Why Do All These Old People Know the Lyrics to My Favorite Songs?

The other day, while shopping for a few items at a local grocery store, the ambient music playing in the background was Pinball Wizard by The Who.

An ancient looking guy walked by, playing air guitar and singing EVERY SINGLE WORD to the song. At first, I was impressed with this older generation’s appreciation of the peak of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era.

Then I started to wonder.

But my mind drifted back to my original purpose and the thoughts receded… for the moment.

The music in this store seems controlled by whatever manager is in charge. One has a distinct preference for country music, another loves jazz, and one loves classic rock.

HendrixAs the final notes of Wizard faded, the distinctive Jimi Hendrix guitar from Purple Haze took over.  Within minutes a woman who looked to be older than dirt came by mouthing the words.

What is this sorcery?

How can all these old people know the songs of my youth so intimately?

It’s one thing to dance to the rhythm of the music, it’s an entirely different matter, one shocking to the soul, that they KNEW the words.

I decided that it must have been the older generation’s surrender to reason. Where once they didn’t appreciate the music, they have now resigned themselves to embracing it in their dotage.

That’s the explanation I’m going with. Nothing else makes sense.

Hey Joe, where you going with the gun in your hand?

 

Blizzards, Mating Dances, and Hints of Spring

Winter, like an aging boxer with vestiges of a once mighty punch, is poised to deliver a late season Nor’easter. But, if you look for them, the signs of warmer days are here.

cd61977dbf99d4efc635fc6fd4cf8796Green shoots of genetically conditioned hardy plants push their way through the defrosting soil. Male ducks, ordinarily solitary creatures even when in groups, protect and defend a female, engaging in head bobbing dances of potency and the promise of viable offspring.

The successful ones will mate, and a new generation will soon add to the population, replacing those who didn’t survive the winter.

Ducks are not the only ones engaged in the pairing ritual; cardinals, geese, sparrows, robins, jays, hawks, and scores of others join the fray. Some dance, some challenge, some battle, some strut, some brighten their colors, some sing.

All share the same goal, continuity of the species.

Old snowfall, hidden in the shadows of trees, still evading the sun climbing in the northern sky, will join the latest snow and cover the ground. But the die is cast, the sun’s rays more intense, the warm change is in the air. No matter the intensity of the storm, this soon will fade. The melting snow will feed the groundwater, nourishing the new growth, and the colors of spring will erase the grey of winter.

Two nesting squirrels, quick in their gathering of leaves and branches, hurry up and down a tree. Focused and intent on rebuilding the nest that survived the long, cold, howling winds of the winter better than the tree that held it. The tree, broken and shattered by the same winds that could not dislodge the nest, lies on the ground. Tilted upside down, but still sturdy in the branches, the nest sits as if mocking the weakness of the oak, daring it to stand again.

The squirrels’ frenzied scurrying to fulfill the evolutionary imperative of procreation more evidence of the fading of winter and the arrival of spring.

Near where I live, remnants of the Blackstone Canal parallel the river bearing the same name. It was once the main channel of commerce in centuries past. Each day, as the first hints of spring appeared, I’ve watched it shed the ice coating in anticipation of emerging hatches of bugs, feeding fish, and shy, quick to dive, turtles.

These last storms are but a temporary delay to the reemergence of hundreds of species.

Soon, the waters will warm and the turtles; Woodland box, Eastern Painted, and Common Snapping species will emerge from the mud to lay their eggs along the bank.  All summer, the warm sun will comfort the eggs until they hatch. At least the ones not found by the raccoons or fox.

The turtles will hatch, more will fall to the predators, and the survivors will make their way into the river. The ducks, geese, and other birds will hatch their eggs, adding to the parade of new life, and the cycle is complete.

The last days of winter are the best time to see the promise of spring. Like Dorothy’s first view of Munchkinland on opening the door from her gray, tornado rattled home, the contrast of colors will shock and amaze us. (This might need some explanation to many of the post-broadcast TV generation but I love that movie.)

The cycle of life that is our driving force on this planet shows its impressive power with just the simplest of gestures. One green shoot inching its way skyward bends not in fear of winter but rises despite it.

When You Say It: Unexpected Reactions to a Shared Human Element

Age has always been a minor, albeit varying, factor in my life. As children, we all go through those stages where we want to be older. Rushing what we perceive as our unlimited time. As we get older, some try to resist. But most of us eventually reach a truce with reality and just accept time’s passage.

