Hair for the Holidays

It occurs to me that I am not a hat person. I tried for a time, back in my ‘John Denver’ days, tugging a rough-hewn leather cowboy hat over my long (and typically greasy) locks in the hopes of being mistaken for a musician. It was a short-lived period and one that never achieved the desired results.

I will pull on a baseball cap when I go fishing, but there are quite literally two hats I chose from on those occasions. Even when I go hiking, many times my expensive ‘outdoors’ hat (the one with mesh cooling vents and a removable Lawrence of Arabia neck shroud) gets left behind in the car. Foolish, perhaps, should the weather take a turn, but I would rather feel the wind in my hair than cover my noggin.

Not to brag, but I do have a pretty good mane, especially considering my age (you’ve heard of Methuselah, oldest man in the Bible? I’m his dad). Other things may be sagging, swelling or outright falling off, but the hairline is hanging in there. Yes, my vanity might be showing, but why not flaunt what you got.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to try and grow it out one more time after watching a few episodes of The Kominsky Method. I’m thinking I could give the Michael Douglas/Sam Elliot look a go, though I am also keenly aware that you’re only a couple of Hot Buttered Rums away from the Nick Nolte ‘sleeping on the park bench’ coif (see above).

I am at the point right now where I either need to get a haircut or commit to the shag. Previous attempts have been thwarted by an obsessive need to keep my advancing locks from touching my ears. This may be an ‘old guy’ thing, as it was never a concern when I wore my hair down to my shoulders.

But these days I seem to be much more sensitive to it, and find myself pushing my hair back constantly. So, short of being put into a medically-induced coma until I look like a hoary Fabio, this may give me cause to resurrect the mullet – providing length while still keeping the ears out of the fray.

These latest thoughts about “letting my freak flag fly” – as Crosby, Stills and Nash crooned in Almost Cut My Hair – had their seeds in the pandemic, when the simple act of getting a haircut could mean taking your life in your hands. So trips to the salon were delayed as long as possible, and while that made for many a Doc Brown moment (when you see yourself in the mirror and spontaneously exclaim, “Great Scott!”), it also had me reminiscing about the good ol’ days of tangled tresses and pony tails.

There was high school, of course, because it was the seventies and long hair was mandatory. The eighties didn’t put much of a crimp in my style, either, thanks to the afore-mentioned mullet. Then it came time to toe the line and sport grownup hair, though I did manage to gain back some length in the months after we moved to Colorado, while I waited for employers to beat a path to my door.

There’s a bit more gray these days (and by ‘a bit’ I mean a shitload), but society gives me a pass and calls it ‘distinguished.’ Then again, ‘distinguished’ isn’t necessarily a look you want to sport for a job interview. Which may be a big part of why it’s been such a challenge for me to find gainful employment following our relocation.

But hell, St. Nick himself is rocking a righteous white mop in all his promotional materials and at his many mall appearances. I guess if that shaggy old hipster can find a gig, then there’s hope for me.

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A Forgotten Souvenir

I’ve had a tune rolling around in my head for days. Not something that I might have heard on the radio recently or was suggested by the Spotify algorithms – no, this is a song from the depths of my gray matter, from when records were the size of dinner plates.

Here is a poem that my lady sent down, some morning while I was away, Wrote on the back of a leaf that she found, somewhere around Monterey…

Old Dan Fogelberg, the title track from his second album, Souvenirs, released the year I graduated from high school. Shortly after we hominids stumbled from Olduvai Gorge. I was introduced to it by a friend, another euphonium player in band class, who previewed it for me excitedly one evening at his house. And at seventeen, it became one of my favorites. While far from such seminal works as, say, Dark Side of the Moon or Sgt. Pepper, its folksy, acoustic vibe (even a bit smarmy at times, in retrospect) appealed to the wannabe troubadour in me.

Part of the Plan hit the charts, and put Fogelberg on the map. The rest of the record was generally ignored by commercial radio, but I was enthralled and played it until I wore out the grooves. John Denver had already inspired me to pick up a guitar, and now I attempted to add a few of these songs to my meager repertoire. Three simple chords – C, F and G – and I was strumming backup rhythm on There’s a Place in the World For a Gambler.

