Monday, September 11, 2017

Red, White, Blue and Gray

Red White Blue and Gray

The sunny, blue sky helped to keep me calm as I inched south in a typical Tuesday traffic jam on I-270 on the way to a 9am doctor appointment in Bethesda. I had already called the doctor's office to say I'd be late.

The DJs and traffic reporter, co-workers at the radio station I work for, were laughing about who knows what when suddenly one of them said "Oh my God."  A few seconds of silence was followed by "it looks like a plane hit the World Trade Center in New York."

The next few minutes were filled with hopeful speculation that maybe it was just a small plane that veered off course and hit the tower. That would be a tragedy, of course, but probably would mostly result in few deaths, few injuries, little structural damage to the building and maybe a few months of investigative reporting about air traffic control and pilot training.

As I left my annual physical exam three hours later, I simultaneously faced traffic gridlock of an evacuating D.C. and the unimaginable news that two airliners had intentionally flown into two of the WTC towers and another crashed into the Pentagon, less than fifteen miles from me. Two of the tallest buildings in the world had collapsed and the Pentagon was on fire.

Today, sixteen years later, the image of that day is as fresh for me as it was then, enhanced by this morning's sunny blue sky and my ride to work on I-270. The 'few months of investigative reporting' has become a decade and a half of countless stories of heroism, terrorism, patriotism, flight safety and building design.

Every aspect of life in the USA has changed and reminders exist everywhere, perhaps most notably at security check points in airports, stadiums and buildings.

Hurricane Irma coverage is the only reason 9/11 isn't the lead news story today; it's number two.

Some people choose to forget or downplay memories of September 11, 2001 and others choose to remember every detail. I choose to remember. I never want to forget the fear and feeling of vulnerability. I also never want to forget the coming together of people, Americans helping Americans.


Maybe the societal divisiveness we are currently experiencing in our great country will take a break today. Maybe the anniversary of that tragic day will help us remember the unity we felt in the aftermath of terror. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Today


We talk about tomorrow
But we've only got today.

(From a Keith Urban song)

The concept of carpe diem, seize the day, is both appealing and elusive.

Living for today, living like there's no tomorrow because tomorrow is not promised, live like you were dying (doing those things you've been putting off, knowing that this is your last chance to do them) ... all of those things line a great conceptual path to a rich life.

Work, commuting, living up to expectations and obligations, work, laundry, cooking, paying bills and work ... all of those things set up obstacles on that path.

How do we find a balance?  How do we live for today, knowing it could be our last day, while keeping an eye on tomorrow, knowing there's a decent chance we will see a tomorrow?

Those are questions I ask every day. What about you?

The closest strategy I have to answer that question is this: carve out at least a little bit of "today" time every day, celebrate that action and do something, however little it may be, to prepare for tomorrow.

In other words, find the balance.
Make the most of today and plan for the tomorrow you hope you'll see.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sixty


Moments after planting your butt in a molded plastic seat, a sturdy u-shaped bar gently inches down across your chest, locking you in place. Your significant other is strapped into the seat to your right. A few duos are ahead of you, several more are behind you. A buzzer sounds and seconds later you're jolted forward, quickly accelerating up a forty-five degree incline.

You are relatively confident you won't be flung into the abyss at the top, emphasis on 'relatively'. You think you know what's on the other side but you're not .... whoaaa ... down you go, sixty miles an hour, maybe more, a quick twist to the left, then right, then slowly up again, now down quickly, a sharp left, up, over, dowwwwnnnn ... a twisted spiral, upside down, twice, shit, didn't see that coming, climbing again ....

Being in your 60s is an amusement park experience someone who is 30 can't really imagine. You watch other people going through it, you see them safely glide to the platform and disembark and comment unintelligibly, walking a little wobbly.

But nothing really prepares you for the ride. Or rides.

As you get near the end of the ride, you wonder how you survived it, you check yourself for bruises and you try to picture the next ride. Back at 30, you jumped off and said "what's next? ... let's go!!"  Now you carefully step off and say, "what's next? Let's go ... to the restroom. We'll think about the next part later."

Sixty years ago, 60 was old. To a modern-day 30-year-old, 60 is old. To some 60-somethings, 60 is old but to others it isn't. I'd like to think I'm in the "isn't" part of that spectrum, but it depends on the day and what I'm trying to do or what I can't do.

I was surfing the Social Security site recently and saw, in a retirement planning section, that someone who is 65 now can expect to live 19 more years. What?!!  That's just a targeted guess based on statistical averages, but it feels very short. My age is near that 60-something number but I want to hit 100.

The target guess based on statistical averages for someone born the year my Mother was born was mid 50s. My Mother made it to 95. She beat the odds many times. She gave birth to me just short of her 40th birthday, an unheard of feat in the 1950s. And I have a younger sister. My Mother never looked her age, even in her 90s; she always looked much younger. My sister and I are lucky to have that same physical quality.

