Thursday, January 30, 2014

Apple Hype and The Emperor's New Clothes orig date 1/4/13

          Happy New Year!  It is almost impossible to get through an entire calendar year without the need to upgrade or replace some seemingly essential piece of electronic technology.  In my line of work, it happens even more frequently than that.  Not that I am a gadget guru; I’m far from that, but with the number of computers, printers, scanners and various modes of communication that I use, there is always something coming to the end of its practical life.  And every time that happens I am forced to go stand on the curb and watch the Emperor parade by, showing off his fabulous new clothes.

          I have been doing this for so long that I remember when the Emperor’s tailor used to “make his clothes” without the all mighty “i”!  Even in those pre-historic early days of floppy discs and monochrome CRTs, there were fans who raved at the innovative, stylish dress of each new suit of clothes.  They bragged how they could see the quality in those fine threads and if you couldn’t, then you were just not cool or smart or worthy.  I remember being enticed, almost able to imagine that carefully stitched gold embroidery, those magical lacy ruffles, and the perfect, easy fit.  The tide of the growing international mass hysteria almost swept me off my feet, but reason prevailed and I realized that I did not see any new clothes.  I know I will be harassed with hateful emails and horrid comments, but I have news for you, the Emperor is really naked, and you have all been duped.
          Over the years, the guidance of reasoned thinking has evolved as readily as the lure of “the new clothes.”  When I first started looking at the Fruit of Temptation (isn’t it interesting that it is named Apple), I was trying to budget the cost of “the new age of information” for my tiny cash-strapped business.  In my research I discovered that the software written for the ignorant DOS users cost half as much as it cost for the Apple Emperor’s new OS.  The passionate, rabid believers argued with me that the mouse worked better, the processor never locked up, and operating system was incredibly easy to use, so what if it costs more?  As Apple evolved and the serpent of “status consumerism” grew, I watched from the sidelines, sometimes smiling in realization of the bare-assed truth, and sometimes wondering if I was missing something.
          The Apple became a Macintosh, which became just plain old Mac.  Then the powers-that-be realized that the whole farce of “nouveau status” was a trick of the eye.  So Mac became iMac.  iMac begat iPod who begat iBook who begat iPad and eventually, as a product of inbreeding, the iPhone V was born.
          Now for those of you who believe you can see those new clothes, my words will fall on deaf ears.  Sure you can buy an MP3 player for $30-$40, but why would you when you can buy an iPod for $250?  Yes, Samsung makes a pretty good phone, but if you pay in advance, campout in the rain, and spend twice as much money, you too, can be among the elite who can own the newly announced iPhone iOS7 and get rid of that archaic months-old iPhone V.
          Value is in the perception.  Did you see Jimmy Kimmel’s satirical skit where he showed people an iPhone IV but told them it was an iPhone V?  You had to laugh at the people who raved how much lighter, faster, bigger and brighter it was than their old iPhone IV.  Maybe you’ve seen the newest car models that all have an iPod dock built into the console.  People find the perception of value in the guise of status consumerism.

          Was Steve Jobs smart?  Hello!  Yes!  Look at how many people are ‘iBroke’ from the ‘iGottaHaveIts’.  But contrary to popular belief, Steve Jobs NEVER walked on water.  He did, however; figure out how to make people envision each little innovation as the most important discovery in history, worthy of discarding perfectly good, expensive equipment in the illogical desire to upgrade to his newest toy.  Beauty is in the “i” of the beholder, and behold the Emperor’s new clothes are just an illusion (I hope, because I don’t own a single Apple).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Band-Aids for a bruised ego

     Writers, me included, are an intriguing study in the juxtaposition of paralyzing insecurity and haughty egoism.  Inevitably, I cannot wait to get my newest piece published, printed or posted so that others can appreciate my talent and effort, even though I am absolutely sure that it isn’t very well written.  I know I could have done better.  I should have re-edited it four or five more times, made some changes in the word choices, added more coloring, and deleted some of the prolix details.  I really do wish I was as good as I think I am. J

