Friday, December 31, 2010
Another game & another number
I was fifteen the first time I won money gambling with adult males of the species. It was in a card game in a pool hall during the summer in the small, rural Minnesota town where I grew up. The game was pinochle. I was playing with three farmers who had been rained out from working in their fields. I had been asked if I knew how to play because all the other adults present were involved in their own games of cards or pool -- or, were too engaged with drinking beer and discussing philosophy, religion and the great issues of the day. Well, that might be exaggerating their discussions just a bit.
I lied, sort of, anyway. I said sure, I knew how to play pinochle. In fact, I had never played in my life, but I had watched the men play for a few weeks and was reasonably certain I could get by if just a bit of luck accompanied me into the game. My partner and I won that game in just two hands, which was literally unheard of with the rules under which we were playing. Long before summer ended, virtually every man who entered the pool hall to play cards wanted me as his partner for pinochle and buckeuchre (Buck Euchre), and my nickname was "Lucky" among the farmers.
Just for the record, I no slouch at pool, either, or at tossing dice for drinks. Rules were rules, which meant young men my age could not drink beer, only pop. But, the rules (at least, the local customs) did not prevent young men from shaking the cup of dice to see who would pay for a round of drinks at the card table.
I worked on a farm that summer, as many "town boys" did, and it was a rainy summer. The days in the pool hall frequently were more profitable than the days on the farm. The same proved to be true the next summer, when I worked in a supermarket, and the next summer, when I worked in a lumber yard.
A few years later, I concentrated more on Poker (in which I have had no luck at all -- neither good nor bad) and continued "handling the bones," with a considerable amount of time spent shooting Craps. This, as you might imagine, mostly took place in the Marine Corps and included one absolutely fabulous night at a back room Craps game in Reno.
A crapshooter's mantra sometimes is "seven come eleven." If you hit either of those numbers on the first roll of the dice, you are an automatic winner. Simply because of that, I adopted seven and eleven as my lucky numbers. I usually won at Craps, often by rolling those numbers, so it seemed very natural to stick with them in all matters.
Do you see where this is going? Fanciful mind that I sometimes display, I am convinced 2011 will be a lucky year for me. In the meanwhile, all I have to do is figure out what the 20 signifies and to look around for a seven. Just teasing .... sort of ....
All-in-all, 2010 was a good year for me and to me. It was fascinating in many ways, offering new experiences. It was profitable in some ways and, possibly, the beginning of a stroll along a new, long-lasting pathway. The past twelve months have taught me a few lessons, and I believe I see the world a bit more clearly now than I have in recent times, although I still have no clue what my role is in it -- or, if I even have an actual role in it. Whatever ....
Three ideas are floating through my mind as a new year looms on the horizon:
Buy a house in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul and hang out for a year or two writing and writing. This = safety & security.
Move to Florida, buy a boat and hang out for a year or two diving and diving. This = adventure & long-shot gambling.
Travel by ship (a freighter that accepts a few passengers) from America to Europe and decide what to do next upon arrival. There is a run from Duluth, Minnesota, through the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence River, across the Atlantic Ocean, through the North Sea and into the Baltic Sea to Gdansk, Poland. This = learning & potential self-discovery.
So, then. How do those three thoughts rate in terms of rolling the dice? And, while I am thinking of it, how do you spell hiatus?
The opening lines of the song lyrics
by Bob Seger
He wants to dream like a young man
With the wisdom of an old man
He wants his home and security
He wants to live like a sailor at sea
Where you gonna fall?
When you realize
You just can't have it all
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
One of the long-time-ago three best friends who I occasionally write about here, the woman, and I had an ongoing argument. At times, the argument rose to the level of shouting at each other.
This was the same woman, by the way, I once mentioned in a post in the context of shock and awe. In case you missed that post, our shock and awe was not in the nature of a military sweep by infantry troops or a barrage of bombs and missiles. It was this:
A few times, after a few drinks in a saloon where we were not well known, we would begin making out while sitting on stools at the bar. In a matter of moments, she would be on my lap and our hands would be as frantic as our lips. After a minute or two of this, we would abruptly stop, look around the barroom with startled expressions on our faces, grab our belongings and literally run for the door. There, we would stop, grapple for another moment or two or three, then rush out the door.
The origin of this had been one evening when it was not an act, not a performance, but, actually a spontaneous and genuine "fit of passion." We were both married at the time, and we collected our thoughts and controlled our emotions at some point along the dash between the bar and the car. Perhaps, that is why we remained friends.
In actuality, I was the cooler head, the calmer mind. She also wanted us to "run off" together and to begin another life together. I persuaded her that was not to be our destiny = not to be a road traveled.
Back to the original story. Our argument was this: I maintained that the only person worth competing against was oneself. My point might be illustrated by running. If I could run a mile in six minutes and my competitor could run a mile in five minutes, I should not be concerned about reducing my time in order to beat him, but simply should want to better my own time in the sense of bettering my own self.
My friend spoke passionately that she would be No. 2 to no one in any manner of undertaking without trying anything and everything to win. She was a hard competitor, and did not believe in being second best.
My next point in our debate was that no one can be the best at everything. So what if my competitor could run the mile faster than I could do it? Undoubtedly, there would be other competitive feats and ordinary tasks in which I could come out the winner.
No, she would say, you have to try to beat everyone at everything.
Neither of us would relent in our positions. We never did, but I do miss the arguments -- as well as our barroom improvisations. You see, her insistence at being the best at everything included being the best at kissing.
"Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known"
The first and the original last stanzas
by William Wordsworth
Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.
I told her this: her laughter light
Is ringing in my ears:
And when I think upon that night
My eyes are dim with tears.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Let me go to the window
I know a doctor who believes everyone needs a window to the outside world no matter where he lives or where he works. I mean a literal window. Although the doctor is a surgeon rather than a psychiatrist, he is offering this opinion from a psychological point of view.
