Thursday, January 21, 2010

In the Eye of the Beholder?

My eyes are pretty good. Considering my age and the abuse I’ve put my body through, I am only slightly nearsighted and I do not need reading glasses yet. And it does not appear to be as though my enduring DMV restriction-free eyesight is a genetic gift from my family, the vast majority of whom needed corrective lenses much earlier in life. But my eyes are certainly not immune to the effects of aging and although glasses are still not necessary, they do allow my 47 year-old eyes to see the world more clearly. For the past six months or so, I have grown accustomed to having them on my face – especially when I’m driving.

The difference is, well, clear. Instead of relying on memory or a GPS guidance system, I can read the highway signs before I am too close to make a decision. Those large green blobs lining the sides of my street are actually individual leaves on trees, each of which I can see distinctly when wearing my glasses. It’s also far easier to spot police cars… not that I would ever have any need to know where they are. Still, I can get by without them and yesterday after one of the lenses popped out, I had to do just that.

It was nothing more than inconvenience, really. Since I was out running errands anyway, I made a stop at my local Walmart Supercenter to get my glasses repaired. On my way home, after they were repaired and cleaned, I encountered a deluge that reduced visibility to near zero. It was at the tail end of a storm that dumped rain on California for most of the day, but when I left my home in the late afternoon it looked like the storm was done doing its thing. Those lingering, localized cells, however, can be potent. This one was very much so.

It got me thinking. About abstract reality. About power. About how small we really are. We are at the top of the food chain – the most highly evolved species ever to live on planet Earth, but for all we have conquered, that deluge could not be stopped. We were at the mercy, yet again, of a power that we cannot duplicate or mitigate. And it was impressive. I have always marveled at the power Mother Nature can wield. Bad weather gives me an adrenaline rush. Although I get no pleasure from the human suffering that these natural phenomena can cause, I can’t help but respect the destructive – and creative – power nature holds. It does not discriminate; young and old, rich and poor, black, white and everyone in between, Mother Nature will have her way. And she does not care.

As rapidly as the rain appeared, it left leaving a spectacular double rainbow in its wake. "For what purpose," I wonder. Yes, I know, it is an explainable, physical phenomenon. Science can tell us exactly what causes a rainbow, but it can’t tell us why we find it beautiful, why it gives us pleasure. What makes a rainbow, or majestic mountain vistas, or a sunny California coastline, or the vastness of the Sahara Desert, or a sunset in all its pastel glory, or any of the other natural wonders that are everywhere, profound? Since the beginning of human history, men and women have written about it, composed music about it, depicted it in paint and marble, wood and metal and yet there is no end to the wonder of nature.

Beauty exists. It cannot be measured or otherwise quantified, but its quality is universal. Opinions might differ, but to say it’s solely in the eye of the beholder relegates the likes of a double rainbow to nothingness. It is much more than sunlight refracting through raindrops to create a visual image. It is profound. It stirs us. Beauty can be many things, but the idea that it exists in my mind and my heart alone as a unique concept is false. It is universal. It is real. And it is not just in the eyes of the beholder, whether those eyes need glasses or not.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Easyriders Bike Show Tour - Sacramento Press

