12 Things Learned In 2012

Year end and beginning is for lists. I think it’s a rule of some sort. And if nothing else, I am a rule follower. Thusly, my list of twelve things learned in 2012 (Please note the cleverness there – 12 for 12. Genius) :

  1.  I love Cheez-Its. They are pure brain food. 3 grams of protein and 140 calories per 30 crackers. That’s better than your average “healthy” yogurt. And it’s a genuine, simulated, baked cheese product. It doesn’t get much better than that. The downside is a certain, uhm, cheese-breath after effect. There’s also the fact that it’s virtually impossible to limit oneself to just the suggested serving size of thirty. Perhaps I should invent a Pez-like dispenser that holds exactly 30. Perfect for travel!
  2. You need to get rid of your clutter. We put all our stuff in storage and lived in a motorhome for half the year. I didn’t think it would be possible to survive without eighteen dress shirts, toolboxes of “leftover” nuts and bolts, fifteen year old Rollerblades, twenty-three baseball hats, and ten pairs of jeans that I “might” fit into again some day. But I did. And I was perfectly happy.
  3. Politicians are evil. Not just some, all. Our elected representatives have quickly replaced lawyers as the most hated people on the planet. To quote myself, “If you think your representative is looking out for your best interest, you’re a tool. Don’t be a tool.” Boy I’m impressed with myself. That needs to be on a t-shirt.
  4. Academically, I can hang with the big dogs. Well, at least with the twenty-somethings. Also, I don’t like art history. Also, I’m really, really good at art history. It’s an internal conflict that will most likely require therapy sometime in my future.
  5. It’s possible for me to get in really good shape. The inverse of this fitness rule is that I can return to a fairly squishy state in a frighteningly rapid amount of time. Clearly the year for me is split into squishy and non-squishy periods. For the love of humanity and my fellow beach goers, let’s hope that next year the non-squishy state coincides with bikini season.
  6. Gravity + bikes + a complete lack of coordination = broken ribs. That hurts. A lot. Let’s not do that again.
  7. This year taught me that I enjoy photography. I also learned that I have no idea whatsoever what I’m doing. All those darn f numbers, shutter speeds, uncooperative swimsuit models, and tricky apertures… being a photography professional is hard work. I may have to fall back on my art history career prospects.
  8. I seem to have an uncomfortable obsession with cows. Looking back at the year I realize I’ve taken multiple pictures of cows, written an ode to cows, and bought a cow. I’m slightly concerned.
  9. I can’t do drama. Not the theatrical, off-broadway kind of drama. I mean Real Housewives, Jerry Springer, Tom Cruise break-up kind of drama. Life is too short to waste effort thinking about or dealing with drama. Unless, of course, we’re talking about Lindsay Lohan’s pending implosion. That train wreck is too entertaining to miss.
  10. I didn’t die when I got a flu shot. I broke down and got my first flu shot this year. When I informed the tech that I’d never had a flu shot in my life she looked shocked and said “Not ever? Seriously?”  She actually had me wait for thirty minutes afterwards to monitor me “just in case”. Made me slightly concerned about what’s really in it if I had to be monitored. Fears of government tracking devices and UN conspiracies are now filling my dreams at night. Sigh… more therapy needed clearly.
  11. People are idiots. The world is filled with a frightening amount of lemmings and sheep. Other than for entertainment value, I have no more tolerance for stupidity (other than my own). And when things go south, those idiots are going to come looking for your stuff. And when you call 911 and there’s nobody available… well good luck with that. If you know me, then you know I’m talking zombie apocalypse. Be prepared.
  12. The big lesson for 2012 – stop waiting and wishing for what you want. Life is short and we’re only here once (sorry Druids and Hindus – it just isn’t going to happen). As the old saying goes – if you get hit by a cement truck tomorrow, have you done, seen, and accomplished what you wanted?

There you go.  An award-winning, incredibly insightful look back at lessons of 2012. Next up, resolutions for 2013. Or not. I may go out and just enjoy the day instead.

