Monday, December 30, 2013

Five Things I Hope Go Away in 2014

On any given Tuesday, I can come up with a list of items ranging from annoying to really grating. I've been meaning to post about them before the year was up, but something always gets in the way, namely, my memory. I just forget. Or procrastinate. Or whatever.

But this morning, I realized the New Year was nigh, and, like it or not, I'd be keeping my appointment with destiny, which, in this instance, is the first day of 2014, as opposed to my future interview with Charon, another event inviting procrastination. Today, though, I'll just pop off five things I hope go away, forever, in 2014.

1. Media announcers using the term "gay marriage."It's bad enough when lay people use the term, but for media professionals, it's inexcusable. Whatever else it is, marriage cannot be gay. It's like saying it's red, only worse. Look. What if a homosexual person and a heterosexual person get married? Is the blessed event gay marriage, straight marriage, or what? None of the above, mon cher, it's just marriage. If people of the same sex get married it's...drum roll, please...same sex marriage.

2. Media announcers who say "take a listen." I know it sounds like I'm picking on media professionals, and I am. I mean, come on. You can't take a listen. Aha, I hear my critics say. If you can say "take a look," why can't you say "take a listen?" Bad analogy. You can't say "take a listen" for the same reason that you can't say "take a see." Even NPR announcers use the term, no doubt thinking they can get away with it because so many of them have weird names. But, nyet, nyet, nyet.

3. People who refer to themselves as their dog's parent. Nearly every day when walking my dog, I encounter someone who calls me my dog's daddy. No, I'm not her daddy, and you are not your dog's mommy, and if you indeed are, god help you. You are your dog's owner, unless you live in Eugene, Marin County, most of Portland or all of Boulder, in which case you are you dog's caregiver. "Caregiver" also makes me cringe, but since there's a valid argument for your dog being your therapist, the term caregiver may be okay.

4. People compelled to give countless updates of their diet and/or exercise programs. Going Paleo? Turning vegan? Diving into cardio kickboxing, pilates, Crossfit or whatever? Great, I'm so pleased for you, and I hope it works. I'm doing some of it, too, and here's what I'll do if you will: Not say anything more until it's over. I don't need to know what's on your gluten-free shopping list. One discourse on probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids will do nicely, thank you. And maybe it's just me, but  while daily updates on the NYSE are mildly interesting, the same is not true for your number of laps, reps, or crunchers.

Enough said, right?
5. Rachel Ray. While bringing to mind either the Michelin Man or Pillsbury Doughboy on meth, this woman drives you toward words containing Oy!, as in cloying and annoying. She almost single-handedly ended my interest in the Food Channel, Emeril Lagasse providing the final coup d'gras. I'd assumed she had gone away, perhaps to wherever football ex-place kickers go, but no. She's b-a-a-a-c-k, mugging it up on the television screen facing the exercise machine I flail away on every morning. It's enough to make you quit exercising.

And whatever peeves and irritations you wish would vanish that probably won't notwithstanding, I wish each and everyone all the best for 2014. May you live long and prosper, although there're arguments both ways on the living long part.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Should You See "Inside Llewyn Davis?"

You know the Coen Brothers movies. Sometimes, they're despondent. Sometimes, they're screamingly funny. With "Inside Llewyn Davis," they're both at the same time, and feeling either is really kind of unsettling.

BTW, spoiler alert: I'm going to mention a few events and scenes from the film. Normally, such mentions spoil the plot. In this film, though, it's safe to say there is no plot, at least
in the usual sense.

Plot is character in action, but usually, there are a beginning, middle, and an end. The four days or so in Llewyn Davis' life that make up the film are pretty much of a continuum with no significant change in him.

In fact, the beginning and end are eerily the same. And you have the sense that the way it is now for him is the way it will be forever.

When the folk music era dawned in America, it was pretty much of a coordinating conjunction for the Beatnik Era and The Sixties, a brief moment between Kerouac jazz and Guevara rock, when counterculture people adopted folk music as their societal lens. The few days of this film might even be a metaphor of the few years that serious people were serious about folk music.

The term "serious folk music" almost sounds oxymoronic. The grittiness of the Woody Guthrie/Pete Seeger protest song era before and after the Great Depression gave way to the saccharine white middle-class protest songs of Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez. While most folk music fans were earnest and sincere, that's about all they were. Tom Lehrer used to perform a satirical song, "Folk Song Army," in which "Every one of us *cares*/We don't like poverty, war, or injustice/Unlike the rest of you squares." Folk music now seems pretty much relegated to PBS fundraisers with old Boomers waxing nostalgic. In fact, the film "A Mighty Wind" parodied this notion.

But there was a time when folk music was really good, and really serious. The Coen Brothers recognize this time existed, but absolutely do not kowtow to it or treat it with gushing sentiment. It happened, along with everything else that happened (or didn't) in 1959-1962 or so.

And Llewyn Davis is good at it. In fact, he's very, very good, so good that even modernistas who roll their eyes at the notion of folk music will sit forward in their chairs and listen to him, both for his songs and for his angst-ridden talent. No protesting injustice, this; it's about love and loss among ordinary folk.

Llewyn is a total fuckup in his personal life. He spends his time mooching couches to sleep on for the whole film, and at every stop, he manages to insult his host, and not in small ways. When moments confront him that offer a chance to make the difficult, but heroic, choice, he inevitably does...nothing.

Thus, being really, really good and sincere with his craft does little for him one way or the other. His career is going nowhere, just as is his life. At moments, you overcome your antipathy for this inveterate loser and actually root for him to succeed in some small way. You wish he'd make the obvious choice at hand to move himself forward. After all, a few of his colleagues make choices to advance their musical careers, and he's as good, or better, than they are.

I have to note two remarkable scenes. So broke he can't buy coffee, Llewyn's friend, John, whose girlfriend Llewyn may have impregnated, invites Llewyn to provide backup for a recording gig. Llewyn does so, expressing his displeasure with the song, which contains the gimmicks and goofy lilts necessary for commercial success. He accepts a one-time fee for service, needing the money, and forgoes possible royalties.

In another, he meets with an important folk music impresario and gives another of his stunning and earthy performances. The recording maven doesn't say Llewyn is bad, only that "there's no money in you."

What clings to Llewyn Davis is his realness, his authenticity, to use an overused term. He isn't bad, he's not marketable. Tellingly, the impresario asks Llewyn if he might trim his beard into a goatee and be the third member of a trio being formed of two guys and a woman (gee--guess who that is).