The following story, with photos, appeared yesterday in the Sacramento Press

Bikers come thundering into Sacramento Convention Center

by Michael Althouse, published on January 18, 2010 at 11:00PM
Hundreds of motorcycles lined both sides of J Street in front of the Convention Center on Saturday while their owners attended the annual Sacramento stop of the Easyriders Bike Show Tour.
Although the rain Sunday reduced the number of bikes parked on the streets, attendance at the two-day event was as good as or better than last year, said event manager Kari Roben.
Inside the Convention Center, the main floor was full of exhibitors and vendors displaying custom motorcycles and related goods and services, including accessories, apparel and custom fabrication.
Sacramento was the second stop on a five-city tour that started in Pomona on Jan. 9. “This is our second biggest show,” Roben said. “Only the last show, the invitational in Columbus, is bigger.”
Roben said that the Sacramento show owes its success to a large number of subscribers to Easyriders magazine, local support from Harley Davidson of Sacramento and other vendors, and the fact that the city is centrally located.
“Sixty to 75 percent of our vendors return year after year,” she said.
In addition to vendors and row after row of custom motorcycles, there was live music and entertainment. And clowns roamed the exhibit floor, entertaining young and old alike.
Woodland resident Meagan Murphy, also known as "Denim Jean," created balloon animals for all who happened by the booth of Anne Nix, owner of Sacramento-based Anne’s Badass Boutique (or Anne’s Incredible Bodywear, depending on her clientele).
“This is my 12th or 13th year,” Nix said. “I’ve been doing biker shows all over the U.S. for 16 years.”
She said the economy has significantly affected her business and that she was not sure how much business the show would generate. Other vendors, though, were more optimistic.
James Dean, owner of Rebel Design, a local custom motorcycle paint and fabrication venture, said, “This is the best show I can do all year.”
Dean said he receives “eight to ten jobs out of the show.” But another local vendor, Mike Armtrout, owner of custom-parts manufacturer Bigger Pimps, from Grass Valley, said he was there “mostly for exposure.”
Many national vendors also were exhibiting.
Representing Iowa-based J&P Cycles, Patrick Garvin said the show was “at least as good as or a little better than last year.”
A large motorcycle parts and accessories vendor, J&P Cycles distributed free catalogs for Harley Davidson, vintage and metric motorcycles.
John and Christi Huddleson were exhibiting for the first time at the bike show, traveling to Sacramento and Pomona from their home in San Diego.
The Huddlesons' business, Patch World, generates its income entirely at motorcycle events, John Huddleson said.
“These shows have been better than expected,” he said. “If I had known, I would continue (with the entire tour).”
Some booths had a more philanthropic bent.
“Spurz,” who declined to give his real name, is the state founder of Bikers Against Child Abuse. He said that although one goal of his booth is to raise donations, “our primary purpose is to raise awareness.”
Calvin Jefferson, also known as "Redbone," has been riding motorcycles for 35 years.
“I’ve been coming for the last five years and this is better than last year,” he said, adding that it’s still not as well attended as years prior, “probably because of the economy.”
Robert and Maggie Sanchez were attending their first Easyriders event with their granddaughter Alexia, 2, who was enchanted by Denim Jean. Sanchez has attended the similar Street Vibrations show in Reno but enjoyed Sacramento's version better because it's more family-oriented.
Although the show focuses mostly on V-twin powered street motorcycles such as the venerable Harley Davidson, there was something for every enthusiast.
The show attracted attendees from outside the Sacramento area as well.
Dorain and Christine Sallee traveled from Santa Rosa to view the exhibits and visit the various vendors.
“Last year there seemed to be more Harley stuff,” Dorain Sallee said, adding that he rides a Honda Gold Wing.
A large variety of custom motorcycles were exhibited, some worth more than $100,000.
Lane Shipp, Matt Toro and Andy Clark were checking out their favorite motorcycles Sunday.
“I’d like to see more bikes and less booths,” Shipp said. “I like the simple ones. Less is more.”
In reference to the image of the "outlaw biker," many attendees said that it has faded.
“A lot of that stigma has gone away," said longtime motorcyclist Jim Warnken of Livermore. "It’s not like it used to be.”
Christine Sallee added, “Bikers get a bad rap. It’s not deserved.”
The next stop on the Easyriders Bike Show Tour is in Charlotte, N.C., Jan. 23-24.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Preview - Easyriders Bike Show Tour: Sacramento 2010

Those who frequent this page and those who know me also know that one of the many facets to my personality is that of a motorcycle enthusiast. Although my love for motorcycles is currently concentrated in a particular area, ever since I first became aware of their existence, all manifestations of motorcycling have held my attention and fascination, now going on more than 40 years. Street, dirt, track or stunt, it matters little – if there are two wheels and a motor I’ll stop and take a look. My current steed is a Harley Davidson Road King, an apt moniker for this big, powerful street cruiser.

And as one might surmise, the Harley Davidson “culture” is not only the one I am currently enamored with, it has been a latent draw on me ever since those days of boyhood discovery. It’s not just the freedom or the oneness I feel when riding any motorcycle, when riding my Harley it’s also about patriotism, rebellion, history and a host of other intangibles that make riding a Harley a truly different experience. The same could be said for a host of other customs that are inspired by Harley’s big V-twin design, and perhaps to a lesser extent for all other large street cruisers that most manufacturers produce; but the heritage that comes with a Harley Davidson is impossible to replicate.

I am not a “hardcore” biker. I am not a member of a gang or motorcycle club. I just ride. I do, however, wear black leather when I ride and my motorcycle is loud. I like it that way and though others might not, those who would not otherwise be aware of my presence on the road will hear me long before they can swerve into my lane. But it’s more than just safety. The copious amounts of chrome, the shining paint and all the other ancillary accessories that create the image have little to do with getting from point A to point B in one piece. Indeed, often points A and B are the same place: my garage. It’s not about the destination.

