Spontaneous felicity

There is nothing in life more exciting than impulsive action.

It’s that phone call you get on a dull Saturday afternoon from a good friend directing you to “grab a toothbrush and a clean shirt, we’re headed to Tahoe to raise a little hell!”

It’s deciding to call a few people and tell them to come on over right now because you’re going to grill some meat and make some margaritas.

It’s deciding to go east instead of north.

When our boys were still young Carolann and I took them on a cruise. That’s a pretty exciting vacation for an eight and twelve year-old. But when we returned to port in Los Angeles after a week of great food and fun on the Mexican Riviera the letdown was palpable in all of us. We were happy, just not ready to end the vacation. Not quite. So, rather than drive straight home to Sacramento as planned we decided to take the boys to Disneyland as long as we were in Southern California anyway.

Off we went!

That evening in our motel room, as we tucked our happy, tired boys into bed, that letdown feeling started to return. I picked up a map and looked at it for a couple of minutes.

“You know,” I told my wife, “the Grand Canyon is only four hundred miles from here.” And that’s where we spent the next night.

Carolann and I have done this at least three times. We’re great vacationers. We’re just not good at ending them.

Once we were sitting in the Honolulu airport waiting to board our return flight. When the announcement came that the flight would be delayed we took it as an omen, blew off the reservation, phoned work and told them I’d need another couple of days and then we left the airport for another day and evening in paradise.

Another time it was a driving vacation that took us to Idaho, then north to the fabulous Canadian Rockies and across to Vancouver. On schedule to return home in time to go back to work in two days, we suddenly headed west instead of south because driving the Oregon and California coastline is so much nicer than I-5. And it added a couple of impulse days to our vacation.

The luxury in spontaneity is in breaking schedules and commitments. It is reminding yourself that you are free to do as you please whenever you wish.

It has been too long. I’m ready to do something impulsive again.

The problem is, you can’t plan to be spontaneous.

© Copyright 2009, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

What I learned from Elvis

I never cared much for Elvis Presley. Nothing personal, of course. I never met him. I just didn’t care for his music. But that’s because I’m a mid-Boomer and was too young to get wrapped up in the frenzy of the emergence of rock and roll in the fifties.

I started paying attention to music in the early to mid-60s when Elvis was in the Army and pre-Motown R&B groups like The Orlons, The Marvelettes and The Shirelles had the charts pretty much to themselves. Then the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Stones came along and changed everything drastically and permanently while Elvis returned from the Army and resumed making badly-written, suddenly very old-fashioned beach movies.

In 1973 I got to see Elvis perform in Las Vegas and I fell asleep. Literally.

Wasn’t just me. Elvis knew he wasn’t cutting it. He actually interrupted his band at one point and apologized to the crowd because, he said, “We can do this better.” And then they started again but the magic had escaped the room like air from a badly-tied balloon.

Ironically, less than two years later I was living in Memphis and working as the Program Director for top-40 radio station, WHBQ. My morning deejay was George Klein, Elvis’s best friend since high school.

George was a sweetheart. He didn’t wear Elvis on his sleeve but he did wear the “TCB” (“Taking Care of Business”) solid gold lightning bolt necklace that Elvis gave every member of his so-called Memphis Mafia. George didn’t talk about Elvis incessantly but I quickly became aware that everything George had ever accomplished, he attributed to Elvis. That was his perspective and I guess that makes it true.

George did occasionally talk excitedly about Elvis’s promise to buy him a small town Tennessee radio station someday. I believe that promise outlived the King.

One evening in 1975 Karen, my first wife, and I were in our duplex in Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, eating watermelon and watching TV. The phone rang.

It was George. He wanted to tell me he was at Elvis’s house.

He waited a moment for a reaction but all I gave him was, “Okay…”

George quickly explained that Elvis had bought a new airplane and wanted him and a few other friends to see it. He wanted to know if that would be okay with me.

(I was only twenty-four and even though Elvis’s music left me cold I was living and working in his town. I was impressed and even a bit envious. For a moment I thought excitedly George might be calling to invite me to go with them.)

“George,” I asked, “why would you call to ask my permission to go see Elvis’s new airplane?”

