Hold the Phone

boom

Image credit: Calvin and Hobbes

So now that we’ve had our first real cold snap here in Northern Colorado, I’ve decided it’s time to get the camper winterized. And as I’m on the phone with the RV guys, my wife says something to me. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one of those people who can hold two conversations at the same time. If I’m on the phone with someone, that is where my attentions are focused. Which means that anyone else trying to communicate with me comes across much like the sound made by all the adults in the old ‘Peanuts’ cartoons on TV.

It is a game my spouse and I have played for lo these many years. If, for instance, I’m calling the kids, she suddenly has some dire message for them that she feels compelled to have me deliver on her behalf. But all I hear is “wah wah, wuh wuh waahh, wah wuh wah wah…”

Which invariably leads to my ‘What The Hell’ face, thus prompting her to repeat herself, slower and with more conviction. “WAH WAH, WUH WUH WAAHH, WAH WUH WAH WAH…”

This would be the point at which I turn away and cover my exposed ear, because not only can I still not make out what she is telling me, I no longer have any idea what has been said by the person with whom I’m conversing on the phone. Undeterred, she steps into my line of vision and starts to make exaggerated hand gestures to accompany her wah-wahing, the thought being (I assume) that simulating the signals for landing an F-15 on the deck of an aircraft carrier will get her message across. Instead, I’m totally flummoxed by the additional visual stimulation and have resorted to my own hand gestures, mainly trying to wave her off without dropping the phone.

For the love of all that is holy, wasn’t there something in our wedding vows about “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not speak while others are on the phone…”

Finally I give in, because we’re only a week or two away from the arrival of our first grandchild, so she might want to share some crucial last-minute information about the delivery procedure or what essentials the DIL should have in her go-bag. “Hold on, your mother is trying to tell me something,” I mumble by way of an apology to my son, then turn back to my wife with the look that says ‘This better be good.’

“I just wanted you to be sure and tell them I said ‘hello,’” she offers.

I pause because there’s always a momentary loss of verbal capabilities when my head explodes. “We just saw them two days ago. I’m pretty sure they haven’t forgotten about you”

“But you were already talking to them,” she retorts, somewhat indignantly. “I was just trying to be nice.”

According to researchers, attempting to converse with a spouse who is on the phone is the second leading cause of divorce and third leading cause of homicide among married couples (it drives the narrative – just go with it). To combat this problem, I am working on an app that will, utilizing the latest in voice recognition technology and artificial intelligence, record any incoming conversations from external sources, extract the salient points (provided there are any) and inject them into the phone discussion at the appropriate juncture. silenceBarring that, my backup plan is for a small umbrella-like device to deploy from one’s cell phone and envelop the user in a modern-day Cone of Silence, a personal version of the one Maxwell Smart had at his disposal.

You’re welcome.

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Made for You and Me

snow

As with a few others, we had our first taste of winter this past weekend – a cold snap muscled its way through on the heels of a spectacular autumn day, leaving behind a couple inches of snow and the promise of more to come.

A few of the trees took it hard and shed most of their leaves en masse, mainly the eastern species transplanted by those who thought a maple or an elm would remind them of home. The natives, though, the aspens and cottonwoods, are used to these rogue weather patterns this time of year and shrugged it off with aplomb.

And rightly so, because the warmup is already on. The sun came out the next day (just like Annie said it would) and temperatures have been on a steady climb all week. We should hit 70 by Saturday.

That’s the thing about my new home in northern Colorado – there is an abundance of sunshine (just like John Denver said there was). According to the tourism folks, more than 300 days of it a year. That’s roughly double what we would get in western Michigan, where a nearby Great Lake meant climatological gloom (endless gray skies come winter) and doom (an annual average of six feet of snow where we lived, though that was on a sliding scale that increased exponentially with one’s proximity to the shoreline).

Still, I’m not here to trash-talk the Mitten. The majority of my time on this earth has been spent roaming its forests and fishing its waters. It is a part of my heritage. I have friends who would live nowhere else. But as someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it became harder and harder for me to tough it out through the long, dreary winters.

Lots of Michiganders (yep, that’s what they call themselves) chose to ignore the calendar and simply soldier on as if nothing had changed. Christmas parades and winter carnivals would draw a handful of hardy souls, but I was always of a mind that organizers might want to rethink any outdoor festivities where a person’s corndog freezes before he has time to finish it. Not that I ever attended such gatherings. Rather I could be found huddled under my ‘happy lamp’ from November through March.

