Friday, June 24, 2016

The road less taken is now my own

I’ve learned to wait quietly without frustration. Well, about 50% of the time. I can’t say for certain when I first realized I reached this mature stage in life. I most certainly earned it the hard way, as it was not a skill acquired without the accompanying agony.

My list of lessons is rife with obstacles. Having an appointment only means that I am expected to be there for them, not the other way around. Changing lanes to get ahead of someone only invokes the age old law that the other line moves quicker. Try it at the grocery store for a mini-lesson and the lane you jumped to will need the Managers approval within seconds.

Need a quick anything?  Other than Chick-fil-A, you are pretty much out of luck and might as well hunker down and be patient. Cresting an overpass, you see nothing but red taillights and decide to zip down the feeder instead. It’s risky and you are a pro, but soon get caught up behind a fender bender that brings you to a 40 minute halt.

Our fast-paced life takes 2 weeks to grind down to a peaceful state and by that time, the “relaxing” trip to Pago Pago is over and we are still tense. We arrive back in Baytown and with no apparent transition go immediately back to 90 to nothing. There is only one solution besides moving permanently to Luckenbach – learn to slow down or burn up on reentry. You can’t change anything except your perception of your surroundings. The sooner you accept this hard cold fact, the quicker you can sit back and take one for the team.

Almost to the day, I retired 2 years ago and it’s taken me 2 years to slow down. Now some might laugh when I write or claim to have slowed down, but I am not talking about activities, but my perception of life around me. “Slow down bro; you are retired,” has become my mantra. I can “hang out” at the auto parts store and chat with the counter person now instead of ricocheting in one door and out the other like I’ve done since I was 15.

It’s raining and the yard needs mowing? No biggie, I’ll do it tomorrow or the next day. That problem will repeat itself countless times and it is nothing to get agitated over. Yes, I realize it isn’t one issue that gets us tied in knots; it’s the stack of 15 problems that set us off like a firecracker. Our normal routines as working people have a queue of problems waiting to ambush us every single day and where does this frustration come to the surface? When we are forced to wait on almost anything.

I have to confess I am not always successful. As an example, this week I was needing to buy an item at one of the home improvement stores.  I searched like a Yorkie going for a rat for all of maybe 10 minutes and the staff was having a large motivational gathering. I couldn’t get help because they were busy getting pumped up so they could help customers. I went to the professional lumber area and stood quietly at the counter and watched 4 clerks stare at a 5th one as they tried to thread a spool of paper on one of the registers.

I’ll be honest and say I didn’t last much more than 60 seconds before I walked off shaking my head. I was within 5 feet of them and they never took their eyes off the paper spool-challenged coworker.  As I walked away, I took a few deep breaths and made my way to the part of the store that ultimately held the tool I needed. When I checked out, the lady asked, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I chuckled and went out the door as happy as I would have been if someone had put the item in my hand. I deserve an award for patience.

A good deal of my acquired new maturity is due to the time I spend at the gym named after a clock. I can burn frustration with calories and by the time I leave, I simply have little fight left in me – and that carries over to the rest of the day. Sure, taking a drug or something else would be easier, but that is a path I want to avoid. Besides, I get a good blast of endorphins as a reward and I like that opiatic hormone.
Running all over like a fried chicken with its head cut off will not save any of us any credible amount of time and only make us more agitated. Some of us simply need a break to gather our wits, but that my friend is for another column.


Friday, June 17, 2016

When I am old and losing my hair

Well, it’s finally happened and to me of all people.  I’ve hit 64 years of age. It happened yesterday and felt like any other day except my knee was throbbing. The Beatles gave me my first warning way back in 1967 about this time of life warning about losing my hair and being old. Being old. Wow. I guess 64 is old. Younger people think so.

What exactly is old anyway? My good friend Charles Kelm drives a 1997 Chevy pick-up I told him was an old truck. I worked on a Windows XP machine that is old because of the new operating systems and it’s only about 6 years from purchase date. Both the truck and computer still work, but they are slower than current models.

Yea, that describes me… but the older I get, the better I used to be. That’s what I tell people. When Chuck Norris was about 70, he was asked if he can still run 5 miles and his answer was right on the money. “Yea. It just takes me longer.”

“I stepped outta the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot-bellied, bald-headed, well I thought I was somebody else 
I caught my reflection in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door
I just don't look good naked anymore”

I was at Clyde Casey’s house working on his computer when he told me he is 91.  My youngish 64 looked pretty weak in comparison. Clyde tells me until a few years ago, he could fix his own computer, but these days…

It seems like every day, something else is breaking on my body, so he really impresses me. Granted most of my injuries are self-inflicted including my current knee problem.

