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I applied for the job because of the pay raise, but it turns out that the increase in pay is only four percent and the increase in headaches is seventy percent. "Golden Chains," a friend suggested. I asked myself why I really want to be a supervisor when I can finish up my career in relative ease. I said in my interview that I saw it as the natural finish to my career arc. But it's an ego thing. A need to be looked up to, to see a change in the eyes of about six or seven particular co-workers.
I fill my driving hours with news and books on tape.
I certainly stay informed, and I've probably doubled my intake of novels.
It seemed a good idea at first, but now I'm hooked on a daily dose of "Morning Edition" and an afternoon drive filled with literary listening from the deep well of titles provided by my world-class pusher, the Carnegie library.
I know that something valuable is lost. Like driving "mindlessly" along and getting a flash of insight or inspiration.
I'm still addicted, but occasionally I turn the opiate off to spend some time alone with my thoughts.
I need to interact outside of my daily routine. My stale life has begun to emit a powdery mold, and an incipient sneeze is augury to upheaval.
After putting too much into cleaning up my act, I now squeak unpleasantly.
I am entertaining the idea of putting a ragged edge to my boring life.
No, not boring.
Part of me wants to feel unique (again), but it's a siren's song that calls me down that path. I believe that fulfillment resides on the inner path, I just haven't been able to pick that up at the drive-thru.
The one factor that makes me a successful dieter is that I grew up as a fat kid. Those painful memories, both remembered and repressed, of my impressionable years have provided sufficient motivation to weight control. I've got it figured out, finally, but few ask me for advice. They don't really want to hear the truth of it.
I'm not perfect.
I have yo-yo'd.
I have starved.
I have jumped on fad diets.
I have not lipo'd.
I have not been stapled or sewn.
No expensive programs.
No fat farms.
The secret is to be just a little bit obsessed.
It was years ago. In the middle of a conversation a nearby fountain stopped, and suddenly I was talking inappropriately loud against the sudden quiet. That I had subconsciously adjusted my voice to compensate for the volume of the splashing water intrigued me, and begged the question of just how many aspects of our lives are relegated to the unnoticed.
I thought of some:
Wallpaper (both kinds).
Our own hair.
Pictures hanging in our house.
Watches, rings, earrings.
The texture of money.
The tree for the forest.
The look of love.
When I was twelve we found a woman floating dead in the local reservoir. I told that story for years, but I was never sure myself how true it was. Unlike the story I used to tell about going up in a fighter jet and blacking out. That was a bald-faced lie. Buddy Fisher pointed through the cyclone fence to some flotsam bobbing near the bank. "See the red shirt?" His excitement was contagious. "There's her head! See it?" Of course I saw it, didn't I? I quit the fighter jet story long before I quit the dead lady story.
Sixth grade. It was full of the things that we try as parents to protect our children from: humiliation, sadness, fear, betrayal, adventure, danger, failure, loneliness, and rejection. Yet as painful as some of those experiences were, I would be something less without them. There was plenty of joy in those days, too. The overall impression I get of that year is of fullness: of life lived completely, uninhibited by fear of consequence, yet constrained by a healthy moral compass. Today I prevent most negative consequences through a care taught by experience and resulting in a seriously boring whitebread existence.
I like the hundred words concept. It forces me to pare my words. To search for the gist, the nub. But I'm conflicted with it, because it makes me feel like I'm contributing to an epidemic of oversimplification. The shorter the message in today's culture, the more likely it will be to take hold. We are influenced, persuaded, comforted, and governed by sound bites. A hundred words, much less a slogan, can barely describe most modern issues, much less impart an understanding. Taking the grays out of a picture – making it black and white - doesn't always make it clearer.
When I was young, I would see the future stretched out before me like I was looking down a road, a feeling of infinite experience ahead, the merest touch of finality. As I got older, I still envisioned the road of my life, but my perspective moved around to the side, so that it looked like a timeline in my mind's eye. It was an important shift, because it made me more aware of my place in my life, of the effects of my actions past, the potential of my actions present, and a prescience of my life to come.
I spent about ten years suffering from surfeit complacency thanks to regular dope smoking. Because it came at such a critical stage of my life, I still suffer the consequences of that happy laziness. Still, I would like to be able to get about a thirty minute dose of that complacency every once in a while. I'd need one of those little game-show buttons like they use in the hospital for self-administered narcotics, just to make sure that I didn't get too much in one day. Just enough to sit and talk with the wife and kids without going stir-crazy.
