Don’t talk to me

“Hey, watch the road!”

This morning on our radio show (KLIF, Dallas) my friend and on-air partner Amy Chodroff and I were talking about a new service offered by Uber, the rideshare company. For a premium you can now put in an order for a car with a driver who will keep his or her mouth shut.

No, really. If you don’t want to have pleasant chat with your driver just select that option from the Uber menu on your smartphone app and pay extra.

Here’s Amy and me on the radio this morning:

Everyone under the age of 30 has grown up in a world where they can express thoughts in brief bursts of 140 characters or less without having to listen to a response. They don’t actually communicate as much as they simply swap thoughts expressed in abbreviated code.

They don’t have to talk and they don’t want to.

Every generation goes off in new directions that their elders can’t understand or follow. For all our annoyance and worries I’m sure today’s young people will grow up just fine and they will somehow make their world work, probably better than we can imagine.

And guess what? It’s not my problem.

I wish them well.

Every day is Mothers Day

Don & Nancy Williams on their wedding day, Aug. 6, 1950. I was born exactly one year later.

I’m the oldest of four kids born to my mom, Nancy Laura Webster Williams. She was still three months from her 20th birthday when I entered the world. Now, as we approach our 68th anniversary as mother and child I’m still trying to understand our indescribable bond.

Until this past year I could talk with my mother. We’d laugh and love with the sparkle in our eyes meant only for each other and with words that couldn’t begin to explain the depth of who we are together. But this past year she lost her words and laughter.

She lives but she barely knows my name and voice.

Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. – Erich Fromm

I’m not sad. Her memories of us may be scrambled but she gave them to me for safe keeping.

I remember the songs she sang at home and the silly sense of humor she taught me. I remember her hugs and kisses and all the smart things she said; the pain and tears she shared and the sunshine of her smile that followed.

My mother loves me. She has checked every box in the official Maternal Love and Devotion handbook every single day of my existence. I’m in her heart if not quite secure in her mind.

We are the science of genetics combined with all the flowery words of poets.

Today can be a good day or a bad day. It’s up to you. – Mom

We are a mother and her son.

I will tell her again tomorrow that I love her. She might not hear me but she knows.

How would you change your life?

The big tree at Big Tree Park, Glendora, CA. CarolAnn and I lived half a block away. Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

How would you change your life if you could have a total do-over?

The idea of going into the past to change history is science fiction meat and potatoes. It teaches us the time travel paradox: if you went back in time and killed your grandfather you would no longer exist and therefore could not go back in time to kill your grandfather.

Let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Just ask yourself, what would you do differently if you could?

I wouldn’t change a second of my childhood. It was a wonderful childhood. I loved my parents deeply and they loved me. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s was the ideal age of innocence, security and adventure.

I wouldn’t change my first marriage, either. Yes, we got married too young but if we had waited chances are it wouldn’t have happened at all and our son would not have been born. That would be a terrible loss for us and for the world he grew into. Besides, we were young and in love, each of us for the first time. Who would give that up? Would you erase your first love?

During the years my first wife and I grew into adulthood we grew in different directions but we influenced each other in good ways. We wouldn’t be who we are now without having lived together for ten years. I like myself and I know she likes herself, too. We also still like each other very much. I have many fond memories of that time in my life. Our marriage didn’t fail, it just ended so we could both move on.

Between marriages I lived life large with a million laughs and many friends.  I had those so-called wild times that people usually have when they’re ten years younger than I was. It wasn’t perfect but it was a lot of fun. I was catching up on my life lessons. I wouldn’t change a moment.

The wild times led me to CarolAnn. We met in a honky tonk. She likes to emphasize the fact that we met on a country swing dance team but the fact is if I hadn’t gone into that bar for some beers, neither knowing about nor interested in a dance team, I would never have met the love of my life.

I’ve had pain and sorrow, disappointments and screwups. Those things are important. They teach us perspective and push us into the next phase of our lives. The decisions we make, the choices of whether to turn left, right or go straight are what matters. Those decisions are informed by our experience.

If I could do it all over again I’d change just one moment. I wouldn’t climb up on that roof December 13, 1990.  Falling has given me 29 years of pain and denied CarolAnn the opportunity of dancing with her husband the way we used to.

I’d change that in a heartbeat but nothing else.

What would you change if you got a total do-over?