“Because it’s in Dallas,” he explained. And even though George was nearly twenty years older than me I was his boss and he waited for a reaction like a nervous teenager calling to ask his dad if he could stay out an hour later.

“George…” I said, realizing I wasn’t being invited, “are you telling me you won’t be at work tomorrow morning?”

“OH, NO!” He was horrified. “Elvis promised he’ll fly me back in time to get to the station and go on the air at six!”

Elvis was good to his word.

George was on the air at six the next morning and spent the next three hours between records telling the tale of his wild transcontinental trip to see Elvis’s new airplane. But you had to hear it to appreciate it. It wasn’t the kind of hype, tease, slap and giggle you would expect to hear on the radio or TV now. George was very earnest and reporterly. He and Elvis were very simple kids from Tupelo and except for Elvis’s money that never changed.

George talked calmly on the radio that morning about his adventure with Elvis as if he was simply talking about a drive-in movie they’d gone to together. But even if he wasn’t a born storyteller his was a fascinating and unique perspective.

I didn’t live in Memphis long but I met lifelong residents and friends of George Klein who had never met, nor even seen, Elvis and never expected to.

In a very tight group, George was Elvis’s best friend.

And he still is, I guess, because at the age of 74, thirty-two years after Elvis Presley’s death, George Klein is still living back in the day. He’s written a book about his life in Elvis’s shadow. He gives interviews to everybody who asks. He is constantly telling how Elvis gave him, George, a new Cadillac every Christmas and his wife, Barbara, a new full-length mink coat.

You might think, as I did for many years, that’s sad.

Now I just think it’s George’s life and he’s probably grateful for every moment.

© Copyright 2009, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

The mirror lies.

My blogging buddy, Anita, just posted one of her typically charming and smile-inducing pieces on the subject of aging, Fifty is the new forever. I suppose that’s what we do here whether we address the subject head-on or just obliquely, through our personal kaleidoscopic lives.

One of the things I love most about Anita is that aging never seems to give her a moment’s pause or stress. I, on the other hand, am borderline obsessive.

I look in the mirror only out of occasional necessity and all I see are lies.

I stopped growing older in my mid-thirties. It was a good age for me. It’s the age I chose to be for the rest of my life. So, as I push sixty (though I prefer to think of it as pulling fifty) my thirty-five year old spirit peers into the mirror at an old man and while I’ve never been especially attractive nor self-conscious it just doesn’t work.

I can’t feel like this and look like that.

I know the only option I have in order to re-frame myself is to give up and be my age because I can’t possibly look thirty-five again. That’s fine if I can figure out how to age without getting old. That’s really what concerns us, isn’t it?

Do I have to turn grouchy? Will I be forced to wear khaki pants and sensible shoes?

I’m going to work on this self-image thing because I don’t believe it much matters what anybody else thinks of my appearance as long as I’m clean and semi-tidy.

The thing is — at thirty-five this stuff never crossed my mind.

© Copyright 2009, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

Awakening

I love mornings, even though most of mine begin at 1:30AM.

When I retire I’ll get up each day just before dawn and it will be perfect because there is no more grand metaphor for the wonders of life and the certainty of God than the dependable, eternal, daily sunrise.

It may surprise some who know me to learn that I have this thought nearly every day upon awakening. In a way, each morning is like Christmas morning. I don’t know what gifts the day will hold but I’m excited to find out.

I’m not always so optimistic and enthused, of course, but I usually am. And maybe I’m just in an unusually philosophical spirit this morning but I don’t think so.

Consider the hundreds of simple, yet significant, decisions you will make today. Will you have coffee or just juice? Will you turn left or right? Maybe this is a good day for going to a flea market or taking a walk in the park or just staying home and watching a couple of movies. None of these activities or decisions are a big deal and yet all of them and every other thought that flows through your head is momentous and magnificent because you have the freedom of all choices in your life, every waking moment.

Oh, yes you do.

Thanks for deciding to read this note. I hope it was a satisfying decision.

And, have a wonderful day however you decide to spend it!

© Copyright 2009, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

Conflicted in the 21st century

“The medium is the message.”

