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Sunday, May 15, 2022

It's Been A Bumpy Ride

Spring 2022 has been rather bumpy.

Now normally, come later in April my mood tends to perk up a bit.  There are flower planting rituals to be followed, plans to be made, and schemes to be plotted.  April started out good enough, but mid-month we had snow on a Sunday, and it was as if a mental emergency brake was pulled inside my head.  Granted we are not talking about anything significant in terms of actual snow, but that wasn't the point.  The disappointment was the point.  

Now that we are in mid-May, and Spring has more forcefully sprung, it feels as if I am playing catch-up.  

The flower-planting ritual is supposed to ground me.  To make me feel better.  It's a part of my seemingly never-ending quest to feel as if I have some control over things, all the while acknowledging that, in reality, we really don't actually control all that much.  My reaction to April snow is proof-point #845 to that last sentence.

(the front flower-bed, two weeks ago)

So here I am here now, it's a warm Sunday evening, and I think I worked reasonably hard this weekend.  I know, weekends are supposed to be relaxing, not excuses for hard work.  Especially when it comes on the heels of sheer, utter exhaustion, courtesy of about 5 hours of sleep Friday night into Saturday morning.  

5 hours sleep + significant physical labor + age 58 = probably not a good idea.  

Now I don't consider myself to be a stupid person.  Granted, there are some areas where my lack of intelligence borders on the glaring, but by and large I am capable of telling "Sh*t from Shinola" when it comes to most things.  That noted, I still struggle greatly with sleep in general and feeling rested in particular.  It's a kind of puzzle of the worst sort.

In the back of my head, and as my late brother Chris' birthday approaches, I can recall countless discussions with him about how his own sleep issues were a significant stressor for him.  Now I know that Chris' sleep issues were just a sliver of his story for sure.  Yet it's just another bump, not unlike most of the roads in this area.

So where does this end?  I don't know.  I do know I have more flowers to plant.  And a decorative sidewalk to put in.  And a new border to put in around my front bushes.  Part of me gets tired thinking about it, yet I also know that, deep down, these kinds of things are important.  Every flower and every project (small or big) helps me feel alive.  In the end, what's the alternative?  We all need small things in our lives that matter.  Even when exhausted.

Anyway, here's to a smoother ride.

And here's some Supertramp.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Time We Have Wasted On The Way

As is customary each April 26th, I had a birthday, and I want to take a moment to thank everyone who made the decision to take a moment out of their day to send me well wishes.  Honestly, I don't think it's the words that people say that matter in times like this, it's the fact that they gifted me with a tiny bit of that most precious commodity, their time.  The older I get, the more I see the real value in such a thing.

(As a birthday present, I will engage in some rampant stupidity.)

As I think about getting older, it occurs to me that where I am now is absolutely not like anything I could have ever expected.  That's not a bad...or a good...statement; it's just a basic fact.  In all honesty, we're all probably far better off that our lives aren't quite so predictable, although that is admittedly a first-world statement of fact.  Anyway, a few specific things do come to mind though as I start my 58th rotation around the sun.

You Don't Figure "It" All Out
I always thought that by the time I got this old, I would somehow have magically figured it all out.  What "it" means doesn't really matter.  "It" is really anything important.  And yes, there are things I have figured out.  For example, I am reasonably sure of the things I do well, and those things that, quite frankly I suck at.  As a corollary to that last statement, I actually have an entire catalog of things that I suck at, but which I still do anyway.  Chief among these things is signing...or anything musical for that matter.  

The big white element in the room of "things to figure out" is the very notion of what it means to be happy.  I have studied this.  I have read things from smart people.  I have sought out learned advice.


And yet I just don't know.  Now there have been times when I have been genuinely happy.  It's just that those were very specific events.  Part of me thinks that the notion of happiness as being this event-driven thing is just wrong.  That's how children think about things; we adults should have this kind of happy baseline thing going on in our lives, assuming we are doing "it" right.  In any event, I am going to going to keep looking.  And thinking.  And maybe considering the fact that happiness isn't something that can or should be intellectualized...maybe such things are the very antithesis of happiness.  Maybe I have been happy all along.



I Value Connections (but I'm not good at them...)
The older I get, the more I realize that all humans need connections with others.  We need to interact.  We need friends and acquaintances.  We need people who value us more than maybe we value ourselves.  These are people who see us without the cloud of self-perception that hampers our own first-person view.  

The reality for me is that I've always struggled with this very basic thing.  Oddly enough, I think I am good at connections when it comes to my professional life, but I feel like I have trouble translating that to my personal life.  I do have people I consider friends that I met at work, but on the whole, I just wish I were better at this very basic thing.

