Monday, December 31, 2012

Day One: So Many DIstractions

First was the day's news, which has become something of a ballad with a refrain, except all you get to hear is the refrain. But still. What's not to love about a cliff you're about to go over? 

Cable news is so seductive when the people rant, shame, warn, scare and blame. It's like the good old days of Sunday school. Today I listened to FOX News. Yesterday, MSNBC. What's so cool is that you know what the interviewee is going to say before he/she says it when you see the D or R after his/her name.

But the news people manage to build this will we-won't we go over the cliff tension that's very seductive. And distracting. And a time suck. It's like the people waiting outside when Sunday school was over.

And this ordeal was followed by a Facebook thread on what kind of verb should be used with a collective noun. For example, should the nouns "variety" or "family" take a singular or plural verb?

Should it be, "A variety of options is available," or "A variety of options are available?" And if you think you know, then should it be, "A family of five needs a home," or "A family of five need a home?"

This consumed a half hour and is not resolved as of this moment.

But for all that, I wrote not 500 words, but 798!  Nearly 800, and if I hadn't been summoned for--well, never mind--I may have done 1,000 or more.

This is good. This is good.

And the project is starting to look like a novel. Why? I think it's because the whole enterprise began with this strange song entering my brain from out of the blue six or eight months ago. I am totally serious about this. It really happened, and it is--was--weird and unsettling. Not only will the song not go away, but another crept in a few weeks ago. Sometimes, they wake me up at night.

I can play a guitar, a bit, and eons ago, I flailed at piano lessons. I like music as much as then next person, but songwriting is definitely not in my DNA.

So, a song not written--words and music intruding into my awareness? I did nothing to deserve this. I can scarcely carry a tune.

Anyway...more on this tomorrow--the song,the novel, the people in it. Kind of scary, actually.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Account My Resolutions, O Ye Who Listen (or Read)

I'm startring my New Years Resolutions a bit early. I.e., today. Says I, why not?

And the first thing that happens is I notice this little blurb on the admin side of my blog. It says. "Your blog is now eligible for Google Affiliate Ads." And I can click on a link that says "Learn more," in blue font.

It's very distracting. What, I ask myself, are Google Affiliate Ads? I guess Google is okay--the jury is out--but who knows jack about their affiliates?

Second, my blog is "now eligible?" Does that mean it wasn't eligible yesterday? What did I do to make my blog now eligible? By what stroke of luck, by what alignment of stars did my eligibility soar?

Third, it's so tempting to click on the little blue link and Learn More. Learn more about what? The Affiliates? The ads? Some universal ontology? I could totally spend a half hour or more on this.

Which is precisely the problem. My fingers will defy my brain, which wants to get going, do something useful and meaningful (for me, anyway) and write. The fingers see the blue links or whatever and just scamper away, and before you know it, it's lunch time or time to shovel the snow or whatever, and the day is a goner.

And I can complain about never having time to write.

So, here's what I'm going to do about it: I will write 500 words a day.  It might be more, but the minimum is 500 words.

And to kick myself in the ass an make sure I do it, I will write a blog post on writing the 500 words. That's for the accountability part. If there's no post, it probably means I've failed, and I'm announcing my failure to the world, hoping the fear and shame of failure will keep me from wondering why my blog is now eligible and wasn't before.

What will the 500 words be about? I'm not sure. I hope a novel. but it could also be a memoir of sorts. I don't know. It may all come to nothing. But if I worry about all that, I'll worry about that and not do the 500 words.

I sort of know some of the characters, I guess, but not really. They seem to be composites of people I've known. But whatever happens and how this all turns out is totally up to them.

So, world: You are now my accountability coach. Do not cut me a whit of slack.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Didn't Unfriend YOU, Baby

Tonight, I unfriended a half dozen or so people from Facebook. My degree of not knowing them from "Well" to "Not At All, "Well" being a 10 and "Not At All" being a 1, was a 3 at best. No need to go into the methodology of these determinations.

In any event, Unfriending feels weird. The term is even capitalized, as though it merits special consideration in some way. But still. If you approach someone you vaguely know, someone whose name you may not know and have to ask a mutual acquaintance on the sly, and you tell this person, "I do not want to be your friend anymore," it's enough of a big deal that you may not do it, you'd just say screw it, who cares and so on.

In middle school and high school, a lot of people were capable of just saying to you or another friend, "I hate you." Nevermind what it was the day before. You are now hated.

Worst case is someone you like and you discover he or she doesn't like you as much as you like him or her. Anyone who's lived to the ripe old age of 10 has experienced this feeling.

To wit: Looking someone straight in the eye and saying, "I do not want to be your friend," is a major statement. It's huge. It's game changing.

This feeling carries over into Facebook: Unfriending someone, even if you scarcely know this person or even not at all, feels mean. There is no walking it back.

At the same time, I have Facebook friends I have never met in the flesh, but whom I cherish. These people post remarks or thoughts that--while they don't correlate with mine--nonetheless acknowledge the right for me to exist. I simply could not do without, for example, Fred Stewart, Creedence Sabrina Gerlach, or Mike Rohrig. There are others, but these people post regularly.

My father defined a friend as someone who would bail you out of jail even if he(she) know you were guilty. If Fred or Mike Or Creedence had a bail bondsman call, I'd be morally challenged and probably couldn't say no.

What does this all mean? Fuck if I know. These are the days of miracles and wonders, the way the camera follows us in slo-mo, and so on, to shamelessly steal from Paul Simon. A New-Old World Order, where the metrics of friendship are the same as they were a hundred years ago, but the obligations and responsibilities are not quite clear.

Unfriending folks is chronically stressful. Or is it just me?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Of Potstickers and Cioppino

It began with...pot stickers.

Our traditional Christmas Eve meal is Chinese food. This morning, we messaged Istanbul's Stranger, our daughter, for a chat, and she asked if we could hold off until their food arrived. She'd ordered Chinese takeout, promising our grandson, Ender, pot stickers.

Chinese takeout in Istanbul is a very big deal, believe me. As in: no pork in Turkey, e.g. But tradition is tradition, and if there was one Chinese restaurant in Sariyer, Istanbul, she was damn well going to make sure she had Chinese food--and pot stickers--for Christmas Eve dinner.

Tonight, the rest of her clan polished off what was the best Chinese meal since leaving San Francisco. The pot stickers, garlicky and gingery, actually tasted as though a person had really made them with rough and experienced hands. The scallion pancakes were to die for, light and oniony and dipped in a soy-ginger-Siracha sauce. So the rest of the meal went. This not being a restaurant review, I won't get into details unless you email me. But I will remember the tastes tomorrow morning.

