Saturday, January 26, 2008

Looking for the Philosopher's Stone

Last week I wrote about my love of Neil Young and his folk/rock music and within a few days I was called-out as an "old man" on the Baytown Sun Forum, albeit in reference to my article, which they read, but it kinda shocked me too. Like Steve Zissou said "It may be true, but it still hurts. It hurts bad". I'm 55 and yes, I realize I am old. Is it that obvious?

Within this same week I received a letter from Granny Adcock, our Highlands jewel and she always assures me I am a "young-un" along with many other words of support, so I guess it all balances out. Thanks, Granny; you are truly a blessing to us, almost one foot on a banana skin geezer columnists (read - Jim Finley and I).

My son tells me his longtime buddy Bryan "Peanut" White reads all my articles and this brings me mild surprise and also assurance that maybe I haven't lost my youthful touchstone/karma. Peanut, wherever you are – thank you for humoring an old feller in his last golden days. I promised Nick I would give you 2 thumbs up from now on.

One of the many outspoken process operators at my Chemical Plant, who is a "Devil dog Marine in reserve" (someone who at one time served with honor in the USMC), now in his late fifties and still strutting his stuff was put down decisively the other day as a "washed-up old man", by one of the younger operators. I guess his Marine mojo has faded and he doesn't even know it… Poor fellow. Semper Fi anyway, my hat's off to him.

My beautiful and talented daughter Melody is attempting to turn me into a cultured and coiffed man (read – probable impossible task) and has provided me with a couple of liters of hair-growth shampoo and conditioner. I supposedly have a smallish area on the back of my head that is slightly thinning (read – barren as a cueball and the size of a grapefruit) and this topical panacea will remove my social stigma and restore this fallow field to it's former state of rich and full lustrous growth (according to the label on the bottle it will grow hair on an onion, or something – it was smudged). I want Billy Mays hair!

I see myself as a lump of coal, not a diamond, so if it happens…well, fine, but if not, then okeedokee – no damage done. I wouldn't want all those folks at the Baytown Sun to get me confused with someone polished and dignified, like Garry Brumback and Don Coffey or heckfire, even that handsome Peter Fonda look alike T-Bone Schaffer.

As I've said before, I'm more of a fashion terrorist with my shorts, hairy legs and sandals than a model for the cover of GQ magazine and I have to admit, often an embarrassment to my bride. What I need is the Philosopher's Stone, that alchemist's dream medium that can turn me into something totally opposite of what I am wont to be. Then I could be someone special. I could be a trendsetter! Yes!

With my new bushy hair and feet shod in shiny new Crocs, I could saunter down to Starbucks with the best of them. Folks would comment that it looked like I was a millionaire, or something. Of course, I'd have to get one of those Apple iPod telephone thingamagiggies, so I could whip it out while waiting for my double espresso-choco-latte with extra sprinkles and stuff…

I would get a tattoo of Chinese letters (never mind what it actually says, as until Baytown fills up with genuine Chinese-reading people, it's just cool looking and cryptic) and I would get it in a mysterious place, so I could tell folks who ask... and they would.

Maybe I'll take a drive over to Florida to see if I can find something Ol' Ponce de Leon might have missed. I read on the Internet that the actual "Fountain of Youth" is really there, just a well-kept secret. Based on the Geico commercial with Joan Rivers, I think there might be some truth to it too.

Of course I will just have to take a lot of vitamins and work out vigorously. Sheesh, that goes without saying, but since this is so obviously the answer and heretofore has evaded me, I just had to mention it. I think about an hour a day on the "stairmaster " will do the trick – wait a minute! I walked up real stairs for about 5 minutes and almost dropped my uppers! Who am I kidding?

I told my bride that folks simply expect me to be me and they are never disappointed, so until the day I wake up and all my lead has turned into gold…I'll just continue on being me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Climbing Jacob's Ladder

Recently I caught a glimpse of a new TV program called "Dancing experts compete against each other using amateurs" or something. It took me all of 2 seconds (looking at the remote control buttons) to change the channel. I guess I'm not alone in wondering where television programming went wrong.

I usually end up perusing the Science, History and Discovery channels for my afternoon entertainment, trying my best to get a nugget of something worth remembering. So much of television programming is like cheap fast food; it appears to be tasty and satisfying, but after a few minutes I realize I am killing myself one bite at a time. If we truly are what we consume, then reality TV consumption is the equivalent of drive-through greasy death.

Do you ever get the feeling that somehow we are missing the real point of life? Most of us myself included spend our whole life chasing the gilded and perfumed proverbial carrot, never quite catching it and sadly never realizing the carrot is counterfeit. It's fool's gold, nothing more than common iron pyrite crystals, an abundant mineral that resembles real and scarce gold ore. We buy into the idea that the copious accumulation of worldly belongings will make us happier and in the process we become like the cocaine addict who works more hours so they can buy more cocaine, so they can work more hours.

