A Sharp Dressed Man

henleys

Everyone, including my calendar, keeps telling me fall has arrived. Except that temps were in the 90s all of last week, and are hovering in the upper 80s this week – the weather folks are trying to sell it as a refreshing cool down. The thing is, here in Colorado we hit the 90s by early June this year, and have endured a brutally hot summer that seems unwilling to exit. But I have not come to rail against climate change or those who choose to discount it. I live at 5,000 feet of elevation – it will take a while for the oceans to reach me. The rest of y’all are on your own.

No, I’m here because, on the heels of New York Fashion Week, it’s time to introduce the new fall wardrobe. Of course, being in possession of the Y chromosome means there really isn’t much that’s truly ‘new’ about my clothing. It’s more a case of just breaking out the old stuff again, with the hope that I haven’t desecrated my boyish figure in the interim. Yes, I have a new henley to add to the pile, but that’s about the extent of it.

Because henleys are my go-to post-summer clothing item – those long-sleeved, waffle-fabric shirts with three or so buttons at the neck and no collar. I have a drawer full of them. I will live in them for the next 7 months. I will more than likely be buried in at least one. I am forever attempting to attire myself in them for all types of social interactions, including weddings and job interviews, only to be fashion-shamed by my wife with a sardonic “Is that what you’re wearing?” comment as I’m heading out the door.

The first henleys date back to prehistoric times. An early cave drawing appears to depict Neanderthals wearing similar garments while on a woolly mammoth hunt. Over the centuries they have evolved into multi-functional apparel that, woolly mammoths aside, no man should be without. Worn alone, they represent the epitome of casual-cool – no ties allowed. They also transition seamlessly to a serviceable pajama top for those times when you fall asleep in front of the TV. Or throw a threadbare flannel shirt over one and you have perfected the grunge look of the nineties, which I believe will be making a comeback in short order. Just as I am certain of the timelessness of my summer collection of cargo shorts.

My jeans, though tearing through at the knees due to age, will also be coming out of hibernation, as temperatures drop and less skin becomes the norm. Which begs the question, is the over-50 crowd allowed to wear torn pants, or is that considered generational-appropriation? For the record, I have no problem leaving the skinny jeans to the millennials due to circulation issues and a desire to not walk like the Tin Man.

And a regional note – one item of ‘clothing’ that never goes out of fashion around here, even on the coldest of days, is the flip-flop. People will show up at the grocery store in the middle of January with their toes on display, in what amounts to either a complete lack of common sense or an unwillingness to give in to the elements – an “up yours” to old man winter. Personally, I’m a big proponent of the ‘put the toes away after Labor Day’ maxim, but whatever works for you.

So happy fall, all you fashionistas.

Is that what you’re wearing?

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Parenthood and Moving Pictures

popcorn

Every so often I awake to this sight – enough popcorn to feed a small country. The good stuff, too, direct from the movie theater. No, this is not the setup for an ill-advised reboot of Man vs. Food. My son is working at Cinemark while he makes his way through college. And every so often he brings home a massive helping of the stuff, the last of what is in the poppers at the end of the night and would otherwise be dragged to the dumpster in the back alley.

As it turns out, a lifetime supply of roughage is just one of the perks that come with his job.

Another is free movies, for him and a guest. And more often than not, that guest is me. It’s not like we abuse the privilege, but about once a month we go to see something together. To call Dee a ‘movie buff’ is to grossly underestimate his love of moving pictures. He is enthralled with them, having given serious consideration to movie-making as a career, in at least some capacity (at which point my role as dream-killer was to require that he pick up a degree in a marketable field in order to, as my mom was so fond of saying, have something to fall back on). When he first applied for this position, he was also waiting to hear on a job as a food demonstrator at a nearby warehouse club, where hair and beard nets would be mandatory. When they told him he was hired at the movie theater he did a little dance in the living room.

Not all the films we see are worthy of our time, but most are gratifying on one level or another. Science fiction is a favorite (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, The Shape of Water), along with those that tackle more weighty subjects (Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water). He has an ability to view each with a discerning, dichotomous eye – appreciating them not only for their sheer entertainment value, but for all the technical elements as well, things like pacing, cinematography and dialogue.

shape of water

Image credit: FOX Searchlight

I, on the other hand, have more of a gut reaction. Thumbs up or thumbs down. I thoroughly enjoy them, too, but I’m there more for the experience – to be sitting in a darkened theater next to this grown man who is still my child, sharing a few hours together.

