Category Archives: Uncategorized

Codger’s Corner

Notes, observations, and subdued rants about aging without complaints about the metric system, young people, or liver spots.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.  This universal truth was originally scrawled by Piltdown Man, unearthed at Olduvai Gorge, and attributed to Hammurabi.   I remember it every time  I receive a mailer to come for a free dinner and coincidentally hear about a wonderful investment opportunity.  I suspect a conspiracy between my local pharmacist, AARP, and my subscription to a daily print newspaper.  I have been profiled.  They know the Internet for my crowd is unreliable, so it is a four color foldout in the U.S. mail.   They may be selling funeral plots, bit coins, eternal life through cryogenics, or space travel but

I rip up the brochures because they think I am an idiot.  The glossy invitation invariably features the juicy steak and potatoes I could be enjoying next Tuesday evening.  Am I living in a hovel eating cat food?  If so I do not have the money to “secure my children’s future”. Granted I am a vegetarian, but a giant picture of the dinner is supposed to entice me to invite the little woman out for a high class evening of sophisticated conversation and haute cuisine.  (Mother, put your teeth in we are going to motor off in our Olds Cutlass to sit in an overly air conditioned Days Inn in Temecula with 300 other rubes and learn the secret of biorhythmic investing).

Aging has made me more sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement and the horrors of segregation.  It is not that I have become wiser and more mature, I just need to go to the bathroom more urgently, unexpectedly, and frequently.  What do a local hardware store, a Jiffy Lube, and a mom and pop grocery have in common?  They each require pleading, cajoling, and groveling to allow a civilian to use their facilities.  Often I am directed to a latrine too far and I need to clarify the importance of my request.  It is then I imagine a sliver of what it must have been like to be black and the target of Jim Crow laws.

I am waiting for the day with impatience and dread when I care if a kid cuts across my lawn.  Are the Woodstock going, free lovin’, frisbee playing peaceniks I went to college with now sitting in folding chairs in their front yards with a hose just waiting for a young miscreant to attempt a slingshot ollie over their azaleas?

The big reveal may never come.  I guess this is a very sad one.  Many classmates, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances have been born again or found inner peace thru Transactional Analysis, Krishna, EST, Scientology, Bikram yoga, Reflexology, or selling Amway,  In my younger day well meaning folks (mistakenly as it turns out)  saw me as a seeker.   They urged me to read, experience, and be in the moment. I grudgingly agreed to attended mind expanding, grounding, enlightening ceremonies, lectures, and services as long as there was no cost, I could keep my shoes on, and it didn’t conflict with Hill Street Blues (Thursday at 9:00 PM).

My host would say, “Oh Tom, give it half a chance.”  Invariably that is what I give it.  I  am grateful, solicitous and genuinely interested on the way there.  I have a natural curiosity and I am good at asking questions and making people feel comfortable.  I tell myself not to be judgmental just let the experience wash over me.  If I am not converted, be an anthropologist and don’t poke holes.  This is the gist of my self-talk.

I fail to disclose that I am very irreverent and the more somber the occasion the more likely my cynical black humor will emerge. I am responsible, but almost powerless over it. I have to look behind the curtain and see the wizard. Every time I forget that I see comic potential in serious situations.  When my poop detector goes off, I will seek out an audience, a fellow infidel and convulse them in wicked concealed laughter.  Modesty aside, I am hysterically funny.   My “true believer” sponsors are mortified and the ride home is excruciating despite taking place at great speed with the wife screaming “faster” through clenched teeth.  There are no second dates.  JoAnne (the editor) will not accompany me and when I return home she gives me a credulous look that says, Didn’t you know you would do this?”  “I knew you would do this, you simply can not control yourself!”

Tom H. Cook has signed on at least long enough to see the current president living in a Winnebago with his fourth wife Candi, hawking Ginzu knives at the Minnesota State Fair.

Every Year at this Time…

 

belanko 1 by Tom CassidyEvery year at this time the secret Hill and Lake Press offices buzz with good cheer. The floor to ceiling fireplaces cast images that are heightened by the elaborate chandeliers. Kenny G serenades each employee as they enter the opulent lobby. (I take the back stairs.) The second through sixth floor offices are furnished in Louis XIV decor with intricately patterned crushed red velvet wallpaper, gold statues, fountains, eighteenth century art, and yak skin carpeting.

