Category Archives: life

Scooting through life

My wife and I recently drove from Atlanta to Detroit, a two-day interstate slog that covers several hundred miles and gets even longer when you try to avoid the endless work zone known as Ohio. Despite all that time on the road, the most enlightening part of the trip for me was a ride on the mean sidewalks of the Motor City, aboard a mobility scooter.

You’ve probably seen these at the big-box or the grocery store. Most often used by victims of stroke, arthritis, lung disease, and heart trouble, scooters can transform the quality of life for those with severe disabilities. My wife’s arthritis isn’t that bad but it makes long walks difficult, so her scooter was ideal for a jazz festival in Detroit, with four stages spread over several blocks.

A scooter like the one I rode

A few snarky commentators, especially in England, think some scooter users are lazy sods who just don’t feel like walking. This, as they say in the UK, is bollocks. As I learned the day I retrieved the scooter from the hotel, no one would climb on these things if they had any choice.

First of all, scooters don’t have shocks. Every little crack and rough spot in the pavement goes straight to the seat, and big holes really rattle your teeth. I felt like I was bouncing all the way to the festival. Second, your carefree way of walking is over. You can’t just cross the street; you have to look for the cutout curb. And good luck getting through a non-automatic door.

Navigating a crowd is a struggle because of all the nubs* with their eyes glued to screens and their earbuds in so they won’t even hear your bell. You’re constantly slowing down, speeding up, and shifting left or right to keep from bumping somebody. On top of that, you have to watch for little kids running loose and big ones breezing past you on those dumb two-wheel scooters, which they later drop in the middle of the sidewalk and block your path. The speed control allows you to putter along at a good clip, but between crowds and bad concrete, I could’ve gone faster on foot.

All of this can be stressful, even if you’re not already coping with a serious disability. I’ll never take mobility for granted again.

The next time you see someone on a scooter, please understand that it’s a necessity, not an indulgence. Open the door for them. Ask if you can help with their bags. And all of us should insist that people with disabilities receive accommodations. We were told the jazz festival didn’t reserve space at concerts for fans who use wheelchairs or scooters. Think we’ll make that long drive to Detroit again?


*A dense, spectacularly clueless person. Derived from Navy jargon: “non-usable body.”

Advertisements

Geezerhood for dummies

Since today is National Senior Citizens Day, I thought we could all take a break from our busy schedule of lying about being at Woodstock, and using periods in texts just to aggravate the grandkids. Stay with me while I share some priceless* information from our good friends at the AARP on the subject of living in place. (You do plan on living for a while, right?)

This concept, also known as aging in place, means adapting your home to your age—perhaps by lopping off the second floor to get rid of those knee-killing stairs! Seriously, there are lots of practical, helpful ways to do this. Sadly, the AARP’s ideas are uncommonly bad.

Their first mistake was outsourcing the piece to those Property Brothers from HGTV (bless their hearts) and putting it in the form of a cartoon. This multi-page spread shows the bros leading their own parents through the house, while offering these king-size pearls of wisdom:

“Bedside units hold books, glasses, water, and medicine.”
“Low-flow toilets reduce water bills.”
“Non-slip floor surfaces reduce falls.”
“Elvis really is dead. He’s not hanging out at the Burger King in Kalamazoo.”

Okay, I made up the last one, but you get the idea. These yutzes** must think us elders have the brains of a kohlrabi. So what did you expect from the magazine that invited you to, “Meet Joe’s Prostate?”

The worst part is that many of their suggestions truly make no sense for seniors (or anyone else). The article notes, “A raised dishwasher eases the burden of bending and lifting.” Except that the cartoon shows, right next to said dishwasher, a fridge with the freezer at the bottom WHICH REQUIRES BENDING AND LIFTING EVERY TIME YOU TAKE SOMETHING OUT.

Still in the kitchen: “Under-counter lighting makes midnight snacking easier.” Right, and while we’re at it, let’s facilitate weight gain and heartburn. And get this: for the bathroom, they propose robo-toilets with “voice-activated flushing and lids that raise automatically.” So when Joe’s prostate gets him up at 3:00 a.m. and the privy suddenly gets balky, he’ll be yelling, “FLUSH! I SAID FLUSH!” and Jane, awakened out of a hot dream involving Harrison Ford, will be telling Alexa, ‘Look up divorce lawyer NOW!”

This panel sums up the witlessness of the story. Would any real husband be so dense as to blurt out, “She’s got a lot more to store!” emphasized by that thought-balloon next to his head? The wife would probably have her own balloon, with a big red X over his vintage Playboy collection.

Seriously?

*Since it doesn’t come with a price, it’s worth exactly what you paid for it. Get it?
**Similar to “putz:” dimwitted, but without the added meaning of being slang for “schlong.”

My Woodstock memories

They finally pulled the plug on Woodstock 50 and I for one am not sorry. Anniversaries aren’t created equal and re-creating this one made no sense to me, despite being part of the generation it supposedly defined. I’ve never liked being branded by others—especially now, when I’m one of those selfish old coots who are systematically destroying the millennials’ future even though we can’t figure out our smartphones. But I digress.

In August 1969 I was fourteen, living with my mother in Michigan, a few weeks away from my first year of high school. Naturally, I was worried about meeting a raft of new kids, keeping up in class, and not being a complete bozo around girls. As if this didn’t stir up enough anxiety, my father had died during the winter, and I was still struggling. A music festival in some far-away place was the farthest thing from my mind.

At that point, I’d never even gone to a concert. And because Kalamazoo didn’t have an FM rock radio station, I was clueless about many of the performers. I’d heard some on Top 40, like Sly and the Family Stone, the Who, and Jefferson Airplane, but that didn’t make me a member of the Woodstock nation. Those three days of peace and music were part of another world. Today that spirit seems like a firefly, glowing for an instant before flickering out, never to reboot.

The Woodstock 50 crew cites lost venues, a dispute with a partner, and various other reasons for cancelling the show, yet claim, “A lot of people clearly wanted it to happen.” They did not. Woodstock came together and made history in spite of financial disaster, hostile local citizens, food shortages, and nasty weather because 400,000 people believed in it. After half a century, nobody cared about getting “back to the garden,” as Joni Mitchell wrote in her haunting song about the original event. Woodstock 50 turned into such a mess that Country Joe McDonald could’ve updated his famous anti-war lyric to, “And it’s one, two, three, what are we paying for?”

That year at school wasn’t fun but I survived and gradually got back on an even keel. The Woodstock film and soundtrack album came out in 1970, and like everybody else I dug Jimi Hendrix, Ten Years After, and especially Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.” I still cue them up sometimes, but by the time I graduated I’d started listening to jazz too. In a few weeks I’m heading to the Detroit Jazz Festival, which is celebrating its 40th year and will surely have a 41st. Peace.

Original Woodstock poster, "3 Days of Peace and Music."

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?

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.