Though he gained a reputation for sentimental ballads, this early album (produced by his friend Joe Walsh) had a more upbeat feel, embodied by the near-rock number, As the Raven Flies. But when it came to jamming with the lead guitar part on said tune (some of which was laid down by Walsh himself), it was obvious I was hopelessly outmatched, as the exercise typically degenerated into a furious stream of jumbled, discordant notes. And on many of the remaining songs I warbled tentative harmonies in my strangled, nasal Midwestern baritone.

Later, when I started my illustrious broadcasting career, my first job was disc jockey at a small station in Howell, Michigan, not far from Detroit. Back then it was a quiet farm town, the seat of Livingston County and a notoriously conservative enclave. A place where they loved their country music, and where a Grand Wizard of the KKK was rumored to live. As a DJ, one of my duties was to meet the national news feed at four minutes before every hour as a lead-in to the local newscast I had to read at the top of the hour.

I usually tried to back-time a song with a cold ending so that the last note was dying just as the ABC news anchor chimed in. And many times, the two and a half minute Changing Horses was the perfect length to fill that window. It brought me no small joy to think that I was elevating the lyrical discourse in what tiny bit of the world was reached by those five-thousand watts – giving these window-licking hillbillies a taste of quality music for a change.

Eventually he was supplanted, as he got a little too ‘soft’ for me as his popularity grew, and other artists came along – R.E.M., Counting Crows, the Indigo Girls, the Tragically Hip, Wailin’ Jennys, the Dave Matthews Band, Dawes.

So just how this particular song now came to haunt me is a mystery. It bubbled to my consciousness despite me having not revisited the album in at least 30 years. Maybe I caught a snippet of another tune that reminded me of this one. Or maybe I heard a reference to Monterey in the news that triggered a dusty, long-idled turntable in my head. Whatever the case, I was compelled to go digging through a bag of old CDs in the back of the guest room closet until, like a pothead in search of that last roach, I put my hands on it, gave a brief exclamation (“Yes!”), and held it aloft triumphantly.

I fumbled with the CD tray on my laptop for an inordinate amount of time, finally getting it to glide open after uttering the correct combination of magical curse words. With Dan’s ghost staring back at me from the jacket cover, hair flowing to his chest and bird feather in hand, his music spilled into the room. Though the computer speaker lacked the wherewithal to give the album proper respect, it didn’t matter – the songs rolled on, one after another, and every word came to my lips without hesitation.

My favorite, Illinois, is about another Midwestern boy (Fogleberg was raised in Peoria), now a California transplant, who longs for his home back east. I sang so loud that my wife yelled up from the TV room for me to tone it down so she wouldn’t miss any of the profundities being caterwauled on Real Housewives of (Take Your Pick).

I remembered that he had died some time ago, silenced by prostate cancer in 2007 at the age of 56. His was one of those passings that stuck with me for a while. Like John Lennon, Robin Williams and Joan Didion, among others – people I admired for various reasons, and realized once they died that I would never get the chance to meet them, regardless of how improbable such a possibility might ever have been.

But, thankfully, they all left a piece of themselves behind. Fogelberg’s music still resonates with me, perhaps even more so now with the memories in tow, and Souvenirs is back on the playlist.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Even Captain Planet can’t win them all.

The nineties environmental superhero who fell victim to adolescent indifference and, subsequently, chronic lackluster viewership, still lives on in spirit. While the ratings-obsessed media overlords may have long ago dropped the curtain on his herculean efforts to save our azure orb from the ravages of its human inhabitants, at least one aging hippie has picked up the mantle of Ted Turner’s mullet-sporting green guardian of the globe.

Yes, I’m that guy. The one who pulls shampoo bottles out of the bathroom trash while giving my wife the ‘seriously?’ face, or lecturing my son about how removing that cardboard pizza box from the refuse stream will make a better world for him to inherit. And, surprisingly, neither has killed me in my sleep just yet.

These days it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Case in point, Maud’s – a coffee distributor that appears to have finally heard my lamentations (curses, more accurately, sent with gusto into the cosmic void every morning as I stand over the sink, k-cup in hand). You see, I’ve been recycling those little cups for some time now because, well, 13-billion (with a ‘b’) finding their way into the landfills every year is enough.

And it’s messy business, peeling that foil cover off to get the grounds out. Until now. All it took was adding a tiny pull-tab to render the job effortless (but begs the question, why did that take so long?). And if one goes so far as to compost the spent and soggy payload, then that cup of joe can go down nearly guilt-free.

But it seems there is always a yang to counter the yin.