Very few of us have seen the seventh floor offices of “The Board.” The smell of fish and saltwater is unmistakable. The rumor is there is at least one pool which may or may not contain between one and three dolphins. There are whole wings of the compound I lack the security clearance to enter. I have been allowed to visited what the board laughingly refers to as the “Rube Room” located in a deep basement annex. Furnished from garage sales and dumpsters, the space is arranged to look like a dining room where plucky “community” members are hard at work doing paste-up. The homey touch is a front for a media empire that makes Rupert Murdoch look like a newsy working out of a kiosk.

Since editor Jean Deatrick’s edict for December is “Pump up the schmaltz!” Star photographer Dorothy Childers must use her rose colored lens and capture locals in ski sweaters drinking hot chocolate eggnog with buttered rum while playing a multi-generational game of crack the whip on freshly frozen Lake of the Isles. There will also be classic pictures of a fairly famous person lured to the neighborhood and appearing to enjoy dinner at the home of a successful HLP couple and a few hangers on who promise to behave and not mention the uranium car they are designing.

Other stories feature nuptials of fresh faced young couples off to teach long division in Botswana for a year before buying an Amway franchise in Cedar Rapids. There are cautionary tales of HLPers who left the grid, moved to Patagonia or the north of France, played Frisbee with the most interesting man alive, but will now be living on Colfax. The issue rounds out with a collage of puppies frolicking in the snow, kittens by a cozy fireplace, neighbors caroling, children sledding, and decked out real estate listings that extol the many virtues of HLP Land.

Hill and Lake Press Inc. is a multinational corporate entity and privately funded LLC. Nonetheless, perhaps we ought to keep quiet about its vast resources as it may make it more difficult to sell $25 ads.

Tom H. Cook embraces the holiday rituals except for the Hobbesian football and its bastard offspring, Fantasy.

Autocorrect

There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.
—Steven Wright

There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.
—Simon Sinek

Tommy, how many times do I have to tell you? Do not interrupt when someone is talking!
—Mildred Cook (mother)

The no-longer-new technology can be flattering. After a few key strokes Amazon and their like are ready to make rather heavy-handed suggestions. One of the goals of living is to be understood, and they know me! Like a very solicitous butler, their educated guesses can be eerily insightful. Their memory is long and persistent. If you have ever, even in passing, considered a move to Buenos Aires to become a gaucho, or be in a gaucho-related field (rustling, branding or pampas real estate), beware. Years later, despite switching computers, changing passwords and altering my name, there are still sites convinced I need a bolo tie.

Autocorrect can sometimes produce strange results. A humorous example in “Damn You Auto Correct” is between brothers. One is asking to borrow $300 dollars for Mott’s Apple Juice. His sibling is ready to lend the money, but is concerned that there is an apple juice problem. Alas, the money was for a mortgage payment. Be very careful if you are writing about Swedish cars or pencils.

But this is not an anti-technology rant about privacy lines being crossed and trampled in the name of expediency and commerce.

After being presumptively bullied by my computer as if herded by a border collie (if you have one, you know the feeling), I began thinking about how I often steer conversations with friends. The more I reflected on it, the more uncomfortable I became. I often interrupt, under the guise of empathy and identifying with the story or emotion. I try to be an active listener. (“Wow I would have been terrified if I’d been there!”) Sometimes I am viewed as a true friend, someone who understands a fear of rodents or lavender soap. Too often, however, I have acted like a rabid autocorrect, finishing sentences for others and leaping to conclusions the speaker was fully capable of reaching without my help.

I am likely to volunteer the name of the actress, restaurant, or song before my friends can come up with it. It is a bad habit to presume where a story is going and beat the teller to the punch to show off under the guise of being helpful. I have made progress in letting others finish their own ideas and anecdotes. In a group setting it has been interesting to purposely step back and let the conversation go in a different direction. I still step over the line and become a nudge now and then, but any progress I have made is attributable to the example set by the bossy people at Amazon.

by Tom Cassidy

Earby owl by Tom Cassidy

Tom H. Cook has two border collies and has not had to make an independent decision in four years.

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.

Considering Gift Giving

I think somewhere in Leviticus is the first mention of Black Friday sales. In ancient times there were far fewer people to line up outside the bazaar and no electronics to speak of but still it was a thou shalt not. Whether it was because of graven images or false gods before me, I am not a biblical scholar. I do recall reading that God (or the management) would smite line cutters. Shopping was easier in ancient times as there were only about forty-three things, and everyone needed most of them. Once the classic gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and pecan nut roll went out of fashion, holiday gift giving became problematic.