To demonstrate the depth of feeling behind his statement, upon moving into a newly-constructed clinic building and assigned to an office without a window, he paid with his own money to have a hole knocked in the outer brick wall and to have a window installed where there had been only solid mass before.
"I need to see the sky and the rain and the grass to keep from going crazy," he told me.
His viewpoint is not particularly unique. Where do you think the term "cabin fever" or, more appropriate yet, "stir crazy" originated? True, those concepts have to do with a bit more than a windowless room, but they are treading down the same roadway.
The townhouse in which I lived last summer was pretty much identical to the one I am in now except for the view provided from the window. Last summer, from the front window, I saw only another row of townhouses a few yards away across a narrow street.
Now, compare that to the window in this townhouse. While not offering a look at the most picturesque landscape imaginable, it reveals a glimpse of river bottomland filled with trees which is typical of the southern Minnesota countryside and provides occasional sightings of a variety of wildlife.
Like my doctor friend, I agree than any window is better than no window, but I would argue that the real value for having one to look through rests upon what is to be seen beyond the glass and in its value/meaning to the beholder.
To serve a real purpose, I believe that a window must offer a vision which not only draws the person toward it -- no matter if it is drawing one outside or inside -- but into it, and even beyond it, to who knows where.
Perhaps, now would be a good time to renew a friendship with Alice, to discover if the window really is a window or, actually, is a mirror and, possibly, to follow her "Through the Looking-Glass."
At a Window
by Carl Sandburg
Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!
But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
It is no secret that I think cable television is ninety percent garbage television and an excellent example of how big government and big business form a monopolistic partnership to rip off the so-called huddled masses.
But, one of the few saving graces of cable television is that it serves as a time tunnel of sorts to programs and films from the past. Some of them -- many of them, come to think of it -- are excellent and, often, are beneficial, worthwhile entertainment which never would be seen today if it were not for cable television.
I guess you know where this is leading. A few nights ago, I watched an episode of "Twilight Zone" from 1959. It was the first year this show was on television, and the episode -- "Walking Distance" -- was among those written by the show's creator, Rod Serling. Here is an excerpt of the dialogue:
Robert Sloan: Martin.
Martin Sloan: Yes, Pop.
Robert Sloan: You have to leave here. There's no room, there's no place. Do you understand that?
Martin Sloan: I see that now, but I don't understand. Why not?
Robert Sloan: I guess because we only get one chance. Maybe there's only one summer to every customer. That little boy, the one I know -- the one who belongs here -- this is his summer, just as it was yours once. Don't make him share it.
Martin Sloan: Alright.
Robert Sloan: Martin, is it so bad where you're from?
Martin Sloan: I thought so, Pop. I've been living on a dead run and I was tired. And one day I knew I had to come back here. I had to get on the merry-go-round and listen to a band concert. I had to stop and breathe, and close my eyes and smell, and listen.
Robert Sloan: I guess we all want that. Maybe when you go back, Martin, you'll find that there are merry-go-rounds and band concerts where you are. Maybe you haven't been looking in the right place. You've been looking behind you, Martin. Try looking ahead.
So, now that you have read the dialogue, here is some background information about this episode. A middle-aged man, Martin Sloan, is driving cross-country when he stops his car at a gas station. He is worn-out, burned-out, depressed, disgusted and disgruntled. His thoughts are on the carefree days of his boyhood.
At the gas station, Martin is told by the attendant that his hometown, Homewood, is within "Walking Distance." He decides to go there and, when he arrives, Martin finds Homewood appears exactly as it existed when he was a boy.
As a note aside, I will mention that the actor portraying Martin is Gig Young, who was born and grew up in Minnesota. His usual role in films during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was that of a supporting character, frequently playing the best friend of the leading man. He was a much better actor than he is generally credited as having been and, I think, his performance in "Walking Distance" demonstrates that fact.
Martin eventually encounters himself as a boy, and following him home, meets his parents. Trying to convince his parents that he is their son from the future, he succeeds only in seemingly demonstrating his insanity. Martin is asked to leave by his parents.
Martin finds his childhood self on a carousel and tries to warn his younger self to enjoy his childhood before it is too late. His advances scare young Martin, who falls off the merry-go-round and injures his leg. This causes the adult Martin to begin walking with a limp.
Martin is then confronted by his father, who now believes his story about being his middle-aged son. His father advises him that everyone has their time, and that he should look to the future rather than to the past. Martin finds himself back in his own time, walking with a new limp.
Returning to the here and now: Sometimes obvious answers to dilemmas are found in the damnedest places. It could be that after having read the background regarding the story, you might wish to read the dialogue once again and, possibly, to think about it for a minute or two or three. Or, even watch the entire show and form your own opinion of it and its message ....
Friday, December 17, 2010
It has been a few years since I wrote a book review, and I am not going to do it now, but I noted a few days ago that I would "report back" regarding my first encounter with Mitch Rapp -- the protagonist of something like eleven novels by Minnesota writer Vince Flynn. (That was a long sentence.)
I never have been a fierce fan of spy/crime fighter/detective/soldier of fortune novels per se, but I have read some along the way. Alistair MacLean and Frederick Forsyth are a couple of examples of authors I particularly like in this domain. Under the category of a series of books with a long, ongoing character/hero, Ian Fleming, (James Bond), John le Carre (George Smiley), Clive Cussler (Dirk Pitt), Lester Dent (Doc Savage) and Tom Clancy (Jack Ryan) are novelists whose fictional characters are among those with whom I am reasonably well versed at reciting their exploits.
But, to illustrate that I am not an actual fan of the genre, Vince Flynn and his Mitch Rapp have been dominating best-seller lists for more than a decade and I do not recall running across them to the degree that I actually remembered them until a month or so ago.