Later, in our Colorado home, a discussion ensued among the stateside clan that in true life, cioppino, not Chinese food, was our family's traditional Christmas Eve meal.

Whatever else cioppino may be, it's also a classic San Francisco dish, kind of a shellfish stew in a rich broth. It's been bastardized to a degree, with the "broth" becoming little more than a tomato-based pasta sauce with a lot of fish dumped in. But a true cioppino is made in a clear shellfish stock broth with onion (or maybe shallots), celery, leeks, chopped tomato and (not always) fennel, white wine and seasoned with oregano, thyme, bay leaf and saffron. But I digress.

Chinese food was always our tradition in Reno, Nevada, where my children were born. On moving to San Francisco, Chinese fare was supplanted by cioppino. In, Eugene, Oregon, the Chinese food was so foul, it had no right to be called that. But seafood--most particularly Dungeness crab--was easily available, and cioppino took over again.

In Portland, things didn't improve. Chinese food proliferated, but good Chinese food was rarer than Gentiles at Miami retirement homes. Cioppino claimed our tradition.

By the way, we just figured out our time-honored traditions tonight. Cioppino or Chinese food? Why care, says the deafening roar? Well, part of it is because seafood is more problematic in Denver than in Pacific coastal cities. Another part is that we found the best Chinese food since leaving San Francisco.

And food isn't just, well, food. Chinese food, for us, recalls Yen Ching, now closed, in Reno, where we lived until 1986. The Byi family who owned the restaurant are a remarkable tale of people from a difficult place who came to this country and imagined themselves to be in a better place. We can't have, say, asparagus chicken without remembering that the Byi kids were in school with mine, that the family recipes came from a tradition of Mandarin, Szechuan, Hunan and Cantonese traditions and secrets, that we maintained warm friendship we had with Paul and Marsha Byi. That my brother, Steve, always had to have the pork chow mein, that my father insisted on Mandarin spare ribs, that Yen Ching's pot stickers tasted something of heaven, that the Szechuan prawns, sizzling and sweet-sour-salty-spicy hot were a moment unto themselves.

In San Francisco, it wasn't so much Chinese food as it was what kind--Cantonese, Shanghai, Mandarin, whatever. Mike's Chinese Cuisine on Geary, no longer there, was our overall favorite, and was so tasteful I can still remember the sensory joy of several dishes, especially the peppersalt crab. But I think it was the cioppino that makes it's claim to Christmas memory for our San Francisco years.

My mother would move heaven and earth for good Dungeness crab (and a decent Chardonnay), and she usually got her wish at some point. For Christmas Eve dinner--cioppino--we trotted down to Friscia's, on Francisco off  North Point in Fisherman's Wharf. Friscia's was--is--pretty much of a fish wholesaler, but my father, with his nose for a deal, learned they also did a small retail business., At the beginning of crab season, we'd haul off to Friscia's--Friscia Fresha Fisha--for crab just off the boat and newly cooked.

He made this discovery from some stranger on the 44 bus to Candlestick Park. Whatever else happens, cioppino or Chinese food recalls The Joe Montana-Dwight Clark "The Catch," or the Will Clark-Matt Williams era of the Giants.

I can wax nostalgic, but the point, here, is the cioppino. My mother taught my wife how to make it. I can see to this day my mother chopping the onion and celery, the stains on the stainless steel knife she used, the cracks on the wooden handle, her red knuckles holding the onion. She probably had a recipe at one time. But it took up much of the day, each step having to be done in a precise manner, and this is what my wife remembers.

Whatever else food is, it's memory and tradition as much as it is sensory experience. That said, the smell of cioppino still takes me back to that Broadway flat, with the bathrooms in weird places, rooms that didn't really fit together but were made to work, the sturdy kitchen with a view from a small dining area, the den where my father had his fatal stroke.

My sons recalled their own memories of cioppino on Christmas Eve at their grandparents, mostly confined to their grandfather's jokes and the nearness of some of their middle-school friends. My schizophrenic brother--their uncle--occupied one portion of the table speaking a mostly quiet monologue with no punctuation, unless you include the word "and" at the end of a sentence. Stephen, my mentally disabled brother, was remarkably agreeable and happy, and talked of being a good boy for Santa, even though he was two years old than I, my mother talking about my brothers and sisters and their children and their children's children so as to keep the family narrative, my father making fun of the neighbors in the flat ("That old fart of a Milton? Jesus, he thinks that turkey-necked babe of a nurse 'loves him?'")

Memories, good and bad, are the foundation of a life, and without them, a life is a house-of-cards existence, I think. And I know people in this situation. They are alone, so terribly alone, even when surrounded by a crowd, especially a sycophantic one.

So our evening ended in potstickers, six on a plate, each of them a trope of a lifetime of memories. Each of these will be passed along to a new generation, with any luck. No meal should be consumed in a vacuum.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Indiana Jones and the Fiscal Cliff

Is this the Last Crusade?

In the U.S. House of Representatives, a Plan A was hatched to keep the country from going over the fiscal cliff. "Fiscal cliff" sounds scary, and like other cliffs, pretty much no one wants to go over one. A few people do, I guess, because there's never total unanimity on anything.

Anyway. Plan A fail, so Plan B took shape. Whatever it was, was pretty much of a secret, mostly because no one was particularly interested in reading all that. But to avoid Plan B Fail, it was kept under wraps so it could get modified into something acceptable.

They had Plan B, then B (a), B (b), B (c), and so on through the alphabet with modifications.

To everyone but the House of Representatives' surprise, Plan B (s) failed.

Indy--can you please peek over the edge and tell us it ain't so? Can you assure us the sequel is almost done already? Can you whip these guys into shape?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pro Drug Advocates Push Back!

In the wake of federal and state efforts fight the drugs in schools with counseling, education and law enforcement, pro-drug advocates have been largely silent.

Today, they are pushing back against what they see as threats to their Ninth Amendment rights. Legislators, mostly southern and Republican (not counting a few whack jobs from Orange County) insist it's time for teachers and school officials to get more drugs.

In Virginia, Republican Bob Marshall has proposed a bill that would require at least one school staff member to carry a syringe of high-quality heroin. "In some schools, we have several staff members on the public dole who spend wasted hours on drug education," Marshall said. It's just plain silly and a waste of money. With my bill, if a kid comes into school with the intent to peddle drugs, a teacher or principal can just shoot him up and get on with the business of teaching."

