Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Doing the Wabasha Shuffle

I’ve been doing the Wabasha shuffle for 40 plus years now. It started out when I was captivated by this brilliant blond from work with a worldly view of life and as well as a vivacious personality. She had been raised on a farm down south and I thought it would be interesting to visit that foreign environment.

Gradually the Wabasha shuffle matured into weekend visits to her parents farm, then their home in town and finally now to the nursing home where her father is residing with his Alzheimers disease. Her mother still lives in town and pretends she’s on her own. Yet it’s only because of weekly visits by her children and daily visits by town folk that she is able to live out her illusion of independence.

A farm in the family wasn’t what I thought it would be. When the kids were small, I had this idyllic vision of “Dick and Jane visit Grandpa’s Farm.”

Unfortunately reality painted quite a different picture. Grandpa was still a working farmer and had no time for little kids running behind his tractor. So Melanie spent her time trying to catch feral farm cats (good luck with that) and Brian wandered through the barn, finding hiding places up in the lofts.

Nothing much has changed in Wabasha as is often the case in small town America. But like so many others before me, I’ve shifted and changed and morphed into different personalities as the sands of time carried me from one career to the next and one lifestyle to another.

To the town folk of Wabasha, I’ve always been ‘one of them city boys.’ I stopped trying to make inroads into their conversations a long time ago. Farmers regarded me with even more suspicion because of my city ties. Imagine their collective consternation when one of their own married a big city fella.

On our last visit to Wabasha, even my uniform of the day was wrong. I was wearing my trail running shoes, jeans I hadn’t worn in six months, a black t-shirt that read’ I love SF,’ my Galway jacket and a baseball cap with ‘writer’ inscribed on it. Little did I know that the real uniform of the day was boots and jeans, sweatshirts (Twins led the Vikings with the U.S. Army coming up a solid third) cammie jackets and baseball caps (again the Twins were leading the Vikings)

So often going back home means going back in time. But as Bob Dylan famously said there is ‘no direction home.’ Sadly, it can’t be done. The time capsule that is Wabasha, Minnesota is replicated across the country. Returning there to capture what once was is like trying to catch the wind (apologies to Donovan). It hasn’t changed but we have and there in lies the dilemma.

I have a friend who is flying in from the East Coast to attend her 50th high school reunion
in southwestern Minnesota. I think most people go to high school reunions to show off their lives in thinly veiled ways. It’s a game of “Look at who I married. Here is a picture of my handsome children and my beautiful grandchildren.” My friend became part of the East Coast academic/intellectia consortium of successful professionals. It’s probably a safe assumption that not all of her high school classmates have reached that same pinnacle of professional success. It can make for some awkward moments amid the social pleasantries and forced chatter of a reunion.

I’m guessing she will come to realize what I did at my own 50th reunion. After fifties years apart, I had little if anything in common with my classmates. While I carried my accouterments of success in my head, it never came up. Men are that way. In theCompany of Old Men pretty much describes that scene. It was fascinating, enlightening, a little bit sad and a little bit funny. It brought back a few fond memories but mostly it brought out a sly smile and wonderment that I had actually survived the trauma and confusion of those teen years.

Now after a second season in Palm Springs, returning to Minnesota to do the Wabasha shuffle is once again part of my summer agenda. And yet it is still pretty much the same soundtrack in terms of ‘been there before, don’t want to go back there again.’ But, of course, we must for the in-laws. It’s all part of shared marital responsibilities.

So I smile and make pleasant faces and try very hard to care about the price of grocery store staples and bloated government programs and all those issues paramount to small town America. Those foreign environments on the coast are never discussed and focus is always given to matters that really count like spring crops and fall harvests.  It’s still a foreign environment I rarely inhabit and must strive hard to make it work for me. I left all that behind when I moved away from home.