     This week I wrote a small piece that I was happy with when it was finished.  I wrote it for the Internet society, so I posted it on my blog.  I watched as a couple of hundred people flocked to my site to see what I had written.  I even sent a couple of special invitations to friends, because I thought it came out worthy of their reading.  I received a few kudos and compliments from the usual sources, but from my friends and peers, the comments and critiques remained either tacit or unmerited by my work.  That happens sometimes.  The artist in me wanted it to be great, but apparently it wasn’t.  If one doesn’t have an ego capable of surviving being stepped on, spat at or savagely attacked with impaling weaponry, then either you should not practice art in any of its forms, or practice it without ever showing your work to the public.  Art in all of its forms is completely subjective and what impresses some will not work for all.
     So I licked my wounds and decided to put my story away for a few months.  I liked the premise, character and the structure; obviously there were some major flaws that I could not as yet see.  I was hurt because even my closest friends, on who I depend for honest critiques, did not take the time to tell me where I strayed, faltered and fell.  To discover my mistakes, I was going to have to wait for the opaque fog of creativity to lift from my eyes so that I could view my work in the same cold harsh light that I examine the work of others.
     It was during this floundering in the eddy of my pride and humility that I received an email from my sister delivered with all of the tact of a full-force kick to the groin.  She was reminding me that I had forgotten that my baby brother’s birthday was this very day.  She said she thought I could “at least” send him an email.
     I gave thought to what alternatives I had that could be borne by my budget still recovering from my recent marital dissolution.  In the end, I surrendered to the truth that for anything to be delivered immediately, I was going to have to pen an email.
     Over the years I have written more than a few birthday greetings that were well received, so I began reading through my files looking for something that could be recycled for my youngest brother.  It turns out that all of my well-phrased birthday wishes were written to female friends, and try as I might, I could not adapt any of them to a male, let alone a brother.  So in desperation I sat down and wrote:

                     Hey brother Thom,
The calendar has shifted and the years have crept by, so it comes along again, that anniversary of the traumatic scalpel induced birth of the youngest Kent.  No one really holds it against you; it was, of course, Mom and Dad's fault you were thrust into this world in its perilous condition.  On the good side of that precarious Cesarean delivery 54 years ago, you have made the most of your ill-timed existence, resolving to conduct a life worthy of pride.  You took what was handed you, soiled it a few times, and then learned from experiences to which only you could attest, polished what was left, and made this world a better place. 
Happy birthday,
and thanks, little bro.

     Several days passed and I received a note from Thom’s email address.  I opened it to find a glowing letter from my sister-in-law who informed me that nothing her husband received or could have received touched him more than my brief message.  She related that he had taken it to his workplace and shared it with his confederates, took it to his weekend gig and let his band read it, and that she was under direct and repeated warnings to never delete my emailed birthday wish.  My brother would, of course, rather drive off a cliff than to pick up a phone or send an email to personally express his sentiments.
     Her accolades were substantiated by a subsequent phone call from my sister essentially relating the same tale of brotherly pride and heartfelt emotions.  I have to admit that when something, anything I have written touches someone, my ego is bolstered with a proud satisfaction that is more pleasant than any other sensation I have yet to experience.
     After I wrote a long reply addressed to both my brother and his wife, I returned my attention to my work at hand.  In the email was something from an unknown addressee.  Thinking that it might be a lead on more editorial work, I opened it first.  It was an astoundingly complimentary letter from a literary agent whom I had not heard of before.  She was directed to read my blog post and was moved to tears.  There was more to the letter that had to do with some future work that I have yet to agree to, but the premise of her contact left me awed.
     Before the end of that day, I received another complimentary note from Israel lamenting a workday that was “wasted” while learning from and enjoying my writings.  And then I received one from South Dakota, one from Canada and another from South Africa.  All of these comments were written by people with whom I had had no previous contact, and all on the post from which I had received so few responses. 
     I was reminded why I do this, why we all do this, it is for the audience.  An unread manuscript, an unseen painting, an unheard song or an uneaten meal is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest.  It does not matter whether there is a sound for it could never be appreciated.

     I find myself burdened with time restraints, and I refuse to lob the tasteless marshmallows of “Great work,” “I’m impressed,” or “You have such talent,” in response to anything I read.  There is a scholarly formula for constructing a critique.  That formula has been so engrained in me in the years I spent in academia that I could not bring myself to use some truncated method of addressing another writer’s work.  But then I have to consider those rejuvenating compliments sent by total strangers.  I read pieces every day and I am often moved by the talent and craftsmanship of the authors, but I don’t as often as I should, address the quality of their work.  I am resolving to change that immediately, so for all of you writers who know me from the social sites, our writing groups and the academic round tables, expect to hear more from me.  I promise that if what you receive is merely the briefest of kudos, it will be my sincerest expression of appreciation moderated by the demands of my schedule.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The cold and snow and one more muse

     The wind blew cold last night, colder than it has all season.  This morning my Edenic world lies frozen and quiet; my beautiful Smoky Mountains adorned in powdered wigs worthy of the Crown’s Barristers and set against a backdrop of the purest azure skies.

