Category Archives: joy

Aging Perceptions

belanko by Tom CassidyDon’t worry; it gets worse.
—Barbara Amram (on aging)

Young women get changed in front of me.
—Jay Leno (on being old and invisible)

Why do seniors get a discount? They’ve had more time to make the money.
—anonymous (possibly Homer)

* * * * * * * *
“Are you comfortable?”
“I make a good living”

My very young dental hygienist (fresh from a small town in Idaho and trying to catch on in the glam world of L.A. dentistry) directed me into her chair and asked me the question. Granted, it’s funnier with a Yiddish accent, but it helps to be of a certain age to really sell the line. My response made her giggle and then laugh hard. There is a new audience, a whole generation that has never heard the classics. It is small recompense for getting liver spots, but too much is written about the downside of the whole aging process.

What is under-reported is the perks. I am no longer asked to help people move, (“We’re gonna have pizza and beer, its just a few things, it’ll be fun…”) I used to feel ethically challenged by party invitations. I was clumsy and awkward declining or accepting as I would almost always prefer to spend a quiet evening with dogs. Marginally interesting activities would torment me. I could go and be miserable, or stay home and feel guilty because I was not really too busy. Now I get far fewer social invitations and it is much easier to reject them. I politely but firmly say I am not coming, it is too far, too late, or I don’t want to.

Another advantage of aging is perspective. I was too often impulsive and short sighted throughout much of my life. I gnashed my teeth and lost sleep over roads not taken, mistakes I have made, hunches I did or did not follow, and decisions that, in hindsight, would have been better left to a ouija board. I am no Leo Buscaglia (how is that for a name from the past?) but I stress less and am more accepting. I did not get rich, but I never had to do hard time. The good news is that at a certain age it doesn’t much matter. My habits are set and more money would not appreciably improve my life. It is delightful to not be looking for a job, or answering to anyone.

People would rather be naked in front of each other than discuss their finances and I will not do either here, but the question that drives us most of our lives is “Why is there no parking at Trader Joe’s?” Oops I meant “How much money do I need to be able to live out my days warm and indoors?” I had always hoped that one of my splinter skills (writing, public speaking, stand up comedy) would thrust me into the public eye. I was never discovered but it’s nice not having to spend all that time in the harbor waiting for my ship to come in.

It is interesting to watch a coach who has prepared and practiced maniacally, forsaking friends, family, food, and sleep for a supreme effort in the big game. A close contest is more exciting but there is a melancholy bittersweet relief in a lopsided blowout. Up or down by thirty points in the waning moments, the contest is decided. It is time to be magnanimous: play the scrubs, avoid injury, don’t argue calls, congratulate your opponents, and let your players know how proud you are of them. My wins and losses have not been as dramatic. I never caught the brass ring, found the pot of gold, made it to Easy Street or [insert your favorite cliche here]. I hope to have many years left but I feel myself letting go of needing to keep score or watch the clock.

Tom H. Cook will likely have a third grandchild by the time you read this. He listens regularly to The Tony Kornheiser Show podcasts and is a “loyal little.”

Cedar Water

The swimming season is coming to a close. Whether in Cedar Lake or the Pacific Ocean, the subtle shift has begun. Pockets of very cold water, previously a refreshing anomaly, are now asserting themselves like Trump followers. The vanguard will soon become the establishment and while “The Donald” will likely leave the race entranced and distracted by a new shiny object, the water will turn cold.

This saddens me because swimming is what I laughingly refer to as my exercise. I splash, guy4paddle, and tread water with joyous abandon. Between pretending I am Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt” and frolicking underwater, I feel energized, youthful and refreshed. A jogger friend scoffed at the number of carbs I burn and how little cardio effect I gain from my water play. I was going to let his criticism pass or more correctly roll off my back, but when he added I looked childish, I was stung enough to retort, “At least when I finish my workout I’m not all sweaty.”

One of the few things I took from Camp Ockanickon (aside from a lifetime hatred of oatmeal and singing “Mamma’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin‘ Bread”) is feeling comfortable in the water. Camp was deep in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey on a dark, picturesque, spring fed cedar lake. Even at 4’ 4” I could not see my feet standing in waist deep water. This unnerved me and I failed the deep water swimming test (jump in and swim 25 yards any stroke) I was sent to remedial swim class every day after breakfast. As a non swimmers I could not join any other activity until I passed. Too terrified to leap into the ink colored water, I generally needed to be pushed. After splashing around frantically I would grab the pole and be fished out in tears.

In the afternoon during compulsory free swim time my stigma, wearing a red non-swimmer string around my wrist, confined me to the shallow area. Much worse, the caste system carried over to the mess hall, the cabin, and all non-water activities. Blue stringers (50 yards) and white stringers (100 yards) heaped scorn on us (“Red stringers, red stringers why are you here? Red stringers, red stringers have some beer!”). We would then be doused with whatever non-beer beverage was available.