Which is why, when the opportunity arose, we headed west. And if the various NFL team logos displayed on the rear windows of all the Subarus out here are any indication, so did a lot of other people. Then there’s a certain bunch that drive around with bumper stickers proclaiming ‘Colorado Native’ – they seem to think that, like the aspens and cottonwoods, they have been granted some innate edge over others due to a happenstance of geography. The grassroots of the tribalism now manifesting on a national level. I was here first, so the rest of you can shove off. If the truth be told, they were here second, at best. Despite that minor detail, I get the feeling some of them would gather in my driveway with torches and pitchforks if word got out that I wasn’t birthed within the confines of those invisible, arbitrary lines that delineate this part of the globe we call Colorado.

Here, the concern with all these interlopers is the development that comes with the growing population, something not everyone welcomes. I’ll admit, in Fort Collins you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Starbucks (just a figure of speech, cat lovers – put away your torches and pitchforks), yet to its credit the place still manages to keep its western character. And can I help it if micro-breweries are flocking here? Or if the city insists on building so many bike trails? Or that the downtown streets are lined with cozy sidewalk cafes? Or that the sun shines more than 300 days a year?

It’s the lesson Ray Kinsella learned out in his cornfield in Iowa – if you build it, they will come. But not to worry. There’s room for everyone.

Those ‘First-World Problem’ Blues

tupper3

There are those rare moments when the secrets of the universe reveal themselves to us, and we are shown our purpose here on this spec of dust hurtling through the blackness of space. And if we are truly lucky, we manage to grasp that truth and translate it into words that can illuminate the human experience.

But most days, we are left to organize the Tupperware cupboard.

I’m quite certain they are multiplying there in the dark, crowding out the other bowls and baking dishes attempting to peacefully coexist. Sometimes when you throw open a cabinet door they tumble out in a tupper-avalanche, tubs and lids slapping you in the face as they spill onto the countertop while you try in vain to catch them. And call David Venable’s ancestry into question.

Initially, I attempted to fight this malignancy at its root – leftovers. Eliminate them and you eliminate their evil spawn. That plan was quickly abandoned, however, when my efforts to scale back on the standard overindulgent holiday meals like Thanksgiving and Easter were met with chants of “Lock him up.” And while we always try to send some containers home with the kids after our get-togethers, my daughter-in-law is one of those types who insists on returning them, freshly washed, on their next visit. This despite being informed that every time she does, she forfeits a portion of her inheritance.

I realize some kitchenware engineer dedicated her/his life to designing these things so they fit precisely into one another as a way of conserving precious cabinet space. So I start out with good intentions, playing the puzzle game and wedging the smaller ones into the bigger ones, at least for the first week or so after “straightening up day.” Yet it’s only a matter of time before all is chaos. I’ve been accused of doing this as a ploy to get out of unloading the dishwasher, though in truth I’m not that clever. No, this is simply how I roll. I am organizationally bankrupt, as a visit to my garage will attest. It’s genetics – as a hunter-gatherer it’s my job to acquire it, not keep it neat.

And these are not your grandma’s food storage bins. This stuff is made of military-grade polymers that could double as body armor, with lids that lock down with a commanding “snap” to let you know the contents are sealed tighter than the vault at Fort Knox. Those lids are color coded in what would seem to be an effort to make them idiot-proof, although there is no correlating hue on the bases, leaving me to wonder who, then, is the idiot?

Which brings us to the outliers – miscellaneous pieces of dubious quality brought home from the supermarket, upcycled after their original contents were polished off or purchased as backup for anticipated leftovers from one of those holiday meals. Now all bets are off. Lids disappear in the dishwasher as routinely as socks in the dryer, so, after sorting through a rogue’s gallery of brightly-colored covers, you will invariably wind up forcing an unidentified top onto a non-matching bottom. In terms of kitchen disasters, this has roughly the same consequences as using paper towels in place of napkins.

I’m already on the shit-list for utilizing the wrong containers for things like spaghetti and chili. It turns out those types of food go in the glass bowls, otherwise they leave the plastic tinged slightly orange. It is a shameful taint that even the most spirited of scrubbings cannot expunge. And which will elicit the ‘this is why I can’t have nice things’ sigh of profound disappointment from my wife every time she pulls one from the cabinet while holding it aloft momentarily to ensure that I am properly disgraced.

In my defense, this was not part of the original deal. I was contracted to open jars, kill bugs and reach things on the high shelf. Food storage is above my pay grade.

A Breath of Fresh Air

coal

The United Nations, better known as the New Axis of Evil, is giving us 12 years to alter our fossil-fuel burning ways before, they claim, we’ll achieve complete FUBAR status in regards to climate change. Alarmist science lovers.

Apparently no one there has heard the news that we here in the US have switched to clean coal, which is vastly less harmful for the environment and those who find it necessary to breathe air. We can rest assured of this because someone with a very large brain says so. And his conclusions are echoed by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a guy who, as a former lobbyist for the coal industry, surely must know of what he speaks.