Voting Rights And Dr Laura

We recently completed a 12 hour multi-state drive to see family for the holidays.  A mostly uneventful trip. Wake up at the crack of dawn, curse that you didn’t pack the night before, drink approximately six quarts of coffee to ensure you have to stop twenty minutes up the road, start driving, turn around because you forgot something, turn around again because you can’t remember if you locked the front door, and then hit the open road.  Much of the route we take is across some of the most desolate country imaginable. Hundreds of miles without towns or the ability to get a venti no whip mochafrappalattechino (with an extra shot). Brutal.

My normal approach to this sort of drive is a two-step attempt to drive my wife insane. First, I find a semi-truck. Then I drive behind it for hours. I don’t like passing on two-lane roads and I don’t like expensive tickets so I’m happy to just set the cruise control and, well… cruise.  For my wife, god put other cars on the road simply so you’d have something to pass. What’s the point of having a gas pedal if you’re not going to pass people?  Step two of my plan to push her over the brink is my music playlist. A bizarre collection of ’70’s funk, Rage Against the Machine, reggae, electronica/techno dance tunes (the 27 minute remix), and Johnny Cash. Somewhere around hour six she’ll have developed a frightening zombie look as she announces “If you’d like to continue living you’ll pass this f*&%ing truck, and it’s time to listen to something else”.

I’m all about self-preservation, so we commence scanning the satellite radio dial for talk shows. Eventually we stumbled upon the Dr. Laura show.  I’d listened to her briefly several times in the past, but this was my first concentrated dose of the original model for Dr. Phil. I must say, it left me… frightened.  All those people calling in? It’s truly a horrible thought to realize that they are out there, walking around amongst us freely – without supervision and in the wild.

“Dr. Laura? Thank you so much for taking my call. You’re my mentor and it’s such an honor to talk to you. My question? Oh, yes… Well, see it started when my mother-in-law accused me of stealing mail out of her mailbox. I told her she was crazy and then I tried to make my husband go talk to her but he didn’t. It’s been eight months now and I’m not speaking to her ’cause I deserve an apology. My question? Oh, well, see the thing is we’re hav’n a party for my nephew who’s gett’n out of rehab and I don’t want to invite her on account of it being all awkward and all. My husband says I have to invite her. So, what should I do? Shouldn’t she apologize to me before she gets to go to the party?”

The global energy gap, fiscal cliffs, John Kerry as Secretary of State, impoverished children without iPhones – there are so many real crises in this world and this woman is worried about in-law party etiquette? It went on. Caller after caller. Imagined insults. Husbands treating wives like doormats but she really does love him. I spent all $9,000 of our savings on powerball tickets and now my wife is pissed. I have unresolved issues because my sister wouldn’t sit next to me on the bus twenty years ago.

These people are walking around amongst us, pretending to be functioning adults. Even worse – they’re voters. Ultimately these are the people who are voting on pretty complex issues that impact the economy, my pocketbook, and whether or not we’ll use federal funds to build the New Jersey Hurricane Sandy Memorial statue and Walmart tribute center.

It’s clearly time we establish some voter qualifications in this country. I propose the following simple requirements you must meet in order to receive your voter identification card:

  • You must either own property or have purchased a vehicle (of at least $5k in value) in the last five years AND be current on all payments.
  • You must have a job working a minimum of 30 hours a week, or have sufficient savings and/or retirement funds to support yourself and family.
  • Students must be paying for their own tuition or through the military.
  • You must be able to identify the number of zeros in a billion (multiple choice).
  • You must be able to identify the current vice president, speaker of the house, and senate majority leader.
  • Lawyers, people who own more than one cat, and drivers of those tiny little roller-skate looking electric cars are automatically disqualified.

Simple solutions that will get us back on the right track. Time for me to go watch Dr. Phil. I understand he has on some guy who talks to his mailbox because he believes it’s really a portal for him to speak to his brother who went missing twenty years ago.  It’s gunna be a good one!

