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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Storyworth & Other Assorted Bits-O-News

It's been a while since I've posted, but not since I've done any similar writing.  That statement makes sense through the lens of Storyworth, a kind of project that will take most of this year to complete.  You can learn more about Storyworth HERE.  This was part of a Christmas gift from my youngest daughter, and I have to confess, I am enjoying it.  The premise is this:

  • Family members ask a weekly question
  • I write a response
  • At the end of the year the whole thing is turned into a book
This week's question, which I haven't started answering, is...

My answers to these questions generally run in the 600-900 word range.  Anyway, if you have someone in your life that enjoys writing, this makes a memorable gift...for both the writer and the people that get a copy of the book.

In other news:

  • Eclipse/Rapture...I was not raptured on Monday.  Hell, I didn't even get light-headed.  Thankfully, no one else did either (the rapture part, that is).  On a more serious note, maybe, just maybe, the idiots that spout this stuff should be publicly humiliated.  That would make a great website...tracking the stupid stuff public figures predict that never come true.  
  • Earthquake...I was working from home on Tuesday when we had an earthquake.  Details HERE.  I didn't feel a thing.  Ms. Rivers did, but then again I was in the work-zone, a not-so-magical place where I probably miss a lot of things happening around me.
  • Florida...Ms. Rivers and I spent a few days in St. Augustine, Florida, a week or two ago.  I enjoyed having time off in a warmer place, and going to Buc-ees is always a blast.  The place is definitely a bucket-list kind of thing, which sounds like an almost comically American stereotype (think "I aspire one day to visit the world's largest gas station").  Also on the docket was a trip to the self-identified Fountain of Youth.  I did drink water from the actual fountain, but I don't think that is going to stop my 60th birthday from coming in a few weeks.  As for the fountain water, the taste could best be described as being liquid scrambled eggs.  Finally on the Florida side of things, you can mark that as being one of the places I have no plans to ever live in, now or in retirement.  The winter weather is nice, but the one advantage we have up north is the exhilaration felt when Spring finally arrives.  It's as close to a legal high as I have ever experienced.
  • Scranton Times Death Spiral...The Scranton Times, a local newspaper, shut down reader comments a few days ago.  There was no article written about the change, just an email sent to those who partook of the seeming privilege.  I did, with some regularity, comment on articles, but only under my own name.  That was a rarity for the comments section, which was dominated by anonymous dog whistling keyboard komandos, spewing not-so-subtle racism and sports team politics.  Not the best presentation of Northeastern Pennsylvania residents, but then again this is what you get when you don't hold folks accountable for what they write.  A better solution would have been to require anyone commenting on an article to actually post using their real name.  This would make sense if the function was killed for reasons of common decency, but then again the actual reason was far more cost-cutting than anything else.  Yet another victim of the Scranton Times sale.  

As Billy Joel once noted, "and so it goes".  

More to come.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Re-naming a Stadium & White-Washing History

This will be short, simple and to the point.

Renaming Beaver Stadium to Honor Joe Paterno

Yes, there has been some movement among trustees of the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) to rename the school's stadium from the current Beaver Stadium to one that features former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

Just to save time, this is at the root of the controversy:

Penn State Scandal

From the above link...

March 2, 2002 - Graduate Assistant Mike McQueary tells Coach Joe Paterno that on March 1, he witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy in the Lasch Building showers. On May 7, 2012, prosecutors file court documents to change the date of the assault to on or around February 9, 2001.

March 3, 2002 - Paterno reports the incident to Athletic Director Tim Curley. Later, McQueary meets with Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz. McQueary testifies that he told Curley and Schultz that he saw Sandusky and the boy engage in anal sex; Curley and Schultz testify they were not told of any such allegation. No law enforcement investigation is launched.

May 6, 2016 - CNN reports the story of another alleged victim who explains how he was a troubled young kid in 1971 when Sandusky raped him in a Penn State bathroom. He says his complaint about it was ignored by Paterno.

July 12, 2016 - Newly unsealed court documents allege that Paterno knew about Sandusky’s abuse and that he dismissed a victim’s complaint.

A bottom line of sorts, for me, is this:  At some point, Joe Paterno did follow the letter of the law in reporting the abuse allegation.  He did not, however, follow the spirit of the law.  He did just enough to try and move past the controversy in order to focus back on football.  Simply put, that's not enough.  As I noted in a Facebook comment, if what happened was some NCAA rules violation, then I'd be somewhat sympathetic.  But this was something that involved sexual abuse.  This was more important than football.  For coach Paterno though it was not.  

