Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Ink on My Fingers

January 7th, 2020 — one week into the new decade. It has been 20 years since the now infamous “Y2K disaster.” It has been almost 40 years since President Reagan was inaugurated. It has been about 50 years since I was old enough and educated enough to have some sort of awareness of the world, though it would take most of those years since to find my place in it. At this time in 1970, I recently turned eight years-old and was halfway through 1st grade. I was reading, doing math, learning history and geography and, due to the network news broadcasts my parents watched every night, I had an acute awareness of what was going on in the world, specifically Vietnam and Cambodia. I learned that the years were numbered in 1969 and, if memory serves, learned to tell analog time (because no one had digital clocks) around then, too. My sense of time and space were becoming established, but I might have learned about Southeast Asia much too young.

It was more than just the news — everyone had someone in Vietnam. Everyone had someone who died there, it seemed. For my age group is was mostly older siblings or older cousins or older neighborhood kids who came of age during the draft. It wasn’t as though it hit very close to everyone — it did not to me — but it was always close enough to feel it. I did not know who the president was in 1970, I did not know much about politics or our system(s) of government yet, but that would radically change in the presidential election of 1972 — Nixon vs. McGovern. My parents, both Democrats, supported McGovern — I did not know why, but because they did, I did, too. I remember making red, white and blue McGovern campaign paraphernalia. Although I did not know why I was supporting McGovern, I learned quite a lot about the process. Nixon won in a landslide, carrying 49 states. I am not sure whether my parents were more for McGovern or more against Nixon. But their “intuition” regarding him proved prophetic.

The Watergate scandal culminated when Nixon, who was certain to be impeached in the House and removed from office in the Senate, resigned in disgrace. He quit before they could fire him. He was the first ever and so far only US president to resign the office. It was a big fucking deal. I remember it very clearly. In August of 1974, I was not quite 13 years old. It was also during my “paperboy” days. I started by delivering my hometown weekly, but soon moved up to the larger, six days per week “Palo Alto Times.” While folding my newspapers, I was reading them — everyday. I was fascinated by not only what was happening nationally and politically, but also by what was happening locally and globally as well. We didn’t have cable TV or 24-hour news channels. Most households subscribed to at least one daily newspaper, but probably not many 13 year-olds read them as voraciously as I did.

I’d like to say that my passion for journalism continued to flourish, that I recognized early on that I had an aptitude for not only reading, but also writing. Had I recognized and embraced those things that are defining elements of who I am today, my trajectory would have been much different. However (and it is only through the lens of more than 50 years that I can see this), that does not mean it would have been better — or worse. It only would have been different. I still would have preferred to understand and embrace what my talents were earlier on, but only because the chaos in my life might not have affected those who are close to me. But, maybe different chaos would have. Chaos, it seems, does not discriminate.

My story left off with Nixon’s resignation. President Ford was sworn in and lost reelection to Carter in 1976. After Nixon, the Republicans didn’t stand much chance in 1976 anyway. Carter was (and still is) a good man. However, due to a combination of the way the world was at the time and his “nice” persona, he lost to Reagan in 1980. I could talk a lot about the national political scene in those years, but a US history lesson is not the point of this. Google will provide much more than I have here (and, ironically, soon this will be added this to it). Newspapers, still, uniquely engage us. The detail and depth they provide exceeds almost everything that can be found on TV or the Internet, unless it is the web version of — you guessed it — a newspaper.

The recent attacks on journalism are only the latest blow to an absolute necessary component to any free society. Technology has also dealt print journalism and, specifically, newspapers, a crippling blow. First it was cable TV and the 24-hour news cycle, but what cable started, the Internet finished. The “Palo Alto Times,” for example, after consolidation with its sister publication, the “Redwood City Tribune” in 1979 as the “Peninsula Times-Tribune,” finally shut its doors in 1983 — before the Internet was around to archive its rich history. Not that many years ago, the local newspapers I wrote for were still important and relevant. They exist in Internet masthead only now, regurgitating stories from other sources and other places by writers who have no clue where the town I used to write for is.