I have been dancing around the most embarrassing part. I was the lowest of the red stringers: I wore nose plugs! Decades later I have difficulty admitting it. Even other non-swimmers scorned me. The plugs, pink to simulate a flesh tone I have never seen on a living person, was the only way I could navigate in the water. Blue and white stringers might deign to come into the shallow end but I quickly and painfully learned they were on a mission to pull back and snap the rubber strap. The sting subsides long before the red mark on the back of my neck. Perhaps that is why I never became a bra snapper in my adolescence.

Some of the counselors were college kids ready for “Hi Jinx” (it was the 50s) like sneaking out to the girls’ camp across the lake after lights out, then regale us with their exploits the next morning. Joey was different. He was an east Camden (N.J.) tough guy who someone (possibly a judge) thought could benefit from a summer of sunshine and fresh air. Even as a child I sensed his anger and despair marooned in a wholesome woodsy setting with a cabin full of brats. His surliness made what happened all the more surprising.

Joey was on lifeguard duty, supervising the shallow (red string/loser)area. Standing on the dock he beckoned me over. I’ll never forget his words. “Hey squirt! Yeah you, dum dum with the nose plugs. Blow a little stream of air out your nose when you go under. Just a trickle. Then you won’t need that stupid s_ _ _ on your nose.”

It was not a Hallmark moment, but I did it and it worked! It might have helped knowing Joey couldn’t care less. Other counselors had more patiently told me to blow air out. When I tried for them, I either panicked and, seeking to please them, blew all the air out at once, or I accidentally inhaled. With the breathing mastered my fear diminished and I was able to enjoy the water. Thanks to Joey I left camp a blue stringer.

My “instruction” was a momentary distraction for a bored, sullen teenager. Joey, if he is living could not possibly comprehend that I still give him thanks every time I wade into the water. “Blow it out your nose slow, dum dum!”

I am not talking about mentoring, adoption, or huge life changing sacrifices and good deeds. My focus is “Joey moments.” Serendipitous chance encounters where a word, an act, a small gesture made a huge difference. The classic is “The Lone Ranger” leaving before he can be thanked unaware of how he has altered history. I am not so grandiose but I really hope I have done small anonymous kindnesses that have been meaningful to others.

Tom H. Cook has often imagined writing a letter of support for Joey to his probation officer or appearing in court on his behalf

Tom at the loom

Weaving

This would have been a great column twenty years ago.  Much like my breathless exhortation on the world of podcasting (HLP May 2011), I am late to the dance with this revelation (to me only) of the puzzle-solving power of Internet communities.  Other than bemusement at Lindsay Lohan’s multiple escapes from justice, I do not follow any topic closely enough to grasp the full force of the axiom that everyone is smarter than any one.  That changed when JoAnne was stumped by a weaving problem.

I have watched her chase the two sirens Curiosity and Creativity for four decades.  As a serious artist and president-elect of the Southern California Hand Weavers Guild, and even with decades of experience, she continually seeks challenges.   Being temporarily over her head attempting to refine the weave structure on a project is a normal state of  affairs.  The goal is creation not extension.  Following a pattern is merely replication.  The art and anxiety comes from bringing together your own vision with the wisdom of other artists.  Being a “fiddler on the roof” at times is the price of originality.

When she is off in her own world, a bobbing, riffing, weaving John Coltrane, I usually grab a good book and the nearest dog and retreat.  But, her latest caper intrigued me.  She had a copy of the not totally obscure 1926 text How To Weave Linens by Edward F. Worst.  Using Worst’s instructions, charts, and black and white photos, JoAnne used her weaving software to digitally represent one of the cloth designs. Her computer program revealed the same weave structure except it came out sideways.  Analyzing 17 other weave drafts in that chapter, she discovered all were inexplicably a quarter turn off.

Rather than just rotate the patterns 90 degrees, JoAnne wanted to know what had gone wrong.  She needed to understand Edward Francis Worst (1869-1949), unfortunate name and all.  Worst was a manual arts teacher, a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, and the author of four books on weaving.  By 1926 Edward Worst was America’s foremost authority on hand weaving. Surely the man knew what he was doing. JoAnne, after blaming her own reading of the instructions, the software, and briefly me for hovering, turned to WeaveTech, an international 2,000 member Yahoo group, for answers.

A WeaveTech member from Sweden solved the mystery.  The photos in Worst’s chapter were lifted directly from Nina Engestrom’s book Prastik Vavbok, published in Sweden in 1896.  Nina or a careless typesetter had turned the fabric photos 90 degrees in her book, and Worst had included them (unattributed and still sideways) along with instructions in How To Weave Linens.