FatherTimeA recent conversation, for whatever reason, stunned me. While speaking with someone interested in telling his life story (a complicated one involving bank robberies and prison time), He asked how old I was, wanting to see if I had any point of reference to the Watergate incident and a man named G. Gordon Liddy.

I told him I was in high school and had watched the Watergate hearings. I prefaced this by saying, I’ll be sixty-two this year.

As the words came out, it caught me by surprise. I could not put my finger on why my age stunned me. Hanging up the phone after arranging a meeting, the memories of those sixty-two years rocketed through my brain.

So, I do what I always do when something strikes me as odd, or funny, or troubling. I write about it. It is a habit I’ve developed over, incredibly, sixty-two years.

I have a misty memory of the first grade where I was sent down the long, intimidating hall to bring a book to the eighth-grade classroom. In my mind, the eighth graders were ancient ogres. I had to navigate around them like giant redwoods. They were the scary “big” kids. Old and dangerous.

Now, I’m shocked when I see graduate students from Brown University driving cars. They look so young. My grandfather used to say, when cops and priests start looking young, you’re old. He had that one right.

When I was seventeen, a group of friends and I would stake a claim to one of the many dunes of Horseneck Beach. We had our stash of fake-id acquired cold beer and plans of conquering bikini-clad young women.  At least the part of the beer being cold was true. Our tales of sexual conquest pure fantasy that improves with age as it drifts further from the truth.

On one expedition I recall a conversation, between our fruitless attempts at charming any girls, about how we would be forty-four years old in the year 2000. Both elements seemed unreal and unreachable. Here I am in the year 2018. Both 44 and 2000 are distant memories.

My daughter, her birth another life-altering event when she arrived in 1988, will soon reach one those milestones in life. I won’t say she’ll turn thirty this year, but you do the math. To some, such things are traumatic. I never found them so. How she’ll react is as personal to her as it is to everyone. Age and the progression of time is the one equal opportunity aspect of this shared life.

Age discriminates against no one. Time gives itself with little regard for anything.

I suppose it may be the reality of understanding the unknowable allocation of the time we each have left, and that we are all ticketed for the same departure event, which caused this simple conversation to shock my consciousness.

Time continues its unalterable passage. The summers of our youth will take on almost mythological alterations of reality. By holding onto these memories, we may embrace the summers of our future with greater appreciation.

We can strive to enjoy every day for within each moment is the potential to create a memory.

Age is a state of mind. But it is not what defines, hobbles, or imprisons us unless we let it.

 

Baseball Traditions amid Changing Times

America’s pastime baseball may be changing, but every March it serves as a harbinger of Spring, the smell of freshly mown lawns, and crowds of fans watching men living the dreams of little boys.

I’m not a sports fanatic. I can’t quote chapter and verse of statistics. I can’t wax poetic on baseball strategy. Truth be told, I would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of players on my favorite team, The New York Yankees. For me, it is the occasional game at a ballpark, checking the scores periodically, often losing interest once the Yankees don’t make the playoffs.

But I still enjoy the game, even if I’m not glued to Sports Center or the Baseball Channel.

Like many things in life, my being a fan of the Yankees is a legacy passed on from my grandfather to my father to me. And like my father, I sometimes get more enjoyment out of torturing Red Sox fans than I do from a more traditional appreciation of the game.

The rivalry between these two teams is legendary. Most of the time it is played out on the field, resolved by the final score and end of season standing. Sometimes, it breaks out in bench-clearing brawls which, while immature and silly, remind us it is a game most often played by little boys.

(I know girls play sports. I know that there are likely quite a few woman who could play at the professional level. But that’s a different subject. For now, this a game played by little boys in the bodies of grown men. I also know baseball, like all pro-sports, is a business. Again another subject.)

I admit I miss the once consistent history of the baseball seasons of my youth where I could watch the Yankees in the playoffs and tease my Red Sox fans with the slightly mocking, and not the least bit consoling, “there’s always next year.”

Oh, how things have changed.

The rivalry remains. The gap between World Series won by each team is closing. Well sort of, Yankees have 27 Red Sox have 8. And I know my Red Sox fan friends will point out they have won more this century than the Yankees. True. And it is also true if the Red Sox win 19 World Series in a row, they will tie the Yankees in 2037.

Something to look forward to.

