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Thinking about going away takes me quickly to contemplation about which of my daily rituals will get modified or put on hold while I'm in Montana.
For my daily 100words, I have my PDA, which I love. After eight months of the practice (I did two warm-up months), I consider my daily writing an indispensable act of centering and focus.
But my "Palm Pilot" also serves as alarm clock, calculator, dictionary, address book, and, most insidious of all, a list keeper.
It's a dubious act of release to be carrying an exhaustive list of task reminders on a wilderness vacation.
We were set to bomb the heck out of the cars and trucks on the fast two-lane outside of our neighborhood in Wiesbaden. My two pals were baseball pitchers, so I was the weak stick of the group.
We hid among the trees with our snowballs, waiting for "appropriate" targets.
The escape route behind us was a chute of snow down the steep hillside back into Aukumm, the officers' family housing area for Headquarters US Air Force, Europe (USAFE). We were fourteen, looking for thrills.
We got a pretty good thrill when three burly German workmen took up the chase.
I got stuck with nursery duty this morning.
Twelve years of regular church attendance is a lot for a heathen like myself, but I never thought that it would lead to this.
These two boys are cute, which is saying something when you consider how completely hideous their parents are. Nice people, but if you had to pick the vitamin-deficiency cases out of the line-up, this couple would be your first pick.
The kids were pretty low maintenance for a while, but the little one took a spill, and now he's only happy when he's sitting in my lap, mewling.
I am pleased with my children.
I like them a hell of a lot better than I like anybody else's kids, for sure.
I am quite mystified and frustrated, however, in how difficult it is as a parent to change a behavior or trait in one's child. Even if you start as soon as you recognize a pattern developing, it already seems to be too late.
I get the same feeling when the roto-tiller gets away from me, and rather than creating neat little garden rows, I'm just hanging on for a wild ride up into the hedgerows.
I could hear myself talking, like I was disembodied, and if I had it to do over again, I would have reached across and throttled me before I could say any more.
I was engaged in a gossip frenzy, and it rang poorly in my ears, but it was like I had taken a few bites of Chocolate Decadence and there was no stopping me. It was too delicious, the words spilling out like liquid, and the telling getting a little more eloquent and entertaining at each repetition.
But I went home with the taste of remorse in my mouth.
I'm wrong for this job.
I pay some occasional lip-service to following a spiritual path, but I am so not.
I'm slated to lead a group discussion on the subject "Encouragement to Spiritual Growth". So I've bent my mind to the task, and I have come to some preliminary conclusions.
Creating or finding your own spiritual path requires time and a commitment to the pursuit.
Following an established religion takes advantage of countless years of cumulative wisdom and proven practices. One pays the price through dogmas that discount the individual and through superstitions that mitigate the value of said wisdom.
We leave on Saturday for some fly fishing in Montana followed by sightseeing in Yellowstone National Park. Or as I've taken to saying lately, "The Yellowstone." Don't ask me why. I've never been there, but by calling it "The Yellowstone," I seem to be implying some familiar relationship that imparts some "Yellowstone-ness" to me. Never having had any amount of Rocky Mountain aspect to my persona, perhaps my subconscious is trying it on like a fashion accessory.
I spent some time on the internet researching the area, so I'm a virtual expert, or more precisely an expert on the virtual.
My first librarian kept reading from the same page. "Every time I'm with you, you run into a long lost friend."
It was nearly true.
First there was Abby on New Year's Eve, and we hugged and screamed and praised our respective gods for the wild coincidence that brought us back together.
Then there was the double-date, where I knew the other girl from high school in Virginia, after what seemed like the impossibly long span of six years.
If I had stayed with Marge, there's just no telling how many old friends I'd have run into over the years.
Irene Kai. Can you hear me? The unrealized artist within me pines for your searing validation of talent laid dormant, for the bridge to the bohemian world that I still crave, for the daring way of living (of course, every day back then burned with the heat of living on the edge), for the exotica and erotica and esoterica, the exuberance, the uncertainty, the urbanity.
Every memory of our nexus says, "It could have been…" It could have been a life of graphic design, of undiscovered mediocrity, of gut-wrenching anxiety from looming deadlines, of dwelling amidst talents beyond my ken.
I looked out upon the unfamiliar Montana landscape in the breaking light and I thought of the veldts of Africa.
I nearly believed it.
The drive yesterday exposed us to scenery that redefined our relationship with the visual world. The scale of the mountains and the vistas without size references had us making wildly different guesses about how far away things were.
The land here reveals the massive forces that were required to create it.
We atheists try to refrain from using "the hand of God," but one can see how easily that characterization would come to a believer's mind.
I was looking up old Frank Zappa lyrics following a discussion I'd had with a friend from work when I saw the term "corn-hole" in print perhaps for the first time in my life.