I was ready to write an expose on “Fast Eddie’s” grab for the gold when I began to read other posts and articles.  Worst, a Chicago, Illinois native, looked like Daniel Day Lewis looking like Lincoln.  Rather than a quick-buck plagiarist, he was more of a saint, committed to reversing the divorce between the hand and the brain.  He was a school principal and early advocate for nascent programs in occupational and physical therapy.  He taught weaving and other arts that emphasized the therapeutic value of handcraft to staff at state mental institutions.  He pioneered handweaving as a resource for low income people suffering the effects of The Great Depression.

Worst was so taken by the early efforts to establish a weaving cooperative in North Carolina that a feel-good made for television movie could be made from what happened next.

Worst, the Yankee school principal, traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Penland, North Carolina to teach weaving in the summer of 1928.  His classes were so popular the community committed to building a studio.  A visionary local woman, Lucy Morgan, “borrowed all the money they would let me have” and led grass roots efforts to finance and construct the log “mansion in the sky.”  In May 1935 the locals came  together like an Amish barn raising (but with liquor).  They cut logs and used their mules to drag them into place.  The women cooked the noon meals, which became a community event.  In August of 1935 the last nail went into the roof of the four-story 50 X 80 foot Edward F. Worst Craft House the day before Worst’s arrival.

If this is a movie, the locals will be lining the streets of Penland as a deeply moved Edward Worst (Tommy Lee Jones if Mr. Lewis is unavailable), and his wife Evangeline (Holly Hunter?) slowly motor into town.  Prominent in the crowd would be Lucy Morgan (Meryl Streep?), the driving force behind the school.  The closing credits reveal The Penland School of Craft has become internationally recognized, and the Edward F. Worst Craft House and particularly the Chicago Room is a cornerstone of the campus.  The next to last visual would state “Edward Worst began teaching summers in North Carolina in 1927, and returned every year until his death in 1949.”  Then the last screen: “During his more than twenty years of teaching at Penland, he never accepted compensation.”  There will not be a dry eye in the house, and I am misting up as I write this.  It is amazing what you can learn on the Internet.

 Tom H. Cook is an adept blogger and the host of four sites dedicated to Philadelphia Athletics left fielder Gus Zernial.    

 JoAnne adds: You can read more about  Penland, Lucy Morgan and Edward Worst at http://www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CraftRevival/people/edwardworst.html     

By the way, my handwoven linens came out beautifully.  Still sideways, but lovely.  

    

 

 

Great Finds

On most Saturday mornings I wander around looking to see what my neighbors wisely or foolishly have put out for sale.  Some weeks it is stained Hello Kitty sheets, a three (formerly four) legged particle board laminate table, a used possum trap, a scratched Tijuana Brass album, a Kelvinator (I don’t know either but it requires 220 current), a collection of vintage margarine tubs, a not that clean stretched out plumbing snake, a Chevy muffler, a pile of enmeshed bamboo blinds, a mostly complete game of Sorry!, and a water-stained collection of Danielle Steel novels.  But some weeks there is nothing but junk!

Every collector has a “great find” story, told with the same gleeful chortle as Bain Capital executives over drinks at the club as they recount outsourcing an orphanage and shipping 900 children to be raised in India. The wily dealer came upon a pair of autographed Elvis socks for a dime and is later besieged with offers in the thousands.  Why he is still driving a rusted out, twenty year old Dodge van is never explained.  My tale is not of stealth, deceit or enormous gain, but rather impulse, regret, acceptance, and inconvenience.

A few months ago at a nearby apartment building I was early enough to witness the beginnings of an interesting looking sale.  A nondescript but pleasant accountant type in his 40s was bringing out boxes of model trains.  I have many weaknesses, but fortunately Lionel trains are not among them.  I asked if he would be bringing anything else out, and he replied that he would be selling his baseball cards.  I believe the term is feigned nonchalance and I am not very good at it.

Soon he began to bring out boxes of neatly organized baseball and football cards.   These were not the valuable Topps cards of my Ted Williams/Stan Musial childhood.  This younger neighbor collected in the 1980s-90s after other companies joined the “hobby” and proceeded to flood the market.  So this is not going to be a gloating, how I got rich story.  In truth, I was ambivalent. The owner of the cards was selling under a stress that I did not yet understand.  He was such a meek, likable guy, I did not want to take advantage of him.  Additionally, there were suddenly more shoppers; the hint of a real bargain can make an already unattractive crowd to turn ugly.

