Category Archives: travel

Questioning My “Self(s)”

The total self of me, being as it were duplex, partly known and partly know-er, partly object and partly subject, must have two aspects discriminated in it, of which, for shortness, we may call one the “me” and the other the “I.”
—William James (The Principles of Psychology)

I was brushing up on my Descartes the other day, particularly his classification of two worlds, one of mental objects and one of material things. That led me to William James, Piaget, Winnicott, and of course Wittgenstein. I added the “of course” as kind of a joke, but philosophers have been puzzling and grappling with the duality of self for hundreds of years. Despite their huge head start, after thinking for just a few hours I was coming up with insights and original ideas that, modesty side, could be game-changers in the field of dualism. Unfortunately “game-changer” reminded me the Super Bowl pre-pre-game show was on. Hours later I was so glazed over, my only thoughts were of nachos, switching my Internet provider, lite beer, and getting my hands on a Ram truck that I could drive up the side of a mountain.

I am not usually a deep thinker but a recent vacation had me questioning my “self” or “selves.” I was going to be gone for less than a week. This is like a gimme putt for golfers, easy to overlook but deceptively complex in its simplicity. I was packed and out the door in fifteen minutes. My other self was in charge of unpacking that evening. Someone had brought a stalk of bananas, three bags of cookies, two jars of peanut butter, enough medications for me to visit Albert Schweitzer in Africa, eight pair of underwear, five sets of earbuds, two shirts, and one pair of socks. My other self had to make do with the random assortment. (Neither of my selves would go to a local Target to supplement my wardrobe.)

This creature of the moment is often at war with my future self. At dinnertime there is only enough butter scrapings for one item. Do I garnish my evening baked potato or save the last bits, tucked deep in the foil, for a piece of toast in the morning? (Even though it might add clarity, I am reluctant to name my various selves, or speak in the third person.)

Whoever I/we are there seems to be agreement that all media is to be saved for just the right moment. I will start a magazine article, book, or television show and decide that it is so entertaining that it would be better appreciated at another time. I have a stockpile of shows to watch, but will often suggest watching a marginal program to free up space on the DVR. This greatly vexes JoAnne (the editor) and she gets mad at us (oops, me) until future me retrieves an episode of Homeland or The Good Wife a couple nights later when there is nothing on.

The relationship is complicated. Present self squirrels away desserts in the freezer to be savored at a future date, yet the here and now self puts future me on the spot continually. For example, the deadline on this column is today. Do you think anyone got an early start on it?

Tom H. Cook is a former Fuller Brush scholar, linguist, and pipe cleaner artist. He is currently seeking investors for a fantasy jai alai league.

tom and cooper dog

Toronto Visit

Toronto is like New York, as run by the Swiss.

—Peter Ustinov

“We’re just back from Tokelau.  Jack prepped with “Freddie” at Choate a hundred years ago. Anyway, Freddie’s the Royal Imperial Emperor now.  We told him not to make a fuss, but apparently he stayed some executions, closed the banks and schools, and put on this amusing little festival for us.  The kids enjoyed it.  And you, are you still out in the West somewhere?”

—Imaginary voice of a globetrotting Kenwood matron

 It is particularly difficult for me to write about travel, knowing the sophistication of the Hill and Lake Press readership.  That many of you do not make it to the back page is some solace, but it is still intimidating. I must adopt the proper world weary, bemused, detached tone of a seasoned travel writer.  Toronto was a gnarly, way cool, itchin’ time, and I cannot wait to chill there again as it is awesome to the max!!!

My son-in-law, Daniel Gillies, is working in Toronto for a few months on Saving Hope, a medical drama for NBC.  He brought the family’s yellow lab, Cooper, for company.  With a place to stay and “Coopie-Coopie” for a tour guide, we walked most of the city.  Having a large dog brands me as more likely a local, rather than an L.A. tourist.

We were pleased to learn that dogs are permitted on subways, trains, and city buses in off-peak hours.  In Toronto patio is a verb.  In the summer weather, people love to patio outside with a meal and drink.  Cooper enjoys a bowl of water just the other side of the railing.  The city feel is European right down to the smoking on the street.   Very few people fit my antiquated stereotype of square jawed mounties and blonde farmers’ daughters from Saskatoon.  Toronto is the largest city in Canada and fifth largest in North America.  One half of the population was not born in Canada.

