Thursday, November 15, 2007

The best is yet to come

I have a great blog topic, a fabulous one, but it will have to wait for a while. Instead I’ll have to pen a few random thoughts and be satisfied with that for now.

1. On Sunday I stopped at the gas station. As I was pumping gas a car pulled up on the other side of my pump. The driver caught my attention as he exited the vehicle. I didn’t see him, I heard him, and all it took was three words to get my attention: “Suck my balls.”

I leaned over just a bit, as I had to sneak a peek at the driver. When I did, I noticed that there was a woman sitting in the passenger’s seat of the car. I assume he was speaking to her. The tone of his comment wasn’t the least bit jovial. It’s not as if he was saying, “You want to go home, get drunk and have sex? Oh, suck my balls!”

I immediately wondered why this woman was with a guy who spoke to her like that. (I assume she was a wife or girlfriend.) What a way to live. I don’t know much about domestic abuse, but I know that in some cases it’s not that easy to get out of an abusive relationship, for one reason or another. Or perhaps she was perfectly happy with her relationship, what do I know?

Immediately after the dude was done telling, presumably, the woman to suck his balls, I heard him say something like, “If you f---ing touch that I will kill you.” Was he talking to the woman? Nope, he had opened the back door of the car. A young girl, probably 3 or 4, emerged from the car and must have spotted something on the ground that aroused her curiosity. So she was impolitely warned not to touch it. That made me sad.

This young girl was quite use to such treatment, evidently. She didn’t seem phased by the threatening tone, she simply responded by asking a question.

I couldn’t help but wonder, in retrospect, which will happen first: she’ll be pregnant; she’ll develop a drug problem, she’ll end up in juvenile detention. I can’t imagine this poor girl is going to grow up to be a successful, happy high school graduate.

Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I don’t think so.

2. My cousin was showing some of her jewelry in an arts show earlier this evening. The show features artistic items of all sorts, from pictures and paintings to pottery and jewelry. My cousin has been a jewelry designer for several years, so it wasn’t a surprise she was showing a few pieces of her work.

What surprised me is the fact that she teaches a jewelry design class at the arts center that hosted this show/sale. It’s not surprising that she teaches her skill, what surprised me is that she has been teaching at the arts center for six years. She teaches one night a week, it’s not her regular job, but somehow I never had a clue.

It makes me wonder if I’m really that out of the loop regarding my extended family or if it’s simply dumb luck that the topic never came up in any conversation I’ve been a part of. Or perhaps I knew this once, and I’m simply a victim of my bad memory.

Whatever the case, I have to believe several of my relatives were invited to the show. I’m not on a short list of relatives to invite, that much I know. And although I wasn’t there for a majority of the show, I was there for a while, and as far as I know I was one of two relatives who made an appearance. The other was my uncle, my cousin’s father.

A Thursday night arts show in the far west metro isn’t the easiest thing for everyone to squeeze into their schedule, but I managed to do so. Not bad for a guy who gets a bum rap for not being more involved with his family.

3. Two weeks ago tonight I was sick. Since then I have been congested. It has been worse, not better, in the past few days, so I went to see the doctor today. He determined I have a sinus infection. I’m not sure I’ve ever had one, at least not one that has been diagnosed. Now I get to take amoxicillin for 10 days.

I was highly unimpressed with the service from the pharmacy of my local Target. I don’t think I’m going back there for my next prescription, but they put my pills in the cutest little red bottle. And at least I had an excuse to buy more bottles of 9-cent mustard!

4. I’m having another bonfire on Friday night. It’ll be me, Doug and perhaps one of his friends I’ve never met. It’s not a social event, it’s just an excuse to enjoy a crisp autumn evening, a few drinks and burn a few more cards and letters from my past. At the rate I’m going I’ll be having a bonfire every weekend for the next six months before I finally sort through all my stuff.

I may be slow, but I know that once the ball gets rolling, that fire is going to burn out of control.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And I like it

I'm not going to start posting links to cheesy 80s songs, but I can't stop listening to this song at work.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The bonfire of my vanity

So on Saturday afternoon I had a bonfire.

I had the bonfire for a few reasons. Initially it was intended to be a ritualistic burning of the past 30-plus years of my life. I’m not going to burn everything I own, but I have to get rid of stuff, stuff that I don’t need, and more importantly, I don’t want.