A sensible person might have said, “I’ll take one complete set.”  That would be about 770 cards in pristine condition, in number order, smartly boxed, and easy to carry.  I could look forward to many hours of reminiscing and did I mention the easy to store box?  Instead I heard myself saying, “How much for all of them?”  The now-crowded sale grew quiet.  People clutched their train sets and gasped.  “The crazy guy is going for it,” said one.  “He doesn’t know what these trains are worth,” said another.

In this bush league Las Vegas, I was “the most interesting man at the sale,” going all in with a pair of 7s showing.  Motioning me aside, he lead me behind a four foot tall potted plant.  His lips barely moved as he said quietly, “Look, I have a lot more cards.  We just got married and it’s a small apartment, and she wants my cards and trains gone.”

I was picturing my new best friend’s spouse: also early 40s, glasses, quiet, mousy, cautious, practical.  I imagined the quiet dinner where she summoned her courage and tentatively at first broached the subject of his collections.  She may have suggested that giving up baseball cards and model railroading, pursuits of a solitary man, might be a testament of their commitment to a new life together.  Perhaps she had coquettishly suggested other things they might do…

As if on cue the bride awoke and came out to the sale sputtering, “What are you doing talking to one guy in the corner when people are ready to buy the trains?”  She immediately struck me as someone who had not seen 7:00 AM in many years.   Braless, in very tight jeans, she may have lived forty years, but she had not spent her evenings setting up train switches or studying the Baltimore Orioles roster.  She made Janis Joplin look like a Junior Leaguer.   She had a very large eagle tattoo on her upper chest and many others tats on her forearms.  I believe her sleeveless T-shirt said something about being property of the Hell’s Angels.  Her boots, black leather belt and chains suggested that she was not the software designer I originally imagined.  I felt like asking her about John Belushi, and what it was like partying with Keith Richards.

Instead I held my tongue as she stormed off.  I watched him for reaction.  All I saw was love.  “Whatever she wants,” he shrugged.  He again asked if I wanted all the cards.  I assured him I did and we agreed on a price of $70.00.  As i loaded the 60,000 baseball cards into my car, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever love someone that much.

Only kidding, JoAnne.

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer.  His collection, discretely covered by a tablecloth, occupies a corner of the living room.

 

 

 

 

Minneapolis in Mid-September

What a wonderful week to come home.  Minneapolis in mid-September has always been one of my favorite times.  The lush trees and cool air, the young families (many with requisite lab or golden retriever), and most everyone’s pace is of hurried optimism.  Winter is coming, but not yet.

I have always loved to show off Minneapolis, whether to stray relatives, old friends from college, or friends of friends.  Even driving somewhere alone I would frequently play tour guide in my mind.  When Rachael returned for a wedding along with her husband Daniel, a New Zealander who had never been to Minnesota, it was the ultimate challenge.  I wanted him to see everything.  Working against my rapidly evolving plan was Rachael’s mortification at me dragging him off, and Daniel’s desperate need for sleep, something he had had almost none of for three days.  The kids also had a commitment with friends and a dash to the airport.  I had one hour.

We began at the old house.  It pays to sell to friends.  Barb and Alan welcomed us to 24th and Humboldt.  Poking around, showing off the still preserved height marks of growing children, and seeing the changes and improvements through Daniel’s eyes was fulfilling, but Tom the Taskmaster had more to point out, and the clock was running.

Flying out the door, we passed Walter and Joan Mondale’s house.  I wanted the Kiwi to see that at least one former U.S. vice president doesn’t need guards, a gated estate, and opulent surroundings.  The lakes impressed him immediately.  By the fourth lake and despite my running narrative and erratic driving he was ready to call a realtor.

JoAnne would have wanted to stop at the elf tree at Lake Harriet, or just walk peacefully around Isles, but she was visiting friends, and I am a quantity over quality guide.  We passed the beautiful mosaic at Lakewood cemetery, but it received short shrift compared to the Lake of the Isles dog park.  We raced and chased on a beautiful late summer afternoon.  Daniel was impressed by the number of people smiling (unlike in LA).  Dropping them off in Uptown as I pointed out Magers and Quinn and the Apple store, the kids forgave my exuberance.  I called out that Minneapolis has free WiFi as they sprinted away.  It is hard to do twenty-five years in an hour.

*                     *                   *                      *                       *                    *                     *

The rest of the week was spent more leisurely.  Reminiscing, seeing old friends, going to garage sales, biking the lakes, it was great to be back.  JoAnne returned to The Minnesota Textile Center which has become the finest in the nation in our nine years away.  As a fiber artist it brings her as much joy as I feel watching a baseball game at Target Field.  On the flight back to LA, JoAnne smiled wistfully and said,”I miss Minnesotans.”

 

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer now stationed in southern California.  He realizes that he occasionally needs to abandon the bloody pulpit for more local observations.  He was particularly impressed that the (Cursetown) Crosstown/35W no longer does. 

