Uncle Grumpy’s gone fishin’

Welcome to my retirement! Not the one from my actual job a few years ago but the brand new one from my other life as a professional language police person and grammar nag, writing under the moniker Uncle Grumpy.

You might ask why I’m retiring. (You might also not care.) Well, it wasn’t an easy decision. I like showing off my knowledge, skewering other people’s bad writing, and—at least once in a blue moon—being funny. However, I’ve reluctantly concluded that the odds of making any real impact* on the problem are somewhere below absolute zero. I’d have a better chance of being voted, “The Hottest of All the Hot Dudes in the South Even Though He’s Sixty-Plus and Is Minus Most of His Hair.”

What brought me to this sorry state? ‘Twas this bit of prose from a New York Times article: “In one dramatic marker of the divide, the Republican minority in the Oregon Senate on Thursday fleed the Capitol to prevent a vote on the carbon-pricing bill, which they say would harm the state’s economy.”

That’s right, FLEED. Of all the linguistic apocalypti** I’ve seen, which is plenty, this is among the worst. What next, “bleeded?” Most fourth-graders would know better. Even spellcheck, which I usually warn people not to lean on, would’ve caught it. I’m reminded of Groucho Marx in Monkey Business: “Oh, why can’t we break away from all this, just you and I, and lodge with my fleas in the hills? I mean… flee to my lodge in the hills.”

In any case, I am done grumping. I will no longer rend my teeth or gnash my garments over every goof I find. I shall live a life of serenity, unbothered by dangling modifiers, promiscuous possessives, buzzwords, typos like “pubic” for “public,” and all the rest. I’ll mentally step over these little issues like parking-lot puddles, and if they threaten to aggravate me I’ll simply take a stiff drink (unless I hear them on the radio while driving).


*This is literally the last time I’m going to say it: “Impact” is not a verb. I know I’m not supposed to say “literally” but since I’m retiring, this IS literally the last time I’m going to say it, so I’m literally giving myself a mulligan.
**This might or might not be the proper plural of “apocalypse.” Who cares? I’m retired, remember?

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Nonsense of direction

This “new old age” business is definitely getting old. Not only am I losing vital inches from the frame I’ve been feeding and cultivating all these years, but a precious part of my brain is wilting like last week’s boutonniere.

Why? Because I use a GPS! Those pesky scientists have found that those who lean on this crutch show a decline in the hippocampus (which has nothing to do with African wildlife) and the ability to navigate. Of course, this assumes they have that ability to begin with. Your narrator is not among these fortunate souls.

My powers of direction are such that given half a chance, I’m liable to act like this guy, or this one. In contrast to the famous Wrong Way Corrigan, when I set out for Los Angeles and wind up in Ireland it’s not on purpose. “East is East and West is West” is no guarantee! Like Bob Dylan, I’ve been stuck inside of Mobile, even after they built I-10, and unlike Chet Baker I don’t need to sing “Let’s Get Lost,” because I’m usually there already.

You might wonder how I ever managed to function as a cab driver, which I did for about three years in my college town in Michigan in the 70s. I had moments of misdirection, and a few peeved passengers, but after being out there for eight or nine or ten hours every night—and having to drive efficiently to make money— I learned my way around.

That’s what the GPS generation doesn’t get. Despite having DNA that’s programmed to make me run around in circles, I still remember my routes. Even today, I’ll bet I could make it from the Old West Side of Ann Arbor to the Watergate in quick time.

And no, I don’t mean driving from A2 to DC. “Watergate” was what the drivers and dispatchers called the intersection of Nixon Road and Bluett Drive. Nixon-Bluett. Get it?

Toys in the…well, not the attic

I don’t know why I write about sex toys so often. It’s definitely not based on personal history: in my long career as a human of the male variety, I have never needed any artificial prodding, encouragement, incentive, or hydraulics. Note: Vodka and “Taxicab Confessions” reruns don’t count. (Besides, I used to be a cabbie and the only thing my passengers ever confessed was that they couldn’t pay the fare. But I digress.)

I thought my pioneering post on hot bots would be the last word for a while. Now, however, there’s a monumental tzimmes* because a toy for women and gender-nonconforming people was denied a promised award at CES, the big tech industry trade show. The show claimed it’s allowed to disqualify immoral, obscene, or indecent products. Which sounds juuusst a bit like a double standard when said show has “booth babes” all over the place.

Since the award has been restored, we can focus on the device itself, which is called the Osé. If I was looking for cheap laughs I’d insert—I mean write—something like “Osé Can You See My Heaving, Lust-Filled Loins” but this is a serious discussion so I won’t. The company promises blended orgasms, which it describes as “the holy grail” of orgasms. It claims Osé doesn’t vibrate but mimics all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers…because there are better uses for your hands.” Like what? Instagram?

It looks like science is moving faster on bedroom bliss than trivial things like saving us from climate change or escaping into outer space. Come to think of it, have any of our astronauts ever done the deed in zero-G and joined the 100-mile-high club? “International Space Station Confessions” is coming soon to a screen near you!