The drug problem in America, Marshall and other Ninth Amendment advocates insist, can only be solved with more drugs. "The only way to stop a kid on drugs is with a man with drugs," he said.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reduce the Ownership of Guns--Now

No good reason exists for unlimited ownership of firearms, or of there is one, I haven't heard it.

This conclusion pains me to a degree, because a few minutes ago, I supported gun ownership. Not unlimited, certainly, but within some undefined limits. But no more.

Two reasons are offered for unfettered firearm ownership. The first is protection for family and home. The second is defense against a tyrannical government set on taking our rights.

I get wanting to protect home and family against creeping intruders, but come on. How often does that happen? How many people do you know who are victims of violent crime? Is this such a prevalent occurrence that you need a high-capacity magazine weapon to spray bullets at the miscreant sneaking into your home?

Seriously? Are you going to skulk through the darkness of your home to shoot an intruder you can't see? And do you want to get into a firefight with a home intruder? Do you want to likewise spray your house and neighborhood with bullets? 

The whole protection thing defies reason. If this is your life, you need to rethink  your right to exist.

The tyranny thing is even more mind-boggling. Let's takes the worst case and assume a Hitler-like entity took over the government and was going to rip up the Constitution. That this is a wacko, far-out possibility doesn't need to enter into the discussion.

Bad guys take over the federal government, and you--and let's say a thousand others, all armed with AR-15s, high-capacity magazine Glocks and whatever--take cover somewhere. Anywhere. How long do you think you'd last against one--just one--Army or Marine platoon?

This argument is less logical than the home protection one.

Know what? I'm totally open on this. I want someone to change my mind. Do you have a reason for unfettered gun ownership? Lay it on me, Pal.

Friday, December 14, 2012

How I Really Feel

This is my grandson. I took this photo of him last year at Christmas. He was trying to look silly. That's what five-year-old boys do.

Can you imagine the mind of someone who would walk into a room full of five-year-olds and shoot them?

How many people have actually seen the damage a gunshot does? Years ago, on a chukar hunting trip, I thought it would be a good idea to impress on my 7-year-old son the damage a gun did to a living thing. The hunting ground around Winnemucca, Nevada, was abound with jackrabbits, generally considered pests. 

I fired a 12-guage shot at a jackrabbit. It was blown in pretty much two pieces, both still quivering with vestiges of life, its purplish innards spilling out on either side. I immediately regretted what I'd done, and the look on Jeremy's face bore out my feelings.

And I never served in combat and had to shoot somebody. Have you ever put your arm around a veteran just to tell her or him that you care?

Living things that get shot don't just close their eyes and fall over. They usually get dismembered to a degree, with blood and bits of organs splattering all around. And some craven son-of-a-bitch did that to twenty children roughly the age of my grandson in Newtown, Connecticut. He looked them in the eye and did it, over and over.

If I had an immediate regret, it was that this miserable excuse of a human being wasn't still alive so I could personally rip his limbs from his torso and feed his organs to mongrel dogs. But an even greater regret is that this happens too many times in America, and the response is to pretty much just go shopping.

And a greater regret--no, not greater, just sometimes deafening White Noise--is the amount of dismembering death witnessed by, say, Syrian children, Palestinian children, Rwandan children, and many, many children and moms and dads all over the world.

What have I done to stop it? Precious little. March in demonstrations. Vote for Obama. Write letters to the editor. Wear sunscreen and consume Omega 3 fatty acids, sing Pete Seeger songs. 

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. People: This has to stop. What're you gonna do?

What am I gonna do?

How to Restrict Gun Ownership in America

Another mass shooting in America. More than ever, anyone with a a pulse is outraged at the news of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. You can't get past the Kubler-Ross anger stage. It doesn't matter which side of the gun debate you're on to realize that killing is way out of hand in this country, and it has to stop.

Let's stipulate a few points, both for the Second Amendment zealots and for the Brady Bunch. First, the right to own a firearm is enshrined, however badly, in the Constitution. The phrasing is badly written and vague: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Jesus. :Literate people wrote that? 

In any event, (a) too many people believe this phrase means a person has a right to own a gun, and (b) the Supreme Court seems to side with them. The drafters may have intended militias, but at best, that's an academic discussion.

Second, the right to own a gun doesn't mean the right to go duck hunting. The purpose of a gun is to kill, whatever the motive behind the shooting is. An unloaded gun is an uninteresting wall decoration at best. A gun has bullets for a purpose.

Third, people, not guns, may kill people, but in America, they do it with guns. As the Newtown tragedy unfolded, a psycho in China knife-slashed 22 elementary school children. But it took the S.O.B around a half hour and no one got killed. The Newtown murder explosion took a few minutes, and 28 people--including 20 children--were killed.

Fourth--and this point was made in "Bowling for Columbine--" there's something about American society that seeks mortal violence as a cure for whatever ails folks.

So, what to do? The Plucky Observer has a couple of ideas. We need to keep guns out of the hands of psychos, and, if possible, criminals, while still respecting the right to keep and bear arms. Ideas:

1. To get a license to own a gun--any gun--you have to have a job, profession, have a long-term lease or own property, have a FICO score of 550 or so, own a small business, have graduated from high school and, if you're in college, have a B average and produce proof of continuous enrollment. If you get fired, kicked out of school, flunk out, etc., your employer or school must notify the gun licensing authority. 

The thought behind this rule is that psychopaths do not engage in usual social behavior (of course there are outliers, but you'll never get all of them anyway), so why not make rules to isolate the mentally ill? Gun advocates should sign on with this, as it restricts gun ownership to potential bad guys but leaves law-abiding citizens alone.

2. Any public employee, physician, social worker, human resource workers in the private sector, university/college staffers and the like, must report aberrant behavior to the licensing authority. I.E., if someone sees a screwball in action, he/she needs to tell someone. We have this safeguard for children who may be abused.

If someone is fired or leaves school, it becomes a matter of record in the licensing authority's database. This kind of data will necessarily become part of the background check.

Of course, the above raises questions: Who is the "licensing authority," and who has access top private data? This question is solvable, by making the data entry blind and by making those in charge publicly accountable.

3. End the private sale loophole. Most sales of guns take place among private parties, where no background check is required. If you peddle a gun to someone, you have to do a background check.

4. Require proof of insurance on each gun owned, at least to the levels of state-required driver's insurance. No insurance, no gun.