Not that Llewyn thinks a whole lot about an art-versus-commercialism dilemma. To him, he's just himself moving along from point A to point B and hoping something will work out. He does not see himself as any kind of hero, Quixotic or not, nor as an avatar of the true folk musicician standing against a commercial tide.

And so the Coen Brothers treat both Llewyn and his times. There's nothing heroic or brave going on. Everything just is. And there will never be money in the uncompromised quality Llewyn offers. Commercdial accommodation isn't an option, because it never really occurs to him. What makes "Inside Llewyn Davis" difficult for us is that Llewyn makes this choice not as Huck Finn standing against civilization, but as a guy who just does what he does without giving it much thought.

I could say so much more about this film, but I won't. I won't reveal the beginning and final scenes, nor the telling second-to-last scene. Nor will I say anything about a cat and what his name is, nor will I reveal what happened during an interior sequence with John Goodman playing an over-the-hill drug-smacked jazz musician.

This movie is absolutely not for everyone. Coen Brothers films have always straddled the barrier between art and popular films, and this one leans 'way more towards the arty. It's bleak. The central character finds no redemption and has no epiphanies, and if he did, wouldn't change himself. As a viewer, you have to work at finding meaning.

Which is to say I loved it, and need to see it ten or twelve more times before I get it all. You find yourself ready to burst out with a guffaw, but your pulse is restrained by the pathos of it all.

You can't laugh and cry at the same time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

On Shaving: Problem Solved, Maybe

Really. There are some good reasons for men to shave. A bad cold is one. So is corn on the cob. Ice cream cones also come to mind. Imagine any of these excreting their essence on a mustache, and shaving seems like a reasonable alternative.

On the whole, stubble-chic notwithstanding, shaving is awful. Men know this, but most of us do it anyway, facial hirsuteness or not. Why? I'll tell you why.

I don't know. I've been doing it for more than fifty years, and I still don't know. Moreover, this is my third post in ten years on shaving. You'd think I'd have the answer by now.

As a young lad with baby-butt skin, I recall forcing the pitch of my mid-adolescent voice downward as much as I could in the hopes of forcing out some whiskers whose atavistic seeds lurked in the upper layers of my facial epidermis. It was a joyful moment indeed when the first one peeked through the ubiquitous zits. Breathlessly, I hurried to the nearest drug store, bought a can of Gillette shaving cream and a two-sided safety razor, returned to the mirror and whacked off the whisker, along with a zit or two.

No longer a boy, I. My nascent Sean Connery-ness was at hand.

Which lasted until I went to college. A clean-shaven face did not compliment tie-dyed shirts and faded jeans. And beards really pissed off the cranky old VFW guys we did our best to piss off.

Over the years, daily shaving was a time of firsts. Of course, there was the first shave, but after that came the first date, first love, first heartbreak, and so on. As I became older, there was marriage (heading into its 43rd year), first business success, first failure, first miscue, first publication, first child, and so on. You saw your life as a continuum of possibilities.

The first child was followed by a couple more, and the best I can say about parenthood is that it's a time of daily discovery, something you don't control but just sort of roll with, marvel over and learn. The kids move out about the time they get really interesting, but that's as it should be so you can later accept them as peers.

When I'd look into the mirror, the face looking back at me was pretty much the same one it had always been, and life seemed to be a succession of endless tomorrows. Gillette's newly-released double-edged razor should have been the dead giveaway that this supposition wasn't true. While it was marginally better than the old two-sided safety razor, your face still pretty much felt as though it had suffered a sparrow stampede.

It was sometime after the introduction of the triple-edged razor that the face in the mirror no longer looked like the one I'd come to know and be comfortable with. Who was that old fart, anyway? Discomfort with aging begins when you lose control over the gray in your hair and whiskers, followed by the receipt of junk mail from the AARP, which you angrily throw away. When you actually begin reading the AARP junk mail, you begin to sense the fight is over.

And, I have to say, I've been contemplating lasts instead of firsts. Is this the last house we'll ever live in. Is this the last dog we'll ever own. Is this the last car. Have I had my last job. So it goes.

"What do you do when the Grim Reaper is knocking' on the door and you're not quite ready to go?" my father said, once. He was in his mid-eighties and had obviously been thinking about it. Old age, a good friend quipped, is when you finally have all the answers, but no one asks the questions. Point taken, however. My gig with death appears to be something I'll not be able to bug out on.

Not long ago, I read someplace that human beings might be evolution's most successful example. We are born, we produce, and then stay alive long enough to pass a certain wisdom off the the next generation. I, for one, am most grateful for the opportunities to have mentored a few young people. They know who they are, and I'm putting them on notice right now that I had way more fun than they did. They not only helped liberate my Muse, such as it is, but they confirmed my right to exist despite nagging inner voices arguing to the contrary. Chalk one up for Darwin.
People with their mouths open look dumb

As it turns out, young people were the inspiration for the shaving solution, namely, to just not do it very often. These days, I pretty much let it go for two or three days, my inner self-vision something between Hugh Jackman and Edward Snowden, but the reality being closer to a wino.

When I finally get around to it, I use an electric, a device I've pretty much eschewed over the course of my shaving career. They always made my face feel as though the whiskers had been sanded off. But the product has improved, as of late. Either that, or I just don't really give a damn. And I follow up with as good razor shave at east once a week.

All of which is to say, what's the point? I was pretty sure there was one when I started this post out, although for the life of me, I can't recall what it was. Maybe there isn't one. More and more these days, that's pretty much how it's all turning out.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Two Rules on Nelson Mandela--for Everyone in the World.

Rule Number One

Rights are seldom, if ever given to those who don't have them. They must be taken.

Rule Number Two

If in doubt, refer to Rule Number One.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Who Got the Money?

In 1987, the savings and loan scandal was about to hit full stride when the stock market crashed one fine October day. Something like $500 billion in wealth was lost, which my father didn't buy for a second. "If they lost $500 billion," he reasoned, "who got the money?"

I did a lot of mental gymnastics over this. Clearly, no one person, place, thing or entity got the money that was lost. Still, shareholders watched their investment values evaporate. If they lost all that money and no one got it, was it ever really there in the first place?

She had a pile of dough before the crash
Fast forward to 2007. The housing market tanked with the stock market following shortly thereafter as the world financial system failed big time. American homes lost, on average, 30% of their value. Lower-end homes lost even more. "Underwater," a term only real estate industry nerds once knew, entered the common vernacular.

How much money was lost by mostly middle-class homeowners? This Wall Street Journal post says $7.38 billion. Worse--because of leveraging--people lost 55% of their homes' value.