I have purposely left about the last 40 years out. A lot happened then, too, both globally and personally. Buy the book, if I ever write it. That hometown weekly I delivered for? It’s called the “Los Altos Town Crier” and it survived. It is not delivered on subscriber’s lawns or (if they were lucky) porch by pre-teen newspaper boys anymore, but it still lives and its archives are preserved. So many that went under, especially those that folder pre-Internet, have faded into nothing. While I still prefer the tactile sense of reading a physical newspaper, I have grown accustomed to their electronic equivalent. Although the ink doesn’t get on my fingers anymore, the important words, enough of them, are still being written. We should still be be reading them. Freedom depends upon it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Domestic Tranquility


I have written more blog entries this past year than I have since 2010. It was not an accident, I went into the new year with that goal in mind. It was not, however, a “New Year’s resolution.” My only resolution of that sort for the past many years was a resolution not to make any New Year’s resolutions. I have succeeded. But a goal to write more can be made anytime. Mine was not specific, it had no number attached to it. Just meaning to has accomplished what I meant to do. This will be my 35th entry this year and unless something monumental happens between now and the next few hours, it will be the last.

I am not an ├╝ber-talented individual. I am okay at some things, pretty good at others and I suck at many more. That is probably, in the vastness of humanity, more or less the norm. However, there are some who seem to be very good at just about everything they do. It is difficult to see that and not feel a sense of inadequacy. But as I now have a history of several decades, my perspective has shifted to a more realistic view of the world and, more importantly, my place in it. It has fostered a sense of humility that does not come with any less-than-ness. And, thankfully, I am very good at one thing. I am good at this. I am not the best there ever was, I am not the best of our time and I am seriously in awe of many other writers. I can say that and also know I have at least this one talent.

While I have been paid for my writing, I am not, currently, a professional writer. I could, maybe, make a living at it, but I am not sufficiently motivated to do all the things that are not writing to make writing a viable source of income. The marketing, in general terms, it takes to get and remain in the public eye, to find “customers” for my art is not something I am good at. It takes a mindset that does not fit well with my psyche. Selling anything, and especially selling myself, is not something I desire. I have written before that part of why I write – part of the reason most people write – is to be read. We want others to see a piece of our souls, we have a need to leave part of ourselves behind. This is true of all artists. But where some seek fortune and fame, I seek neither. But I do hope others will read what I have written and get something out of it.

This has been an eventful year, but is difficult to view it in isolation. Time doesn’t recognized the boundaries we place on it. Many of the big things that happened this year had their roots in last year and in years prior to that. My youngest son was in a near fatal motorcycle accident in late 2018. His recovery, while not complete, at least saw him return to work this year. My middle son was married last year, his first son and my fourth grandson arrived this year. My then girlfriend moved in last year, I ended that relationship this year. My annual motorcycle pilgrimage to Sturgis took me though Canada for the first time this year, but that trip (like all Sturgis rides) was planned the year before. And there is more, much more. However, working within these artificial boundaries we seem so compelled to use, 2019 was a good year.

I have been meaning to pour myself out in a much longer work, in a book. Over the past few years, I have started both fiction and non-fiction works – all are languishing in my computer storage as unfinished works. Some have made it several chapters before hitting a wall, others only a page or two. Some will remain forever stuck, others have promise. All of it will remain for my kids, grand-kids and future progeny to do with as they wish – maybe they will pick it up and run with it, maybe just to have a better idea of who this particular ancestor was. Maybe this yet to be written book will see print and actually go somewhere. Maybe I’ll hit the lottery.

In the meantime, a new decade is upon me. I am 57 years old and lucky to have lived this long. That much is never lost on me; several close calls and one direct hit very well could have punched my ticket, yet I am still here. The longer I live, the more each and every individual day means to me. They are not all good, but most are not bad. The coming year comes without a lot of balls in the air, my life is pretty peaceful. At the end of the day, that is what I desire most – peace. On Facebook, I have created a location called “Tranquility Base v2.1.” The “v2.1” part comes from the reestablishment of serenity after a tumultuous part of the summer and because there are already too many locations on Facebook named “Tranquility Base” (if I’m being completely honest, it is more the latter than the former).

There is a fine line between peace and being a doormat. Just letting everything go in the name of peace is not peace. Sometimes radical and uncomfortable things must be done – a stand must be taken – to have peace. I have done that. I will, in all likelihood, have to do it again. But at this point in my life, with – generously – only about 30 years left to live, I will settle for nothing less.