More than half my coworkers are in their 30s and that helps keep me young, in thought at least. Attitude and hair color assist my blessed genetics with keeping me looking young, or should I say younger than the real number.

My future certainly includes more roller coaster rides. Yours too.  I accept them but don't always embrace them.  Some days I'm ready for the ride, on other days I tip toe through the aging landscape with a blend of confidence, annoyance and fear, seeking the predictability of level ground.

Regardless of the ups and downs, I won't give up living the best life I can live. I'll step off the roller coaster each time, as I said a minute ago, check for bruises, thank God I'm on level ground, look for the Men's room and board again.

Sixty is the new sixty. Don't fear the number.

Click! Buzzzz!  Here we goooooooo!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

At What Point?


At what point do childhood memories fade away and why do they sometimes come crashing back, unannounced, for no reason with no prompting?

My sister and I were in a carpool during my first few years of school. My Mother didn't drive, therefore she couldn't really take a turn as the driver, but the other mothers were ok with that. Mom usually came along for the ride, but not always.

I remember Mrs. Collins and her son Mike. And their 1957 Chevrolet. I don't remember the other moms or their cars. I do remember the time, probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, when I couldn't find the car that was supposed to take me home. I walked up and down the street looking, but didn't recognize any cars or mothers. Eventually all the cars were gone and I was still there, confused, scared and crying.

One of the older kids who helped the adult crossing guards asked me what was wrong. I told him. Fortunately I knew my address and this kid offered to walk me home. My mom was scared and worried that it took so long for me to get home that day and was relieved when I arrived. I'm not sure, but I assume she thanked the older kid, probably got his name, probably sent a thank you card to his parents.

I do know she was furious that some mother left me at school. Starting the next day, Mom took me my sister to school each morning for the rest of elementary school, walking part of the one mile route, taking a bus for about half of it. She would then arrive at the school each afternoon and take us home, partly walking, partly on the bus. New Orleans had very good public transportation back then.

Why did that memory invade my brain today, decades later? It's Sunday. I was drinking coffee and reading a science fiction novel. The plot of the novel has nothing to do with school, youth or parents.

The mind is a weird thing, isn't it?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How Do They Do It With All That Noise?

Wine bottles in wood display cases lining the walls from near the front to the back, huge wood-framed mirrors on the only remaining wall space, wooden chairs and bar stools lined up along tiled tables down the entire center, concrete floors ... that's the decorative, functional layout of one of my neighborhood wine bars. All of those lovely surfaces reflect sound, in effect amplifying the sound of conversations among fifty or more customers.

At the front, just inside the sound reflecting floor-to-ceiling glass windows and door, is a musician singing his heart out, playing favorites from three decades as well as a few originals. He's pretty good but he's background music to the customers. Those sitting closest to him are paying attention and applauding at the end of each song. The rest of us are aware that he's there but our conversations and beverages are the focus of activity.  The talking is louder than the singing. The total reflected sound level is close to deafening.

How does a singer do it?  Performers all seek attention to some degree. It's why they do what they do in front people. I'm impressed that a good singer can play in a place with inattentive customers and bad acoustics.

Pete
I met my singer/songwriter friend Pete at this wine bar a few years ago, where he played and sang and did his best to interact with the patrons.  He was asked once to perform at a "comfort concert," which is basically a small show in somebody's home. He invited me and a few other wine bar regulars to share an evening of his original songs. It was the first time I really heard him and the first time I heard most of his own music. He's great.

In this setting, twenty people pay complete attention to the performer and the performer makes a truly intimate connection with an audience. The acoustics of this particular home basement entertainment room were designed for this use.

I have seen Pete perform many times since, in bars, charity events, private receptions and a pool party. Each of those settings had crappy acoustics and most people in attendance weren't really there to pay attention to the music. Pete and others who play in this kind of environment as part of their living accept that they are mostly background.

I'm happy that they are ok with those conditions but I truly don't know how they do it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why the Hell Do I Know All These Songs?

Many boomers grew up in an era of musicals and variety shows. Songs from those performances became a part of our lives and hearing them now can transport us back in time in unexpected ways.

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly In the Plain
Get Me To the Church On Time


I saw the musical "My Fair Lady" at a local theatre this week. As far as I know, I've seen the movie only once, back in the 1960s, and have never seen this as a live stage play. Yet I knew nearly every song.

I Could Have Danced All Night

Why the hell do I know all these songs?  Maybe singers on variety TV shows sang them. Maybe we had the soundtrack on vinyl and maybe our parents played it, although I don't remember that.

On the Street Where You Live
I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face


Is this aging or is it me: when I hear these songs, and other songs like them from my youth, I get teary-eyed. It's almost embarrassing but it happens all the time. Sometimes I wish I didn't react this way.

