Monday, June 23, 2008


About a week ago, my doorbell rang. Although this does not sound unusual on the face of it, I don’t get many unexpected visitors and the ones I know are coming are mostly friends who either gently knock or simply let themselves in. The doorbell usually only rings when the visit has a more formal nature to it and, unfortunately, usually from someone trying to sell me something. Such was the case last week. My response is usually “thanks, but no thanks” (which, I should say, is an improvement - I didn’t used to be nearly so nice), and although this particular solicitor received much the same response, I also invited him to check back with me in a few days to see if his services were needed.

Today, my doorbell rang once again and once again I answered it expecting someone to try to sell me something. I was correct, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was the same solicitor following up on his prior sales call - at my invitation. Daniel lives in my neighborhood; he is 12 years old. When he first came around, he wanted to know if he could do any yard work or wash my car. My yard didn’t need any tending and my car was recently washed, so I told him to keep an eye on my car and when it looks like it’s dirty, hit me up. I haven’t washed it since - not in anticipation of Daniel’s return (I didn’t really think he’d come back) - but because I have been too busy.

As I loaded my computer and my camera (and my coffee, newspaper, breakfast bar and all the other crap I haul to work everyday) into my car, I noticed that a couple of birds had made their presence known upon the hood of my car. True, it might have been the same bird on a particularly productive day, but the evidence was prominent - it was washday for sure. Fortunately, my opportunistic neighbor noticed that my car was dirty and again offered his services. I have a 2007 Toyota Camry SE… not a huge car, but not exactly a compact either. I asked young Daniel how much he would charge for a car like mine. “Well, it’s not too big… I’d say about seven dollars.” I said, “How about ten?” We had a deal.

While Daniel rode his bike home to get his bucket and washrags, I moved my car to the middle of the driveway and uncoiled the hose. He spent about 15 or 20 minutes washing my car - except for a strip about one foot wide on the roof that he couldn’t reach. While washing my car, he attracted the attention of two young girls riding by on their bikes. They obviously knew each other, but the girls appeared to appreciate this young man’s initiative. I know I do.

And that is really the point of this piece; with all the politics and the polarization in this country, there is at least one young man who is out there doing something. He’s not asking for anything, he’s working for it. It gives me faith that perhaps, just maybe, this county still has at its core what made it great in the first place. In the face of adversity, when the easy way out just won’t do, the words of John F. Kennedy come to mind, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.” And… what you can do for yourself. Daniel knows how.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 25 Year Plan, Re-Loaded

The 25 Year Plan, with its 333 published posts and, at about 2 ½ years of age, has evolved over its short life. Originally a place to post my musings on “perspectives, purpose and opinion,” it is still that, but the scope of where these loosely defined subtexts has taken me is growing ever wider. So much so that it has recently occurred to me that this blog’s name makes little sense anymore - even to me. Put into context, and to be perfectly honest, it did not make a great deal of sense even at the beginning except in a paradoxical, ironic or, perhaps, a sarcastic sense.

For those who were not around at the beginning, or for those who do not wish to wade through the thousands of words that have been posted here, allow me to provide a modicum of historical context. Because the blog’s history is inspired by and is an extension of my own, it will be necessary to look back a little more than 25 years. Indeed, the “plan” part of the 25 Year Plan is nothing of the sort. If I had set out to be where I am today when I graduated high school in 1981, I would have chosen a much less traumatic path. The end result of having no plan at all is the convoluted course my life took. The title, “The 25 Year Plan” is an exaggeration of a euphemism popular when I attended San Diego State University in the early to mid 80s.

When the question regarding one’s class or graduation date came up, often the answer accounted for more than the four years it was expected to complete an undergraduate degree. Often, immediately following the answer of “I’m a junior,” or “I’ll graduate in…” would be the qualifier: “But I’m on the ‘five-year’ plan.” Because I registered late and had difficulty landing the classes I needed to graduate on time, right from the start the five-year plan sounded like a dandy plan to me. I mean, what was the hurry - I already waited for two years after high school to enroll. I was only 20 years old. It worked for me - I was not alone. But in a sense, I was.

Even with all the obstacles that made, for many, a four-year journey one year longer, the five-year plan they bandied about did have some substance. They actually did have a plan, and many completed their goal in five - and for a few, a few more - years. My five-year plan was an excuse - a stall tactic that I apparently subconsciously appropriated to buy time. I was ostensibly there to pursue a degree in computer science, but I was never really excited about it… or anything else really. I was still waiting for that big break; you know - the one that would deliver to me wealth, modest fame and esteem with no real effort on my part. My “plan” was to wait around (impatiently) for it to come to me.