And while we treat new theatrical releases with all the reverence they deserve (turn off your damned phones, people, and shut your pie-holes!), we are the furthest thing from movie snobs. This is reflected by the fact that we also enjoy epically bad efforts, and will never pass up a chance to trash a televised stinker with a running commentary, from the comfort of our own couch. The creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 should be paying us royalties.

Growing up, Dee was a shy kid (as was I), in complete opposition to his older brother. Our first child played football and dated cheerleaders – Dee was in the band (as was I). The older one and I go hiking together and now have opportunities to bond over home renovation projects, as he is in his first house with a baby on the way. Dee had few evident interests as a child, and never developed a love of the outdoors, despite being dragged on many a camping trip. I’m not trying to atone for some Cat’s In The Cradle type upbringing – we always had a good father/son relationship, but there really was nothing that we shared, just the two of us. Now, we have movies.

dunkirk

Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Music, too, as he seems to have recently developed an unhealthy interest in the classic rock genre. While I would like to take at least partial credit, in truth I can only cop to aiding and abetting after the fact. You see, we kind of have a deal. As a former ‘radio talent,’ I regale him with stories of the aging rock stars he adds to his playlist, and he sees to it that I listen to at least some artists from this century. And on occasion, we make the trip down to Red Rocks to catch a show if schedules allow and one of our mutual favorites is making an appearance.

But, with such easy and affordable access, films provide our real connection.

Of course, as with any parent, I worry about his future, what the world may foist on him, what kind of person he will be. Though I already have a pretty decent picture on that last one. He is kind, soft-spoken, thoughtful and creative. A writer, it turns out, and a much better one than his old man, I’m happy to report. If he doesn’t wind up directing movies, perhaps he can make a living as a film critic – you can read his reviews on his blog, Memoirs of (Uncredited).

And if you’re ever in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by for a friendly chat about the current state of cinema. We may be discussing Ridley Scott’s impact on the industry, or eviscerating a showing of the SyFy Channel classic, Mansquito. The popcorn is on us.

Clutter’s Last Stand

pile

My wife was recently given the green light by her employer to start working from home. It’s something she’s been looking forward to for a while, now. As for me, not so much. Not because I’m bothered that we’ll be together more, but rather because it means my office, my war room, my sanctuary, will now be her office.

Admittedly, there isn’t anything of great import happening within its walls at the moment. As a freelance writer, it was simply a quiet spot where I could conduct phone interviews uninterrupted (except, on occasion, by the dog) and bang out an article or two. Even that has fallen by the wayside of late, so now it’s just the place where my laptop lives and, thereby, where I go to peruse the internet and craft these spellbinding posts.

However, this hostile usurpage also means trouble with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘C’ and that stands for ‘cleaning.’ While I optimistically refer to it as an office, this last spare bedroom has become the dumping ground for the flotsam of our lives. Purgatory for mission-style end tables that ran afoul of the incoming mid-century modern décor (and didn’t find a buyer at the last garage sale), TVs and old computer monitors that await their demise on the electronic discard heap at Best Buy (but linger here on the slim chance that the recycling fairies will come one night to whisk them away and spare me the $25 disposal fee), pillows that clashed with the new color scheme, wall art that now elicits a ‘What were we thinking?’ response, a treadmill that no one has set foot on in 5 years (though, I must admit, still makes for a serviceable clothes hanger).

And the piles. Sweet chocolate Moses, the piles. Whereas I have always been able to look past the burgeoning mess and remain productive, my wife adheres to this near-obsessive notion of keeping a tidy workspace. Says she likes knowing where everything is at. Whatever.

Some of this is ‘kid’ stuff – pictures from a trip to Disney World 20 years ago, handwritten Father’s Day cards bearing nothing more than the words “I love you, Dad” carefully printed within the confines of a lopsided heart, elementary school projects that involved lots of construction paper and glue, but whose themes have been lost to the ages. Family memorabilia that will in all likelihood accompany me to the grave. Other things are retained based on Curt’s Arbitrary Scale of Relative Value – mortgage documents, dog vaccination records, yellowing copies of newspapers and magazines that were desperate enough to print some of my stories, a graphic representation of the Front Range (because, map nerd), and on and on. Yes, much of it could be stored nicely in a file cabinet. In fact, most of it was stored nicely in a file cabinet until said cabinet was donated to the nearest charity in the last purge.chairful One of those decisions that seemed to make sense at the time – less is better – but came with unintended consequences. Now office supplies and old tax returns sit around in plastic grocery store bags, some still tucked in their newly homeless hanging folders.