If they lost it, where did it go? Who got the money? If no one got it, is it fair to say that the money wasn't really lost, since it never really existed? After all, saying a house is worth $X, even if an appraiser is saying it, doesn't mean it really is, right?

Well, it turns out that someone did get the money.

For some time, I've been perplexed by the enormous number of cash sales in the real estate market. Yes, investors are buying up deals, and yes, Baby Boomers selling homes are using the equity to by downsized ones. But that didn't explain everything. I wrote about it a couple of times on The Rookie's Guide to the Real Estate Galaxy.

But my WTF moment really struck when I read an Inman News article noting that lenders were avoiding short sales and taking the foreclosure route instead. A short sale used to cause a 10%-20% hit, but foreclosures resulted in an average 35% writedown, so short sales were preferred. Moreover, state law changes and the MERS scandal added time and uncertainty. Why the switch in preference?

Turns out I far underestimated investor cash sales. The Blackstone Group, under the moniker Invitation Homes, has spent $7.5 billion buying up foreclosed homes across the U.S. through November. It bought 1,400 such homes in Atlanta in a single day! It's now the single largest owner of single-family homes in America, more fully explained in this Tomgram story by Lauras Gottediener.

Who is the Blackstone Group? It's among the largest private equity and investment banking groups in the world, owning names like Hilton Worldwide, the Michael's craft store chain and Biomet, to name a few. Who owns Blackstone? It's institutional owners are a who's who, not just of major mortgage lenders, but a Dalton Gang of names caught up in a rash of still-ongoing civil actions resulting from the housing and mortgage crisis: Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley, among others.

While Blackstone just released its first bond offering whose proceeds are paid by the renters of homes it has purchased--not securitized mortgages, mind you, but securitized rentals--its intent is to hold the properties until values return to their former levels. And Blackstone is just one of several such firms buying up foreclosed homes.

Someone did get the $500 billion lost in the 1987 crash. It was the investors who just waited around for stock prices to recover, which they did.

In 2013, it's not the investors, i.e. homeowners, who wait things out until prices recover. They're wiped out. Instead, it's the lenders who loaned the money in the first place and who, through the filter of Blackstone and others, are paying themselves back via the foreclosure process and then taking title to the homes, collecting rent from the people they foreclosed on, and ultimately recovering the entire lost wealth when prices recover.

That's who got the money. Theirs, and yours, too.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Are You There, God? Or, Whatever, in Mendocino

Anyone who's driven Highway 1 on the California coast will visualize this.

A few miles before Mendocino, Arnie rolled his Miata, which went crashing down the canyon into the ocean. Since it was a convertible, he was able to escape and grab a Monterey pine branch about halfway down, which was hard, given the momentum of the fall.

Anyway, he did it, and for several moments, he'd look down and watch the waves roll his red Miata, and then up to see...nothing, save the outer rim of the highway shoulder and partial glimpses of the guard rail.

Yes, he did pee his pants. At least it was warm. Anyone who's ever been on this part of Highway 1 will get that.

Anyway. After holding onto the branch of what seemed like hours, he realized he wouldn't be able to hold on forever, and began screaming "Help! Help!" as loudly as he could into the Pacific fog. Someone wold probably see the gap in the guard rail, he hoped. But it didn't seem to happen. "Can anybody even hear me?" he shouted.

A voice boomed down from the clouds. "I can hear you," the voice said.

"Oh, God," Arnie said, relieved. "Can you help me?"

"Do you believe in God?" the voice said.

"Oh, yes, yes yes!!" Arnie replied in his most solicitous tone.

"If you believe in God, let go of the branch," the voice said.

Arnie considered the offer. "Can anybody else hear me?" he shouted.

And on this day, I am thankful for my father's stories. Peace and love to all.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The U.S. Government is Nothing More Than a Giant Property Management Company

If you serve on an HOA board or if you're on a property management staff, you'll know that ninety or more percent of what a property management company does for a homeowners' association is collect money from dues and disburse it to wherever. The lawn mowing guys. The tree guys. The heaved sidewalk repair guys. Just call them the Oomp-a-loomps.

And if you're a U.S. Senator or Representative, or an admin staffer, you get that ninety or more percent of what the U.S. Government does for the country is collect taxes and pay bills.  Entitlement recipients. Soldiers. Egyptians. Loomp-a-oomps.

It was all set in motion over time, and the inertia will continue unabated, save for the moment the existence of Dark Matter is verified and turns out to be useful.

Emergencies, unfinished business, ad hoc events and cranky owners take up nearly all of HOA board meetings. But if board members squabble the whole time or don't show up, for that matter, the money gets collected and disbursed.

The current Congress is on track to have passed fewer bills than any U.S. Congress in history. Elected representatives only work a couple of days a week, so I'm not sure what takes up the day. Squabbling and not showing up, I suppose. But so what?

For the most part, everything just goes on and on. The whole machine rumbles along unabated on its own inertia. The Treasury collects taxes, pays soldiers and air traffic controllers and border control agents and TSA workers, and so on.

Around fifty percent, give-or-take, of eligible voters in America are registered to vote, which means twenty-six percent of the voting public decides stuff for the whole country.  Around twenty percent of owners actually vote at HOA annual meetings, deciding the budget and board for the entire community.

But the beat goes on. The money rolls in, the Ooom-a-loomps and the Loomp-a-oomps get paid, ratifying the widespread belief that someone else takes care of it all.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How Not to See Rome and Florence, or There and Back Again

Okay, so 1,742 marble cherub butts later, jet lag is beginning to abate. It's taking damned long enough, too, with part of me still eight times zones away, as though my body got caught in some kind of temporal Dr. Who Doppler Effect and stopped halfway. Something's just not synching. Last night, while reading a novel with the World Series turned on I didn't just doze, but was inhaled by the intense R.E.M.'s reserved for past-midnight, for about twenty minutes.

Reubens knew his cherubs for sure.
But back to the marble cherub butts. I'm pretty sure that's most peoples' takeaway from their journeys to Rome and Florence, because there are a lot of them. Hordes, in fact. It's not that I have anything against cherub butts, mind you. I don't have anything against, say, potato bugs, either, but I don't want them crawling all over the back of my head and neck.

I got the travel bug when I was five or so and ran away from home. It wasn't so much displeasure over where I was as much as it was curiosity about what it was like someplace else. In the seventh and eight grades, the junior high schools in Reno, Nevada, where I lived, experimented with foreign language instruction--six weeks each of French, Spanish and Latin. While in those classes, I'd try to imagine what it was like to be in a different country and respond to signifiers differently than people in America.