Monkeys And Script Writing

The infinite monkey theorem states that an infinite number of monkeys in a room with typewriters, given an infinite amount of time, will produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Or Matt Groening. Recently Hollywood has embarked upon an ambitious effort to validate this theory. Fox studios bankrolled flotillas of monkeys, all tethered to tiny little typewriters (the monkeys were unable to manipulate iPads)  in giant air-conditioned warehouses. Thousands of monkey handlers kept the “writers” comfortable with banana smoothies and back rubs while they banged away at their tiny little keys. The result? Ridley Scott’s blockbuster hit Prometheus.

I’d be curious what the public thought of movies in the 60’s or 70’s. Were they bored with The Graduate or Hang ’em High? Today it seems rare when a movie has a great plot that feels original. There seems to be only two development tracks in Hollywood when it comes to big budget movies these days. The first track is a remake of an older film or TV show. Why waste money on a good story when you can re-hash something already done? The second path I’ll call the effects track. Otherwise known as “I have a gazillion dollar special effects budget and have already started blowing shit up (CG of course). The action figure production line in China is already in full swing. Someone should probably write some words to go with all this cool stuff.”

Prometheus felt more like the later. However, they certainly didn’t shy away from the implied tie to the original Alien series. The problem is that the monkeys, while certainly doing their job admirably, have little grasp of plot lines and story continuity. Dozens of plot lines never seemed to come together. Lack of clarity on character motivations. Understandable since monkeys, while seasoned space travelers, have little experience in the corporate world. They also have little understanding of basic human anatomy. Otherwise you wouldn’t have a primary character running, rapeling, and doing basic alien dodging (don’t worry, no spoilers here) mere minutes after major abdominal surgery. Uh, wait this is the future. Never mind. I forget that we’ve solved basic physiology issues in the future.

Oh, and if you’re going to invest a truck-load of cash in a mega star like Charlize Theron you may not want her to deliver lines like a robot. Unless she is. Or is she? Hmmm… Call me crazy, but for all that money I’d think you’d want your big star to have more than five minutes of screen time. And more nearly naked push ups. Just saying.

It’s Getting Hot In Here

I’m down in Palm Springs visiting family. It’s not my first time here so I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but… it’s hot. Early May and it’s reaching the upper 90’s by afternoon. That’s degrees for my European friends. I don’t know what that it is in celsius. Somewhere around 275 I think. I never could figure out all those zeros and decimal places with the metric system. I remember the “metric unit” in grade school. There was some sort of national push in the 70’s to convert the US to metric. I think there was some sort of uprising by 4th graders at the time. Rioting in the lunch room and sit-in’s on the playground convinced the president to abandon metric. Thank god. A royal with cheese just isn’t the same thing.

Anyway, it’s hot. Not surprising since it’s the desert and life isn’t supposed to exist here. Take a gazillion gallons of water from Northern California via the Colorado river, build approximately 20,000 golf courses and viola! You have a thriving city. What’s funny about the population here (besides the wacky golf clothes) is how they treat the heat. One of two things happens. This time of year when it’s merely hot and not melting your eyeballs they all say, “oh but you should have been here last week. It was absolutely beautiful! It’s a little warm, but when that valley wind howls through and blows all the sand off the patio it’s really lovely out.” Everyone lives in a state of weather denial. Sure it’s hot now, but there’s approximately 6 days in January  and a few in February when it’s perfect.

The second state of mind happens in about a month when temps reach 115+ (2,300 in celsius). The residents seem to take it as a badge of honor. “You think this is hot? Last August it got so hot all the rubber hoses in my car melted while I was driving to the mall.” Comparing AC bills seems to be some sort of desert living status symbol. The house I’m in has not one, but three AC units. Not joking, I wear a sweater (cute v-neck!) in the house to ward off hypothermia. Walk outside and you get hit in the chest with heat that rivals an iron smelting factory. Remember to bring your jacket to the mall because the temp inside will be subarctic. It’s amazing more old folks aren’t dropping off left and right from pneumonia.

