Monday, December 4, 2017

My First Holiday Blog of 2017

It’s December 4th and the annual holiday improvement in kindness, generosity and all-around goodness is more and more apparent. Well, maybe.  Haven’t noticed any of that in the political world. And it doesn’t seem to be happening in our shopping places. The folks on the roads are certainly not making strides in any of those areas. Social media does show an occasional sign of good will. But that sign is usually followed by eight or nine posts of name calling vitriol.

Of course, when it comes to politics there is no middle ground. My kind hearted liberal friends think they’re fighting evil incarnate. My well intentioned conservative acquaintances think they’re being unjustly vilified and demeaned by, yes you guessed it, evil incarnate. The issues are pretty big, I guess. That tax bill is important. The immigration questions are still questions, no resolution there. Foreign affairs seem to be pretty much bogged down in wars both ongoing and up-coming. While the economy seems to be rebounding a little, there’s still a pretty big crowd of homeless folks here at the public library every day. And I know lots of older people who are just getting by. And, of course, that health insurance problem is not getting fixed by any of our intelligent, caring legislators. Some of my acquaintances who rely on the new government sourced plans have been hit with premiums so high that they are just planning on taking their chances with no insurance.

When I read yesterday’s newspapers I saw lots of space dedicated to the increasing scourge of heroin and other opioid use. A bunch of money is going towards that problem but the good results of those programs are not too apparent. Another pile of articles was dedicated to sex assault cases of prominent politicians and entertainers. I grabbed the comics just to get a little relief. Then I did a crossword puzzle. Then I read the advertising flyers. After the eighth page of the Boscov’s ad I finally calmed down enough to start drinking.

What’s my point? Hell if I know. Kindness? I know in “one on one” situations most folks are kind. And pretty much all of my friends are generous with their time and money as they support charities, causes and churches. But that underlying current of hatred for people who hold opposing opinions is pretty apparent. It’s kind of like one of those quiet cancers that swims around in the bloodstream and then suddenly bursts to the surface of the body in a terrible lesion. And there are a mess of lesions popping up everywhere and often. Quick treatments are applied and the sores subside but the main disease is still cruising around. Who knows when the cancer will be too big to contain?

I’m done worrying today. I might not resume my pose of cynical indifference for now. I might adopt a new pose of holiday cheerfulness, kindness and goodwill. Even though it’s not totally sincere it might catch on. Gotta make the effort anyway. You’re welcome to join me. And have a fine day.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Technology and Worse

Let’s start with the worse. Maybe it should be worst. Today we had the unfortunate Walmart shopping experience. I always ask myself, as I walk those well stocked aisles, why the heck do I come into this place when I dislike it so much? It often boils down to sausage. Walmart carries those big bags of pre-cooked breakfast sausage patties. They are better than any other brand and I like them. Also, Walmart has several items on their shelves priced lower than any other store. Being forced into frugality at about the same time as my dear wife entered retirement I needed to start worrying about the price of basic necessities. So, sausage is the big thing and cheap goods are the other reason we go into the big box.

Today, as my wife was over in the sausage aisle, I happened to be cutting across the store heading for the fire-starting stuff. My walk took me through the ladies clothing area. As I passed through that section I happened to glance to my right and I saw something I’ve never seen in any store. A rather large lady was standing in the underwear area trying on brassieres. That stopped me in my tracks, as it were. Now this lady did not have any part of her body uncovered. Nope. She was trying on bras over her already supported bosom, presumably, and her Jeff Gordon t-shirt. I may be wrong, but if one wants to get a proper fit in an undergarment doesn’t one need to remove the outer layers of clothing first? I’ve seen plenty of weird stuff in Walmart but this was a new level of weird. I watched the woman try on two selections just to be sure I wasn’t wrong about what I was seeing. I wasn’t.

If I was a technologically savvy Walmart shopper I would have whipped out my smart-phone and snapped a couple of photos or a video of the “trying on lady”. But I’m not savvy in that way. My phone wasn’t even in my pocket. It was back at the house, turned off, which is the state it is usually in. My chances at internet fame were shot before they even got started.