Joe Paterno had a moral obligation to put the welfare of children and young adults before that of his football program.  He should be held to a higher standard over and above simply compliance.  He did not do that, and that is unforgiveable.

Does this tarnish everything that Joe Paterno did at Penn State?  No.  He still has a library named after him, which is fitting given his reputation for nominally insisting that Penn State football players also be serious students.  I also happen to believe that his coaching record should not reflect the scandal, and attempts to somehow erase what he accomplished as a coach were/are a bad idea, as it punishes the students who played on all of his teams.

I don't have much of a voice when it comes to Penn State internal politics, but I'm not without one either.  As a graduate, Life Member of the Alumni Association, benefactor to the university (helping to fund a scholarship at Penn State Harrisburg), former board member of the Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Society and member of the Atherton Society, I think I've earned the right to express an opinion.  And express an opinion to the Trustees and Administration I will.

Joe Paterno does not deserve the honor of having a stadium named after him.  Doing so is an insult to the victims of sexual abuse and to those alumni of Penn State who view the university as far more than just a football team.  Penn State is better than this.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Just Browsing...

I love looking at real estate listings.  Granted that there actually is a practical, if not immediate, reason to do so, namely the purchase of a retirement home in a few years.  The bigger reason though is that I just find old homes to be interesting.  

The house shown below is old, but I wouldn't use the word interesting to describe it.

This was my late brother Chris' house.  The last time I was in that house was probably early February, 2017, as it was being prepared to be sold by his wife.  My thought was to just go through the place, with her permission (of course), looking for any old family things that could be saved, prior to the sale.  I don't recall what I found there on that day, as it was an extremely difficult visit.  Prior to this, I had been there late morning on January 5, 2017 when I found my brother after he had passed away.  At the time, there was no heat in the house, so his body was frozen.  My fingers can still feel the sensation of touching him, thinking initially that he was just sleeping.  

More on this is noted in prior blog postings.

Seeing the listing was kind of stunning for me.  I have stopped once or twice over the past few years (as recently as three weeks ago) just to see the condition of the place, as it slowly rotted away.  I don't believe that it has been actually occupied since it was sold in 2017; as best I can recall from Chris' wife, it was sold to someone from New York, but nothing was ever done with it.  Fast forward to now, and I did see a condemnation notice on the door from the City of Scranton, so perhaps the absent owner thought it best to cover his/her losses and get rid of the property.  Interestingly enough, there already is a pending sale for it.

The timing of this listing/sale in mid-January I suspect is a kind of synchronicity of sorts, given the history noted above.  Maybe this is a kind of karmic way of getting it all over with together.  Maybe this is a kind of ending chapter.

Whatever happens regarding the sale, I just have one hope:  That whoever buys the property fixes it up and that there end up being children living in the place.  I think little kids running around is precisely the kind of exorcism the place needs.  The house, and my brother's memory, would like such a thing.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Making 2024 Small

"How 'bout getting off of these antibiotics?
How 'bout stopping eating when I'm full up?
How 'bout them transparent dangling carrots?
How 'bout that ever elusive kudo?"
(Thank You, Alanis Morissette)

As I noted in a prior post, every end of year I think about what happened in the 12 months past, and what I want to accomplish in the 12 months to come.  "Resolutions" sounds so formal...and I'm not a really formal kind of I'm going to go with "goals"...and I've been thinking a bit more about this over the past week or so.  My track record in achieving these goals is, by all objective standards,  terrible.  Like Don Quixote though, I keep at it for reasons that mostly escape me but nevertheless seem like something of a noble quest. 

Anyway, a part of what I want to accomplish in 2024 can be thought of as "Thinking Small"

Thinking Small
Given my pending birthday this year, I actually think I am reasonably healthy.  Granted that there are a few chronic things going on (heart rate issues, for example), but all things considered, I think I am doing okay.  This noted, I need to do a better job of managing my weight.  That's not for reasons of vanity or anything else of the's strictly because I want to be as healthy for as long as possible, mostly because there is still a lot in my life to be done.  First on the docket for this goal is to simply think smaller in terms of what I eat.  As in just eating less.

