Emily’s Gift

CarolAnn and I just sent a birthday gift to our daughter-in-law, Emily. Took just thirty seconds to pick it out and ship it. ?

Gift giving isn’t what it used to be and a lot of us old geezers are highly annoyed by it. Back in the day we’d think about it a lot and then head out to the mall to find the perfect gift for that special someone. Then we’d go home and gift wrap it. If that person lived far away we’d package it and take it to the post office. The whole process could take half a day or more but it was gratifying. It was fun to think of our loved one opening the pretty package and being surprised and delighted by what was inside.

Sending a gift card via email as I just did takes no time at all. No thought. The efficiency of it is undeniable and that doesn’t mean we love our daughter-in-law any less, of course. It just means another tradition has fallen to our modern addiction to efficiency.

We don’t write letters anymore. Heck, most of us don’t even bother with email anymore. We text. We tweet.

Occasionally we use our phones as phones and actually talk with each other but that’s starting to seem like a special occasion these days. I’ve even started texting people to make an appointment to talk with them on the phone. No kidding.

Here’s what I think:

I think adapting to change is difficult as we get older but our only alternative is to refuse to change. Those who do that just sit on the porch and watch life pass by without even bothering to wave to them.

I think wistful longing for the past is natural and fine in small measure. Nostalgia is warm and comforting but it’s no way to live.

I want to keep learning to keep living. These days I find I’m constantly learning from my children. And why not? We taught them the ways of the world with hope they’d make it better. I think they’re doing that, even if we don’t always understand or like the changes.

Thisaway and Thataway

I have chronic wanderlust. Got it from my dad. He would wake up in the morning and just decide he needed to go see Wyoming and off he’d go for a week or two. I’m not retired so I can’t do that but if you get off the major highways in this country you can find some wonderful roads to travel.

 

Folks living in an Arizona retirement community undoubtedly get a thousand laughs a day from living, as they do, at the corner of Stroke and Acoma Streets.

 

If you’re bored and depressed in Albany, Georgia, you can always go hang out at the corner of Lonesome and Hardup.

 

 

In fact, that’s why the merchants of Amador City, California, years ago began selling copies of their iconic Pig Turd Alley sign, hoping that tourists would stop stealing the actual sign. That must have worked. Carolann and I bought one.

Wherever your travels take you, keep smiling. We live in a very funny country.

Gene Robinson

I met Gene Robinson a year ago and haven’t seen him since.

He came at me the way a hummingbird zips up to a flower, flits around from blossom to blossom and then is gone before you can take its picture.

“Merci beaucoup,” he said cheerfully as I left a box store and held the door open for him. I turned to him, smiled and said, “You’re welcome!”

“Do you speak French?” he asked.

“No, but I know what you said,” I replied with my smile still in place, and that was all it took.

Before he told me his name Gene Robinson told me he’s 73 years old. “Really?” It surprised me. “I’m 66 and I look like your grandpa.” He grinned and acknowledged that he doesn’t have much gray hair and that his face is portly enough to avoid creasing. Then he explained that his mother was white and his father was black. “I got my dark complexion from my father,” he said. This also surprised me because he was about as black as black skinned people get. I didn’t say that, of course, but I couldn’t have if I had wanted to because Gene kept talking.

“My mother’s people were from France,” Gene told me. “That’s why I spoke to you in French.”

Gene is the kind of person you meet throughout the South. He’s a talker and he never met a stranger. I know you can find those people everywhere but there are many more of them here in Texas than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. If you’re in a line of three people at Kroger you’ll be swapping recipes by the time you reach the checkstand.

Gene told me he was born and raised in New York City and that he has lived all over the country, and he continued to flit from topic to topic for another three or four minutes.

There we were, two elderly men who had never met standing on a sidewalk smiling and looking each other in the eye.

It was weird but oddly exhilarating.

Then Gene seemed to be finished.

“Well, I got other things I need to do,” he said, “so I guess I’ll say goodbye to you. It was nice meeting you. My wife says I talk too much. She says, ‘You’re always talking to total strangers as if you were their best friend. Why do you do that?’ I tell her I don’t know. I just like people, I guess.

Then Gene stuck out his hand and told me his name. I took it and told him mine.

“Merci beaucoup, David,” he laughed. Then he waved and walked away.

Five minutes a year ago. I still miss him.

Happy New Day!

 

I don’t get it.

Don’t misunderstand. I enjoy a good party like most people. I have spent New Year’s Eves past dressed up at fancy hotels and private homes, eating, drinking and wearing silly hats like everyone else.