In a few words, the novel which introduced me to Flynn and Rapp is the much acclaimed "American Assassin." It is the story of Rapp, a twenty-three-year-old recent college graduate who is recruited into an "off-the-books," contract group of assassins formed and operated by a few individuals within the CIA. These individuals believe America's campaign against terrorism has been soft and ineffective, so they launch their own "terminate with extreme prejudice" operations.
Rapp's wife-to-be was a passenger aboard Pan Am Flight 103 that was downed by a terrorist bomb over Scotland in 1988, and the setting for the novel is roughly twenty years ago. Rapp is determined to wreak vengeance (i.e., justice), is highly intelligent and an extraordinarily gifted athlete -- factors which combine to make him an ideal weapon in the war against terror.
Since this is not a review, I will only briefly state that the novel does present an accurate and concise description of the world that was in the 1980s and early 1990s in the Near East, and American involvement as it existed in places like Beirut, Lebanon, during that era. It also provides an accurate and concise picture of the intrigue and games played by intelligence and counter-intelligence officers during Cold War years. In a sense, it is an actual recital of history.
I found no faults with the book other than it ended too abruptly for my taste. It could have been (and should have been, I think) another fifty pages in length to provide more description, detail and character study/reaction to the final events as they unfolded: To put more meat on the bones of this tale and its central characters, in a manner of speaking.
A fascinating (to me, anyway) element to the story is that Rapp, like Fleming's James Bond and unlike le Carre's George Smiley or Clancy's Jack Ryan, is considerably more than a bit of a sociopath. In a sentence, Rapp could well be the next evolutionary step in "good guy" killers, succeeding Bond.
Conversely, Rapp lacks the intellectual and the emotional qualities of the "good guy" killers in le Carre's or Clancy's worlds -- men who understand love rather than simply experience sex, and who are capable of feeling remorse and guilt for their actions -- which makes him "less real," less believable and, certainly, less literary. (Another very long sentence. So, shoot me with a Walther PPK. Do I care?)
In essence, there is not much difference between the bad guys and the good guys in their actions and reactions except that the bad guys are after wealth and power while the good guys are after justice and, ultimately, peace on earth.
A candidate for a master's degree or a doctorate could do worse than to prepare a thesis/dissertation examining the evolution of spies, assassins and soldiers of fortune in literature over the span of the last generation or two. (Longer, if Dent's creation, Doc Savage, were to be included, since most of these books were written during the 1930s.)
I have read a synopsis of Flynn's other novels about Rapp and, frankly, the story line in all of them seems a bit too far-fetched to interest me, so I doubt I will pick up another unless someone gives it a great recommendation. The fly in the ointment of the Mitch Rapp series is that our young "Ubermensch" seems to me to be presented as an individual only one step away from donning a cape and flying to the rescue. I prefer fictional (as well as real-life) characters, including assassins, to have both feet on earth.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
It was in August 2008 when I first arrived on the sea of blogs. I was "following" a young lady I had met and who had asked me to read her posts.
In early January 2009, I began wandering around -- reading and looking. A few days later, I began my own blog. Two weeks later, I began a second blog. About two weeks later, I decided to run with just the second and dropped the first.
During the intervening two years, the most puzzling element of life on the blogs has been how many of those who were active when I began have since become very sporadic at posting or, in some cases, have gone away entirely.
It is disappointing in a sense, but not surprising. It basically proves that most bloggers are more interested in expressing themselves than in communicating with other people -- which is only natural.
What is most disappointing, following this line of thought, is that most people demonstrate this aspect not only by ceasing to write and/or to display photographs, but they also cease visiting others who, for one reason or another, they chose to follow.
In a sentence, I think this provides one more demonstration of how impersonal and shallow internet communications are when compared to real-world communications.
The circle lasts a lifetime
In the news business, something I was associated with for a few years, there is a custom of doing "roundup" stories at the end of the year under such categories as top ten news events of the year; top ten news makers of the year; ten best photographs of the year; ten worst natural disasters of the year. On and on.
This year, I am inventing a deviation to this concept and measuring my life in certain aspects experienced to this point. Here are some of the things I have been listing:
Foreign nations visited (either in the military, for business reasons, or as a tourist): Four in the Far East, two in the Near East, five European, four in Africa, three in south or middle America; one north of the U.S. American border (yes, I know there only is one there); and, and, and .... I guess that is it.
States lived in as a resident: Four; states lived in as a civilian non-resident: Two; states simply visited or traveled through or underwent military training in: Twenty-one, plus the District of Columbia
Seventeen cars or trucks owned; seventy-seven pistols, rifles or shotguns owned; two wives who owned me .... well, that seems like a good place to stop.
Now, the reason for this exercise: It is part of an attempt to look for some variations, some new experiences for the months ahead. It is obvious a person could travel forever and still never see everything. It is also likely there is no pot of gold or "magic person" at the end of the rainbow. So, why bother to look?
After a while, life seems to be nothing more than walking around in a circle. So, if I seem to be jaded, it is only because I am truly bored -- especially with snow and cold = winter.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
In America, even today, sixty-nine years after the fact, the Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor still is observed and remembered. Yesterday's enemies are today's friends and allies, something I will never understand -- but, such is life, and there are many things I do not understand about life.
But, of more significance to me, December 7, is the anniversary of the argument my second wife and I experienced which eventually and directly led to our divorce. Perhaps, at this point in time, of even more importance to me on the calendar is December 10. That day will mark the thirteenth anniversary of my departure from the world of smoking.
If you have not heard this tale, here is the abbreviated version. I decided back then that the time had come for me to quit smoking. My habit during that era of my life included three or more packs of cigarettes a day (Salems and Camel straights), one or two cigars and an occasional pipe load.
Being a man of sound fiscal habits, I smoked the last of my cigars and pipe tobacco, and began work on the remaining cigarettes in the final carton I had purchased. As fate would have it, at approximately 2:00 p.m. on December 10, 1997, I lit the last cigarette in the last pack from the last carton I had and I smoked it.
