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.