Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Art of the Compromise

If you aren't willing to compromise, how will we ever get anything to eat?

Eric Cantor wrote an op-ed in the Times that I have been stewing about since last Sunday.  His piece, entitled something like Obama Viewed From Other Side, asserted that Cantor was optimistic on Inauguration Day that Obama would deliver on his bi-partisan message of hope.  Alas, Cantor was disappointed from the beginning.  Obama offered his plans for a bail out, but when offered Republican alternative plans, ignored them.  Same thing with health care.  Obama, Pelosi, and Reid (that would make a nifty sounding law firm) set out the plan.  Republicans countered and were ignored.  The poor, disillusioned Republican caucus, deciding it was futile to even try to come to terms, stopped trying.  The resultant partisan divide, from Cantor's point of view, was completely Obama's fault for not being willing to compromise.

Now, I'm not a rabidly partisan person.  For instance, even though he holds most of the same views, I find Bill Maher's rantings shrill and largely unfair.  And even though I agree with most of his conclusions and admire his craftsmanship, I think Michael Moore is an obnoxious boor.  I even think W. is a good, well-intentioned man.  I'm still hoping it is possible that our new president will go against type and do some good things.  You can see to what ridiculous extents my bi-partisanship goes; however, Cantor's version of the truth doesn't jive with mine.

Back in 2008, I read everything I could get my hands on about politics, and not just the pages of "The Huffington Post."  I checked Mike Allen's Playbook every morning.  After that, I looked at The Daily Kos.  I sat down with the Post, Morning Joe on the television, and read the news.  Of course, there was, and continues to be, The Daily Beast, and Politico, and Politifact.  I even forced myself to look at The Drudge Report, the most dreary looking "news" gathering site around.  The point is that none of those outlets seemed to offer facts to support Cantor's assertions.

The idea that Republicans were chomping at the bit to work with Obama is laughable.  Before the start of every session, new Republican congressmen sign a pledge to not raise taxes in any form.  They sign that pledge or they suffer the electoral consequences.  They voted as a bloc against anything with Obama's name on it.  They hoped he would fail.  They called him a liar at a State of the Union address.  They still think he was born in Kenya.

Let me use a restaurant metaphor to explain what really happened.  Instead of negotiating health care, let us say that Obama and Cantor are negotiating where to go for lunch in Denver.  Makes sense to me.

Obama:  Let's go to Park Burger.  It's close to Denver University.  I've heard it's affordable.  What's more, they have great fries.

Cantor:  I'm interested in lunch.  It would be good for the small business man.  However, Park Burger doesn't sound good.  Too close to a snooty graduate school.  I would like to go to Denny's.

Obama:  Denny's?  Well, the thing is that I was really hungry for some good fries.  I've had Denny's fries before.  They're okay, but not really what I had in mind.  How about Elway's?  Their fries are great and we could all order S'mores for dessert.

Cantor:  S'mores are way too rich.  I want to go to Denny's.

Obama:  Lou's?  How about Lou's.  Good burgers.  Great fries.  Used to be Denny's or Perkins or something before they got bought out.  Bought out by a small businessman, I might add.

Cantor:  Look, I thought you wanted to go to lunch.  If I can't go to Denny's, I'm gonna stay home.

Obama:  Okay.  I guess I'll go to lunch by myself.  Let me know if I can bring you anything back from Park Burger.

Cantor:  Look, if you aren't willing to compromise, how will we ever get anything to eat?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Evil Streaming

I'm thinking about all the romantic crap I laid out the last time I posted something.  "Streaming?  I don't need no stinking streaming!"  Well, forget all that.  I am going to leave the spinning of vinyl to people like my son Nate.  He likes being elemental, going back to the classics.  That's one of my favorite things about him.  I even agree with all those purist vinyl spinners out there, that listening to, say, the Sergeant Pepper album the way it was originally created--vinyl--and on the equipment it was created for--cool stereo systems with belt driven turntables and 12 inch woofers--is a fundamentally different experience than listening to it on a CD, or through the air via Spotify.  Is it better?  I don't know.  I have tinnitus and can't really tell any more, but I do believe that in some sense vinyl spinning is closer to the artist's intent.