To say "it's cold" in Spanish, for example, you'd say "hace fria," which, literally translated, means "it makes cold." What makes cold, and why does it make it instead of be it? What was in the Spanish psyche to have created that expression, that unique way of expressing the weather? For that matter, what, in English, are we talking about when we say "it's cold?" What is "it?" I would later learn about idioms and all that, but what struck me then, and does to this day, are the myriad ways people in other countries encounter life, prioritize it, express it.

To stay with Spanish, the verb "hacer" means both "to do" and "to make." How cool is that? What's in the essence of being Spanish that says "make" and "do" are the same thing? To find out, you have to go to Spain and walk Spanish streets, eat Spanish food and kind of hang out with a lot of Spaniards.

On a roll, here, but Germans have a word, "zeitgeist," that doesn't quite translate into English, but is variously rendered as "spirit of the times" or "spirit of the age." Fascinating, isn't it, that a linguistic priority has one word for all that? To figure it out, do you take a 300-level course in Goethe or hang out in a Munich biersteube?

Which brings us back to the marble cherub butts. When you travel to Rome, of course you have to see the sights you've heard and read about, sights that are icons of Western Civilization. The Forum. The Coliseum. Palatine Hill. Trevi Fountains. And, of course, The Vatican. And the Sistine Chapel.

No problem there, at least in the abstract. But let's take the concrete instead. In Rome,  on our recent vacation, we didn't do like the Romans. We did like the Americans. And Spanish and Japanese and Chinese and whatever-ese and went to the Sistine Chapel (we did the other stuff, too, but I'm using the SC as a foil).

Way to go God!
The Sistine Chapel is not, as you might suspect, a cool little Renaissance building in some Borgia wildwood. It's the last in a labyrinth of museums, noted as "Vatican Museums" in guidebooks and an with arrow on the street sign. Everybody wants to see that iconic ceiling fresco Michelangelo painted of God giving life to Adam, and therefore, the universe.

To go there is an exercise in physical and mental endurance. Wo be unto you if you didn't buy advance tickets! Your hair will be as gray as God's by the time you get in.

We did buy advance tickets and thought things wouldn't be so bad, given the time of year. October is the off season, right? Believe me, thousands of people missed that particular memo. As I recall, there are four different museums, with Museo Pio Clementino housing *The One*, the Sistine Chapel. Except you have to go through fifty-four other galleries, or salons, or whatever they're called, before you get there and get to see God giving the Eternal Finger.

It's not that these galleries are bad. I mean, what can be wrong with the Botticelli Salon, or the Raphael, or the one which had a da Vinci painting in it (which, like Satchel Paige, I totally disremember), or the fifty-odd other ones that flow and merge like flotsam in a flood ? Nothing, if you're a history or arts or humanities buff, I guess. But if you're an interested lay person, it's a different story.

Nascent masterpieces
You're never more than a few inches away from hordes of fellow visitors. They're always in chaotic, but forward, motion, except when some yahoo just. has. to. stop. and. take. a picture of some naked cherub butt. Simon Schmidt from Schenectady suddenly sees himself as Henri Bresson on assignment for National Geographic and stands there holding up his smart phone camera for what seems like an eternity, getting the subject into perfect focus so that this personal masterpiece is complete and ready to show the folks back home. And forward progress stops for everyone else.

About the time you find a moment to really look at some artwork, a guided tour group shoulders its way between you and the masterpiece, the tour guide rendering in detail what the slack-jawed, glazed-eyed members are supposed to be looking at in a language that sounds like Sanskrit. When they finally zombie-walk away to the next feature, they're replaced by another group speaking a different language that sounds like Sanskrit.

But at last! You've made it! You finally get into the Sistine Chapel, and it's so full of people gaping at the ceiling that you cannot move. Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes are really stunning, and the famous one with The Big Guy is hard to find because there are so many covering the huge ceiling. They're kind of small and high up, so you really have to look. And look. And look.

If you fix on something you like, concentrate like hell, because it will be about six seconds before someone shoulders you away. Stand too long in one spot, and museum guards bark at you to not stand there. Want to leave? Plan on taking guided turns.

This took us all of the morning and part of the afternoon, essentially blowing off the better part of the day. For the entire time, we were immersed in the world's most famous Renaissance art, an avalanche, an ocean of marble naked cherub butts.

I'm not ashamed to say I barely remember ninety-five percent of it. And if you go the the popular forums--Trip Advisor and others--hardly anyone else did, either. Scholars might study Renaissance art for years, but tourists cram it all in a few hours, catalogued with Iphone pictures of stuff they can't remember, let alone identify, to show their friends. You get far better photos from Google Images, believe me.

And you've just spent the better part of the day in Rome not hanging out with Romans, who, I have to say, are absolutely wonderful people--kind, funny, engaging, helpful, welcoming. I loved them. You will not have learned why they say "in bocca al lupo--" literally, in the mouth of a wolf--to mean "good luck." Go figure that one out.

We did not see every site one is *supposed to* see, and I'm glad of that. But we had some great food, joked with the cafe guys and the Campo di Fiori vendors and had the mom of the brothers who ran a restaurant flutter around and tell us to not wake my daughter's little boy when he fell asleep. And the family having a birthday celebration for their three-year-old at the next table gave us some birthday cake.

How cool is that? The little girl was the cutest cherub of all.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Will Someone Please Execute My Buyout Clause?

The San Francisco Giants' baseball team just exercised a buyout clause on pitcher Barry Zito, for which they paid $7 million. His seven-year, $126 million contract had run out, with options all around, but the team chose to buy him out of the contract altogether. Which means, "Mm, just go away, please." Breaking Good, in other words. You don't really have to be a baseball person for this.

Barry Zito seemed to be a really good guy, but he hadn't pitched as well as management had anticipated. How his Giants career works out to dollars-per-pitch, per-team-win, per-whatever, I know not, but the contract paid him eighteen megabucks-plus per year to underwhelm the National League.

The Giants exercised their option and paid him $7 million to, in essence, not do anything except just go away. Sports platitudes and niceties uttered all around. Exeunt, Stage Left.

To which I say, I will totally go away for seven mill. Exercise my buyout clause, and now. I  might even cut a deal. I'll go Barry Zito one  better and swear on a stack of bibles that I won't pitch for any other team. Zito didn't do that.

Who will execute my buyout clause, one might ask. Fair enough.

Since moving to Colorado, I've been casting around for something to *do,* by which I mean providing an answer to the quintessentially American question, "What do you *do*?" No one ever asks what you are or what you think, except in San Francisco, where that's all anyone asks about (except which neighborhood you live in).