The Best Things Aren't Things
Growing up we didn't have much.  In fact, the very first polo short I ever owned I bought myself at Sears using my paper route money.  I now have good clothes, from my Timberland socks to the Columbia long-sleeve shirt I wore yesterday while doing yard work.  Ten years from now yesterday's outfit won't matter at all to me, but that first polo shirt (it was navy blue...a Sears knock-off of an Izod polo) will because it was more than just a thing...it was a kind of first step in my becoming an adult life

There's Value In Simplicity
I have come to a deep appreciation of the value that simplicity brings to our lives.  That value has been greatly amplified by just how complex the world of information has become.  In the early 90s, I marveled at the Internet being a kind of library you could visit anytime online.  Now?  The value is overshadowed by the machine-gunning messaging that we all face in the connected world.  As I think about this, I appreciate even more just how wonderful it is to, for example, see my grass being high, cutting my grass, and then see how much better it looks after that effort.

In The Future
When I think about my life 5 years from now, when I'll probably retire for real, my goal will be to continue to create a simpler life.  I don't know that this will make me happier (see above), but I do know that's what seems to make sense at the moment.  In the end, I think all we really have is the moment.  This moment.  Everything else is just time wasted on the way.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Desert Moon

 


"Those summer nights
When we were young
We bragged of things
We'd never done
We were dreamers, only dreamers
And in our haste
To grow up too soon
We left our innocence on Desert Moon
We were dreamers, only dreamers
On Desert Moon
On Desert Moon
On Desert Moon
Desert Moon"

(Dennis Deyoung, Desert Moon)

During a trip, last November to Maryland and West Virginia, Ms. Rivers and I made a detour on the road home.  That detour was to a town in Perry County (Pennsylvania) where I lived in the late '80s.  This is also where my oldest daughter was born and was the first time I had been in that corner of the universe since December 1988, although I may have driven by once in the 90's on the way home from a business trip.  Regardless, it was definitely the first time I actually spent the time to notice things.

What did I notice?  Well, the very small town has grown a bit, and the former home we (my first wife and I) rented has changed a bit.  See the photo, above.  

Back in those days, we rented the house from a very nice older woman named Mrs. Shull.  The decision to rent to us came down to one factor:  Her husband (Clarance) seemed to think that I reminded him of his younger self.  

"The waiter poured our memories in a tiny cup
We stumbled over words we longed to hear
We talked about the dreams we'd lost, or given up
When the whistle caught the night
And shook silence from my life
As the last train rolled toward the moon"

Looking back, things were a bit stressful (low paying job, constant car troubles, being a new father, etc.) but in retrospect, I think I actually enjoyed living in Perry County those 3 + decades ago.  I realize there is some element of nostalgia that time brings on to most situations, but there was also something kind of magical about having to figure out the world one's self.  There were daily struggles, but there were also seemingly endless possibilities.  The challenge then...and the benefit of hindsight...is that I can only clearly see that now.

Speaking of now, it's been said in songs, poems, and popular culture that you ultimately can't go back, defining "back" any way you choose.  What I love about the song Desert Moon is that it makes that very point, but in a way that makes me (at least) feel better about it all.  Not that I wouldn't want to necessarily go back, but it would be nice to experience those times once more, if even just for a fleeting moment.  Not because they were "better" but just because I was so very different.

These days I would say that I am smarter.  Maybe make that more "seasoned".  I also have more than 35 years of memories between then and now.  Some of those memories are priceless, including the birth of two more daughters, and watching all three become independent professional women; some of them are pretty damn terrible, including witnessing death and heartaches.  Maybe it's a testimony to perseverance...or maybe just being incredibly stubborn...that somehow the good and the bad seem to balance each other out most days, although I will readily confess that there have been times when that balance has been pretty precarious.  

In the end, I suspect that there is a reason why, outside of the world of science fiction, we can't really ever go back.  Maybe we're just not capable of processing such a thing if it were possible.  Then again, maybe we can...in our memories...and possibly in some way after our mortal coil has been fully spent in this life.  In any event, we all get to find that out eventually.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Florider, Days 2 & 3

Yesterday's time in the town of St. Augustine did not disappoint, and for anyone with even a passing interest in architecture, this is quite a place.  I didn't bring my DSLR camera for this trip, mostly because I didn't want to end up dealing with it at the airport, but I was able to grab a few great photos using the Pixel 6 Pro.  Here's an example...

(Flagler College, St. Augustine)

The limits of transferring cellphone pictures to my laptop mean that it's just too impractical to share a ton of photos now, but I will include this...the most ornate Presbyterian church in the known galaxy, one that would give any Roman Catholic cathedral a run for its money:


Yesterday's walk-about included some time at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, which is genuinely a treasure and a must-see for anyone visiting the part of Florida.

