Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Green Day

I’ve been listening to Green Day’s “American Idiot” practically nonstop these days. It’s sort of embarrassing, being an old guy and all. I ought to be digging on Coltrane or Mahler or something, but instead, I’m rocking out to post-punk anthems from a trio whose fan base is mostly a generation younger than me. So be it.

What’s more embarrassing, I think, is just how taken I am with such an unabashed piece of pop culture. It’s not like I’m fawning over Jessica Simpson or Clay Aiken (whoever they are) but in liking this Green Day album so much, I’m joining the ranks of millions and millions of fans who have pushed this record to near the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. Usually my tastes run to the far more esoteric. In fact, I have long maintained an inversely proportional relationship between how popular a band is and how much a fan of them I’ll let myself be. When REM, for instance, was a “cult” band, I liked them a lot; as soon as they became MTV stars, they fell out of my heavy rotation.

Sure this is snobbery, but it’s of a fairly harmless sort. I’m clearly not hurting anyone in having such an attitude. Well, perhaps I could be hurting myself in some small way—cutting myself off from the chance to enjoy something popular—but that’s hardly reason to disapprobate my behavior.

Anyway, “American Idiot” is great. For some strange reason, the song “The Waiting” brings tears to my eyes. “Are we we are the waiting unknown.” Yeah!

I’m going to try to get tickets to Green Day’s upcoming show at of all places, the Everett Events Center in Everett, Washington. There I’ll be with hundreds of other fans, pumping my fist in the air and singing along. Just don’t for a moment imagine it I’m doing it in the same spirit as all those kids. I’m doing it my way, unique and special.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Good Luck

Today at the bus stop, I meant a man who said he was 95 years old. That’s just about twice my age. Despite the milkiness of his pale blue eyes and the gnarliness of his arthritic hands, he seemed in pretty good shape. Great shape, actually, considering. I wish I would have gotten his name; for now, I’ll just call him “Pops.”

Pops said that the secret to his longetivity was that he worked outdoors most of his life. “I was a carpenter; I worked on boats; I got a lot of fresh air. I don’t understand these stenographers,” he continued. “They sit all day long hunched over a desk inside. No wonder they get big backsides.”

“I was born in 1909, in Ballard. It was a small town then. Small towns are great. People are kinder,” he said, voicing a view not uncommon to folks of his generation. But he wasn’t a luddite; “We need this monorail,” he argued. “That’s progress. That’s the future.”

I asked him what he did with his days these days. “I get up at 4:00 in the morning, and I keep the ball rolling all day until I got to bed about 9:00. That’s what keeps me healthy, doing things.”

His opening gambit to me was to ask how many miles I typically got out of my bicycle tires. “I was just wondering,” he explained.

I hope I’m still wondering about things at 95.

Pops would have been my age in 1957, the year I was born. 47 years from now seems a lot farther away then does 47 years ago. I wonder what I’ll say to someone my age in the year 2051. I wonder if there will even be bikes around to have tires to wonder about.

Pops said that he had always had good luck. And he wished me “real good luck” when I got on the bus. I think I already had good luck today meeting him.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Wasting Money

So it turns out I can’t use my non-refundable roundtrip airline tickets from Seattle to Albuquerque. That’s $234.00 down the drain. This to go along with the ninety bucks I recently spent on a pair of pants I’ll never wear and the fifty cents I wasted on a non-working “laser glow” ring from the gumball machine at the supermarket. Money seems to be slipping through my fingers with alarming regularity these days and I’m not exactly sure what that means. Am I to be a conduit for the passing on of funds to those who need and/or desire them more than me? Or do I just have a hole in the proverbial pocket of my pants?

What burns me is not the money itself; it’s the lost alternatives. That $234.00 could have gotten me an awesome lighting system for my bike, one I never would buy because it’s way too expensive. I could have donated that ninety bucks to a community organization that’s been pestering me for years to help them out. I could have given the fifty cents to my daughter so she could waste it herself in a machine of her own choosing.

What this reveals to me again, though, is my tendency to get all exercised about things that don’t exist. Why should I be bummed that I don’t have $234.00 to spend on something I wouldn’t have spent it on anyway? And it seems strange to fret about not having the money to spend when I’d already spent it, doesn’t it?

If I had $234.00 in my wallet and lost it, I’d feel awful, but I’d least I could find some solace in thinking about how happy the person who found it would be. Perhaps I can take similar comfort in the knowledge that executives at Travelocity are smiling at my small contribution to their bottom line.

Maybe then, if I can see this as the price of my education, I’ll feel okay.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Male Blonding

Some years ago, my dearest friend, Harley Rees, sponsored an event he called “Male Blonding,” in which he and a bunch of his buddies watched football and had their hair dyed blond by a professional stylist. After everyone was all bleached out and liquored up, they all—half a dozen or so guys—took over a dance club and partied the night away. Now, that’s what I call a good time.