One thing baseball can do is provide a valuable lesson about the realities of life. A good season is when a team plays above .500 ball. Think about that.  If a team wins just a few more games than it loses, it’s successful.

Even more dramatic with a batter. Hit consistently above .300 and you’re a star. Teams are anxious to acquire players who get a hit one out three times at bat. In other words, failure isn’t an indication of poor performance. It is the ability to persevere in the face of failure that is the mark of success.

One of the greatest players of all time, Ted Williams (see I can appreciate Red Sox achievements), had a lifetime batting average of .344. Williams didn’t get a hit more often than he did, and he is the benchmark.

Baseball is proof positive that life’s not fair. We all will fail, often as much as we succeed. The best players understand this. They must ignore failure and learn from their mistakes in pursuit of success.

Baseball is a roadmap to success in life.

In the immortal words of the great New York Yankee Existential Philosopher, Yogi Berra. “It ain’t over, ’til it’s over.”

Just like life.

Go YankeesYankees

Reaching the End and Realizing What Really Matters….

I posted this 3 years ago after completing the Appalachian Trail. Once you’ve hiked the trail, Katahdinyou never really leave it. I think it’s important to remind myself, and all of us, or what really matters in this life

September 3, 2014

All along the trail, from Georgia to Maine, I have thought about what I would write after climbing Mt. Katahdin.

How would I explain the trail?

I tried to find words that would capture the trail’s effect on those that hike it.

I wanted you all to feel it.

I don’t have the words.

No one does.

Some things cannot be explained, they must be experienced.

I do have this to share.

In walking the 2185 miles, I’ve had time to think.

Quite a bit, frankly.

It’s given me time to realize I’ve wasted many of the precious moments of my life, pursuing things that didn’t matter, at the expense of things that do.

It’s made me resolve to focus on the important things.

The people in my life.

Family.

Friends.

We spend much of our lives on trivial inconsequentialities.

Pursuing things that no one will remember after we die.

And since we all will die, it’s important to embrace those fleeting moments while you have them.

There’s a Vietnamese expression, “Bui Doi”. Miss Saigon fans will recall it. This translates roughly as “homeless” or “the dust of life”

I think it applies to many of the things we waste time on.

We fill our lives with meaningless technology that segregates, rather than connects.

We stare at our cell phones and iPads.

We text, email, and Tweet.

All at the expense of the truly important things.

Human contact with family and friends.

Or, as I learned many times on the trail, the chance to meet the many good people on this planet.

Walking the trail gave me the opportunity to review my life.

I am a lucky man.

I haven’t always shown, to those people most responsible, that I appreciated my good fortune.

I’ve come to realize the most important moments in my life were never about career achievements, money, or possessions.

They were about friends I’ve known for most of my life and new ones along the way.

It was about meeting my wife Susan, and somehow convincing her to marry me.

It was about seeing my daughter Kelsey open her eyes and smile, moments after she was born.

It was the privilege of watching that brand new life, whose first action on this planet was to bring tears of joy to my eyes just by opening hers, grow into the remarkable young woman she is today.

Those are the things that truly matter.

Thank you, Susie and Kelsey, I am a most fortunate man for having you
In my life. I should have told you more often.

If I can give you anything in return for your taking time to follow along on this journey, it would be that you take a moment to embrace the people in your life.

Tell them you love them.

Tell them you care.

Tell them.

The day will come when that will no longer be possible. Don’t wait.

For that is what truly matters.

Use the time you have to enjoy those precious gifts of family and friends.

Not to be overly dramatic, but there are sections of the trail where one slip, one bad decision, and you end up a news blip of a tragic death.

Those are the moments you see how fragile life really is.

No one knows how much time we have.

Spend your time wisely.

I am determined, from this moment on, to do just that.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu

DONE!

 

Nature: The Ultimate Entertainment

I had the opportunity to walk through the old Rocky Point Amusement Park grounds the other day. The last time I walked this area I was likely 9 or 10 years old. The nostalgia for the lost rides, shore dinner hall, hotdogs, and cotton candy, of course, came flooding back.

rp

Some of the supports for the gondola ride stood rusting in the sun. Wrapped with the vines that will ultimately bring them crashing down, they will return to the earth over which they once stood.

Humans are great at building temporary things. Our intelligence and skills take the elements of the earth and converts them into towering monuments to our abilities. Yet, given adequate time through the unending process of living organisms, the earth will reclaim each of these.