Ben and Erin’s Mexican Wedding

If you don’t like Mexicans, why did you move here?
  — Bumper sticker, San Pancho, Mexico

Ben is like Tom, only mature.
 — Comment from a long time family friend

We all want our children to exceed us; I just thought it would take a little longer.           –My toast at Ben’s wedding

San Francisco, nicknamed San Pancho, is a little town of about a thousand, on the Pacific Ocean an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  It is a beautiful place to get married.  Our son Ben and his sweetheart Erin invited fifty lucky folks to witness and participate in their wedding this past Thanksgiving.  Instead of a holiday of tepid turkey, dry stuffing, surly relatives, and endless football games, we enjoyed a moving, joyful ceremony on the beach at sunset.

The “kids” (each 28) met during their first year of college and have been together ever since.  Organizationally I would have difficulty getting three couples together for a pot luck.  Erin and Ben planned, coordinated and hosted a stupendous week in a foreign country 2,000 miles away.  Their younger friends went snorkeling, horseback riding on the beach, and exploring the local night life.  They also lined up enough adventure and challenge to delight the crew of potentially grumpy old people.  There were welcome parties, swimming in an infinity pool a hundred feet above the ocean, a rehearsal dinner, lunches, and free time (read naps) for those so inclined. There was a wild bachelor party that through a comedy of errors my invitation was lost.  Except for that, the flow of events was seamless.

I hesitate to draw attention to San Pancho.  While some ex-pats blend right in, there are the gauche, like the gringo who had a private 9 hole golf course built for his own very occasional use.  The economic slowdown has derailed a number of planned developments.  In one case there is a wrought iron gate supported by impressive stone arches.  Alas it is not protecting anything, but one day it will be very exclusive.

The local Mexican community seems to take the boom and bust in stride.  The only bridge into town was washed out in the last rains.  Fortunately the river is dry now and cars (but not trucks) can make it through the gully.  It seems that the twenty founding families have intermarried and make up most of the one thousand residents.  The next generation simply finds an unoccupied portion of family land and without benefit of building codes or inspection, builds a small home.

The pace is slow.  Everybody knows everybody.  The pool man’s sister is a nurse. She can send her husband, who works at the restaurant you ate at last night, on an errand to get you the medicine you need.  The tailor is married to the house keeper whose brother is a mechanic who can fix the flat tire you got attempting to navigate the cobblestone road.  The informal network of goods and services puts Craig’s List to shame.

It was Erin’s parents, Linda and Julian, who first introduced the kids to the village of San Pancho.  Linda, JoAnne and I were at the same university together (although we did not know each other then) and Julian’s New Jersey high school was a rival of mine.  It took our children falling in love to bring us together.  Their generosity made so much of the wedding possible, and they are a rollicking good time.

We were able to invite Jay and Cheryl, our oldest and closest Minnesota friends, who have known Ben all his life.  Whether the four of us were sitting poolside overlooking the ocean, shopping at a local market, bumping over the rutted streets, or watching the dance moves of the younger wedding guests, our eyes would meet, and the unstated message would be, “I cannot believe we are here. I sure didn’t see this coming when we met 33 years ago.”

At this point I might get mawkishly sentimental and metaphoric about the bumps on the road of life, but I am still too happy looking at wedding photos and awaiting the honeymooners’ return.

Tom H. Cook is just a dad. Ben is a Barton and South High grad, and his wife Erin (that’s the first time I have written that) loves Minneapolis; wise woman.

Living at a Dog’s Pace

I have always considered myself a good and responsible dog owner: I feed, walk, play, pet, and clean up after.  My smart, devoted border collie, Hannah, and her clueless boxer brother Cowboy help me keep our two cats at bay.  Modesty aside, we seemed to have the whole dog and master thing down.  Our balance took an interesting turn when I agreed to provide a week’s care for my friend Catherine’s two dogs, (Prince) Henry, a puggle, and Jane, a sweet young border collie.

To say that Catherine is Henry and Jane’s owner is like saying that Napoleon didn’t like Russia, or that Michael Jordan was a basketball player.  She is playmate, consoler, mentor, master, and mamma to these very lucky dogs.  As a mutual friend remarked, “If there is reincarnation, I want to come back as Catherine’s dog!”  Catherine has scheduled her work and social life around Henry and Jane’s well-being.

It was only the prospect of a cruise along the Mexican Riviera that allowed her to even consider leaving her babies.  I was honored to be chosen as the temporary caregiver on the basis of this platform: frequent walks, twice daily dog park visits, timely but not excessive feeding, and a promise to sleep at Catherine’s house during her absence to provide her dogs as much normalcy as possible.  What follows is my scrambled memory of the licking, scratching, barking and good times we had.