#peace

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Facebook Charities


I was just scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed (not really “news;” what it’s actually feeding us is open to debate – some other time) and I was solicited by well-meaning friends and strangers (though, still “friends” in Facebook’s world – again, a debate for some other time) for some worthy cause. No sarcasm, I mean “well-meaning” and “worthy” in their purest sense. Both consist of real, live people who are trying to make the world a better place – the former through solicitation and the latter through organization and activism. There is nothing inherently wrong with either nor is there anything wrong with seizing upon some opportunity, like one’s birthday, to stoke the “giving” fire.

Facebook, however and sadly, has made the act of giving, of altruism itself, a promotional tool. One cannot, apparently, simply ask others to give. Facebook, of course, knows my birthday is coming up. I have been solicited to solicit my “friends” numerous times over the past couple of weeks. Now, less than a week out, those “prompts” are coming daily. It tells me who among my friends have done so, who among my friends have donated and even makes suggestions as to which causes might be worthy of my promotion. It sounds like Facebook is, with our help (like, we’re a team, we are in this together) making the world a better place. But mostly we are making Facebook a bigger place.

Further, and getting beyond, and, in some respects, before Facebook, why do we need a “special occasion” to be altruistic? Why is there such a big push to donate Thanksgiving turkeys and other fixings this time of year when people are hungry all year? Why does it take a celebrity passing from some disease for us to care about everyone else suffering from it? Why does doing charitable acts need promotion and, even more so, why is anyone besides the recipient of the aid benefiting?

Okay, some of the answers are obvious. The “business” of raising money costs money. There are some charities that do a very good job reducing and minimizing those costs, but even they rely on people who do the work for pay so that they, too, will not need the aid of the charity they work for. Get it. There are others on the opposite end of the spectrum that are nothing but scams. Due diligence is important and, to some degree, the advice (or solicitation) of our friends serves that purpose. We trust our friends. They care, so we care. But Facebook has altered what the term “friend” means. I have more than 2,000 Facebook “friends.” I know several people who have hit their 5,000 friend limit. Absolutely no one can maintain that many friends. Period. So let’s just establish that of those friends, many if not most, are not really friends.

But taking a step back, do we really need the push of our friends or family to give? I would hope not and I would further hope that we are not waiting for opportunities to come along, but rather we are  actively seeking out those causes that are important to us. If we happen find out from a friend (a real friend) about some need that appeals to us, so much the better. But you (and I am speaking specifically to my own friends here) don’t need my suggestions or prodding to give. You also don’t need my birthday. You (everyone) can do it every day. It’s not even hard to do.

I am dead set against promoting my charitable acts. The power, for me, comes from my anonymity. I have made rare exceptions when a need is immediate and someone close to me is involved (usually through posting a GoFundMe campaign link – as much as that giving “service” goes against the very idea of charity). Generally, when I give, only I know about it. When possible, not even the recipient will know. Since I can’t give enough to affect my taxes, not even the IRS knows who got how much. And that is just the way I like it.

So, in six days I will turn 57 years old. For my birthday, give something to someone less fortunate. But don’t stop there. Do the same for your birthday. And the other 363 days? If you can, if you could find it in your heart and within your ability, give then, too. Give whenever and where ever you can. Make the world a better place. Don’t do it because I am having another birthday this year, do it because it is needed. You got yours, you worked hard, but you also got some luck. Maybe you can share the luck part, at least, a little. Do it for a birthday. It doesn’t matter whose, anyone’s is fine. Someone is having one today.



Monday, November 18, 2019

Angels, Again


Way back in January of 2014, I wrote an essay to help support my friend whose young son, Zak, suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident. The essay was intended to offer hope. Unfortunately, in Zak’s case the injury proved to be too severe and after fighting for some time, he passed away. My friend, his mother, suffered the unimaginable agony that only a parent who has lost a child could possibly comprehend. While no one “deserves” such agony, there are some who are so far removed from the “bad” end of the good/bad continuum that it recalls every single one of those cosmic questions of fairness. Kimmie’s light was bright, so bright that everyone who came into contact with her knew they mattered and counted in some significant and unique way.