I’ll leave my Zen back in the desert for the summer and try to forge an understanding of small town America back here in Minnesota. I’m willing to step back in time but never enough to get lost there.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Deposits and Withdrawals

When we were all young and dumb, the world was a rainbow landscape full of wonderful  adventures and opportunities. Each of us set out to become whatever we thought we should be…at the time. The world was our oyster and we meant to have it all.

It’s funny how reality evolves and our past lives and aspirations finally catch up with us. That winding road called ‘my life’ is either running smooth as asphalt or rough like gravel. And yet none of us want to get off the road even if the ride isn’t what we expected it to be after all these years. Something like my life in pictures.

It’s been forty or fifty years since we turned twenty-one and shed our cloak of anonymity to adorn ourselves with the costume of adulthood. Now we’re at a point in our lives where reflection is more than a glass of chardonnay framed within a sunset or a cold brew among high school buddies. And there is no going back as I learned in thecompany of old men.

Our current life style is an accumulation of habits born long before our birth. For some of us it was modeled after our parent’s pioneering excursion into life. For others, it was a process of discovery, loss, acceptance and rejection. And finally our life style became us on a daily basis and we weren’t even aware of it. It’s only now that the accumulation of excess and/or scarcity raises its hidden head.

Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying that life is like a bank account. How you use it is solely your determination. You can withdraw it in a hurry and live a very short life. Or you can be diligent with your withdrawals and live, hopefully, much longer.

We can always try to rectify some of our mistakes or enhance our positive steps but age and reticence to change are usually huge obstacles to overcome. We’ve let life’s ebb and flow (our gypsy muse) guide us in this rhythm of life. For most of us, the process was organic and without a lot of thought. The first apartment, the first job, first time camping overnight during a long Minnesota winter.

And now quite unexpectedly, we find ourselves both benefiting and/or suffering from past investments of our youth. The things we did to ourselves, the deposits we made on our bodies, our finances, our love life and our children. We’re now at the stage of making withdrawals from our youthful decisions and indiscretions.
The life investments have been made, squandered, lost, accumulated, divested and set aside. Some things worked out and some things didn’t. Now we have the residue of our wisdom or luck or mistakes to live with for the rest of our lives. And all those life steps are now just a memory.
A career was hatched, grown and nurtured or changed many times over. That part of our lives is over unless boredom and fear of retirement pushes us in a new direction.

We abused our body with youthful indiscretion or ignored it or kept the blood flowing by never stopping. Now that investment or abuse is either paying back dividends or punishing us with worn out body parts along with the inevitable aging process.

My bank account of friends isn’t the greatest. A reluctance to make an effort back then, despite the chiding by my wife, has left me lacking in that area. Yet what I do have in the vault is now priceless. One of my aspirations is to mine those rich veins of past friendships to see if I might unearth more nuggets there. Occasionally I’ll strike gold and rekindle a long lost almost forgotten friendship from the dusty archives of my past. It’s a blast. And immensely satisfying.

Those random discoveries got me thinking about other friendships; past and future, strong and vapid, present and omnipresent. I thought about the friends I’ve had over the years. Some of them shared isolated points in my life; high school, college and work. Some were but fleeting incisions in the tenderness of my youth. Others were shared experiences like the military; isolated, vacuous and destined to crash with each discharge celebration where inane behavior in the barracks seemed to make perfect sense back then.

Most of those memories are lost now in that vacuum called life experiences. A few were found again but most are just fragrant memories of a life well spent. Like separating wheat from the shaft, I’d love to rekindle a few of those friendships and nourish them back to the point of commonality we once shared. A kind of harvesting from my lost years.

The cliché that you can never have too many friends dissolves over the pages of Facebook where collecting friends can be a cyber-game for some folks, devoid of meaningful contact and concern. Having friends on Facebook isn’t the same as having real friends who care and share and actually want to be somebody in your life. Big difference there! For some folks it’s like grade school best friends.