 

Pleasantries in the men’s room

I had a nice, short conversation with a man named Jaime this morning. He’s one of those people you see at work nearly every day, but if you work in a building with a lot of large companies as we do you tend to just nod and smile as you pass in the hall. You rarely say anything more than just, “Good morning.”

Jaime and I nod and smile in the men’s room pretty much every day because that’s his office. He’s the janitor and doesn’t mind being called that. I know because I asked him.

I guess Jaime’s work schedule pretty much stays the same every day because my schedule stays the same. We usually meet during the 7 a.m. network news.

After nodding and smiling and saying “Good morning” to Jaime every morning I finally asked him his name a couple of weeks ago. He told me, I gave him mine and then we both smiled and went on about our business. He was cleaning toilets and I was about to use the urinal. Guys don’t shake hands in men’s rooms.

This morning I saw Jaime again and the fact that we had swapped names made me feel like I could talk with him for a moment, so I did.

“Jaime, how are you?” I began.

“Good. How are you doing?” he replied.

I told Jaime I was fine, thank you, and then I told him I’ve noticed him because he’s always smiling and seems happy. He told me he is happy and he seemed amused by the fact that we were talking. After all, I was his “customer” in a manner of speaking.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys cleaning restrooms,” I said, “but you’re the only one who always seems to be smiling,” I explained.

This is probably TMI as we say these days, but this part of our conversation actually happened while I was facing the wall tending to business. Jaime was wiping down the counter and sinks. My point being we weren’t actually making eye contact just yet.

When I was able to address him face-to-face I said something like, “I just wanted you to know I see you every morning and you seem happy.”

“Yes,” he said, surprised but pleased. “I’m  a happy person.”

I said, “It shows and that’s unusual. I like that.”

As a native Californian instigating conversation with a stranger is nearly unthinkable but I’ve been in Texas for seven years now and it’s fun.

Jaime beamed and thanked me. Then he felt bold enough to brag a little.

“I’m just happy,” he told me. “I have a nice family and friends and I have a job. Why not be happy?”

He seemed very proud of his job and his happy life. I think he was also glad that I had talked with him.

Jaime made my day and I think I made his.

PS. Three weeks after I wrote this it has suddenly occurred to me that the phrase, “Pleasantries in the men’s room” could be seriously misinterpreted and is no proper title for anything proper. I could change it but I see no point, really.  If the headline offended you — or was misleading in a disappointing way, I apologize. — DW 5-8-19

Are you happy?

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about happiness lately.  I believe we all need to check in with ourselves every so often and ask how we’re doing.

Are you happy?

The answer tends to move around a bit. We respond with shifting qualifications:

“Yes, I’m mostly happy but…”

Most people aren’t being fair with themselves. Happiness, like life itself, ebbs and flows. This moment has nothing to do with yesterday or last year when you were promoted. Right now is completely detached from your divorce or that time you were fired from a job.

Dump your baggage. Nobody is forcing you to carry it.

We’ve heard it so many times we shrug it off as philosophical fluff but I’m here to tell you, it’s true:

You really are as happy as you decide to be.

My mother impressed this on me when I was a young child. I can hear her now as plainly and lovingly as when she said it sixty years ago:

“This can be a good day or a bad day,” she said. “It’s up to you.”

Mom inoculated me from life’s disappointments and tragedies. Oddly, it took 50+ years before it became a conscious realization that I could make my daily affirmation.

I’m not always happy, nobody is. That’s the beauty of it, the ebb and flow of our lives. You can’t fully experience joy or misery without knowing the other.

“You can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes”.”
Lauren Oliver, Delirium

So many people these days seem to crave sympathy for life’s ordinary challenges like having to do things they don’t want to do or simply waking up in the morning.

I wake up groggy and tired like everyone else but I’m thankful for waking up. I force myself to embrace each new day.

Decide to be happy.

I know that’s sappy (rhyme not intended but unavoidable) but the mere fact that you find so much in ordinary everyday life to  whine about is a self-imposed disregard for one immutable fact:

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I wanted very much for this post to be inspirational, not preachy. I may have failed in that. But since we’re nearing the end, let me add one more idea about happiness that you can consider for yourself in your own good time:

Is griping useful? No. Is happiness infectious? Absolutely.

For your own sake and for those of us who have to deal with you and want to like you, choose happiness.

Dennis Prager often says we have a responsibility to others to be happy. I agree. To put it more bluntly:

Nobody wants to hear you whine. We all have problems. Smile and stop being a pain in the ass.