Managing weight is basically a simple math problem:  Calories in, calories out (burned).  For me, a big part of this is that I simply sit too much.  Especially when I am at work.  More on some work stuff in a moment.  But I can't afford to be desk bound for hours at a time either.  This is an easy thing to write, but hard to do (for many reasons...), and I don't have a way to solve for this yet.  But I am going to figure something out.  

I need to re-envision, if you will, my relationship with what I do for a living.  I don't want to work less, I don't want a simpler job, and I don't want to be "comfortable".  What do I want?  It's not a question of want in as much as it is a need...I need a greater mental and physical balance in my life.  Some might call this "work-life balance", but that doesn't do this justice.  Besides, I have an entire posting in my head on the subject of "work-life balance", so I'm not going to hash that out here.  Instead, I just need what I do to earn a living to not exhaust me, mostly because it shouldn't.  Yes, what I do is important, and I get to work with great people; however, I'm not curing cancer, stopping crime or preventing the fall of Western Civilization.  

I need to find a spot where I work hard, help those I work with, and have more time for the rest of my life.  Simple, huh?

As a side note, my retirement from the full-time workforce isn't imminent, but it's also not that far away.  Do I have a date in mind?  Yes.  Am I going to share that?  No.  One of the smarter things I learned from nearly three decades working with very smart people at Prudential is that you never give an employer too much advanced notice of your retirement.  Why?  The moment you do, you give your employer license to possibly treat you not as well (Think "He's going to be leaving anyway, so __________."). 

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
I've already started working on this goal. What is it, you may ask?  Well, I need to let go of some things.  Most of these things are physical stuff, as in I have DVI to HDMI converter cables for some reason.  As in I have a ton of old books that I don't ever plan on reading.  As in I am right now looking on a shelf where I have old notebooks.  Heck, I don't even know what is in these notebooks.  I am simply awash in stuff.  There is also some mental stuff in the back corners of my head as well that could probably do for, if not a purge, then a re-assignment to the mental equivalent of a Siberian Gulag.  

"Time the past has come and gone
The future's far away
And now only lasts for one second, one second"
(Time, Hootie and the Blowfish)

Time is speeding up as I get older, a point which I think is ultimately at the heart of what Einstein was trying to prove with his Theory of Relativity.  It's only been over the past 2 or 3 years that I've actually been aware of this fact.  Nevertheless, I have things to do, and it's getting to the point where those things need to be larger in my life and less about the nuts and bolts of what I'm doing between 8am and 5:30pm-ish most days.  There are pictures to be taken, words to be written, things to be torn down, things to be built, cats to be petted, people to help and walks to be had with Ms. Rivers. 

None of us are promised time, by the way.  It all can end at any given moment for reasons of the tragic (struck by a drunk driver) or the dramatic (nuclear holocaust created radioactive cockroaches) or the mundane.   We just don't know, so it's all the more important to treat the time we have with the sense of reverence that it deserves.

Simply put, I think we all need to do a better job of honoring our time.  

Recent events have left me thinking "why me?" once again.  This, by the way, is not a question of "why did this terrible thing happen to me?", but instead, why am I the one who is still standing?  Think of it as being a kind of survivor's guilt that's tough to explain to someone else who hasn't been through certain kinds of terribleness.  Anyway, as I ponder this sort of thing most every early January, I've come to the conclusion that it all comes down to one word: Persistence.  Either I've been blessed with this personal quality or I'm just too pig-headed to back down from things.  Both probably are true.  While this has certainly served me well, I'd gladly give a bit of it up if it would be/have been available in some small measure to certain others.

So, long ago, was it just a dream?

Time to march into 2024.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Time Time Tickin', Tickin' Away

The title of this posting comes from a wonderful song by Don Henley called The Last Worthless Evening.  Well worth listening to (see below), although it has very little to actually do with the topics at hand.

Anyway, it's nearly New Year's Day as I write this, and over the past few weeks I've been full of thoughts related to the year that's coming to an end, my getting older, and just a sense that things in the world are spinning a bit more out of control than they are normally (if there is such a thing as "normal" these days).  These thoughts aren't all bad, mind you, and I'm not sure why some of them are only recently coming to mind.  Yes, I am having thoughts about thoughts...not exactly productive...but not completely out of character for me either.