Julie has also requested, quite unreasonably I feel, that the contents of the closet be included in this transitional project. It may be the last bastion of mystery junk in the house, the place where trash bags full of undocumented miscellany are stashed like the bodies of those who have crossed the mob. As long as I could get the doors closed, there was no need for concern. But now I’m having to sift through everything, and make go/no go determinations about each item on a case-by-case basis. It’s like an episode of Hoarders, without all the mouse turds.

This has exposed one of my great failings in life, the fact that I lack the ‘organization’ gene. I’m more of a ‘shuffler,’ merely relocating stuff from one place to another rather than actually tossing it out (and I would be happy to direct you to the studies showing that messy people are more intelligent). It used to be that we moved to a new residence every couple years or so, and back then we had the Prime Rule of Crap Reduction – if we were packing up and came across something that was still in the box from the previous move, it was banished, no questions asked. Obviously it wasn’t anything of real consequence in our lives. And that philosophy kept us lean and mean in the clutter department. The last few stops have been longer, though – 12 years at the same address in Michigan and now going on 8 years at this house in Colorado. Enough time for things to accumulate in every available dark corner, for our crap reduction rule to be rescinded.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, it looks as if there may still be some room in the garage. Turns out we’ve been parking cars in there all this time.

On the Road Again

I have always been something of a nomad, as the title of my blog might suggest. For all the turmoil his alcoholism inflicted on the family, my stepfather did manage to instill in me a love of travel and the out-of-doors at an early age. A German immigrant, he fancied himself a modern-day French voyageur, and was determined to live that lifestyle on what few vacation days he earned while working at a small tool and die shop on the outskirts of Detroit. So we bought a canoe and traveled north to the boreal forests of Ontario most summers, to paddle and camp on the shores of cold, sparkling lakes. Maybe I remember these outings more fondly because, oddly, he never drank on vacation, but they seemed almost idyllic.

At the time, we owned a van that had a large metal box between the front seats, under which lived the engine. Being as these were the days before car restraints became all the rage, I would crawl down onto the floor and cozy up at the back of that box, where it was always warm from the heat of internal combustion, and the hum of the engine only inches away was like a lullaby. It may have been the best sleep I’ve ever attained in my life.

Books by Colin Fletcher, a footloose Welshman who hiked long before hiking was a thing, watered the seed that had been planted in the Canadian woods. The summer between my junior and senior years in high school was spent on the Appalachian Trail, and after graduation I opted to see where my thumb could take me. With everything I owned stuffed in a backpack, I visited places like the Boundary Waters, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. And I found that, like those trips curled up behind the engine compartment, I enjoyed the going as much as the destination, though for other reasons – the greasy spoons, the peculiar roadside attractions, the vast sweep of prairie and sky. Eventually, I scraped together enough cash to buy a Volkswagen van and truly live the dream.

microbus

In all, I owned a string of four VW campers before the madness passed. The interior was designed to accommodate the outdoorsman but could just as easily provide haven for the recently evicted, a trait that endeared the Westfalias to countless under-achievers like myself in the post-Haight Ashbury era. Along with a fold-out bed there was a galley area neatly fitted with a stove, sink and small refrigerator, as well as several cubbyholes for stashing gear (or drugs, as the case may be), all shoe-horned into a space no bigger than a phone booth. Two featured the iconic pop-top, allowing the tenant to actually stand upright inside the vehicle, which meant no slithering around on one’s back attempting to pull on a pair of pants from a prone position or cooking while bent ninety degrees at the waist. And of course, they all featured an engine in back that produced roughly the same horsepower as a ceiling fan.

Though I crisscrossed the country in them on several occasions, they were loud, completely lacking of any climate control, and not a particularly smooth ride. Nor were they the most reliable of steeds. They had at various times left me stranded on top of Palomar Mountain without brakes, on the side of the freeway without a gas pedal and in the dark without headlights. Spare parts – lots of them – were essential, along with the ability to install them under the most trying of conditions. To fully appreciate the air-cooled driving experience, it was necessary to develop a Zen-like acceptance of breakdowns as part of the journey. That and a knack for reaching your “happy place” while your flesh was being seared by red-hot engine parts.