With winter in the wings (and nights already getting nippy), Cappy is trying his best to curb household energy usage in an attempt to rein in a burgeoning heating bill. The cost to keep my abode cozy has risen more than forty percent in the last year. It’s not that I’m using more natural gas – in fact, I’ve reduced my consumption, but the cost of the product has, like nearly everything else, gone stratospheric.

Inflation? Corporate greed? Take your pick. But as much as I dislike playing the ‘old guy’ card, I’m on a fixed income now, requiring nickles to be squeezed even harder that usual. So using less energy has a twofold effect – conserving dwindling natural resources while also conserving dwindling financial resources.

Step one, then, is to crank the thermostat down in the hopes that I can lull the furnace into a false sense of complacency. At the moment I’ve settled on 68 degrees.

It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.

Okay, that mind over matter crap isn’t working. Neither is Life Below Seventy. I know there are some who brag about living in an icebox all winter, who claim they turn their heat down to 62 or the like, but Captain Planet can’t hang. It turns out cold is my kryptonite.

For me, dropping under my comfort threshold, even by just two degrees, is a back breaker. I find myself leaning over the toaster while my morning English muffins brown, or clutching my coffee cup in a two-handed death grip, even swaddled as I am in wool and flannel from head to foot. I might acclimate by the new year, but until then it’s all I can do to try and milk the last BTU from every alternate heat source in the house, like Bob Cratchit cradling that lone candle in Scrooge’s office.

Discretion being the better part of valor, I’ve decided to make a tactical retreat, back to a balmy seventy degrees. I’d like to still have all my toes come April. Besides, saving the planet goes a whole lot easier if you’re not a popsicle.

Dance of the Sugar Plums

Disclaimer: In keeping with the general decline in societal norms (a recent story on my newsfeed proclaimed, “Woman Accidentally Walks Into Husband’s Fart”), I’ve decided to delve into the dark side of pet ownership. For those who may find talk of animal excrement offensive, I will be referring to said subject matter as ‘sugar plums.’ If this is still not enough to placate the squeamish or puritanical, then I suggest you stop reading before, like me, you step in something you weren’t expecting.

For many, it is their favorite time of year. The air is crisp, the trees go full Norman Rockwell in spectacular color displays, the sky a cerulean pearl. Winter is, of course, lurking just off stage, waiting to make its entrance and bring everyone back to reality, but for a few weeks the world is all fleece pullovers, pumpkin spice and falling leaves.

Aye, there’s the rub – those falling leaves. They can drift lazily to the ground or blow in horizontally on gale-force winds, but either way they make my life hell. Not because I’m particularly bothered by raking them up. At least not here in Colorado. Back in Michigan, in our heavily-wooded neighborhood, they would pile up in knee-high drifts that had to be pushed onto a tarp before being dragged up the steep hill behind our house. It was a multi-day affair that tested my stamina and prompted me to keep my cardiologist on speed-dial just in case.

Here, things are much less strenuous. A couple of easy hours raking and it’s over. And there’s even curbside pickup. With one caveat – the company handling our yard waste is adamant about no biohazard (a.k.a. sugar plums) finding its way into the bin with the grass clippings, sticks and leaves. Something about the earth spinning off its axis as a result…

So this, then, is the dilemma. The backyard is my dog’s safe zone – it’s the only place he feels comfortable enough to go about his business. Toby is a rescue, and we’ve come to realize that he’s agoraphobic. When you take him for a walk he spends the entire time looking back over his shoulder as if to say, “Hey, I think you left the coffee maker on – we should really go back and check.”

Nor does he take these opportunities to make his mark in the world, apparently being a huge proponent of the ‘leave no trace’ movement. In the five years we’ve had him, he hasn’t once left a sugar plum behind on a walk. Not one. He saves them all for my backyard. And while his favorite drop zone seems to be directly in front of the shed doors, that is by no means the only one.

Any other season, this is not a problem. Have shovel, will scoop. But come fall, when nature’s colorful collage carpets the yard, there is no safe passage. The sugar plums lie in wait, hidden from view beneath the autumnal bounty. It feels like every foray into the backyard during October should be accompanied by the theme music from Jaws.

To simply rake everything up into a pile is out of the question. Even taking into account Toby’s known haunts, the odds of dredging up rogue sugar plums in such an indiscriminate operation are astronomical. And to try and sift them out as you transfer the leaves to the bin is not only foolhardy and unsanitary, but nigh on impossible. Gravity helps the process a bit, as the heavier objects tend to make their way to the bottom of the pile, but unless one were to go leaf by leaf, stragglers and cling-ons will invariably slip past.