But I can’t burn it all. I have far too many baseball cards to just throw away, even if collectively they’re not worth a hell of a lot. But I couldn’t care less about 99 percent of them. If I kept just a few cards from the entire collection, I’d be happy. The same goes for the years worth of comic books I collected.

Collecting baseball cards and comic books kept me from developing a teenage drug habit, I argue, but in the end all I have is a lot of dead weight I’ve been hauling around for years. I’m not going to burn my collections, but I’m going to find a way to get rid of them this winter, one way or another.

As a kid I loved collecting crap. As an adult I hate it. I’d love nothing more than to have a lot of space and a lot of disposable income to collect all sorts of cool stuff, but I don’t have either, so perhaps that’s part of the reason I lost a lot of my appetite for collecting. I’m not the same person I was as a teenager. Hell, I’m not the same person I was five years ago, for better or for worse. (I’d like to think I’m on a road for the better, but the jury is still out.)

There are a lot of things I don’t need any more. I have several shoe boxes full of old cards and letters. Somehow I was convinced I couldn’t throw away those generic birthday cards my relatives signed on an annual basis. There was sentiment in them, after all. But somewhere along the line I realized that the burden of keeping generic Christmas cards outweighed, literally, the sentiment behind them. It was time to move on. I’m living for the future, not the past, after all. I can’t hold onto everything from my past, otherwise I’ll be burdened with it in the future.

Some day I may be old and tired, longing for memories of my youth, wishing I had held onto all those cards and letters, all the comic books of my youth. But I hope that day never comes. I hope I’ll be able to keep making memories rather than be relegated to living through them. Sure it’s nice to look back at pictures of friends and family, but I don’t need pictures to remind me of my adventures bicycling the MS 150, I need the energy to keep doing it year after year. And if the day comes that I cannot bicycle 150 miles during the second weekend of June then I hope I’ll be doing other things to enjoy life, not sitting around reminiscing about what I did in my youth.

Although I didn’t sort through all of the old shoe boxes prior to the bonfire, I sorted through about half of the collection. I kept a small stack of correspondence from my closest friends, including my childhood friend in Indiana, whom I hear from once a year. I ditched short notes from my grandmother in Chicago, including one with a racist comment in it. (Grandma spent her entire life on the south side of Chicago, long before there were “civil rights.”) I got rid of almost every birthday/holiday card I was given. I burned letters from grade school and college friends I have completely lost contact with. I burned letters from people I struggled to remember.

I glanced at some, I read a few, I disposed of most of them. In some cases all I had to do was see the return address and I knew it was going right in the burn pile. I read a few of those forgotten missives before they went into the fire, but I had no regret about burning them. I burned cards and letters from the early 1980s, stuff I hadn’t looked at since that time. And what little of it I did look at did little for me. Sure I may have jogged a memory or two by reading all those old cards and letters, but I have plenty of memories as it is. I’m more interested in making new memories, not reliving the memories of the past.

I also burned a few other things that I have been hauling around in boxes for years, but I have a long way to go. I have a collection of newspapers from my first professional job, all 14 months worth. I’m going to go through them some afternoon soon and find the most memorable and amusing articles from that point in my life, clip them out and recycle the scraps.

I have copies of miscellaneous newspapers I have collected from over the years, newspapers from cities around the country. I have newspapers from random states I have visited because I always thought it was cool to compare and contrast the newspapers of yesteryear. It still is, but I no longer have the interest or space to hold onto copies of the Houston Chronicle or the Orlando Sentinel from 10 or 15 years ago. That collection of newspapers, some probably 25 years old, will be offered via Craig’s List to a new owner. Somebody out there will want them, and I’d like to see them find a better home than the recycling bin.

Other things aren’t likely to have any value to anyone else, and will end up in a future bonfire if necessary. I’m not getting rid of everything. I still need my bicycling and camping equipment. I still want my Halloween decorations, even if I didn’t get to use them this year. But it’s time to stop pretending I’m going to play broomball again. It’s time to stop pretending I’m going to really learn how to ice skate. That equipment has to go, one way or another.

It’s hard to let go, but it is harder to hold onto the past.

'Cause yesterday's got nothin' for me, old pictures that I'll always see. Time just fades the pages in my book of memories. – from “Yesterdays” by Guns ‘n’ Roses

So although I didn’t burn as much as I would have liked, I started, symbolically, to sever ties with my past.

But simply having a bonfire to burn a few faded memories wasn’t enough. I had to make it an event of some sort, so I turned the bonfire into a social gathering.