Jeffrey Goldberg, certainly no right-wing gun advocate, has written a couple of provocative articles in The Atlantic on gun ownership and American solutions to the problems arising from it. He points out that ours is a gun country, with maybe 300 million guns in ownership. They aren't going away, he says. Moreover, people need to be able to defend themselves when threatened, including mass shooting situations when no one is firing back at the shooter.

But we need to find a way to keep guns from the psychopaths and the criminals, and I hope this post offers a way forward. The above won't stop the violence, but it could mitigate it. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Reason for Boomers to Buy the Farm Early

A few posts ago, I wrote an article about Baby Boomers benefiting society by dying early. Today, I thought of another reason: It will free up a lot of bandwidth.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Revisiting Pat Paulsen and Guns

"Assuming either the Left Wing or the Right Wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles," Pat Paulsen, one-time perennial presidential contender said. Regarding Social Security, he said, "Why should old people get it? They just sit around all day doing nothing."

I miss Pat Paulsen, I have to say. The current debates over everything from the fiscal cliff to gun control need him. Regarding gun control, his position was that "guns don't kill people. Bullets kill people," and went on a riff about taxing or banning bullets.

Humor cuts to the chase. In 2012, I'm thinking pro-gun and anti-gun people have it all wrong. I know, or think I do, because I've been on both sides. As with abortion, people on both sides shout the same things they've been shouting for decades.

So boring, so tedious to do the same thing over and expect a different result. (Wait: Did I just say that? No! Albert Einstein did, and he could speak German).

Here's the real issue on guns and gun control and the right to bear arms and yadda yadda: Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Sure, they generally do it with guns in the country, but the issue isn't the gun (at least not yet--it may be at some point). The issue is why do people in America kill each other.

Canadian gun ownership compares to America's. But Canadians don't kill each other. Iraqis seem to have a high rate of gun ownership, and they do kill each other.

It may be that people will do something they wouldn't otherwise do if they have a loaded gun in their hands. I remember a newspaper story about a guy in Portland, OR, a bystander to a crime, whipped out his pistol and fired at the tires of a fleeing burglar. The bullets bounced off the tires and hit a pedestrian. His Clint Eastwood moment was brief.

The question isn't the degree to which guns need to (or don't need to) be controlled. The question is why is ours such a violent society.

About which--well, maybe, anyway, Pat Paulsen said, "All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anywhere But Here: Or, House Hunting 701

I'm trying to come to terms with myself as someone who's never quite content, who aways thinks there's something better than where, and what, I am, and what I have.

As of January 30, 2013, my wife and I will have been married 42 years. In that time, we've lived in seventeen homes, some owned, some rented. The latest one enjoyed our occupancy for about six years--the longest we've ever lived anywhere.

When people learn this about us, they think we're nuts. Moving, after all, is incredibly disruptive in so many ways--moving sucks, it dislocates the kids from their schools, and so on. We not only know them all, we've lived them, plus some no one ever talks about  And some we don't even think we know because we've done them so many times, they don't occur to us.

Why did we do that? Though I was born in a farming town on the Feather River, in central California, I consider Reno, Nevada, to be my hometown. My family moved there in 1951. My education and professional life happened there, I was married there, and my children were born there. I had a life, there.

And we changed houses every two years or so. In 1987, we moved to San Francisco, moving about every two years, and left for Eugene, OR, in 1994, where we lived in six homes until we left for Portland (Hillsboro, actually) in 2005, commuting from an apartment in Eugene (which technically makes it six homes) and moving into Orenco Station until November 2012, when we left for Denver, CO.

Why did we move so much? Hell if I know. We usually told ourselves it was for moving up. That we were fixing the places up and selling them for a small profit. In fact, our "profit" was roughly equal to the rate of inflation, and on a couple, we actually lost money.

We bought our first home for around $30,000 as I recall. A kitchen fire and insurance claim got us a new kitchen, which turned out to be kind of fun. We also added a little family room and ultimately sold the place for around $75k or so.

At which point we moved to a horse property. We got our bellies full of that and moved back into town and fixed up a home, where we got robbed and sold the house because of bad karma, and bought another place to remodel.

Always a reason, real or manufactured.

Truth be told, I'm pretty much of a next-bend-in-the-river kind of person. Wallace Stegner would have hated me. For those unfamiliar with Stegner, the underlying current of his novels was the destruction of the American West by people looking for something better than from whence they had come, turning the new place into something more akin to where they'd left, even trashing it,  and moving on. The West always had someplace else to move to, except that it didn't.  An American myth that persists, really.

All of which pretty much plays into my me-ness and is a both a symptom and result of my failures as a person, which is, namely, wanting something I can't have. Which, my psychiatrist (if I had one) would say, so what? A dream, wanting something you don't have or maybe can't have is what propels you forward.

Which, of course, totally misses the point. It's okay to dream the impossible dream, to want something or someone that's unattainable, because if you're satisfied with the status quo, then really, you're existing more than you are living. There's nothing wrong with existing, mind you. Cows and prairie dogs do it all the time, so if that's your schtick, okay.

What's not okay is to always second-guess what you have, which I do with every aspect of my life. I hate planning a vacation, for example, because I know that if I commit and prepay for Hawaii, I'll instantly wonder if I should have gone to the Virgin Islands instead and will keep the thought all through Hawaii. If I order Mu Shu pork for dinner, I'll fall asleep thinking I should have had Mongolian beef.

It gets back to absences, I guess, which was the subject of a previous post.  Anyway.

But pick someone successful at anything--Van Gogh, Jobs, Baldwin (James), Einstein, Bonds (Barry), Brown (Tina), whoever, and you'll find someone with a clear definition of purpose and focus on getting there. It's a trait I simply do not have.

If I were to start college tomorrow and had to choose a major, I'd still check "undecided," just as I did as an undergrad forty-six years ago. And of you're undecided on where you want to end up, how can you focus on a path that will get you there?

Can you imagine Donald Trump changing majors a half dozen times? Or Hope Solo changing sports?

When we first moved to Eugene, I saw, for the first time, the bumper sticker that said, "All who wander are not lost." Know what? They are too. If these people--my people--want to make a point, they need to make a case for being lost. Or for wandering. Whatever. But don't equate indecision with life success.

But back to the house thing. Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, let's stipulate that we're both sort of house junkies (except I loathe everything on HGTV, save "Holmes on Homes"). If we were to land in, say, Vienna tomorrow morning, we'd be perusing the local real estate section on the metro by that afternoon. Send us to Martha's Vineyard, and we wouldn't be looking for anyone famous, stressing over cafes or looking at the ocean. We'd be touring Open Houses.