And this brings me to my next grouchy old man rant. Techno-snobs. I just coined that term. If you or someone you know has already come up with the word let me know and I’ll retract my claim.

Techno-snobs are people who carry the latest in cell phone innovation. They are the people in restaurants or at the dinner table furiously moving their opposable thumbs over those phones, sending and receiving messages, playing games, scanning their stock portfolio or watching porn. Those are the people who prefer texting to talking. They look at the gentle old lady who eschews the use of cell phones as a threat to humanity. Techno-snobs will snub, laugh at and sometimes insult the folks who avoid using modern devices.

It's obvious that I use a computer since you’re reading this little blog. And I also use the cell phone for calling people up, sending messages and sometimes finding an answer to a vital question on the internet. Just the other day I settled an argument by learning that duck eggs have more fat than chicken eggs. That answer probably averted a violent barroom fistfight.

But I’ll never fault someone for putting a cell phone in a drawer for a month or two. Even if they never use their flip-phone, only use a landline or go searching for a payphone, they’ll not be laughed at or scorned by me. More power to them. And I hope you techno-snobs out there read this and have a change of attitude towards those non-users. Talking to people in person is okay. Talking to people on a landline is fine. Writing a letter and mailing it in an envelope with a stamp attached is to be commended. Be kind to non-texters. You’ll be a better person for it. In fact, you might want to take a twenty-four hour break from technology now and then yourself. It might clear your mind and it might add to your good Karma storehouse. And we all can use more good Karma.

So go on and have a fine day. See you on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Aging and Its Consequences

Remember when you had little kids running around the house, learning to talk, learning to walk/run and learning to use the toilet? The cute toddler would come running up to you and say “Daddy (or Mommy) I went poo-poo in the potty and it was real big.”  Or something similar to that. Well folks, someday (hopefully) you’ll live long enough to learn just how much old age is like those toddler years. A good movement will be the highlight of your day. Any movement at all will be noteworthy.

Yesterday my dear wife and I were in a checkout line where senior citizen discounts are offered. My wife said to the clerk “Make sure we get the senior discount.” The clerk looked at me. “And how old are you sir?” For the life of me I could not manage to say the three syllables that she wanted to hear. “Se-e-e-v-en-en-t-t-t-y” I finally managed to croak. When I was in my sixties, even when I was sixty-nine, I could utter my age. But something happened when I entered the seventh decade. It was like going through a very large, very thick door into a room full of darkness. Some of my friends and relatives made it to this age and didn’t seem to be bothered. Others never did make it to this age (lots of those folks) and of course they never had to worry about it. But here I am, spending far too much time considering the realities of actual old age.

And as I consider these realities I see (as in the example in the first paragraph) just how many things seem to be repeats of stuff that happened way back in early childhood. Get a knee or hip replacement, as so many seniors seem to do, and be treated to the ordeal of learning to walk again. Lose your teeth and learn the delights of soft foods as you wait for new dentures. Relate an interesting story or joke and learn that you don’t know the words to describe just how big the thing you seem to need in the punch line really was. Language is once again a mystery.

And we won’t mention bodily processes and abilities that have faded even more than our command of language. Of course, there are many seventy-plus seniors who have retained most of their physical and mental faculties. A few have daily exercise regimens that include running, walking, weight lifting or swimming. Still others pursue the more sedentary sport of golf which mostly consists of driving a golf cart a few feet for the next poorly hit fairway shot. I suppose enough swings could count as a form of exercise. But, for many of us, daily exercise is just too much trouble. In my case mowing the lawn with my push mower and weed trimmer, splitting and stacking firewood, shoveling snow and slow ambles on rural dirt roads will have to be enough. If the exercise doesn’t have an immediately visible result (other than sweat and swearing) then I don’t have time for it. Also, I need my physical activity to a keep my mind at least minimally occupied. If my mind is idle then it wanders back behind that big thick door I mentioned earlier.