We’ve been able to make this transition thanks to a pair of fortunate happenstances. The mining companies, in their never-ending quest to protect the planet, appear to have come across vast deposits of previously undiscovered, pristine burning ore. This comes in conjunction with word that scientists have developed a process that miraculously removes the bad stuff from the old, polluting coal they’ve been digging up for decades. It’s reported that this process involves repeating the phrase “there’s no dirty coal” over and over while clicking one’s heels together three times.

But frankly, we Americans find all this concern over the future of our planet tiresome and more than a little amusing. Warming oceans? Stronger hurricanes? Rising sea levels? Let those hand-wringing sissies in Paris worry about it – in this country we have businesses to run and profits to turn. I mean, even if the world were truly at such a crossroads, economic prosperity remains sacrosanct. Which explains why said large-brained individual is proposing to weaken automotive standards where greenhouse gas emissions are concerned. Better the Big Three should breathe easy than granny with COPD.car boat

Besides, I imagine the car companies are hedging their bets and will invest those extra profits in an updated version of the amphibious vehicle – could be a hot seller in about 20 years.

On Falling Apart

What’s that saying? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Sounds about right. Case in point, my treadmill. Bereft of purpose, it has languished in the corner of my soon-to-be ex-office, waiting diligently for someone to put it through its paces.treadmill

And a long wait it has been. One that can be measured in years. Then just the other day comes an online article that claims exercise equipment is one of the most commonly regretted purchases. No argument here. I’m pretty sure the most exercise this beast provided me has been dragging it down from the attic at the previous house and onto the moving truck, then up to what was at the time a spare bedroom at this house, then down two flights of stairs to the basement when that spare bedroom became my office, then back up those stairs to the office again when number two son claimed the subterranean domain.

So, yeah, it looks like Hell’s highway has received a fresh coat of asphalt, compliments of yours truly.

But as I transition the space to my wife’s office, the treadmill’s days appear to be numbered. A couple we know has agreed to haul it away, so they can take over dusting duties. Via con Dios. While it sat in the corner, though, it was able to shame me, if ever so slightly, by its mere presence. Which begs the question, once gone, who (or what) will goad me into exercising? For the record, this is our second treadmill, and we’ve gone through a couple of stationary bikes as well. None were ever at risk of wearing out. Oh, and let us not forget the Total Gym, a snarl of cables and pulleys that was supposed to make me look like Chuck Norris and my wife like Christie Brinkley. I should have suspected when, in my rear-view mirror, I saw the guy I bought it from doing a little dance in his garage as I drove away. We gave it the bum’s rush after spending 45 minutes trying, unsuccessfully, to assemble the contraption.

Still, I need to find something that will keep me moderately fit, at least until they plug me into the Matrix. Because, as with many things in this world, we have it backwards when it comes to exercise. The gyms are full of twenty, thirty and forty-somethings pedaling and pumping their way to health and happiness. I salute every one of them. In my younger days, I got all the exercise I needed from pushing old, dead Volkswagens around.

ewan vw2

Actor Ewan McGregor demonstrating the ‘Volkswagen Workout’

But when we truly need to get off our asses is as we approach the ‘golden years.’ Back in college my wife took an African Lit class and one of the books she read was a novel by Chinua Achebe called Things Fall Apart. Though it chronicled life in Nigeria in the late nineteenth century, the title is quite fitting for those of us careening through late middle-age. This is when ‘use it or lose it’ becomes more than just a mantra, it should be treated as scripture.

Here, then, is the rub – I don’t jog (please refer to The Long Run for context), so that’s out, and the new dog is averse to taking walks. He’s a rescue, and I think he suffers from some deep-seated trauma that occurred prior to our adopting him…whenever we get more than a few doors from home, he balks every 20 feet or so and looks back at the house as if to say “I think you left the coffee pot on…we should really go back and check.” There’s lots of stopping and starting – not much benefit from a cardio standpoint. I enjoy riding my non-stationary bike, but getting it down from the ceiling hooks in the garage is sometimes more effort than it’s worth. It’s also a bad sign when it’s been hanging so long that the tires have, like me, gone as soft as bread dough.

Living in the lee of the Rocky Mountains was expected to be a bonus, too. Colorado has innumerable peaks to climb, 58 of which top fourteen thousand feet (for those who require challenges based on non-metric standards). I’ve bested four of them in the 8 years we’ve lived here, which doesn’t really count as ‘regular’ exercise in my book. So what to do…

And then it struck me – for what I’ll spend on the latest tread/stair/bike/climber machine, I could just buy another old Volkswagen to push around the neighborhood.

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?

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.