I'm forgetting all that romantic crap because we just purchased a Bose Sound Touch 30 wireless music system.  You don't call them stereos any more; they are music delivery systems.  The contraption is smaller than one of the speakers on my old stereo and produces twice the sound, or seems to.  Katherine hooked everything up because she has managed to stay current, technologically speaking.  It is sitting on the low brick ledge of the fireplace at one end of our main floor, the main floor with, in a late life stab at being avant garde, hickory floors and drape free windows.  The resulting echo effect amplifies the music machine's sound and absolutely fills the room.

But the best thing about our new music delivery system is Spotify.  In the last few days, I have listened to all the music from "Hamilton", an ancient jazz album with Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, "The Well Tempered Clavier", "Julian Bream Plays Bach" and "Tapestry."  I have access to recordings I thought impossible to find.  I'm planning on listening to Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney duets the first chance I get.  Okay, okay.  A Crosby/Clooney duet might not be everyone's first choice.  It's just that at my age I tend to wallow in nostalgia a little more than I used to.

I do have a big problem with our new music delivery system.  I think it is kind of evil.  Evil in the same sense that sleep number beds, and dual controls on automobile heaters and air conditioners is evil.  Evil like gated communities, charter schools, and Facebook.  Evil the way headphones are evil.

I think everything works better if we make love to the idea that we are communal creatures.  We need things to bring us together, not further isolate us.  Back in the good old days where we only had three channels, news events, rather than being vehicles for division, brought us together:  Kennedy assasination,  political conventions, space walks, freedom walks, etc.  We could talk to each other about the news program we all saw, or the new episode of Hill Street Blues, or the white album around the coffee pot.

It's bad enough that the partisan nature of media news and talk radio and internet rumors manage to separate us, but we take all that manufactured isolation into the bedroom and set our own temperatures and firmness and end up sleeping differently.  The passenger side on my car has its own temperature controls, so Kathie and I end up riding differently.  I, as is my nature, get competitive.  "Christ.  She has her temp all the way up to seventy-five!  What's her problem?"

Now, my music delivery system has compounded the problem.  It'll be okay for me.  I'm old and set in my ways.  But what about my grandson Sage, or Brooklyn, Sammi, Willa, or Jaydee?  When I go on Spotify to get some music, I always choose to play an album.  I think that is the literaturist in me at work.  Albums are meant to hold together, like a novel, or a play.  So, even though the listening experience might be a little different, the whole structural approach stays in tact and by listening to the album as released, I am sharing in a communal experience.

Not so those people who make their own play lists.  These are the same people who cannot manage to get from their car to their destination without wearing headphones.  I'm afraid my children might do that already and I'm convinced that my grandchildren--all of our grandchildren--will most certainly be headphone dependent any day now.  The problem isn't just the headphones; it is that they are listening to something designed just for them.  They are immersed in a world of their own making that has precious little connection to the community.

So what do we have?  We have a "community" comprised of individuals who surround themselves with Facebook friends who feel and think the same way, with information feeds that only give them what they want to hear, with creature comforts that ignore others, and with a steady stream of music that cuts them sonically out of their surroundings, in their own ego driven gated communities.  I think that kind of separateness from the world is bad.

In "My Dinner With Andre", Andre tells Wally about the wealthy woman who dies of malnutrition because she will only eat what she wants to eat, in this case, chicken.

Spotify and the like make me worry about being that woman.  I wonder.  If I only choose to listen to Bing Crosby recordings from now on, will I die of some sort of spiritual malnutrition.  Maybe I should throw in some Beastie Boys for balance.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Streaming! Don't Talk To Me About Streaming

One of the unintended consequences of our recent house refurbishing is that I broke my CD player.  I had to get the electronic stuff off the floor until the new hickory was installed.  No problem, but when I brought it all back upstairs and started putting it together, I discovered that somehow the CD player had been stepped on or otherwise rendered useless.  This would not be a problem for most people, but it is for me.  When I told Chris about my defunct stereo, he laughed it off and told me that what I had been using was obsolete and I could get something small and inexpensive that would produce at least as much sound as my old stuff.  Katherine started talking about getting Bose speakers that could stream songs off our phones.