I never looked back, but ....
As you might imagine ....
Probably every two or three months, I will tell someone that I miss smoking and that I am thinking about resuming the habit again. Maybe, just with cigars, I always am sure to add, because a good cigar literally makes my mouth water the way some food does, simply at the thought of them. But, so far, I have not done so.
Mind over matter. Not so tough if you really want something. Anything you really want, in terms of yourself, I believe, you can have if you really, actually do want it. Anyway, that has been my experience.
I do not think I would like him
There is not a great deal I wish to say about the band, Night Ranger, whose music I have posted here today, but I will make two remarks.
I think the band is greatly under-rated for its musical talent. It had a number of major, heavy-duty, rock songs, and the guitar work verges on the spectacular at times. Just watch and listen, if you do not believe me.
Then, too, is the stamina and the energy displayed during performances. Try dancing in your living room to this song, for instance, at the pace the music demands, and see if you make it to the end. I would bet you do not.
This is just one more band I regret never having seen live on stage. Like many things, it is my own fault that I did not attend a concert, because I probably could have made it to one. But, a person does not have time to go everywhere and to do everything. Life is just too damn brief, and there are not enough of them (lives, I mean) to make me happy. If there is a god, I do not think I would like him simply because of his design flaws when planning our existence.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Perhaps it is the fault of James
"Anyone who occasionally stops by here (and actually takes the time to read what has been written here) probably knows that I" -- sound familiar ?? I just copied those words from a post that I wrote a few days ago, but here begins new words -- seldom read a book that has not been around for a decade or two or three or more.
The reason is simple. I believe most books published today are literally not worth the paper they are printed on, and probably will have disappeared from the shelves of bookstores and libraries even before you have the opportunity to log in at eBay looking for a bargain price.
A book that has been in publication (and remains so) for a generation or two has proven its worth simply by still being in existence. Enough people continue to buy the book to justify a publisher re-issuing it even when it goes out of print. These are the books for me -- books that have proven themselves to be of enduring value.
All right. Now, to the point.
I picked up a copy of "American Assassin" by Vince Flynn a few days ago. I did so after watching a few James Bond films and listening to a few motion picture themes from the Bond series. This novel has been to the top of the New York Times best seller list for fiction and I have heard it mentioned by a few on television, so my curiosity got the better of me. Just to be real, I thought this book might be fun (even educational ??), and I hoped to discover how a new master at his espionage tradecraft might compare with the old grandmaster.
I will report back on my findings at a later date.
Diamonds never lie to me
Playing the "You Only Live Twice" music here a few days ago started me listening to more compositions from the James Bond films.
Shirley Bassey sang four of the Bond movie themes, more than anyone else, and, probably, the most recognizable ones. So, here are two from Ms. Bassey: "Diamonds are Forever" and "Goldfinger" -- songs and motion pictures by the same names. I assume there are many women in the world who would agree with the lyrics in the "diamonds" piece:
Unlike men, the diamonds linger;
Men are mere mortals who
Are not worth going to your grave for.
I don't need love,
For what good will love do me?
Diamonds never lie to me,
For when love's gone,
They'll lustre on.
Diamonds are forever, forever, forever.
During this listening period, I realized how little I knew about Ms. Bassey, so I took a look at her biography. She is British, Welsh, to be precise and, much to my surprise, she will be seventy-four years old next month.
The videos I have included here were made when she was sixty-three. She is a bit of a "showboat" with her gestures and her voice is not so smooth as it once was, but she sounds great, I think, and it is fun to see how much she is enjoying herself during these performances.
A personal note to close
Well, I signed on for an extra month in this townhouse, which means I am here until the end of January. It was not a difficult decision for a couple of reasons: Who wants to move on New Year's Eve (??) and I really have no immediate plans other than taking care of the family situation that will reach at least into January. In other words, since I am stuck here anyway, why change addresses in the middle of the situation?
In the meanwhile, another seven or eight inches of snow are expected between Friday and Saturday, which absolutely thrills me to pieces. Now, if I lived in the country, I might not mind it so much.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
You only live .... how many times ??
Anyone who occasionally stops by here (and actually takes the time to read what has been written here) probably knows that I keep one or two televisions on by my computers from sunrise (more-or-less) until sunset (give-or-take eight or nine hours).
A few days ago, a series of James Bond films was being shown on the Science Fiction channel around here. (Do not ask me why the Science Fiction channel chose to do this; the early Bond movies were completely within the realm of plausibility and bore absolutely no resemblance to the genre.) Anyway, one motion picture in the series was, "You Only Live Twice."
The music captured me. The melody is nice, but it was the words which really caught my attention. Here are some of them:
You only live twice or so it seems
One life for yourself and one for your dreams
You drift through the years and life seems tame
Till one dream appears and love is its name
And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on
Don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone
This dream is for you, so pay the price
Make one dream come true, you only live twice
John Barry and Leslie Bricusse, two well-known songwriters in the world of motion pictures, wrote the piece. The film-version singer was Nancy Sinatra. She is the daughter of Frank. Her career was not as long or so great as was his, but, I think I like the words of this song better than those of any Frank ever sang.
And, for your edification (if you even care), here is an attempt at composing a haiku by "James Bond" (meaning, of course, by Ian Fleming, the novelist who wrote the Bond books). It is entitled, "You Only Live Twice," and it is from this poem which the title of the book, the subsequent film and the movie's theme song all originate. In an epigraph to the novel, Fleming wrote that Bond's haiku was done in the style of Seventeenth Century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho.
"You Only Live Twice"
by James Bond
You only live twice:
Once when you're born
And once when you look death in the face.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Nothing else need be said.
Nature is not so cruel as mankind
"As You Like It"
Act II, Scene 7
by William Shakespeare
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
A year to be remembered
There seems to be little doubt that 2010 will be remembered by me as one of the more unusual and, perhaps, more unique years of my life.