As for the year that's coming soon to an ending near you, well, I'm glad.  That would be "glad it's almost over".  There are a few themes to the year if you want to think of it in those terms.  Themes like... priorities were sometimes very wrong in 2023.  The time and mental energy I spend at work has gone up quite a bit.  Part of that isn't all bad, as I think I'm good at what I do, and certainly I think many seem to appreciate my efforts, but at what cost?  My physical health has suffered in that I'm almost perpetually locked to a desk.  My mental health has suffered because after 9 to 11 hours a day of work, plus often work over the weekend, there just isn't anything left for me.  I can point to a few things, for example, in our yard that I didn't get around to this year because I was either too physically or mentally tired.  It's a kind of negative cycle that's easy to identify but very hard to stop.  But stop it I will.

...there's also the idea that my life is going to be changing pretty dramatically over the next few years.  This is because, having entered the workforce full time in 1986, I have far, far less time working in front of me than working behind me.  I am not complaining about this, by the way.  If anything, I have been incredibly blessed as I get older in terms of financial security, general health, my home life, etc.  It all seems just so, well, "big".  It's worth reminding myself that I'm actually pretty good at doing big things. this country, the very nature of our political system has become mired in the worst of both parties, although much of the blame falls to one man who doesn't read books, can't admit that he's ever wrong, engages in Olympic-sized fear mongering, views immigrants not from Norway (or apparently Slovakia) as being evil, and treats the Seven Deadly Sins as personal goals.  You do know who I am talking about.  My hope is that when this person passes along one day, some may recover the parts of their humanity that seem to be broken.  If you support this man, then I feel badly for you.  A phrase like "may they rot in Hell" in a social media Christmas message says far more about this person than I...or anyone else for that matter...ever could.  Ask yourself, "Would a decent human being say such a thing?".  You do, by the way, know the answer to that question, and quite frankly, he's not worthy of your support. our world, well, there's a shortage of simple, basic caring.  In fact, it sometimes feels as if caring for others is viewed as a kind of weakness best left to idealists and others not "living in the real world".  No one needs to die because a bunch of folks in power simply want more of it.  Yes, I get it...fighting things like injustice sometimes require difficult decisions, but if those "difficult decisions" involve killing children (be they Israeli or Palestinian, for example), well, call me suspicious.

I wish 2023 were a better year, but it happened as it was supposed to.  What's left for us is to learn what we can so we can make tomorrow a bit better than yesterday.

Speaking of tomorrow (as in 2024), I do have a few thoughts.  Some of them are basically kind of antonyms of what's noted above, so I'm not going to waste time with repetition.  What I will note though is this:  It's important for me (and I suspect all of us, to one extent or another) to remember that we have far more control over the things in our life than we recognize.  That's not to say that exercising that control is fact, sometimes it is incredibly difficult...but that doesn't negate that sense of control's very existence. 

So for 2024, here's my wish:  May we all...

Dare to do big things

Show compassion (not just for others, but for ourselves as well)

Always ask the question "Am I running away from...or towards...something?"

Take time to smell flowers, listen to good music and pet a cat (or dog, or both)

Cultivate friendships (I especially need to work on this)

Honor those who serve us, be they restaurant staff, healthcare workers or first responders

Be humble

Live for today, but always plan for tomorrow


2024, bring it on.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Kate Spade for Christmas

Before I started actually writing this, I had to check and see what I had previously written about (the late) Kate Spade.  This post...

...came up.  So, what made me think of it again?  It's a bit of a winding journey.

Today was the annual "drive a bit to go shopping" trip with Ms. Rivers.  We do this every year before Christmas, with the trips ranging from the Philadelphia area to the Poconos.  A few times we've gone to the Lehigh Valley Mall, which was where we ended up today.  There is no grand plan to this, and truth be told, most of our shopping (for Christmas gifts) is already done.  It's more the idea that we are heading out to go Christmas shopping, which is the real gift I suppose.  I say "gift" as it's just been too damn busy this past year.  Even the weekends are full of stuff, and on more than one occasion, I think I'm more tired on Sunday evening than Friday.  First World Problems, I know.

Anyway, while at the Lehigh Valley Mall, we stopped in the small temporary Barnes & Noble bookstore (the "real" one is being remodeled) and while wandering around, I came upon a section of stationary related gifts with the Kate Spade New York brand.  I'm sure it's high-quality stuff, but nothing I would buy, mind you.  In an odd sort of way though it made me stop and think.  A moment, if you will, of clarity.  See the above link for context.