They just don't understand.  I have a long history with record players.  That's what I called them back in the day.  And all of those machines, except for the first, had amplifiers and pre-amplifiers and tuners and turntables and book shelf speakers.  I just don't think I'm emotionally ready for anything different.

When I was a kid in Estes Park, we had a Zenith console that sat in our living room playing a continuous stream of Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, The Chordettes, The HiLos, with an occasional Nat King Cole thrown in for balance.  The first record I ever bought was a recording of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney singing duets.  I particularly liked their cover of "I'm Gonna Get You On A Slow Boat To China."  Later, I bought Frank Sinatra's COME DANCE WITH ME and spent hours down in our basement (I had taken it upon myself to move the Zenith downstairs closer to my room.) wearing a cheap fedora cocked stylishly to one side, sitting on a stool, and singing along, pretending I was killing in some nightclub.

My sister, Jeri, married her second (maybe it was her third) husband shortly thereafter and he had an old RCA stereo system with speakers that you could spread apart to get the full effect.  I left my Sinatra period and became a fan of folk music:  Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Kingston Trio, but mostly The Limeliters ("Have Some Madeira M'Dear).  My friend Bob even picked up the banjo and I tried to learn Travis picking on guitar.

I went to college and quickly outgrew the RCA portable system when I discovered that it just wasn't up to the demands of The Beatles, The Stones, and later, The Band.  My roommate and I were without a system, but a guy on the top floor of Carroll Hall played "Good Morning" from the SGT. PEPPER album at full blast every morning at 6.  It sounded great.  There was no way that old RCA would ever sound like that.  It was also one of the reasons I was a regular attendee at breakfast.  In fact, breakfasts at the Regis cafeteria were fuller, I bet, than breakfasts at DU or CU.  Of course, I can't attest to that.

It wasn't until I graduated and started working at Craig Hospital to fulfill my conscientious objection to the draft that I finally discovered what a great stereo could do.  We--the orderlies-- were all COs there.  We were all college grads.  Pete and I were English majors.  Tom was an architect.  There was even a guy on the graveyard shift who had his Ph.D. in philosophy.  We were all politically active and we all hung out after work, getting high on Lebanese Black hash and listening to music, mostly Creedence and Cat Stevens, at full blast.

My high school chum, Mike, lived in Denver at the time and had a great old house with three roommates on University and Kentucky, give or take a few blocks.  I loved stopping by after work or on days off just to hang out.  I could hear Cat Stevens pounding on Mike's speakers as soon as I got a block from his house.  I remember his components:  Sansui tuner and amplifier, Fisher turntable, and most important, Bose speakers.  Bose was a brand new name at that time and the volume those little speakers could churn out was flabbergasting.  Mike's living room was laid out exactly like any self-respecting hippy freak's living room.  There was a huge, wooden cable reel table sitting in front of an old, floppy, and comfy couch that Mike got out of his father's basement.  There was an antique wicker wheel chair across from the table within easy reach of an overflowing ashtray.  And, the piece de resistance, an old, still functioning dentist chair situated in exactly the right spot to get the full effect of Cat Stevens hard edged voice.  We never talked much.  The stereo was too loud.  But we somehow knew we were having a great time.

Well, Mike's system settled it.  I had to get my own.  Like all good young college grad dopers at that time, we all had our own copy of THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOGUE, so it was part of my ethos to do a little consumer research before starting out on this major purchase.  My research paid off and I quickly purchased a 120 watt Fisher tuner and amplifier, an Acoustic Research turntable, and two AR5 speakers.  I played the Fisher demo record over and over, marveling at my new toy.  I went out and bought the requisite Cat Stevens and Creedence stuff, but I also bought a lot of classical things, particularly piano and guitar, on Angel recordings and listened to the clarity of Radu Lupo's keyboard skills.  I lived in a mobile home then and my stereo made the tin walls shake.  It probably made the tin walls in all of my neighbor's trailers shake as well.

That stereo was always the first thing to be placed in any new home or apartment I moved into.  Next came paintings and posters.  Furniture was always an afterthought.

When Kathie and I moved into our home almost forty years ago, I bought a new system.  It was a Sony component thing I bought at Sears.  It even came with its own cabinet.  It was never the sonic equivalent of those AR5s with the Fisher amp.  Besides, I was getting old enough and the tinnitus was just starting up, that I really couldn't tell about fine sonic distinctions anymore.  But, until recently, it did the trick.