Was? Yes, past-tense. Not long after Zak passed, Kimmie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it, won some battles, but eventually the disease took her. She passed away last week. Ramp up that unfairness, call back into question those big cosmic truths, wonder why someone so good can be struck with so much hardship and pain – all of that. It makes no sense. Yet it is only those ethereal notions of what comes next, what is after life, that makes any of this even palatable. We can say that she is back with her youngest son who was only allotted such a short time. It helps, but it flies in direct contradiction to any semblance of fairness. It doesn’t address the pain of those left behind to say nothing of the biggest question: What is the fucking point?

I don’t know. Kimmie was special to me. Our relationship began on a certain trajectory that was deflected when Zak’s accident occurred. I remember the exact moment. However, throughout it all, every day she was in my life, I felt as though we shared something special and unique. I have since come to realize that she shared that with everyone in her life. Each of us was unique, each was special to her in our own way – she had that way about her. We were all special - and felt it. Not everyone can give that, indeed, most cannot. We used to talk about a lot of philosophical stuff, about what, as a species, we don’t know and what we, as a species, think we know, but really don’t. I don’t know about the hereafter, I don’t know if there is one and to date, no one has convinced me there is. But that does not mean there is not.

At most points in my life, not believing in the cosmic, in the unproven and, so far, unprovable, serves me just fine. I don’t need to explain anything beyond what science can. Yet, there are times, like now, when it is comforting to imagine that there are angels. I have written about one such angel before, one whom I choose to believe helped guide me. She, too, was taken too soon and for no good reason. She, too, was a very good person. And she, too, died leaving a whole lot of pain behind. I could not understand it then and I really don’t now. If this is the big preordained “plan,” it is a bad plan. However, some iteration of what might lay beyond is comforting, like it was many years ago. And if such an alternate reality does exist, I can take comfort that there is another angel in my life. And I do not have to “know” anything to know that.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Risk


The Facebook “Memories” (formerly, “On this day”) tool is one of just a few of Facebook’s redeeming qualities. Ready access to these snapshots of my life, even though they are filtered and skewed through the medium, is beyond interesting. It is cathartic. It is enlightening. It is profound. They are triggers that remind me not only of where I was, but also offer me a definitive retrospective of where I was going. In those moments, of course, anything that was going to happen was only speculative. Looking back at that look forward removes the speculation – I know what would happen, because it happened. One year ago today, for example, I found myself at a crossroads. I was forced to reckon with a reality that would change some of what I thought defined who I am.

A year and two days ago my youngest son, who was 29 at the time, was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. He wasn’t at fault; an inattentive motorist (and that is the absolute kindest description I can offer – everything else is much more, deservedly, derogatory) turned left into my son’s path and his Harley Davidson hit that idiot’s car (okay, I went there, sue me…) at about 50 miles per hour. His injuries were severe and life-threatening, but after weeks in the hospital followed by months of rehabilitation, my kid can walk and function again. He went back to work 10 months and four days after the wreck. In other words, as I write this, he has recently returned to work. He is not 100 percent yet, he might never be, but he has progressed through significant injuries and a bunch of surgeries to get back to self-sufficiency.

But this is not about that. I have written about this over the last year a few times. The anniversary of his wreck did not take me by surprise and I did not need Facebook to remind me. The past year has been one in which we have spent too much time dealing with multiple bureaucracies. I could go on and on about the problems with medical industrial complex, insurance companies, etc., but this is not about that either. Facebook’s “Memories” triggered something else, something I have thought about over the past 12 months, but never really dwelled on. Until now.

My son expressed interest in getting a street motorcycle about three years ago. I have had and/or been around motorcycles most of his life – dirt and street. He rode on the dirt when he was young, but had no real experience on the street. I offered to pay for the California DMV sanctioned motorcycle safety course that would also provide him with half of the testing needed for a motorcycle license. It would also reveal how serious he was. I was and continued to be “worried” (for lack of a better word) when he rode partially because he lacked experience, but mostly because of other drivers not paying attention and not seeing us. I wanted to support him not only because I support my sons in their interests, but also because riding motorcycles is something I am passionate about. Doing it with my kids is, as I’ve written before, real bucket-list shit.