Marshall McLuhan wrote that famous unfortunate sentence forty-five years ago in his most celebrated work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

Now, if that title alone doesn’t make your heart flutter with adoration as you briskly snap your fingers in hip approval, (the early sixties beatniks snapped their fingers to applaud) …read on, McDuff!

“Five word proclamations are cool.”

There, I just wrote one myself.

“The medium is the message.”

But if you persist in plunging (with a sturdy plumber’s helper) the depths of McLuhan — who, by the way, is also credited with giving us the term “global village,” damn his simpleton soul — you run into passages such as the following from the same ponderous treatise on American culture.

Mind you, this gobbledegook has been hailed as genius for decades:

If the work of the city is the remaking or translating of man into a more suitable form than his nomadic ancestors achieved, then might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?

Well, now. As the green guard of the gates of Oz proclaimed, “That’s a horse of a different color!” Or, as we sneered in those days…

“Far out, man!”

We all want to be smart. We wish we were smarter than we fear we are not. We try to achieve wisdom by wearing its overcoat and shiny shoes. That’s just human nature, I think. We want people to like us, that’s all. Well, that’s not all, exactly. We also want our spouses and children and grandchildren to think we are the smartest people in their very personal lives. It would be lovely if they said so at our funeral.

Only now, just after my 58th birthday, having spent half a century trying to measure up and show it off, have I suddenly realized what I need to do about myself.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

It doesn’t matter that my job involves telling hundreds of thousands of people what’s going on in the world (as far as I can guess or presume to sell as truth.) Occasionally I also give them one man’s free perspective for the mere purpose of kick-starting a few brains. That’s what I get paid to do.

I do not get paid to be smarter than I really am.

I’m starting to think my family is on to me, anyway.

Forty-five years after he published his ultimate intellectual achievment I wonder if McLuhan would be shocked to find that the age of information is a Chucky Cheese cacophony of noise, a digital blender of childish delights, proclamations, accusations and constructed horrors.

We have so many sources of information, rumor, implication, insinuation, views, opinions, counter-opinions, perspective, conspiracy theories and wild-ass guesses we’ve just about run out of any reason at all to try to understand the world all by ourselves.

I have absolutely no need for my brain for such purpose. I’ve decided from now on to use it just to amuse myself.

I guess you’re on your own.

 © Copyright 2009, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

Dog Days

As I type these words it’s 106 degrees outside our home and not yet 1:00PM.

Dog Days, huh? Does that make any sense? Well, yes, now that you mention it. Having nothing more to do than busy my mind in front of a whirling fan blade I decided to look it up.

The Ancient Romans called it caniculares dies (days of the dogs.) It arose from the notion that Sirius, the dog star, was angry this time of year and caused the Earth to get very hot. To appease the star’s rage the Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of Dog Days.

No, I don’t know why it had to be a brown dog.

The Romans, of course, thought nothing of committing carnage upon any creature that moved if it might be even remotely possible that a good screeching, bloody sacrifice would serve some useful or noble purpose.

This is why the Ancient Greeks were considered the brains of the outfit.

Apples and oranges

It is August in the San Gabriel Valley and though we haven’t had a day that hit one hundred degrees recently it has been in the nineties and the past couple of days have been Deep South humid.

Two days ago the air conditioner in our house stopped working. The diagnosis is not good: dead compressor. We’re looking at a large fix-it bill we can’t afford and it will probably be several more days before the fix is done.

I don’t like to complain for the sake of complaining and yet I do it. I think most of us do it because it must be human nature, which is a perfectly fine excuse for fishing for sympathy. But you know what drives me nuts? When I say something that evokes an apples-and-oranges response.

“Boy, it’s hot. I can’t wait for the AC to be working again,” I might say.

“When this house was built nobody had air conditioning,” is the likely reply.

Or…

“When we were little we didn’t have air conditioning, just those awful swamp coolers.”

Both of the responses are true, but so what? How does that help? We didn’t have AC when I was a kid and I’m sure I was uncomfortably hot. What has that got to do with the heat of now?

When our house was built in 1903 not only did they not have air conditioning, they didn’t even have swamp coolers. And, people dressed in multiple layers from throat to toe! I know this and I am grateful to be living now rather than then.

But dammit, I’m still sweating and unhappy about it!