When viewed from the comfort of your living room, it truly is a gorgeous setting. The beautiful San Jacinto mountains, lush green golf courses, faux spanish/Mediterranean/San Diego architecture, acres of high-end shopping to rival Beverly Hills, all combine to make a special place. A place too hot for rattlesnakes. Given my unnatural fear of snakes, maybe I should give this area a second thought? Hmm, no. Bermuda shorts just aren’t flattering on my figure.

Can I Get Some Service, Please?

I’m not sure when it happened. I wouldn’t have thought I’d get like this. I fear I’ve turned into a cranky old curmudgeon. Maybe not quite to the level of the shuffling old guy with hair sprouting out of ears like some sort of odd alien growth, but clearly I’ve lost patience with the average retail employee. When did it become okay to hire someone incapable of counting change back? I know I’ve turned into a crusty old codger when it annoys the crap out of me the way they hand your change back – one big pile of bills, coins, and a receipt. Would it really kill you to hand them to me separately the way it was hammered into my thick skull by the owner of the pizza place I worked at in my tender youth? If he ever caught you just dumping a wad of change in a customer’s hand you’d be on dishwasher duty before you knew what hit you.

Speaking of restaurants, what happened to actually having hostess/wait experience before working at mid/high level eateries? We were walking downtown the other night and decided to have a drink at semi-new place. The restaurant was practically empty. The hostess greeted us and we asked to be seated at a table overlooking the sidewalk (it’s all about people watching). She asked if it was for just drinks or dinner? When we said drinks she seemed exasperated and said “ok, these tables are for dinner but since we’re not busy I’ll let you sit there. But if I need the table I’m going to ask you to move.” Really? Do you think we’ll ever go back with that attitude? Not. I would have walked out, but once I have my mind set on an adult beverage I’m like a big dumb dog trying to get ball out from under the couch. Single minded, I don’t quit. Not sure why I don’t have that attitude in business, working out, gardening…

What got me started down this train of thought was McDonalds. I have to preface that it’s a rare event for me to dine at the golden arches. However I was making a multi-state drive and ended up in Winnemucca Nevada, hungry and in need of gas (the refined, dead dinosaur, petrol kind). One’s dining choices in the middle of nowhere are pretty limited, so off to Ray Kroc’s legacy I went. The visit started badly from the get-go. Generally speaking, I tend to be a rule follower. If someone went to all the trouble of creating a rule, heck you may as well follow it. Even as rigid as I am there are times when it seems appropriate to bend or interpret rules to fit the current situation. I found myself staring at the breakfast menu. I asked if they were serving lunch. The gal at the counter glanced at her watch and said, “I can’t serve you lunch for three more minutes.” Really? She’s going to make me wait for three minutes? Sure enough. I stepped back and we stared at each other like some sort of weird Mexican stand-off for three minutes. At the stroke of the hour she flipped the menus from breakfast to lunch and said, “Ok now I can serve you.” Made me wonder if somewhere off in McDonald’s corporate headquarters there’s a dark room full of monitors and technicians. All intently watching employees via secret cameras and hoping to catch someone serving a cheeseburger too early.

Speaking of corporate headquarters, I’m all in favor of the famous Micky-D’s efficiency and speed in food prep. I understand the need for the numbered menus. Simply asking for a number 3 is an unbelievable time savings. Heck, one could just have a sign printed and hold it up – no human conversation needed! The problem I faced with the keeper of universal breakfast and lunch times who was serving me was that the number 3 was close… but not exactly what I wanted. I said “I’ll have a quarter pounder with cheese and…” Like a drill sergeant she barked “Do you want a number 3!?” “Uhhm, if it’s cheaper sure. But I’d like large fries…” She looked at me like the soup nazi from Seinfeld and sighed, “So a number 3, up-sized fries. Will that be all?” She was starting to scare me a bit, but I had to press on. “I’d like coffee instead of a soda.” She looked at me for approximately 20 seconds without a word and then started taping buttons on her register like she was programming a missile shot. “That will be $8.63. A regular number 3 and a side coffee would have been cheaper.” At least I didn’t go through the drive-thru. As the famous life coach Leo Getz says, “They f*** you at the drive thru!”