And so I bob and weave my way through the season’s waning splendor, cavorting with my leaf blower as I high-step over land mines both new and old, like Fred Astaire doing the mambo with that coat rack. Except the consequences of a misstep are slightly more dire in my case. Sure, I could get a cat and be done with it, but then what would the neighbors have to look forward to.

Lee Ann Womack had a big hit a while back with I Hope You Dance. Thanks to my dog Toby, her wish is fulfilled.

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

Christmas is all about the joy that comes from giving, but what happens when there’s nothing left to give? I mean, my lovely wife and I have reached a point in our lives and relationship where we pretty much have all the things we could ever need or want. During the rest of the year there is very little discussion about purchases – if one of us decides we should have something, we just get it. Larger purchases (anything over a few hundred bucks) will be mentioned, usually to avoid statement shock when the credit card bill rolls in, but we really don’t monitor the other’s spending habits.

Of course, it’s December when those chickens come home to roost. So for the last few years we’ve toyed with the idea of simply not buying gifts for one another, a concept only recently approved for other members of the (extended) family. Trying to curb the parade of baubles and trinkets that will be tucked into a dark corner, never to see the light of day again, or simply donated to a favorite charity after the dust of the holidays has settled.

At first blush, it seems like a win-win – not only relieving the receiver of all that guilt about returning the tube socks so lovingly picked out for them, but also giving the gifter one less thing to stress over as the big day approaches and the desperation factor increases exponentially (hence the tube socks).

As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule. Obviously our kids (and now grandkids), because there are still things they require. But this means they then feel obligated to reciprocate – the unwritten Christmas quid pro quo that ensnares us all.

However, just like with my birthday, the things that really matter to me any more are probably a little tough to wrap – things like world peace and clean energy. So I always opt for gift cards to a favorite restaurant, or a donation in my name to Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature or some other equally worthy cause. Still, this doesn’t always guarantee that a rogue pair of tube socks won’t turn up. To my youngest…it truly is the thought that counts, and I feel your pain.

But where my spouse is concerned, there is no easy out. In the past, we have looked each other in the eye and pinky-swore that this would be the year when we go gift-free, with the understanding that we don’t love any less, we just want to stop the madness. And should the economy slip into a death spiral because two fewer purchases were made this holiday season, well, my bad.

All our pact provides, though, is a sad commentary on trust. You end up buying something as ‘backup’ just in case she breaks down and tries to sneak her own something under the tree with your name on it. Which happens every year. It might be endearing if the exchange left us with a ‘Gift of the Magi’ sort of ending – me selling my newly-acquired kayak to buy her the complete set of Downton Abbey DVDs while she hocks the Blu-Ray player to get me a paddle for my kayak – but the days of being so broke as to pawn off our possessions to pay for presents are long gone.

So I’ll be prowling the shops right up until Christmas Eve, looking for another ‘something’ to avoid that fate worse than death – being the one who receives but has nothing to give. All the while railing against a society that no longer abides by the sanctity of the pinky-swear.

A Visit from St. Nicholas (Mask Optional)

It started with a garage sale a few months ago, in those halcyon days between the vaccine and the variants. My wife is always on the lookout for ‘vintage’ items (however you define the term) since getting her mid-mod groove on a while back. Lamps and clocks are the typical finds but, as Forrest Gump was fond of saying, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

This time she hit the jackpot – not only a sixties-era piece, but a Christmas item to boot (another of her character flaws quirky pursuits). An old-school blow mold Santa, in decent shape for his age and sporting a three-dollar price tag. Either the owners didn’t know what they had, as these things are becoming desirable and prices are climbing, or they didn’t care and just wanted the jolly old elf out of their garage. I didn’t gripe too much, operating under the ‘it could always be worse’ assumption – at about four feet high, he was far less obnoxious than the giant inflatable Santas and their ever-whirring air pumps.

So this is his first season on the front porch…indeed yesterday was his first day. And it turns out the blow molds are kind of a hot ticket. By that I mean the reprobates among us won’t hesitate to snatch them up and spirit them away due to the aforementioned desirability factor. To avoid such a fate, I brought him inside at the end of the night rather than just unplug him, and stood him next to the front door in anticipation of setting him right back out again the next day.