And if I made an accepted offer on one, I'd be discouraged within days. This is not the typical buyer's remorse. It's the reflexive, if not congenital, discontent with any decision I make. 

We made an offer on a short sale home in Denver, and within days, started talking about how we could flip it. Nothing wrong with the home. It was the neighborhood we really wanted. The home was a bit more than we wanted to pay, but hey--for-sale inventory was/is really, really low. It was new, extremely contemporary and very, very nice.

We abandoned that offer and ended up buying a lovable cosmetic fixer with a setting on a lake, and with a mountain view--to die for. But I already know what I'll be thinking in the months to come: We should have waited; we should have bought the short sale home; we should have stayed in Portland; we should have moved to Istanbul. 

Where am I going with all this?

Honestly, I don't know. And I wish I did.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Boomers: Take One for the Team

Fiscal cliff? Deficits? 

I have a solution.

The question is, what's the problem? Fair enough, since we're exiting an election season where the real truth of that particular issue got short shrift. But my take:

  1. The country's infrastructure is breaking. Cracking. Dissembling. Too many bridges are not earthquake proof and more need to be built. Too many highways are in crappy shape. Too many airports need serious upgrades. Too many power grids fail, internet access is spotty, the Post Office is going broke, teacher and public employee unions suck in more than their corresponding states or cities or counties can pay, and so on.
  2. Medicare is tap city. Social Security, in the not-too-far-future, might be more underwater than a depth-charged World War II submarine.
  3. All in all, the U.S. government's debt exceed its Gross Domestic Product.
That's enough for starters. The solution? Easy. Less spending and more revenue. Which has the same resonance as Save the Brazilian Rainforest. The call sounds reasonable, but no one who can do anything seems to hear anything.

We've heard all that. As for spending, it's "Don't gore my ox, man." Don't take my pension benefits. Don't take my benefit." Not enough money to build a useful Jersey Tunnel. Can't afford the expansion of bottlenecked roads. Seismic upgrades for Northwest Coast cities? Fuhgeddaboudit. Whatever. And as for revenue? It's Huey Long's "Don't tax me, don't tax thee, tax that fellow under the tree."

Know what? I don't want to leave my kids and grandkids with cracking bridges and stuff that could have been fixed but now, can't, because there's no money. Money that was diverted to, well, see above. My solutions?

  1. Dump the payroll tax limit for the Social Security tax. Currently, it stops at $110,000. That's silly. This change alone would bail the whole program out.
  2. Means test for Medicare, Social Security and tax preferences. I mean, seriously: Do well-off people, whom I begrudge nothing and honestly applaud (except for trust fund liberals, coupon-clipping conservatives, & C.) need to pay the same for their benefits as retired pipe fitters and homeless veterans? Mmm, not, say I.
  3. If need be, cities, counties and states need to file BK and tell public employee unions the money just isn't there anymore. We'll pony up as best as we can and schedule out the cuts to mitigate the pain, but hey. It's not politics, it's not personal, it's not ideological. It's arithmetic.
  4. This is the most important: Boomers need to die sooner. No seppuku or harakiri here, just realize when it's time to buy the farm.
The first two items, I'm thinking, will probably come to pass in some way. I mean, seriously. Should the country give folks with homes on four coasts and two inland lakes the same mortgage tax deduction as a family where the wife is an urban planner and the husband a surveyor?  And is anything wrong with changing the Medicare insurance deductible to, say, $20,000 for people whose Mastercard limit is several times that amount? Yes, said no one...ever.

However, definitions of when to pull the plug on oneself depends on the person, his or her eschatological definitions and so on. Some people think the lights go out when God has determined that they should. I'll leave it for another argument on whether or not God, in these situations, ought to cough up if He controls the electricity, especially if it's for an obese, alcoholic diabetic who smokes two packs a day.

Too many of society's resources are wasted in keeping people alive past the point of the joy, utility, discovery and redemption of being alive. Twenty years ago, my father, at 89, had a stroke on Monday and died on Friday, staying on life support in an ICU. The Medicare bill was about $20,000. He was not among the super-rich by any means, but he could have easily afforded the bill. Instead, the taxpayers took care of it.

Maybe that worked in 1992. It doesn't, now.

For me, the time to cash out is that moment when Assisted Living is my only option.

Now, I have seen some perfectly capable people in Assisted Living carrying on, taking care of their mates, making a contribution and generally adding to the richness of their friends and family. An 80-year-old good friend in another city moved to Assisted Living when his wife's Parkinson's Disease advanced and he couldn't care for her, even as he was still working on the Mars Lander as a Professor Emeritus. So it goes.

But honestly, these folks are in the minority. I've moved a parent, a cousin, and a brother into Assisted Living. Thank fortune I didn't have to suggest it to my father, who'd have seriously studied up on his Second Amendment rights at the suggestion.

I've made many, many rounds through Assisted Living places, and I do not want to live there when my health and well-being makes doing so my only option. They kind of smell like poop. The staff, reasonably, treats the residents like children. Most residents have that deer-in-the-headlight look. Some sit slack-jawed all day in their wheelchairs, only showing signs of life when the dinner bell rings. Others ask the same question several dozen times, every day.

Drive down most any suburban street in America, and you'll see more Assisted Living projects than Carter has pills, as my father would have said (I never got the allusion). And that doesn't count the thousands of private homes, nor the many-more uncountable places where the kids and grandkids take care of the degenerating old. 

Getting old sucks, but for me, I want to live, not just exist. When my existence is nothing more than, well, existing, I want to sing, "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Ya," and nip the hemlock with my vodka. And I encourage my fellow Baby Boomers to consider same.

Each of us Boomers has a definition, however abstract and vague, of what our individual end of life should be. I have to say, too, that my generation has consumed an inordinate amount of natural, economic and social resources, like an anteater on steroids. We need, each of us, consider things, and then make a choice on how much we want to leave behind.

Boomers are creaking up the works on their children's and grandchildren's credit cards, and you know what? In getting old, we have a chance to demonstrate our authenticity and lay down a final offering to the mythical ethic of The Sixties.

It's time for us to take one for the team.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Six Percent Solution

Alisha Braatz ruined my day. And the day was almost over.

What I wanted to do was write something about the Colorado sky. The sunrises and sunsets strike at your very existence in their awesomeness. But then, I read a post in Inman News, perhaps the premier real estate trade journal, by one Alisha Alway Braatz, and decided the heavens will have to wait.

