Category Archives: life

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?

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.

The ATL for Yankees and Gator fans

Greetings to all Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators,* folks who got on the wrong plane, and everybody else who’s bound for Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl! This is part of that delightful American holiday tradition in which we celebrate with family, give to the needy, humbly honor the rituals of our faith, and resolve to be better people in the New Year, then scream ourselves into an aneurysm and throw bowls of clam dip at our brand-new mega-screen TVs when a “ref” decides a young man from Our School “didn’t get his foot down in bounds.”

I’m talking about college football bowl games, approximately 8,395 of which are played every year, including the aforesaid Peach Bowl, which pits the Universities of Michigan and Florida against each other (again!). As an Atlanta resident, a U-M grad, AND an official Florida Man with a home on the Panhandle, I am uniquely qualified to answer all the Important Questions for visiting fans! Like these here:

Q: Is the traffic in Atlanta as bad as everybody says?
A: That’s just fake news. It’s worse. Think Midtown Manhattan and I-94 in Detroit are hellish caverns of misery? Down here we have the Perimeter, which winds around the city like chicken wire, is under construction 24-7 / 365, and moves at the speed of a dying garden slug. If Sherman had taken the Perimeter during his march, he never would’ve made it to the sea; the South would have won the war while he was stuck at the exit to I-20 East. By all means avoid the conflation of interstates we call Spaghetti Junction, which also resembles a nest of rattlesnakes but isn’t as friendly.

Q: What is the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl?
A: First and foremost, it’s not to be confused with any of our myriad** “Peach” and “Peachtree” names and places. Buckle up and listen, ‘cause we got us a Peachtree Street, West Peachtree Street, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Battle Avenue, Peachtree Corners, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Plaza, Old Peachtree Road, Peachtree Millennial, Peachtree Pothole, and PTSD, Peachtree Stress Disorder. This game is also not to be confused with a playoff game but we already knew that!

Q: Where will the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl be played?
A: At Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Q: Why would anyone who drives a Mercedes-Benz eat at Chick-fil-A?
A: They got lost over on Peachtree and couldn’t find a Waffle House, though there’s one on every corner. Lest y’all think we get by on grits and hog parts, we also have restaurants where delectables like sustainable catfish, hakurei turnips, and evoo are on the menu.

Q: Huh?
A: “Evoo” stands for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. However, if I were a server and a customer told me to “hold the evoo,” I’d call the vice squad. And how is the catfish sustainable if you’re going to devour it?

Q: Are grits groceries?
A: Boy Howdy! If you don’t believe it, just ask Little Milton or maybe Wet Willie, who were from Macon, GA, not to be confused with Makin’ Whoopee down on Peachtree, or more likely on Piedmont Road. (Note: the patrons of this fine establishment aren’t actually “Gentlemen.”)


*Over the years there’s been a lot of chatter on sports-talk radio about how “Gator fans never call.” Since I never listen, I have no idea if this vague rumor is true. But using my regular standards of accuracy and integrity, I’m going to assume it is! So Gator guys and gals, please continue this practice and DON’T CALL ME to complain about this article, ask for directions etc.
**Greek, Middle French, and Late Latin for “godamighty, that’s a big ol’ mess of ‘em.”

Birth dazed

I hate my birthday. Not that there’s anything wrong with the date itself. I don’t share it with some famous person like Muhammad or Mel Brooks, or with an unhappy moment in history like the time the migrant caravan bombed Pearl Harbor. It’s not even because so many years have flown by since my original birthday, though it was slightly terrifying when my latest was the one Sir Paul McCartney wrote a tune about, and it wasn’t “When I’m 19, or “When I’m 28,” or “When I’m 35, 39, or even 49 or 59, FFS!”

No, the reason for this grump attack is that the birthday has suddenly become an indispensable form of ID, which compels me to state it, and thus be reminded of it, a lot more often than I’d like. Medical offices are the worst offenders. No matter why I’m calling, and lately I’ve been ringing up lots of docs about different issues, the voice on the other end always asks, “Date of birth?”

When I was a kid, I of course eagerly anticipated each DOB for the presents and cake. Later on I tried to ignore them, especially the milestones like the now-distant 30 and 40. Eventually, I grudgingly decided getting older is better than the alternative and made peace with the date. But I had to think about it only once a year.

Now, even if I called the doctor’s office five minutes before and I’m talking to the same person, they want my mm/dd/yyyy. And remember: the reason I’m calling in the first place is because my various faculties, faculty lunches, organs, pipes, pipe organs, Moogs, wellness plans, Marshall Plans, Marshall stacks, and other instruments of crepitude* are falling apart – and on top of that, they gotta remind me I’m older than God and dirt put together?

At least I’m still dealing with humans. The New Yorker has an amusing piece about the horde of robots trying to take our jobs, one of which was deep-sixed after trying to hug customers and calling out “Hello, gorgeous!” I think I can safely speak for every male member of our species in saying I do NOT EVER want a doc-bot to examine my prostate.


*The opposite of decrepitude. Right?