Wouldn't It Be Loverly?

Two other musical plays I saw in my 20s are "Fiddler On the Roof" and "Man Of LaMancha".

If I Were A Rich Man
Sunrise Sunset

Dulcinea
The Impossible Dream

Those have each played in theaters in my area in the past few years and I made sure I saw them. I had a similar reaction during each, however I did know those songs and I know why I know those songs.

My "My Fair Lady" memory remains a mystery. With a little bit of luck … I'll figure it out some day.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Predicting the Future


Shopping at home, plugging in your car, reaching for a phone in your pocket where cash used to be, watching a round disk vacuum your den while you change channels by speaking your selection.  These are things Boomers saw on Star Trek or the Jetsons in the 1960s but might not have expected to become reality, even as recently as ten years ago.

Shopping at home isn't new; remember or heard of the Sears catalog?  You'd flip though pages of product pictures and descriptions in a book the size of a telephone directory (hmmm, remember those?). You would phone in or mail in your choices and likely write a check to pay for your purchase; two weeks later your stuff would arrive at your door.

Shopping at home today? Browse the products on your mobile device, tap your choices and the Complete Your Purchase button, which also verifies your stored address and credit card number and two days later your stuff arrives at your door. Some items ordered through Amazon Prime can arrive on the same day.

Did we see any of this coming?  I predicted a cashless society for a "what's ahead in the new century" radio news feature back in 1999. We're almost there. During a dinner conversation with friends a few nights ago, I learned that only two of the four of us still write checks. I'm one of the two but I only write two checks a month and I could easily pay those online like I do with my other bills.

Breaking news this week: Volvo announced that it will stop producing gasoline-only vehicles after 2019. Starting just two years from now, all of their cars will be either all electric or electric/gas hybrids. Did you see that coming?  Will other car makers follow that lead? Most major brands now have hybrid options. The rental car on my most recent vacation was a Ford Focus hybrid. I used less than 1/8 of a tank of gas in four days. Friends recently purchased a Toyota Prius hybrid and it uses mostly the electric charge in city driving. Their gas mileage averages 89 mpg. Plug in cars ... who knew?

Anyone remember the days of four TV channels instead of four hundred? And the chore of walking across the room to change the channel and the TV section of the daily newspaper as the source of which program was on which channel and when?

Now I can press Guide on the remote to learn that information from the comfort of my sofa. Or press the microphone button and ask for a show, channel or genre. Press another button to record the show so I can watch it Tuesday at 7:32 instead of Sunday at 9.

And then there's that hockey puck sitting on the table next to my sofa. Alexa, lower the volume. Alexa, who starred in Parenthood? On my phone: Hey Siri, what the weather forecast tomorrow?  On my laptop: Cortina. I can use voice commands to make music choices in one of my cars, if I could figure out how to do it.

Are we on the Enterprise?  Where's Spock?

The pace of technology development is staggering. The older we get, the more difficult it is to keep up. And sometimes the less we care about keeping up. I know three people who still use flip phones. They might also have albums. I have 1400 of my favorite songs on my iPhone. FYI, I wrote the first draft of this blog post on that same phone.

"What's a blog?" asked Gibbs in an NCIS episode just a few years ago.

I also used my phone to buy tickets to a musical while taking a break from writing this. And last week I ordered a car with my iPhone.

Why are there no books on the Enterprise?  Kindle.

MY question today is: what's in our future?  Can we predict it?  Will we just think of something and a device will respond? Imagine a TV show or a song, and there it is. We'll enjoy that entertainment from the comfort of the driver seat as our fully charged solar electric car takes us to our destination without any action or interference from us?  These technologies are already developed and being tested. Are they decades away or just a few years?

Will boomers adjust? Or will we give up. After watching me try to reprogram the instrument panel on my hybrid rental car, my 70+ cousin told me her current car, a 2007 Cadillac, will be her last. She can't quite picture not having to use a key to start a car.

I won't make any predictions right now. But I will say this: if we can think it, it can probably happen.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

How Long


Zero-year milestones, especially birthdays, attract plenty of attention. Hundred year birthdays get even more attention. There are an estimated 72,197 Americans age 100 or more, according to a 2014 CDC report, 44% more than in 2000. I want to be one of them some day.

Living to be 100 used to be some kind of miracle but improvements in lifestyle choices and medical advances have increased the chances of becoming a centenarian.

That said, it seems very few celebrities make it to the triple digit mark. Famous people have the financial resources to survive but many don't. Of course money isn't the only factor leading to a long life, but my sense of logic says it should help.