Fast-forward to a year and two days ago and my worst fear was realized. Everyone I know who rides regularly has had an incident or two and some have been serious. I’ve had friends who were killed on their bikes. It is a risk we all take and accept. Lots of things – hobbies, jobs, other activities – are dangerous, motorcycle riding is one of them. I’ve wrecked, too. I could not help but feel some guilt in my kid being laid up in the hospital in so much pain. A year ago today it was still early and it was still really bad. While fault for the accident was absolutely on the moron driving the car, I wondered if, with my years of experience, I would have foreseen the potential ahead. Of course there is no way of knowing, and the only way to get experience is by experience, so the question is somewhat irrelevant. Except that it is not.

I have been riding street bikes since I was 18. For most of the ensuing almost 40 years I have owned and ridden motorcycles on the street. For the past 10 or so years, my riding has escalated quite a lot. Until this time last year, I was logging around 20,000 motorcycle miles per year. Most motorcyclists log 5,000 or fewer miles. In my much younger years, that was probably where I was, too. My current motorcycle, a 2017 Harley Davidson Street Glide Special, has 47,000 miles. She turned three years-old just a couple of months ago. So why not 60,000 miles? There are two good reasons. The first is simple enough – she was involved in a wreck that put her on the sideline for about three months a couple of years ago. It was not that serious and should not have taken that long, but the miles that would have gone on that bike were put on a 1996 Harley that I bought to ride while I waited. It’s a long(ish) story and not pertinent to this conversation.

The second reason is really where all this is going. My kid was taken out by a car being driven by someone who had no business behind the wheel, but fully one third of drivers have no business driving. That is no exaggeration. We who ride sit above you who drive. When we go by you, we can see into your car. We can see what you’re doing. Too many of you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing – driving. In fact, it is the only thing you are supposed to be doing. Some of you are eating, some of you are fiddling with the radio, some of you are doing your fucking makeup, some of you are “sight-seeing” and way too many of you are on your fucking phones. Yes, one third of you – one out of every three are distracted by something – you are not paying attention, you are not driving.

I ride hard, sometimes I ride fast and I take chances, when appropriate. What is appropriate? Things like how fast can I attack that turn, how much throttle before the rear wheel breaks loose, how quickly can I slow down before cranking back up on the throttle? All these things involve me, my machine and my abilities, they don’t involve or endanger anyone else. And, I don’t consider that kind of riding dangerous anyway. I am well within my abilities and my bike’s capabilities. Some disagree, so be it. However, I don’t like having to drive for you and when I am in traffic, around a lot of other cars (like when I am commuting to work), that is exactly what I have to do. I have to anticipate every idiotic thing every driver might do because I don’t know if you are the one out of three until it is too late. Doing that has saved my ass more times than I can count.

But it is exhausting and no matter how good I am, and even if my experience might have prevented my son’s wreck, eventually someone is going to surprise me. My vigilance will crack ever so slightly and in that split-second one of the one third will take me out. It is just a matter of time. Two days after my son’s wreck, as he was screaming out in pain, I considered, seriously, selling my motorcycles; I was, for only the second time in my life, thinking about hanging my helmet up for good. I had three bikes at the time and I was ready to get rid of them all. It was just a matter of time. Someone was going to get me. I was almost done.

It is still true. It is just a matter of time. Someone is going to get me. But there are some things I can do short of selling my bikes and quitting. And that is the other reason my high-mileage 2017 Harley doesn’t have more miles. I still logged around 10,000 miles in the last year, but most of them came in relatively short periods of time. Where most of my rides used to be short, commuter rides and my daily average was 30-50 miles, last year most of my daily totals were in the hundreds of miles and one was almost 1,000 miles. My motorcycle is no longer my “daily driver,” she is not my commute vehicle (my Lexus GS350 has “softened” that blow). I have limited my exposure to the one third significantly. I can’t eliminate it, but I sure don’t have to invite it. My motorcycle is now, 90 percent of the time, a recreational vehicle.