Humans must work to maintain the things we build. The earth just has to continue on, patiently waiting for us to abandon these things as we so often do to once again reign supreme.

The 10-year-old me would lament the loss of the merry-go-round, the games, the Ferris wheel (named after its designer George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.), tilt-a-whirl, and myriad other rides. The memories of outings to places like Rocky Point, Lincoln Park, and Crescent Park invoke such powerful memories.

Although they pale when compared to the magic of the Magic Kingdom, my memories of these places keep a warm place in my heart. I think I prefer them to what Disney has become, although I suppose each generation feels the same of the origins of their childhood memories.

I wonder if Walt Disney himself would regret the destruction of the natural vistas to create artificial worlds filled with people losing their appreciation of this planet?

The half-a-century older me is glad the area is slowly returning to its natural state. It is a sign that we do have the potential to make sound decisions in our care of this planet when we chose to leave nature to itself.

Building ticky-tacky little houses all looking the same as we paved paradise would have made someone wealthy in the short run. (Aren’t you glad I put those songs playing in your head so you will hear them all day?) This Earth would still wait patiently for the moment to send out that first shoot of a vine or tree.

parking-lot

A shoot that would begin the inexorable process of taking back to the earth what man foolishly believes he has stolen for himself.

I for one am glad the vines and trees are tearing down the metal poles, reopening the vista of Narragansett Bay and the endless variations of nature’s bounty. While the view from a Ferris wheel can awaken the imagination of a young boy and create a lifelong memory, to embrace and appreciate nature creates joy for a lifetime.

A Little Girl Grown Too Soon

I will be away from writing for a few days. Off to celebrate my daughter’s wedding.

A little girl grown all too soon. Such is the speed at which life flies by.

A moment ago she was a tiny human being newly arrived in the world.

Today, a beautiful, dynamic, and independent woman beginning the latest chapter of her remarkable life.

It has been an amazing privilege to hold that little girl’s hand, all the time knowing the day to let her go was fast approaching.

Life continues and I look forward to it.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time…”

James Taylor

America’s Long Walk on a Short Pier

The America I know, the one that once served as a bright shining beacon to the world, is changing. Our headlong panic rush to insulate, rather than defend, ourselves from those that would do us harm is disheartening.

Talk of building walls, denying entry based on religion or origin, craving a national policy of carpet bombing without regard to innocents is not a solution. It is the easy way out. That is not America.

We are on a very long walk on a short pier.305880-pier

America was once the country who built piers to welcome those who seek the American dream. We stood greeting those looking for a better life. Yet now, because it is so easy to focus on those who misuse our welcome, we are throwing it all away.

When did we become so afraid of standing up for what is right, that we are willing to bury our head in the sand?

We bought into this ‘I’m being bullied nonsense’ and cry to our mommies. I know this may offend some people but you don’t run from bullies, or try to legislate them out of existence. You stand up to them.

It’s the only way to solve the problem. Time to recapture our pride and dignity.

Now, we are faced with a Presidential election. The campaign is a bunch of meaningless drivel, hurled by both sides, that offers no real solution, no intelligent analysis of the problem, and no real hope for change.

We are better than that. We deserve better than that. And yet, most of us just follow along like blind sheep lured by the aroma of fresh feed right into the slaughter house.

Instead of doing the hard work of identifying those who would misuse welfare, we punish the entire program.

Instead of doing the difficult task of bringing the fight to the enemy, we embrace politicians with no idea of the rules of engagement who see carpet bombing as a solution to end a philosophy. Innocent casualties be damned.

Instead of making the effort to understand the complex problems facing us, we engage in screaming matches that do nothing.

Instead of focusing on the logjam that is Congress, we scream and yell about useless Congressional hearings and speeches that capitalize on our ignorance.

Instead of embracing education, we dilute the standards then blame teachers for the results. Johnny can’t read and we do not care.

But there is still time.

There is time to remember that Congress holds the purse strings of America, not the President, and understand who holds the purse strings of Congress.

There is time to return to an America where holding public office meant doing public service not keeping it for life.

There is time, but it, like the end of the pier, is growing short.

I have noticed a troubling trend among the tattooed generation of Americans. I am noticing more and more individuals sporting a barcode tattoo on the back of their necks.

If we are not vigilant. If we do not wean ourselves away from chasing Pokémon. If we do not think instead of remaining mindlessly enslaved to our cell phones.