I guess that’s why I want to continue seeking out old friends and acquaintances who might share my same values and interests.  Even if it’s an exercise in futility like looking for Susan’s house. The past can’t be replicated nor ignored. It can be accepted for what it was even if we couldn’t see it at the time. It’s all cloaked in that most evolving, translucent, vapid metaphor called relationships. Together they fill our thoughts and dreams and aspirations with dream-like illusions we’d like to believe in. It’s a game we play on a daily basis as we go about the business of living.

But there’s one group that isn’t into that game-playing. Children are the most transparent of all relationships. No pretense, no pretending. They haven’t learned those life lessons of pretend, illusion and facial facades. It’s all there in front of us and easy to recognize.

So it all comes down to friends and family and the most honest among those two groups.
I am in a good place in my life. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore! As an artist, I love creating stories in many different genres and I intend to continue writing until my pen dries up or I go blind. I’d like to take my true friends along on this journey of discovery of self and life and whatever else comes my way.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Christmas Redux

(How a Septuagenarian got to visit Hipster Heaven)

There was no time to spare. The proof of my second novel “Apache Death Wind” demanded immediate attention. I needed to make the necessary corrections before ordering copies for our Desert Writers Expo (book fair) that was coming up very soon.  The pressure was on. The last thing I needed were any more interruptions.

But, of course, that’s exactly what happened when the doorbell rang between a running cavalry fight and escape from the marauding Apaches. Suddenly there were two urchins at the front door. I couldn’t see their mom but I assumed she was lugging her Girl Scout cookies behind them. Strangely, one of them looked like Sweet pea; Charlotte from Saint Paul.

As I approached the front door, the second urchin went kangaroo, jumping up and down and flapping his arms. It WAS Brennan and Charlotte…by themselves with nary an adult in sight. As I opened the front door, my family was suddenly there surrounding me. They had all come to Palm Springs to celebrate my 70th birthday.

Sharon had pulled off three months of meticulous planning that details that had to rival the 6th of June. Her surprise birthday party for me was a complete success. I was floored.

For one long weekend, the expats from Minnesota and Colorado enjoyed their time in the sun.  The Hollister gang returned to sprint up and down their asphalt racetrack. Deft fingers were put to the test with rock painting (which adorn my office window now), making a variety of breakfast pancakes, squeezing fresh orange juice every day and performing more aerial aerobics above the pool than a Hummingbird on crack.

The highlight of their visit had to have been the time spent in our pool. We were blessed with warm weather the entire weekend and my overnight lodgers made good use of it. As these pictures can attest gravity was challenged above and below the pool.

And the youngest of the troop, Sweetpea, learned to imitate her brother and cousins with her scoops and kicks.

I was amazed, amused and delighted with the water/aerial gymnastics shown by all my grandchildren. But then my confidence was shaken a bit when Spencer leaned over one day in the pool and whispered in my ear: “Hey, dude, do you think we’re ready to go tubular in some really gnarly surf?”

“Say what?” I answered.

His sister, Samantha, piped up, “Oh, that was so bodacious, Spence. You’re like a radical wave man getting air.” Then she turned to me and added, “Oh Papa, you’re like our big kahuna.”

And I was concerned my grandkids were going to be theater majors. Now I worry they’ll all split for the North Shore one day.

I guess it’s really true. At this stage in one’s existence, you know who the really important people are in your life. Many of them were there surrounding me with love and affection. It was a weekend full of laughs, liquids and plenty of pool time.

There were three lessons I was remind of during their visit.

Lesson # 2
Family and friends are everything. Financial success is meaningless unless it benefits the family structure and togetherness. Grandchildren keep you young, tired, grateful, loved, wanted, needed and ultimately they make reaching the ripe old age of seventy worthwhile. The care and feeding of grandchildren is more than just a happy thought.

Lesson # 1
For some reason, turning sixty way back when wasn’t that big of a deal. In fact, it was hardly noticeable. There were too many distractions on my plate to worry about advancing age. Now suddenly being seventy is noticeable. Not to worry, my son assures me. He says seventy is the new fifty. In that case, I don’t have to worry about my sixties until I reach eighty.