Life can be hard for some.  I've struggled a bit this past year between my desire to make a difference at work and still maintain a healthy balance with the other parts of my life.  That's been a losing battle; as evidence I offer the fact that I haven't really been writing much.  And, by the way, I haven't been reading much either.  Basically, I've just been working (as in the paid variety + working on my stepson's recently purchased home).  Yet, as much as I can bemoan my minor struggles, Kate Spade reminded me of the importance of perspective.  

At the risk of repetition, the Kate Spade story tells us, in part (at least according to me...) that you can be very attractive, physically healthy, smart, hardworking, wildly successful, popular and have all the things...and yet be deeply troubled.  For me, this is genuinely difficult to process.  I can though, as I get older, process a part of this, in the sense that the seeming tangibles of our lives sometimes matter far less than the intangibles.  In the middle of a consumption-fueled holiday season, it seems like an important lesson.

While I do my best to give myself credit for climbing (figurative mountain) summits, sometimes the even steeper summit someone else manages to climb is out of a hole.

I think the latter is worth more admiration.


The shopping experience today was underwhelming.  Like most indoor shopping malls, Lehigh Valley seems like it's struggling a bit.  That plays out in empty store fronts (no Williams Sonoma for us today) and in bathrooms that look like they time traveled from a 1970's vintage of a Port Authority parking garage.  Realizing that much of our shopping has been done on-line, Ms. Rivers and I have sadly contributed in a small way to this decline.  We'll do better next year.

Monday, October 9, 2023

If We Only Had Time...

"If we only had time, only had time for you" - Gone Hollywood (Supertramp)

Sometimes it seems like time isn't this fixed thing that we seem to think it is.  Maybe that's the "relative" part of "relativity" in action.  Such things may be a bit above my paygrade, and while they are sometimes fun to ponder, in the end, it's a bit like shoveling water:  A lot of effort but little practical result.

It's been a bit since I've written, but things have been busy.  On the professional side of things, I have been working harder than ever before:  Not exactly for more money, but it's now at the part of my life when my desire to do good work sometimes exceeds any sensible reasons (to be working this hard).  On the non-work side of things, well, I have plenty of other work to do, including helping out with my older stepson's new home.  One has not experienced sweat until you are steaming wallpaper off in a house that is in the 85+ degree range.  That work is mostly done, and things have now moved to the wall prep for paint phase.  Mind you, there is a bathroom that still has wallpaper in it, but I'm waiting for those marching orders.  My work at the house extends beyond wallpaper removal, although I draw the line, as usual, at plumbing*.

Anyway, this summer has been something of a blur.  And now it's October, a month that has provided more than a few challenges for me over the years (many, many related postings here over the years).  I won't tempt fate...or October...with any further commentary, other than to say, "let's just be friends October, okay?".

These past few days have provided a kind of late punctuation to the summer of 2023 in that Ms. Rivers and I have been spending time with her parents in Cape May, NJ.  In fact, tomorrow we head home, with Ms. Rivers stopping in The Philadelphia on the way back (we took two cars).  I'll note that I've never really spent much time in Cape May, but I would come back in the future, as long as it was either before or after the summer season.  

Speaking of Cape May, it is an old place, saved in so many ways from the kitsch of the 1950's/1960's motor inn phase that became something of a statement for New Jersey shore points.  Many of those motor inns have gone the way of the early 1970's land yacht cars, but certainly a few of them still remain.  Just not in Cape May.  Here, well, it seems that efforts have been made to keep something more distinct, at least from an architectural (and possibly larger cultural) basis.  While I didn't bring any camera gear with me, my Google Pixel is more than capable of taking some wonderful pictures.

There's a real kind of beauty to be found in older places that have been well maintained and remained purposeful over the years.  In a way, that's something (well maintained & purposeful) that we should all be striving for in our own existence.  Being here with Ms. River's parents puts an exclamation point on this overall sentiment, as how they are now, we will all be, more or less, if we are blessed.

The above noted, this has proven to be a very difficult posting to write.  I find it more and more difficult to take the step back required to actually think about these kinds of things in a way which can translate to rational thoughts that make some written sense.  In other words, writing is hard sometimes, and my lack of it speaks more to my own life priorities than anything else.  I'm not just failing to make time for writing, by the way...there are several other (non-work) things I am not doing these days that don't seem to be making the cut.  That needs to change.  

Here's to cool Fall evenings and better life priorities to come.