For nearly four months, I lived in another country as a civilian, rather than as a tourist simply passing through for a few days or as a man wearing a military uniform. I have lived in seven locations altogether. I have been in love. I sold a house. I bought a Chevrolet Suburban, sold an Audi A4 and, earlier this week re-bought the Ford Mustang that I sold last year. I might add that I bought and sold a few firearms, but that actually is pretty typical every year for me.
The year began hopeful and as one I was looking forward to experiencing. It is ending with more questions than answers, and with my road forward being one murky, muddy and a bit of a mystery. As I noted a few days ago, a situation has arisen which will require my time and attention at least well into January and, possibly, longer.
My point is that it seems I am in the midst of one of the periodic life changes we all go through from time to time -- all of us, that is, except those who spend forty or fifty years living in the same house and going to the same job day in and day out and never questioning their role or purpose in life.
The ideas I am considering pursuing when this obligation of a few months has been completed are all over the map, both figuratively and literally. I am thinking about looking for a newspaper job again; I am thinking about living in Minneapolis/St. Paul again (can you believe that, after my woodland and water diatribe?); I am thinking about returning to Warsaw or heading out to live for a time in some other European capital city; I am thinking about building a house again, on land I have in South Dakota or, maybe, somewhere along the North Shore of Lake Superior; I am thinking about moving to Florida, at least for a while. This is but a sampling of the thoughts that have been going through my mind the past five or six days.
I also am considering leasing a house or a townhouse right here, where I am, for five or six months, and writing, writing, writing without distraction.
So often, people feel trapped by the lives they are living -- jobs they do not like or marriages that are unhappy probably are the primary causes of these situations. I have no such problems. My dilemma is just the opposite. I have too much freedom and too many choices, and my nickname at this point in time might well be "Mr. Indecisive."
I do have a tendency to procrastinate, but, somewhere along the line, lightning will strike and a course will be set and all that will be visible is a cloud of dust in the direction I have gone.
I wonder if I would do better -- if any of us would do better -- if we could live our lives, say, three consecutive times with full knowledge of the first two when we arrived at the third.
Yes, I wonder .... do you?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Home is far from the huddled masses
Part 3 of 3
The entire sequence of these posts began with and ends with this thought: Where, if you think at all in terms of comfort, security and freedom, do you most feel this way?
For me, it is no contest: In a home beneath the trees and near the water -- far away from the "huddling masses" of Ellis Island or the southwestern American "war zone" borders; far away from the inner city Black or Italian or Mexican or Vietnamese or Hmong or Colombian gangs; far away from the Twin Towers or the Texas Tower or the Ivory Towers; far away from the Street With No Name or Wall Street or a ghetto street.
Some of these thoughts originate because in the woodlands, to reiterate, because of some innate sense, I am a predator. On the streets in a city, I feel like I am the prey. Silly? I do not know, but the look of prey often is reflected in the eyes of city dwellers. Have you not seen this yourself?
People go to the city primarily for work, because they usually can make more money in such a setting. Secondly, they go, I think, to keep themselves readily entertained. But, once there, because they quickly lose their identity due to having become a tiny speck in the midst of a sandstorm of humanity, they search for all manner of devices to maintain their sanity, their hold on reality, their sense of purpose, their role in life. They struggle with any number of unanswered questions about life and living -- questions whose answers are readily found simply though a walk on a frozen lake or through a sunny meadow or under the canopy of a dense forest.
For me, there is more beauty in a running deer than in a speeding car, more art in the shape of a snowflake than in any painting made by man, more spirituality to be found in a forest glade than in the most magnificent cathedral. If you disagree with me, all right; if you do not, why then, would anyone choose city life over country life? I do not understand, and I am curious. Please, explain this to me, if you can.
This piece began simply as a few random comments to accompany the photograph of the apartment building where I lived last Winter in Warsaw. Somewhere along the way, it became a search for an answer to a question I frequently ask: Why would anyone choose to live in a crowded city?
To draw this to a conclusion, I wish to live for the length of a season in a few more major, metropolitan areas simply for the experience, for learning, for finding out first-hand whether my thoughts and beliefs change in regard to city life and city dwellers. But, as I wrote when I closed Part 1, I do not think I ever will take up permanent residence in one -- at least until I am too old to run in the woodlands and to swim across the rivers.
Crime + book + movie = money
Movie music by Jerry Goldsmith -- for a final time -- with this selection among his seventeen compositions nominated for an Academy Award.
This musical score is from the motion picture, "Papillon," which is not a film about either butterflies or dogs. Sorry, if that disappoints you. Rather, it is a motion picture based on a book written by Henri Charriere, a Frenchman and a petty thief who managed to get himself convicted for the murder of a pimp.
Charriere's story and the subsequent movie describe his years of confinement in prisons in French Guiana, including a few years in the penitentiary on the infamous Devil's Island. He made several attempts to escape before finally succeeding. In all, he spent about twelve years in prison.
As has been the pattern of this series, a clip from the film itself is included to offer a taste of the performance.
Perhaps the moral of Charriere's life is that crime does pay -- if you write a book about it and if someone in Hollywood reads it and likes it.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Were we born for where we live?
Part 2 of 2 .... whoops ....
Changed my mind; now Part 2 of 3
In the past, I have been quoted as saying that you could drop me off in the middle of any wilderness area -- woodland, desert, arctic -- and I would walk out a few days later with a smile and probably healthier and happier than I had been when the trek began. I also have been quoted as saying that put me in a town that is larger than two blocks long north and south bisecting another two blocks east and west, and I probably would be lost within ten minutes.
Believe me, I have witnesses who can verify both these statements as factual.