Today my destination is the Sacramento Convention Center and though the weather probably permits it (only a slight chance of rain today), I will be leaving my bike in my garage. The absence of my bike, however, will not be noticed in a veritable sea of thousands of motorcycles – the vast majority of them Harley Davidsons. This year’s annual Sacramento stop of the Easyriders Bike Show Tour will be my forth in a row, but this year I am not merely attending, I am covering the story for the Sacramento Press. And to comfortably transport my camera gear and computer, I am compelled to drive.

When a friend at the Sac Press asked if I would like to cover the Easyriders Tour, it didn’t require much thought. I was going to go anyway. I was going to shoot literally hundreds of pictures anyway. And I was going to write about it anyway. The only difference is that now I am also going to write a feature news story… I think I still remember how to do that. And of course, with a press credential I’ll have ready access to those I need to interview – and I will not have to pay the admission fee, which is the only compensation I’ll receive for this freelance venture.

Okay, that’s not exactly true either. There is far more than just monetary “compensation.” I write for the same reason I ride - because I love it. That I can share this experience with those outside the motorcycling public is just icing one the cake. So I don’t get to ride my bike there today… it’s okay, it might rain anyway.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sick Puppy

I lead a fairly peaceful life. Despite the career and academic pressures that are ever-present, more often than not I keep everything in perspective and on an even keel. Most of what goes on is foreseeable; for the most part there are not too many surprises. Those afore mentioned pressures are expected and I usually see them coming well in advance. There is nothing much to get flustered about. But the habit and/or instinct to spring into action when emergencies present themselves does not, apparently, atrophy. There is, however, a difference between reacting and responding.

There was once a time when the unexpected occurred so frequently that it was almost expected. Most often I met these "emergencies" with a quick and poorly planned reaction - or none at all. Instant mitigation or ignorance was the only end - the means had no limit. And although that sort of reaction can produce results, the side effects can create problems of their own, problems that were unforeseen not because they were unforeseeable, but because I didn’t take the time to look. Reaction. Mitigation. Make it all go away right now, damn the consequences.

Life-threatening emergencies require quick action and certain risks must be assumed. Most emergencies are not of that variety, but it seemed my reaction was always some sort of boilerplate without regard to the magnitude of the situation. This appears not to be the case anymore; I can even say that when a situation is life threatening, I can meet it with a reasoned and measured response. My son and I had a life-threatening situation materialize late last night. His new chocolate lab puppy, Bella, got very sick very fast and we needed to make some decisions. After gathering as much information as we could at home, we decided that an emergency visit to a veterinarian was necessary.

Not a human life? She is part of our family and although she is my son’s dog, I love with her as I do a great many people I care about. And as I would with those people, I gave everything I had to be sure Bella would make it through the night - and my son got to participate in this calm, measured response to a very real emergency. We gathered everything we needed, scooped Bella up and drove – at the speed limit – to the pet hospital. The closest emergency vet is about 20 minutes from our home – I suppose I could have made it in about half that time, but that could have very easily caused more problems. It turns out that our response likely saved Bella’s life.

We have a very sick puppy. She was extremely dehydrated, vomiting and would have had diarrhea if there were enough fluids in her system to produce it. Although she has had her shots, she still managed to contract canine parvovirus – almost always fatal in puppies if left untreated. She was tested, prodded and poked, given fluids, medications and we were sent home with a battery of instructions, injections and other medicine to get her well. Bella saw her regular vet this morning and her prognosis is good. She is feeling better today, but Bella is still not out of the woods. And now that she is hydrated she can and does produce copious amounts of… it’s a mess, an unexpected mess, but one we have responded to with love and reason.

The problem has been mitigated, but it is not yet over. There is nothing instant about solving this issue. We have a pensive two to four days ahead of us, but right now we are feeling a great deal of relief and we both know that the relief is due in no small part to our response. We are not cleaning up the mess of a shortsighted reaction, but we are cleaning up the mess of a sick puppy - and it looks like she’s going to make it. Somewhere between no reaction and over reaction lies what proved to me to be so elusive for so long – a response.

Bella appears to be making a swift recovery. Her symptoms have all but disappeared and we are weening her back to solid food. Other than tiring faster than normal, she is no longer a sick puppy.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Clarification, Committment & Hope

Yesterday I posted what could be the preface to the book I have started and put aside at least twice. I had a mentor a few years ago who was instrumental in helping me to change my perspective on life and he told me that everyone has at least one book in him (or her). My story is unique, but so is everyone else’s. Despite the singular life experience we all have, there are also universal themes; elements that many if not all of us can relate to, however the specifics may unfold. I believe there is a book in me (maybe more than one) and I also believe that there are those who suffer from the same search for something that I did. This will not be a “self-help” book nor will it be some kind of universal guide to the good life. But it could offer hope and inspiration in much the same way the experience of others has done for me.