Since my apartment is too small to host a social gathering I took advantage of the bonfire as a way to gather a few friends from the various circles of my life. I’m not sure what inspired me, but I realized that because many of my friends have children it’s not easy to have a social gathering unless the children are involved. So I invited friends with children to join me for an afternoon of gathering around a pile of burning wood, with the occasional memory tossed in for fun.

I had juice boxes, Halloween candy and smores for the kids, a rather simple activity with prizes and a complimentary bottle of mustard for each family. Children ranging from 5 months to 11 years old attended, along with their parents, for a few hours of socializing. The kids created their own fun, thanks to the random stuff they found in my landlord’s vacant lot next to his house, and only one child ended up crying. I think I ended up with 11 children making an appearance that afternoon.

I was busy making smores, helping kids find miniature flying discs hidden in the trees and, occasionally, chatting with the parents. Three hours were over before I knew it.

The event started out as a way to burn off a lot of excess crap I don’t need. It turned out to be a social gathering for several of my friends. As I’ve said before, my friends mean the most to me in this day and age, and I hope that Saturday afternoon’s social gathering will serve as a reminder of that fact as I continue to sift through boxes of crap I haven’t touched in years.

But until then I’m content with the thought I had as I reflected upon the day that was in my crappy old bed late Saturday night: I am a great guy. And obviously humble, too.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

58 is enough

Sometimes I think I’d be happy to die at age 58.

Chip and I have talked about this a few times, and neither of us came up with enough reasons why we’d want to live to be 88 years old. (Ironically I once thought I wanted to live to be 107 years old.)

Disease and illness is a part of life for the senior population. Nobody lives to 75 without health problems. If you can get to 58 without cancer or a nasty disease, you’re lucky. What are the odds you will dodge those bullets for another 10 years?

By the time you’re 58 you’ve already been through something, most likely. And even if you’re in good shape, doctors will be probing your prostate and putting you through other uncomfortable tests. At that point it’s only a matter of time.

People can still live healthy, productive lives when they reach 70, but no matter how well you treat your body, old age is going to take its toll. Sure, I’ll still have hair if I’m alive when I’m 77, but I’ll have old man skin, breasts comparable in size to that of a high school girl, although not nearly as perky, and a collection of disposable diapers for those moments when the old man’s body has an involuntary spasm. Ooooh, sign me up for that program!

And let’s be honest, there’s a reason they don’t have strip clubs featuring dancers over 40. You may be old, but if you’re not dead chances are a near-naked 21-year-old at the shopping mall is going to register the last sign of life below the Mason-Dixon Line, not the 75-year-old widow eating prune pudding for dessert at the senior center lunch program.

There’s nothing I want more than to be some cranky old man watching young hotties flaunt their bodies, reminding me my best years are long gone. Chances are I’m not going to be as successful as J. Howard Marshall, so there’s not going to be an Anna Nicole Smith to feed me pureed meals in my old age.

In a perfect world a 58-year-old guy will have a wife to grow old with, enjoy the sunsets with, discuss colonoscopy results with and perhaps visit grandchildren with. Last I checked the world isn’t perfect.

When the last pope, JP2, died he was 84. I was 34 at the time. The thought of another 50 years of life held little appeal to me, especially if my final years are comparable to JP2’s final years. That guy knocked on heaven’s door seemingly every other year, yet repeatedly managed to rebound. I was sure that guy was going to live another five years when he finally cashed in the communion wafers.

But the thought of another 50 years, oy ve! I wasn’t sure I had the energy for another 34 years, let alone 50.

I think it was at that point I determined 58 was a decent age. You start to become an old man, but if you take decent care of yourself, you’ll be OK. David Letterman reminded me of that not so long ago. When I realized he was 60 and looked decent for his age, 58 seemed about right.

If you can dodge a lot of significant health problems by 58, you’ve had a good run, and chances are the odds will catch up with you beyond that point. And if you’ve had more than your share of health issues at that point, chances are you’re not going to be magically healthy beyond that point, so there’s not a lot of reason to hold on.

While I have thought about this far too much, it’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not going to take a flying leap off the Golden Gate Bridge on my 59th birthday. It’s not up to me to decide.

While I agree that life is too short, unlike an aging athlete trying to hang on in the 59th minute of his playing career, if I make the most of the time I have on this planet, would I complain if I go out with a little left in the tank? Well no, I’d be dead, how could I?