” has recently gone beyond the relatively minor annoyances of email and phone calls. As I see the triple tidal waves of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, I find myself wanting to find a way to simply say, “No, thank you.”

Please know, I love spending time with my family. What I chafe at are the rites and rituals that have become ingrained are increasingly codified even as our family ages and changes. I feel trapped by trying to meet the needs of every group of relatives and how hard we seem to work at not offending anyone and keeping everybody happy. People build up raised expectations of what the holidays will bring and are inevitably disappointed. Increasingly, we do not seem to know what or why we are celebrating.

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I do not hate the holidays. I am not yet ready to draw the drapes and not allow entrance into my Grinch-cave. I truly want you to have yourself a merry little Christmas. I hope you roast lots of chestnuts on an open fire (as long as you mind the wildfire conditions here in SoCal). I sincerely want you to sit with friends and sip your peppermint mochas out of your bright red Starbuck’s cups happily ignoring the whining of evangelicals and Republican presidential candidates. Stay up late and watch the “Christmas Story” marathon while you bake cookies and make hot chocolate. Sing carols, enjoy the light displays, stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve and kiss someone you really like while you brave the crowds at a fireworks show.

I hope that someone actually tells you that all he wants for Christmas, is you.

I, however, am just ready to tap the “unsubscribe” button when I get the official “THE HOLIDAYS ARE HERE!!!” email. I’d like to sneak away to some place tropical, with any family members who’d like to come as long as we don’t bring a tree, any lights, tinsel, wrapping paper or songs by Nat King Cole.

I’d like to sit on the beach and enjoy their company and talk a little bit about how our last year went, catch up on their stories, and think a little bit about what we would most hope for in the year to come.

 

 

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!

 

Did Anyone Happen To Notice Where I Set My Brain Down?

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I never had a great memory to begin with. For years, I relied on my sister and mother to fill in significant gaps in my childhood memories, and my sister continues to be a great help with this. I apparently lived a vibrant and active life as a youngster, and I do remember significant portions of it, but other parts are long gone and have been for some time.

As I age (62 currently), I have become more and more aware of lapses in memory mostly because it is awfully inconvenient at times and also because my family tree is pretty heavily infested with dementia, and I sometimes get concerned as I feel the memories drift away.

However, I’ve gotten reassurance from a number of sources. I have a lot of younger friends who all report similar memory experiences to the ones that I have had. Ever noticed how easy it is to walk out of some movies and 30 minutes later be unable to really explain what it was all about? Need to re-read the chapter you just read last night to remind yourself what’s going on in the book you are totally into? Or have you ever had to to search your mind frantically to list the critical things you accomplished during the day when confronted with the question, “So, what have you been up to?”

So when something slips my mind, I don’t feel so bad anymore. In fact, I’ve come to sort of enjoy my coping mechanisms. I almost always remember to put my keys and wallet in the same place every night before I go to bed. For the first time in my adult life, I not only write things down on my calendar, but actually check it regularly. I often post a big note on the bookcase that is directly across from my bed with a list of any appointments or things I need to get done the next day so I see it first thing in the morning. Since my car lacks GPS, I use directions like those below to get me on my way.

gps

However, some of the slips can be maddening. I cannot count the number of times I have marched into my garage, straight from another room of the house, and stood peering about in the heat absolutely knowing that it contains an object that 10 seconds ago I had a critical need of. I will stubbornly stand there for minutes at a time searching the room for… what? No clue. The only solution is slink back to my previous location where somehow, magically, my memory snaps back and I know exactly what tool, hardware, or device it was I needed.

I have become almost used to the fact that when introduced to someone new, my brain will vaporize that person’s name within 3 seconds of the introduction.  Even when I make a conscious effort, preparing myself to remember a new person’s name, something erases it upon arrival. I’ve become so resigned to this that I am less and less bashful about breaking in with, “I’m sorry, and you said your name was….?”  I take some comfort in the number of times they too have had to ask me my name.

Maybe we are simply so overstimulated by the barrage of information that we have to process that our brains just can’t keep up.  I tell myself that often because I often forget what I’ve already told myself.

I have, however, become convinced that I do have one particular memory disorder so unique that I have named it—displacia. It is a condition that causes me, most frequently in the kitchen, to search for a needed object in the cupboard or drawer exactly one cupboard or drawer over where the object lives. If I need some Comet to clean the sink, I will find myself staring dumbly at baked and canned goods wondering what in the hell I am looking for, knowing I have no interest in baking or cooking. But if I should need some corn meal, my first stop will likely be next door where we keep all of the cleaning supplies, again staring, stumped and confused.

So I now look at memory as a sort of game, even as a battlefield, where I know I have to use my wits to keep my life in order and to fill it with moments that are landmarks I simply must not lose. I do not want to become an unmoored boat that simply slips away from the dock, having forgotten to load up with memories that make me who I am.

Human-Brain