     A winter’s storm stops life in the mountains.  There will be no descent from my secluded perch set high above the valley; my driveway is a sheet of ice disguised under a crisp white blanket of snow.  I can see down through the trees that the switchback, the only egress to the county road far below is equally as treacherously coated and impossible to transgress.  The weathergirl on the local news is predicting that we will not see defrosting temperatures for several more days, so I am here, in a glorious voluntary exile.
     I am prepared, as one must be when you live atop of a steep grade.  There is food, emergency heat, backup power, gas for the grill, if needed, and I even stocked up on movies and wine.  Two days ago as the weather approached, I drove three counties over and picked up a friend to keep me company and share the isolation of this snow-in.  It is a pleasure, even in these early hours where the sun is not yet fully present, to hear the rhythmic slumber of another person in this house accustomed to only myself and my dog.
     I know she will rise soon and much to my consternation, her first chore will be to brave the below zero temperatures to inhale the perilous vapors of her Marlboro reds.  My dog will, of course, want to go smoke, too, but his duration will be less than a full minute before the icy deck will become too uncomfortable for his paws.  The door will open and they both will step out, and the door will open again so that Sebastian can race the stairs to the warmth and comfort of his bed beneath my desk.

     Yes, my ever-changing environment is frozen and still.  The forest and valley that continually please my eyes in the kaleidoscopic emeralds of spring, shadowed canopies of summer, and the Joseph’s Coat of autumn is now whitewashed in crystalline precipitation.  In the distance, the four-lane is deserted, as schools, the government and most businesses have either closed for the day or will abide a necessary tardiness from their attendees.  The mountains and the valley are frozen; frozen both in temperature and from the inertia of motionlessness.  There are no cars scurrying to meet its driver’s deadline, no trucks en route to scheduled deliveries and no tractors laboring in the fields, even the livestock of farms that surround my little peak are silent, nestled in the warmth and security of their barn.  
     Wintertime can be harsh, but I am blessed to live in such a beautiful place; I see the cold and snow as nothing more than the depth of color on a master’s canvas, a suggested emotion guised in a poet’s stanza, the subtle diminished 7th tones in Nature’s grand symphony and yet one more muse for my writing.  