The preface assembled in my last post will likely change before I am done. This blog and the many pieces written for it will be found sprinkled liberally throughout the book, but the book itself will not be published here. Although my motivation for writing is couched in a genuine desire to contribute to the vast pool of human understanding, secondary motivations include distribution and income. To be successful in getting published (which is a long shot at best), pre-publishing it here would be counterproductive. That is not to say excerpts or “trial balloons” will not show up from time to time, but my intention is not to publish this book “live.” Also, the scope of this blog has precluded publishing certain details that have little to do with where I am now, but everything to do with how I got here.

In respect to the limited scope of The 25 Year Plan, those boundaries will remain in place. However, the book will not be so limited – everything that needs to be included to present a complete picture will be; nothing will be left out. If and when the book is published, I will have occasion to revisit and perhaps modify my blog policies, but that is still a very long way away. My goal is to have a manuscript completed before the end of this year, but nothing is set in stone. The reflection required to be able to write what I feel (or felt) will mean reliving some very painful experiences, for I am not living in pain anymore.

This documentation of my intention is a commitment to myself. Staying on task and following through is always a challenge for me, but one in which I have made marked improvement over the past few years. It is no coincident that my fortune has turned as a result, but there is far more to it than simply “just doing it.” If that were all it took, I never would have found myself in a quagmire of desperation with no good idea of who I really was. I don’t know if I can say, “If I only knew then what I know now,” but I do know that it certainly would not have hurt. And I don’t know what the answer is. I only have this one life to share. However, from the compelling stories I have heard from many others, knowledge that there is hope is not only important, it is absolutely necessary.

Friday, January 08, 2010

A Preface to a Memoir

I was born on December 6, 1962. At least that’s what they tell me, “they” being my parents and the authorities involved in documenting my emergence into the world. Although I believe my parents and those authorities, I have little choice but to take it on faith that the date of my arrival is accurate. Since I cannot remember that day, those that followed and especially those that preceded it, I am also obliged to rely on the words of others to relate what the world was like in those halcyon days. Many might recall the late fifties and early sixties as troubled, but in my little world all was calm. It would not remain so…

My parents met in Southern California in 1961 and married in January 1962. I came along ten months later followed by my little brother in November 1964 and my sister in September 1966. I do not remember my brother’s arrival (but the evidence that it happened, like my own birth, is overwhelming), but I do remember when my parents came home from the hospital with my little sister. It was among the first handful of sketchy memories I have from my early childhood. When my sister came along, we were living in the home that all of my formative years from about the age of three on would occur. The geographic stability I enjoyed as a child was unusual then, almost unheard of now.

Shortly after my parents married, my father was offered (and accepted) a job in Northern California. Raychem Corporation was located in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco and was an ideal place for a young research chemist to ply his trade. He worked hard and before I was four years old, he and my mother were able to purchase our home in Los Altos, not far from where he received his Ph.D., Stanford University. We were located in what would become Silicon Valley, but at the time the development of the semiconductor was just in it’s infancy – the Santa Clara Valley was better known for its fruit tree orchards and mild climate. By the time I entered Kindergarten, I was able to start remembering my life from personal experience; and for many years that experience was good.

If it remained good, there would be little else to write about. I would simply say: “I graduated high school; went to the college of my choice; got a good job; met a wonderful woman who became my wife; we bought a home; had 2.3 kids; and lived happily ever after.” Isn’t that the American Dream? It used to be. Now is not the time to get into how that dream has evolved, but suffice it to say that my story did not follow the script. However, as chaotic as my life grew in my late teens and the many years following high school, and as bad as I imagined it was, and as much as I held disdain for the abject unfairness of my fortune, I can look back retrospectively and retroactively change the vision of how bad or unfair my life was.

The genre of “memoir” has experienced some degree of disgrace lately. The liberties some memoirists have taken with the “truth” have left some, myself included, with a healthy skepticism for what many claim to be real, calling it instead the “essential” or “emotional” truth, all the while telling us that embellishing details or outright fabrication is fair game when telling their story. It is not, but for this reason I hesitate to call this a memoir. But it is not an autobiography, per se, either. I will not bore you with every little chronologically organized detail of the 47 years I have lived thus far. I am not that important nor am I that interesting, however, I am a formerly miserable human being who is not anymore. Ever. And that transformation could be of use to others. To that end, I have little choice but to document sections of my story – to present pieces of my life that illustrate how it went from a storybook childhood to an empty aimless existence and, most importantly, how I came out of it.