Oddly enough, it worked. But it took 25 plus years; and although good breaks did just land in my lap from time to time, they never stayed very long. Without effort, commitment and perseverance… without work, nothing was satisfying and nothing good lasted very long. I found the hard way that all the luck in the world will not produce any lasting peace. My plan was an acute lack of any planning, or at least the planning necessary to pursue a goal. All I could ever envision was the destination - all along blasting through the journey. I was hell bent for the finish line and in October 2000, I almost found it. (Click here to read about the specifics).

The only destination in life is death. It is the ultimate terminus - no one is exempt. In my desire to live a life of carefree luxury, I never placed any value on the journey and as a result, nothing was ever worth very much. I had a sense of not only materialistic entitlement, but also an idea that I was supposed to be happy - just because. Although I felt that materialistic wealth and happiness were closely associated, I found that I could never seem to acquire enough to put me there. Enough never was. As it turns out, peace and contentment require effort as well. At least for me, freedom never came cheap.

When this blog was born, I was already on the path to enlightenment. That near-death experience I had in 2000 was the beginning of the end. But it wasn’t over yet. There were many obstacles left to overcome, not the least of which was a protracted hospitalization followed by many months of rehabilitation. But by the fall of 2003, I entered a community college with a new, but untested, perspective. As my journey took priority, I began to enjoy life on a daily basis and, ironically it seems, I was able to look to the future in a more realistic manner. I was developing a plan.

In the fall of 2005, I enrolled at the California State University, Sacramento. This blog was an attempt to keep my literary juices flowing during the five-week break between semesters. My now proven outlook on life did not have me looking forward to a vacation of that length. In the past 2 ½ years I have seen… strike that, I have earned many successes. The effect has been lasting. I am still happy, the accomplishments are still mine and nothing can ever take it away. There is no possible way the peace I have gained can slip away; it can’t be spent, lost, stolen or tarnished. So, did the 25 Year Plan work?


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Catching up...

So much has happened. So much is going on. Nationally. Locally. Personally. There has been a lot to write about and yet I have been resisting. It’s not writer’s block - the words are there. It’s a resistance to putting them out there… I am not sure why. Regardless, I am now - finally - sufficiently compelled to clear out some of the backlog. Where to start? I really don’t know, but I guess I don’t have to…

Writing has proven to be so much more to me than just what the words say. I used to be driven by reaction to them. I needed to be read. Now it is the actual process of their creation that gives me the greatest reward. Indeed, I am not compelled to produce for the sake of publication, but rather for the sake of creation. Not everything I write, of late, gets placed in some place of prominence. It’s not on my blog, not in the paper and not really intended for public consumption - some of it. But sometimes it is only by releasing these thoughts to the universe that I get any return from them. I do believe I have hit that place.

I attended a memorial service yesterday. My friend lost his son to leukemia. He was only 22 years old. My three sons are about the same age and I cannot imagine what pain he must be feeling. I’m not even sure what I feel. Gratitude? That seems abjectly selfish. Compassion? Of course. Empathy? No, I cannot identify with what he feels - I only know it’s bad. It does give me renewed perspective on the fragility of life and, hopefully, the motivation to embrace it more than before.

That’s part of the personal, but not all. There has been happy stuff too. The increase in the price of gasoline, for instance, has had me on my motorcycle much more frequently. It has appeared to motivate others to do the same. In fact, there seems to be a greater awareness among drivers that we are there. But I didn’t come here to talk about drivers. Motorcycles… yes. Besides saving a bunch of money on gas, riding still holds a freedom I have yet to experience anywhere else. Dangerous? Sure, but lots of things are dangerous. I have been riding to work and it’s been leaving me oddly refreshed when I get there.

Then there’s gay marriage. How about gay marriage? It’s now legal here in California. I don’t understand the uproar. Those opposed to it should just get honest. If they would just say what they mean, I would have so much more respect for them. Their opposition has nothing to do with the “sanctity” of marriage. It has nothing to do with reproduction and it has absolutely nothing to do with family values. No, you’re just a bunch of homophobes. Yup, you’re scared, and you don’t even know what of. But please, let me just knock some of your “objections” down.

The institution of marriage has been corrupt for a very long time. Adultery, divorce and the casual nature of the commitment generally have left the institution on very shaky ground. If you were really committed to the institution, you would be protesting all the real threats to it, not gay marriage. Reproduction? Please! Too many marriages would be null and void if that was a criterion. Finally we have family values. No hypocrites there, uh? Quit protesting and get a job so you can pay your damn child support. Why don’t we just do away with marriage all together… with a failure rate of more than 50 percent, there is a compelling argument that marriage doesn’t work - hetero, homo or otherwise.

