Tag Archives: life

The night the bed fell: 21st century update

If you’re about my age* and had good English teachers in high school, you might have been assigned to read a classic James Thurber piece called, “The Night the Bed Fell.” I won’t even try to recount this delightfully loony story, but I will shamelessly appropriate the title for my own true (!) tale of woe.

The background: My wife and I had to have the floors in our new house redone before we could bring in our furniture. In the meantime, we could either stay in a hotel or camp out in the house, using a cheap futon for a couch and sleeping on a brand-new, high-tech inflatable bed.

I won’t tell you where we bought the thing, except that it’s a gigundous corporation whose name rhymes with “Paul Blart.” However, it’s light-years ahead of those old air mattresses people used to use for camping, rock festivals, etc. It has a frame that keeps the mattress off the floor, a pump that starts automatically if the air gets low, and the whole kit & caboodle** zips up in a wheeled bag you can roll around. (IF you’ve got a strong back, because it weighs approximately as much as a boxcar full of lead.)

One night we climbed into bed after a long day of meeting with contractors, shopping for appliances, hanging light fixtures, and the like. This gets tiring, especially for us non-spring chickens, so we were definitely looking forward to a good night’s rest.

But after a few minutes I noticed the mattress felt softer than before. Instead of being on it, I seemed to be sinking into it, rocking and swaying as though it were a waterbed. (If you remember those, you’re no tenderfoot either.)

Neither of us spoke right away, not wanting to admit the ugly truth: Our 21st-century rest and relaxation station was leaking like an email server, and with us still aboard it was falling like a rogue soufflé. We tried pumping it up, but before long were sagging toward the floorboards again. By then it was nearly 11 p.m.

Put yourself in our state of mind: tired, sweaty, mad, frustrated, wanting nothing more than to sleep and having no bed. We also were too beat to go to a motel, so we dragged ourselves and our mattress pads into the den and switched the futon from couch to bed mode. We were so worn out that we slept reasonably well, though the futon was as wide as an ironing board and not as soft.

Needless to say, we got a refund for this amazing contrivance and won’t buy another one. I won’t take the comfort of a real, well-made, mattress-and-box spring bed for granted either.

_______________

*Classified information, though I admit I’m old enough to know the words to “Land of a Thousand  Dances,” which are: “Na na na na na, na na na na na na na na na, na na na na.”
**The lot, pack, or crowd. “Canoodle” is quite different! Send any post-millennial types (i.e., kids, children, young ‘uns, squirts, sprouts etc) out of the room before you look it up.

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Anti-social security, or “Ten things to know about getting old”

Dear Sir,*

We’ve received your application for Social Security. We welcome you to the ranks of the senior beneficiary retirement subgroup, or as some of our younger staff call it, “Geezer Gulch.”

Before we can start payments, we need you to answer just a few questions to be sure you’re eligible. After all, we wouldn’t want to eviscerate the millennials’ future accept more money than we’re entitled to, would we?

  1. How long have you had that white hair exploding out of your ears and nose?
  2. Are you binge-watching “The Golden Girls” on TV Land and thinking Blanche was actually pretty hot?
  3. Do you understand these song lyrics? “When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps; Called John and Zal and that was the Mugwumps.”** If so, please explain them and define “Mugwumps” (Note: Calling us and singing over the phone are grounds for immediate, permanent loss of all benefits).
  4. Is your current bedtime earlier than your bedtime as a kid? Can you even remember that far back?
  5. Can you still put away the Rolling Rock, Canadian Club, Stoly, Moet, and Purple Jesus like you used to?
  6. If so, is your drinking just one more sad attempt to escape the emptiness and anguish of your wasted, humdrum life?
  7. Could you ever have been a contender? Or were you always a bum?
  8. Do you remember “dial-up,” “VCRs,” “cassette tapes,” “black-and-white TVs,” “leaded gas,” “the milkman,” “bi-partisanship,” “common courtesy,” and “common sense”?
  9. Is that really you in that rock festival video on YouTube, with hair down to your navel, a pink and green tie-dye shirt, and what seem to be no pants, jumping up and down on a car hood while screaming “WHIPPING POST”?
  10. Please estimate your annual Viagra intake. This won’t affect your benefits but it’ll sure make us feel better about our own TQ (tumescence quotient).

*We dug this form of address out of the archives because we know it’s what people your age are used to! See how dedicated we are?
**This is from “Creek Alley” by the Mamas and the Papas, who’d probably be the Great-Grandmamas and Grandpapas by now.