I write all of this because Kathie and I saw the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Fiftieth Anniversary show on PBS a couple of days ago.  I cried all the way through it.  You see, getting a great system means getting great music and Kathie and I courted each other to the Dirt Band's great album, UNCLE CHARLY AND HIS DOG TEDDY (I think that was the name.).  We also played The Band at full volume, the BOOKENDS album, TAPESTRY, and James Taylor.  Lots of James Taylor.  I loved those days.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my current days as well, but the music just isn't as good.

A short digression:  There was a lovely older lady who used to teach in the Lang Arts Department at Green Mountain.  This was right when we were beginning to get computerized.  Each teacher had just gotten his/her own computer  and we had just gotten a memo explaining to us how we were to take computerized attendance and how we were to enter computerized grades and how we could track students through their day by using the computer.  All this new technology was too much for the lady teacher, who had just recently mastered which buttons to push on her phone to get the main office, and she threw her papers in the air, stood up with tears streaming down her face, and stormed out of the room muttering something about how she couldn't take it any more.

I feel just like that lovely old lady.  I don't want to get current.  I don't want to learn how to stream unless it involves a kayak.  I'm still not completely sure about CDs.  I just want a couple of giant speakers with 12 inch woofers, an amplifier that gives off a blue glow when the lights are off, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band spinning on the turntable.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Books to Read, or Not

This is Katherine.  Don't be confused.  I haven't written in ages.  I have been a busy girl though.  I have been knitting and drawing and reading and watching grand kids and traveling and waiting for our custom-made table to actually finally get to the "made" stage.  I have not been working.  I stopped doing that last June.  I will write about that sometime.  Not now though.

I just finished a book and I won't get through the next one before the holidays are gone, so I thought I'd write a brief post on the books I've read recently.  It helps me keep track of them in my old age.

Here we go:

1.  Galapagos Regained.  James Morrow.  Chloe Bathurst, 19th century actress, becomes Darwin's zookeeper in London after his famous Beagle voyage.  This part is okay, but the book falls apart with a farcical trip to Galapagos where Chloe attempts to prove Darwin's theories with a plan that seems more akin to Around the World in 80 Days.  * (Skip this sucker)

2.  The Painter.  Peter Heller.  Jim Stegner is an artist raging over his daughter's murder.  He erupts violently when the innocent are attacked.  A senseless beating of a roan horse moves the plot at the beginning of the book.  He kills two men in a rage over the horse and the violence and poetry in his heart battles his fears and desires about himself as his paintings emerge from dreamlike trances.  As his reputation as a person is tarnished with rumors about the killings, his paintings increase in their value and this also drives him crazy.  This book is thoughtful and suspenseful.  It says creating art is the only way you can truly be in the moment.  ***(A really good book)

3.  The Circle.  Dave Eggers.  Mae goes to work for the Circle--an exaggerated Google Corporation with it's own special GooglePlex.  Most folks know about this book already.  It targets the invasion of privacy in business and our compulsions to give up our privacy.  Very compelling.  I didn't look at my phone as often for a couple of days.  ***(A really good book)

4.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.  Marie Kondo.  Not much style here, but a great system for discarding and storage.  I love how my drawers look when I open them now.  I spend more time throwing stuff out and it is easier to do.  I see folding clothes in a whole new light.  **(Worth a look)

5.  Dr. Brinkley's Tower.  Robert Hough.  Wonderful book.  It is the story of a small Mexican town near the Texas border that is revived and destroyed when an American salesman (he peddles unique cures for male sexual problems) builds a radio tower there.  There is a touch of magical realism provided by a "curandera" who guards the town and deals with its salvation at the end of the novel.  The author seems to love women (refreshing) and there are several perfect stories sprinkled in between the town's cast of characters.  I loved this book.  ****(Put it on your list)

6.  The Secret Chord.  Geraldine Brooks.  This is the story of King David in the Old Testament from the prophet Nathan's point of view.  It is a study of the pain and beauty duality in King David.  David does wondrous and awful things that we all know from reading our Bibles.  Nathan sees all of it coming.  Some nice sentences.  **(Worth a look)

7.  Off the Grid.  C. J. Box.  You have to like the Joe Pickett stories to like this one.  This is the most recent in a ton of books about Joe (Wyoming Game Warden and clumsy detective type).  I like them because the books cover parts of Wyoming we drive through all the time.  I can match certain stretches of road with scenes in the novels.  Mostly I like a character named Nate Romanowski--he's the retired assassin with a pony tail who lives outside the grid.  If you have any interest, I'd start with an earlier book just because there is a whole lot of story that leads up to this one.  Not Rated--Guilty Pleasure.