What I want to *do* is imitate a buzzard. I'm okay at it, and I even put it on my LinkedIn profile as a skill (I'm still waiting for a recommendation on it, though). But buzzard imitation doesn't seem to count for much in the *do* world.

In planning the move to Colorado, I'd pretty much assumed I'd be getting my real estate broker's license, because that's what I *did* in Oregon. Life in the Front Range of the Rockies would be just one more lateral arabesque in the danse de la vie that begins on one's first day of school, or the day when one is impressed into door-to-door service selling magazine subscriptions for one's extra-curricular activity.

The Denver real estate brokers we encountered made sure my plan wouldn't happen. The first two or three did the give-question-as-answer routine, as in:

Moi: "We're looking for a flat close-in, maybe Highlands, maybe Five Points."
Broker: "Oh, so you're looking to be near downtown?"
Moi: "We just moved here from Portland and would like the stuff we like most to be in walking distance."
Broker: "So you want to stay out of the suburbs, huh?"

This is a classic sales routine designed to turn contacts into marks, uh, clients. A  bunch of us new licensees had learned it at Remax. I knew the song, and wouldn't dance.

Then we found a short sale property. The listing agent advertised himself as a "short sale expert," and after investigation, we made an offer. As the weeks passed, it became clear that I knew more about the property than the listing agent did, and we killed the transaction. The upside was that the whole Denver Metro real estate movie was one in which I did not wish to star.

Okay, all that really happened and everything, but at best, it's the precipitate reason I decided not to get my Colorado real estate broker's license. The real reason is that I was never very good at it anyway. There are two parts of real estate sales: Real Estate, and Sales. After thirty-five years on the private side, I knew a lot about the former and not much about the latter, and the latter is what counted most, the former not much at all.

Which kind of makes me the Barry Zito of Remax.

Then, this happened:
Gazillions of dollars for Remax!
Luck, as we've all been preached to, isn't Fate. Luck occurs when Preparation meets Opportunity. And I wanna tellya, I've prepared. So here's the deal, Remax: Invoke, exercise or do whatever you need to do to my buyout clause, and I promise to never, ever sell real estate for you or any other brokerage. And you got, maybe, $220 million for your IPO, compared to Barry Zito's $126 million contract. His clause generated seven megabucks, so I'll go quietly into that good night for just one megabuck. That's a steal, Remax.

All of which gets back to the problem at hand, namely, what am I going to *do*? Well, when Remax exercises its right to my buyout clause, I can do whatever I want:

Me imitating a buzzard

I could quote legendary New Pisa restaurant owner Dante Benedetti here, but I won't. Instead I'll just say, "So it goes" (Kurt Vonnegut). You don't need to be a baseball person for that, either.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Five Reasons Why You Shouldn't Quit Your Job

Work pretty much sucks a lot of the time, even in the best of circumstances. Rumors fly that some people love their work so much they don't think it's work, but I've never seen one of them. They must be on "Oprah," I guess, which I never watch. But the work-exalted have to be out there somewhere. Someone's providing material for those inspirational posters you see on Facebook.

But for most of us, work lies somewhere between a Pakistani salt mine and a Dilbert cartoon. It's just kind of there, inhaling the better part of the day as you ignore those niggling ontological questions that sneak into your thoughts. Weren't you supposed to have learned the meaning of life by now?

We strive to perform just well enough to get by. If you do less than that, you get written up, and if you do more than that, no one notices, except your co-workers, who all stop talking when you walk into the  break room.

This post is for those who are thinking about quitting their jobs as an end in itself. Quitting an old job for a better one is a no-brainer, so that's not an issue. Neither is quitting a job for one equally as meaningless, since a change of scenery never hurts.

Anyway. Of all the reasons to hang in there, these are the top five.

1. You won't have to tell your parents you're thinking about graduate school.

You know the drill. It started in the first grade when your mom tried every ruse she could think of to get you into the Academically Talented section, and all you wanted to do was hang out with your new friends, good readers or not. To mollify your parents, you told them whatever they needed to hear so they'd leave you alone. You may have even gotten into the advanced reading group so they'd go away and quit making nuisances of themselves.

Ever since then, you told (or implied to) them whatever it took to give them the impression you really and truly were working toward Stanford law school or a Nobel Prize. Fortunately, life intervened and got you off the hook, allowing you to tell them, "Maybe next year." That's all over if you quit your job.

2. You won't have to join a health club and get in shape.

Many of us are pretty good at not doing (or minimizing) what we shouldn't be doing--smoking, drinking too much, eating Krispy Kreme donuts for dinner and so on. But doing what we should be doing--contributing to our 401k's, backing up computer files, and getting regular oil changes--is another story altogether. For years, we've told our friends and ourselves that we'd join the health club and get in shape if only we had time. If you quit your job, you'll have time--and one less excuse.

I mean, seriously?
It's worth noting that getting in shape leads to other unpleasant habits, such as healthy eating. When you have a job, you get to stand in line every morning at Starbuck's or some similar place for eight hundred calories of latte and breakfast roll. Quit your job, and that's over, only to be replaced by granola and green tea. You'll learn what stuff like anti-oxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids (eeew) really are, and you'll bore your friends with the explanations. You may even trim down, and when that happens, you won't look normal. Know how uncomfortable perfectly-clean houses are? So it is with bodies. They need to look a little bit lived in. After all, people famous for the way they look are seldom famous for anything else.

3. You won't be able to collect unemployment benefits.

This is the practical aspect to consider. It's pretty much of a riff on Homer Simpson's advice: Don't quit your job! Just do it half-assed like everyone else."

4. You won't have to let everyone know you've decided to become a consultant.

When someone mentions off-handedly that he or she has decided to open a consulting business, your first thought is to wonder why anyone would do something so harebrained. No clients. Uncertain pay. Shameless marketing and self-promotion. At which point you realize the person you're talking to is unemployed, and if that's true, was he-or she fired, probably was, and why don't they get a real job. Why place yourself in such a position?

5. Your friends won't roll their eyes when they read your mid-morning Facebook posts.

Post that cat-with-scotch-tape-on-his-paw video at 10:30 while you're at work, and your friends are blown away by your wit and your ability to slack and get away with it. It's also a way to get back at The Man, in a small way. But do it after you've quit, and everyone will think you're just sitting around with nothing to do while they have to suffer.

Even though work may suck a bit, it does give you an opportunity to learn new ways to endure, and with endurance comes knowledge, and with knowledge, Truth.

I can't remember who said that, but some one must have. Work colored by dead endishness  is not only the place to figure it all out, but also to figure out what's to figure out.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Saving Another One for Jesus

In hindsight, it was that beatific look they all seem to call upon at will, save for the children. Children have their own deceptions.