To me a gift should say: I know you. I know your soul. You are already a complete human being. May this artifact or act of kindness I bring to you brighten your day and ease your burden. May the thoughtfulness of my gift touch you and remind you of me every time you use it. May we be forever linked by my insightful offering that, despite my professed modesty, gives you a rare glimpse into the profound regard in which you are held. Let me tell you it is hard to do life-changing and stay under twenty bucks!

Perhaps I am a hopeless romantic who sets the bar so high I am forced to slink under it, or I am a clueless, self-involved sloth. Either way I do not exchange gifts. If I find someone’s “Rosebud” (spoiler alert: it is a sled), it will probably be at a garage sale in June. I will not wait six months but instead give it right away, leaving me empty handed for the holidays. When I say I do not need anything I am not being coy. If I need an external hard drive I will not drop subtle hints to friends and family, I will just go get it.

Practical people mystify me. If friend Agnes (not her real name) wants a a cranberry merino sweater from Macy’s she will send her brother Jeff (that is his real name) the link so he can one-click purchase it and Sara (oops) gets exactly what she wants. Granted this is no Gift of The Magi, but it is smart, efficient, and no one has to wander around the mall with a bunch of cretinous mouth breathers or suffer receiving another of Jeff’s beer steins. Still it robs Christmas morning of a certain spontaneity until it is revealed that the color was sold out (because Jeff waited) and he was forced to scramble. “Can you believe I was able to luck into the last one left?” he crows, “and it is mostly purple –go Vikes!”

It was probably 1982 and a couple we knew very well were moving from Minnesota to Pierre, South Dakota. Unencumbered by children and many possessions, they had rented a van and filled it to the brim. Before they could leave my friend’s teenage brother brought her and her husband a going away present, a very large over stuffed chair. He was 17 and had strapped it to the roof of his car and driven from Illinois. Sometimes presents are not practical but the gesture is so sweet. The couple are no longer together but I believe she still has the chair.

Tom H. Cook is a somewhat local writer and a complete washout the one time he agreed to participate in a Secret Santa program at work. (He resorted to “gifting” office supplies from his own desk.)fixit

My Collections Are Under Attack!

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar            —Sigmund Freud

My collections are under attack by those closest to me. I suspect my editor (JoAnne) is behind the plot. She has been encouraging me to ask friends and family members how they really feel about my stuff.  This is a touchy subject.  I have always taken their feigned indifference for petty jealousy.  Now everywhere I search for an ally I hear the same thing:  A clear differentiation between their feelings for me (lukewarm), and their impression of my “hobby” (stifling, excessive).  I am warned to not take their pointed criticism personally, which is difficult as they are my CDs, books, and old radios.

These inquisitions/interventions give me pause.  Could I possibly be this shallow?  Have I no soul? Didn’t I understand Citizen Kane? Why do I need a non-operational Grundig Majestic radio looming over the family room?   When is the last time I listened to a Tijuana Brass boxed set?  Am I likely to watch Hill Street Blues DVDs, or re-read Jimmy Breslin’s account of Watergate? My friends intones words such as public library, Internet, Netflix, Kindle, and Pandora, all rational solutions.

For decades I have enjoyed collecting media and odd bits of Americana like an autographed picture of Miss Rheingold 1951.  The hunting has been fun, but I have also unknowingly been constructing a two-way Rorschach test.  My insecurities fairly screamed, “Look at all the cool stuff I’ve got… won’t you like me?” If my sparkling wit did not make me friends, perhaps my Hot Tuna album, or my Lone Ranger board game would.  It cuts both ways.  If someone were too unhip to get the joke of a prominently displayed autographed photo of Henry Kissinger, perhaps we were not meant to be friends.

I have reached the age and stage when I do not feel the need to attract new friends.  The message that I am getting from those closest to me is that they care for me despite, not because of my Frankie Avalon albums, and Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox.  They say my stuff is weighing on me and wouldn’t a much smaller collection be more practical and easier to appreciate?  They warn that I am drowning in stuff.

I may be ankle deep but I am certainly not drowning.   All the constructive criticism begins to blur and soon I am in a buzz of friends all nude, they are led by my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Reese.  Chanting and dancing, they implore me, “Break free!”  “Throw away your crutches!”  “Break free!” (Repeat incessantly).  I have to admit it is catchy and with the drums and the bonfire I find myself caught up in the frenzy.

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer and garage sale habitué.  A current home renovation project is calling into question all that he holds dear.       

Shirt Collection

Electronic Devices

 “A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child.”