8.  Breakfast With the Buddha.  I don't remember the author, but he wrote Lunch with the Buddha and Dinner with the Buddha too.  It is about a middle aged man who must return to his parents' farm after their tragic death and his wacky sister makes his take a Buddhist monk with him.  He learns he has a lot to learn.  * (Skip this sucker)

9.  America's National Parks.  Ken Burns.  This is a big coffee table book.  Jim read it last year and it was my turn.  It is an amazing story that is told with new names and places in each chapter.  In each chapter some wonderful person figures out we should save some specific land and greedy people fight against it in their states and in Congress until the good guy wins and we have a new national park.  It never ever seemed to change.  Greed is the constant evil in the book.  Most of our National Parks come down to the efforts of a very few good men.  ***(A really good book)

10.  The Throwback Special.  Chris Bacheder.   A group of middle-aged guys meet every year at a run down Ramada Inn in the midwest somewhere and spend the weekend getting ready to re-enact the play where Joe Theisman broke his leg on a Monday Night Football game.  All the guys are neurotic and worried about the weird little stuff middle aged guys worry about (I guess).  Along the way, there are lovely insights.  Marriage is about watching each other (Jim wrote a post about this).  Sidewalks tell you where to go and paths describe where you wanted to go.  A fun read.  ***(A Really good

11.  The Ship of Theseus.  J. J. Abrams.  Lots of ideas here.  Man has an innate need to box in or control evil.  (We jail, we kill, we go to war, etc).  It will not work because evil is porous and will always escape.  The ONLY thing that stops evil is ART and BEAUTY.  Reading the book is a surreal experience.  There is a primary tale that reminds me what it might be like to live in a Katie Hoffman painting.  In the margins two literary scholars try to track down the "real" tale of the pretend author of The Ship of Theseus.  The scholars pass notes and photos and maps and other tidbits to each other and you find those tucked between pages.  A very real mystery the scholars are working on is juxtaposed to the magical mystery of the ship.  Everything overlaps everywhere.  This was a tough read, but I loved it.  ****(Put this on your list)

12.  The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan.  Robert Hough.  I bought this because I loved #5 on the list so much.  This one is also very good.  Benny Wand, a great chess player and conman, becomes an advisor to Henry Morgan as he reclaims the Spanish Main in the Caribbean.  The Captain recognizes the conman's strategic abilities and regains the English losses with Benny's tactical guidance.  There is lots of torture and lots of blood and guts, but the story compels you to keep going.  ***(A really good book)

13.  Trans Atlantic.  Colum McCann.  The structure of this book is interesting.  Chapters play Leap Frog.  In an early chapter, Lottie briefly meets famous aviators Alcove and Brown before they try the first flight across the English Channel.  The next chapter starts a new story, but is followed with Lottie's story as she follows her independent journalist mother from Nova Scotia to Ireland.  Frederick Douglas of historic fame shows up early and the settling of the Catholic and Protestant battles appears near the end of the book.  Historical figures show the entrenchment of the past and the huge effort any change (for freedom, for peace) takes on any individuals working for the changes.  All the characters are alone, but not lonely.  They are clearly connected for the reader and the characters seem to know or feel connected to the threads of each other's stories.  The one drawback of the book--I hated the constant use of "artistic fragments."   ***(A really good book)

That's it.   I've just started Ahab's Wife.  Good so far.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Feeling Empty