I just don’t get it.

I wasn’t going to mention it because most of my friends think my attitude is a bit odd. Some think I’m just a grumpy old fart but I have no problem with people ringing in the new year. And, my inability to embrace the concept is nothing new. I’ve always thought it was weird.

“Sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”

First of all, it’s symbolic which means its romanticizing something that’s not a big deal if you think about it. Seriously, we celebrate something that happens every 24 hours: midnight. A new day. Woo-hoo! Let’s have another drink and start kissing total strangers.

Sorry — I promised myself I wouldn’t get sarcastic.?

The other thing I notice every year is all the people who say, “Let’s hope next year is better.” As a generalization, what was wrong with the last year? I mean, if you had a terrible personal tragedy I understand and certainly sympathize with the wish that next year will be better. In the bigger picture, though, I’m willing to stick my neck out and say the world will pretty much be the same on Monday as it was Sunday.

Sorry — I promised myself I wouldn’t get sarcastic.

We don’t even use paper calendars anymore, so we can’t use the old movie graphics of the days and months blowing away in the winds of old man time.

And that’s another thing: old man time and baby new year. Those human depictions of a human construct is part of the problem.

Okay, it’s not really a problem. I wish you a happy new year, a better year, I really do. And if you want to party like it’s 1999 I would never discourage you. Have fun. Just be safe and mind your manners.

If you need a sitter, give me a call.

Happy New Day.

 

Scrabble

I just read a story in the news about Allan Simmons. That’s Britain’s best-known Scrabble champion. Among other distinctions Mr. Simmons is the former Chairman of the World English Language Scrabble Players Association and has written half a dozen books on the subject.

Just let that sink in for a second. He writes entire books about Scrabble, six of them so far.

Anyway, Mr. Simmons has been banned from international competition for three years because he allegedly violated official rules governing the blind selection of letter tiles. These rules are very detailed and specific. He says he didn’t cheat but he admits the procedure is so wonky he might have picked tiles out of the well protected bag with his palm facing south or northwest or something like that, who cares? Well, he doesn’t and that’s what I love about the story.

Did I mention that he’s written six books about Scrabble? I think that’s amazing.

?How many of us would put all of our life’s work, no matter how insignificant it may seem to others, behind us and just move on?

Allan Simmons is 60 and ready for a new start. I think that’s inspirational.

?The meaningful things in your life don’t leave you. It’s the other way around.

Scrooge

This week on Facebook a friend posted a picture of a ghost of Christmas past. It was me.

The picture is thirty-five years old but I never saw it until this past Monday.

I had the great honor and pleasure of being cast as the ghost of Jacob Marley in the McFadyen/Hoopman production of Scrooge, the musical version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Now, here’s the untold story: I had to put on those chains and hook up to the harness more than a half hour before my entrance. They had to haul me up to the rafters above the stage before the curtain opened and the show started. There I hung, suspended 20 feet above the stage, chains and all, while the audience enjoyed this long overture and then a wonderful scene with a crowd of men, women and child actors in costume singing a beautiful Christmas song.

?And when that was over and the thunderous applause died down…another song started as I continued to dangle overhead.

More applause. More music…

Ebeneezer Scrooge watches a rousing musical number by the kids.

Occasionally, one of the kids would glance up at me wondering if I was about to come crashing down on top of them. I never did of course but I’ll tell you this – the next number I hung around for was Scrooge himself, singing a song called “I Hate People”. By that time I was beginning to understand how he felt. I’d been drifting overhead for half an hour, chains and all. I was anxious to float down through a cloud of roiling fog as Marley and give old Scrooge what-for.

Those were great times. And it’s fun to see the pictures again and to realize how special a relatively few afternoons and evenings of my life have meant to me in the long run.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “the spirit of Christmases past, present and future will always live within me,” in great thanks to the wonderful theater family I was invited to join more than a generation ago.

Tiny Tim nailed it: “God bless us, every one.”

Music and lyrics for "Sing A Christmas Carol" by Leslie Bricusse, performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Orchestra.

Christmas from the attic

Carolann and I spent this past weekend getting Christmas out of the attic.

She goes up and hands everything down to me, box after box of Christmas treasures we’ve collected together for nearly thirty years.

A lot of people these days hire professional house light hangers.

They do a beautiful job. Too good, if you ask me. Everything’s weirdly perfect. And it’s expensive.

And I think there’s something wrong about sitting inside the warm house watching TV while strangers decorate your yard. Wrong for me, anyway.

