Monday, December 31, 2012

Hippy New Year

I’m sitting in the small community of River Meadows, between Sunriver and La Pine, Oregon, on the last evening of 2012. It’s been a hell of a year. Lots of good stuff, to be sure, but I have experienced more death this year than in any other year in my memory. I may look back on this year as The Year of Dying. I lost people very close to me and there were the very public deaths in the News. Wow. I could embark, here, upon a real downer of a story to post. Part of the situation, I’m sure, is my age. I’m currently sixty-two. People start dying right where I’m at. So, it goes with the territory. But still, I’m kind of a rookie at the personal part of it. The public part of it, mass shootings, stabbings, rapes, species destruction, genetic modification extinctions, all that stuff that drives us all nuts, well, it’s pervasive and has put an ironclad protective shield of dangerous cynicism around my normally airy sense of irony. It’s the Way of the World. It’s Nature. It’s Darwin at Work. It’s not about guns, it’s not about knives, it’s not about video games. It’s about people. If you want to stop the bleeding, heal the culture. Heal the people who are so marginalized and disconnected that they pick up a weapon and scream “Look At Me!”

But life is about choices. For this evening, I choose to leave that stuff under the rug. At least, for now and for the rest of this piece. Okay, so it’s a short piece. Bless all you readers. Bless your families and your loved ones. Bless us all. May the coming year be better than you hope and more than you dream. We all deserve it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Birthday Babe

It was my mom’s birthday yesterday. She would have been 92 years old. Born in 1920, she witnessed a lot of change, a stunning amount when you think of it. Probably one of the greatest examples she gave me was that she embraced most of it. She watched the advances in aviation through the eyes of my dad, whose long career was all about flying. Advances in medicine became commonplace. She was behind the curve a bit on the social and generational changes, but I think that is just human nature. I’m using myself as an example here. I’ve reached a point where I do not follow popular culture and have no idea what the latest trends are in that made-up social realm. When I see some young hot actor or actress on TV, I have no idea who they are or what has made them hot. Here’s the shocker: I’m just not interested.

My mother decided, early on, that computers were pretty cool. She got her iPad and became pretty proficient with it in her late 80s. She loved playing word games and Solitare. She also enjoyed email, but grew disgusted with the spam. Haven’t we all?

So happy birthday, Mom. Quantum Physics being what it is, I’m sure you’re still here somewhere and I hope you’re having fun.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ode to a Freezer


I’ve had an odd relationship with a Hotpoint freezer over the course of my entire life. I think it’s older than I am. That’s pretty good for a freezer. (All together now:) they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to. People are still made, pretty much, the same way we’ve always been made, but if practice really makes perfect, shouldn’t we be farther along as a species? Shouldn’t we know not to make so many people? Every problem we’re facing now as a species can be directly attributed to our overabundance of population. And not one of us is perfect, no matter how much practice has been going on.

But I digress…The freezer has been doing its thing, freezing things and keeping them frozen for over sixty years. My first real memories are of Buffalo, NY. The big ol’ white horizontal thing lived in the utility room just inside the back door because I’m sure that nobody was willing to wrestle it down to the basement. When I lived with my parents for all those years, it was mostly in the garage. It’s horizontal bulk has always been impressive. When I was big enough to peek over its edge I still wasn’t strong enough to release the latch, let alone lift the lid.

When I got bigger, I used to sneak things in there, just to see what would happen: worms, grasshoppers, lightning bugs…I was the perfect (?) little savage. It slowly dawned on me that the results were always strikingly similar and that the spark of life does not survive the interior of a Hotpoint freezer. It was a sobering realization and I stopped sacrificing invertibrate and insect creatures for the sake of my own personal curiosity. But when I caught my first trout, which I had to clean myself, it dawned on me that I could keep the head looking like a head by keeping it in the freezer. My mother resisted this, but I was persistent and eventually got my way. I’m not sure how long that fish head stayed in the freezer where I could look at it. I'm thinking at least two years. I'll bet my mom was glad to see it go when I finally lost interest.

My mother prepared food en masse and froze it so that she could, when she didn't feel like cooking or if we were in a hurry, feed us throughout the week by simply reheating the chunks of ice that came out of the big white box. This was way before the microwave revolution, so it can be firmly avowed that she was always way ahead of her time. The cycle of cooking and freezing continued to the very end. She was careful to instruct the rest of us, particularly my wife Laura, in the freezer’s proper care and use. I still find it odd that a reliable and steady freezing machine would have the name Hotpoint on it. Perhaps realizing that was my introduction to irony.