Whether the origin is an old Russian proverb or a Hint from Heloise, the poignancy of the unending love and concern for a child even after the kid retires and moves to Boca Raton is heartwarming.  To my knowledge I am the first to be so materialistic, self-absorbed, and gadget obsessed to apply it to a relationship with electronic devices.  I have real children, now adults, but they do not need me the way my iPod, iPad, and Kindle do.  A crackling in my earphone or a slow podcast download is as unnerving as a CROUPY COUGH low battery signal.

The little scamps frequently need downloads, uploads, updates, operating system upgrades, and a new app, not to mention battery charging and screen windexing.  It takes considerable work, but the rewards!   I can walk down the street to “Saturday Night Fever”, play Words With Friends, or watch a short video of a duck mother and a baby kitten, all while waiting to have my teeth cleaned. I have no idea how I stumbled through life without these necessities.

A toaster makes toast (or in my case melts plastic bread bags left in its path) but it is (no offense) an appliance.  My little Kindle and Apple friends grow and learn.  Whether it is a stimulating new podcast, or a bug fix for a favorite app, it is as if they go off to school in a Wi-Fi cloud and come home bursting with new information, just like human children.

What, no iPhone?  As crazy as it sounds, I gathered my little electronic family and we discussed having podcasts, music, Internet, e-mail, photos, and video on a telephone.  My trusty iPod was strangely silent. Intimidated? Jealous?  We, I mean I, am so used to my iPod and earbuds that a new device would jeopardize our bond.

My usually reliable iPad II froze when I attempted to download articles about the new iPad Air.  In my defense I never used the phrase “relatively clunky;” that was a reviewer.  I admit I was curious about the retinal display, impressed by the weight, and momentarily seduced by the pixels.  As I said to Mona, I mean my iPad II, hadn’t I stood in line for five hours in the bitter cold the first week she/it was available?  She said we met in Manhattan Beach, it was 60 degrees and the wait was more like four hours.  I replied that I am loyal and never even considered the iPad mini.  Still, my downloads were slow for a week.

There were no objections to the Kindle joining our family.  It is interesting to browse Kindle Buffet for free e-books, although most are categorized as Bulgarian Women/ Christian Fiction/Romance/Adventure/Amish/Coming of Age.  The Kindle is lightweight and backlit, making it possible to read even heavy books in bed with the light off.  I have borrowed some e-books from local libraries and I may even buy a few to help support the fledgling company Amazon.

My editor (JoAnne) is often in Atlanta with our granddaughter Charlotte (HLP 10/13).   A great night for me is not networking at Chateau Marmont with industry types or doing shots with my bros in Hermosa Beach, but early bed with dogs for warmth and my Kindle and Apple buddies for entertainment.  In The Usual Suspects, the phantom world of Keyser Soze, the devil’s greatest feat is convincing people that he doesn’t exist.  My electronic friends have us believing they are not real.

Tom H. Cook a former local has moved far west of Hennepin Avenue.  He has come a long way from his acerbic suggestion that computers make the unnecessary possible.       

 

 

Where Are My Keys?

The game I play most frequently is, “Where are my keys?  I just had them!  They were right here!!!”   As amusing as that can be for neighbors and casual passersby, the activity I much prefer is referred to as “If I could see me now, then.”  I certainly did not invent it and most of us do it, often without giving it a name.   In my version, I am an “Our Town”-like observer, able to witness but not influence events.  The scene of my present to be viewed in my past only lasts for a minute or two.  It is an opportunity for my much younger, more judgmental self to get a peak at who I have become.

The present me will often smile at how the teenage me would roll his eyes at how I have sold out.  I take a perverse pleasure at getting my old self in situations that would totally baffle my early self. To play the game you must find yourself in an incongruous spot, and conjure the age you were when you would find the event/activity the most confusing or vexing.

If my editor (JoAnne) is with me and we are not in harm’s way because of a wrong turm I made, taking us from a dicey/sketchy neighborhood into one where people are actually exchanging gunfire, she will often play along. We had a game just last month.  My college self is watching for clues to his future.  I am driving a very large Jeep vehicle.  A much older woman is with me. It is JoAnne.  On closer look, I have aged a bit also.  JoAnne and I are yawning as we leave the city of Atlanta by highway at dusk.  We are in a massive traffic jam and somehow lost at the same time.  My young self, after getting over the short hair, decides that I/he must have moved to Georgia, which was never in any of my five year plans, if I had bothered to construct any.  JoAnne is waving around something about the size of a deck of cards, but it looks like a cross between a television and a scrap of one of those free roadmaps from the gas station.  She is urging me to move three lanes to the right in the next eleven feet.  Now the scene changes and I am sound asleep in a hospital atrium. I am wearing the same clothes I had on in the car, but now it is morning.  I have become way too comfortable in the lobby, which is showing signs of life. The day people have come to visit patients and watch insipid cartoons, or they would if I were not sleeping on the remote. JoAnne wakes me.  I follow her into a room where we must know the young woman in bed.  She looks tired, but beautiful and happy. A young man by her bed smiles and hugs me.