Adam West, the original TV Batman from the 1960s, died recently at age 88 from Leukemia.  Others this year: Gregg Allman, 69. Erin Moran, Joanie on Happy Days, 56, cancer. Judge Wapner almost made it, 97. Roger Moore, several James Bond movies, cancer, 89. Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs director, cancer and heart disease, 73. J. Geils, 71. Don Rickles, kidney failure, 90. Chuck Berry, 90. Bill Paxton, surgery complications, 61. Actress Mary Tyler Moore, 80.

Fair or not, you might blame lifestyle choices for early deaths of rock stars; sometimes that is the reason. Cancer is the angel of death for many others.

What about non-celebrities like us?  Leading causes of death at the older end of the spectrum include heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's. That last one is on the rise. An expert quoted in a 2016 Smithsonian Magazine article says it seems that in many cases the mind gives out before the body.

That same article talks about the world's oldest person at that time. She was 116 and attributes her longevity to not drinking, smoking or partying; but she eats bacon every morning. Another centenarian works part time as a greeter at a winery and helps make wine cartons. She exercises occasionally and gardens in the summer. I wonder if she samples the product at work.

Adding up all of this, it appears the key to aging is to stay active, keep working, eat bacon and don't be a celebrity. Looks like I'm on the right track. So far.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Letters


In a world where communication is often 140 characters or less, a letter seems ancient. A letter on paper, mailed via the US Postal Service rather than emailed, seems prehistoric.

A friend recently blogged about letters written within her family decades ago. They were nestled in boxes of family treasures her Dad delivered to her as part of a downsizing purge of their family home.  Her blog reminded me of letters my Mom wrote to me during the years after I moved away from New Orleans.

Letters were among the few family treasures that survived the floods of Hurricane Katrina. A few years ago my sister sent me a box full of letters I wrote my parents and I read a few during my own downsizing purge last month. Some were letters I sent them in the 1970s and 1980s. Other letters I found in that same room were letters Mom wrote me during that era.

What I really wish I had were letters my parents wrote to each other. I assume they did write each other during their courtship but I've never seen those letters. I recall a few photographs of them next to a tennis court they frequented but those pictures are lost to the flood.

Letters and newspaper articles are a great source of history. We can learn plenty about our family from such writing. I have so many questions about the earlier years of my parents' lives, questions that may never be answered. My Dad wrote up a ten-page "autobiography" a few years before Parkinson's dementia began to set in. After Dad died, my Mother sort of started an oral history of her life and I regret not recording it. Fortunately I do recall some of her stories.

Sometimes we see our parents only as our parents, only as the adult figures who raised us, educated us, disciplined us. We don't usually see them as young men and women who may have had the same anxieties, fears and fun we had in our youth. That one picture of my parents at the tennis court used to make me laugh because I can't picture them playing tennis.

Another lost photo is of them on their wedding day, dodging rice as they left the church. Their smiles were bigger in that shot than in any other picture I've ever seen of them. Understanding their brand of 1940s and 1950s morality leads me to believe that night was their 'first time', if you know what I mean. That would account for the size of my Dad's smile and the slight tinge of nervousness in Mom's smile. Of course I'll never know if my speculation was correct.

At some point in his youth, Dad played piano. I learned of this in my youth but I never saw him play one note on his mother's piano. There's a family story about my Dad running along streetcar tracks when he was a kid. Naked. Grandma screaming at him to get off the tracks because a streetcar was coming. My conservative prude Dad???  Wow.

Mom was born on a farm. She and her three siblings sometimes played in cow dung. She didn't speak English till she started school around age 6 or 7.  I wish I knew how she felt about those things at that age.

The best story Mom ever told me was the one about how she met Dad. I knew they met at work but I didn't hear the whole story till she was around 90 years old.

Both parents lived through the depression of the 1930s. I'd love to know what that was like for them. I never will.

My sister says both parents were proud of my accomplishments in my career. I sort of knew that but I don't remember ever hearing that from them. Maybe that's in a letter somewhere.

I think I'll stop here before this post gets off the tracks too much. I also think I'll dig through some of Mom's old letters to me. Maybe there's more in them than I know.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

House Shirt Coffee


As I entered the oak-paneled family room of an unfamiliar house, I saw a tall, muscular man facing away from me looking out the window. He looked a lot like Arnold from behind. He turned around. Wow, it was Arnold. Yes, THAT Arnold.

He asked, in his distinctive accented voice, if he could borrow a shirt. I told him yes but said it won't fit. He laughed as I handed him one of my white dress shirts.

Moments later, or so it seemed, I entered another room to say I was leaving. I realized it was a bedroom and a beautiful young woman lay beside Arnold in the bed. She was under the covers from the neck down, facing me; Arnold was asleep facing away from me.

As I turned to leave, I heard a sultry female voice ask if there was any coffee in this house. I turned around to see the beautiful walking my way, dressed only in a man's dress shirt. My shirt. The one I had lent Arnold.

Yes, coffee. Follow me.

Then I woke up. I have the oddest dreams.