Of late, I’ve had occasion to recreate at least the first part of that event. On Sunday last, I sat in front of the TV cheering on my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers while Jen graciously applied three applications of Clairol whitening products to turn my salt and pepper hair into pure—if slightly orange—salt.

What is with this urge to change my hair color? A desire to look younger? A need to feel I can still do wild and crazy things to myself? An ambition to imbibe carcinogenic chemicals through my scalp? No doubt all of these figure into the equation, but I would say the main reason is a big “Why the fuck not?”

I spend far too much time doing things that—I, at least, believe—have a particular point. I develop syllabi and classes to teach students. I brush and floss to maintain dental hygiene. I feed the dog so she won’t chew up all my shoes. Rarely, though, do I do many things just for the hell of it. I spend most of my time doing things for a reason; I’ve dyed my hair basically because I can’t think of any reason not to.

Now, this explanation is probably a cop-out. If I thought more carefully about it or was more honest with myself, I’d realize and admit that there is a reason and it no doubt has something to do with my ongoing mini mid-life crisis. But I’d need a good reason to explore that possibility and frankly I have none.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

End of Summer

Summer officially ends today; tomorrow my contract starts and I’m back at school every day. I’m about as ready for this as was the Bush administration for post-war reconstruction in Iraq. Fortunately though, I’m not in charge of Cascadia Community College’s infrastructure; students, unlike Iraqi citizens, will at least—in spite of my lack of preparation—have access to electric lights and flushing toilets.

There are two problems with having 3 months off in the summer. The first is that you don’t have four, or even six. Hell, why not twelve? Second, the re-entry sucks. Just about the time a person gets used to oversleeping and reading trashy novels, he has to gear up for shaving everyday and wearing long pants.

I realize, of course, that I can’t go on being an unproductive member of society forever; sooner or later, I’ve got to do my part to help train the next generation of corporate wage slaves for cubicle occupancy in the coming years. I just wish there were a way to do this that didn’t require me to be presentable before noon any day of the week.

Yes, I’m lazy and self-centered, but during the summer, that doesn’t matter. In fact, my personal failings lend themselves to my ongoing enjoyment of the season. It’s only when I’m faced with the prospect of having to do things—and more to the point, do them for the benefit of others—that my default personality creates any problems.

I probably should have taken the day off today, although when one isn’t working, it’s difficult to determine exactly what that entails. Perhaps when one isn’t doing anything, doing something should count as a kind of respite. If that’s the case, then, I could see my return to work tomorrow as a different kind of vacation—a sort of vacation from my vacation. If so, I should be delighted to start up again…and I would be, if it weren’t so much work.

Monday, September 13, 2004


I’m bummed out about being bummed out, worried about being worried, and fed up with being fed up. All my feelings have feelings attached to them and those feelings make me feel weird about what I’m feeling.

I’ve said all this before and I mean it again. The same thoughts bedevil me once more and keep me awake when I can’t sleep. What I mean is what I mean; I am what I am; and all this talk is just so many words.

I keep thinking that I had thought this all through. I remember when I used to remember what it was all about. That was around the same time I had that dream that I was dreaming.

I look in the mirror and see an image of myself looking in the mirror. The front and back of my head extends off into infinity, but my face is always in the way when I try to see beyond.

The snake is eating its tail and the fire consumes itself. I don’t like that I don’t like this, though I certainly love what I love.

I wonder what I wonder about but I’m sure that I’m certain about everything about which I have no doubts. That, however is a vanishingly small set of things whose membership includes only those things not included in the set.

I don’t know what I’m talking about here and I can’t understand a word that I’m saying. I only laugh at things that are laughable and only tear-jerkers make me cry.

All the pain that I feel hurts; every place that I’m tickled is ticklish. When I have an itch it’s because it itches. Every scratch on my body is somewhere I’ve been scratched.

The reason this essay makes you sleepy is because of its dormative powers. The explanation that explains why you are bored is that it’s boring.

This piece began at the beginning; it ends right here at the end.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Ten to Thirty Thousand

My mom died in July of lung cancer brought on, in no small part, by some sixty-plus years of smoking. So, in addition to the grief I feel over her death, I also feel a powerful animosity towards cigarette makers, purveyors, and advertisers. I hate them, in fact. They all helped kill my mom.

And this is keeping in mind that my mom died a 79 year-old woman who had had a great life and who basically, was ready to call it a day. And who smoked willingly, by her own volition, aware of the dangers, with no gun held to her head. Yet her death—a single death—is enough to make me an enemy for life to all those individuals and corporations involved in the manufacture and sale of the cigarettes that—admittedly, only indirectly—killed her.

If I had a chance to sucker punch the president of Philip Morris, I would.