Married life brought an upgrade, whether I wanted it or not. My wife quickly tired of the German-engineered “dream,” and before long we had moved on to a pop-up camper. Adequate for two growing boys, but once they no longer wanted to camp with their parents (which occurred as soon as the older one discovered girls in early high school, whereupon the younger one realized in short order that being alone in a camper with mom and dad was more quality time than he bargained for), even that seemed to be too much work – cranking it up, pulling out beds, lashing down canvas, assembling poles, arranging cushions, then doing it all again in reverse. Who could be bothered with that? Renewing the circle of life, we sold it to a young couple and put our wanderlust on hold. Retirement loomed, and there were nickels to squeeze.

Or so we thought. Falling under the heading of ‘Never underestimate the power of a wild hair,’ we recently decided to get back in the game.

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Modest by old white people recreational vehicle standards to be sure (as a stay in any RV park will make evident), but an abundantly adequate mobile habitat just the same. I doubt Kerouac would approve, but then again he died of cirrhosis of the liver in a nondescript ranch in Florida at the age of 47, so…

And while newer technology may provide the illusion of comfort, in truth there are simply more things to go wrong. I haven’t lost the brakes yet, but other challenges abound. Still, they are but minor glitches – not only am I already something of a Zen Master, but I’m also able to afford road service these days. To borrow from John Muir, “The road is calling, and I must go.”

The Curious Case of Deep Space Nine

No, Scott Bakula and I are not related…

Memoirs of (Uncredited)

In the last few years, I’ve become quite the Trekkie. Obviously, The Next Generation is wonderful, but I’ve been branching out, and there’s a lot to appreciate outside of the good ol’ Enterprise 1701-D. Voyager was fine, the original series has its moments, and Star Trek: Enterprise was… Ehh…

…Scott Bakula was good.

But the real enigma of this sci-fi saga is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. At first glance, DS9 has a rocky start. The pilot two-parter is almost unwatchable for starters. Avery Brooks is noticeably uncomfortable as Sisko, and is borderline awful for probably the first season and a half in the role. Come season 3, he’s settled in, and he’s certainly better, but he’s no Picard or Janeway. After powering through the first season in particular, DS9 seems to find its footing, much akin to TNG (which, to be fair, also had a weak first season). Once…

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The Year of Living Distractedly

I’ve been away a while. Not away from home, but away from my blog, away from writing. It’s been just about a year since my last post. The intervening time hasn’t been particularly difficult, with the exception of perhaps a few weeks immediately after the death of our dog. Beyond that, this most recent lap around the sun has been, in fact, a rather uninspiring one. And perhaps that is the problem.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s been plenty of drama, most notably the feces-fest swirling in our nation’s capital. It has dominated the daily news cycle, to the point where everything else is becoming drowned out by the constant noise. An unpresidented onslaught of mayhem, a perpetual train wreck from which we can not look away. But I feel all the political ballyhoo has served as a monumental distraction that has kept me from living my life as I should, hampered my ability to find joy in not only the little things that used to catch my eye and make me smile, but the bigger things as well. Like writing.

So look away I must.

In retrospect, the holidays last year seemed to slip by on autopilot. An unmemorable winter came and went, and spring did little to boost my spirits. This summer showed more promise, as we explored old vacation haunts in a modest RV purchased with an eye toward retirement. tetons

But even so, there was always an update to check on as soon as we could get a phone signal, the latest breaking news out of Washington DC to digest. Embarrassments abroad, outrages on the domestic front. And I found that lurching from one ‘WTF’ story to the next becomes exhausting.

Mercifully, life goes on. After the pain of putting down our little Jack Russell last fall, I vowed never to harbor another animal, and thereby avoid such grief ever again. That sentiment lasted only a few months, and by November we had adopted another canine waif, rescued from what sounded like an animal hoarder in Texas. toby in sunThough painfully shy (or, more accurately, scared to death) at first, he has slowly come to realize that no one is going to steal his food or his toys, and those dogs he hears barking on the other side of the backyard fence hold no sway over him. Whether he realizes that he is pulling a curmudgeon back from a dark and lonely place is hard to know.