But I forgot to clear these actions with my dog Toby. As he was descending the stairs later that evening, I heard him growling softly, something he rarely if ever does. At first I couldn’t figure out what might be the problem, but then I realized that Kris Kringle was now an interloper in Toby’s world. Standing there in the half-light with his bag of toys and that vapid stare, the old guy could have been looting the place for all Toby knew.

Fair enough. Once I grasped the situation, I tried to explain who this rotund cherub dressed in red was, but Toby was having none of it. At that point all I could do was spin Santa around so that he and the dog were no longer making eye contact. That seemed to placate Toby, who crept up to the plastic statue and gave it a tentative sniff before going about his business. All good.

Of course, being of a certain age, by the next morning I forgot that I had done any of this. So as I came down the stairs…

What to my wondering eyes should appear, 
But a miniature man with a sack full of cheer. 
At first I was startled and said “What the frick?!?” 
But knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick, 
He stood in a corner, his back turned to me, 
Looking as if he were taking a pee.
I smiled when I saw him, finding it cute, 
But then had a thought ‘bout the jolly old coot.
With COVID and lockdowns two years in a row, 
A piddling Santa seems quite apropos.

Of Kayaks and Kiddos

It’s been kind of ‘hit or miss’ with my writing efforts in 2021. Mostly ‘miss’ if I’m being honest. Writer’s block, personal upheaval, frustration with the world in general, you name it. In the past I’ve gone as long as a year without that creative spark, though more routinely it will be a few months here or there. And I’ll blame this latest dry spell on the winding road of life, both good and bad.

I recently waded into the Medicare quagmire, eliciting questions about how exactly I got to this point in life so rapidly. This revelation may or may not have prompted the subsequent purchase of a kayak, what my wife looks at as a “see, I’m really not that old” gift to myself. Truthfully, I think she’s just relieved I didn’t spend the balance of our retirement savings on a similarly-colored Lamborghini.

There was also the addition of a second grandchild a few days ago. A special event, to be sure, although one that, again, makes a person take note of the headlong rush of time. I doubt any of us are truly prepared for the ‘Grampa’ or ‘Granny’ moniker, or whichever variant you settle on when asked your preference. Because grandparents are viewed as doddering non-entities in this society, relegated to a rocking chair, one step from the grave.

Okay, maybe not a Lamborghini, but possibly a Corvette.

Of course, the facebook tributes and congratulatory comments are flooding in, exposing one of the great gender divides. Early pictures of the little bugger are, as most baby pics seem to be (in my eyes, anyway), pretty typical – that puffy, squeezed face bearing a look of quizzical consternation.

One photo, I dare say, bore a shocking resemblance to the late actor Edward G. Robinson (Dathan from The Ten Commandments, as well as a host of mobsters and ne’er-do-wells from Hollywood’s Golden Age, for the millennials and Gen Zers out there). Even so, the women shower Ewan Theodore with compliments, labeling him “adorable,” “beautiful” and “precious.” The men, on the other hand, tend to limit their responses to ‘thumbs up’ emojis or a simple “Congrats!”

It is a shortcoming of those of us saddled with the Y-chromosome – an inability to see past the physical in order to find the simple, perfect beauty in new life. It doesn’t mean we love these tiny packages any less, simply that we are further down the evolutionary ladder than our female counterparts. There may also be something to the fact that our roles in the process amount to little more than a pleasurable few minutes (a charitable estimate, by all accounts), while women share a bond of discomfort and pain and monumental effort to bring another human into the world. A labor that is nothing short of magical.

And there were plenty of other magic moments to go around. For instance, shortly after everyone got home from the hospital, as three-year old big brother Finn was being introduced to his new sibling. Mom had just finished a feeding and was attempting to work a burp out of the little man when he spit up a fair amount of his meal onto a receiving blanket draped over her shoulder. This all happened directly in front of Finn, who had been watching intently, to which he exclaimed, with surprising clarity, “Oh, shit!” Aww…baby’s first curse word.

I did find it somewhat disconcerting that all eyes turned to doddering old Grampa at that point. Sure, Finn and I are close, but there’s absolutely no way they can pin that shit on me.

Third Time’s the Charm

Toast has been on the menu for some time, now. The word itself comes from the Latin ‘tostum,’ which means ‘to burn or scorch.’ And while the Egyptians get credit for bringing us leavened bread, theories as to who started scorching it by the slice tend to differ. General consensus gives the nod to the Romans, who most likely started by warming it on hot rocks around a fire. Eventually they may have skewered it on a stick and waved it over the flames, the way we now roast marshmallows and hot dogs, or even held it on a wire rack.