It takes an intervention similar to Jacob's dream in the Bible's book of Genesis to jerk us back to reality (if we are fortunate). The misleading American dream of retirement with heavy sacks of Benjamin's and a 55-foot recreational vehicle fill us with delusions of grandeur and hyper-spiritual fulfillment and this motivates us to work more, stay longer and push ever deeper. I'm right there with you, even though I chide myself a bit for allowing it to continue.

"What about Cash Cab? It's quality TV"! Well, it's a little bit better I guess for a reality TV show, but is it? It's educational I reckon, kind of like bite-sized "Jeopardy" or maybe pseudo-instructional, as miniature golf is to 19 holes on a real course. In reality (I know), it's like one single Tater-Tot next to a plateful of stuffed baked potatoes and hardly a meal to be remembered.

I think the real problem with television is the lack of mental stimulation I receive while partaking its wonders. It's voyeurism at best and unlike books, I get the sick feeling I'm ingesting pabulum when my mind is screaming out steak. It is insipid intellectual nourishment akin to feeding a starving man cotton candy. Deep down inside, I think most people are desperate for a change in home entertainment, but like so many sheep, we have been herded and cajoled by Hollywood and commercialism that we sit passively while we are sheared naked and never know otherwise.

In our life-long quest to reach a higher plain we shouldn't settle for such a shallow existence and my finger is pointed at me first. Work, work and more work, finally collapsing on the couch at the end of the day, hungry for a respite from our labor only to watch a steady stream of remarkably goofy untalented people stand before an obnoxious Englishman, a hipster record producer (Yo! Yo dawg!) and a dopey and teary-eyed has-been singer-dancer and imitate actual talent. This is quality entertainment? Is this even entertainment?

I wish this is all there is to it, but sadly, there's more. If I could insert a weeping sniffle here, I would. Queue the loud rock music Maestro, because it's time for a robust series of commercials selling everything from suppositories to automobiles and sometimes both (at least that's how it seems to me). It griefs me to no end (sorry, no pun intended) how Lou Reed's "Walk on the wild side", a song about transvestites, is supposed to make me want to buy an SUV. Aerosmith's "Walk this way" has been beamed into every house in the country and the full lyrics would shock most concerned parents senseless. By the way, this is the theme song at one of the Disney's better rides, something that just made me shake my head in wonder when I visited.

Maybe I need to sojourn to a far country and lay my head on a rock to get a vision of the correct path (which I'm sure would make my God happy). But in the meantime, I guess I'll just tug my boots and Nomex uniform on, go to work and try to pad my 401K a little more.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Peace Love and Dope?

I guess I became a folk music fan sometime around 1971, but I didn’t know it was folk music that was spinning my young American ears. I was a rock and roll guy - not country and to this day I eschew country music like it is something distasteful…I’m sorry, but that’s just the way I see it.

I was about 18, stationed in Great Falls, Montana, far from home and I remember Neil Young launched an album called "Harvest" and I would sit in my barracks room and listen to Ol' Neil wail out those lonely lyrics and feel his words tear through me like a dry wind out of the desert. One song in particular hit me hard. It was "Old Man", a song about something I didn't really understand. I do now, for I am rapidly realizing my own mortality.

Neil wrote it after meeting an older fellow up in Idaho who just couldn't understand how a young hippie musician could afford to buy so many things, especially real estate in Idaho, when he himself had toiled all those years trying to eke out a living.

Old man, look at my life, twenty four and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two.

Neil, in his usual self-effacing manner told the man that he "was just lucky I guess" and left it at that. I wish I was more like Neil Young in that respect. Neil has weathered the storm of his occupation and is still in my top ten artist’s folder.

My life is a record with occasional poor decisions, but don’t feel sorry for me as I have taken steps to correct them. I learned the good old-fashioned hard way. And I’m not proud of some of it at all, but in order to qualify my current views of life, I will relate a portion, a dark time in my life. I hope for your sake that you can learn from my mistakes.

Like I said before, I was an Airman in the Strategic Air Command and the Vietnam War came for me. Orders came down sending me to Danang airbase, South Vietnam. Like so many young men in uniform, I was off to war. The 70's were a tough time to be a young person in the military and not because of the war, but because of the emerging dope scene and the way it was being projected as the answer. The news reports told stories about Willie Nelson bragging about smoking dope on the roof of the White House with secret service men and every Hollywood Star talking about how they get high on a regular basis and above all of that - cheap dope for G.I.'s in far away exotic places.

I finally gave into the temptation and yes, I bought into it. I embraced the lifestyle because it was the thing to do and above all – everyone else was doing it, a philosophy I learned to regret and to this day it is one of the main reasons I resist following the crowd.

I learned first hand about White Horse methamphetamine, Thai stick, mescaline, red rock heroin, Robilar RC cough medicine, mescaline, Window pane acid, PCP, Orange Sunshine, bongs, pipes and how to roll a one-handed joint with strawberry papers. I saw my buddies scratch themselves raw from heroin withdrawals and on occasion watched perfectly good American boys puke their guts out from an allergic reaction to the opium in the Thai stick they tried to ingest through a bong.

I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done.