I also have been quoted as saying that I feel more safe and secure in a wilderness area than I do in any city. This, undoubtedly, has evolved from partially learned skills. But, I firmly believe, this mainly is the result of innate instincts and talents that cannot be learned by just anyone or taught to just anyone. It is either there, inside, or not.
This coincides with my comment in Part 1 to the effect that looking out of the windows of The Apartment overlooking Castle Square in Warsaw made me "comfortable and uncomfortable in the same breath."
This (or that) is me. My assumption is there are people who "are born" for the city, just as I was born for the woodlands, although it is difficult for me to understand how anyone could be that way inherently. I would greatly appreciate having a city-lover explain that side of the coin to me in some way other than saying there always is something happening in the city, always something to do in a city (i.e., the "entertain me" factor).
Museums, galleries, stage plays, libraries, concerts can be (and should be, I think) the nourishment of city dwellers. Despite my woodland leanings, do I enjoy these things any less than the typical resident of Warsaw or Minneapolis or Los Angeles? No. Unequivocally no. As a matter of fact, I probably enjoy them and appreciate many of these places and activities more than the average metropolitan inhabitant. And, I am not without knowledge of music and art, particularly in a historical context.
In a more important sense to the masses, the city is the epicenter of more base entertainment and rather mindless activities. To verge on being rude, it seems to me it is the place where the person who is most incapable of entertaining himself or keeping himself occupied with beneficial activities would be the happiest.
Now, then, from my point of view the best part about living in the center of a major, metropolitan city is the people. And, the worst part -- yes, you guessed it -- is the people. I am no less fascinated by people on the street than I am by objects in a museum or paintings in a gallery. Perhaps, the difference to me is that a painting in a gallery, for example, represents the inner being of the artist, while the person walking down the street, more than likely, is someone whose inner being I will never know.
(To be continued)
More music from the movies
Since Part 1 of this piece included the musical score written by Jerry Goldsmith for the film, "The Wind and the Lion," it seems natural to include his work for another movie here along with Part 2. So, I selected the score from the "The 13th Warrior." Goldsmith was an Academy Award-winning composer and conductor who died in 2004.
This movie, "The 13th Warrior," is based on a novel, "Eaters of the Dead," by Michael Crichton, who stole the story (literally, in my opinion) from an old manuscript written by one Ahmad Ibn Fadian, a 10th Century Muslim who traveled with Vikings up the Volga River into the land of the Norse.
The fact that Ibn Fadian made this journey is historically established. His account of the battles at the end of his trek, however, are generally accepted as being his own recounting of the "Beowulf" legend rather than a report on his actual experience. Somewhere amongst my papers in a storage unit here in Minnesota are copies of Ibn Fadian's escapade in the original Arabic, as well as in English translation.
In addition to the music, I cannot resist from including a brief clip from the end of the film.
This motion picture is good, if not great, especially for its utilization of actual Viking customs and beliefs and habits -- and, for a glimpse of the story of Beowulf, if you are not acquainted with him, and his destruction of the man-beast Grendel, who slays and eats men, and of Grendel's demon mother. I would recommend it.
For this segment of my post, I will sign off as Abu Ian rather than as Fram.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
A season in the city
Part 1 of 2
Looking through some photographs taken last winter in Warsaw very naturally brought back a few memories. Among my favorite activities was "people-watching" from the third-floor windows of The Apartment overlooking Castle Square to the front and the narrow, alley-like Piwna Street to the side. It made me comfortable and uncomfortable in the same breath.
I have experienced very brief stays in the center of major, metropolitan areas in the past -- a few days here and there -- but never actually lived in one before. I came close some time ago, almost moving to downtown Minneapolis simply for the experience of doing what I did in Warsaw: to live in the midst of crowded civilization.
I always have needed and usually have lived with trees and water, or, sometimes farm fields, in sight from my windows. Even when living in metropolitan regions, this has been the case. I once lived in Burnsville, a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul. From the yard, I could look one direction and see the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis about twenty miles distant. I could turn and see nothing but cornfields and groves of trees in the other direction.
When I moved to Montana, I lived in a town. It was the eastern side of the state, semi-arid, with miles and miles of flatlands. I quickly grew lonesome for the presence of trees and water in my life. Once or twice a week, I drove out to a place along the Missouri River where I could sit beneath a tree and watch the river on its journey toward the next river and on to the sea.
When I built my Sanctuary/Refuge, it was on a hilltop, in the midst of thousands of trees going on for miles, with the Missouri River in sight.
The Apartment in Warsaw also was my only civilian experience of ever being without an automobile or a truck for more than a day or two. I did not like it, living this way, but not because I felt compelled to drive somewhere else. I actually do not like to drive, and much prefer to be a passenger. But, and many people cannot understand this, having a vehicle in a garage is much like having a pistol in a desk drawer: It is symbolic and emblematic of security, a measure and an expression of freedom, of mobility and of the ability to go where I want when I want and to live as a free man.
Yes, of course, it is possible to live that way in a city -- I mean to own a vehicle and a pistol there -- but psychologically it is not the same. Sometime, if you do not understand that, I might try to explain it, but not now.
So, I still hope to spend a Winter or a Summer or some period of time actually living at the center -- within the core -- of a few more major, metropolitan cities rather than merely visiting them. But, I do not think I ever will take up permanent residence in one -- at least until I am too old to run in the woodlands and to swim across the rivers.
(To be continued)
The music becomes the film
The word "nomad" recently entered into the discussion of life as I experience it. The word, which I sometimes use as a password on the Internet, incidentally, brought to mind deserts and, from there, my thoughts leapt to the musical score from "The Wind and the Lion." So, what else could I do other than include that music as part of this post?
Once the music was in, I turned to the movie itself, which easily falls into my list of all-time favorites -- probably into the top dozen or so. For anyone who has never seen this motion picture, I would suggest buying it, renting it or even stealing it. Experiencing this film is worth the risk.