The half smiles. The relaxed eyebrows. The tilted heads. The I'm-gonna-be-raptured-and-you're-not countenance. The unsettling expression hovering between certainty and smugness. The women's ruffled white dresses with little flower prints. The men's ill-fitting plaid shirts, tails flapping.

When I first noticed this gathering, I thought they'd arrived for a Labor Day picnic. But the way they'd lean in when speaking to one another and then glance around to see if someone were listening or watching raised my hackles a little. Still, I wrote it off to their scamming on one of the two picnic tables near the 35-acre lake about thirty meters in front my home.

The community owns and maintains the lake as a neighborhood amenity. Private Property and No Swimming signs ring the lake, not that a lot of people from the outside really care. They like to run/dog walk/baby stroll by a lake, and most of the time, the residents don't care, either. Security is loose and pretty much focuses on really bad situations. No sane person would swim in it.

The spaniel and I ambled down the path, occasionally glancing backwards at the assemblage. Foliage blocked our sight as we rounded the bend, but when I was finally able to peek through the willows, three young men were standing in the lake, fully dressed, in thigh-deep water, their audience looking benignly on.

Of all the thoughts that spewed like electrons in my brain, two still stand out: Omigod, they really are going to do that, and Do they know how dirty that water is? The inflow-outflow into the lake is weak, which means oxygenation doesn't mitigate the accumulated dead fish and goose poop and other organic crud that accumulates to create a swampy odor. 

I raced home to exhort everyone gathered for our own party to look out the window to see what was happening. Older son: OMFG. Younger son: YFKM (dear reader, you figure that one out). Older son: Quick, get some O Brother Where Art Thou music on. Younger son: Call security? At which point one of the men in the water, now shirtless, was plunged backwards into the water by his Blessed Companions.

As he waded ashore to the applause of the gathered, I wondered what would happen next and what, if anything, I should do. I thought to contact security, but I didn't want to ruin the security guy's holiday. Besides, I thought, who cares? No one hurt anything. Besides, it was possible one or more of The Saved could be a resident.

It turned out that at least one of them lived here. Half the group ambled off, while the other half, including the Newly Saved, headed for the community pool about thirty yards away. It's locked, and only residents have keys. But in they went, presumably to wash the lake crud off the guy.

Why, I thought, does Jesus need a chlorinated pool to clean off the guy? Younger son: Maybe we can walk across the water now. I thought his idea had merit, and tried, but my toe sunk. The water was definitely not holy.

Full disclosure, here: I'm an unabashed, even proud atheist. I do not believe in god. I do not believe in a higher power, not counting the IRS. I am at a total loss to explain why otherwise rational people secretly, or sometimes not so secretly, subscribe to some unseeable magician who rules their lives. 

I'm grievously distressed at the climate-change deniers who also claim god did it, but hey. Even some pit bulls are nice dogs. I do not fault people for embracing what appears to me to be lunacy. If it works for them, that's fine with me. Lots of people succumb to the sacerdotal mysteries of Miley Cyrus or Kate Smith or Dr. Phil or Deepak Chopra or boxed mac and cheese, and that's cool. Go for it, say I. That religion provides comfort and tethering to so many is undeniable.

I guess my biggest problem with the religiously-inclined is the way they don't just exclude everyone else from their group--hey, Sigma Nus and Tri-Delts and Rotarians and Junior Leaguers do that--but they declare outsiders to be inferior beings. That means Egyptian Sunnis get to kill Copts, Syrian Alawites get to kill Sunnis, The Sunni AKP in Turkey gets to jail Alevis, Burmese Muslims get to blitz the Buddhists, and so on. Our Side Is Divinely Blessed, and You, Outsider, are inferior.

This group had no compunction at all about performing their rite at a place where this kind of activity was obviously prohibited. They assumed that since their mission was so holy, no one else would, or had the right to, object.

What's really depressing as hell is that no one, save one woman, on the HOA board seemed to care. Which may mean that a plurality, if not a majority of homeowners, feel the same way. Fail to take down a dead tree or fail to make sure the pool is open at 6 a.m. for the one or two people who occasionally use it at that hour and all hell breaks loose. 

But when it comes to someone doing something really, incredibly stupid in the name of Jesus, it's all okay.

Fortunately, it was still pretty funny.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Strike Syria? Let Portugal Do It! Or, Greece, Maybe?

With half the American public in paroxysms over Miley Cyrus and the other half still wondering what happened to Honey Boo Boo, the country is more polarized than ever. Then, there's Syria.

Syria who you say? Well, it's not a who, it's a country. It's that one that's kind of over there, sort of by Lebanon, kind of where your boat would land if you were bareboating in Cyprus (Cyprus is pretty much at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea from the French Riviera). It has cities with cool names such as Damascus and Aleppo. Just think of Aladdin riding a magic carpet with a Genie (not the garage door opener ones--the ones who are magic and Arabs call Djinn; the magic lamp kind).

So why, you say, does the American government want to bomb Syria? Well, rest assured that we're digging into that part, but it seems as though some Rebels vs. The Empire thingy is going on, and The Empire used poison gas on the Rebels and several hundred died.

It's against International Law to use poison gas, of course, so the Obama Administration has to "do" something. This imperative apparently arose from 1994, when just under 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda and America didn't "do" something. America did "do" something when Iraq's Saddam Hussein had the temerity to have no connection with the 9-11 terror attack in the U.S. nor have any A-bombs, so he had to be shown a lesson. 

Syria's Assad regime crossed President Obama's red line with the poison gas attack, unless it turns out that the Rebels launched the poison gas, in which case somebody crossed Obama's red line and must be stopped. American missiles are evidently precision-accurate enough to know who did it.

Anyway. The Plucky Observer is still trying to get to the bottom of this. So far, it sounds like an outtake of an Alice in Wonderland remake, with things getting curiouser and curiouser. Hmm. We shall see.

In the meantime, though, if it's so important to teach the Bad Syrians a lesson, why not let Portugal do it? Or Greece? Their economies are horrid, everyone's out of work and teaching Syria a lesson could be a win-win. Putting your country on a war footing is definitely good for business anyway.

What Your Correspondent can't get his head around, though, are the Occupy Movements. We've been hugely supportive, lately, of Turkey's Occupy Movement, and Turkey is right next door to Greece. In fact, people would be astounded if they knew the similarities between Southeast Turkish cuisine and Syrian cuisine, but that's another story.

Portugal has it's own Occupy Movement. So does Greece, and we Chapullers have to stand together. It's the 99 percent versus the one percent. Why does that matter, here?