And a minor programming note: I did manage to find work – nothing that utilizes my finely honed skill-set or vast reservoir of previous experience, but at least a paycheck, paltry though it might be (and I will leave the debate over ageism in the workforce for another day). I am now part of the bloated and byzantine healthcare system – a medical courier to be precise, picking up vials full of bodily fluids at point A and delivering them to point B. You’ll be happy to know that I haven’t run anyone over or careened my vehicle into a lamp pole as of yet, nor have I contracted any deadly pathogens along the way. Still, I can’t say that I would recommend the work – it’s actually quite mindless, though one ‘silver lining’ is the chance it has given me to reconnect with NPR. And the next time you choke on a staggeringly high medical bill, feel free to curse me and my $11 an hour job.

Enough then of being distracted by this clown show masquerading as a government. Though I had doubts initially, it looks as if the rule of law will prevail after all and the republic will survive, albeit by the skin of its teeth. And while I feel a certain obligation to stay engaged in politics, it’s obvious that there is also a need for balance, especially now. Time to return to those things that bring me joy. Let Rome burn. We can always rebuild.

For the Love of a Dog

window

As a heathen, I don’t put my faith in Master Plans or the ‘will’ of invisible, sky-dwelling deities. But I must admit that sometimes, through whatever circumstance you choose to call it, we find exactly who we need in this life.

She was a lost little dog, running the streets collarless and dirty, taken in temporarily by one of my wife’s co-workers. You should understand – my wife, Julie, having been raised a ‘cat’ person, was never really at ease around canines. She says she always felt as if they were eyeing her jugular vein. But when that co-worker brought this piss-and-vinegar-laden Jack Russell into the office, it promptly plopped down under my wife’s desk, looked up at her with those mischievous brown eyes, and just like that we had us a dog.

rileyFast-forward ten years and we are sitting in a veterinarian’s exam room, being told that kidney failure is the reason for this somewhat sudden onset of lethargy and lack of appetite. No whining, no complaints, even as her body was poisoning itself. But at 16, there was probably no hope of effective treatment, either. And just like that, we are discussing euthanasia.

In the interim, however, we all lived the life of Riley.

That we become so attached to these beasts is an odd thing. I guess boundless love, without a trace of judgement or expectation, will do that. In our case, she was the one who held sway over our decision regarding the biggest purchase of our lives. When we moved to Colorado seven years ago, we were under a tight deadline and so were rushing all over town with the realtor looking at properties. Nothing had appealed to us until we stepped through the door of the house we eventually bought. Julie turned to the side, admired the expansive window seat in the front room and simply said, “Riley would love that.” Where do we sign?

Dogs can be demanding, loud, messy and even destructive. As for Riley, she routinely engaged the vacuum cleaner in mortal combat (before she went deaf, anyway) despite our howled protestations. And Julie’s prediction about the window seat couldn’t have been more accurate. It offered the perfect view of her domain – like Mufasa, she ruled over everything the light touched, or at least she thought she did. Interlopers were not tolerated, to be sent on their way with a fusillade of frenzied canine invectives, so living next door to a dog groomer meant plenty of interrupted phone conversations and TV shows.

And she shed like nothing I have ever beheld in all my days. If you came to my house, it was a given that you would leave hairier than when you arrived – copiously so. No matter how many times I vacuum-jousted or how many lint rollers I burned through, she always won that battle. How she had any fur left on her body was a complete mystery.

buddiesMy son was another convert. Like Julie, he was also wary around dogs as he was growing up. But in Riley he found what was for him most likely the perfect pet – a young man’s best friend if ever there was one.

And yet, the circle of life plays no favorites. And the inevitable end we know is coming still sucks the wind from us when it arrives. There is a scene in the movie As Good as it Gets, where Jack Nicholson chides himself for getting emotional “over a dog.” It does seem foolish, with all that’s going on in the world at the moment, to let such an insignificant thing as the passing of an animal affect us so deeply. But with me working from the house for the last several years, she had been my constant companion. So it only seemed right to repay her unflagging loyalty in kind, to stay with her as she breathed her last and the light slipped from those cloudy but still mischievous eyes, to see that she not die among strangers.

It has only been a few days, so I still look for her on her perch in the window seat or curled in her bed in the TV room, snoring softly. And in that moment when I realize she’s gone, the sadness is tempered somewhat by the memories of that lost little dog that found her way to us.

It is the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: goodbye. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.