Yesterday ended with dinner at a small chain restaurant called "Willie Jewells Old School Bar-B-Q".  I'd have to go back to visits to Texas in the 1990s to remember brisket that was as good as what I had at this place.  As a kind of post-script, the brisket I had was actually too good...as in I ended up visiting GERDland twice last night.  Not fun, but then again we are probably going back tomorrow.  I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment.

Today's events included an earlier morning trip to the beach at Anastasia Island, which was wonderful.  There weren't a ton of people on the beach, but I don't think swimming was either allowed or advisable due to surf conditions.

(hanging with the locals at the beach)

After the beach, there was some time with an old friend of Ms. Rivers and her husband, followed by a last-minute visit to a place called Buc-ee's, which can best be described as the Jerry Springer of mega-gas stations.  Mega as in you could probably fit 3 or 4 Sheetz inside of it, with room to spare for additional beaver-themed merchandise.



Yes, the company logo is a cartoon beaver wearing a baseball cap.  And yes, I got a teeshirt of said cartoon beaver wearing a baseball cap.  Think of this place as being somewhere you probably want to visit at least once, if for no other reason than the sheer experience of it all.

And that was the day.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Florider, so there will be more hiking, more brisket and likely another GERD attack tomorrow night.  It's all for a good cause though.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Florider*, Day 1

(*) I love regional accents.  One of the most fascinating is that of people from Long Island, NY.  Sometimes these folks will pronounce an "a" as an "er" when it comes at the end of a noun.  For example, "Aruba" becomes "Aruber" and "Florida" becomes "Florider".  Don't get me started about how people from the Philadelphia area pronounce "water" as a word that rhymes with "udder".

* * * * * *

The next few days are what I consider my first real vacation since 2019, and my first time flying since August 2018.  Actually, and maybe to make up for a lost time, this is my first of two vacations this year, with the second being a week in Maine during July.  For this extended weekend, the place to go is St. Augustine, Florida, where a good friend of Ms. Rivers spends the winter months.  I've never been to this part of Florida, and I've always wanted to see the old Spanish architecture of St. Augustine, so I was all in for this trip from the very beginning.  I will note that this same trip had been rescheduled I think more than once due to various, sundry issues.  In any event, we're here.

(vultures...hopefully not an omen)

I'll confess right off the bat that Florida isn't necessarily my favorite place to be.  I've been here about a half-dozen or more times, going back decades.  For me, it's one of those places where the promise is always 1000% better sounding than the delivery.  That's not a reflection of the people here, who are almost always exceedingly friendly, but rather more about other things, including the weather.  Yes, for example, it's nice to not have to deal with 20 degree days in the winter, but then the trade-off is jungle-esque conditions in the summer when you don't want to go outside anyway.  As they say, life is about trade-offs.  

I also have this image that every other person down here is carrying a gun.  Not my thing.  If it's yours, well, that's good, and I hope it works for you.  As for me, well, seeing someone other than a police officer packing heat in a Cracker Barrell restaurant seems just oddly immature, and it makes me feel far less safe.  Just what is that person trying to prove by side-holstering a 9mm pistol while eating pancakes?  Is that some kind of warning to the kitchen staff, along the lines of "these pancakes better be good, or Mr. Glock might get upset..."?

Here's one other oddity about Florida:  I was reminded this morning that sometimes the water stinks.  As in smells.  As in it smells like what I expect of a salt marsh during a breeze-free 90-degree day in July.  It smells so bad that I feel like I need a shower after my shower.  Thank God for deodorant.

Not to be outdone, the actual trip down here was mostly uneventful, but I did learn something important:  I breathe differently when I am falling asleep.  I discovered this while almost dozing off on the flights yesterday (we got up a 4am to catch a 6:15 am flight out of Scranton) with a mask on my face.  I literally could not breathe, so much so that I ended up having to go to the restroom on the flights not to meet a biological imperative, but rather just to have a few minutes to catch a deep breath.  I'd be more bothered by the whole thing if it weren't for the fact that having everyone wear a mask while flying in a contained tube tightly packed with other humans actually does seem like the right thing to do during (hopefully) the waning days of a pandemic.

Anyway, I am here and it's about time to start the day.  I'll do my best to stay out of trouble.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Ukraine

I was born in 1964, which means that, for the first part of my life, I lived under the specter of the Cold War and the lingering fears of nuclear war.  That seems so very long ago, as if the world has evolved well past that kind of thing, but yet events last week in Ukraine have brought back scores of not-so-pleasant memories.  I confess to having some serious anxious thoughts as all of these current events unfolded, which is difficult to write (I'm supposed to be always in control, in case you didn't know that...) but never the less very true.  As I write this, I'm still feeling somewhat anxious, and it seems like events could further escalate out of control at any moment.