If we do not realize that we have stopped adding to the pier that is the American dream but continue to walk at our current pace, we will find ourselves at the end.

Those sporting this barcode tattoo may be a foreshadow of the American future.

Where once each new generation represented an addition to the treasure of America, our people, they may be reduced to nothing but inventory from a failed dream.

Think before we walk into oblivion.

Picking through the Flotsam and Jetsam of a Life

I went to an estate sale the other day. It was not in some huge mansion full of antiques or precious jewels. It was a small, 1950’s style ranch in a non-descript neighborhood in Providence. One of those post-war neighborhoods that dot this country.

My sister-in-law is a fan of these things. When she told us about the latest one, we decided to tag along.

We arrived about an hour or so after it opened. Many of the larger, furniture type items were already marked as sold.  The remaining few looked like they had been ordered from the Sears & Roebuck Catalog. They appeared well-cared for and, other than being from the last century, quite serviceable.

I wondered how many memorable moments took place while people sat there.

In the basement was a pool table covered with pictures. Most were 8X10 black and white images. It struck me how these images captured a moment in the life of people. People unfamiliar to those of us wandering around. The treasure hunters would pick up a picture and turn it over. Looking for something that would make it valuable. Finding none, they would toss it aside.

These images were the product of a much different technology. One a world apart from the immediacy of today’s digital images. Someone had to compose the image, take the picture, develop the film, then enlarge the print. They were then cherished by those shown in the picture.

At the time, these images brought some joy to those who saw them. They captured a moment in the life of those depicted in them. They held these memories until the bearers of those images, or those who knew them, passed from this life.

Now, they were mere distractions to those seeking something to buy and perhaps sell. Images of someone known only to their families carry no such value.

In another area was a tool bench. Hammers, nails, pliers, nuts & bolts lay scattered around in no particular order. I wondered when the last person to use that work bench walked away if they realized it would be for the last time.

I felt almost as if I were interrupting a funeral. Wandering around, looking at things that meant nothing to my life. Yet they meant everything to the life of someone else.

It reminded me of the scene in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his death. The scavengers are selling the items they took while Scrooge lay dead in his bed. Laughing at their good fortune in his demise.

Wandering around this house made me feel the scavenger. I decided not to disturb the remnants of these lives and leave them to their past.

There was nothing I could buy that offered any true value.

 

Nature in all its Gory

Tree huggers love nature. They love to update their status on social media with cute images of orangutan’s frolicking with puppies and kittens and baby goats and fat Vietnamese potbellied pigs.

They share stories of the bear raised with the tiger and the lion.

They show rainbow-diffusing waterfalls with elk drinking at the peaceful edge of the pool of water or snow covered bison roaming peacefully on the open ranges of Yellowstone.

But that is not nature, that is marketing.

What set this off was the following headline,

People love watching nature on nest cams — until it gets grisly.

(https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/05/19/when-nest-cams-get-gruesome-some-viewers-cant-take-it/)

The story was about how the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute had to turn off the webcam on an Osprey nest. The outrage of “nature lovers” escalated to vitriol and anger when the camera showed the mother Osprey neglecting and attacking the chicks in 2014. They wanted the staff to intervene.

In other words, nature wasn’t really to their liking.

Polar bears are another favorite. No matter where you fall on the man-caused/natural global warming discussion (although I think the science of man-caused is pretty clear if not the exclusive reason) there is much angst about saving the big white furry magnificent Polar Bear.

Whatever the cause of their decline, I remember one interesting fact about Polar Bears. They are the only known species to actively hunt humans. It’s their nature.

Polar Bears are majestic apex predators. Watch this if you have any doubt. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0DCOTaZgtA

But that’s not my point.

Tell me your point, Joe, you say.

Okay, I will.

Nature is not cruel. Nature is not heartless. Nature is not brutal. Sometimes, nature seems downright chilling from our human perspective.

But overall, Nature is neutral.

Now, doing everything we can to minimize our impact on nature and the many creatures we share this planet with is a noble goal.

Complaining when a camera gives you a window on the reality of nature is not noble or caring. It is to be ignorant of the ways of nature.

Every moment of every day something in nature is dying by the efforts of some other creature. Whether it’s a Baleen Whale filtering microscopic plankton or a pack of lions chasing down and killing a gazelle.

That is nature.

Nature is not a Disney film. Often, it’s more Alfred Hitchcock with a script by Stephen King. But that’s because we are looking at it from an unrealistic perspective.