My Week With Dogs

Outnumbered four to one, I opted for total emersion in the dog culture.  I needed to go in as the pack leader.  My weaknesses are poor hearing and sense of smell, as well as being slow, clumsy, and too big.  Under strengths are my uncanny ability to find food and the ability to drive a car to the dog park.  I believe it was the food thing that clinched my election as alpha dog.  There were licks all around, some barking and chasing, and of course treats for all!

Now that I was top dog, I readily gave up my un-doglike pursuits, such as television, computers, telephones, and newspapers.  Dogs do not see technology as bad, or confusing (like your Aunt Clara does); they just see it as taking valuable time away from sniffing, chewing, and resting.  The five of us ate, walked, wandered, and slept together. Baths and me shaving were voted down by acclimation.

A week is not sufficient time to turn into a canine Jane Goodall, but I did my best to live at a dog’s pace.  We awoke with the sun and after a quick trip outside (I did not go full dog), it was time for breakfast, a truly momentous occasion worthy of dance and joyful noise.  The rest of our day was filled with time at the park, wrestling matches, long walks, basking in the sun, cooling off in the shade, and imagining the next meal.

Each of these dog’s life activities has a function.  While the park provides needed exercise and play with others, it also solidifies our pack.  At home our seemingly random play skirmishes reenforce our position in the pack.  Our walks are fact-finding missions and a way to sniff out anything that would challenge the established order.  We need considerable resting time because a car door slamming, the passing of an unneutered Lab, a fire engine siren, a boor blabbing on a cell phone, or a noisy squirrel must all be investigated.

The gang brought me, the alpha dog, all dangers, real and imagined.  I maintained final say on what action was necessary.  Our pack was Tea Bagger conservative and hyper-reactive to any perceived change.  The troops were able to return to sleep instantly; not so their leader.

Hannah initiated most of our activities.  She was second in command and, like Radar O’Reilly, seemed to know my plans before I did.  At home she usually watches over me, but the new order seemed to suggest that I had been delegated to Henry’s care.  We spent the week being guys, each of us clearly relishing hanging out together.  We cuddled and took frequent naps.

Cowboy had come to us as a rescued dog, as was every dog in the pack but Henry.  Cowboy’s traumatic early years have left him timid and afraid, despite his impressive physique.  The slightest noise startles him and frequently starts a chain reaction of barking that rumbles through the house.  What is very sad is that he does not know how to play.  He watches the rest of us fetch, tug, and chase but he does not know how to join in.  Still, the pack accepts him.

Jane is the wild card, smart and ambitious, a lizard-chasing hunter.  She and Hannah are “The Girls,” indefatigable, curious, running in and out of the dog door and upending poor Henry.  Jane enjoys being mentored and chewed on by Hannah, but since she leapfrogged over Cowboy and Henry in the hierarchy, she may have bigger plans.  (“Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”)  I feel like telling Hannah to beware the Ides of March.

I read while others licked, but that aside, I tried to stay in rhythm with the pack.  The days had a natural flow, and our week ended too soon.  Looking back, I feel myself going over to the dog side. I loved my life as a dog, and I still feel the call of the canine.

 

Tom H. Cook is a no longer local writer.  He has grudgingly returned to working and interacting with humans, although he will never view corgis the same.     

    

 

 

 

 

There Are Places I Remember

There are places I remember all my life,
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain                                 –Lennon/McCartney

The daily newspaper is a shell of its former self.  If you hold the Star Tribune up to your ear you can almost hear the ocean.  I have clearly not gotten smarter, but I can finish the morning paper before a cup of tea.  A friend suggests that she is paying 50 cents a day for a hand delivered sudoku.  The paper has become an advertisement for its website.  The few stories I am interested in are teased in print but only available on-line which means going into the other room and wresting the computer from JoAnne.  Invariably she is doing something important with megapixels that makes my curiosity about Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson’s relationship seem almost trivial.

Smart, literate, young people of my acquaintence look at me as if I still have a telephone landline (which I do) when I suggest subscribing to the paper.  My generation is the boorish guest, finally herded to the front door but still in search of their keys and fiddling with their galoshes.  There may only be 87 of us, but we want our newspaper (by cracky)!

I will miss the daily paper if it goes before I do.  I am nostalgic for the days of a morning and evening newspaper with actual news in it.  I even miss the printers ink that in my youth found its way up my elbows and face while I pored over the sports section.  As a kid, I was a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies.  The morning Philadelphia Inquirer went to press before the conclusion of night games played on the west coast.  There would be a hint, “After three innings the Phiilies trailed the Dodgers 5-1.”  It did not look good for the “Fightin‘ Phils”, but they did not lose until The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin arrived at 2:30 PM.