Good morning world.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

     Ten years.  Ten years don’t seem that long when you get to be my age, but it’s been ten years since she passed.  They say you should always think well of the dead, and I guess you should.  But does that mean I should forget the spats over money, or never seeing eye-to-eye when it came to the kids?  Should I forget that long dry spell after her hysterectomy and all the stress that caused?  I think not; that wouldn’t be honest.  That’s part of marriage, ain’t it?
     We had a good life and a pretty good marriage, Squiggy and me.  What?  Oh, you thought -- Yes, she was named Eve, but to me she was and always will be my Squiggy.  Funny story:  We weren’t married a year when we stopped by old man Turner’s for a hose and bucket to wash the outside windows.  Oh, what’s that guy that used to date Mariam Haskins?  What the hell was his name?  Shit.  Baboon?  Babble?  Babbette, yeah Bobby Babbette.  He was there talking to us and asked Eve about getting the streaks off the windows.  She turned ‘round asked old Lou for one of them squiggies.  You’d think the whole town was there laughing the raucous we made.  Ain’t no one that knew us ever used the word squeegee after that; they’d always be squiggies and Eve, from then on, Eve was my Squiggy.
     Oh, you hear that?  That’s our young’un Clive.  He’s bringing some of that loud equipment to clean up the backyard.  It’s got to be a mess out there.
     You know what’s wrong with this world?  People don’t have family traditions anymore; that’s what’s wrong with kids these days.  All these smart phones and computers, nobody’s got time for face-to-face people.  That ain’t the way we raised our boys, no siree bob.  Sunday supper was our family time.  Everything stopped for Sunday supper.  In the winter, we all sit in the dining room at the big table.  No TV, no phonograph records, no radio, just family talk.  We’d talk about their schooling or sports, even girlfriends and fistfights.  My boys were open with us, so they knew they could talk ‘bout anything and we’d listen.  I can’t boast that Squiggy and I didn’t go up the side of one their heads now and again, but mostly, we just talked.  We talked them boys through all the bad times right along with all the good ones.
     “Hey boy, you gonna get those weeds all out there by the table.  Your brothers are coming and we gonna have us an old time Maris Sunday supper out there at the table.”
     He’s the youngest; sharp as a tack, but never could get good grades in school.  He’s done alright though, took some classes over the VoTech and made hisself into a pretty damned good mechanic.  Samuel and Bo, they both went to the Community College, cost me an arm and a leg, but now they got degrees and work over to the Allstate.
     What?  Oh, yeah, supper.  In the warm weather, we had our Sunday suppers out at the picnic table in the yard.  No, no barbequing, no siree bob, Squiggy would cook a roast or a big chicken, sometimes even a turkey when they was cheap enough.  Sunday suppers were for supper.  Meat, vegetables, potatoes, rolls, gravy, the whole ten yards; apple pie and ice cream; it was a supper, you know what I mean?
     Oh yeah, sometimes we’d barbeque, but never on a Sunday.  Friday night, maybe Saturday.  It all depended on what the boys were doing.  That’s sort of a casual thing, barbequing, not like a regular supper.
     Here comes my other two. 
     “Hey boys.  Yeah, Sam, I feel okay.  A little weak, you know, but all-in-all, not bad for an old sick guy.  Yes siree he’s out back, can’t you hear that racket?  Go help him finish, I want to sit out in the sun before it sets.”
     That’s why I wanted this supper; I’m sick. 
     Oh, Frank’s wife, she’s cooking it over at their place.  No, he ain’t no relative.  I met him when I use to go to the Moose Lodge.  Eleanor, his wife’ll bring it by later so the boys and I can sup without all that hard work and cleanup.
     Anyways, you asked about me being sick.  See, I had a sore kinda to the left side of my bald spot; see that scar?  The doctor looked at it and said it was a melanoma; they operated and took a big chunk of my scalp off, but that wasn’t enough I guess.  I hate that word: metastasized.  Always hated it even when it had nothing to do with me or my head.
     They shut them motors off, didn’t they?  You think they’re done?
     “Bo, you all ‘bout finished out there?  Then give me hand; I want to sit in the sun.”

     Ten years.  Almost one seventh of my life, since I sat out here.  Never could sell this place, too many memories.  See that mess over there, that was Squiggy’s vegetable garden.  I think it was two years ago, I was walking around, I was a little more spry back then, but right in the middle of them weeds, there was a damned zucchini growing.  I picked it and ate it that night.  I laughed and I cried a bit with the spirit of my Squiggy; she was still feeding me after all these years.
     That sun feels good don’t it?  Like the summers when the boys played Little League, and we’d sit in the stands eating those gummy Red Hots and drinking Coke from them tiny little bottles. 
     Yes, I’m a little tired from the radiation.  That sucks the strength out of you; I told Doc Grains that I didn’t want no more.  I ain’t got but a few weeks at best anyway, why be sick for that? 
     Yeah, this is probably going to be the last Maris Sunday supper.
The sun feels like a heating pad on my back.  I’m gonna lay my head down while we talk, okay? 
     The boys coming for Sunday supper is real special to me.  It’s good to have a nice family.  Their wives’ll be along shortly.  All three of ‘em got a nice girl, you’ll like them, too.
     Ah, that sun feels so good; it’s so warm.  It makes me feel like I ain’t so sick no more. 
     Sunday supper.  A Maris Sunday supper.  All of us back together  -- the whole family -- like the old days.  I think I'm feeling -- No, I know I'm feeling better -- this is making -- nothing seems to be hurting so much.  Sunday supper -- sigh -- I feel like I did when Squiggy was here.  Yeah, I’m feeling so much better now.  A real Sunday supper.  That sun feels good -- the pain is -- sigh -- is going away.

“Squiggy!  You came for supper?  Oh, Squiggy, I’ve missed you.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Marrakesh Express

The driver screamed at the crowd instead of using his horn like the other taxis.  Perhaps it was the lack of windows and doors, but whatever the Arabic pejoratives were he shouted, they worked.  The people and dogs scurried between carts and past the donkeys and over the live poultry to avoid being run over by our speeding jeep.  I laughed to myself that I would never again make fun of a New York City cabbie; Times Square was no comparison to Marrakesh.