Ms. Braatz recounted her early days as a real estate broker, in which she cold-called every builder in the Eugene, OR phone book, promising to sell their unwanted property within 90 days at an acceptable price. Of course, she failed.

In her sadder but wiser screed, she went on to say how honesty in listing presentations is really the way to go, how it's made her more successful and how it's filled her Gucci briefcase with whatever. Well, fuck all anyway. Being honest didn't occur to her in the first place?

The whole thing gets to my main beef with the way residential real estate sales are conducted in this country, namely, on the commission-based compensation system. Hear this, home buyers and sellers: As long as the broker who helps buy or sell your home isn't paid until--and unless--the transaction closes, that broker is representing her interests ahead of yours.

Hey there, buyer or seller. What do you do? Are you a teacher, administrative assistant, Starbucks barista, project manager, tinker, tailor, soldier, spy? Tell me: Would you work for free? 

Yes, said no one, ever. 

So, do you really expect a real estate broker works for free? Conducting endless home searches, driving all over Hell's Half Acre looking at houses, preparing pricing analyses, and so on and so on, for free? Come on.

They work for the six percent commission. The redoubtable Ms. Braatz had no problem whatsoever bullshitting builders that she could magically sell their properties in ninety days. Why did she say this? It's because, as Freakonmics has said, a commission at the close of a sale is so lucrative.

But the real morons in Braatz' situation are less her than the builders who bought her line. And so it is with the America public. All too many buyers and sellers buy into the commission-based compensation system, for whatever reason.

Maybe people think their real estate broker will work harder if he/she doesn't get paid until the house is sold. Oh, okay. But if the broker encourages the seller to "take this deal," is it because the broker wants to get paid, or because it's a good deal? If the broker wants the seller to lower the price, is it because the broker's light bill is due or his American express is late, or because of market conditions?

Fact is, Mr. Seller, you don't know. And you don't deserve to, because you got no skin in the game. You've bought into the Party Line of paying brokers when and if the sale closes, deluding yourself that it costs nothing.

Until you look at the HUD statement at closing.

Oh, and Ms. Buyer? I'll bet your broker told you that you don't have to pay him anything, that the seller takes care of the compensation. I know, because I've heard literally dozens of brokers say just that, both in private conversation and in public forums. And the public buys it.

Well, Jeez. Tell me, Sweetheart. Would that no-cost home purchase of yours close escrow if you didn't (a) agree to buy the place, and (b) take down a huge mortgage to do it? And doesn't the sales price include a commission?

Cost you nothing? Seriously. If you bought a $250,000 home, your loan paid both brokers twelve or fifteen thousand dollars. Think about that as you make your payment every month.

The best part about Alisha Alway Braatz is that she lives in Eugene, OR, a town which--as with the Galapagos--has taken its own evolutionary track. The worst part is that they might as well be manufacturing the real estate Kool Aid there for national distribution.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Should You Get Your Real Estate License?

More to the point, should I?

When I worked as a real estate investor and developer, my brother and I would classify real estate brokers. "This guy's a Groopoo," one of us would say about someone claiming to represent a Group Who was fabulously wealthy and would make you realize your fondest hopes and dreams resulting in gazillions of dollars, only if you worked with that broker, who's Groupoo identity was elusive.

The common term for what these people offer is bullshit. Bullshit is described here by Princeton Professor Emeritus in Philosophy, Harry G. Frankfurt. Bullshit is really a much fuller term than its common usage suggests. We hear something unpleasing, and we think or say, "That's bullshit." 

Bullshit, though, is far more nefarious than lying, since bullshitters convey, or try to convey, an impression of themselves with no regard whatsoever to truth. Liars, at least, acknowledge truth. Bullshitters ignore its existence.

[Editor's note: You're getting far afield, here. Consider getting back to the original point, whatever it was].

OK, Ed., got it. Real estate brokers and bullshit is fodder for several blogs, and this one is only about pursuit of a license.

Real estate brokers don't get paid unless the transaction closes. And it doesn't matter whether or not they represent the buyer or seller: No close, no dough.

Does it matter? Absolutely. What happens when a buyer's broker and a listing agent meet, for example, to discuss a buyer's repair list? A list that might include something unreasonable, such as installation of an inline GFC when an inline GFC wasn't code? Is the buyer's agent likely to say, "We need to get this done," and possibly killing the deal, or might he/she say, "I'll talk my people out of it" in order to get the deal closed, when both agents meet in private?

I can tell you first hand that situations like this happen in many transactions. I like to think I always advocated for my buyer-clients' requests, reasonable or not. It's their money, after all. And I know many brokers who would similarly behave (and all but one works in the Hillsboro-Remax office; well two, I guess).

But I've experienced more situations where the close of escrow--and therefore a broker's paycheck--dictates the application of advocacy. In one instance, a client wanted repairs I thought were unreasonable, but I pushed for them anyway, only to have the listing broker say, "Hey, get in the game. Do you want this thing to close, or not?" This is almost verbatim.

What makes it all worse is that the clients never, ever know this backstory, since their broker can blame it on the other side, and the client will never, ever know the truth. Bullshit at work.

In searching for my own home in Denver Metro, I'd gone through several real estate brokers. My plan was that as a licensed broker in Oregon, I could contact the listing broker directly with the intent of not paying for the selling agent side of the transaction and saving myself a few bucks.

And I can tell you from the point of view of a home buyer who is also a licensed broker, getting you to make an offer is about the broker's interests, not the client's. I had listing brokers reveal their client's dire circumstances, misrepresent pricing history, not disclose uncomfortable facts about the property that would never come up in a due diligence search, misrepresent their own expertise, and so on, Colorado law notwithstanding.

Granted, they represented the other side. But should the approach to getting an offer be analogous to throwing mud on the wall and hoping part of it sticks? Or, as I have always felt, is it better to get everything on the table at the outset and not waste anyone's time?

As my father said, the measure of a man's character is what he'd do if he knew no one would ever find out.

The final straw was a short sale property we liked. The listing agent told me both the first and second loan were with Chase. Neither was a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan (kind of inside baseball, here: Fannie and Freddie loans have different short sale protocols than others). He had expertise in short sales. The short sale package had been assembled.

I was not familiar with Chase, so I investigated as best as I could (I also know one of Chase's national director of services I could call on to cut through the bureaucracy). With all documentation properly done, Chase could close a short sale in thirty days.