I have arrived at the painful conclusion that I can no longer do plyometric exercises. “Plyos” are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power. The only thing that is increasing on me is the regular exploding of my joints. This time it resulted in a trip to the VA for an x-ray and a future MRI. The doc says I am structurally sound, but I may have torn a ligament or tendon. Great.

"I went down to a nude beach for some seaside fun
Stretched out in my birthday suit soakin' up the sun
Then somebody yelled, "There's an old white whale, washed up on the shore.
Sure, I just don't look good naked anymore"

I pride myself on being a fast learner, but in some areas I am a sucker for punishment and evidently slightly retarded in my ability to learn from mistakes. I hurt myself on Monday, but kept going 90 to nothing until 3 days later I couldn’t get out of bed. I thought I could work it out. Don’t laugh, because all of us break the rules when it comes to common sense concerning ourselves.

I simply compounded the problem with repeated classes until I couldn’t bend my leg and by Friday afternoon I was tapping out and crying “uncle”.  I’m almost 64 for crying out loud - and it took this latest act of blind self-abuse to wake me up to that fact.

Speaking of the older I get, the better I used to be, I’ve taken to explaining to my 3 year old grandson, “When I was your age, I already had chores,” or “When I was your age, I was already running a trap line.” It has no obvious effect on him and isn’t actually the truth, but I enjoy reinforcing my false sense of indestructibility and endurance.

I’m waiting on the day when due to my advanced age I am not accountable for what comes out of my mouth and can get away with slightly ribald and delusional comments. Of course, my bride will not be present, or she will see straight through it. “Oh don’t listen to that old curmudgeon; he’s so old he fell off his dinosaur.” Or maybe I’ll write a lot of letters to the Baytown Sun supporting Hillary Clinton and people will know I’ve lost all sense of reasoning and stop reading my fantasies.

The real answer is to modify my physical activities to a more moderate approach. You would think that as many times as I’ve fallen out of a tree would make me more cautious about climbing them in the first place. The real chore is to recognize the trees for what they are – something for a younger person.

My competitive nature makes this difficult, so I simply must cut out the boot camp I attend and stick with weight lifting. It will be difficult at first, but its time has come.

* Ben Colder - I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore


Friday, June 10, 2016

Oh to be sixteen again!

I live a life of self-discipline 99% of the time. It is self-imposed and often causes distress to my bride especially when I’m driving and pointing out other peoples liberties. I admit this, but what really cooks her proverbial goose is when I’m not. This week was one of those times and you know what? It felt good.

I was 15 when I bought my first car and I can assure you, my buddy Dandy Don Cunningham will follow this story with great interest, as will other car-loving folks of the 60’s. Was my first car a 1967 Pontiac GTO with a 389 C.U. motor? Or a kick booty 68 Chevelle 396 Super Sport like Butch Hodges has? No.

It was a 1963 maroon Corvair Monza with two 1-barrel carbs and an honest to god 4 on the floor! I drove that car like a literal scalded ape. I say that because I am convinced that is what a scalded ape would look like if it had 4 tires and was driven by a 16 year old male. My mom would watch me drive slowly down the asphalt road in North Georgia and I would turn off onto a hilly dirt road and ease out of sight.

At this point I would become a seasoned dirt track driver for the doomed Chevrolet Corvair; the car Ralph Nader said was “Unsafe at any speed”. Supposedly, the rear coil springs would fold under turning stress, but I could never duplicate the dangerous maneuver, no matter how many donuts I cut. I would have that rear-engine 4 banger rapped out and around and around I would go until I calmly returned to the pavement and deliberately drove home under the speed limit.

Years would pass including the Vietnam War and my part in it and I came out the other side being a very different person. No more risks or shenanigans that were potentially out of my control for me contrary to appearances. A famous dare-devil, which incidentally was killed doing a stunt, explained his life like this: “We remove all possibility of an accident before the stunt, and then do it.”

Well, one stunt had an unexpected variable and that was all it took for his safe stunt to kill him. My act of irresponsibility was along the same line of thought and worked out for me with nothing more than egg on my face, or rather a filthy Jeep stuck in a ditch. I reasoned beforehand that I were to get stuck, one of the passing trucks would lend a hand.

Now before I give the slippery details, let me state that I did not tread heavily. I didn’t leave giant tractor-turning-over ruts. I was cool and calculating and made a common error of wrong approach or I would have gone in one side and out the other. In off-roading, you almost always tackle a depression at an angle and that is what I did and nice and slow. Only in professional racing and car commercials do you blast through an obstacle.

Easing down into the 4 feet of water-filled ditch, my passenger-side tire slid to the left and dropped me into the ditch.  If I would have tackled the ditch head-on with power, I could have blasted through, but left a lot of disturbance. I drove up and down the ditch and soon realized that I could not get out. At that point, I waded out of my Jeep to the back and pulled out 70 feet of chain and straps and a shackle.  I hooked them up to the front and pulled the long line up on the road to await extraction by what turned out to be another Jeep driven by Shaun Holloway.