Toronto is multicultural, racially diverse, and in a big hurry.  The downtown seems to stay up late.  Cooper and I saw hundreds of mostly 20 to 30-somethings out after midnight.  Seeing as how Toronto is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan cultural center, Cooper and I fit right in.  What you rarely see are law enforcement officers.  It appears to be a city that polices itself.  It does not hurt to have a 75 pound lab with you, but I never felt intimidated on any of our walks.

“The Beaches” is an Uptown-like neighborhood with shops, a boardwalk, swimming areas, and a well defined dog beach, all fronting Lake Ontario.  Like Target Field, the Blue Jays’ retractable roof stadium is great for baseball, and it is right downtown.  On Daniel’s day off the three of us went to Kensington, a hip neighborhood right next to Chinatown.  Toronto has a Minneapolis feel with parks and greenery everywhere.  The city is vibrant, almost despite local government officials.

Torontan’s seem to be amused rather than incensed by their own political scandal.  Mayor Rob Ford was once arrested for threatening his wife.  He famously warned the city that the Asians are taking over.  Currently he is in the news for trying to buy and annex city park land adjacent his home.   He is an obese man, well over 300 pounds, who looks like he could swallow Rush Limbaugh.  Months ago Ford vowed to lose at least 50 pounds.  Ballyhooed as a charity fund raiser, there was promise of twice-weekly weigh-ins at City Hall.  He appears to have gone AWOL and gained weight, not only abandoning the project, but ceasing to come into his office for any reason.

 Toronto, a doggone good city.

Tom H. Cook is back in the States plotting his next trip, a return to the Twin Cities in the fall.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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. 

A Visit From Jane and Jean

On January 25th Jane Johnson and Jean Deatrick appeared at my door in Redondo Beach, California.  What follows is my recollection of the visit.

Me:  Jean, Jane, what a surprise!  Do come in.

Jane:  (With proper British accent) We are sorry to pop in on you this way.

Jean:  “We hate to intrude, it is just that we need to do some fact checking…”

Me:  Is this because of the Oprah thing with James Frey and  “A Million Little Pieces?

Jane:  Yes we realize it is a frightful bother, but we need to confirm some of your stories.

Me:  I never claimed to have been in prison, used drugs, had a root canal without an anesthetic, bled all over an airplane, had a girlfriend die on me, or been befriended by a mobster…

Jean:  (Wistfully) Yes that would sell papers… 

Jane:  Yes, that would be smashing, but a number of our readers wonder if anyone can be as…

Jean:  Boring…

Jane:  Yes, frightfully sorry Tom.  Frey was not as wild and troubled as he portrayed himself, but you must be understating your drive and intellect.

Jean:  You have set up this image of a middlebrow underachiever who goes to garage sales and reads The New Yorker for the cartoons.

Me:  That’s about it.  Care for a Poptart ?

Jane:  We know for example you were in the Noodleman book group in Minneapolis and they regularly discuss Noam Chomsky…

Me:  Cubs, third baseman, hits lefty…

Jean:  See it’s that feigned ignorance but then the political allusion.  Tom, if you are smarter and more worldly than you have told us, then there has been a breach of trust with our readership and action will be required.

Me:  Well, come on in and look around.

Jane:  (Scanning book shelves and my music collection).  One of the reasons we have kept you on staff all of these years is that many in the neighborhood enjoys having a hoot at your expense

Jean:  (Also rummaging around) People are not laughing with you…Let me start again.  You know how high status much of the west of Hennepin crowd is?  You make people feel better about themselves.  If it ever came out that you are a closet intellectual and were misleading us and that your column was some sort of parody…I know a number of advertisers would not take this well.

Jane:  What are we listening to?

Me: ”Vanilla Fudge’s Greatest Hits” and before that a vintage “Strawberry Alarm Clock” CD.

Jean:  (In amazement) And nobody told you we were coming…

Jane:  (Gazing at my library) It’s mostly sports and true crime books…

Jean:  (Noticing the furnishings) So there must be a lot of garage sales out here too.

Me:  (Modestly) Yes, we’ve been lucky.  The chair you’re sitting in, $10.00!

Jean:  (Rising quickly to go) Yikes, look at the time.  We must rush.

Me:  Don’t you want to stay and hang out with the dogs? Stella and Cowboy will be disappointed to miss you.

Jane:  Tom, let me say you are doing a smashing job!  We shan’t worry about any fraud or deception on your part.

Jean:  Our best to JoAnne. She is a remarkable woman.

 

In the spirit of full disclosure, JoAnne did join us for a wonderful outdoor lunch, a walk on the beach, and a lot of laughs.  Thank you, Jean and Jane.  It was great to see Minnesota friends again.