Considering the IQ of the average retail employee these days is somewhere near a mossy boulder… I don’t see my tolerance level with humanity getting any better as I get older. Sigh. Maybe I’ll just go yell at pigeons in the park. That usually makes me feel better.

Unwelcome Guest

You start by dropping subtle hints. “Boy, I sure hope the septic system doesn’t explode today.” Or, “I wonder if giving those Mexican cartel guys my address was a bad idea?” If your guest doesn’t start packing, the next step is to assemble a potpourri of utensils and first aid supplies; tin snips, boning knife, a small chefs blow torch, a red-hot poker for cauterizing wounds, Bactine (no sting formula of course), and two small band-aids. No, I’m not talking about removal of those pesky in-laws. It’s the season for our outdoor friends – the relative of the arachnid family called Ixodidae. Otherwise known as the common tick.

While showering a couple of days ago (side note, I subscribe to the French method – bathe once a week, needed or not!) I noticed a new mole on the backside of my calf. Aside from ruining the photogenic qualities of my massive cycling gastrocnemius muscle, I wasn’t too worried about it. That is, until I examined it more closely and realized it was a freakish goblin sucking my life fluid from my body.

Eventually I contained my panic and the neighbors convinced me to go back inside. Everyone gets a little sensitive these days about naked guy in a tree covered with shampoo. I was fully prepared to lose the leg. They’re doing amazing work these days with prosthetic limbs, so I was pretty sure my long-term prospects were good. Fortunately just prior to slicing open my calf and slapping hot iron on the wound I remembered I’d purchased a tick key a while back.

 This cool little tool makes it super easy to remove the suckers. Just slide it over them and they pop right off. What’s not so easy is replacing all my clothes after the fire. I was going to wash what I’d worn hiking, but then I started thinking that I’d just have clean ticks in my basement. Logically it made sense to burn the contaminated clothes. Unfortunately those clothes had been thrown in the laundry basket… which of course was in the closet with all the other clothes.

Let’s just say that the fire and police departments didn’t appreciate the frenzy of lighter fluid and resulting bonfire in the backyard so soon after the naked tree incident. Lesson learned. On a positive note, it’s probably good my disco outfits went into the fire. Seeing how polyester and rayon burn was a little disconcerting.

Conversations With The Dog And Cat

I’ve been house sitting for friends while they’re away on an exotic beach somewhere. The conversations with their dog and cat have been interesting, so I thought I’d share:

On coming through the front door

Dog: Who’s there!? Who’s there!? Who’s there!? Who’s there!? It’s you! It’s you! It’s you! Oh my god I’m so excited! I need to find my toy, I’m hungry, where’s my toy, are we going for a walk, are we going for a walk? I need to pee.

Cat: What’s all this ruckus? Oh, I see you’ve come to visit again good sir. I don’t intend to get up from my spot, so be a good fellow and come over here and pet me. Now.

On watching TV

Dog: I know you’re hot, but I need to spread out on the entire couch with my head in your lap. See, isn’t this comfortable? You moved slightly – are we going for a walk? Are we walking? Are we going outside? I might need to pee.

Cat: The dog is such an inferior creature. I really don’t know why you tolerate him. OH SWEET JESUS MOTHERF****ING BALLS ON FIRE I NEED TO BE IN THE OTHER ROOM RIGHT NOW!!!!!

Dog: Don’t let that cat back on the couch.

Cat: This is my house and I’ll go anywhere I please. Right now I intend to sit in this doorway and quote Shakespeare in my loudest voice. Please enjoy.

On sleeping

Dog: I don’t know why they made my bed round. Hard to find the exact right spot to lay down. Turning, turning, turning… there, dammit, almost had it. Just a few more revolutions… turning, turning, turning, drop now! Nope, not it… turning, turning, turning, oh hell I give up. This spot right here will have to do. Sigh…

Cat: You’re not worthy of receiving a visit from me at this point in the evening. I have other business to attend to.

Dog: There’s something stuck on the roof of my mouth. I’ll just make this really loud slurping noise and see if I can dislodge it.