I have no reassuring commentary or answers for any of this; at best, what I can do is to remind myself that I need to live in the present moment and acknowledge the futility of worrying over the actions of a madman who is half a world away.  

Not to "silver-lining" this in any way, but there is something quasi-wonderful about what is happening around the world as these events unfold.  Whether it's the Swedish soccer team refusing to play the Russian team, or Poland closing their airspace to Russian air traffic, there are demonstrations throughout the world that testify to the fact that the collective us isn't going to just let the aggressive actions by the Russian leader be swept under the rug.  The brutal actions of one country will not just be treated as merely a tragic event, along the lines of the world's response to the Soviet repression of the Prague Spring (reference HERE) in 1968.  It seems that the world has grown since then, and not just in population.

Will these large actions (such as banishing key Russian banks from SWIFT) help to convince the Russian leader to abandon the course of invasion or will they simply further embolden him, like a pizza rat protecting a crust in a New York City subway?  None of us know, but we can hope for the best.  We can also pray if we are so disposed.  

Regardless of what happens, one thing is for sure:  The world is forever changing as a result of these events.  

I want to believe that the change will be for the best, banishing the last vestiges of conquering by force into the history books.  Part of this good is the undisputed fact that it was impossible for the Russian leader to somehow hide his intent in a world where there is video everywhere, real-time satellite imagery, and the ability that exists for any of us to disseminate information globally via social media.  For all of its flaws, this very well may be one of the truly good things that social media has brought us, namely a world where it's simply harder to pull off false-flag actions as if this were the 1939 Germany/Polish border all over again.

The alternative...namely a change for the worse...is a grim prospect.  To quote the late Levon Helm, that would be "an adult-sized portion".  

If you are reading this and stressed/anxious about these events, well, my wish is that you find a kind of separate peace when it comes to what is happening in the world.  Hopefully, the world will find a way back (to a better) home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Looking Back at the Ghosts

I have this two-fold theory about winters in Northeastern Pennsylvania:
  1. The temperatures start to get warmer around Valentine's Day, and
  2. The chance for any real snow ends on or about March 25th.
Neither is supported by any real data, but at this stage, I'm mostly just hoping.
Now that the weather report is out of the way, on to the main topic at hand.
"Give no f&^ks about those who would give no f&^ks about you."*
That's been my (admittedly crude) mantra as I try to navigate life in my later 50's, with all that entails.  Sometimes that message hits home very quickly when I am facing something that I find mildly upsetting.  Sometimes it has to truly be something of an actual mantra, whereby I repeat it over and over again until it sinks into my brain like so much melted butter into toast.  That latter was last Saturday, after I read something on my LinkedIn feed that I found brought back plenty of bad memories.  Yes, while I was power-walking through the Viewmont Mall on Sunday, on a quest for long-sleeve polo shirts that don't look like they are meant for old men (I am in my late 50's, but I will be damned if I will be dressing like it).  I didn't find any, by the way.  But I did have lots of time to ponder the thing that bothered me, and probably more importantly, why it was bothersome.
To the last sentence of the prior paragraph, I'll just note the following:  Sometimes we are reminded of the past, and thoughts of "why did this happen" re-emerge like cicadas, along with memories of those signals we should have paid attention to at the time, but for some reason didn't.  As Brene Brown would note (or did note in one of her books...I think...), it's important when we look back at the past, to remember that we did the best we could at the time with what we knew then.   While I am generally pretty hard on myself when it comes to most things, I do acknowledge that there has been very little in my life that I've done or decided where my intent was in any way to cause harm to others.  Now have I actually caused harm to others?  Sure, and I regret the consequences of those actions, while still acknowledging that, as previously noted, I did the best I could at the time.
Anyway, I think I am past the worst of those negative thoughts.  The other thing I try to remind myself of, in addition to the mantra noted above, is that all of us have a figurative expiration date printed on our sides.  As in we will all eventually die.  Do I, for example, really and truly want to waste what time I have left thinking about the crappy parts of my life?  The logical me cringes at the time I have given over to ghosts of the past.  
"Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?"(Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here)
The story is that the Pink Floyd song "Wish You Were Here" was written about band founder Syd Barrett, who had slipped into a substance abuse fueled downward mental health spiral.  For some, those ghosts are pretty powerful things. Now I don't believe in actual ghosts, to the extent that the word "believe" is even relevant here, but I do know (as opposed to "believe") that if we don't let go of certain things, they become figurative ghosts in our lives, forever haunting us.  

As I roll all of this up, I can say that some ghosts of the past do creep into my life from time to time.  That's the bad news, but it's news that I likely share with many others.  The good news?  I've gotten better at not letting those ghosts take up permanent residence in my head.  Believe it or not, I am actually capable of learning.  From time to time.