Spending too much time peeking into dark corners of that hidden room is too scary a business. It’s in there that we consider questions like these. Burial or cremation, what’s the best choice? Is the will up to date? Should I write my own obituary and eulogy? And those are just the practical questions. There are also the big metaphysical questions. Is Heaven more like farm country or Las Vegas? Is Hell more like Los Angeles or Las Vegas? How long are the lines to those afterlife existences? Will I have to say my age out loud? And what about judgement? Is judgement more like being on Judge Judy’s show or more like pleading a case at the Supreme Court?

Well, I’m going to go do some exercise right now and try to prolong my time in this mortal place. I think I’ll bend my elbow a few times while holding a gradually diminishing container of goodness. How’s that for a metaphoric closing?

Now have a fine day.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"In the Ground" that New Album from The Gibson Brothers

“In the Ground” that New Album from the Gibson Brothers

Many fine writers have reviewed or commented on the new CD from The Gibson Brothers. You know who the Gibsons are, right? Well just in case you don’t I’ll tell you. Eric and Leigh Gibson front one of the finest Bluegrass bands in America and are certainly the finest brother duo in the business. Backed by Mike Barber on stand-up bass, Jesse Brock - award winning mandolin virtuoso and Clayton Campbell - a terrific fiddle player, this group has won IBMA Entertainer of the Year twice along with many other awards. Eric and Leigh hail from over in Clinton County right near Churubusco. Eric still lives up this way and Leigh has moved to the more cosmopolitan environs of Scotia down near Albany.

The new album “In the Ground” (with all the songs written by Eric and Leigh) has received rave reviews and a couple of the songs are already high on the Billboard bluegrass charts. The band is steadily touring in support of the album and audiences are loving the shows. Nothing about this chain of events is new for The Gibson Brothers. They have a work ethic that is embedded in their characters. They love their job, they appreciate their fans and they deliver a stellar performance every time they show up. All of these things have been remarked upon by writers better than me.

I’ve been listening to the new album a lot. And on a recent ten-hour road trip I listened to all of their albums in chronological order. Nine albums. Sadly, I don’t own the earliest albums from Hay Holler Records. But from “Bona Fide” up through “In the Ground” you won’t find a finer variety of bluegrass tinged music from any artists. Hard driving or quiet and melodic, deeply bluegrass or rockabilly or traditional country or Americana/Folk/Gospel they "own" every song they’ve recorded. The brothers have championed the causes of family farmers, small town life and honest ethical values. And I know, because I’ve seen them under good conditions and bad, that they live what they sing.

So, here’s my actual review. This is a really fine album: terrific song writing from the brothers. absolutely solid and inspired playing by every musician, vocal duos that always ring true and sometimes reach that ethereal (almost angelic) level. If you appreciate good music, then you should buy this album. It’s a good investment. But if you want the full experience find The Gibson Brothers when they come to a venue near you. I guarantee you’ll love the music and have a whole lot of fun. I guarantee it.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Where We Live

Let me tell you a little bit about where we live. First you’ve got to get here. If you’re coming from the southwest, down Watertown way, take 11B up through Canton and then go about twenty-six miles east of Potsdam. Then turn into the valley heading south on Route 5. Go about three miles into Dickinson Center. You’ll notice that the road steadily rises. As soon as you get into the hamlet, just past the abandoned church, there’s a big curve to the right. Don’t go that way, go straight up on Cemetery Street. Go past the cemetery, past a few houses and the road curves this way and that as it climbs the ridge. Down below on the right is the river and if it’s fall or winter or early spring you might get a glimpse. Some of the houses up this way are pretty rough. And the people can be as well.

Eventually the road goes to dirt and then you enter a pine forest and soon reach an intersection. Turn right at the intersection and head down towards the river. This is Church Street Road. Cross the rusty old one lane bridge and at the first big maple tree turn right just before the mail boxes. That’s our road. A little ways down is a row of spruce and just beyond that, on the right, is our humble place. It’s got new gray siding and a new roof. Turn into the half-circle driveway, get out and look around. Then come on around back because we’re usually back there if the weather is fair. We might be working on firewood piles or puttering around the yard. Or we might just be sitting in the screen house sipping on a beer and listening to the river roll by.