Cat: I’m enjoying the way the moonlight reflects through… MOTHER OF GOD HOLY HELL THE PAIN IN MY HEAD I NEED TO BE IN THE OTHER ROOM NOW!!!!!!    As I was saying, the moonlight is rather delightful this evening.

Dog: I really want to try a  few more turns and find the exact right spot. Ah heck, my legs are asleep. Oh well. Sigh….

Cat: I’m here now. Unfortunately, your head seems to be in my prefered spot. No problem my good man, I’ll just sit on your head. Be a good fellow and lay still.

Dog: What was that? Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Let’s go look. I’m going to look. What was I doing? Did you hear that? Oh, you’re getting up? Time for a walk? Is it time to eat? I have to pee.

Cat: Whatever.

Goodbye, California

Been a long time coming, but the day is finally here. Tomorrow I pack up my stuff and leave California. I won’t say I’m leaving forever – I already left once and never thought I’d come back, but this time the odds are not in the formerly golden states favor. Why? Two reasons; cost of living and lifestyle. For 2011 the ACCRA cost of living index has my city, San Jose, as the 6th most expensive place to live in the country. A very average 30+ year old track home in a decent school district goes for north of $700k. Property tax is 1.25%, so it’s not unusual to be paying $8-10 thousand dollars a year just in tax. Sales tax is 8.25% and projected to increase in 2012. San Jose has experienced a decade of budget deficits with no real hope of turning that around. Analysts put the overall California budget deficit for 2012 at $13 billion. 17 of the top 25 most expensive cities for gas prices are in California (thank you special-blend gasoline!). It’s a grim picture that’s only going to get worse. The state and cities have only one real option to increase revenue – raise every possible tax and fee they can get away with.

Money is certainly not the only reason to leave. Basic quality of life plays a huge role… and more so the older I get. The irony of living in the bay area is that, on paper, it offers everything you could want. An hour to the beach or the culture of San Francisco. Four hours to the mountains and fantastic skiing or hiking in Tahoe. Marin is the birthplace of mountain biking. Beautiful weather. So what’s the problem? People. Lots and lots of people. My work commute was routinely an hour-plus of stop-and-go, bumper to bumper traffic to go less than 20 miles. Leave for Tahoe on a Friday any later than 3pm and your four-hour drive becomes an eight-hour traffic nightmare. Don’t even think of heading to the beach on a sunny weekend day unless you want to leave super early in the morning to have a chance at finding parking, etc… Enjoy camping? State park reservations sell out six months to a year in advance.

As for mountain biking, bureaucracy, lawsuits, and powerful hiking lobbies rule the roost. In my local area there are, count-em, five different park agencies that control the trails. Each with different rules, regulations, and parking fees. Many popular trails sport rangers with radar guns who give tickets for exceeding trail speed limits. California, land of legislation.

Even with all the negative, it’s still hard to go. It is a beautiful place. Leaving family and friends is hard. Social media makes it much easier to stay in touch these days, but it’s certainly not the same as popping in for a weekend barbecue or bike ride with friends. I was born here. My roots are here. I remember when much of the Santa Clara valley was still apricot orchards. I remember surfing at the ‘hook before they put the concrete access stairs in. I remember $21 lift tickets at Sierra Ski Ranch and Kirkwood. Sleeping in my car in the parking lot to get first tracks in the morning. I’ve lived in 10+ places in the valley and watched them all change. Change that’s neither good nor bad – just different. Let’s just say that in many of those places, english is no longer the primary language. It’s the nature of our world these days. My sister the teacher would probably argue that my garbled prose barely qualifies as english, so I guess it all works out.

I first left California eighteen years or so ago, positive we’d never come back. A couple of states and six years later we found our way back. Fast forward twelve years and it’s time to head for greener pastures and new adventures. I’ll save the where for future postings. Suffice it to say that I leave with mixed emotions. Sad and happy at the same time. Nervous about the new direction and adventure, but brimming with excitement as well.

One thing I do know – you only go around in this life once and I’m not going to wait around dreaming of what could be. There’s no guarantee of a tomorrow in our contracts!