 (*) Paraphrased from THIS very good book, which I highly recommend.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Horrible List: Penn State (still, kind of, and needlessly I will add)

Preface:  I have two degrees from Penn State.  I am a life member of the Alumni Association.  I served on the Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Society board.  I helped fund a Penn State scholarship.  Penn State will be a beneficiary of my estate.  In fact, I've contributed more to Penn State over the years than I have any other organization.  Simply put, I have earned the right to be critical of PSU.

* * * * * *


When the words "Penn State" and "Horrible" are mentioned in a sentence, it usually is because of the legacy of the abuse scandal that occurred late during the tenure of former coach Joe Paterno.  That's not where I am going with this posting.  Instead, this is my target:

Source:  https://onwardstate.com/2017/02/14/onward-stats-penn-states-enrollment-throughout-history/

The numbers noted in the chart above are 6 years old, but they still support my main point:  A majority of Penn State students are not affiliated with University Park.  In fact, the 52.32% of students outside of University Park in 2016 almost definitely is an understatement of the present university enrollment.  Wikipedia (I know, a questionable source at best) shows current Penn State World Campus enrollment at 14,687 (citation HERE).

Yet, as someone who is the recipient of a ton of Penn State literature (see the preface), the vast majority of the visual content I receive is overwhelmingly related to University Park.  So is the vast majority of what I'll call the "Penn State speak" in how the university communicates to its alumni.  For me, it's been, at times, disheartening.  Penn State was an enormous part of my formal education and it's where I view myself as having learned, in part, to be an adult.  It's just that the "Big Penn State" wants my Penn State experience to be defined by football games, the creamery, fraternities, Thon, etc.  Note that I was in my 40's before I visited State College for the first time.

I have, for the record, told my Penn State story to anyone and everyone at the university who would listen.  This includes fellow alumni, the development office, annual alumni surveys, and various other ways.  I've gotten some tacit admissions in the past that I'm probably right in my assessment of things (the University Park centric model of the Penn State universe), but the marketing machine that is PSU will not be swayed.  It's basically been a repeat of a discussion I had many, many years ago with another Penn State alumni, who when I told them that I graduated from Penn State Harrisburg, their response was "Oh, is that some kind of satellite campus?".  I shook my head in disgust.  It was as if this person somehow wanted to relegate me to the unpopular kid's table in the junior high school cafeteria.

Thinking about solutions though, there is a kind of two-fold response to all of this for me.

First, Penn State's World Campus will continue to grow in the years and decades to come.  This, not University Park, will drive Penn State's growth in the future.  This will also create even more alumni with zero connection to University Park. Maybe some of these folks will, like me, end up working in small ways to change Penn State.  Alienation is a powerful motivator.  These changes could include more non-University Park-centric members of the Alumni Council and other advisory bodies within the university.    

Second, 100% of all the support I have provided to Penn State, both in terms of time and money (not an enormous amount in absolute terms, but significant for me), has gone to Penn State Harrisburg.  No amount will ever go to supporting any facet of operations or programs at University Park. 

In the end, I know that some will take this posting as sounding petty and superficial.  That's okay, by the way.  I wouldn't be writing this though if I didn't care deeply for Penn State, which, as I previously noted, dramatically changed my life for the better.  It is precisely because of this that I want Penn State to be better for all of its students and alumni.   Cultural change is never easy, but that doesn't make it unworthy of the effort.  And Penn State is worth the effort.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

This is My (digital) Life

  


I spent about 6 or 7 hours this weekend reviewing, re-organizing, and backing up* the data I have accumulated over the years.  All of that amounts to what you see above.  It may seem like a lot...or a little bit...depending on your own consumption of all things digital, but I will note that I don't have a ton of video, which helps keep the overall file size down.

I still have work to do, but at least now things are organized enough so that I can take my time to go through individual files in more detail.  This is less a project than it is a weird kind of quest.  A quest for what?  I can't really answer that, except for the fact that I've tried to keep a record of things over the years.  This is where "things" are pictures, music, more pictures, projects I worked on, old employment records, and still more pictures.  The pictures, you see, make up about 13,544 of the files noted above.  This includes more photographs of squirrels than a non-squirrel researcher should actually have.  What can I say?  I happen to like squirrels.

As is the case for most things that I am involved with, there is a deeper meaning here.  In a way, I need these things now and I need them to be organized.  It's a given that I will probably not gaze upon most of these files, but their presence is oddly comforting.  These things, especially the photographs, provide a kind of solid link to the past, one not clouded by my own emotions or mood at any given time.  The pictures don't lie.  The pictures simply are, and they provide a kind of proof that I actually have accomplished some things over the course of a working adulthood.  This is especially important when the current shiny mental crisis dangling in front of me seems to take up most of my mental and emotional RAM.