I need to ditch the old hippie and be totally in the present.  It is September 28th and our daughter Rachael has just given birth to our first grandchild.

 

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer.  He cannot wait to show Lake of the Isles to a little girl named Charlotte Easton Gillies.

Traveling Helpers

When I was a young man I did not want to run with the bulls at Pamplona (I have weak ankles) but I did want to experience the rest of Europe.  Holding me back was money, a cranky draft board, and my Great Dane, Yossarian (see HLP. Mar ‘07).  I eventually made the trip but I was well past the backpack and youth hostel age.  I never visited the Parisian fountain where Zelda Fitzgerald danced naked, or found Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts.  My middle aged sensibilities had a good enough time marveling at the architecture and soaking in the history, but I often caught myself thinking that I had missed the window.

My sister Nanci and her husband Tracy operate a bed and breakfast on Quadra Island in British Columbia (shameless plug at the end).  Paying customers are their lifeblood, but the upkeep of the place can be daunting.  A few years ago they came up with a unique solution: bring in travelers from all over the world who stay for a week or a month and help out in return for food and lodging.   Cynic that I am, I asked how they keep from attracting ax murderers or Amway representatives.  Nanci told me about HelpX, which sounds like a new age cult or a powerful stain remover, but is actually short for Help Exchange.

She explained that it was an organization that matches host families and travelers wanting to gain skills, practice a language, take a break from their routine, and most important, share the lives of people from another culture.  Potential hosts and visitors are screened extensively.  Before any direct contact is made both parties are urged to have extensive discussions about their mutual expectations.  Nanci assured me that if I registered as a host, a Bulgarian goat herder would not just show up at my door.  HelpX is an on-line aid to breaking down the artificial relationship of awkward tourist and put-upon local.  Working, eating, and living under one roof even for a limited time helps to forge close relationships.

The fully vetted traveler expects to work with the host approximately four hours a day in exchange for food and shelter.  No money changes hands. I was intrigued by the nobility and simplicity of the organization and the potential for international good works.  Nanci and Tracy have had folks from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and many European countries.  Tracy told me about a psychiatrist from Germany who had recently spent three weeks with them.  Arriving fairly burned out from his demanding practice, he became quite enamored with their electric pressure washer, and spent almost every waking hour outdoors cleaning.

They were currently hosting a young man from rural France who was spending nine months crossing Canada and the United States by train and bus, working on farms and with urban agencies that fed the hungry.  He wanted to see Los Angeles, and was I interested in hosting?  I told her that as long as he did not try to convert me or sell me aluminum siding it would be great.  If there was no risk, wouldn’t we all be friendlier and open to strangers?  My only remaining hesitation was that I do not do anything, and that it might be like the Seinfeld episode (Kramerica) in which Kramer takes on a college intern.  But if the French guy was game for loitering and wandering around he was welcome to come.

Guillaume Leblanc arrived the third week of March after working at a food distribution center for the poor in a sketchy part of Fresno, CA. His life in France is business school and a corporate internship.   At 22, he wanted to travel before finishing his MBA in marketing.  He, JoAnne, and our French-speaking friend Catherine bonded immediately.  Guillaume loved the dogs (together we have four) and was entranced by JoAnne’s weaving equipment.  He learned to spin in record time and was able to fix one of JoAnne’s broken spinning wheels.  He fit right in bicycling at the beach by day, and watching our favorite show, Damages, with us at night.  Fortunately we did not fully corrupt him.  After five days he left to work at a shelter outside of Las Vegas.

Rather than resent someone living the dream of my youth, I am delighted that there are altruistic and committed souls determined to work around the obstacles governments place in their path.  If you have a spare bedroom and could use a little help around the house or yard, and are interested in sharing your city and your life with someone from another country, contact helpx.net

Tom H. Cook remains a Minnesotan in everything but taxes, and windchill.    His sister is an artist and innkeeper.  Nanci welcomes all to her Island B&B in the civilized wilds of beautiful British Columbia.  Check it out at: firesignartanddesign.com