It started slowly, but by sheer force of personal will, I eliminated my bad habits. Then I turned my attention to longevity issues. My life path started getting a really trendy look to it.
Down Dog position.
Parting the Horse's Mane.
Writing Down the Bones.
Super-slow resistance training.
One hundred percent whole wheat (everything).
Eight hours sleep.
No red meat.
Grape Seed Extract.
You can get really busy pursuing maximum health. Does this qualify as a fetish?
Paying full retail feels like being run through with a bamboo skewer. Unlike the stainless steel skewer, the bamboo type leaves fine splinters and residue that lend themselves to future irritation or even infection. There was a reason you paid full retail; it was a last-minute gift, or you just couldn't wait (because your friend has one, or your enemy has one, or everybody has one, or you're soothing yourself), or the last time you shopped around you spent way too much time and effort and then the thing broke and you couldn't return it because it was on clearance.
In D.C. on business (my home is in Pittsburgh), I looked at the driver of the next car over in traffic and, impossibly, it was my one true (lost) love, looking exactly like she looked twenty-five years ago.
There are many times in my life that I have suffered the consequences of not seizing the moment. Having slightly bigger balls would have paid off huge over the years.
I didn't honk. I was frozen, like a deer in the headlights. She drove away, and as she did, I realized my error. I tried to catch her, but she was gone.
Sam Durning must collapse into bed each night completely exhausted from the effort. His personality is a maxed-out, red-lined RPM screaming engine of manufactured facade. Sam's specialty is workplace entertainment. Lampooning the foibles of our co-workers, he imitates their voices with hilarious accuracy, and then he puts outrageous words in their mouths for a consistently deadly result. Attention is a motive, but deflection (just for example, his mistress is also one of our co-workers) is a powerful consideration. As long as he keeps the room reeling, the likelihood that he will take a hit in the Achilles' heel is lessened.
For about twenty years, I was acutely aware of my superior vision. I could read handwritten notes from across the room, road signs from a mile. I didn't take my gift for granted, nor did I employ it to it's best advantage. I simply appreciated, and occasionally gloated about, my eagle eyes.
I always thought of glasses as a panacea for vision problems. Also a fashion accessory.
I was unprepared for the head-tilting, the taking off, the putting on, the misplacing, the smudging, and the expense.
It turns out that I had taken my good vision for granted, after all.
We have a lot of storage space. I remember when I used to brag about our storage space, and that I liked it because I was able to keep the area we live in clear of clutter. Our consumptive pattern of living has nearly defeated our storage capacity, and I'm not as inclined to spend my spare time staying ahead of the clutter for two reasons. First, I have interests more compelling than building shelves and holding garage sales. Second, I feel like I should live among the clutter as a reminder of just how much goddamned stuff we have.
I feel fit and strong as I clear the overnight foot of snow from the driveway, throwing perfect white shovel-shapes into the air, competing in my mind against the snow-blower across the street, digging on the thrill of my own human power - healthy, quiet, non-polluting.
But what passes for living fully is a candle to the sunshine of the kids and the dog, who have just come outside to romp in the fresh powder, exuberance incarnate. The little guy dives with a yell into the high banks and the dog is dancing, smiling, clouds of snow trailing her flanks.
The hopes and dreams of my youthful heart exist independent of my aging exterior.
Well, not entirely. The eternal eighteen year-old is corrupted by the morning mirror. Reflected, refracted, discounted, exaggerated. Why shouldn't I look as young as I feel? No wonder Botox, lipo, Propecia, and Grecian Formula make sense.
I'm not that kid anymore. He made too many mistakes and too frequently. From social gaffes to major navigational errors.
Yeah, there were the girls and the stars in the eyes and no requirement for sleep.
But the world felt like a constant itch.
Instead of a second skin.
A sixteen day training detail in Oklahoma City. I couldn't rent a bicycle anywhere, but I got lucky and bought a bicycle cheap. It was an eyesore to any avid cyclist, but functionally sound. If your adult sister were constrained by a tight budget, she might buy this bicycle. I'm sure it didn't look like a threat to the aerodynamic carbon-fibered spandex boys, the high-cadence elite of the ten mile path around Lake Hefner. I trolled for fish, and when they passed, I passed them back, hammering out my message that equipment is no match for lungs and heart. Cowabunga!