(*) Reasons why I despise plumbing work, in no specific order:  A) I have big hands that don't fit well in small spaces.  B) It's dirty work.  C) It always leaks after round one of the repair.  D) You often need specialized tools that make no sense for non-plumbers to actually buy.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Reach the Beach

“Don’t waste the time. Time is the final currency, man. Not money, not power - it’s time.”
- David Crosby

I say, with no disrespect to the memory of the late David Crosby, that the whole money/power thing is an interesting sentiment when you have had money and power to begin with.  This noted, he was right, and  the older I get, the more I understand the point.  This is a good way to being today's travel post.

So it's thinking about time that I'm here outside of Ocean City, NJ for an extended weekend mini-vacation.  We spent yesterday on the Ocean City boardwalk in the morning, and then later in the day at Longport and Margate City for the late afternoon/evening.  About 12,500 steps into the day, and it seems like it was a long day.  But yet, in the true spirit of David Crosby, it also seemed to pass by quickly.  And I have been thinking a lot about time lately.  

One of the traits that Ms. Rivers and I share is a tendency towards being planful.  We try to think things through and do what's right for the longer term, the bigger picture if you will.  I think that a point of commonality between our very different upbringings is the fact that neither of us grew up in households where there was a lot of money, which probably play a role in the whole security/planful thing.  Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to retirement planning.  

As I've likely (I am not 100% sure, and I'm too lazy to check...) said before, this is the part of our life when we can see retirement on the horizon.  Not imminent, but not far away either.  The good news is that the whole planful stuff means that we will be financially ready.  So says our financial advisor.  For most folks that would be a relief...and for me it mostly is.  However...and you knew a "however" was coming...I often wonder if I'm ready in other ways.

I will note that physically, I am something of a wreck.  A "hot mess" and the younger folks would say.  While I have a good job that makes use of my skills, it's pretty demanding on my time, and while in years past I could make time for exercise, that hasn't been happening for years now.  Between the extra weight and a very actively lived 58 years behind me, the parts are starting to show some wear.  The point of discernment for me is trying to understand just how much of this just comes with the territory (i.e., something like my arthritic right big toe), and how much of it is actually self-inflicted.  The former I can't do all that much about, but the latter?  I'm feeling some guilt about that part.  The trick, if you want to call it that, is turning a fairly useless feeling like guilt into some concrete actions.  So far, I'm not doing so well.  But I have time...or do I?

One of the reasons why I enjoy the beach, in addition to the childhood memories associate with Atlantic City vacations, is the fact that the ocean is this hunkering big-a$$ed reminder of how large the world truly is, and how small the machinations in my head probably are.  Someone with the gift of brevity would says that it provides perspective.  I personally think it's actually more than that, although I can't come with reasons to exactly say why.  The saltwater smell hitting my nostrils is a kind of gentle reminder to me of a world that surpasses my dismay at physically aging and fears of forgetting, at some point, how to tie my shoes.  

I try to think about things like this from a 95/5 perspective.  This means that if I can take away some deeper sense from this (or other) experiences, even if it's just a small thing, then it's a good thing.  On the other side of the coin, as a wise person I know would say "why can't you just have a good time Steve?".  Maybe that's the 5% this time around.  Suffice to say, the jury is still out in the enlightenment department.

As for Ocean City NJ, well I was here once a long time ago.  In addition to being a typical Jersey beach town, it's simply and impeccably clean.  I also appreciate the whole "no smoking anything" policy that keeps the boardwalk not smelling like much of Atlantic City these days (see THIS posting) i.e., what I image to be the odor of Snoop Dog's limo. 

Today brings a trek to the beach in Brigantine, a spot we enjoyed when we were last in Atlantic City.  There's also this hotdog/ice cream joint we found that calls our names.  Loudly, and robustly, I will add.  I'm hoping to also finish one of the books I brought with me.  Yes, this is what passes for fun.  And this is okay, by the way.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Wet Your Fanny (in the Susquehanny)

Each summer, Ms. Rivers and I do some kind of water trip, either a canoe or kayak(s) down the Susquehanna River.  I readily confess that this is something Ms. Rivers really enjoys, as it evokes memories of prior times.  Me?  I like being on the river and seeing the beauty that it offers.  I don't like getting into or out of a canoe or kayak.  That latter part is mainly due to two factors:

  1. I am admittedly uncoordinated.
  2. Canoes and kayaks are, by design, tippy.  And I am not talking gratuities here.
The above noted, I glad to go, and each year of going presents its own version of an adventure.