If you look at who's not getting the guns--or missiles, or whatever--and who is, you'll soon note that it's not Obama and McCain and Assad and Cameron who are grabbing the AR-15's and gassing up the Humvees for the road to Damascus. Guess who is?

Here's what the One Percent wants: 

We need to be grateful to these actors for so ably portraying dead people

But the 99 percent are thinking more along these lines:

Again, we're working tirelessly to sort all this out. Meanwhile, if you would drop an email to our Fearless Leaders and tell them what you think, it might help. Maybe. 

Well, it could.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How to Have a Lobsterfest in the Rocky Mountains

The following are required for your Lobsterpalooza:


4 live Maine lobsters
1 functioning gas grill ( a charcoal one might work, but you're on your own here, Pal)
1 adult kid having a birthday, plus one sibling and their Mom
1-2 side dishes, such as corn-on-the-cob, rice, pilaf, French (or Freedom) fries, etc. We fixed suboise. A green salad is kind of nice, too.
1 to 1-1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted and mixed with four crushed cloves of garlic. This is in line with the Food Network and Julia Child's axiom that more butter generally improves anything. The butter is for dipping.
1 recipe of original Trader Dick's Mai-tais for all (recipe on request)
Why don't you go where fashion sits?

1 recipe of something else for those who don't like Mai-tais all that much
1 decent white wine, such as an oaky Chardonnay or, better yet, an Oregon Pinot Gris or California Fume Blanc. Or Pinot Noir, I guess.
1 really good California Zinfandel, preferably from Mendocino, but Sonoma will do. Amador County works, by the way. Or a Pinot Noir, I guess.
Extra wine in case you run out.


1. Engage the diners in a riveting discussion over Mai-tais. Rag on your boss, lie about your sales figures, blame Obama for something or whatever. When ice at bottom of glass appears to displace Mai-tai (or whatever is in the glass), light the grill.

2. Kill and bifurcate the lobsters. Bifurcate means cut in half, lengthwise. Well, to be precise, "bifurcate" doesn't connote lengthwise or horizontal, but just do it lengthwise, okay? And smack a good gash into each claw so the meat inside will cook (See below for how to store, kill, and bifurcate lobsters)

3 .Let the grill heat for 10-15 minutes. It's okay, and even good, to have soaked wood chips for 10-20 minutes to add smokiness, but if you forgot, WTH. If you remembered to soak some wood chips, place the metal box with wet chips on the grill. 

4. Pour the remaining Mai-tais to the now-excited diners.

5. In completing Step 4, do not overlook the chef nor those who may prefer cranberry juice, which goes well with vodka and Triple Sec.

6. Cooking the lobster: Baste each meaty side with the melted garlic butter and place flesh side down on the grill for about two minutes. Lower the heat and flip each lobster half so that the shell side is on the bottom. Cook another seven minutes or so, covered, until the lobster is done. If your grill is crowded, which it probably is, it may take longer than seven minutes, so don't go all batshit. The meat will be all creamy and yummy-looking when done.You'll have to shift the critters around, because it's kind of tricky to get the claw meat completely cooked without overcooking the rest.

Here is how it will look: 

A couple of assurances and warnings, here. First, I'd like to assure everyone that the lobsters starring in this post are (a) sustainably raised, (b) line-caught and (c) local. It's a little-known fact that Live Maine lobsters grow and flourish in a protected corner of La Poudre Pass Lake, the headwaters of the Colorado River, although you can only buy them in a store. But we are proud of these ethics, so if they disturb those of you on the far Republican Right,  you'll have to go to, hmm, well, I don't know. Someplace nice, like Redmond, WA, or maybe Martha's Vineyard. Palm Springs, I suppose, or anywhere in Florida. The video below may be inspiring, especially if you can manage to Photoshop in an American flag.

Second, to the Democratic Left: You need to know that the things we eat were, at some point, alive before someone, often an undocumented alien, killed them. This fact will be more disturbing the higher up the food chain you go. Live French wheat killed for Gray Goose is one thing--which, parenthetically and ironically, more Republicans can afford, but still. Point made.Terminating the life of a creature is, well, terminating the life of a creature. It's possible the lobsters in question were none to happy about the turn of events. Be aware that phone calls for comments were not returned. 

How to Store, Kill, Prepare and Bifurcate Lobsters

To store: Buy them the same day you plan to eat them, if possible. Store them in the refrigerator with some wet Rocky Mountain seaweed on top. If no seaweed is available, wet some newspapers and put that on top of the critters. Refrigeration really slows their metabolism, but they stay alive.

To kill the lobster: The first thing to do is find someone willing to act as Grand Executioner. Your Correspondent was perfectly willing to assume this task, but, alas, had to light the barbecue. The other diners, save one, scattered so fast you could play cards on their coattails. That left the sous chef to do the deed, and though it was his birthday, he took on the task with gusto. 

The second part is to locate a little T where the head and neck, if it had a neck, would join. Do not remove the rubber band from the claws, yet, as by now, the lobster is awake and kind of pissed off. Facing the lobster, take a French Chef knife and plunge it into the T, and pull the knife toward you with the blade cutting through the head between the eyes. The video below may be disturbing to the death-unawares, so if you're squeamish, don't watch it and settle for a review from Kenneth Turan or someone.

To bifurcate the lobster: Flip it over onto its back and, using the same French Chef knife, cut it in half lengthwise. You may have to employ the use of kitchen shears, depending on your strength and the quality of the French Chef knife. Be aware that during the execution and bifurcation process, lobster spoo will explode all over the kitchen, the sous chef and the interested bystanders, flavoring their remaining Mai-tais and making their eyeglasses a bit less useful.

Remove the stomach, intestines and all that kind of gross stuff. You will note some greenish yuck near the head. This is called the tomalley, which is some foreign language word for liver and pancreas. New Englanders consider this to be a delicacy and will use it for sauces, dips and soup base. But these organs also act as a filter and could be replete with pollutants. If there's some red stuff by the tail, it's a female lobster and that's the roe. Sushi lovers should be orgasmic at this discovery, and it can be used along with the tomalley. In any event, remove these before grilling and do what you will (recipes abound on the internet). You an also remove the rubber bands from the claws.

Serve each person one lobster and a ramekin of melted butter for dipping. The side dishes will have to go on another plate and may go uneaten, to a degree.

Bon appetitt!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The World's Shortest Short Story is Everyone's Story

"For sale, baby's shoes, never worn," goes the full text of a story attributed (no doubt aprocrophally) to Ernest Hemingway. It's often trotted out as the world's shortest story.