I'm sitting in my office typing this thing.  I am surrounded by photographs, the kind that people of my age tend to put up in their offices.  There's a picture of Katherine when I first knew her, coiffed in her Barbra Streisand curls, sitting on her desk, regaling her students all gathered around her.  There is a picture of me when I was a young teacher at Marycrest that looks a lot like Kathie's photo.  I'm sitting on my desk; my hair is almost curlier than Kathie's; a crowd of adoring students stand by.  There's a picture of Chris in Stax of Wax at Elitch's, his first gig.  There's another picture of Chris dancing at The Cherry Creek Art Festival years ago.  It's just Chris and two girls plus some drummers.  It chronicles the beginning of his businesses.  I look at it a lot.  There is a picture of Nate and Kathie hugging after he married Ashley.  There are a bunch of pictures of Franny and her daughters hanging next to an ancient photo of me getting my one year old nose licked by my mother's cocker spaniel.  There are, of course, lots of pictures of Jenny Lake Lodge and the trails leading up into the mountains from there.  And there are numbers of photos of Michelle Obama when she was Franny's boss:  FLOTUS and Franny sitting on Air Force One cracking up over a joke; a picture of Franny, Kathie, and me with FLOTUS at South High School; another photo of all of us, plus F's grandmother, with FLOTUS in the Rockies' locker room at Coors Field.

Franny is taking Willa to Washington in a few days to reune with the Obamas and all the staffers over the past eight years.  It will be their last Christmas party at the White House.  I'm so happy and proud that my daughter played a big role in getting Barack Obama into the White House.  I've spent a lot of time in the last eight years living vicariously through  her engagement with politics and governing.

That brings me to the title of this post.  I've been lost since the election.  My day used to be defined by the hours of reading I spent trying to learn the truth.  I tried to read stuff on both sides of each issue.  I actually waded through the drab headlines and blurbs of The Drudge Report.  I looked at stuff from FoxNews.  Of course, I spent most of my time looking at The Daily Beast and The New York Times, but I still attempted to be fair and balanced.  I looked daily at the election projections  on FiveThirtyEight.  I even look at Morning Joe from time to time.  I argued politics with friends and people who were not my friends.  And when I argued, I was able to bring an impressive arsenal of facts and figures and logic to the table.

But since we are now living in a post-truth world, I don't do that anymore.  Nowadays I can get all my newspaper and website reading done in no time.  Since every column inch is devoted to the latest thing Trump has tweeted and every legitimate news event is only interesting because of what some prominent politico has to say about it, I find there is nothing to read outside of the sports pages.  And since the Broncos seem destined to miss the playoffs, I've even lost interest in that.

So what do I do?  I don't know yet.  We started back to the Y this week.  That uses up a couple of hours.  We come back home and I make myself a bloody mary or two.  That uses up some more time.  I keep rereading the stuff I've been writing and making minor little changes and that takes up another hour or two.  Then we decide if we are going to make a dinner, or eat out.  Lately, we've been eating out.  Then it's back home where the only thing on television I can stand watching is old movies.  Then it is off to bed where I spend another fitful night arguing with people in my head.

This is the first thing I have written since I got back from Belize.  That's the biggest emptiness I'm feeling.  For years, I've been regularly producing a thousand good words (well, good to me at any rate) every day.  This little blurb is a start on my road to recovery.

I've got to wrap this up now.  It's time to go to the Y.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Them and Us"

When I was twenty and a new father, I drove trucks and cut hay for Western Alfalfa in Berthoud, Colorado.  Western Alfalfa made feed pellets out of the hay cut, hauled away, and processed from local farms and ranches stretching from the foot of the Rockies to Kansas and Nebraska.  It was the best paying job I could find at the time and I started to work the day after my last final at Regis.  The job paid a buck sixty an hour, but time and a half for overtime, and since I had to put in eighty-four hours a week, that added up to more cash than I had ever made before.

I worked in two week rotations throughout the harvesting season.  Monday through Saturday I would work from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  On Sunday, I'd come in at 5:30, work until 11:30, go home, try to sleep a little, come back at 5:30 p. m. and work around the clock until 5:30 the next morning, thus changing from the day to the graveyard shift.

Mostly, I picked up hay in a dump truck and drove it back to the mill where it would be processed into little green feed pellets, put into sacks, and carted off to feed stores across the country.  If you forget about the hours, there was a lot about the job I liked.  I liked driving by myself on country roads with the windows open.  I liked, and continue to like, the smell of cut alfalfa.  I liked the challenge of getting my truck into a field that defied entrance.