I knew the term, though. I'd learned it from my evil benefactor and ersatz friend, Buddy Fisher.
Buddy literally had to draw a picture for me in order to explain the meaning, but after thirty-seven years I can still see that crude pornography dancing behind my eyeballs as plain as yesterday.
That, and the fractured gleam in Buddy's eye as he betrayed his "old" best friend.
These guys actually look forward to this all year. They save their money and allocate their vacation time, leave their families behind, and spend weeks planning and organizing.
The reward they lust for, and the experience I signed up to share (it's for my Dad that I made this happen - for the joy that it would bring him to know that he won't live out his days having never gone fly-fishing in Montana) is the frisson of the Rainbow on the hook, carefully playing the line to bring the fish home on a filament as fine as a hair.
Dad and I spent all day yesterday driving across Mars.
Or it may has well have been. The scenery changed continuously and dramatically on our trip from the Bighorn River, across the Crow Indian Reservation, over Beartooth Pass, and into and across Yellowstone Park.
Each curve in the road evoked exultant awe, and had us reaching way down into our bags of superlatives as we attempted to describe to each other what we were both seeing.
The subtext to each ejaculation, or to each carefully considered phrase was, "We are sharing this experience to affirm our love for each other."
It seemed the right thing to do at the time, and in fact I may look back later and see greater value to it, but sitting around in a crowd waiting for a geyser to erupt goes into the same category as my lost and unrecoverable hours watching "Gilligan's Island" (which pursuit is doubly painful in retrospect because I actually believed during each episode that this was the one where they were going to be rescued).
This is vacation.
Therefore the sentiment is heresy.
But even before I get home I rue my wasted minutes.
For I am Time Bastard.
Fishing on the Bighorn reminds me of my days in the singles' bars.
I had the desire, I had the know-how, and I was working in a target-rich environment.
But I rarely came up with the big score.
Those girls just didn't know what they were missing.
Why were they wasting their time on the big lugs with rippled abs – future wife-beaters and womanizers whose vocabulary could fit into the coin pockets of their Wrangler jeans?
I know now, of course, why.
Because those big lugs wore their testosterone on the outside, and the girls were listening to their genes.
Engines drone, indecipherable voices rise and swirl in the vibrating air.
The passengers never quite stop squirming, rearranging feet and elbows and folding trays.
Some outbound, some, like us, homebound; the excitement in all cases subdued while on the plane.
Cart up and down the aisle, drinks and snacks distributed from orderly drawers, cups balance awkwardly for too long on the trays.
People read airline magazines and catalogs. The world travelers show off their Lonely Planet guides, the weary travelers wear eyemasks, use earplugs, and snuggle under blankets.
The jetway walk at the end reverses the transformation. .
The revisionist history of Russia?
What about the revisionist history of the U.S.?
What about the revisionist history of me?
It only took a baby step to get me started.
I couldn't tell my dad that I'd been fired. There was too much shame wrapped up just in the word "fired." Bad enough that I might quit, and worse yet quit without notice, even with a well-crafted excuse.
So that lie was easy, but the lies I've told to myself ever since continue to distort the real events so that now I couldn't tell you what really happened that day.
I'm feeling ambivalent.
I love a hot, powerful, environmentally-unfriendly shower.
And a swim.
And a bottle of cold Perrier.
I love a wet tee shirt.
And a long mind-numbing gaze across the unfathomable vastness of the ocean.
It's the water planet.
All sunshine makes a desert.
But I hate it when my book gets wet.
Or the toes of my tennis shoes.
Or my electronic equipment.
I hate a leak in the basement.
Or dropping my keys in the river.
It rains on my parade.
I got cold water thrown on my plans.
My idea is all wet.
There can be value in geekiness, as evidenced by our performance at the perimeter of Fountain Geyser as we waited with other vacationers for the imminent eruption.
A woman nearby might be blamed, but how could she know that Dad had memorized large passages of Shakespeare in college which reside indelibly fresh in his seventy-two year-old brain?
As we watched the geyser percolate, she tossed out, "Boil and bubble, Toil and trouble..."
Dad pounced at her first error, "Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire, burn; and caldron, bubble."
It was when I began reading the entire passage from my PDA...
Okay, I know that Materialism leaves a void, that it leaves us feeling unsatisfied and longing for connection with the interdependent web of existence.
I'm more interested in the notion of a mutual exclusivity of Materialism vs. Spirituality.
I just had this great spiritual experience in the west - connecting with nature and reconnecting with my father. It was an environment that encouraged spiritual growth, yet it's a place I most likely would never have seen if it weren't for materialistic success.
Must I repudiate the material in order to embrace the spiritual?
Is the dollar such a jealous god?