It was summer and no school and the wait was somehow enjoyable.  If I finished my chores and walked Smokey (the first in a long line of insane boxers) perhaps the Phils would rally.  In hindsight the Phillies were by far the worst team in the National league when I was growing up and they lost a lot, but I believe the wait helped me learn to delay gratification which came in handy when I got my first thirty year mortgage.

In those days, some news stories were slow to develop and filter down to us.  If a celebrity had a satanic navel ring collection or was involved in a steamy affair with a notary public we were blissfully unaware.  If there was a problem in Borneo or Tierra del Fuego eventually the local paper might pick it up it from the New York Times, or the AP, or UPI.  As it turns out the “Fightin‘ Phils” fought mostly with each other.  They were a racially polarized, hard drinking carousers.  Fortunately the stories of my heroes heartlessly taunting Jackie Robinson did not become common knowledge until my illusions had been shattered in other places.

There was a not so benign paternalism at work in my youth and it is good that there is no returning.  I do not want that country back.  We are exposed to much more information in a seemingly instantaneous manner and that ought to render us not only better informed, but somehow smarter.  Speaking only for myself, I find the drumbeat of a 24/7 newscycle more overwhelming than helpful.  I have more “news” than I have places to put it.  I am also troubled that a decent web design can almost mask quackery,  and those prone to illogic and xenophobia seem to be able to access “information” that allows them to get crazier, faster.  I am not sure this is progress.

 

Tom H. Cook would like to remind everone that the last day to wish someone a Happy New Year and men it is January 27th.

House Finish Man Die

You must never stop building the house.  If you continue to build you will live forever.  But if you stop, then you will die too.                                –The Boston Medium

 

It was on the advice of her psychic that Sarah Winchester contacted The Boston Medium. Winchester had lost both her young daughter and husband.  The medium suggested that the souls of those killed by her husband’s rifles were angry and that she seek a way to appease them. Rather than establish a relief fund or a charity for the victims’ families she abandoned the comforts of New Haven, Connecticut in 1844.  Armed (no pun intended) with a mere $20,500,000 and half ownership in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the plucky if delusional widow moved west to San Jose, California.

The mansion she built is renowned for its size and utter lack of a master building plan.  Begun on her arrival, it has approximately 160 rooms (ample quarters for the spirits of the dead), 10,000 window panes, 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces and doors and stairways that lead nowhere.  A paint job required 20,500 gallons of paint and could never be finished because the early work would need re-doing before the last portion could be completed.  Crews needed to work around the clock to forestall Mrs. Winchester’s death.  The second ballroom was under construction when the aged and arthritic matron passed away in 1922.

I do not believe I have the same quest for immortality.  I have not even added a bird feeder in the seven years I have been in California or adopted an exercise regime that will extend my life, but I have no other explanation for my growing collections.  Like Mrs. Winchester, I can not see dying before I have read all of the books that line my walls.  I have hundreds of CDs, many that I have yet to listen to because the cover art does not look as good as the twelve I play for all occasions.  Still I plan to enjoy each and every one of them someday.

I am currently 306 podcasts or one week and 37 hours of non-stop This American Life and The Dan Patrick Show behind on my iPod, with more being downloaded everyday.  I will listen to them.  My DVR is set to record everything from old Bob Newhart episodes to Countdown with Keith Olbermann.  I watch just enough to keep the recorder at 90 % of capacity, but not overflowing. I rarely play any of my 500+ DVDs that I plan to watch, as the Netflix shipments cut into my available viewing time.

At this point you may be thinking Sure, he has a lot of books, music, and videos, but he has not crossed that all important line that separates the collector/hobbyist from the obsessive pack rat.  You are probably thinking nothing of the sort and I am being easy on myself. But if that were the extent of my “collections” I could rationalize it as a remnant of misplaced 1960s reverence for the media.

What catapults me over the line and into a world of delusion is my shirt collection.  I am ready to come out of the closet and admit to owning over 300 shirts.  I worry that I will spill things on my shirt…things that will not come out. (You would think I lived on grape juice.)  Or I will have another laundry mishap (see HLP May, 1999).  Consequently, when I am at a garage sale, I feel the need for backup, so I browse the men’s shirts.  I am a very common size, and too often there are shirts just calling me.  I have tried raising the bar and buying only all cotton, linen, or silk, freshly dry cleaned shirts selling for $1.00 a piece or less.  Still they find me.  Something comes over me, and I cannot walk away.