(note the ankles)

This year we were on a group trip from Mehoopany to Tunkhannock (PA), which is about an 11 mile water trek.  Our vehicle of choice was a double kayak, with me in the back and Ms. Rivers, as usual, in the front.  This, by the way, seems to be the logical arrangement of these sorts of things.

Before I go any further, a big shout out to Susquehanna Kayak and Canoe Rentals, who we have used for our paddle trips for several years.  They are wonderful folks and highly recommended.

Normally we just take a solo paddle on the river, but this time around we opted for a group trip, where "group" was something like 50-ish people.  What was wonderful about the trip was the age range of participants:  Some were older than us (a nice thought...), some were our age, some were younger.  There was even a very young man (more to come on that...).  We did chat with some of the other participants, and everyone seemed to have a good time.  

This is the inevitable part of the posting where I add some weird element to the trip. To that point, we had three special paddle participants.

First, there was "Old Man Playing Loud Music".  One of the attractive parts of paddling in the Susquehanna are the sounds.  These include paddles in the water.  Birds overhead.  The sound of the water flowing.  The wind through the trees.  Things like that, all of which have a certain calming charm about them.  This year?  We had an old dude playing loud, crappy music from a speaker bungie cord tied to his kayak.  Yes, you got that right.  So we are paddling down the river and see four bald eagles flying over head.  It was a spectacular vison.  What did we hear?  That would be "Old Man Playing Loud Music" insisting that the entire group listen to Foghat (instead of the eagles overhead).  Other notable artists included Charlie Daniels, Journey, Boston and a few others I have tried to blot out of my head.  Had he been a bit younger, I'm sure there would have been some Nickelback thrown into the mix.  We did our best to paddle ahead of "Old Man Playing Loud Music", but every once in a while he would catch up and we would be forced to confront, for example, Separate Ways by Journey.

Second, we had "Standing Man".  This was the guy who had his own special kind of kayak that he could stand in every once in a while.  It was actually kind of interesting watching him.  Think a cross between an older Tom Sawyer and a skinny biker dude.  I want to state for the record that there is no version of Steve Albert in any version of any multi-verse that could ever muster the coordination to do such a thing.  While "Old Man Playing Loud Music" was annoying, "Standing Man" was weirdly kind of inspiring. 

Third we had "Little Man", who apparently was the son of "Standing Man".  "Little Man" was probably 8 or 9 years old and even had his own little version of his father's specialty kayak.  I didn't see "Little Man" actually do the standing thing though.  What did see was "Little Man" getting towed by his father towards the end of the trip, which was cool.  "Little Man" very much reminded me of my late brother Chris when he was that age...both in how he looked and his seemingly boundless energy.  This was nice.

Other than the characters on the river (see above), the two other notable parts of the trip involved how wet we got, courtesy of one too many speeding-boats-n-resulting-wakes and the fact that I badly burned by ankles.  Yes, to that latter point, I took reasonable precautions to prevent sunburn.  Except for my ankles.  One lives and one learns.

There may yet be another paddle this year.  We shall see.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The S Word

This is not the word you may be thinking of when you read the title.  Instead, today's word is "sobriety".  

Here's a useful definition:
Sobriety refers to the physiological and psychological state of being unaffected by the presence of an intoxicant. For people who are in recovery from substance or alcohol use, the definition of sobriety is similar to the definition of abstinence. It means living a life free of drug or alcohol use.

As a practical matter, I have practiced sobriety since about 1999 or so, with the exception of the rare glass of champagne (such as at a wedding) or a sip of wine.  Even prior to that I was not a substantial drinker.  Since 1999, I have gone literally years at a time without drinking any alcohol.  When you consider the social and cultural aspects of alcohol consumption in this country, I'm definitely the odd person out.

I don't, by the way, advertise this fact (well, this posting is an exception), as I am definitely not the person who wants to draw attention to himself...unless I am getting paid to do it.  The drinking thing mostly comes up during family, work, or social gatherings.  The reactions I get range from...


(an astonished) "What? How is that even possible?"

"What kind of freak are you?  Come on, have a beer!"

"Oh, you poor soul, you must be a recovering alcoholic."

I've definitely felt the second and third comments a few times in social and family gatherings, and I will be honest, it has made me uncomfortable.  Mind you, am not always comfortable to begin with in these situations, so the sobriety thing just compounds the matter.  The final comment seems to more occur when I am dealing with co-workers; in fact, I am reasonably sure that I have not been invited to certain functions mostly because I don't drink (the perception likely being that I am "Mr. Buzz Killington").