Today, my mother is gone, but, down in California, the freezer is still freezing to its little heart’s content. Mom and I joked many times that we should just bury her in the thing and be done with it. (I mean, you really could.) When it finally does, as it must, give up its electrical ghost, the true passing of an era will be complete. I'm hoping it will last a good long time yet.

Oh. Forgive me a shameless plug for my new website: www.jamesrichardstewart.com

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ideology is Not the Issue


I am staggering under the weight of this election year. This happens to me every time. I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I grasp tightly to the notion of being Independent. Yes, that may be an illusion, but dammit, it’s my illusion. I vote for people, not an ideology. I try to gauge intent and whether or not a candidate is a good person. I’m consciously na├»ve in that regard. Character counts. When the poop hits the propeller, I want someone who will leap on the grenade, if need be, just as I hope that I would.

I am appalled at what is happening to my middle class. Both sides point at each other and cry foul. I am also appalled that ANYone would take ANYthing that Ayn Rand wrote and find it useable as a philosophy. That shows me an egregious lack of imagination and a profound disconnect with reality. I don’t find any credence whatsoever in a greed-is-good mindset. By definition, it is the problem, not any kind of solution. Financially, we are being bled like sacrificial lambs. Since the 80s, the greatest money-laundering scheme in the history of the world has been eroding capital from everyday working people. It has not abated, no matter which “party” is in power.

There is no such thing as “the liberal media.” It doesn’t exist. I am so tired of hearing it said: “that liberal media just ignores crucial things.” Folks, it is a CORPORATE MEDIA. Hello? Ask yourself who owns the airwaves. Follow the money. Even when I watch my beloved PBS, I see the underwriters include Big Energy and Big Banking. To me, that’s as close as I can get to defining the enemy.

I reckon the bottom line for me is that the manifestation of greed shows itself in profit at the expense of everyday people. A perfect example is the plight of farmers in Pennsylvania who have methane bubbling up through their wells as a fracking drill operates nearby. The company line is that fracking is just great engineering and that there is no correlation to environmental degradation and that we all must sacrifice for the greater good. Say what? A very pertinent question to ask is how much of that “natural” gas will stay in the community and how much will be sold abroad at an immense profit. There is no common sense to any of it. The scenario repeats itself across the board when you look at Big Energy.

Small Business is the lifeblood of this country. It is the American Dream. I hear that government just needs to “get out of the way” and Small Business will thrive. But the way things work is that if government gets out of the way, it will get out of the way for the giants too, which will allow them to sit their bloated butts on the markets and squeeze cash flow for everyone. That “getting out of the way” will, in my opinion, create a one-way highway that will NOT benefit the mom-and-pop farm or the small grocery it sells to in any significant way. We cannot consume our way to fiscal well-being. That is the big lie.

Any philosophy that encourages profit over the welfare of people and their way of life is egregiously wrong. Period. No amount of rhetoric will heal the oozing wound in our national psyche. Be very suspicious of any talking head that demonizes an opponent with unsubstantiated rumor, innuendo, and fast-and-easy sound bites. Consider the source and how it is portrayed. Who stands to benefit?

Everybody who votes in the coming election should pay attention, use their brains, and not vote against their own self interests. Think. Trust yourself. Don’t vote an ideology. Vote for people.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Perplexing Planning


The Republicans would have us believe that their vision for America is the right one, that they are carefully planning our return to greatness as a nation. Planning. Hmm. So, they planned their convention to be in South Florida smack dab in the worst part of hurricane season? Yep. That’s some planning.

And the Democrat’s convention will be in Charlotte, which is also potentially, but somewhat less so, in the teeth of the same season. Again, we have some planning issues. I guess I just don’t understand the thought process here. Maybe I’m being unfair and un-American. We should never kowtow to Nature. That would be cowardly.

Both of these political parties are so busy telling us what they think we want to hear that they have, perhaps, lost their grip on reality. I sincerely hope that the tens-of-thousands of people who will show up in these cities will have safe events.


Ah, reality. Perhaps we should encourage that our candidates, whoever they might be, pay attention to it and not generate more foggy rhetoric designed to make the other side look bad. It kind of reminds me of a knife fight aboard an inflatable life raft in really deep water.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Full Denim Jacket


I recently had lunch with a dear friend. It’s a bi-weekly get together and the talk ranges all over the spectrum of two minds who revel in critical thinking and getting it right. We dabble in physics, technology, sports, literature, life in general, and even politics. We’re both of a mind that politics should be for the people, so there’s lots of common ground. I don’t like talking politics, really, because I don’t really know who I am politically. I guess I’m an Eisenhower republican. At least, I’m comfortable saying that. It is vastly vague, but my friends on both the left and right nod as if they understand what I’m saying. I’m not sure I do, exactly, but I find the label fits me like good boots.