The river is right there on the edge of our yard, down about a twenty foot bank. You can get down there if you want but be careful, it’s pretty steep. If no one is running a chain saw or snow blower it’s a quiet place. Birds will be around because we keep a lot of feeders full. So when the sun comes up in the morning those little flyers will be your alarm clock whether you like it or not. However the coffee will be on and we tend to enjoy a nice breakfast most days.

After breakfast we can take a little hike. We’ll go to our right as we come out of the driveway, down the dirt road a little ways. Then when we come to a little unused road-cut into the left, just past a small stream heading through a big culvert, we’ll turn in towards the woods. Just up a ways we can go right, pass the abandoned quarry and head uphill towards the town quarry. There’s a road we can follow and we’ll go back in where they recently did some logging and stand at the edge of a huge pit. Look for deer or foxes here, they’re plentiful.

Then we’ll head up a little higher and follow the town road up to where it comes out on Church Street Road. We’ll cross over that one and head up Morray Road. There are a couple old hunting camps up this way and one house somebody lives in year around. It’s an uphill climb but pretty gradual. Up at the end of this road there’s an old logging track that goes straight ahead or, to the right, a rutted dirt lane into the forest.

But I’m done climbing so we’ll turn around and head back down the hill. When we get to the big road again we’ll go right and walk further downhill to the bridge. Maybe we’ll see some beaver or otters in the river. Maybe not. We’ll hang around the bridge and look at the fish and see how much wood those damn beavers have chopped down. By that time it’ll be close to lunch so we’ll go back to the house, grab a couple beers and go sit in the screen house. It might be a little early for beer but that’s okay, we’re thirsty. And nobody has to go to work yet.

Some days we go to town. When the weather’s bad we stay inside. We enjoy company but we’re comfortable on our own. We don’t watch TV very often, just the occasional movie. We read quite a lot. We write. We make some tasty meals. We think about lots of things and have conversations. It’s all good and it’s all part of where we live. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Seven Decades Nearly Done

Two weeks from tomorrow I’ll reach one of those milestones on the path to doddering old age. Seventy! It’s hard to believe that I’ve lasted so long. Harder still to think I have most of my parts and they’re in reasonably fair working order. Not many cars can make that claim. And my maintenance schedule hasn’t been followed in a rigorous way either.

Lots of changes have happened in seventy years. Truman was president when I was born, Trump now; thirteen presidents in my lifetime. Of course I think some current members of the House and the Senate were in office when I was born. At least it seems like it. Politics is pretty nasty these days with a divided populace. Most folks think it’s worse now. But it probably isn’t. The scrutiny of public figures is certainly more intense. And with clever marketing a reality TV personality with a bunch of money and no experience in government can make it to the top. At least our previous actor in chief had worked his way up through some preparatory stepping stones. But I don’t want to talk about politics at this significant point in my life.

I’m an orphan now, along with my brothers and sister; a seventy year old orphan. I’m lucky to have avoided that status for so long. There’s a new nagging sense of loneliness that I struggle with these days.

But I’ve got five grandchildren now; three boys, two girls. That’s a special kind of gift for which I’m thankful. My oldest grandson will graduate from high school this year. We’re pretty good friends. And I get along with all of the others, though the newest little guy doesn’t really talk to me much. But he’s pretty new and I expect that’ll change. My daughters turned out just fine. They talk to me still. And their husbands are good fellows and even they will talk to me on occasion.

Family is important and I’ve been fortunate in that department. I can’t think of a family member, close or extended, that we aren’t talking to. (That was a challenge during this past election year) And we have a large clan. That feels like a good thing and I wish all families could say the same.

And this year my dear wife and I will celebrate our forty-eighth anniversary. She’s a strong and kind and patient woman. She’s very, very patient.

I’m still writing my little poems and I have a terrific group of friends who share this endeavor. My mentor, who has been helping me for several years now, is a kind and patient person. She’s very, very patient. This year I have a collaborative project going on with a couple artists. I’m preparing some work for submission to journals. And I’m assembling a new collection of poetry that I’ll be trying to get published sometime soon.