I guess I’ve made it this far by a curious combination of luck, genes, Sharon and my kids, running on a daily basis for the last forty years, hapless planning that somehow went right despite…the inability to grow up entirely and if you are a believer, someone’s preordained plan.

For many people, long range planning is “What’s for dinner.” Other people my age have a five year plan and then a three year plan. I’m focused on my day-to-day because three, four or five years out is just a distraction. It’s a life in pictures that continues to grow.
Lesson # 3
And before they left, my kids even took me to hipster heaven. A Septuagenarian in hipster heaven was like revisiting the Triangle Bar without the Acapulco Gold in one corner, blues sung from a smoke-filled stage in another corner, twenty-five cent schooners of beer and one wannabe hippie talking philosophy and smack at the same time. It was like my lost years with a little more clarity and purpose but not necessarily any more maturity.
For reasons still foreign to me, the coastal tribes of California Hipsters have decided that Palm Springs is the perfect getaway for weekend forays into the desert. And one of their favorite stomping (figurative speaking) grounds is less than a half mile from my humble abode.

Brian, ever anxious to forestall or delay my aging process, decided it was the perfect spot to hang out after the kids were in bed and Nana was standing guard. Besides, Brian assured me, the place had been mentioned three times in the latest issue of G.Q. While it wasn’t the Triangle Bar, it did encapsulate a modern day version of New School Hippies. So Brian and I, along with Melanie and Amy went slumming. I loved it.

Today’s hipster follows a long line of counter-culture movements that have challenged the status quo for decades. Mine was the hippie movement. Before hippies, came the beats and before them, it was the Harlem Renaissance with artists such as Langston Hughes in Harlem and artists in Greenwich Village.

After punk went commercial and hip hop lost its focus, this newest mutation took form. It was a trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior that grabbed the moniker of “Hipster.”

As with every counter-culture movement, there are uniforms and standards of dress or in this case, undress. Most of the men wore skinny black jeans, black T-shirts, vintage flannel, knit skull caps, black boots or flip-flops, fake eyeglasses and a keffiyeh.

The women were much more interesting. There was no filigree or lace there unless it was meant to titillate and entice.

There was this goddess in a tiny bikini (Band-Aids really) which was covered, euphemistically speaking, by a see-through flowing robe and a smartly tailored jacket. Her blond hair was up in a Heidi-bun. Of course, wedge heels were mandatory.

Another woman wore a long silk duster that covered a dress which started far down her chest and ended up around her naval. She wore a floppy sun bonnet and had hoop earrings which just about rested on her shoulders. Black boots completed her ensemble.

Another had a long black sleeveless prom dress with a high neckline. Of course, there were no side panels and spillage was only a simple twist or turn away. Where was Chubby Checker when you needed him?

One Mary Travers look-alike wore jean shorts that were cut high above the pockets. The pockets were left intact and hung like holsters on her thighs. It looked like a narrow jean sash across her bottom.

Almost all of the women had legs that wouldn’t quit. Several of the men did too. And almost all of them smoked cigarettes; foreign and domestic. Parliament was the most popular but the Turkish ones smelt the worse.

When I was growing up, only truck drivers and bad-ass Marines had a lot of tattoos. These Hipsters, both men and women, carried more ink than the New York Times. Colorful montages complimented or con-trasted with bleach-blond hair or coal black coffers. Arms, legs, necks were all adorned with flowers, figures, symbols and other designs of the millennials.

I could just imagine the tattoos I couldn’t see?

At one point, Brian and I were comparing notes and observations, all to the consternation of Melanie who couldn’t contain herself and finally had to exclaim. “Oh, my God, you two are just alike!” Somehow she made that sound like a bad thing?

Our deserts most famous resident used to say: “Thanks for the Memories.” I would gladly concur. It’s been one heck of a ride for seventy years. Being with family on my birthday was the icing on the cake.

There’s even talk of Coachella next year.

But don’t tell Mom.