This was September 18. We needed to move in November 1--tight, difficult, but possibly doable if everything clicked. However, the agent emailed me two weeks later to say he'd just assembled the short sale package and tendered it, and oh, by the way, it was missing a few items, such as pay stubs, the hardship, and so on.

Which is the same as saying there is no hardship package. It also turned out that the property only had a first mortgage, and that it was a Fannie Mae loan. So much for critical path timing. His language totally ignored the existence of our previous conversations and his representations.

And so much for having a home to move into.

In my experience, this kind of thing is the rule rather than the exception. Most brokers will say anything they need to say to get a transaction going. They know that once a buyer and seller get emotionally invested, they will do most anything--even behave against their own self-interest--to keep a deal together and close.

In fairness, this is not universally true. Some real estate brokers view their practice as a business, and employ business-like best practices. But they are a minority.

Groucho Marx famously said that he would never join a country club that would have him as a member. My question for myself is, should I join a club whose members have a jabberwocky definition of reality?

Would you?

Friday, September 7, 2012

When Absence is Present

This has absolutely nothing to do with God. It's about absence.

But I'm gonna start with that tendentious line from people who insist upon some abstruse truth about God: Absence of proof isn't proof of absence.

Again, this post has nothing to so with religion or god or any of that, by the way. It really is about absence, and what, if anything, it is. Or means. Or whatever. So, if you want to praise sweet Jesus, kill people who draw cartoons of Mohammad, institute prayer in public schools, prohibit lascivious eye glints in the U.S. Constitution or fly airplanes into buildings, you're safe in reading this.

Hmm. Where are we going with this? Let's start with the mundane thing that just happened, in which I (a) shuffle out to our little deck to fire up the barbecue, and (b) discover an entire unsmoked cigarette on the little table.

Absence revealed. Sarah, my daughter, left it there. She'd been visiting all month from Istanbul, and returned home, leaving, not nothing, but an absence.

Absences can be important (and I'm listening to the Giants-Dodgers game, in which I obsess on the absence of Giant pitcher Tim Lincecum's absence of a decent two-seam fastball, which is another story but really kind of on point in its own way). Absence is not nothingness. Absences can be palpable.

Sometimes, though not always, they're illuminated by some trope or other. Here, e.g., let me shamelessly steal from Carson McCullers' "Ballad of the Sad Cafe" image of a note written in water instead of ink, whose content is revealed only when the paper is held before a fire, and the hidden words become clear. That damned cigarette is a signal of Sarah's presence.

Or, her absence, as it were. As was, similarly and also e.g., the Hotwheels pickup under the davenport her five-year-old son--our grandson--left behind. It's always nice to have a trope of one's own.

Okay, so, the cigarette: It's bad, she shouldn't be smoking, it's a bad example for the kid, it's stinky, and so-on and so forth. It's snippets of conversation Sarah and I have had for years, though less so lately. But it's more than that.

She's 39, now, with gray hairs Lollipop-guilding their way into her blonde locks, with extra pounds taking longer to banish, with all the other life-inducing sags and creases making their marks, with, if not regrets, second thoughts about a host of life decisions. 

But I see that cigarette, and I sense her absence. The absence isn't a nothing, nor is it a reminder of Sarah's having visited. Rather, that damned cigarette is Sarah at  eighteen months, her diaper fluffing out that little navy blue skirt with the little flower print, at two, when she belly-crawled under the Christmas tree and reached for an ornament, at eleven, when she scored her only two goals ever and got to keep a kitten, at twelve, when her assistant principal called us in because Sarah answered the call to play high school football, at sixteen, when she got kicked out of school, and so on.

And, sort of similarly, the Hot Wheels pickup: I don't recall the exact location off Shattuck Rd. where I had to pull over when Ender's father called and announced my grandson's birth, but I remember the sunlight, the smell of the car, the scowling woman in the car behind me. And while I'm sorely tempted to note the many highlights of Ender's five years' of existence, you sort of get the point. The entire time, faded, is gone, but it is quite present.

To wit: The absence of Sarah, of Ender, is palpable. It's as present as the spaniel pestering me to take her outside for a dump. Absences are not vacancies, not nonexistent whatevers. And their tropes, their metaphors--the forgotten cigarette, the toy pickup--don't prove absence, really, so much as they call attention to it.

And I cover my body in absence as much as I do with a comforter on a cold night. But this is only part of the issue.

Because, I'm starting to think, absences are as much a foundation of our lives, for better or worse, as our myths. Myths? You fill in the blank on that one ("I believe in "..." the "....". And so on. Everybody has one.

Absences? Well. Sort of roads not taken, but more, as in stuff that might have happened in other ways than it did. [Editor's note: concrete examples, please.]

For example [sop to editor], think of all those persons in your life whom you liked (or loved) more than they liked (or loved) you. That smart kid in, say, the third grade, whom you maybe admired but who couldn't see you. The really super popular kid in the eleventh grade who asked you who cared about you? A college crush who seriously thought you were kidding? A rising colleague you helped behind the scenes but who publicly dismissed you as a nonentity or even sold you down the river?

Well, but for fortune, these could have all gone another way. That someone you had a crush on but were afraid to say anything to might have acknowledged you in a dozen ways rather than humiliate you with craven indifference. But he/she didn't, and so it goes. Deal with it

And remember the absence of what might have happened. In fact, embrace it.

Because, so it goes, but for the absence of what didn't happen, an essential part of you exists. It's sort of memories you never had, but it's really way more than that. If you look at the building blocks of your life--the morals, the convictions, the experiences, the warnings--the absences are as big a block as anything. 

I'm totally going to run with this. It's metastasizing the more I think about it.

Parallel universes, anyone?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Do You Belong Here?

I grew up in Reno, Nevada, moving there in 1951 when I was nearly three. My wife, three children and I left for San Francisco in 1987. We changed houses every couple of years, not for any particular reason that all would concur on. Myths are the foundations of our lives, after all.

We would tell ourselves it was an investment. I won't go there now, but the takeaway is that the so-called "investment" in home buying is really something less than keeping up with inflation. If you're buying a home right now as an investment, take it from me--don't do it. Buy McDonald's. Or Wells Fargo.

Reno, Nevada, is like few other cities in a rare kind of state. No one is really "from" there, except the Paiutes. When we moved to San Francisco, we were floored by the number of people who not only had lived in the same city, but in the same neighborhood, the same street, even the same house for generations. Few realize this fact about San Franciscans, and it's an ethic crosses ethnicity and income groups. Totally cool, in a way.