The suq was crowded and the narrow alleys had me disoriented in a matter of minutes.  Brahim continued to yell and gesture with profane hand signals until we passed the last hookah tent where he slammed the brakes hard enough that I hit the dash.

“Here.”  He pointed at what appeared to be a wooden crate stood on end.  “Here.  You go here, Anouar, here.  Go here!”

The rear seat passenger jumped to the ground, but as my right foot hit the road, Brahim accelerated the Russian UAZ into the crowd and disappeared with a cloud of dust.  My left ankle had not cleared the taxi and it caught the pillar where the door should have been.  I was spun face first into the Moroccan litter of the Share’a.

The side of the crate swung open and two sweaty men dragged me from the ground while a third led my partner through the tiny wooden opening and into a darkness that smelled like camel shit.

Six months ago, I didn’t even own a passport.  The extent of my exotic travels had been to cross the Canadian border to see the zoo in Montreal.  My life was boring; I was content to write in my comfortable office using the Internet for my experiential database.  I was making good progress on the new novel until my friend and wannabe collaborator stopped by for a visit.  If it were not for Fiona, I would still not understand the power of Itzala or how the curse is spread.

Six weeks had passed since she made her unexpected appearance, and she was still insisting that she would only be there for a couple of days.  I kept my writing schedule intact, arising in the wee hours of the morning and typing away until late afternoon.  I would hear Fiona stir in the hour or so before noon to make her pressed coffee and to warm a croissant.  I had hoped this book might earn a reasonable advance, and get me back out on the signing tour.  My agent was thrilled with the finished chapters, right up until my houseguest arrived.  Now the evenings spent drinking copious amounts of wine with the woman who is both my best and the worst possibility, clouded my head and made my goal of 2,000 words per day impossible. Her visit was beginning to have an impact on my reputation.

I have to admit that I was and I still am, addicted to her laugh, her smile, and to her well-meaning intellectual kibitzing.  I would descend each day from my third floor office and discuss that day’s progress while I cooked what she claimed to be the bane of her “fluffy” midsection.  I would talk of adventures with my newly created vampirish monster wreaking havoc on my childhood town of Mount Holly.  How the Basque gypsies perpetrated the great fraud of Shadow People and the curse of Itzala.  But before I could plate the evening’s culinary art, Fiona would uncork the Barolo and start “fixing” my mistakes.

Fiona was a gypsy of sorts, not like the gypsies of my book, but a woman with no roots; born in the North, raised in the South, enamored with Europe, yet habitually settled, albeit always temporarily, wherever her latest seductive “companion” lived. She was between romances at the moment, swearing she was through with the male gender except, of course, for her essential “visceral” needs, so she had no one to torture but me.  She fancied herself my onsite editor and would ask continuously about the plot line, character development or have me read pages of the manuscript.  Sitting quietly and nodding as if in agreement, she would wait for a conversational pause and then start in with her critique leading with some incongruous interjection of memory from Copenhagen, Barcelona or Prague that inevitably distracted both her and I from the point at hand.  More wine and more discussion left us mutually hysterical with laughter.  I would again try to read and she would again interrupt if only to tease me about my dialogue.  Her attempts to illustrate a better cadence would inevitably end in her confusing two discreet conversations with either her South American Patrón, the son of the Viscount of Aquitaine, that rowdy Texas oil baron, or the recently incarcerated wizard of Wall Street.  All, she claims to be her ex-husbands, but with Fiona, one can never be sure.

Rarely did these editorial sessions end with anything viable that I could take back to my laptop and improve the manuscript.  If any good ideas did ever manifest, they were lost in the fog of our mornings after.  With full deference to the requisite concept of time efficacy, I would not trade one of those raucous evenings for a year of mundane History Channel documentaries and my once empty bed.  So it should come as no surprise to anyone, let alone my agent or publisher, that when Fiona suggested that she and I spend the summer in Basque Country researching the Itzala, I said yes. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Choreography of a January Thunderstorm and a Stillborn Story