But that’s not what this is about. This is about loss. I wrote a couple weeks ago about it from a very personal place and I guess I’m not done. Some would call the loss I experienced that lunch day as trivial and perhaps it was, but it still broke my heart.

I’ve ridden motorcycles for most of my life, save for a decade, or so, when my kids were young. Fifteen years ago my lovely bride and I bought a Harley and have been grateful ever since. Friends and I have ridden all over Western North America during these last fifteen years and I will jump on and go at the falling of a chapeau. My summer riding jacket was new when I got the bike. It’s a standard Levi jacket, no big deal, but it has traveled with me for sixty-five thousand miles and is now held together with new denim in places, a lot of leather patches, and miles of memories.

I wore the tattered thing into the restaurant and hung it on a peg like a badge of honor. I’m proud of it. It’s been maintained when it could have been just thrown away and replaced. It’s like my own personal flag, much like the “freak flag” David Crosby sang about back in the Seventies. After lunch, I carried it out because I knew the heat of the day had crept in, as promised by the weather guys, and I knew I wasn’t going to wear it on the way back to work. I folded it carefully and put it in my port-side saddle bag. I threw a leg over and remembered that I’d locked the ignition and the keys were in the jacket pocket. Shit O. Deer. (Thank you David James Duncan.) So I got off and rummaged in the bag, pulled out the jacket, and got the keys. I felt a little hurried because lunch had gone on for a while and the sooner I could get back to work, the sooner I could finish my time and head home. I did not refold the jacket as carefully as I had. I just kind of wadded it up and stuffed it in there. The lid of the bag was hard to close and I knew there was quite a bit of strain on both the hinge and the latch. No matter. It would hold.

I finished the work day and headed home. I took the freeway, I-5 north, because I had a stop to make on the way and that was the most direct route. Heading up that hill to Portland, I can blow some of the carbon out and my bike does love a good snort. I can only guess what happened because I never saw it. I’d come up behind a big chip truck who was following two idiots. I dropped a gear and grabbed a big handful. My beautiful black machine flexed and took off like a big tractor shot from a cannon. Exhilaration. I pulled back into the center lane, eased off and settled into the last climb that defines the northern-most lip of the Willamette Valley. Suddenly, there was a mid-sized green car next to me with a pretty girl leaning out the window.

“Your bag is open,” she hollered. I reached behind me and, sure enough, it was. I snapped it shut, gave her a thumbs up and shouted “Thanks!”

Then, there was another car along side with the driver doing a charade that looked like he was pulling a coat around him. I waved and nodded as it dawned on me that he was probably talking about my jacket. Aw jeez.

There was no place to pull over. A truck lane yawned, but that was no good. Traffic was bunched and the next exit was two miles up the road. I decided it best to live through the ordeal and get off there. Sure enough, when I was able to stop, my beloved jacket was long gone. Grimly, I found my way to I-5 south and roared back to retrace my path. I did that twice, a seven-mile loop each time. Nothing. No jacket to be seen. Sick at heart, I rode home and sat with my chin in my hand, grieving. It was just a dumb old tattered Levi jacket I kept telling myself. All things must pass. The feelings brought my mom and dad back into focus and I just felt sad and lost. Enter Philosophy. I vowed to go check again on my way to work in the morning, which I did with the same result.

When there is no real alternative, we all seem to shrug and do whatever we can to deal with loss. We have choices. We can let loss overwhelm us or we can press on. It was a microcosm of what I’d gone through with losing my folks. Not as profound, certainly, but loss is loss and it’s weight was substantial. I’m sure the loss of my folks piggy-backed right aboard with this new setback and added some extra weight. I gave thanks for the pleasure the jacket had given me and more thanks for the memories I would always have from wearing it through heat and cold and dust and torrential wet. I found some comfort there.