The movie is loosely based on actual events that occurred in 1904, and while the story line is stretched to fictional ends, primarily to create a romance element, many historical facts are woven into the tale.
For the sake of "Semper Fidelis," I included with this post the scene showing U.S. Marines storming the palace of the Pasha of Tangier. Those of you who would prefer to see Sean Connery and Candice Bergen playing chess will have to secure the film for yourselves.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
When is enough enough?
I will let you know ....
Not being an entomologist -- or any sort of "ist" at the moment -- I am not certain of the proper identification of the "bug" in the photograph. If you did not notice him, he is to the lower left on the rim of the "soup bowl cup." Around here, proper name unknown, this little critter is called an Asian beetle or a "ladybug."
Four of them came to visit me a few days ago (actually, many more, but only four made it into the kitchen area). This particular guy (or gal) spent several hours walking round and round on the rim of a soup bowl cup. It seemed he never stopped. Just round and round. A few feet away, another ladybug was doing the same thing on the rim of a small plate. Round and round, where it stops, nobody knows, to borrow a phrase from roulette players.
This image could have been a self-portrait of my life, I thought as I watched him move and move, walk and walk, round and round. Then, I wondered if this is a habit or a trait of all living creatures. Is everyone and everything which is moving through life traveling only in a circle?
I am not thinking in a philosophical or religious context of traveling the cycle of life from birth to death but, rather, a literal sense of repeating the same steps over and over again throughout our lives: Enjoying the same victories, experiencing the same mistakes and defeats, being attracted to a single type of personality -- in which, the relationship is doomed to failure even as it begins. Well, you name it.
So, the exercise then becomes, how does one break free of this circular path? When is enough enough? How does one quit his endless march around the rim of his own personal soup bowl cup?
If I figure it out, I will let you know ....
Plans sometimes fall apart
Anyone who comes here (and actually reads here) knows one of my often-expressed desires is to spend no more winters alone. This aphorism was born during a particularly harsh winter while I was snowbound a few times for days at a time. Unfortunately, despite my more-or-less best efforts, I have found myself spending more winters alone than I have with a companion.
Plans for (most of) this winter with a companion have fallen apart due to a situation with requires my full time presence and attention for two months (?), hopefully, no more than three. But, my prospective companion has decided this is much too long to wait, and said, goodbye. Such is life.
So, now the question arises, what should become of me come the end of January, or February (god, I hope no longer), as the case might be? The world awaits but, you know, these days the world seems to be a lot like the rim of a "soup bowl cup" for me.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Dust of Snow
by Robert Frost
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
from "Warrior Culture of the U.S. Marines"
by Marion F. Sturkey
Ask any Marine. Just ask. He will tell you that the Marine Corps was born in Tun Tavern on 10 November 1775. But, beyond that the Marine's recollection for detail will probably get fuzzy. So, here is the straight scoop:
In the year 1685, Samuel Carpenter built a huge "brew house" in Philadelphia. He located this tavern on the waterfront at the corner of Water Street and Tun Alley. The old English word tun means a cask, barrel, or keg of beer. So, with his new beer tavern on Tun Alley, Carpenter elected to christen the new waterfront brewery with a logical name, Tun Tavern.
Tun Tavern quickly gained a reputation for serving fine beer. Beginning 47 years later in 1732, the first meetings of the St. John's No. 1 Lodge of the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Temple were held in the tavern. An American of note, Benjamin Franklin, was its third Grand Master. Even today the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia recognizes Tun Tavern as the birthplace of Masonic teachings in America.
Roughly ten years later in the early 1740s, the new proprietor expanded Tun Tavern and gave the addition a new name, "Peggy Mullan's Red Hot Beef Steak Club at Tun Tavern." The new restaurant became a smashing commercial success and was patronized by notable Americans. In 1747 the St. Andrews Society, a charitable group dedicated to assisting poor immigrants from Scotland, was founded in the tavern.
Nine years later, then Col. Benjamin Franklin organized the Pennsylvania Militia. He used Tun Tavern as a gathering place to recruit a regiment of soldiers to go into battle against the Indian uprisings that were plaguing the American colonies. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Continental Congress later met in Tun Tavern as the American colonies prepared for independence from the English Crown.
On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned Samuel Nicholas to raise two Battalions of Marines. That very day, Nicholas set up shop in Tun Tavern. He appointed Robert Mullan, then the proprietor of the tavern, to the job of chief Marine Recruiter -- serving, of course, from his place of business at Tun Tavern.
Prospective recruits flocked to the tavern, lured by (1) cold beer and (2) the opportunity to serve in the new Corps of Marines. So, yes, the U.S. Marine Corps was indeed born in Tun Tavern. Needless to say, both the Marine Corps and the tavern thrived during this new relationship.
Tun Tavern still lives today. And, Tun Tavern beer is still readily available throughout the Philadelphia area.
Friday, November 5, 2010
To dive and to dive and to dive
A few years ago (actually, more than a few, but, please, do not tell anyone) I was on a submarine (yes, I am serious) just off an island called San Clemente in the Pacific Ocean sort of between San Diego and Los Angeles, California.
Yes, again. This was while I was in the Marine Corps. I just had completed a three-week scuba/dive school, compliments of the U.S. Navy, and we now were being taught how to exit a submarine about fifty feet below the surface in order to swim ashore and do some damage and destruction. (If you do not like this story, go back and read the one about the bar in La Jolla, California, or the one about the bar in Tijuana, Mexico -- whoops, I guess I never have written about the one in TJ; maybe sometime.)
Well, I was a pretty good swimmer back in those days. (Only a year or two ago, mind you). I had swum as far as twelve miles and been down to a depth of about one-hundred-twenty feet as a high school boy in Lake Superior.
Anyway, when we exited the submarine, two at a time, on a buddy system, I waved my mate goodbye and, for a reason I did not know then and still do not know today, I swam downward instead of upward. I mean intentionally. Did I mention this was at night, in total, complete darkness, which complicated the task of knowing which way to swim toward the surface? (Try it, if you doubt me. This makes for a good excuse, if one is needed.)