I have shared in conversation that my primary dismay over the New Terror Reality is about the type of world that my kids will have to grow up in. That they will not enjoy the innocence of the world that I knew as a child. Upon reflection, I see my sentiment as disingenuous, even to myself. The truth is that it's my own lost notion of the world for which I grieve. Kids are by design resilient, and almost infinitely adaptable. On top of that, they are unencumbered by an expectation that the world should function in a certain way.
Back during the OJ trial I saw a body language expert on television interpreting Simpson's movements and gestures. "Now you see his head shaking as he answers "Yes"?" the expert said to the moderator. "His subconscious is saying "No", loud and clear."
I found the demonstration compelling, intriguing, and convincing. Moreover, I wanted to be able to read people's hidden body language the way this expert did. I soon began to wonder first, just how many people are gaining an advantage by secretly employing this skill on a daily basis, and second, why we aren't all taught to do it?
An old man, remarkable for his eyebrows, stood daily at a bus stop near my house in Germany. In the thirty years since, I have seen no eyebrows to rival his. Black and gray and wild, they protruded straight out from his forehead three inches or more, great awnings of hair shielding his eyes from the elements. The mystery endures, because I never dared to talk to the man, much less ask the question, "Why don't you cut them?" I suggested to my brother recently that he trim some wild eyebrow hair. "My Korean wife says no. It's bad luck."
Counterintuitive. I don't know how trendy this word is, but I'm using it a lot. And not just for its fashion value. I suffer from intermittent whiplash due to unexpected applications of faulty logic. The most frequent occasions center on child-rearing techniques. We are so diligently intentional in our parenting that we are stung by the missteps we take. It turns out that kids don't gain more self-respect when they are showered in praise. We learn that discipline can convey love better than permissiveness.
Incidentally, we also may suffer from some counterintuitive policy-making on the part of our national leadership.
If both kids had the same symptoms, I think that they'd be easier to care for. As it is, one is coughing and feverish, while the other is dehydrated and vomiting. The two of them moan incessantly both from discomfort and for attention.
"I'm thirsty," he says, as he pushes into the steamy bathroom where I'm attempting to alleviate my daughter's painful cough. "Go back to your room," I say, as I push him out the door with the escaping steam. "I'll bring water."
He turns toward his room, and suddenly I hear splashing noises. He's puking in the hall.
It was a precursor to the boom box, a combination radio/cassette recorder. Unremarkable today, but phenomenal in 1969. I spent countless hours recording the latest hits off of the radio onto cassette tapes, painstakingly cutting out DJ's and cueing up for the next song so that I could hit the record button at the precise moment to catch my favorite songs.
Today I saw a device the size of a PDA that rips from an integrated FM receiver (or from any external device) straight to MP3, holds 20GB of data, and will play it out to a spare FM frequency.
The landscape painting of my childhood is an uplifting scene of kites, bicycles, pianos, and scout uniforms. There's a river of changing faces (thanks, Joni), a city in the distance, and always an airplane in the sky.
Behind the doors, however, hide iron hands and broken promises, abandoned dreams and unmet potential, wounded friendships and unrequited loves.
That tool shed in the yard? It has a neat exterior, but it holds the rubble of an education cracked by shortsightedness, weakened by ennui, and ultimately broken by laziness.
All of this just to say I wish I had done my homework.
The first bomb that they will drop on Iraq is specially designed to knock out all electronic equipment, to essentially blind the enemy.
For some time I have suppressed a nagging concern about what I perceive as the electronic house of cards that we have built here in the U.S.
I see how much of my own life is woven into computer systems, and I wonder just how we would sustain a major breakdown in that system. Payroll and savings and bank accounts and loans all seems particularly vulnerable. Can we assume that the right people are looking after this?
During fifth grade I lived on Eastfield Court across the street from Bobby Haines (who taught me how not to cry), and the Vaughn sisters (who taught us both how to kiss), and down the street down from Jimmy Aulden, who had a pair of binoculars his dad supposedly got off of a WWII Japanese destroyer. A massive thirty inches long, with greedy giant bug eyes for lenses, their potential piqued our voyeuristic appetites. Together, we could barely lift them to the top of his step ladder from which we sighted in neighborhood windows. But never to the desired effect.
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