It will be handy to have dress shirts if I ever get a job again.  The dark silk ones are for my next (first) ultra swanky cocktail party.  These shirts are not to be confused with my “clubbing wardrobe” where Bianca or Simone may accidentally spill a drink on my clearly expensive outfit and I can laugh it off.  I have fancy golf shirts (I don’t play) and yacht party attire which I would undoubtedly ruin as I get seasick in the harbor.  If I am invited to a luau or a surprise party for Don Ho I have about 25 Hawaiian shirts to choose from. Don’t even get me started on my Scottish wool lumberjack shirts for ski trips and hikes in the great north woods with my chums that look like they star in beer commercials.

I have shirts for almost all occasions.  Shirts I plan not only to wear, but to wear out in my lifetime!  This will take a while because I currently keep them safely ensconced in my closet.  I tend to wear the same weather- and peanut butter-beaten T-shirts every day because I spend most of my waking hours with dogs who are notoriously forgiving of my attire.

I cannot wait for the occasion so special that I put on my silk shirt, pack the unread book I have been hoarding, throw some new CDs on my car stereo and head up the coast for a rockin’ weekend.  In the meantime I’ll be at a garage sale building up inventory or else at the dog park.

 

Tom H. Cook is an ex-HLP loiterer.  He will miss the editorship and friendship of Jane Johnson who is returning to England.

 

 

 

Retirement Pursuits

Well-meaning folks who barely know me seem to think I would be happiest playing golf every waking moment of my retirement.  Many seem disappointed almost to the point of belligerence—and that’s without me launching into a PC rant about the geo-ecological water and land resource usurpation that the game requires.  I could claim that moral high ground, but the real reason is more mundane.  It is too clichéd a solution for what to do now that I retired for the third and probably final time this past February.

I have good friends who golf, and a few that may even have the patience to play with me, but aside from their company there is little that draws me to becoming a links man.  And just a look at me tells all but the most obtuse observer that I am no Mark Trail.  I would rather watch an entire golf match on a grainy black and white 7” television while standing up than to hunt or fish.  Most of my inquisitors are well-intended and simply curious as to how loitering, reading, and wandering around with my dogs can provide me with sufficient stimulation to sustain life.

I was not on a quest for fulfillment, and long ago gave up the notion of an examined life, but I have stumbled onto two things I enjoy.  One is my version of gardening or, more specifically, plant rescue.  Since Monday is Trash Day, Sunday is Trash Eve, and a good opportunity to adopt plants, pots, hoses and brooms, as well as umbrellas, lawn furniture, fountains, and so forth.  I do not have a green thumb or know the plant name of anything that is not a rose, but I enjoy picking up discarded plants and nursing them back to health.  JoAnne often accompanies me on this Sunday sleuthing.  Our back yard, while not yet old people scary jungle eccentric, does show promise.  We take much of the furniture and other goods of value to the local Salvation Army, forestalling its date with the landfill.  I am now on a first name basis with some of the intake workers, and while none have ventured to ask where all of this stuff is coming from, the consensus seems to be that I am a conscience-stricken cat burglar with very bad taste.

The other role that I am growing into is neighborhood anchor.  In 1977 JoAnne and I moved to the East Calhoun neighborhood of south Minneapolis from Naples, Florida.  Knowing no one, we were clearly in need of good neighbors.  The two families right out our back door were wonderful to us.  They were each Austin, Minnesota natives and only a bit older than we were, but wiser, and more established professionally than JoAnne and me.  Jay and Joy Dean had two young angelic children, Mike and Margo, and Linda and Lance LaVine had the equally sweet Nicky and Natasha.

We resisted the impulse to alliteration, but started our own family in part because of the happiness we observed in these helpful, mentoring families.  When our kids came we were often too busy to take full advantage of the guidance and acceptance they offered to us.  I owe my career choice to Jay.  Regardless of how frazzled we would be, Lance had the remedy: “Come on over for a cup of tea.” Many times we declined, begging off due to this imagined crisis or that.  Lance was wiser but knew we had to chase our own windmill.

We now have neighbors with two very young children and high stress jobs.  One is an attorney, the other a corporate recruiter.  I am not smart or worldly, and I have never been a head hunter for a Fortune 500 company, but I have made lots of mistakes, and I have time to listen. He is generally gone and she is running here and there.  Frequently they are too busy, as we were twenty five years ago, but in the spirit of Linda and Lance LaVine, I have extended to them a standing invitation for a cup of tea.

 

Tom H. Cook hopes that you will say hello to the LaVines and Deans for him.  Thank you for the great response to Keith Oldemann.  I am glad to see he has so many fans.  Please add the work of film-maker Robert Greenwald.  He is also able to cut through our national political pea soup in an entertaining manner.  His four documentaries (Out Foxed:  Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, Uncovered: The War On Iraq, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices) are sobering and informative.  He validates our greatest fears, but does it in a manner that is pointed without being pedantic.