*Yiddish for fuss, uproar, hullaballoo etc. I usually use “kerfuffle,” which is British in origin, but I’m an equal opportunity word nerd.

Farewell to a friend

The dragonflies were coming out at the beach last week, a new cycle of life beginning with the season. For my wife and me, a stage of life was ending, as we cleared out and sold the beach house we’d owned and cherished for the last sixteen years.

Beach house

Growing up in the Midwest and not being the imaginative type (think Lake Wobegon), I never dreamed I might someday have a home by the water. I spent lots of summer days swimming in lakes, but never went to Florida for spring break. I had no clue that the world’s most gorgeous beaches lay on the Gulf of Mexico in the area once called the Redneck Riviera, now the Emerald Coast.

Then my girlfriend and I visited friends there and were entranced by the white sand, the balmy turquoise-blue water, and the cool, laid-back vibe. We bought a condo, got married on the beach, and a few years later traded up to a house, where we spent the best times of our lives. Swimming in the Gulf as little fish nibbled our toes. Riding our bikes to get ice cream at ten a.m. if we felt like it. Floating in our pool with Pat Metheny on the outdoor speakers. Kayaking in the rare dune lakes all around us. Eating sweet Gulf shrimp on the beach at sunset. Joining our neighbors for a Fourth of July pig roast, complete with a New Orleans funeral procession for the pig, then watching fireworks all along the coast. Catching beads at Mardi Gras in Panama City.

The Mardi Gras parade in St. Andrews, a few years before the hurricane

Of all those moments, the very best were the clear nights when we lay in our deck chairs for hours on end, marveling at the Milky Way and the planets, talking, and just being together. My wife’s creative spirit and loving heart touched every corner, from the wreath on the door, to the screened porch she had put in, to the nature photos she took and hung on the walls. We could go down anytime and find everything as we’d left it, waiting for us like an old friend.

But eventually, managing the place became a struggle. Meanwhile, our historic beach town was ruined by a plague of mini-Trump Towers, hideous new houses that blocked our Gulf view and were full of obnoxious tourists. These are the kind who bring their guns on vacation, then forget and leave them for the next group of renters (or their kids) to find. They overran our formerly uncrowded beaches, tore around the streets on golf carts, and shot off tons of fireworks even when it was nowhere near the Fourth.

We fought back. When some jerks got raucous in the house behind ours, we fired up the stereo and introduced them to John Coltrane at top volume. But it just wasn’t paradise anymore. And when Hurricane Michael slammed Panama City and came within twenty miles of us, it was time to sell and move on.

I know it’s the right decision. I still feel like I’ve torn out part of my heart. Little things remind me of the place all  the time: no more beach house keys on my ring, several beach-related bookmarks to delete from my browser, the storm forecasts I don’t need to follow anymore.

But we gave our home a proper farewell. We donated lots of household goods to people who’d lost everything in Michael (and didn’t need the National Hurricane Center to tell them it was a Category 5). On the last evening, we walked down to the beach with boxes of shells we’d collected over the years and cast them back into the sea.

Our last sunset

Like Hemingway’s Paris, the beach is a moveable feast, a state of mind. We can see the same stars and planets from our porch in Atlanta. It’s spring and this Sunday is Easter. The dragonflies will be back soon.

Dave closing door.
Goodbye

This post might be a failure

Stop the presses! No: stop the world, right now. Physics be damned. Not kidding. If we turn all our missiles and SpaceX vehicles upside down and fire the engines at once, it might work like a supersize retro-rocket and stop this poor planet before the humans get any more cuckoo.

How bad is it? Well, the college admission scandal, in which one-percent parents bribe elite schools to get their kids in, is just the illegal tip of a societal iceberg. It goes beyond helicopter parenting into “lawnmower” or “snowplow” parenting: clearing obstacles, melting black ice, and removing anything that stands between Junior and success. In other words, we’re trying to stop our young from growing up. I’m no scientist but this strikes me as the fast train to extinction, if climate change doesn’t get us first.

We’re already seeing the problems facing young “adults” who don’t know how to live on their own or deal with adversity and (shudder! gasp!) failure. In a lengthy piece on this craziness, the New York Times reports, “There are now classes to teach children to practice failing, at college campuses around the country and even for preschoolers.” Let me repeat that: There are now classes to teach children to practice failing.

I sure didn’t need to practice failing when I was growing up. Without even trying, I failed at being cool, impressing girls, getting parts in school plays, learning guitar, making the grade in my original college major, and especially sports. In baseball I usually wound up in right field, where they put the worst player because most batters hit to left or center. But thanks to a teacher, I learned to deal with mistakes and defeat.

Mr. Turner was an assistant gym teacher when I was in junior high, the 60s version of middle school. I didn’t know much about him, except that he was one of the few African-Americans on the staff and might have been ex-military because he sometimes sounded like a drill sergeant.

But one day we were playing softball and I struck out. Mr. Turner noticed me walking around with a frustrated, disgusted look on my face and asked why. When I told him what’d happened, he said, “Willie Mays strikes out sometimes, but you know what he says? ‘Next time I’ll do better.’”