I watched burly pick-up truck after truck blow by with not so much as a wave - to my disappointment in my fellow Texans. The day before I had rescued an 82 year old lady and her son from a stalled car in the rain and the very day I was stuck, I changed a flat tire on I-10 and Sjolander for 2 ladies in distress.  The Jeeper pulled me out after a bit of strategy and I was on my way.

Now, did I learn my lesson?  Yea.  I learned this lesson 40 years ago, but it did feel good to revisit my teen years. I can’t say if this line of reasoning will appear again anytime soon, well, maybe in another 40 years.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Speed Reading Isn't What It Used To Be...

Years ago, there was an advertisement for the Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. I checked Amazon and you can still buy a used hardbound copy for a penny, plus about 4 bucks for shipping. The course has been around since 1959 and although I never read it, I heard it was pretty effective.

For Millennials, thank the Good Lord there is an Ap for it. Hardbound books are so cumbersome!

According to the advertisement, "In just minutes, you'll notice a real difference in your reading speed, and in succeeding chapters of this seven-day program you'll get the secrets of effective note-taking, find tips for instantly improving your writing, and much more."

Now doing a tad of research, most college age readers do about 200 to 400 words per minute. Using one of the many newer versions of speed reading hasn’t really improved on Evelyn Wood’s method and this includes the new applications for Smartphones and pads.

And to cut through all the studies, the bottom line is as reading speed increases, comprehension drops. This means you're not taking in the information, which defeats the purpose of reading.  I am a fairly fast reader and probably fall into the 400 wpm group, but as they say, my mileage may vary. I pride myself on pushing comprehension over how fast I can get through a book, article, or fact sheet. I routinely read my weekly submission 5 or more times before I send it in.

Now here is a trend I’ve noticed over the number of years I’ve written my column – people are not really comprehending what I write and on a fairly regular basis. If it is happening to me, it is a general problem, rather than a specific one. In other words, people flash across a column picking words and phrases and if it stabs at something they are passionate about, they automatically start building a defense and shut off the rest of the column.  Never mind that it doesn’t attack one of their hallow halls, but possibly supports what they actually believe.

Maybe the real problem is I shouldn’t write about sensitive subjects where people have to actually ruminate and comprehend the content. My friend Robert Prall (RIP) once told me I use too many big words and write about stuff people are uneasy about. “You force them to skip over your columns.” I told him it was not my plan to flower down my columns so people can feel all gushy inside. My intent is to stimulate people into defining what they truly believe instead of blindly supping the politically correct lukewarm pabulum that is spoon-fed us on a daily basis.

Here is an example, two April Fools Days ago, I wrote a spoof column on a dog catcher who was illegally rounding up dogs and selling them to be consumed. The story was so hyperbolic, that most 5th graders would have seen right through it. The reaction I got though was outrage and my managing editor, the police department, and my personal telephone all began to ring off the hook demanding resolution.
My column had pushed their bat-crazy button and comprehension went right out the window. This happened because they read just enough to get ticked off and stopped comprehending altogether. The same thing happened recently when I said crime was my primary concern, not the media-blitzed idea of transgender bathrooms. I read the angry, condescending, and finger-pointing responses with both sadness and moments of reflection. How could people draw their conclusions from what I wrote? The answer is they didn’t. They drew them from their own prejudices and biases.

My column wasn’t an endorsement of transgender bathrooms at all. It was about my personal attitude about what is important to me when I venture out into the city in my car, or enter a store. I worry about people driving their 4000 pound missile through the side of my Jeep because they have their nose glued to a little glowing glass panel instead of the road in front of them.

I worry about someone robbing me at gun point or evading the law in their car and going 70 miles an hour down Garth Road. To me, I have a giant dose of common sense and my preoccupation with avoiding crime has nothing to do with a sign on a bathroom door when I walk into a department store in comparison. To me, this is not even a Christian issue and I am appalled that I would be accused of having no values. For thousands of years, people simply walked into the woods to do their business and for anyone who leaves the sterile environment we call a city, they still do – and there are no signs saying men on the left, women on the right. Using a toilet is using a toilet, nothing more or less.

That last paragraph is rather lengthy and years ago I was directed to write 2 or at most, 3 short sentence paragraphs, because “people cannot comprehend anything longer than that.” Prove me wrong folks. I believe the vast majority of our readers do the math when it comes to comprehending, but the next time you angrily bang out a response to something one of us has written, please take the time to actually read the intent of the writer.

Maybe the real problem is I shouldn’t write about sensitive subjects where people have to actually
Bert Marshall is the owner of and a Baytown resident since 1974. Reach Marshall at

Elvis has left the room

I want to set something on the table and anyone who bothers to read anything I write, please take a good hard look. We are living in a...