My daughter needs advice.
She wants to be friends with a certain girl, but that girl doesn't seem to be very interested in her.
I want to tell her to turn down the volume on her eagerness to be this girl's friend, to be excellent and friendly with all of the girls, and to then patiently await the inevitable opportunity to spend some quality time with the girl.
There is an implicit message here that people can be manipulated, and in some cases, should be.
There is also the complication that I, at forty-nine, am still having the same problem.
Write your own epitaph.
It was an idea for an ice-breaker at a party that my parents attended years ago.
Mom's was, "She Had It All."
It always struck me as such a selfless response to a question that invites selfish reflection.
It's selfless in the sense that the observer would be put at ease by the notion that they are not confronted by a restless soul.
It's selfless in the sense that the observer doesn't owe a debt of grief to the departed.
It's selfless in the sense that she expected no more of the world than she had.
It was the only time that I've ever seen anyone with a green complexion.
Tom was a big man laid low with seasickness.
"It's a good thing I don't have a gun," Tom managed to quip. "I'd put myself out of my misery."
His four boys and I were on the front deck of the boat, spotting whales, dolphins, and to my lasting surprise and delight, flying fish.
When the bow of the boat would crash down onto a school, hundreds of dazzling blue fish with bright yellow "wings" would burst out of the water like dragonflies of the sea.
Platinum blonde and thin enough to offset my genetic predisposition to corpulence, Tina caught my eye from day one. I was surprised at her interest in me, but too enamored and too naive to be suspicious of her intentions.
Indeed, to this day I can't say that I know what was in her mind. I know that we were off to a fairly good start. She offered what I had come to know as typical resistance to intercourse. I had not lost all hope before she told me about her incurable blood disease. I was quite dubious about this development.
I came across some photos of my wife from our early days, and I was rocked by the feelings they evoked.
Lately it's all conflict, or at best, the absence of conflict. I can make no innocent comment, she no friendly rejoinder.
When she undresses, I avert my gaze. I undress in private.
But the photos, my God, she's alluring. I was surprised to see why that I had fallen for her to begin with - in her look, and her looks. I've developed a mindset that doesn't allow for her earlier incarnation - before the weight and the bitterness.
I shit my pants.
I was walking across the big field on my way to kindergarten. I was only five, but I can sort of recall the feeling. The most vivid part of the memory is having to spread my legs really wide and waddle back home in a manner that would preclude making the mess even worse. I also recall a certain amount of shame that I might be seen walking in this exaggerated fashion, and additional shame at being ministered to by our maid, Michiko.
I didn't imagine that five year-olds felt that sort of embarrassment.
"Daddy, do you think that heaven might have computers?" I ask.
I can tell that she has a child's desire to believe in the fantasy-rich notion of an ideal existence beyond death, but I'm ready for her to start singing a new song.
"People want to believe in a heaven to compensate for the things that they don't get out of their lives on Earth. Go out and get out of life what you can, and don't depend on heaven to fill in the gaps."
I see her in the rear-view mirror, the track of a tear on her cheek.
I know a lot of frugal people.
People who are good with their money.
They save, they plan, they budget.
I guess it's an aspect of the rigors of personal fiscal fitness and the associated self-denial that drives incessant recapitulations of everything from market investments to early mortgage payments to coupon clipping. For a spendthrift like me, it all falls quickly into the category of insufferable.
I am concerned by, and wracked with remorse over the way we have squandered a fortune in the past fifteen years.
I would hate to face a panel of starving third-world mothers.
I have a friend in trouble, and I don't know how to help him.
He is off the deep end in his hatred for GW. I share his detestation of the under-educated puppet of big business.
The problem is that my friend and I work together in a stronghold of Republicanism, but while I avoid hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, Jerry wades in with his sleeves rolled up, grim determination in his fiery eyes.
One thing about Jerry. He does his homework. Each day he's primed and ready with the latest bit of news of Bush's missteps, distortions, and outrages.
Not to go all Jackson Browne on you, but my little guy is being taught how not to cry.
He's six, and a lot of boys his age have already learned the lesson, but I was in fifth grade before Robby Haines told me that I was never going to be a man if I didn't stop crying every time I got hurt.
Max is just so damn sweet, though. I'll gather no joy from having a little tough running around the house.
He's already the full package. A sweet boy who can hit the ball out of the park.
It's a gorgeous day, and I'm a picture under a tree on a well-trimmed (neighbor's) lawn, waiting patiently near the bus stop for my little boy to come home from his first day of kindergarten.
The bus just went by, just as I suspected it might, since the approach is from the opposite side of the road. He will now get a tour of the expensive neighborhood behind us each day before he gets home. He may not get math each day, or reading each day, but he will get about ten minutes of house envy every bus ride home.
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