There were special times when the mill in Kersey, for instance, broke down and we would have to help them with their alfalfa.  That meant thirty and forty minute drives to and from the fields and life was good and easy.  And, of course, there were always rain delays.  Sometimes I got stuck out in the field with Ronny, the main cutter, and we would sit in my cab, or in a nearby barn, or under a tree, smoke, and hope that it would rain long enough to call it quits.  The best rain times were when I was at the mill waiting for the feeder lift to empty its load and the showers would come.  Standing in the mill with the rest of the crew was more interesting and a lot more comfortable than out in the field with Ronny.

Every  once in a while, when the field wasn't difficult to cut, or when they were short handed, I would get a chance to get up in a tractor and cut the field.  It was just like mowing a lawn only with more things that could go wrong.  Mostly, it was fun and I could see how you could spend a life cutting fields and hauling hay.

I was the only college type there and the rest of the guys took a certain delight in that.  It was vindicating for them to point out simple--for them--things I couldn't do, thereby proving that all that money spent at Regis had gone to waste.  But it was alway good-natured and, let me assure you, I gave as good as I got.

We all became pretty good friends, a friendship nothing like the ones I had back at Regis, or even the ones I had in high school.  In high school, I'm ashamed to admit, I used to make jokes about Future Farmers of America.  I mean I was in a group at Loveland High School that made it a point to wear wing-tips to school.  I had three pair:  cordovan, black, orange--yes--orange.  The FFA types wore baseball caps before it was fashionable to wear baseball caps.  They  wore cowboy boots before it was fashionable to wear cowboy boots.  They wore too tight nylon jackets, snap button shirts, and the outlines of chewing tobacco tins in their back pockets.

It was amazing.  All those guys I looked down my adolescent nose at in high school had turned into the crew at Western Alfalfa.  Ronny the mill operator, as opposed to Ronny the cutter, was my favorite, probably because we ended up hanging out together during rain outs.  The inside of the mill, right up next to the machinery, was one place you didn't want to be if you didn't  have to and Ronny had to.  As the hay fed through the grinders and compressors and god knows what on its way to becoming a pellet, a green mist of alfalfa dust gave the whole place an eery glow, Ronny beside a gear or a door wielding a pipe wrench or hammer.  He would emerge from the mist to say hello or bum a cigarette, but the mist would stay with him. His hair--after two summers I never could determine whether he was a blonde or brunette, not even in local bars after work--was always coated with green dust and, always the most affable of men, when he smiled, even his green teeth couldn't keep you from being happy to see him.

Lou was the field boss.  He was in his thirties and drove from field to field in a yellow Ford pick-up with a tool box in the back.  Teddy was the other field boss.  He was older than Lou, not nearly as fat and a great story teller.  He was the keeper of the history at Western Alfalfa.  There was Tom, a veteran cutter, who always looked like he was about to keel over from the heat, or the damp, or the booze.  You name it, he suffered from it or because of it.

All those guys were married and had children, just like me.  They cared about their job.  I don't mean they cared about keeping their jobs, or worried about their "benefits".  They cared about the craft of their job.  They liked talking about what gears you could use to cut certain fields.  They liked talking about fields that were tricky to cut.  They knew a little of the history of the farms and the fields of the area.  I ended up feeling the same way, discussing with great interest every aspect of the alfalfa industry in northern Colorado.  I can still drive down I-25 past Loveland and toward Fort Collins and point out the fields we cut, what gears we had to use.  I can also tell you that the number 503 truck had no guts and the tranny was about to go, while 505 hauled ass and 519 was new, shiny, and comfortable.

Their wives came by the plant with kids wrapped up in their arms to talk about  dinner plans.  They all were happy and waved and seemed like they were looking forward to spending time with the family that night and to more days like the one they just had.

About once a week, we'd go over to The Wayside Inn and have a beer or two, rehash the day, and talk a little bit about our families.  They would ask me why I majored in something boring and stupid like English and I would just laugh and agree that it might have been a dumb move.  Mostly, we complained about work, about the weather, about the price of whatever, and then we all went home to get a little sleep until the next shift.