I made it through the day and wearily threw my leg over for the ride home. I decided to take the freeway again. What the heck. I just putted up in the slow lane at about fifty-five scanning the breakdown strip. And there it was, twenty-four hours later, crumpled in a blue heap by the side of the road. All the rally pins were gone, broken and scattered by thousands of cars and trucks. The safety-pin-and-beads American flag was twisted and crushed beyond recognition, but the jacket was there and whole and fixable. I yelled “Thank you!” all the way home and even after I got there. It was a blessed feeling and lifted my heart to a lightness that made me downright giddy. Happy? Oh my, yes.

What I can take away from this, and you can too, is to keep trying, even after your rational mind gives up. Yeah, it’s just a dumb old jacket, but tell my heart that. There is a lesson here that I will be sorting out for a long time to come.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This'n That

This year is shaping up to be quite a year of transition (see previous post). My family has moved from taking care of my mom and dad to taking care of our house, which has been marginally maintained by yours truly. The yard is a disaster. The structure itself is solid, but we’re taking steps this summer and fall to be more proactive on drainage issues and will have concrete work done to accommodate that and to get ready for turning the carport into an actual garage. A garage will be very cool, but to accomplish that we will have to build a new shop. This will be problematic. It is certainly solvable, but won’t come without pain, both financial and physical. My tendons, ligaments, joints, and what little is left of my muscle mass are to be sorely tested, with emphasis on the sorely.

As usual, the issue is time. Making the time to get done what we need to get done is a challenge. Everybody I’ve talked to about how quickly 2012 is going agrees that it is a NASCAR year. The hammer is down and it is flying by. In NASCAR, the COT (Car of Tomorrow) is now the COP (Car of the Present) and they mostly go hard left (hard to imagine with some of the cops I know). If you talk to people on the left they are worried that we could lose our way and turn too hard to the right. If you talk to people on the right, they’re hopeful that we get onto a road course and have to turn to the right. But no matter which way the turns go, we are definitely clipping along at breakneck speed.

My generation is, pretty much, in power (see plutocratic oligarchy). I am older than the current President. I’m confident that this trend will continue. The last two guys are Boomers, just like me, but I’m not sure I have a whole lot in common with either of them. The life that has formed my basic philosophy has been conducted much differently. I’m not exactly devoid of ambition, but my ambitions are completely different from those of Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush. You could argue that mine are more selfish, that I simply want to live my life simply, with as little interference as possible. I never aspired to “public service,” which is a euphemism for politics. Some public servants would label me Joe Six-Pack, but I prefer to call myself Joe Keg. That has nothing to do with philosophy and everything to do with my abdomen.

The Media tells me that this is a crucial election year. Yeah? Well, so were the rest of them and we’re still trying to figure out how to balance this handbasket to hell. I don’t need to expound on multinational corporations and big banking or any of that stuff. You can’t swing a dangling participle without smacking into countless blogs opining about who’s evil, who’s shining with brightness, or who’s just plain stupid. Things get downright gooey when I ask myself: what are my choices? We have lots of sound bites, lots of pontification, and lots of people sincerely telling us how we should vote. I keep looking for leadership. I am still looking.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Law

     Hmm…I’ve gone from weekly to bi-weekly to monthly to yearly and now to bi-yearly. Clearly, this blogging has fallen off of my radar. I did manage to finish a novel and am deep into the search for an agent, which has been frustrating because I have yet to find one who wants to read my manuscript. But I am nothing, if not stubborn.
     I lost both of my parents this year. Well, they’re not really lost. I know exactly where they are. They are together. My dad died on May 4 and my mom followed on June 28. They were married for seventy-two years. That’s a heck of an accomplishment. There are probably lots of things I could say about our family dynamics and what they meant to me, but I think I’ll stop right here. That stuff will percolate for the rest of my life and might, or might not, exteriorize as I manipulate a keyboard or a pen to express myself. I’m pretty sure it’s already shown itself in the air around my guitar. I’m thinking of the metaphor in Mark Knopfler’s Heavy Fuel. 
     We boomers are at the stage in life when this kind of thing is inevitable. Parents pass and gallstones do too. So do friends, gasses, and friend’s gasses. Passing is what we all do, eventually, even planets. But energy is indestructible. What energy does, ultimately, is change from one form to another. It’s not just a good idea, it’s The Law. We can derive from that whatever comfort we can. The energy in my mother’s eyes when we shared a laugh and, when I’d ask him if he wanted anything, in my father’s voice when he said “a smile.” That energy is still around. It is part of something, most assuredly me, and who knows? Maybe it’s in the wiggle of a new puppy or the lusty cry of a healthy newborn or in the eyes and hearts of a people who are staring down an oppressor. It’s somewhere. That’s not just a good idea, it’s The Law.