Before I forget to mention it, I also have a large cache of paper documents too, neatly organized into well-labled binders.  

Here's the punchline, if you will, to the above:  All of this is eventually moving towards a great purge of sorts.  I did something of a minor paper purge last year, where I got myself to discard documents that no Steve in no parallel universe would ever be using for any purpose.  That felt oddly satisfying.  I also enjoyed having the extra shelf space.  Getting back to the purge of a digital kind, that will be happening, I suspect when I retire (for real) in a few years.  The pictures will by and large stay, but what will go will be the hundreds of book summaries, copies of draft presentations from 2005 (and many other years), and plans/schemes that span the decades.  It will all be instantly vaporized as if none of it ever existed in the first place.  When that day comes, I don't think I'll need the virtual safety blanket that this stuff provides.  I will no longer feel as if I need to provide proof to myself that I've actually done things.  

Maybe that makes me a digital hoarder.  However, I do think it will feel oddly satisfying when the great digital purge occurs.  For now, I need to keep that safety blanket.


(*) The actual backup is to a Samsung 1TB portable SSD, which I keep in my work bag.  I know, I should be backing this stuff up to the cloud, but at this stage, I'm just not ready for that...yet.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

On the Radio

One of the 10,000 or so things that I am interested in is radios.  Old ones, new ones, working ones, non-working ones, it doesn't matter.  I occasionally pick up an older radio at flea markets or on eBay I see something that I am interested in or otherwise just looks unique. 

Something I don't have but would be interested in acquiring at some point is an aqua blue Bakelite radio.


Here's an interesting point to this post:  I don't actually listen to the radio anymore.  Not even satellite radio, even though I have a subscription that runs through July 2022.  Part of this is because I have other things that have taken the place of radio, including various and sundry (with apologies for the double adjectives) online things.  The latest thing, by the way, is an Amazon Echo Show, which I purchased for Ms. Rivers as a Christmas present.  Note "purchased for her"...I liked hers so much that I bought one for myself.  

Back to the old-school stuff.

The radio in my small collection that I like the most is a GE BlueMax.  In fact, I have two of them:


The radio on the left is in perfect working condition.  On the right? It's looking slightly rough, and I mostly got it for parts. The Blue Max is my favorite because we had one when I was growing up, and I recall huddled by it with my brothers on Christmas Eve listening to Santa updates on AM radio.  Anyway, you can read more about the Blue Max HERE.  Current prices on eBay for the Blue Max are running north of $50; for one in perfect condition (such as one of mine), I'd think it's probably worth about $75-$85, not that I would ever sell.  

The best-sounding radio I own?  That would be a tie between my not-so-old Tivoli Audio Henry Kloss Model One...


 ...and the Bose Acoustic Wave Music III unit that use for my computer audio.  I would note that a close second would be one of my early 1970's Sony table radios.

So what is it about radios that I find so appealing?  As referenced above about the Blue Max, I think it's more about a connection to the past.  Back in those days, it seems like radios (and many other things) were just more important.  In a day and age where most of us upgrade cellphones every two or so years, radios were more of a permanent thing.  Having a radio was important...it was a 6-year-old's portal to the larger world in 1970.  That was a simpler world, for sure.  

In 2022 most of us have cellphones that provide an instant connection to the collective knowledge of the known universe via the Internet.  That's a far cry for 1970.  I'm not suggesting that things in 1970 were better, but they were different.  I somehow doubt that 50 years from now, folks will have my kind of emotional connection to, say, an iPhone 8.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

John Lennon and Asking for Help


In one of his final interviews, John Lennon was asked about which of his songs he liked the best.  He thought about it, mentioned a title or two, but the final answer was actually pretty surprising:  “Help” Now if you are not all that familiar with the Beatles, “Help “ comes from a movie of the same name and is decidedly in the Beatles mop-top era, not long after songs such as “She Loves You” and “Hard Day’s Night”.  Not exactly a time of lyrical poetry and deep meanings.  The fact that Lennon has written some pretty weighty stuff…think, for example, “Imagine”…is what makes “Help” such a surprising choice.  When asked why he made this choice, Lennon responded that “Help” is one of his most honest songs, and while writing it he really was asking for help.

All of the above occurs at a time when (and maybe still is, to a great extent) men actually asking for help was considered to be a sign of weakness.  In answering the interviewer’s question, Lennon once again gave us an example of why he really was a genius.  “Across the Universe” could have been his choice and that would cause few to give any kind of pause, as it really is a great song.  But Lennon picked the simple but honest choice instead.