I try to imagine, therefore, how it must feel to be an Iraqi citizen who has lost a loved one as a result of the current war. I think of how much I would hate all those responsible for his or her death.

And what if the person who was killed wasn’t—unlike my mom—pretty much ready to go? What if she were my daughter or my wife or my best friend? What if—as would certainly be the case—their death, unlike my mom’s, wasn’t brought on by something they willingly did? What if their death had nothing to do with choices they made? What if, in fact, they were doing everything they could to avoid the very thing that killed them?

And what if, unlike my mom, it wasn’t merely a single death? What if it were somewhere between ten and thirty thousand deaths? I can only imagine how much hate I would feel.

If I had a chance to sucker punch the President of the United States, I would.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


If I’m to be held accountable for everything I did or didn’t do during the Vietnam war, then, basically, I’m fucked. First, I’d have to explain why I was such a big fan of the “progressive rock” band Uriah Heep. Second, I’d need to justify why I purposely spilled orange drink on Alexandra Scoulas during the end-of-year party for our 6th grade art class. And third, I’d need to reconcile my solid opposition to the war with my simultaneous and seemingly contradictory desire to acquire as many GI Joe dolls as I could.

Point being: what I did or didn’t do thirty-some years ago is just that—it’s what I did or didn’t do some thirty years ago. And while this may offer insight into my current character, it no more tells the complete story of who I now am than does the fact that I wore paisley bell-bottoms every day in 1968 predict my current preference for wool straight-legs.

I’m sure George W. Bush was a callow and spoiled scion of the upper classes who did everything he could to do as little as possible in fulfilling his commitment to service in the National Guard. And no doubt John Kerry was a calculating self-promoter who oversold his achievements on the battlefield in order to win support for his future political and social ambitions.

But you know what? So what! All that happened almost four decades ago and as far as I’m concerned, the statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions is long since passed.

If people want to find something upon which to oppose Kerry, they needn’t travel back in time to the 1970s; it was just a couple of years ago, for instance, that he voted to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq.

And if people want to find something upon which to oppose Bush, all they have to do is head back a few seconds to the last time he said or did anything.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Second Grade

Today, we took our daughter Mimi to her first day of second grade…only to discover that school doesn’t start until tomorrow. So, she did learn something after all—not that she didn’t already have an inkling that her parents are a couple of space cases.

I know that there is much she will come to understand in the coming year—and I’m certain much of it will confirm her already jaundiced perspective on her mom and dad. I suppose it’s inevitable that she will come to doubt the wisdom of her dad, in particular. Especially when she learns, as I expect do most second graders, that the capital cursive “G” is not identical to the capital “Q.”

My own second grade experience was pretty educational. Along with learning the state capitals, I also found out that if I held Pam Mayer’s hand in just the right way, I would get a strange buzzing sound happening right behind my eyes. While this wasn’t a required component of our curriculum, I do feel as if this information served me in far greater staid than knowing whether Pierre was the capital of North or South Dakota.

Second grade was a place of great triumph and spectacular failure for me. I went the entire year without spelling a word wrong on any spelling test—until the second to last weekly quiz, when I was tripped up by the word “heart.” (Marking the first of many subsequent times when matters of the heart caused me to stumble.) Mrs. McConnan insisted that “hart” was an incorrect rendering of the word. (I tried to argue that I was spelling the term for a male deer, to no avail.)

So, as my daughter enters the second of her next 18 or 20 years of schooling, it’s inevitable that I should feel a certain connection with my own educational history. Which I guess explains why I’m currently getting that strange buzzing sound right behind my eyes.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


The future doesn’t even exist, so how can it hurt me? Nevertheless, I regularly fear what tomorrow or the days after may bring.

It seems strange to be afraid of mere possibilities, but there you have it. What might or might not happen causes me far more concern than what did or didn’t.

Now, I realize that what I take to be the future is merely a collection of possibilities arranged by my mind; it says a lot more about my own subjective experience of the world than the world itself. Worrying about it then, is like worrying about whether the characters in a story that I’m making up are going to live happily ever after. Presumably, I can make it come out however I want, so what’s to fret about?

In spite of knowing this, however, I still find myself lying awake at night worrying about what may or may not come to pass, none of which may come to pass, anyhow.

I used to spend hours stressing about what I would do with my millions if I won the lottery. I could work myself up into a real lather over how I’d managed to squander it all on parties and vintage bicycles—and I hadn’t even won! As ridiculous as that seems, how is it really any different than getting all bent out of shape over what’s going to happen if I do or don’t do what I might or might not as a result of what could or couldn’t occur?

I’m not opposed to planning; it makes sense to consider options and have strategies for responding, but I should see these plans as so much fantasy, like imagining what I would do if I were king of the world. (First thing: ban those motorized scooters!)

For now, though, I’m going to try to live more in the present moment; and if I start to be concerned about the future, I’ll worry about that tomorrow.