My children are fourth-generation Nevadans. My mother was born in Lovelock, her grandparents having been wagon train people. My wife was born in Las Vegas, making her the only Las Vegas native I have ever met, not counting her sisters. 

But moving outward, upward and onward by moving into new homes always seemed to us a good thing to do. Why? The grass is always greener. The next bend in the river is where you want to be. The tragedy of the West, Wallace Stegner said, was that there's always someplace better to go, but the number of people who end up going there always ended up wrecking things because of the number of people who went there (he put it more eloquently). 

Or, to paraphrase Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, you can go to a different place, but you can't run away from yourself.

So, maybe Orenco Station in Hillsboro, OR, in 2006 when we moved there, was, to us, like coming back to Nevada. No one, it seemed, was really from Hillsboro, or even the Portland Metro area. For the most part, we were all newcomers.

Which, ironically, created for us a sense of place. Place is something where someone is inextricably attached. It's not just a way station, it's a reference point in your life's navigational map, where no matter what happens to you, you have somewhere to go where everyone kind of gets it, even if they don't agree or really sympathize.

It's somewhere you know you belong, and no one can ever take it away from you.

Where am I going with this? I don't know, yet. A sense of place had been quite foreign to me until we left Orenco Station. At the moment of walking through our empty home, of seeing bare walls where our cherished artwork had hung, of watching the sunlight gleaming off bare counters in our kitchen where we'd prepared meals for family and friends, of seeing the vacant space in the hallway where I'd throw our dog's squeak toy for her to retrieve, the emptiness in my heart, in my being, weighed a thousand pounds.

The silence of memory, of wondering, is not always quiet.

I've sometimes used the metaphor of an iron shadow to refer to the emotional dross people carry with them from the scars and outrages they have suffered in the course of their lives, usually in silence. But what do you call the weight of abandoning--willfully--the cornerstone that supports the building blocks of everything you cling to--of memories cherished and anticipated, of friends' revealed secrets that are unresolved, of a host of work real and unrealized, of an unfinished cathedral of your life?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

On a Roll with the Old Man's Lines

My old man said, "Nine out of ten deals are no good, but the tenth one bails you out."

This line from my father floated in from nowhere, for no particular reason. It may be because my sons are working hard at a business startup, or it may be because my personal real estate business has not gone as planned so far this year.

Or, maybe because it's Father's Day, and random memories of my father drifted in from my subconscious. Or, just as likely, his essence may have hopped aboard the dock that just beached in Newport from last year's Japanese tsunami. 

When my father was cremated in 1992, he'd arranged for his ashes to be pitched off the back of a boat at the entrance of San Francisco Bay. I figure his ashes would have just completed their twentieth circumnavigation of the Pacific Current anyway, and knowing him as I do, hitching a ride on tsunami flotsam would be a no-brainer.

Whatever else my father offered as a father--or, more appropriately, did not--he left behind some great lines. I've found the one that begins this screed to be very true, that while business deals often fail, those that work make up for the failures. I think it's also metaphorically true. A personal triumph can make up for a dozen humilations, especially if you chase it with club soda.

Some of his best remarks came near the end of his life. He'd had a bout with bladder cancer in his mid-eighties, and at the Scottsdale hospital, my brother asked him how he felt. "The lights flickered a little," he said, "but it looks like I'm gonna pull through."

A couple of years later, in San Francisco, he said to me, "What do you do when the Grim Reaper is knockin' at your door and you're not quite ready to answer?" And later, when he had fallen down for no apparent reason and had become very low, I tried to buck him up and told him that I'd always imagined he'd make it into the 21st century. "There's arguments both ways," he said.

Although I never thought I would, I have pretty well forgiven my father for his shortcomings, for the way he'd often belittle me, sometimes publicly, or for the ways he'd favored two of my brothers at my expense. Despite the birdswarm of personal hurts, I've come to think he did the best that he could.

He was born in a modest house in Cedarville, CA, in 1903. His father was an abusive drunk and, when he worked, a teamster--the real kind, who drove a team of horses pulling a freight wagon. The family briefly moved to San Francisco in 1906 but left before the earthquake--it's only sensible decision therefore being an accident--and settled in Lakeview, OR. "I was popular," my father joked. "I was the only kid in town whose father was in jail, and we'd all go down after school and talk to Papa through the window."

My grandfather, whom I never saw because he died of debauchery years before I was born, left home in 1910 to see the Johnson-Jeffries "Fight of the Century." He neglected to come home again for several years, leaving my grandmother to run what the family lore euphemistically called a boarding house. It pretty much was, but that's another story.

By 1919, my father had saved enough money for a year of college, despite not having finished high school. He and his best friend set out for Corvallis from Lakeview in a horse and wagon "with nothing but two clean shirts and a bottle under the seat," as he put it. The bottle was empty before they hit Frenchglen.

Whenever he told a story, he'd always spin it to sound like a joke at best, a happy memory at worst. In Corvallis, he developed scarlet fever and had to drop out of college, but he made it all seem like a grand adventure nonetheless. 

So it wasn't really a surprise when, many years later, my brother found a copy of my father's high school yearbook at the Lakeview historical society. His ambition, he had written at age 15, was to be the next Charlie Chaplin. It wasn't a surprise, but a secret revealed eighty-five years later can be more revealing than the secret, and I saw a side to my father after his death I'd never appreciated in his life.

Shakespeare wrote, "The evil men do live after them; the good oft is interred with their bones." To this day, I can't decide whether I agree. Or, as my father said, "There's arguments both ways."

If I have a takeaway from my father, it's to scoff at adversity, to make light of outrageous injustice, and to make a joke at misfortune, and if the latter was self-caused, then self-deprecate. To do otherwise is to let adversity, injustice and misfortune own you instead of the other way around. 

Humor is a sword, a shield and a disarmer. In my grandfather's words, "Fuck 'em all but six and save them for pallbearers." I never knew the SOB, but in his defense, he probably had a couple of good lines as well.

And not a day passes when I don't use my father's aphorisms. If a TSA official erroneously pulls you aside, for example, "It's like the dog who runs away with your hat. You want to kick his hind end, but you have to be nice to him until you get your hat back."

Or--and this just happened--I caught a colleague in a lie, and she beat a hasty retreat. "She was out of there so fast, you could play cards on her coattails," I thought.

Today is my thirty-ninth Fathers Day as a father. If my father were alive, it would be my sixty-fourth as a son. I'm pretty sure the former is better.

But as my father would have said, "There's arguments both ways." So it goes.