The point is that asking for help is hard.  Damn hard for many, especially men.  Yet in the here and now, with so much turmoil in the world and in the lives of many folks, many of us may need help more than ever before.  Personally, I have…and still do…have trouble asking for help.  The mere thought of it conjures up a bevy of responses swirling about in my head:

“If I ask for help someone is going to think I am not competent”

“What if they say no?  I will feel embarrassed”

“If I ask for help I am going to owe someone”

“No one really wants to help me anyway”

 “Smart people don’t ask for help”

“Weak people ask for help”

At least for me, part of the equation is the fact that growing up, asking for help was a crapshoot with my mother.  I just never knew if I would get help or get criticized for asking for it in the first place.  Things like that have a very, very long shelf-life in our heads.  The easier thing, again at least for me, is to just do whatever I have to do in order to get through things on my own.  Maybe, in some small way, this is part of what Lennon was tapping into when he talked about “Help” being among his favorite musical creations.  Even writing this is a bit uncomfortable for me, but Lennon goes and writes a hit song about it.  Up until reading that interview, I never would have guessed that the song “Help” was an actual cry for help.  I just thought it was just a great song.

The genius of John Lennon and this song was his ability to hide vulnerability in plain sight, broadcasting it for the entire world to see, but yet most didn’t actually see what it truly meant.  He turned a bunch of complex thoughts and emotions and crafted them into a song that was then disguised as a pop-music hit. 

“When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way”

All of the above reinforces something I’ve learned to be very true about people and intelligence:  Anyone can spew complex-sounding stuff, but truly smart people…the geniuses among us…are able to take the complex and make it simple.  And hide it right under our noses.

Rest in Peace Johnny.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

2022: Let's Just Get Through It

(looking down the road at 2022)

Most of the time when I think about the new year, my thoughts gravitate towards what I want to do, what plans I need to make, and how I somehow want to re-engineer my life in small and big ways.  Not so much for 2022.  If recent years have taught us anything, it’s that we are not always masters of our own destiny.

Like many, I think I am decidedly in the camp of “just get through it” when I think about 2022.  “Get through it” as in trying to stay healthy and hope that others are able to do the same.  That’s equal parts sad and realistic as we collectively stare down another year of COVID and the prospect that this disease may never really leave us, in spite of our best efforts.

Side note here:  “…in spite of our best efforts” is a bit of a misnomer on many different levels.  All you need to do is go into any store in most parts of Pennsylvania, for example, and you will see that “best efforts” when it comes to COVID are basically non-existent.  Some folks simply stopped trying.  Some folks never tried in the first place.  Trying would include the highly difficult and complex tasks of wearing a mask in public, getting vaccinated, and avoiding large crowds.  I was being sarcastic with that last sentence by the way, as none of those things are actually complex or difficult; rather they require compassion and thought, two things that tend to be in short supply among some stressed humans.

Looking at 2022, it’s pretty realistic for us to admit that our lives may be in a kind of holding pattern, waiting for something to give.  As noted above though, this may never give.  We may have to collectively change some fundamental things about what and how we do things.  For some, that’s thought-provoking.  For others, it is a nightmare.  Squarely in the nightmare camp are all of those individuals who already have been put in a state of dismay because of changing national (and world) demographics and culture.  I can easily see why, for example, someone who feels that two men who love each other and want to get married are somehow a threat to them also views wearing a mask in a grocery store as some form of capitulation to Satan.  These are the same people who parrot anti-vaccine rhetoric from some dark corner of the Internet but then are in shock and distraught when a loved one spends 30+ days in a hospital, clinging to life via a ventilator.  As noted in the prior paragraph, sometimes compassion and thought are scarce qualities.

It’s worth remembering that every generation is full of people who want to deny change, who want to “go back to the way it was”.  We have an entire region of the country that, for more than 150 years, tried to deny the outcome of the American Civil War.  These days are different though, as we have social media with a global reach, so the most ridiculous voices among us have basically the same megaphone as the most rational.  This is the world that has given us Alex Jones, and we are much worse for it.  The challenge of 2022 is whether or not the loudest voices belong to the compassionate or the compassionless.  The added burden here is the fact that the compassionless are sometimes adept at painting villains as heroes, empathy as a sin, facts as fiction, and TV reality.  This includes every single televangelist who spreads an America-first prosperity “gospel”. 

Getting back to me, (well, technically we never left me), I do have some goals, but they are a bit down the road.  COVID or not, I want to get through the year, maybe pick up a few better habits, and not manage to screw anything up in the process.  Finding some peace at work would be nice too.  Not repeating any mistakes would be a plus.  Five or six years down the road there will be some more monumental changes, so 2022 can be just okay.  And sometimes “just okay” is good enough.  My standards may be low, but these are challenging times.

Here’s to everyone having a happy and (hopefully healthy) New Year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

January 5, 2017 – The Boxer

I really don’t like dwelling on things like the subject of this posting, but it feels like the right thing to do at this moment.  The “things like this” is the passing of my brother Chris, who I found deceased on January 5, 2017.  I’ve written about Chris before, and while I try to not repeat myself too often, I’m granting some discretion today.