Retired, but not from life

Yesterday I retired from the job I’d held for many years. I had a great sendoff, with lots of good wishes and some truly special gifts from the best bunch of colleagues anywhere, or at least in this corner of the Milky Way. I’ve got plans for the first day of the rest of my life, and the days after that. What’s been a little hard to pin down is my identity and sense of self.

“Retirement,” of course, isn’t what it used to be. In the old days, I might’ve put on a golf cap and plaid pants and headed off for a life on the links. Now I’m updating LinkedIn – but how? Do I call myself a former journalist and writer-editor or a current…what exactly? My conundrum isn’t “Woe is me” but, “Who is me?”

Even though I was ready to move on and did so wholly on my own, with nobody nudging me toward the door, it’s a jolt to the system. Except for a year in grad school, this is the first time I’ve been voluntarily without some kind of paying job since I got my undergrad degree back in (!) 1976.

I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster, and not just any old rollercoaster, no sir, but one of those new ones like the “Twisted Colossus” or “Wicked Cyclone.” After all, this is a Big Move, especially for someone in the early stages of geezerdom. I was ready to declare a mid-late-life crisis with all the attendant benefits, like moving my personal happy hour from 5:30 to noon. Then I read about the latest chapter in the all but unbelievable story of Austin Hatch.

You might know that name if you’re a University of Michigan sports fan. Austin survived two small plane crashes that killed his parents, brother, sister, and stepmother. The second time, in 2011, he was not only orphaned but left in a coma with a severe brain injury. However, U-M honored the basketball scholarship it had offered before the crash. He fought his way back, stayed on the team, and scored his first points last season in an inspirational moment for the ages.

Now he’s facing another life change. To focus on academics and all-around recovery, he’s taking a medical redshirt. That means he’ll keep his scholarship and be a student assistant with the team but his playing days are over.

This has thrown lots of athletes into despair. But Austin’s response, as reported here by the Detroit Free Press, was “Basketball has always been a huge part of my life, however, it is what I play, not who I am.”

Thanks for the reminder, kid. I’m not a title or a Facebook status, but a person. And if Austin can handle the kind of adversity and upheaval that the fates have dealt him, people like me can definitely get through our own relatively minor transitions. (Grammar grump alert: transition is NOT, at least on these pages, a verb.)

Some of my retirement will be inspired by Bob Dylan’s line “Oh, oh, are we gonna fly, Down in the easy chair!” from “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” But I’ll also keep trying to live by this one, as I have for a long time: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Monday morning I’m going to sleep in. Then I’ll get up and write. See you soon.

Angry old man part 2 (and now he’s a diehard)

The ageists are at it again.  On CBS “Sunday Morning,” a reporter noted that Earth, Wind and Fire is still out there touring – and then, in a breathless, incredulous tone, she added “in their sixties.” STOP THE PRESSES!!!!!! Musicians who are over 30 can still perform!!!!!! According to what I understand, these blokes are in that category, and so is this cat, and this one.

But I digress. (Can I digress from something I haven’t mentioned yet? Don’t ask me, I fell asleep in freshman English.) What’s really got me going is reading this in the Hot/Not column of Sports Illustrated, a magazine I actually pay good money for: “Rivalries. Florida-Miami and Michigan-Notre Dame grudge matches go the way of the CD – i.e., only old men and diehards will miss them.”

Personal foul. I could use a lot of words to break down the tone and impact of that statement: cheap shot, snarky, gratuitous, mean-spirited, ugly, baseless, classless, snide, abrasive, caustic, and sarcastic (a thesaurus is a great thing, folks). But that wouldn’t be productive.

Instead, why don’t I point out that the recent Michigan-Notre Dame game, the second-to-last one these teams are scheduled to ever play and that no one of any importance will miss, just happened to SET THE ALL-TIME ATTENDANCE RECORD FOR A COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME.  That’s 115,109 butts in the seats, and I’m pretty sure not all of them were attached to the bodies of “old men” or “diehards.”

(Sports Illustrated reporter in the stands: “Excuse me, are you a diehard? You don’t look like an old man.” 19-year-old woman fan: “And they say there are no real journalists left.”)

Time out. As my longtime readers know – those old enough to remember when “twerk” wasn’t a word yet and Mitt Romney still had a binder full of women – I once took a poke at football traditions myself. Fair enough. But I never said all traditions should come with an expiration date or that all changes are good.