I like thinking about those days.  I would like to think that I could sit down at that same bar and have a beer with Ronny and Lou and we would all have a good time.

I know that on a lot of things those guys see a different world than I see.  It is more urgent, more concrete, maybe more practical.  But I bet we would all say the same things about our families.  I bet we all want the same things.  I just refuse to believe that when you get right down to it, Ronny and I are that polarized.  I wish we could stop thinking the way the media has trained us to think, in black and white, absolutes, "Them and Us."

Katherine and I always stop at Johnson's Corner for breakfast when we travel to Jenny Lake Lodge.  We've been doing this for many years and we can't help but notice that the line-up of old workers at the coffee bar is always the same.  They all have their ball caps on.  Most of them have tape measures in holsters on their belts.  They tell each other stories, laugh, agree, shake their heads.  Ronny might be one of those guys, although none of them has a green tint.  There might be one of those FFA types I used to ridicule.  From where Kathie and I sit in our booth, they all seem genuinely nice and friendly.  Of course, I have tinnitus, so I can't really hear what they're saying.

I don't like living in parallel universes with people like Ronny and Lou.  On the other hand, I like the universe I've chosen.  I hope they like theirs as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


I've never liked birthdays, mine in particular.  I never thought being born was much of an accomplishment.

And it has nothing to do with growing older.  Well, it has a little to do with growing older.  I think I just don't like people paying attention to me for no apparent reason.  I prefer to remain under cover if you know what I mean.

When we went to Mizuna Saturday night, there was a festive-as-hell card on the table with "Happy Birthday" written in felt-tipped pen with lots of stars and bubbles drawn in to complete the scene.  It was thoughtful and all that, but the table would have looked more elegant without the note.

Getting old is embarrassing.  It isn't embarrassing because of all those well-intentioned people paying attention, sending you cards with lame jokes about how you're not getting older, you're getting better, posting on Facebook, inviting you to lunch, inviting you to brunch, sending you stuff.

It is embarrassing because as you age you find yourself not gliding through life as smoothly as before.  You have to ask "What?" a lot more.  You are more apt to choke on something during dinner. You cough more in the morning.  You can still get down on the floor with your (grand)kids and play and get silly; you just can't get up without making a minor scene.  Your attention span isn't what it used to be.  You tend to despair whenever your computer opens up a new indecipherable dialogue box.  You begin to see that inevitable moment when younger shoppers will move to a new checkout line so they won't be stuck behind an old person with coupons.

The thing about all these little changes is not so much that they inconvenience you, the aging person, but that they inconvenience others.  It is irritating to  have to say everything twice to some doddering old codger with tinnitus.  I don't know about you, but when I'm in a restaurant and some old guy at the next table chokes on his fois gras, I feel uncomfortable.  I also found myself running for cover at the Y whenever (Name withheld) would try to get his 85 year old body into the hot tub.  He passed out once and I felt sure I would have to start pounding on the guy's chest.  He snapped out of it just in time.  But that's what I mean.  Pounding on some old guy's chest at the Y is an inconvenience.  Worse yet, people would notice.

Notice, I am not complaining, or whining, or in any other way, being negative.  I'm desperately fighting off negativity by trying to be clever.  But here's the thing.  I would like to do a little whining and complaining.  I'm sixty-eight fucking years old!  I have a right.

That's the hardest thing about this birthday.  I can't complain.  All the people I love won't let me.  Moans and groans are met with rolling eyes.  Any reference to age is immediately dismissed.  I suppose all of that is to make me feel good about being so well-preserved for my age.  When I told Jacqueline Bonnano my age the other night at Mizuna, she appeared taken aback and I'm not sure if that was good or bad.

I do, in fact, feel good about how I am soldiering through this whole age thing.  I think my grey beard makes me look either distinguished or like a homeless person, depending on what I am wearing.  I still weigh about the same as I did when I retired.  I can still wear the same things I was wearing when I was teaching, which is testimony to either the great shape I'm in, or the fact that I can't afford to buy anything new.

I've thought about this a lot lately.  After all, at age 68 it is a sobering thought to think I only have 30 or so more good years ahead of me.  But I have reached one conclusion.  I'd rather be twenty years younger.