That was the most valuable lesson I ever learned. In the next inning, a long fly ball came my way and I caught it. I did better. I’ve dropped a few since, but I’ve never forgotten what Mr. Turner said.

Being the age I am, I’m tempted to quote Bob Dylan: “There’s no success like failure and failure’s no success at all.” However, another song fits better: “Pick Yourself Up,” written during the Depression and quoted by Barack Obama in his first inaugural address: “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” Our children can’t finish the job if we don’t let them remake their own lives.

I hope this post is a success. Your opinions are welcome as long as you don’t tell me to hire a snowplow. “Go stick your head in a snowdrift” is perfectly okay.

Retreat from reality

Just when I’d gotten used to constantly reciting my birth date and reminding myself of my fast-advancing age, I get smacked by another warning that my game is in the late innings. And by “smacked,” friends, I mean SMACKED, like going to that fish market where they throw the fish around and catching an Alaskan halibut right in the kisser.

It seems that not only is 60 not the new 40 after all, but 35 is the new 65. That’s the drift of this article about a luxury retreat designed to help Silicon Valley types cope with fears of early geezerdom. This feeling is driven by the breakneck pace of new software and a culture that demands “a limber, associative mind and an appetite for risk — both of which lessen with age.” As a result, people in their 30s and 40s are flocking to the retreat, at $5,000 for a week.

Oh dear. Get ready for a shock: these golden children of the revolution aren’t the first ones to have this problem. People whose jobs require a limber body, like construction workers, truckers, and restaurant servers can find their livelihoods at risk long before they’re “old” enough for Medicare. Besides, women have always faced discrimination based on their looks and age, and not just in Hollywood, politics, and TV newsrooms.

One of these angst-ridden folks at the retreat said, “I watch YouTube stars and all these things, and intellectually I get it, but emotionally I just can’t connect.” So what? Twenty-five years ago I couldn’t connect with Nirvana and Pearl Jam either. The grunge bands weren’t bad or untalented. Their music just didn’t speak to me like Patti Smith, Talking Heads, U2, and before that the Beatles, the Temptations, and lots of others did. I’d gotten older. It happens. It beats the hell out of the only available option.

Maybe this is a clash between their California ethos and my Midwestern one, but to me, you don’t need a shaman to just be yourself: warts, wrinkles, reading glasses and all. And please don’t zap your face with Botox or run to the Hair Club. That’ll just make you look and feel even more decrepit, broken-down, seedy, tottering, weather-beaten, worn out, haggard, creaky, and unsound. (As I’ve said before, a thesaurus is a very useful thing.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to put fresh batteries in my hearing aids and update my playlist with some Lunch Duchess. I don’t know much about their music yet but they have one of the all-time great names for a rock and roll band.

Remembering the good earth

We’ve spent a lot of time in 2018 revisiting 1968, which one of the newsmagazines at the time called “The Incredible Year.” I turned fourteen that October, a little young to fully grasp everything I saw, but half a century later, certain moments are as clear as day. One is the bulletin that interrupted the TV show I was watching one night in April with the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. Another is the Christmas Eve reading from Genesis by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8 on their mission to orbit the moon.

Like a lot of kids, I was a space nerd, following each flight closely on TV and in the newspapers. In those days, the real astronauts were the heroes and cultural figures, not fictional ones like James T. Kirk, whose mission on the Enterprise was aborted by low ratings, or Luke Skywalker, whose debut was still far, far away. Every launch brought excitement, but also anxiety that, sadly, was justified. In 1967, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee burned to death when Apollo 1 caught fire on the pad during a preflight test. A few months later, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed after a parachute failed to open and Soyuz 1 crashed in Russia.

Apollo 8 marked the first time our explorers traveled to another celestial body, and was a crucial step toward President Kennedy’s goal of a moon landing.  As such, it was by far the most dangerous flight either country had attempted. I remember watching the liftoff and seeing a newspaper photo of the spacecraft starting its escape from Earth orbit. I heard the reading on the TV, or maybe the radio on the kitchen table, not knowing it was the most-watched broadcast of all time, just listening, taking it in. It wasn’t a religious experience, it was a human experience. Three men, a quarter-million miles away, wishing Merry Christmas to all of us on “the good earth.”

I wish I recalled Christmas Day of 1968 that well, because it turned out to be the last one I’d have with my dad. He went to the hospital for minor surgery in January, then suffered a series of strokes and never came out.

Today, “orbiting” means an obnoxious trend in online dating. Few noticed when a current Soyuz carried US astronaut Anne McClain, Russian Oleg Kononenko, and Canadian David Saint-Jacques to the International Space Station. Of course, legions of people can name every Star Wars movie, plot twist, and character. But fifty years from now, will they get choked up remembering the first time they saw Revenge of the Sith?

Right now, this minute, you can listen to the winds of Mars, recorded by NASA’s InSight lander. The next time it comes your way and it’s a clear night, step outside and watch the space station pass overhead, carrying our brothers and sisters and hopefully leading us all to a better world. Peace.