This is a story about how to change the past.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Visibly Smaller Pores

I rarely watch television advertisements, opting instead to use the features of my DVR and zip right through them (not as zippy as I would like – the Comcast DVR I am stuck with is only slightly better than no DVR at all, but I digress…). Because of this, the only time commercials get any airtime in my home happens when the TV is on in the background – when I am not paying attention to it anyway. But there must be something at some level of consciousness that is paying attention because I heard something this morning that had me using that DVR to zip back to listen to a commercial. Unbelievable? Yes, however, the commercial was even more so.
L’Oréal is currently airing television advertisements for a new facial skin care product, Go 360° Clean. Billed as the “1st Deep Pore-by-Pore Cleanser,” it comes with its very own “Scrublet.” Working away in my office one room away from the droning TV, I did not hear any of this. It was just the standard run of the mill, daytime personal hygiene product commercial - blah, blah, blah. What made my ears perk up was one of the benefits this new cleanser provides to its users. After rewinding back to the beginning of the 15-second spot, I viewed the entire commercial, this time paying very close attention. Not believing what I thought I heard, I needed confirmation. And I got it.
The spot is obviously aimed at women and women, apparently, are very interested in being 100 percent sure that each and every pore is thoroughly clean; hence, the “Scrublet.” And it's not just about women... I mean really, who doesn’t want clean pores? I certainly do. The scrublet gimmick, the thorough cleansing appeal and the beautiful face model with the absolutely flawless skin are all standard fare when it comes to marketing this sort of product. None of it is particularly noteworthy and none of it captured my attention. But in this spot there was something new; this benefit mentioned earlier was one I did not know was in demand. I now know that I must concentrate on yet one more attribute that defines beauty – small pores.
Yes, that’s right. L’Oréal’s Go 360° Clean will provide its user with, and I quote, “visibly smaller pores.” I never knew that pore size, or the appearance thereof, was a measure of beauty. But apparently while I was off in the twilight zone not paying attention to TV commercials, it became one. Like pretty much every other measure of beauty created by those selling us products to create it or maintain it, the appearance of pore size is now of critical importance where beauty is concerned. And now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Who in his or her right mind would even think about walking around in public with large pores?
These marketing folk are clever. Although it’s difficult to tell when it was that the pore size issue came up, it is possible that the extreme close-up photo of Sarah Palin on the October 4, 2008 cover of Newsweek helped to identify just how important it is to have well-behaved – and beautifully small – pores. Whatever would we do without these manufacturers of beauty? Everyone would be going out in public with these huge pores, disgracing themselves and everything they stand for. I, for one, never gave much consideration to pore size, actual or visible. Thank God for the good folks at L’Oréal for bringing this to our attention. The scrublet has provided the solution to those of us who now know what a profound problem large pores can be.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Taking Time (reprieve)

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

A friend of mine started a blog sometime last year to work through her feelings regarding matters of the heart. She often intersperses her prose with song lyrics – maybe as inspiration, or identification or solace – I never asked and she has never said. Regardless of her reason, it has at different times aroused memories when certain songs have spoken to me in similar situations. When my more “rational” thinking returned to me, I would often scoff, “life is not a song,” not really knowing what I meant by it. It very well could have been a subconscious image of my pride or masculinity that told me I didn’t need such “art” to deliver me from inner turmoil. But there were often times where my life was not directed by art, but often art mirrored my life. With the completion tonight of a task that was a major mental burden on me, I find myself uneasily at ease.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

In reflecting upon the passing of 2009, I was compelled to look at much more of the 47 years of my life than just the past year. Yes, it was another good year, it was a productive year, but it hasn’t always been this way. And still, as productive as it was, procrastination and killing time have been my nemeses. It is why I am just now feeling the relief/uneasiness of a task completed – it should have and could have been done many days, indeed weeks, ago. Yet, for all time is, there is always and forever only one time – now. And I cannot remember a single moment of a single day during the past year that I was not at least happy, if not content with the now.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

So I am getting old. How ever many years I have been allotted, 47 of them are used. The funny thing is that for the past five years, I can say that my time has not been wasted even if I have “frittered and wasted the hours in an offhand way.” In a way, those hours have been earned even if I do happen to borrow some against future anxiety. I do not want to justify my procrastination, quite the contrary, my aim is to reduce it even more than I already have. But I also need to be sure to remind myself that what I have accomplished thus far (all 47 years and counting) is real and represents, in total, a productive use of my time. And the past few years are not the apex, but a continuing climb to an as yet unknown mountaintop.

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say

There is still time. My mantra is also my curse. If I could put to productive use all the time I have been given, well, who knows where I’d be. By the same token, though, I might have crashed and burned. It is important to take care of business. But it is also important to take a little time.

* Lyics from Pink Floyd's Time