We have a black Democratic presidential nominee. Get over it. Our nation is on a collision course with disaster and we need someone - anyone - to put us back on track. McCain ain’t it. Obama is our best hope and I don’t care what color he is. The fear mongers who think he is some kind of Muslim time bomb, please step back into reality. Really, it is very nice over here. No U.S. flag lapel pin? Oh, that’s right! He must be some kind of anti-American whacko. You are the same people who believe those urban legends that keep finding their way into my email box, aren’t you? You know, the ones that say Bill Gates wants to give you all his money…

Tim Russert died. Dropped dead of a heart attack. He was just 58. The eulogies were pretty much non-stop all weekend. I was busy and didn’t get a chance to catch up on it all until Sunday afternoon - on Father’s Day. I liked Russert. I’m sad he died and I feel for his family. Although that’s enough for me, I was surprised, a little, at what he has accomplished and how his colleagues viewed him. I only hope I will be viewed as favorably. I know my dad will be - he already is.

That’s enough out of me.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cheap Gas - A Thing of the Past

With gasoline rapidly approaching $5.00 per gallon, it is safe to say that the days of cheap gas are gone for good. We have been unusually fortunate in this country. Truth be told, we still are. When compared to much of the rest of the world, gasoline is still a bargain here. Although cheap gas would appear to be a blessing, the other edge of that sword is anything but. We have been lulled into a false sense of security - the wake-up call is loud and clear.

The Arab oil embargo of 1973 saw the end of the muscle car. The big inch, big horsepower and very fuel inefficient cars of the era disappeared almost overnight. They were replaced with detuned and only slightly more efficient cars and the influx of economy imports. Toyota, Datsun and Honda became household words. Along with their European counterparts, these manufacturers were already used to producing cars that treated gas as a valuable commodity. Eventually, U.S. automakers began to get the message, but demand for gas-hungry vehicles returned as quickly as we became acclimated to the new higher prices.

The second oil crisis in 1979 brought with it gas prices in excess of $1.00 per gallon. It was a price so unheard of that pumps had to be modified to reflect the extra digit. It was also the death knell of the “full-service” gas station. Although that was the last oil-crisis that would brings lines and rationing, it did not, apparently, teach us to get ready for the prices we are stuck with today. Again we got acclimated and again the urgency to prepare for this day went away. Prices went up a lot and down a little - we hardly noticed. Now that they just go up, we are paying attention.

So here we are. Gas prices are increasing daily and it’s not over yet. Now we are scrambling to produce more fuel-efficient cars, hybrids, all electric vehicles and fuel cells. The urgency looks like it’s here to stay. Gas-guzzling SUVs are not selling like they were a year ago and the used car price of some older econo-boxes is rapidly appreciating. Government mandates for fuel-efficiency seem almost silly, as the market is now the predominant force driving auto manufacturers. And if you still wanna play, you’re gonna pay - that’s how it works in a free market. Priorities are now shifting towards public transportation, telecommuting and other alternatives that reduce the demand for market priced fuel. Eventually, the price will stabilize.

But it won’t be at $2.00 per gallon - ever again.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New Beginnings

My youngest son finished high school today. It was touch and go there for a little while, but he managed to do all that was required of him. True, he did it the hard way, but he comes by that trait honestly enough. What he might have missed in academic respects he has more than made up for in qualities that can only really be learned through experience: Perseverance, courage, patience and perhaps the hardest quality for a teenager to grasp, acceptance. He has had to walk through many obstacles - most of his own creation, but he never gave up.

When my children pass big milestones such as this, I get reflective. I will often feel my age and wonder where the time has gone. And although there is that element to be sure, there is also a sense of completion. All three of my boys have now truly entered adulthood. Moreover, they are just beginning their journey… the world is at their feet; the future is at their command. My job is not finished, however. It never will be, but my role has absolutely changed - almost overnight.

They are not yet self-sufficient; my support is still a necessity. But support goes well beyond financial. Guidance and encouragement, although not actively sought after, are still among those essentials that I will provide to my kids. For the most part, the heavy hand of fatherhood will be replaced with a more diplomatic version. Although I am still king of my castle, I now preside over subjects who are capable of thinking for themselves. Persuasion, not dictation, is the order of the day.

That is not to say that I am abdicating anything. It is, however, recognition of a never-changing fact of life… it is ever-changing. It is time to begin a new chapter as the last has come to a happy ending. A new adventure is around the corner and I think we are all relieved for that.