     The dawn has yet to break on this mid-winter Saturday as I sip from a comforting cup of French roast tempered with an ounce of half-and-half and a dash of Truvia.  I am awake but not roused.  I am groggy but it is neither sleep nor fatigue that deadens my mind; it is a lack of inspiration.
     I awoke to a dull blue glow of 2:04 AM from the bedside clock.  My mussed pillows and disheveled sheets signs of a night spent in creative unrest.  I yielded to no hesitation; I rose with an immediacy that meant only one thing: I must write.
     Behind the sealed and guarded doors of my mental chamber of ideas, a thousand thoughts swirled in a chaotic tempest.1  I waited for something to alight, to take root, to grow.  There was an image of a man drinking a half pint of vinegar so that he could boast that the glass was still half full; an exchange of laughter by a rotund store clerk and an intoxicated blue-eyed biker; I saw an inexplicable sea of disgruntled frowns shopping for celebratory feasts; and I envisioned dozens of vignettes of irony, uncertainty and experimentation in my new life of bachelorism.  Each ghostly apparition refused to pause long enough to be snatched by my desperate hands and molded into something worth writing about.  Still, the harsh glare of my laptop taunts me to write on.
     To further bedevil my misery, a gale wind is blowing an icy rain against the windows like some ersatz Stephen King scene.  The forest of hemlock, walnut and fir sway and twist like languid dancers stiffened in over-rehearsed choreography, mistimed to the rumble of rare winter thunder.  Over the hurried rush of the storm I hear my dog snoring peacefully from the warmth and comfort of my now long abandoned bed.  Upstairs there is a loud knock where one of my playful shadow haunts teases me to come look for what I know I will never find.  A neighbor’s truck engine turns over high above me on the mountain, and I listen as his brakes and transmission fight the gravity on the trek down the grade and through the switchbacks of our precariously steep and unlit one-lane egress.  Through the bespeckled window panes, the house lights of the secluded valley below shimmer, the distant four-lane hosts only a handful of weekend commuters, and the barn on the far hill is alternately pulsed and darkened by the headlamps of a tractor loading baled hay in the pouring rain. 
     I live in a kaleidoscope of writing prompts and still the cursor blinks idly while my mind wanders aimlessly.  Is it me?  How many students and peers have I led through this torture of impotent creativity?  Why is this damp and cold January so different than the many excuses that I would not accept over the years?  That salacious urge screams inside of me, “Write!”  Yet the cursor blinks on; my cravings destined to remain unsated.
     It is the bane of every writer: that clogged artery of ideas that stifles the flow of words and ideas, depriving the art of it vital oxygenated nutrients.  I will survive this infarction as all creative people must do from time to time, but at what cost?  What did I lose this morning?  I will mourn the potential of this stillborn story that refused its rightful birth and post instead this account of its tragic nonexistence.

     These words are ill-suited to my passion and not worthy of the unrealized potential they recount.  I will write again soon, but for now at least I have silenced that incessant cursor and dulled the glare of my blank screen. 

1. I purposefully used the word "tempest" to grant a smile to a dear and beloved friend.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why I never wanted to be a cowboy

Once I was on a disastrous business trip to Las Vegas; due to a brief but instructive naïve mistake that I made, I was left stranded by a client who owed me $75,000.  For ten days I couldn’t leave my hotel room for fear he would call or better yet, bring the money to me.  When the business deal finally resolved (yes, I did get the money), I had a couple of days before I could get a flight back home.  With time to waste, I decided to become a tourist.

One morning I got up with the momentous idea of driving out across the desert to see the Hoover Dam.  This was August in Nevada; I swear the weatherman said it was unseasonably mild with the high ONLY reaching 115 degrees.  Sounded like a fabulous day to take a drive across the Mojave.

About midway between Vegas and Lake Mead there was a little two lane turnoff that had a directional sign pointing toward Laughlin (I don’t remember how many miles).  I stopped and got out of my air-conditioned rental and stood in awe of the dusty, arid trail that seemed like it went on forever into the desert.  My one and only thought was:  They used to do that on horseback!  I got back into the a/c controlled environment of the Chevy Malibu and headed east towards the dam.

I don’t know how people did that: lived without air conditioning, gas powered vehicles with cushioned seats, laptop computers, GPS navigation systems, satellite radio, 4G internet smart phones, hell, most of those western pioneer dudes (and gals) didn’t even get a bath but once or twice a month and that was in the time before deodorants and Angel Soft toilet paper.  Grownups used to ask me when I was little if I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up; I used to say, “Nope.  That stinks.”