 

 

Visit to New Orleans

Dateline: Gretna, Louisiana.  (OK, I admit it, I am not still there.)

The time my wife JoAnne and I spent in this gritty outskirt of New Orleans is a far more interesting tale than my recent column about doing laundry (HLP February ‘05).

We had tasted the French Quarter (metaphorically immersing ourselves in deep fat), ate beignets at Cafe du Monde, spent a long weekend in Lafayette, and wandered the Garden District before checking into “the only room left in the greater New Orleans area” (in the words of the cheerful Hotels.com representative).  Let’s not quibble over who neglected to see if the largest non-Mardi Gras event had just hit town.  Let me just say that one of us figured that midweek there would be plenty of rooms.

Besides, in this person’s defense, we did get a room in an Econo Lodge, which, we had a vague recollection, was a national chain whose logo featured a cute little bear in a nightshirt and cap holding a candlestick.  Furthermore, Gretna sits just across the Mississippi River, a scant four miles from Bourbon Street.  To top it off, the guilty one added that Gretna was the birthplace of Hall of Famer Mel Ott, the feared New York Giants slugger of the 1930s who seemed to rear up on his back leg when he swung, and who hit 511 steroid-free homeruns.

The Economy Lodge (that is not a typo; that is what the sign read) we pulled up to clearly had no affiliation with the national chain, unless there had been a coup.  Smiling at me behind the counter was a nearly toothless and fully barefoot man for whom English did not appear to be one of his top three languages.  He did not seem to be the type to wrest control from a powerful corporation.  The more likely scenario seemed to be that he had stumbled in from the Quarter years ago and, unable to pay his bill, had been sentenced to serve as manager of Dante’s waiting room.  Glancing around the dirty, shabby, and threadbare lobby, we were eyeballed by a fellow lodger whom we soon dubbed “Sugarman” for his curious habit of using twelve sugars in his coffee and making way too much eye contact.

When the proprietor asked if we had reservations, I was able to answer, “Yes quite a few.”  This line usually gets a chuckle or at least a hollow laugh.  JoAnne was too frightened to respond.  The proprietor, now joined by his wife, who had almost twice as many teeth, smiled hopefully.  Only Sugarman was laughing like Ed McMahon, although he had begun to chortle long before the witty banter began.  I mumbled something about not judging a room by its lobby.  We checked in and drove around to our room at the far corner of the court.  As we unloaded the car, Sugarman ambled over and attempted to talk with JoAnne, who was not speaking to either of us.

In our thirty-some years together we have camped out, slept in youth hostels, and stayed on the floor of a friend’s barely finished basement.  Despite being older, I like to think we have not become bourgeois burghers and that we still possess a spirit of adventure.  But this setting clearly violated tenets of the Geneva Convention. The air conditioner had been ravaged and was held together by mildew.  The smoke alarm hung by a wire, the furniture would not have been accepted by Goodwill, and the bed was so concave that the thin spread touched the mattress only at the sides.  Although it was a non-smoking room, there were ashes on the floor of the bathroom.

When I turned on the hot water faucet I expected cold, rusty, or Mississippi River water.  Instead there was absolutely no water. When JoAnne spotted the bullet hole in the wall  and then the smear of a brown-red handprint not far from it, we both reached for the phone to call the airline.  Needless to say, the phone didn’t work.  I broke for the lobby, leaving JoAnne to put the bags back in the car.  When the ubiquitous Sugarman, in his unofficial role as host/neighbor/welcome wagon approached her, she abandoned the task and hurried to join me in the lobby.  I was having no luck with the proprietor, who was not versed in how to dial out on his Marconi 300 phone console, circa 1934.  He explained that people contact him for rooms and he did not know how to make a long distance call.  He graciously invited me to come around and attempt to dial this exotic 800 number myself while he watched until he lost interest and sat down on the floor.

JoAnne arrived to find me behind the counter and seemingly the person in charge.  After fifteen frantic and stressful minutes, through a stroke of luck I was somehow able to reach United Airlines, whose options had recently changed.  (Why does every organization claim to have new prompts –initiated during the Carter administration– that will streamline service, yet are guaranteed to increase your wait time?)  JoAnne paced in the lobby and, as if on cue, Sugarman came in and began to fix himself another cup of coffee.