I found one I like better. I wrote it, but I didn't. Someone I knew said she did, but no, she didn't, either. Not that she lied, because in fact, she did write it. So did I. In fact, I don't think I know anyone who didn't write it. Here it goes:

"If only." 

There. I said it. That's the world's shortest story and I think it's everyone's story, at least everyone I know reasonably well.

Say it aloud, right now, to yourself. Nestle back in whatever you're sitting in, close your eyes, smile slightly and say it again, this time to yourself, and your story starts to develop. You know the beginning and maybe the middle. And the end?

Unless you're dead, you can still write that part. Heck, there's still a chance for some of the middle part.

The predicates to your If Only story can be divided in a few ways. The first is your being something completely and totally different than you are now, e.g., "If only I were gay (or straight, as the case may be), or "If only I were born in 1847," or whatever. Like that.

Next is fantasizing about something you might have been, as in, "If only were good at sports," or somesuch. Sometimes, I think how much better I'd be if only I had more money. Money can't buy happiness, but it can sure buy a lot of fresh orange juice, which is good with tequila. Still, imagining a life as, say, a Broadway diva, or even a forest ranger, is another dimension of one's If Only story.

But that's the easy stuff. The hard part is facing the way you are. Then, your story would go, "If only I stood up for myself," or "If only I weren't so stubborn," or "If only I could stop worrying whether or not people like me."

People's personalities are a mysterious amalgam of the full monty of human emotions and motivations--search for affection and willingness to offer it, kindness, selfishness, sense of responsibility, people-pleaserness, assholeness, whatever. A big part of mine is a subset of people-pleasiosity: I'm anal about getting something right no matter the stakes, about executing tasks so well that it's often overkill.
Sheesh already!

A few nights ago at an HOA board meeting (stay with me, here), our property manager presented several blacktop repair bids. One of the bidders specified use of "hot mix asphalt," to which the property manager said, parenthetically, "whatever that is." I could never have done what she did--present a choice where one option contained a specification the others did not, and then, not know what the spec was.

 In the case of the blacktop repair, I would not only have found out what hot mix was, but I'd have stayed up past midnight, if necessary, to understand its quality and what the alternatives were, and then making sure every other bidder included all options before offering up the bids to the board.

For a minor repair? Most people would have blown that one off in three seconds. I can't do that. If Only I weren't so obsessive about issues of little consequence.

A very close friend, a Geologist/Palentogist PhD., Oxford fellow, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregon who was working on the Mars lander last time I checked in, told me, once, that he was so nervous about lecturing even to undergraduates that he would sweat himself into a frenzy. He'd prepare two or three times as much material as he'd need. It's nice to be in such exalted company, I suppose. But still.

Over and over, like ripples on a sunrise lake overtaking one another as they touch the shore, I meditate on what good that particular quirk has gotten me. The fact is, not much. Most times, nobody cares about the extra effort. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they're even grateful. But even gratitude can be anticlimatic.

In the case of my personal If Only, the story, the novel, or the movie of my life (where I'm played by Jason Robards or Donald Sutherland), I wonder how things might have turned out without this perfectionist streak, how different my life's plot would have unfolded, if I'd have figured it all out, somehow--whatever "it" is. After all, an anal insistence on perfection can be more about fending off personal rejection than about being a nice guy.

Truth be told, it is often just avoiding not just failure, but the mere possibility of failure, and if you avoid the possibility of failure, you pass up opportunities. You always take the safe road. And at some point, you'll look back and suspect you're not where you could have been, as though you're in a foreign country with a strange alphabet on the street signs. And everyone else but you is getting along just fine.

And that's how an If Only story--mine, in this case--begins.

Or a chapter in an If Only novel, maybe, because really, no one is one thing, and one alone.  Everyone's persona is a tapestry, and every weft and weave is another chapter. "Often, when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of
You are too, Baby!
something else," said Mister Rogers.

And I delude myself, sometimes, into thinking I'll change, but the data indicates otherwise. Several weeks ago, a couple of board members and the Executive Director for a local housing nonprofit contacted me for ideas. It had a failing business model, and its woes had been exacerbated by the Great Recession. The brief email idea I'd intended to send turned into a fairly discursive proposal utilizing "green" construction and foreclosure-related issues--two areas near and dear to me and concurrent with the group's goals--as well as funding sources and achievable goals going forward. The whole thing made me kind of giddy.

Except I didn't hear back from anyone for weeks. Not even a receipt acknowledgement. Then, I got a thanks-but-no-thanks, we-got-an-unexpected-grant email. So it goes, c'est la vie, and goodbye to all that. Had I missed something? Was something in their original subtext that should have signaled me to stay simple?

Where do I wish I were? That's a topic for another post, but I'll let it go by saying I'm not there. And the fault is not in the stars. Well, not entirely, anyway. If Only...

Anyway. Enough of these margin scribbles in my If Only story. That's mine. What's yours? I'm very interested, and I'm totally serious about that.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Awesomeness of It All

"Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood"
Sometimes I wish I were older so I could look forward to dying sooner. Other times, I wish I were unborn. Most times, I wish I were much, much younger than I am (I'm 65). I guess it all balances out, but that's another story and maybe it belongs to someone else.

"May you live in interesting times" is the so-called "Chinese curse," probably apocryphally.

Anyway. I'm still at that point where I'm not sure what this post is about. It was supposed to be apropos of an earlier post. Maybe a sequel. Maybe a clarification.

Maybe it has to do with change. I just found out there were 38 synonyms for "regret" but only three antonyms, which says, really, quite a bit about change, or at least how I, and, I think, most others, view change, as in the existential life kind. Contemplate change, and 39 voices will whisper you into the bottom of a wine bottle before you catch your breath.

Or so it seems. From the time I could read, I knew I wanted to write, but I never did. I never made the decision not to, I just didn't do it. Why? Hmm. I'm pretty sure I thought I would tackle writing right after I finished whatever it was I was doing at the time. I never looked at any work I ever did as anything more than temporary, a way to fill in the spaces and be *responsible.*

It had to have been a midlife crisis in my late thirties that propelled me into San Francisco State's creative writing program and a degree at age forty. But I also rationalized the hell out of it to myself. The likelihood of making a living from writing was pretty remote, especially starting out at middle age. 

I told myself that no matter what, at some point I'd be old, and if the Grim Reaper were knocking at the door, I would much rather have tried and failed than to have given up altogether. And that choice has made all the difference. You can hear the 39 voices telling you "no," or you can hear the one that says, "Why not?"

And sometimes, it helps to read the whole Robert Frost poem:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.