So here I am in the 21st century, perched high on the side of one of the Smoky Mountains with computers and battery backups, cellular internet service, satellite TV, a well-stocked freezer, propane fired fireplace, gas grill and plenty of warm clothes.  What could go wrong?  How about if the well head froze?  Granted a -30 wind chill is not the same as a Mojave summer, but how did those Appalachian hillbillies make do without indoor plumbing and a steaming hot shower to get their Tuesday going?  Thank God for small miracles; I got the coffee pot ready last night, someone has invented antiperspirant deodorants, and I am well stocked in Angel Soft.

I did get the water flowing again this afternoon, so no wisecracks about my stinky editing.  It does make you wonder though when times get rough, relationships fail, finances get strained, your health gets compromised, or work just sucks, we do live in a pretty remarkably advanced and privileged world.

I think I’ll fill the Jacuzzi tonight instead of taking a shower.  Anyone want to join me?  (Females only, please – Hey, I am recently single – I gotta ask!)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It is 2014, and all is well!

        Well, my triskaidekaphobia‎ is over and so is the great year of '13.  Oh it was a wonderful year of can kicking, sequestration, government shut downs, Obama Care debates and quantitative easement (otherwise known as printing unbacked money and infusing it into the world economy to pretend we are doing better). But we made it in spite of all of the self-important and fearless talking heads who continue to rant about the destruction and doom being wrought by those who don’t share their particular philosophy.
       Here we are in 2014 and finally everything is all fixed.  It was a rough ride to get to paradise, but we made it to the land of milk and honey intact.  What?  You what?  Oh, sorry, I really thought all the worry and bad stuff ended at midnight.   I need to start watching the news more often; any suggestions: Fox News, MSNBC, Al Jazeera? 
       So help me here: I don’t get it, if the government and economy continue to be all screwed up, our personal lives are still in turmoil with debt, failing relationships and thankless jobs, and worse yet, Maury Povich is still on TV, why were all those people cheering and screaming last night?  What was the point of dropping crystal balls, Moon Pies and opossums?  I saw everyone celebrating by acting crazy, wearing ridiculous hats and silly glasses shaped into the number 2014, getting drunk, shooting fireworks, blowing noise makers and kissing strange women (okay, maybe that last one isn’t so weird), but now you tell me it was all for naught?  That is soooooo wrong! 
       Something needs to be done; lets resolve to end this worthless tradition. 
       No, not the wild parties and drunken debauchery, what I mean is ending the futility of New Year’s Eve celebrations by giving the people something to celebrate.  Instead of a resolution of weight loss, renewed exercise regimen or absolution of your personal vices, how about we think a little bigger?  Why not resolve to personally change the world?  What do you mean you can’t do that?  In 2013, we lost Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, David Frost, Tom Clancy, Lou Reed, George Jones, Pat Summerall, Stan Musial, Roger Ebert and Dr. Joyce Brothers; are you trying to tell me that one person can’t make a difference?  As the great comedian Jonathan Winters (who we also lost) said: “Nothing is impossible. Some things are just less likely than others.” 
       We: you and me, can do something to make things better. Likely or not, if Maury Povich can convince network executives that a woman who needs to have a dozen or more paternity tests to figure out who her baby’s daddy is, or some teenager needs a polygraph test to find out if her mother is sleeping with her boyfriend is redeeming enough to merit TWO daily television timeslots, then you and I can change the world.
       Confucius (or was it Lao-Tsu?) said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  First of all, I wasn’t aware that the Chinese in the 5th century BC even knew what a mile was. Secondly, wisdom always sounds smarter when we quote a dead guy, especially a philosopher.  And lastly, the world didn’t get into the shape it is instantaneously; it evolved very slowly, a single step at a time.
       I know there is a great inertia dragging our society, our cultures, our traditions, and our morals further in the wrong direction, and I don’t know about you, but I think I am going to try to take a step the other way.  I might not be able to fix the whole world, but if I don’t try, I will be disappointed.  
       It is like my old debate argument about religion.  If I live my life in Faith and get to the end only to discover I was wrong, I won’t be disappointed that I lived my life morally; no harm done.  But if we get to the end and discover I was right…?  Where will you be?  Will it still be “no harm done”?  I’m going to take a step and see where it leads.