To this very day, part of me has a hard time understanding why Chris is gone.  While I don’t have the kind of “I was going to call him but then realized he’s not here” moments that others in similar circumstances experience, I instead have a myriad of small reminders that he is not here.  These mostly come at me in a kind of random fashion, where I’ll think of something and then imagine what Chris’ reaction would be.  God, I miss his sense of humor.  We both had a kind of absurd sense of what was funny, although, in fairness to Chris, he was always willing to take things much further than I ever would or could.  That last sentence is just a function of my having to seemingly mature in different directions than Chris did, although there are those who will tell you with a completely straight face (mostly my daughters and my wife) that I haven’t actually matured all that much.

Growing up, we were all a year apart in age, so we did a lot together.  I will note that it was a bit tougher for Chris, as I tended to do more stuff with my brother Rich, but those kinds of degrees are tough to measure.  The years between childhood and fully-formed adulthood took us in different directions.  He went into the Navy right out of high school, mostly, I suspect because of two things:

·         Lurid tales shared by Navy recruiters of far-off exotic women eager to meet young American sailors, and…

·         …he knew that he needed the kind of discipline in his life that couldn’t be found in too many places other than the armed forces.

In the year before he passed away, Chris and I talked a few times about his experiences in the Navy.  In those conversations, I think the personal demons he was desperately trying to confront sometimes manifest themselves in some traumatic memories from his service.  As someone who worked in the medical field in the Navy, Chris told me he saw a lot of disturbing things.  I never once doubted him, although I have wondered if these things were more symbolic of the other issues he was trying to deal with as he moved into his 50’s.  Regardless of the cause(s), I genuinely believe that my brother was in pain, and he spent an inordinate amount of time in the year or three before his death trying to self-medicate his way into some kind of peace.  Sometimes the pain…physical and/or emotional…is so great that we just want it to stop and we’ll basically do anything to make that happen.

In addition to a similar sense of humor, I think Chris and I both spent a lot of time searching for some way to deal with the difficulties of our mutual childhood.  In my case, that meant diving head-first into college, then a career, and then a family, all in short order.  That kept me busy and my mind off of other things.  Chris, having served his term in the Navy, had to find his own way to manage life.  For him, that also meant an early marriage and a daughter that he absolutely adored.  Chris, having been an amateur boxer, always however seemed keen on the fight, which never really interested me, physical or otherwise.  I found (to this very day) that most forms of confrontation are counter-productive.  Chris thought the opposite, and many times those confrontations had something to do with our mother.  As I have noted before (probably), our mother’s passing in 2013 impacted Chris deeply.  He would never admit that when he was alive, by the way, but I am as sure of that as I can possibly be of anything.  With our mother gone, the boxer (Chris) no longer had an opponent in the ring.  The thing he could point to as a concrete reason for this inner turmoil was gone, and all that was left was in fact the turmoil, unabated and running rampant.  He no longer had an opponent, so the opponent became himself.

In the years after his passing, I spent a lot of time trying to understand what happened to my brother.  I’ll confess that I can’t really offer much in the way of actual understanding though.  I don’t understand why somehow we had the same upbringing (we were both “…a poor boy…”) but yet we had such different outcomes.  I don’t understand why he just couldn’t be somehow stronger...I always felt he was, in many ways, stronger than I was, so why am I the one still here?  I don’t understand the appeal to things that were harmful.  In totality, a part of me just doesn’t understand why he isn’t here now. 

Selfishly, well this whole posting is selfish, I always had this vision that in his retirement years Chris would be mostly free of his demons and that we would spend more time together.  We could celebrate the fact that we both reached our retirement years in spite of seeming to start from three steps behind and four doors down.  That’s never to be though, and it’s just so hard to imagine someone like a sibling just not being here anymore.  On some level, I just assumed he would survive, since that’s what I was doing, and as noted above, in some ways I always thought Chris was tougher than I ever was anyway.  You can add that to the list of contradictions in this screed.  Yes, the tough guy, the boxer, was the one who didn’t survive; instead, the introspective one who never really felt all that comfortable around other people…but yet has made a career out of interacting with them (me)…did.  It makes no sense, but then again a death like that of my brother is never going to make sense.  My cross, if you want to call it that, is the fact that I am forever doomed to try and figure this all out.

So, what’s left?  Well, January 5th will never really be a good day for me.  And I wish Chris were still here.  That’s pretty much what’s left.

* * * * * *

I wrote and delivered the eulogy at Chris’ funeral, and it quoted the Paul Simon song “The Boxer” because part of that story, including “I am just a poor boy…” and “in the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade…” really is my late brother, both practically and metaphorically.