To make the proverbial long story short, I did not reach the bottom before I turned and began to swim to the surface. I later learned the depth was about three hundred feet in that particular area, so I did not feel badly about not making it. (Yes, I am trying to be funny.) No one could have made it without air tanks and decompression stops on the way back up. (We wore only wet suit, mask, fins and snorkel.)
At the surface, I found my buddy more-or-less drifting along, waiting for me, smoking a cigarette. (Yes, I almost always am serious; he was nearly as bad as I was, and has been dead for a while, so certainly he cannot mind me saying that about him.)
After enjoying a few drags from his cigarette (yes, lung cancer caught up with him), we made our way ashore and, upon establishing contact with the others in our group, proceeded to scold them for being late and making us wait. (Sometimes it is absolutely amazing how gullible some people can be.)
Three points: Me, and he, too, but to a bit lesser extent than me, broke a dozen rules which meant we were complete idiots and endangered ourselves and others. But, we were young and we were Marines. That combination is lethal in many ways, often to ourselves as well as to others.
Next, I frequently joke these days that if there had been as many programs on television about sharks in those times as there are now, especially Great White Sharks, I do not think I would have been so carefree and nonchalant about swimming in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. (I joke, but, still again, I really am serious when I say it; maybe the Air Force in the next life -- somewhere with no sharks around, in any case.)
Finally, I sometimes wonder if I could have reached the bottom that night and, if so, what I would have found there, off shore from San Clemente Island in the Pacific Ocean. My logical mind tells me that I could not have and, as if offering proof positive, informs me that even if I had, there is no way I possibly could have returned to the surface alive. This is true. But, this does not stop me from wondering and from remembering each and every second of those moments, and the exhilaration during them.
The mystery of life, it seems to me, lies in wondering "what if," even when it defies human logic and common sense ....
by Herman Melville
We drop our dead in the sea,
The bottomless, bottomless sea;
Each bubble a hollow sigh,
As it sinks forever and aye.
We drop our dead in the sea,—
The dead reek not of aught;
We drop our dead in the sea,—
The sea ne'er gives it a thought.
Sink, sink, oh corpse, still sink,
Far down in the bottomless sea,
Where the unknown forms do prowl,
Down, down in the bottomless sea.
'Tis night above, and night all round,
And night will it be with thee;
As thou sinkest, and sinkest for aye,
Deeper down in the bottomless sea.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
October is the cruelest month
I feel very sad tonight. Tonight and tomorrow night will be my last nights in the Lake House. Within a few days after moving here, I said I had fallen in love with this house. This is true. The only thing that did not make it a perfect house was its location. That is not the fault of the house, but it also is true. Even in dollars and cents that is true. Being on this side of the road, away from the lake side, means it is worth $250,000 less than it would be if it were across the road and right on the lakeshore. Everything has a value, rightly or wrongly.
Yes, in this case the difference between $650,000 and $400,000. Anyone care to make a bid?
This house does have life. I mean an actual life within itself, of its own. Of that, I am certain. There are many noises; some from the house still settling (it is only four years old); some from animation absorbed from those who have lived here or have visited here; some from the manitou of the house itself.
It actually has locked me out twice, well, three times, but the first was my fault. In the last two instances, unlocked doors became locked during the thirty or forty minutes I was outside walking in a meadow just up the hill behind the house. It wanted me to stay inside, and not to leave it even for a few minutes just beyond its doors. Or, maybe, it was angry at me for leaving it and was telling me not to come back. Who knows?
This evening, I went for a walk in the dark. It was the first time I have done that down the road which runs in front of the house during the two months that I have lived here. I have gone for a walk at night many, many times in the meadow just up the hill behind the house. I have stood there at times for a seemingly infinite moment, watching the stars, watching the moon -- listening for the sounds of the night and the creatures of the night, ready to growl back. It has been a good experience to do this.
Then, I returned to the Lake House and turned on every light I could find. It was the first time I have done that. Then, I returned to the road in front of the house with my camera and took a few photographs. Here, you see one. The upper room on the left, incidentally, is where I have had my computers and write these things to you. The upper room on the right has been the bedroom in which I have slept for the past two months.
On Sunday these things will end, and for one more time I will leave one place and move along to the next place. It seems like an endless walk, a road never traveled by anyone before me, with a destination I could not imagine no matter how hard I tried -- could not fathom even if I sold my soul for a mere hint, a simple clue. The end will be there waiting for me, probably laughing at me, hopefully welcoming me.
So, goodbye, October. Goodbye, Lake House. You see now? You believe me now? I told you October is the cruelest month.
The Deserted House
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Life and Thought have gone away
Side by side,
Leaving door and windows wide.
Careless tenants they!
All within is dark as night:
In the windows is no light;
And no murmur at the door,
So frequent on its hinge before.
Close the door; the shutters close;
Or through the windows we shall see
The nakedness and vacancy
Of the dark deserted house.
Come away: no more of mirth
Is here or merry-making sound.
The house was builded of the earth,
And shall fall again to ground.
Come away: for Life and Thought
Here no longer dwell;
But in a city glorious -
A great and distant city - have bought
A mansion incorruptible.
Would they could have stayed with us!
No song .... maybe, later .... maybe, not .... but ....Well, yes, I have found a song now, one from long ago that I think is beautiful and in which the lyrics are sort of appropriate to my own words in this post. I might add that whoever put together this video, I think, is cool and neat and shows significant, potential imaginative talent.
Now, if you would be kind enough to excuse me while I move from drifting in thought to rocking in real time. It is a night for a going-away party here, for a wake, for a last memory .... and, in the meanwhile, just close your own eyes and slip within the sound of the song .... it is a leap toward magic, you know ....