So then, why is this important?  Why don't I just go with the flow and have a beer or three?

Since we are dealing with me here, the answers will of course not be all that simple.  But I will try.

First, I genuinely don't like the taste of alcohol.  And yes, alcohol has a taste.  Outside of maybe some red wine, I've never felt that drinks with alcohol actually tasted all that good.  I have a theory:  I don't think most people like the taste of alcoholic beverages, but instead, they learn to like it because they actually like how it makes them feel.

Second, I don't like how alcohol makes me feel.  Now more than one person reading this is going to be thinking to themselves something like "But I like how it makes ME feel" or "It doesn't affect me much at all".  Alcohol definitely impacts humans in both physiological and psychological ways.  One of the more interesting concepts out there is that of alcohol tolerance (read more from the NIH HERE), which I summarize as simply this:  Over time, the more you drink the more you have to drink in order to get the same buzz.  The practice apparently makes the perfect.  Anyway, none of the feelings I've gotten from drinking over my lifetime have been positive.  In excess?  Well, let's just say that I see nothing all that great about vomiting booze into a toilet (or gutter, or hotel wastebasket...I've done all of those, and more).  

Related to the above, I discovered that I would drink at (work-related) events because it was so hard for me to engage in all the related social stuff after hours.  It wasn't long before I realized, in addition to how drinking in excess made me physically feel like warmed-over dog crap, that I was using alcohol as a kind of crutch.  Looking over my lifetime prior to 1999, this has been a repeating pattern.  In the end, let's just say that this is a big enough red flag to cover my Silverado, with room to spare.

Third, alcoholism runs in my family.  I'm not smart enough to know truly whether this kind of thing is inherited (my sense is that the answer is complicated, but you can read for yourself HERE).  For example, one of the few memories I have of being with my father was when I was very young and sitting in a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  Just typing this brings back the smell of cigarettes, beer, and pee.  It's pretty sad that for some reason I've held onto this memory.  I will also note that my brother Chris had significant issues dealing with alcohol, and towards the end the front-row seat I had only reinforced my feelings about consumption.

All told, there's no real compelling reason for me to drink, and I am perfectly fine being in that place.  As alluded to above, the more interesting (and sometimes very frustrating part) is how this plays out with others.  In some respects, I think there are folks who genuinely don't know how to react to someone who does not drink.  Given the value society places on this particular practice, I kind of understand that point.  

Speaking of "points", now is when I'll break down my reactions to what's noted above:
  1. The [Nothing] reaction, "How is that even possible" & those that assume I am in recovery camp.
  2. The "What kind of freak are you" and "Come on, have a beer" crowd.
I am good with #1, even if the sentiment is somewhat misplaced.

#2?  One of the few things that can make me angry (and I am not an angry guy) is when someone who knows that I don't drink insists on my trying an alcoholic beverage.  As if I am this little kid who can be goaded into doing something I don't want to do.  More than once I've had a kind of Walter Mitty movie play in my head where someone insists that I have a can of beer, so I take the can, dump it out in front of them and then crush the can against their forehead.  NOTE THAT I WOULD NEVER ACTUALLY DO THIS...but I will admit that, at times, the thought of it has been a bit satisfying.      

Well now, this post has gotten a bit exciting, which means that I should probably finish things and call it a night.  To end on a positive note, I'll state for the record that I am glad some people find pleasure in drinking alcohol.  I really and truly am.  If it makes someone happy and it isn't an addiction, then it truly is a good thing.  My hope though is that maybe some of these same folks will afford the same positive affirmation to those who do not drink, regardless of the reason(s).

A Final Word
In case it isn't really clear from what I wrote, above, I have absolutely no problem with the consumption of alcohol by others.  It's just not for me.  If you ("you" being anyone reading this) enjoy a beer, wine, or a mixed drink, then I am glad that is a positive thing in your life.  As it stands, life really is kind of short, so it's important to have things to enjoy.  It's equally important though to realize there is a line between "positive thing" and "harmful thing".  With that noted...

(SAMSHA - Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and information.)

The Really, Truly, Honest-to-Goodness Final Word
Writer Anne Lamott is, to me, an inspiration for many reasons.  I've read several of her books, and I actually have another one on the way.  Every year she posts about her sobriety anniversary.  The posting below (from her public Facebook Account) is worth taking the time to read, and it is as good an ending to this posting as I think is possible.