That’s enough of this reminiscing and sappiness. On to the next milestone! Folks say that time goes faster as we get older. I just checked my watch and the seconds and minutes seem to be moving at about the same pace as they always have so it must be another bit of folklore. My intention is to make good use of all the seconds and minutes and hours that I’ve got coming, whether they’re plentiful or not. So join me as I have a fine day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Old Man Talks Politics. Again

 Well friends and neighbors it has been a long time since I’ve done one of these scintillating blogs full of pithy observations and wise comments. Most of the time lately I’ve been writing bad poems and throwing them away. But today I decided to take a break from that kind of futility and spend some time on politics, a whole other kind of futility and frustration. So here are a few thoughts.

Why do our politicians running for office send out advertising that completely neglects to mention with which party they are affiliated? I’ve seen ads from folks running for offices ranging from county council to U.S. senate that have no elephant or donkey or whatever clever animal it is that has been adopted by the Green Party or the Libertarians. And shouldn’t they have an animal? Maybe a snowy owl or a dolphin for the Greens and perhaps a passenger pigeon for the Libertarians? The Green Party mascot would be obvious in its symbolism. The extinct passenger pigeon maybe not so much. Anyway, the lack of party identification in print ads is disturbing. Are the candidates so afraid of being offensive to one group or another? Or are they afraid of being prejudged in a stereotypical way? Well I say, show your party you cowards.

Social media is a great place to watch the furor over the presidential race. Normally kind and considerate folks on both sides of this one turn into rabid, raving zealots when they post comments about the two major candidates. A whole new level of hatred is reached almost every day. Name calling, accusations of crookery, allegations of insanity are pouring out in a steady stream. And this stream is not just aimed at the candidates but at their erstwhile supporters who may not be crooked or crazy in any way. And if a more calm individual points out that one of his friends is sounding vitriolic then the conversation dives into “Well I’m only posting this because so – and – so posted a really hateful thing about my gal/guy.” I guess the way to alleviate divisiveness is to add more fuel to the fires of silly arguments. Of course the true believers on both sides don’t think it’s silly at all, and they may be right. But they sure don’t sound rational when they get on their rants. There are rational discussions out there but they are buried in the heaps of craziness, so they’re hard to find.

Now I’m not too big a fan of either of the major party candidates. And when I tell my friends and acquaintances that I’m thinking of voting for one of the alternatives they begin their standard lecture. “If you vote for that third party gal/guy then you’re just going to help that horrible other gal/guy win, you freaking idiot!” Yes they call me an idiot. Again, I might be an idiot. Or naive. Or misguided, even. But friends I’m gonna vote the way my logical brain works. If I don’t think those big guns are the right one I’m not going to give either of them my vote. If the one that you think is the wrong one wins, well I’m awfully sorry.  But don’t blame me. Blame your own damn party for finding the worst possible candidate in the first place. Believe it or not there were actual reasonable possibilities out there when this whole shebang got started. And there just might be a reasonable choice still available in one of the non-major parties. So stop with the lectures please.

Finally, I have to weigh in on that “not standing for the anthem” brouhaha. This is another one of those “issues” that is driven more by the media than by its actual relevance in this deeply screwed up world. You probably don’t want to hear my position on this one. But you’ve come this far down the page so you might as well hear me out. Who cares if a bunch of football players don’t rise for the anthem? This is America, remember? Free speech. You do recall free speech, right? If those folks feel strongly about an issue and want to use this as way to protest it’s okay by me. They know the feelings they’re going to fire up with this behavior. They know the attention they’ll get. And you absolutely know that the media will exploit every tiny angle of this issue until, finally, it goes away. So be tolerant. If you don’t like the behavior don’t watch the damn game. If you think the guys are right then buy some tickets for the next game even if you think football is just violent ballet. Really. It’s that simple. And yes you can voice your displeasure on Facebook or Twitter no matter which side you’re displeased with. Have at it. This is America. But I won’t be reading your posts on the subject because I don’t really care about this one.

Now go have a fine, fine day.