This can be a good day or a bad day, it’s up to you.
Nancy Williams

 

Spring is a temptress

by Dave Williams

I don’t like bright sunlight and hot afternoons.

I don’t understand people who love summer, the hotter the better. That makes no sense at all.

I’m a pluviophile though I don’t know why.

I was born and raised in the heat of the Sacramento Valley and that was fine when I was a kid. Children in my day paid scant attention to sweat, dirt and scraped knees. But by the time I was too old to run through the neighbors’ lawn sprinklers I began dreading summer.

For me spring is a sinister warning of what’s to come

For the past forty years or so I’ve tried hard to find a radio job in cold, wet and perfectly dreary Seattle or Portland. I love the Pacific Northwest with its year-round sweatshirts, smokey chimneys and soggy green everything but I could never get a job there.

Instead, I landed in Texas.

Everything you’ve ever heard about Texas weather is true. We have 60 degree swings in 12 hours. We get heat, snow, flash floods and tornadoes, sometimes all in one week.

I’ve seen hailstones pounding my yard on a 100 degree day.

Summer in Texas begins in April and lasts until Thanksgiving. It is a withering, humid, debilitating heat. If it weren’t for the otherworldly buzzing of cicadas hidden in native oaks you’d swear there was no life on the planet during the heat of a Texas summer afternoon.

Nights cool down to maybe 85.

So, here it is mid-March. I know what’s coming and I dread it.

But, for today only, I must confess: spring is beautiful and reinvigorating, even for a pluviophile in Texas.

We have the biggest sky I’ve ever seen. In spring we have our famous bluebonnets painting hills and prairies stretching to every horizon.

We have colts and calves romping in green pastures and baby bunnies learning to hide for their lives from their many flying predators.

Mesquite smoke flavors the air as folks throw big slabs of brisket onto chunk charcoal before dawn.

Texas kids are back on the lawn.

It’s an early spring Saturday morning in Texas and it gives me pleasure. Yes, it does.

Still, I know what’s coming.

 

Brain farts & checkbooks

I have a young mind and I’m proud of that.

Pushing 70 I still get excited about all the things I’ve loved throughout my life and I still embrace all the new stuff: new technology, new social trends, anything and everything that makes me think, “Wow, that’s cool!”

As we used to say a thousand years ago, I’m hip.

But lately I’ve noticed my brain occasionally slips a cog and loses its place.

I just wrote a check and dated it 3-14-75.

March 14, 1975 was 44 years ago today. I have no memory of that day being significant in any way. As far as I can tell it was just one normal day among the 24,837 I’ve enjoyed so far.

It was a brain fart.

Just this morning I was telling a much younger friend at work that I have a young mind but my body is going to hell. Now I’m thinking my brain may be limping along quickly to catch up.

I like to believe that brain farts come from trying to sort too many wonderful memories mixed with meaningless combinations of old dates and images, all stuffed into the same leaky mental file box containing a glorious lifetime of days.

One thing I know for sure is that you people who still insist on a handwritten paper bank draft (a check) should catch up with the rest of us and accept digital payments. You’re embarrassing yourself and confusing me.

And now I’ve lost my checkbook.

Cough drops

by Dave Williams

I’ve had a chronic cough since just before Thanksgiving, 14 weeks to be exact. That’s a long time for a cough to linger and I’ve not ignored it. After two visits to my doctor, a chest x-ray (turned out clear) and a passel of expensive steroidal and antibiotic prescriptions and inhalers, to say nothing of a hundred bucks worth of over the counter cough syrups, suppressants and antihistamines, I’m still coughing. My doctor is a learned and experienced man but he’s stumped. He’s talking about sending me to a pulmonologist. (I had to look it up: that’s a specialist in respiratory matters.)

I’m not writing this because I’m worried about my cough. I’m just taking note of this moment in my life. At 67 I’m experiencing something totally new: the unexpected idea that I may be entering an age of increasing infirmity, of nagging pains and niggling problems that I might have to drag around to the end of my days.

I rarely get sick, not even a cold, but suddenly I’m starting to feel a bit frail for the first time. Coughing wears you out and makes you think.

Roughly 40 years ago I suddenly realized that I would never play baseball again. Real baseball, I mean. Unwillingly I made the transition from hard-breaking fastballs to the high arcing lobs of a bigger, softer target. Slow-pitch softball is fun but it’s not baseball.  Now, a couple of decades later I miss them both.