At least one individual has a similar, though more specific, hypothesis. He claims it was introduced (to Europeans, at least) at the battle of Hastings, in the year 1066. When the bread got wet, so his story goes, soldiers tried to dry it out on their shields in front of the bonfire and, just like that, a breakfast staple was born.

The history lesson aside, I would prefer to move on from the topic. It’s not something I normally obsess over. Honestly. But these last few months have been a struggle when it comes to getting a decent piece of toast around here. Especially since, considering how long we hominids have been at this, we should really have it perfected by now. The latest contender to pick up the gauntlet is another KitchenAid, brought in to replace the nameless toaster that was brought in to replace the original KitchenAid that met an untimely demise after twenty plus years of faithful service. My role in this saga need not be revisited.

The previous toaster failed to adequately live up to the basic precept of its existence – an even scorch. Somehow, this concept was beyond the realm of its capabilities. Instead, it laid down a gradient pattern that incorporated every shade of brown in the spectrum, like a sample color card at the Sherwin-Williams store.

Still, I was able to overlook this shortcoming due to the fact that I paid all of seven dollars for it at Goodwill. Pristine, with nary a crumb to be found, it was obviously new. In hindsight, though, its lack of pedigree – the manufacturer found it unnecessary, or perhaps unwise, to brand its product with the company name – should have raised a red flag. And while it’s true that ‘you get what you pay for,’ it’s also pretty painless to let go when you’re only out seven bucks.

Despite the ‘trusted’ name brand on the replacement’s replacement, this one has its own unique toasting style, focusing its efforts on only one side of the bread at a time. And the pop-up mechanism doesn’t work – there is a loud clunk, but the toast remains entombed in the slot unless you lift the lever by hand, which in turn lifts the carriage (or whatever the hell is the proper term for the little cage in which the bread resides) and allows you to claim your half-baked (literally) bread.

So to get that symmetrical brown, you need to reposition the slice in the other slot, upside down, and then watch diligently for it to reach the perfect scorch before manually extracting your now (finally) fully-baked prize.

We can fly helicopters on Mars…

This newest acquisition was the result of a trade, bartered between family members. There was a vintage toaster acquired by my wife at an estate sale that was then swapped for an existing toaster owned by her sister. So it’s not like I can ask for a refund. In the interests of keeping the familial peace, we’ll just take our lumps and quietly move on.

And, yeah, maybe the third time is the charm, but at this point I’m losing faith in technology. It might be easier to simply build a fire in the backyard, provided I can borrow someone’s shield.

When the Well Runs Dry

I’ve been stuck for a while. And by ‘stuck’ I mean the words won’t come. Inspiration has flown the coop. Whether the lingering pandemic, political ennui or simply running out of gas, this turned into my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer for writing. A brief recap:

May. No need to panic just yet. It’s only been a month since I posted something on my blog. I’ve had worse dry spells in the past. I’m sure my twelve loyal readers will hang in there. Besides, I have plants to maim and kill.

June. According to the ‘stupid holiday’ website, where I go for ideas in times of trouble, this is National Bathroom Reading Month.

*yawn*

Another check of the headlines shows that little has changed since I checked fifteen minutes ago. Social media is next…there should be plenty of shiny objects on facebook with which to distract myself.

July. Afghanistan is a shitshow as we clear out in the wake of The Great Negotiator’s secret deal to hand the country back over to the Taliban – two trillion dollars well-spent on training the Afghan military, which is in the process of folding like a house of cards. And they’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble of that collapsed condo in Florida. Hilarious stuff.

August. So I’m back to staring at a blank page in my word processing program, waiting for inspiration to fill in all that whiteness. Meanwhile the cursor blinks at me impatiently, mockingly. I had to remove the clock from the bathroom because, from my desk here in the bedroom I could hear its incessant ticking, reminding me that I was accomplishing nothing while my death was drawing ever closer, implacable and non-negotiable, one second at a time.

We went camping with friends from back in Michigan this month. I thought a change of scenery might do me good. One night we were all sitting around the fire, stargazing. Nothing like the vastness of the cosmos to make that knee-slapper I planned to write about my travails with excessive earwax seem a tad picayune.