And now, even I have no response for that.

The Boy in the Bubble (wrap)

“Isaiah,” I called across the yard, “please pick up that empty box and take it to the trash cans.”

It’s grandpa and grandson clean-up-the-back-yard-day on an unusually cool and pleasant Sunday morning in August.

I was scrubbing the barbecue pad and smoker oven as I watched him run to the box.

“Grandpa,” he called from the patio. “Can I make a club house in the box?”

The auto-dad in me started running my mental computer through all the reasons I should say no.

He wasn’t doing what I told him.

I don’t have all day.

It’s just a crummy little box, not even big enough to play in properly.

Grandpa didn’t hesitate.
“Sure!”

Within ten or fifteen minutes he had wrung all the fun out of that stupid box and threw it away where I had asked him.

We’re going to fix lunch now.

Living legends

In this era of hyperbole run amock when we no longer have mere movie stars, only “superstars,” there is one descriptive term for an elite and rare level of talent and performance that still holds its water: living legend. You just can’t pin that label on every actor, singer, dancer or athlete who ever performed or competed at the highest level of his or her craft. Only a handful of even the greatest performers in any field manage to reach the rarified air of that loftiest of accolades.

Last night I had the pleasure of nearly three hours in the company of a living legend doing his thing.

I saw Topol perform Tevye in his farewell tour of Fiddler on the Roof.Topol as Tevye

I’ll leave the reviews to the critics, although I can’t imagine anybody having the audacity to suggest that this actor, who has performed this particular role more than 2,500 times in the past forty years, is lacking in any nuance or that he left any fragment of his massive talent or energy in his dressing room.

This is not so much about performance as it is the experience of seeing a globally-beloved entertainer doing the one thing that made his fame greater than his own existence.

I’ve had this experience three or four times before. I saw Sammy Davis Jr. perform in Vegas. He did two hours that kept me spellbound to the point that time and place were irrelevant. Sammy held a large room full of people in enraptured suspension of animation. You wanted to cry for being so fortunate as to be in his audience.

The same was true when I saw George Burns onstage no more than fifty feet away at Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe.  That man could milk more laughter out of a slightly raised eyebrow or a turn of a cigar than the greatest of today’s comics. When you saw George in his nineties you knew you were watching one of the greatest performers from an age already long past.

I saw Elvis in Vegas just a handful of years before he died.  I was never much of an Elvis fan but living legend status does carry the weight of one’s body of work and the universal adoration he commands. Elvis certainly had that and the air crackled with the magic of his presence.

And, I saw Rex Harrison as Professor ‘enry ‘iggins in My Fair Lady. Show me any other actor who was beloved by millions for mumbling his songs in the essence of fabled British understatement.

This is my very small collection of wondrous moments of time trapped in bottles. And now I have added a precious summertime evening in Los Angeles when the world’s best-loved piece of musical theater was given to me in its full orchestral celebrated glory. And for this evening the man who did not invent but became the synonymous face and distinctive voice of Tevye, the milk man, was — as the song goes, the master of his house.

Tupperware: Satan’s tool

My friend and blogging partner Anita just posted a loving ode to Tupperware and it has me seriously concerned for her health and sanity.

In thirty-eight years over my two marriages, and in my mother’s home before them, I have had a love/hate affair with Tupperware.

Tupperware is a cook’s blessing until wild-eyed, greedy dreams of organizational nirvana overtake breathless You.

Now you have too much of this wondrous thing which merely jams beyond stacking in one cabinet closest to the ground.

Fat and feeble, weary from the evening’s wine and culinary chores, as you lie on the floor groping into the nether-reaches of darkened cupboard for the the proper size plastic container while praying beyond hope to find its mated lid, the damned pieces begin literally leaping out of the shelf at you, snapping at your eyes and nose like a demented chihuahua, snarling in derision!

You’ll never get them back in their places. You know that’s true.

For salvation you turn to the Saran-Wrap in the pantry and vow you will never go near the plastic cupboard of the damned again.

Never, at least, until it beckons you with demonic insistence.

Tupperware is the very essence of Biblical temptation. A little of it is a blessing. When you start to get greedy it is a curse that never leaves you in peace.