It was rush hour and we still had a rental car to dispose of, but there was a 7:00 PM flight to LA with a couple of seats available.  I thanked the United Airlines representative profusely, handed my key to the helpful if bewildered manager, who probably wanted me to teach him how to use the phone system as much as he wanted us to stay.  JoAnne and I hurried past  the sludge-filled swimming pool, threw our suitcases in the car and peeled out.  Sugarman saw us off.

We gave up two extra days in The Big Easy, but felt that we got away with our lives.  It was great to see the Mississippi again, but it felt wonderful to return to our adopted home.

 

Tom H. Cook is the HLP West coast correspondent. A Hotels.com representative refunded our money after hearing an abridged version of our tale.   JoAnne wishes to thank everyone who has sent her string for the Thread Project.   If anyone else wishes to have their threads in the project, it’s not too late to send them along: PO Box 1187, Torrance, CA 90505. If you have questions, you can email JoAnne at trompaswrit@hotmail.com

 

 

Retirement in Redondo Beach

The summer Hill and Lake Press has historically been a children’s issue with clever, witty, and innocent poems, pictures, and stories.  Despite the fact that I write in crayon, my submissions in past years to the July-August issue have been tactfully returned.  Because of the children writers strike this year I am pressed into service.  Normally I would support the young artists’ demands (scented markers, unlimited gummy bears, and the freedom to use the word poopy in a non-salacious context).  The editors were able to break my iron will and steadfast solidarity by letting me write about my summer vacation.  Sorry kids, but who can pass up the opportunity to tell others about a trip.

My wife and I are staying just south of Los Angeles in Redondo Beach, where we are tracking down stray relatives and friends.  There is no sign of the Urban Coyote, who may be out here peddling scripts and doing meetings.  I am, instead, working on shaving every three or four days, body surfing, eating avocados, and going to Dodger Stadium.  The rest of my time is spent foolishly. 

Driving is a challenge in the L.A. area.  On 35W or the Crosstown you check to see if anyone is coming before you change lanes.   Here it is a given that many cars, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, and large trucks covet the exact spot you are currently inhabiting.  I am reminded of the old Red Skelton line about the freeways.  He said, “Southern Californians are real baseball fans…out here you are either a Dodger or an Angel.” 

Word from home is that it has finally stopped raining and all plans for an NRP-funded ark have been abandoned.  Everyone I meet  here (after the requisite discussion of the weather) wants to know about Jesse.  I am toying with the idea of being from Michigan.  The politics here in southern California is more conservative than I am used to.  There is still a Proposition 13 feel in the air, and it is a laisse faire world.  All is well for those who can manage on their own.  I have long believed that each of us has a cosmic banana peel with our name on it, and we will require support of some kind.  Here it seems people live happily, busily, hurriedly, but without a net.

If I am so critical, why am I here?  That’s simple:  I love the beach.  I have swum and paddled in the city lakes.  I have enjoyed moonlight dips at friends’ lake cabins, but there is something about the ocean that grips me.  I feel most whole and complete in the ocean.  It is truly a “Roots” experience.  Being in the ocean takes me way back to my distant ancestors who must have been ocean dwelling single celled protozoan. 

In more recent years I have resigned myself to compromises and diminished expectations, such as our federal income tax refund check.  Practicality and prudence aside, I do not want to pass from this life without ‘quality beach time’.  As a friend said recently, “Yeah, I’m middle aged if I live to be 110”.  This ocean fantasy will probably not win me the Albert Schweitzer award for humanitarian service, but I feel the sands of time moving.  

As a child, I mourned growing up in New Jersey and not being able to get to Atlantic City, Wildwood, or Asbury Park.  If I were a  Minnesota native I probably wouldn’t hear the siren song of the sea.  But to be sixty miles away and unable to will myself to the shore is something I still lament.  Granted, this is not Oprah material. (“ Our next segment is a real tearjerker:  Adult children of parents who could not swim and were too tired from working to take their kids to the beach.”)  Still, without getting too existential or pop psychology about this, I have been in charge of my own life since I was 46, and if I was going to make it to the west coast for the summer it was up to me.  Thanks to the generosity of a number of friends, most notably Michele, who has adopted Stella (the mad beast) for the summer, I am in Los Angles having made slightly better time than Balboa.

So here I am, and I love it.  In time I will miss garage sales, work (or at least the money), and the friends who have had the decency not to come and visit.  In the meantime, surf’s up, hang ten, and have a wonderful summer.

 

Tom H. Cook conveniently forgets that he was a shy, pale, thin, non-athletic, virgin with conspicuous ears who would not have experienced most of the things he feels he missed, had he only been ‘under the boardwalk’ in 1964.