September. This is serious – I just googled “ways to overcome writer’s block.” And now I’m sorry I did. Suggestions range from ‘go for a walk’ to ‘brew some coffee.’ And my favorite, ‘just write.’ What the hell do you think I’ve been doing for the last five months?!?

A sampling…

I almost ran over another goose today. They congregate here like the Harley crowd to Sturgis, thanks to some guy who introduced them to the area back in the fifties. Maybe that would make a good story, something about all these geese…like they’re illegal aliens (from Canada, get it?) and why isn’t the government doing more to stop them.

Two paragraphs is all I could muster on that one before I decided it had roughly the equivalent comedic value of an ingrown hair.

There will always be the anti-vaxxers and covid deniers – surely I can find some humor there. Low-hanging fruit, I suppose, but at this point I just want to get something down on paper.

So New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die. Maybe something like Live Free and Die. Or how horse dewormer or a rectally-inserted ultraviolet light is so much more sensible than a simple shot in the arm.

Come to think of it, how funny is 700,000 dead people? Okay, moving on…

My wife recently lost 80 pounds on the Keto diet. The problem here is that I have a metabolism that burns like the core of a nuclear reactor – losing weight has never been on my radar. We are a house divided. So maybe a survival guide for those caught in the Keto wasteland.

Maybe not. Have you ever gone back and read your work and realized that you’ve apparently been channeling the spirit of Jeff Spicoli for an undetermined length of time?

Not quite the muse I was hoping for.

Let’s try this again. It was a dark and stormy night…

Happy Freaking Birthday

I’m not sure when I started to hate my birthday. Growing up it was just the usual thing – maybe a small gathering of school friends, some presents, a cake, the requisite blowing out of candles. Nothing elaborate, as we never had a lot to spend on these affairs, but enough to make a kid feel special.

Once I had kids of my own, the focus naturally shifted to them, and I sort of lost interest in celebrating my birthday. It began to seem superfluous, pointless. Maybe I would finally get that nifty trekking pole or fleece pullover I was too cheap to buy for myself, but the day came and went with less fanfare, and less meaning, every passing year. And while age truly is just a number, all the same my number is becoming a bit unwieldy, a fact for which I no longer require an annual reminder via Hallmark cards pointing out the hilarity of going deaf or what a great job I’m doing keeping candle makers in business.

To be clear, I don’t dislike birthdays in general, only mine. Wishing others well and imploring them to enjoy their special day is perfectly fine in my book, should they choose to put such information out there (although I will admit to finding those who celebrate for the entirety of their birthday month a bit tedious). And while turnabout is fair play, this is one time when I’m happy to not be on the receiving end.

It’s difficult to admit this and not sound ungrateful. Actually, I’m appreciative of all those who want to show their love for me by recognizing the anniversary of my expulsion from the womb. It’s just unnecessary. I would rather let the day pass unannounced, but that doesn’t seem to be an acceptable practice.

My family? Sure – I don’t mind being told to have a happy birthday by those closest to me. But that can be the end of it. Social media? Well, I finally got Facebook to stop reminding all my cyber-friends about the day, but someone (I’m looking at you, my blushing bride) insists on slipping in a public post to draw attention to it every year, despite my protests. “It’s not about you,” she argues, bringing all her Jedi mind-trick skills to bear. “It’s so other people can do something nice for you.”

At which point we typically fall into a back and forth that could have been lifted from a Dickens novel: “Keep birthdays in your own way and let me keep them in mine,” I retort.

“But you don’t keep them.”

“Let me leave them alone, then.”

It’s not that I get depressed, particularly, a pitfall for many who share my aversion to having a to-do made of ‘their’ day. I don’t wallow in self-pity while taking stock of all the things I haven’t accomplished to this point in my life. Rather it’s more that I’m uncomfortable with all the attention, even embarrassed by it. It simply feels a bit foolish now that I’m officially a fossil.

And the inevitable queries start coming in a few weeks before. “The kids want to know what to get you for your birthday.” I reached saturation-level some time ago where the material world is concerned, having accumulated every do-dad and trinket I could possibly have or want. But things like world peace and clean energy are probably tough to wrap, so I opt for a gift card from a favorite restaurant or a contribution to the Sierra Club. Distinctly un-fun presents to open around the birthday cake, but how many pairs of tube socks can one man have?

Here’s the thing – this day is about me. And my birthday wish is to not celebrate my birthday. Apologies to all the candle makers out there.