I learned about delusional behavior and how a person can work 16 hour days, stay up all night and repeat it again and again only to "crash" and collapse when a day off finally was granted. Normal behavior was getting high 99% of the time and working 100% of the time. Lunch was a couple of joints and 3 cans of beer. Rock music was the thread that helped all of us cope with the many miles of smoke, alcohol and copious back-breaking long hours of work.

I was invited one time into the bungalow of a fellow G.I. to listen to music and the bare walls of his abode were lined with the empty bottles of high powered cough medicine - Robular RC out of England. 49% alcohol and 8% codeine if memory serves me right. This fellow weighed about 130 pounds sopping wet and him about 6 foot tall. I remember we listened to Texas musician Johnny Winter sing his early rendition of Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo, a song Rick Derringer later made famous.

I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

The keyboardist for the band “The Doors”, Ray Manzarek in a TV interview said something I will never forget, he said we were right about peace and love, but we missed it on the drugs. I agree with him 100 %. Music played a big part in my descent into the drug world, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the music, it was the culture, the times and my deliberate association. I still listen to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and appreciate the music and the talent more than ever; I just don’t include dope. I’ve been clean since 1975.

Long live American music, live as peacefully as possible, but leave the dope to the dopes.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Enter the disposable relationship

I am perplexed by a mystery and it continues to baffle me. I don’t like to be baffled and I’m not sure I can solve this one. I’m talking about the tragic personal relationship epidemic our country as a whole, friends and acquaintances are experiencing with intimate relationships and the failure of this once written-in-stone desirable lifestyle.

I’m the kind of person who mulls and sifts information ad nauseum. I just can’t let things go and I’m reminded of this daily by my bride, most especially when I’m irritated about something – something that ‘gets my goat” – which it appears is quite often. Too often.

“Met a girl, thought she was grand - fell in love, found out first hand - went well for a week or two - then it all came unglued”

For a few years now, I’ve ruminated on why people can’t “stay in love” anymore. It used to be common to see the same two people year after year at functions and they had their obvious ups and downs, no sweat. Everyone knew they were “a pair” and when you saw one, you automatically looked for the other.

What I now hear is women think all men are trash and liars, with no substance and no chance of changing. The men I talk to at work (who for the most part are twice/ thrice divorced) think the very same thing about women in general (and I mean wholesale general). Both sexes share the same experiences of lying, cheating boy/girlfriends, mates, husbands and wives. The hate their Ex’s and one fellow told me his Ex makes sure she finds a way to make his life miserable every single day, even though they’ve been divorced 14 years. He stated in earnest “I would shoot her if I could get away with it”.

They speak of the opposite sex spewing anger and hatred. I can’t write the harsh words that are used to describe the opposite sex in general, when it comes to pointing out fault. Both men and women tell me they are not the problem in the relationship.

“She was queen for about an hour - after that (everything) got sour - she took all I ever had - no sign of guilt - no feeling of bad, no”

“All men are (insert an expletive)”! “All women are (think of the something real bad and it goes here)”! “See that little kid over there? They will grow up only to cheat and lie and break someone’s heart”, I was told by someone a few days ago.

Frankly, I am appalled by this degradation of social interaction between sexes. I don’t have experience in this arena though and if I did, I might be more sympathetic or sympathetic period.
I received this email message from a high school friend the other day “Hi, by the way, my boss kicked his fiancée' to the curb this weekend” and on another mailing list I Admin, was this: “Just wanted to let y’all know that the engagement is off. He’s not over his Ex”. What?

I asked my High School peers how a man can love a woman and still kick her to the curb and I was informed in so many words that I did not understand the word “love”. I argued that I well knew what love is (reminded me of Forrest Gump’s plea to Jenny) and the difference in my view is based on my commitment of love to my bride, not a hormonal blast that goes bye-bye the first time there is a disagreement.

These two email messages are not isolated incidents, but indicative of the shallowness of current standards of commitment in my book. Sorry, but after 30 years of marriage and my many attempts to correct my own poor efforts at maintaining a relationship, I realize that both parties have to do their share, which means about 90% of the work each, to keep their partner happy. I know my bride works very hard at it, because she tells me I make it difficult for her…and I am the guilty party.

“In a trapped trip I can't grip - never thought I’d be the one who'd slip - then I started to realize - I was living one big lie”

Yes. I said it. I am my own worst enemy in our relationship. I make poor decisions sometimes. I jump to conclusions. I make angry outbursts. I say things in anger that are not true. I pass the buck and unfairly place blame. I introduce drama that would be better off left alone. I am the reason our relationship takes dips.

Is it really all my fault? No, it’s not, but I can belly up to the bar and take responsibility for my share of the relationship. I can go old-school retro-esque and act like a responsible caring man and set an example for my lady and children that they can be proud of, or I can “git some” for myself and “who cares what others think, cause I looked out for number one”.
It’s up to me to make or break my relationship.

Lyrics by Puddle of Mudd – She hates me (warning- explicit)

I'm not distracted, I just can't remember.

Our country has been clobbered with a pandemic and it's not caused by mosquitoes, terrorists, or a childish Asian communist with ...