So have I done enough to protect myself? Definitely not, there is no “enough.” But under the circumstances, I have likely extended the time it will take before someone gets me, statistically, anyway. Statistics are not facts, they are just likelihoods – the chances are statistically remote that I will be struck by lightning or win the lottery, but both happen to people regularly. Motorcycles are still dangerous and we all need to take whatever lever of caution or precaution we feel is warranted. My greatest risk involves people driving cars. By taking myself out of that world, to the extent I can, minimizes that risk, but risk still exits. And you don’t have to ride a motorcycle to be exposed to risk. It is part of life and although I have changed some of how I express it, I still embrace risk.



Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Deal With It

It’s early. I am not now and have never been a “morning person,” yet there are occasions when I must get up before the sun. My schedule this semester has me teaching on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m. On those days my alarm goes off at 4:30 and I am out of bed by 5:00. Today is Wednesday. It is 4:00 a.m. and I have been up for an hour. I don’t know why I awoke so early and so completely, but after about a half hour of trying to go back to sleep, I gave up. I am awake and that is that. Now what?

Coffee? For sure – I am on my second cup. Prepare for class? Sometimes I will get up earlier than usual to do that, but today I am already ready. Think too much? That’s a given – at 4:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m. – it doesn’t matter, if I am awake I am thinking too much. But that should not necessarily be taken as a negative connotation, despite the “too much” qualification (or would that be a quantification? I digress). While I cannot say with any specificity what woke me up or why I am awake this early on this day, it is also true that today is one of those days that holds some significance. It didn’t happen yet, it would not until later in the afternoon, but one year ago today I got one of “those” calls every parent dreads.

“Those” calls come in different levels of severity, this one was up there, but it was not the worst case scenario. It is not the first such call I have received, either. This one involved my youngest son who was 29. The call came from an off-duty first responder who happened to be “first responding” when my son was cut off by some moron in a car turning left in front of him. Had my son been driving his Jeep, there would be very little to write about. He was not in his Jeep, he was on his Harley. The impact was violent and my son suffered major and potentially life-threatening injuries. Exactly one year ago from right now, no one had any idea that this day would be so pivotal.

When I got the call, I was driving my then girlfriend’s daughter home from school. I was told enough to realize the severity, but while the guy who called was honest enough, he did not indicate the actual extent of my kid’s injuries. He said something like, “He’s got a broken leg and a broken arm.” It turns out that my son’s broken leg was an open left femur fracture and an open tib/fib fracture, both likely occurred on impact. His broken arm was a nasty longitudinal fracture of his right humerus, likely occurring when he landed 25 or more feet from his bike. All required surgery and weeks of hospitalization followed by months of rehabilitation. But he did survive.

Ten months and a few days later, he was cleared to go back to work. He was not and is not 100 percent, but he is walking and able to care for himself completely. It was a long road back, but I never doubted his resolve. More importantly, he never did either. It is somewhat ironic that after I got the call and got home, I jumped on my bike to get to the hospital. I did not do that to make some sort of “motorcycle loyalty” statement. It was not in defiance towards every idiot, inattentive, cell phone using driver out there (and easily one third of y’all fit into that category – we who ride can see you, we can see into your cars as we ride by you – we can see what you’re doing and too often it ain’t driving). I rode because it was the fastest way to get through the traffic that the afternoon commute placed between me and my kid.

The nature of this day, a before and after kind of day, is probably not why I am awake so early. It’s not like it has been weighing on me; it’s not like I have seen this day coming and was tripping over its significance. Lots of things changed in my life and in his life since that day, some are a direct result of one moron who should not be driving and some are not. One of the few constants in life is change. If there is even a point to all this (and a point is certainly not a requirement), it is that no one is exempt from the inequities of living. My son was simply coming home from work. That’s it. He did not “have it coming,” he did not “deserve it,” it was not some kind of karmic retribution, it just happened. Furthermore, that idiot driving only had the legal minimum insurance coverage – nowhere near enough to compensate for his actions.

And life goes on. I am less than a month away from the completion of my 57th trip around the sun. That I have survived to see this day is amazing, maybe even unlikely, yet here I am. Shit happens, sometimes because of what we do or what we don’t do, and sometimes it just happens. It isn’t always “fair,” sometimes it is abjectly unfair, but it is upon us to deal with whatever it happens to be. I am still here. And so is he. His brothers, too, have had their share of incidents – defining moments, before and after moments – and they are still here. Life is not only not fair, it never has been and it isn’t supposed be. We will deal with it, how we deal with it is up to us.