(By the way, I compounded my irrelevance and decrepitude by buying a few CDs the other day.  At a yard sale. For a dollar apiece. For the price of four songs online in this wonderful new world, I got about 60 of ’em, including two fine collections by the legendary R&B saxman King Curtis. So please excuse me while I throw some back copies of Sports Illustrated on the fire and heat up some “Memphis Soul Stew.”)

Already?

There’s a football game tonight? And a lot of other games on Saturday, this Saturday? Are you sure about that?

It’s still summer. More accurately, in Atlanta it’s been summer again for the last week or so. We had weeks of wet, gray days and October-like chills, but finally the sun has reasserted itself. Right now the thermometer on the back deck reads 90 degrees and the pool looks crystal-clear and inviting, even if those darn frogs are still around.

Yes, the water is a bit cooler, and I’ve had to pull up the blanket on the bed these last several nights. It just can’t be time for football, again, already. We just got a new table-top grill and haven’t even had a chance to use it once. So easy: you turn it on, load in some wood chips for flavor, and in no time at all you’ve got the juiciest, tenderest chicken you’ve ever tasted. Ready to eat with some fresh corn and tomatoes, those hulking red ones so sweet they could almost pass for dessert. Nothing fancy, nothing better in the world.

I know, the price of tomatoes is up again. Lots of school buses on the road in the morning, too. I haven’t seen any lightning bugs for a while; the big yellow butterflies are out instead. There’ll probably be dragonflies in the air at the beach when we go there for a weekend. But our grass is pure green from all that rain, the crepe myrtles by the driveway still need trimming, and the days are still pleasantly long. So it’s still summer. Isn’t it?

Pretty soon, I’ll be yelling, “Go Blue!” to anyone in earshot, probably my wonderful, tolerant wife. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else at that moment. But won’t it still be summer?

Please?

The impact

Another terrorism alert seems to be fading away. People say the White House overreacted by closing the embassies and consulates. If I worked in any of those places I’d want to do my job, but would also want to be as safe as one can reasonably be in times like ours – especially since a building like the one I work in today was a target, before 9/11 and right here on American soil.

That place, the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, is now the site of a memorial that is breathtaking in its power and dignity.  Like all the best memorials, this one uses universal elements – stone, water, earth, and space – and shapes them in a way that makes a statement but allows visitors to bring their own emotions. I’ve been there twice, and meant to write this after the latest visit last fall, but couldn’t put the words together. The impression it left was that strong.

You walk in through a high gate marked 9:01, the moment before the bomb exploded. There’s a block-long reflecting pool leading to another gate marked 9:03. The sense of emptiness and dislocation is palpable and heartbreaking. It makes everything around you more vivid:  the horn of a nearby train, a friend’s footsteps, the feel of the bark on the big elm tree that survived the blast, and a pale crescent moon rising over a field of 168 empty chairs.

You don’t talk much.  You realize that this is where people walked, made phone calls, wrote, filed papers, laid plans, laughed, started careers and retired, dropped off and picked up their children in day care, living their daily lives in the service of not just a paycheck or a government, but in the service of this country.  It could’ve been any of us. It still could be. But the words etched on the gate offer a poignant lesson:

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those damaged forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.

Photo by Chris Germano
OCK-Memorial-0

Bullfrog blues

Oh, the travails of being a bourgeois ‘burbanoid. I used to chase hot news around Washington; now I chase little frogs around the pool. poolfrog

We’ve always had a few of these critters, but this year, maybe due to some change in the climate or their habits, we’re getting more of them and much later in the summer than usual. And they’re not alone: just the other day I lifted the lid off the skimmer, which pulls in leaves, grass etc. from the surface, and out popped a snake. After my heart started beating again, we netted, released, and Googled it. We’re pretty sure it was a ribbon snake, especially since they like to snack on frogs and tads.

Confession time (don’t tell my wife): after taking the pic above with my phone, the artiste in me decided I should get a better shot.  And of course, as I tried to pose the lil’ bugger in the plastic container where I’d detained him, he boinged! right out and under my car. I couldn’t back out without flattening him, so I lay on my stomach on the garage floor and poked at him with a rake until he hopped out from under. After which I moved the car, chased him some more, and finally got him back in the container for a trip to a nearby creek.

Episodes like this remind me of a favorite song by the legendary Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, called “(Hey, You Little Bastards) Get Off My Lawn!” And who could forget the great Martin Mull and his routine about the legendary suburban blues singer, Blind Lemon Pledge?