We used most of what we’ve had for decades: boxes of tangled, ancient light strands in various sizes, some all-white, some multi-colored; some working, some not. We have one light in the line of dozens along the driveway that flashes. Just one. That’s fine.

Decorating tip: dangling cords can be hidden behind brick columns.

We didn’t do any precise planning. We sort of decided where to put stuff as we went. The pros get their work done in a couple of hours or less, I guess. We spent two days and part of a third. We’re still not sure we’ve finished.

Through the process we made three or four trips to the big box hardware store and wound up spending almost as much money as we would have for the professionally perfect jobs though ours is a decidedly unprofessional result.

It’s a bit of this and that but I like it.

We’re proud that we have no giant blowup characters powered by air at night but left to puddle, lifeless, all over the yard during the day.

See, to passersby our Christmas display is just another mish-mash of color and cords I suppose but to us it represents Christmases past, when our kids were little and we were young.

It means absolutely everything to us.

Our house, self-decorated. Perfect in its imperfections.

The Santa Problem

If you’re a parent of a young child chances are you have at least a little bit of guilt this time each year. It’s the Santa Claus dilemma. What do you tell your kids? When do you tell them and how?

I vaguely remember my mother telling me it was the spirit of Santa Claus that mattered.

I don’t have a lingering sense of being injured by this revelation. I’m sure I was disappointed but I have never felt betrayed by it.

I would never tell other parents how to raise their kids. It’s not my place and even though I have a couple of my own who turned out pretty well I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject. But if you’re wondering, here’s what I think about Santa:

Disappointment is part of life. It helps kids grow and to reason with their feelings.

What would be really sad for me is if I had grown up with no sense of magic in the world.

I’m 66 years old and I guarantee this Christmas Eve, like all the Christmases of my life, I will go outside or look at the sky through a window and search for that miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer. I don’t expect to see it, but you never know. And that’s what matters most in the world.

Our youngest grandson, Tyler.

Of all the things we gave our boys I am most proud of giving them wonder and magic.

There’s no lie in it. There is only eternity.

Bottled Water

About thirty years ago I was working with a guy named Bob Nathan. He told me one morning that he had just invested some money in a new company that was going to sell drinking water in plastic bottles. I thought he was kidding. When I found out he wasn’t, I thought he was crazy.

No, this is not a scene from a sci-fi movie about cloning geeky teens. It’s an actual tanning bed.

Who would ever pay for bottled water?

Bob retired years ago. I’m still working for the man.

About the same time another friend bought a tanning salon, where people would spend ridiculous amounts of money  to bake themselves to a turkey skin crisp. And mind you, this was in California where the sun is always shining for free.

Have you heard about oxygen bars? Yes, it’s true. People make dating reservations to sit down and plug hoses into their noses so they can pay to breathe.

(And by the way, don’t think it didn’t occur to me to wonder why someone who could buy a cattle ranch needed to sell useless dead wood.)

.I may be slow but I’m not entirely stupid. After thirty years I have an idea of my own. I’m going to charge people money to be nice to them. For a dollar a day I’ll be pleasant whenever our paths cross. Or, wait…how about this? For two dollars a day I’m stay out of your life completely.

How can I miss you?

You ever get tired of yourself??

We all get tired of constantly being around other people. Not always or often, but occasionally we need a break from even the people we love most in life: our spouse, our kids, our best friend. And it’s not just one or two of them at a time it’s all of them all at once!

I’m no psychologist but I’m absolutely sure this is normal and healthy and nothing to worry about. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Or, as Dan Hicks put it in his song by the same name: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

Have you ever wondered how you can go through your entire life without feeling that way about yourself? Geez! Everywhere you go all day, every day, there you are!

When you go to bed you go with you. When you wake up you’re still there.

Every single moment of your life you know everything you’re thinking and everything you’re going to say before you say it! Doesn’t that make you just a little crazy every once in awhile?

You understand yourself better than anybody else. You talk to yourself but you never, I mean NEVER, have a disagreement. You like the same foods, watch the same TV shows, laugh and cry at the same things and you love the same people.

The one thing I almost never do is surprise myself. And that’s a drag.

I swear, sometimes I just need a short break from me. I need to send myself away or take a short vacation and be somebody I never met before. Or, be nobody at all just for a little while.

If you know me personally, admit it, the thought of being with me 24/7 for 66 years is unimaginable, right? Sure it is! You couldn’t do it, so why should I be expected to?

Ever feel like that?