About 20 years ago I was suddenly relieved of the daily responsibility of parenting. Our oldest son was married and our youngest son had just moved out. CarolAnn and I celebrated our freedom as new empty-nesters. We loved it yet we missed having children in the house. Family time became the two of us time, which is wonderful though still bittersweet. We will always miss our boys.

There have been other life transitions of course, less notable and too numerous to mention. The thing is, after nearly 70 years of living I’m starting to see a pattern, a constant ending and renewal of a single life’s experiences and perspectives. In 1984 author Gail Sheehy kicked off her enormously successful series of books about the subject she called Passages.

From toddler hood to old age we who are lucky enough to live long lives are constantly saying goodbye to one time of life and entering the next with some trepidation. That’s the excitement of the journey. With great luck, or by design if you prefer, life is a very long road of wondrous yet worrisome discovery.

I feel like a slow student, coming to this realization as recently as I have but I’ve been too busy living to take notice of passages. I’m just now beginning to understand something that should have been obvious:

Lives are lived as chapters of precious stories belonging to the world and yet as unique as ourselves.

I don’t miss baseball as much as I did 40 years ago. And frankly, though I will always enjoy memories of having our boys at home, I’ve gotten over wistful nostalgia pretty well and cherish my daily solitude with CarolAnn more than ever.

This cough is forcing me to hire a younger man to do my yard work. I hope that’s just temporary but the fact is I may never mow a lawn again. That seems trivial but I’m starting to miss trivial things as well as the big, profound stuff. At the same time I’m learning to shrug off the life I’ve known for whatever surprises come next. We all are.

Life is a kaleidoscope. Every slight turn brings a shift in perspective and a dazzling new view of the world we’ve always held.

If this all sounds a little loopy, just blame the meds.

Mornings

Amarillo by morning
Copyright Dave Williams 2012

I’m a morning person. Always have been.

Oh, but I’m not one of those chirpy, can’t-stop-chattering morning people.

I wake up quickly but quietly. I love my sunrise alone time.

Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.
– Walt Whitman

Science has proven that there really are morning people and night people. They’ve done a lot of research to assure us of what we’ve always known:

Some of us are energized when the sun goes down. We morning people go down with it.

Everything will look better in the morning,  you’ll see.
– Nancy Williams, my mom

 The days of my life have nearly always started in the dark. I was never late to school, I was early.

I’ve begun my work mornings long before dawn for the best 40 of my 50 years in radio. On those rare occasions that I’ve slept in until after sunrise I feel like I’ve cheated myself of a whole day.

Some people function better at night, they just do. I’ve never pitied or envied them, not out loud, anyway.

They are always horrified to think of awakening before the crack of 10 a.m.

We laugh at each other but neither of us would change our ways.

—————————

My friend and blogging partner, Anita, is a morning person, too. Here are her thoughts:  http://theagingofaquarius.com/ag_blog/morning-people-versus-the-world/

 

Father’s Day in Judgment City

by Dave Williams

Jeremy and me, the early 80s, Fairytale Town at Land Park, Sacramento..

One of my favorite movies is Defending Your Life starring, written, and directed by Albert Brooks. It’s about a man who dies on his birthday and wakes  up in Judgment City, a Purgatory-like waiting area where he must justify his life in order to proceed to the next phase of existence. It’s warm and funny and will keep you examining your own life for a very long time.

My son Jeremy loves this movie as much as I do and today is his birthday.

On my birthday 17 years ago, shortly before he died, my dad told me he couldn’t believe he had a son who was 50. I know the feeling.

Jeremy was born 42 years ago today. Like all loving parents at this age I understand that he’s an adult with a family of his own and our relationship has grown with us. But like all parents, in my heart he will always be my little boy.

You have to be careful about that when you talk to a middle-aged child. Occasionally I still have to stop myself from calling him, “Kiddo”.

I’m not going to wax poetic about Jeremy and me. Many fine words have been written about ideal father-son relationships and the bonds of love that can’t be described. I have nothing to add. We know how we feel and how we’ve enriched and informed each other’s lives.

I will say this, however:

I am a far better person for his existence than I would be without his love, influence and instruction.

Parenting is a two-way street. You get as much as you give; you learn at least as much as you teach, probably more.

If you’re happy with who you are today you can thank your children in large measure.

When I arrive in Judgment City I will point fearlessly to my boy and testify, “This man is my justification for everything.”

***************