Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Love Letter to Maryland

Davis' Pub - Eastport, Annapolis

Davis’ pub in Eastport, Annapolis reminds me of what the Bohemian Flats must have been like on the West Bank of Minneapolis back in the ‘40s.The pub has been around since the ‘40s and their clientele hasn’t changed much since then. There are the usual neighborhood relics, a few old watermen, the hangers-on and now the ever-present tourists drawn by concierges and travel blogs.

Like the watermen of old, Davis’ pub remains stuck in the past. Its walls are adorned with fading photographs of tall ships, wooden boats, log canoes and skipjacks. Across the street the intoxicating smell of seaweed, salt air and brine mix with the fresh varnish on a yacht anchored there.

 It was all coming back to me. The inner harbor of Baltimore before Freddy Gray’s shadow darkened its shoreline. My job in Owings Mills, our home in Reisterstown and weekend jaunts up to Westminster and around the state.
Many of my changes started there. From 1972 through 1977, I sold programming during the day, rode out West at night and toe-stepped the Chesapeake on weekends. Our family started there and real estate first began to pique my curiosity. It was a most audacious start to something great…the rest of my life.
This time around Sharon and I were only in town for a day or two before amtraking it up to New York City and several plays there. My return to Maryland brought back a lot of great memories.

Back then I had long harbored great fantasies of sailing the bay. A boat ride on our friend’s runabout brought back a rush of old mental images. The air is clearer on the water and there is a nautical language reserved for the fleet of foot and strong of stomach. My friend spoke of new moons and dark skies. He waxed on philosophically about the Orionids, the Leonids, North Taurids and Geminids; all meteor showers reserved for his patch of moonlit sky.

The houses seemed to have gotten bigger and the sea lanes more crowded since our last visit. But the inlets and bays were still nature’s nurseries. The Chesapeake Bay supports more than 2700 species of plants and animals, including 348 species of finfish and 173 species of shellfish. Approximately 284,000 acres of the Chesapeake Bay are tidal wetlands. 

The Bay and its tidal tributaries have 11,684 miles of shoreline, more than the entire United States West Coast. Estuarine science and research is relatively young. Only in the last several decades has there been a good understanding of estuaries and fisheries.

Back in the seventies MCPB (Maryland Center for Public Broadcast) was one of the best public television stations in the country. It was my Camelot for almost five years.

My job selling programming was a precursor to my own business ventures born several years later. Our home was the first of a number of real estate investments. Two western novels were written, edited and then shelved for almost forty years before my new career as a writer took off. It was in Maryland where I attempted the JFK Fifty Mile Race but only got twenty-four miles before hypothermia brought me down. That failure propelled me to a lifetime of running.

Our G.M. was a brilliant yet incredibly personable leader. He had an enormous influence on my fantasies of becoming a writer.

It’s come full circle now. Sailing the Chesapeake, revisiting old friends through the MCPB Facebook page and writing as my new moniker to carry. I’d like to believe it all began there when a young sprout came up from Tennessee to test the waters of fledgling television, tip-toed the bays and inlets and drew in the fresh ocean breezes.

It was nice to be home again…if only in my imagination.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Everything is History Now

I am a casual interloper in this early morning world of iron riders and rail thin runners. These mostly white middle-aged athletes are gearing up for several races this fall.  They’re early morning vagabonds who need their cup of Joe to kick-start each day. It’s an eclectic group of support crew, racers, runners and neighborhood hangers-on gathered together to taste the first bite of dawn and forthcoming self-induced punishment. I’m here to look and marvel and suppress my envy.

After they leave I’ll begin my Saturday morning meanderings through the Twin Cities. There won’t be an agenda or route to follow. My imagination and ever elusive recollections of times past will point me in some direction.

There has been some interesting feedback on my nostalgic trips visiting old haunts around the Twin Cities. Some readers like the trips down memory lane. Others question why I keep going back almost as if I’m trying to relive my past. I thought I had touched on that in my blogs entitled My Bootleg Years or I Found Susan’s House. There have been others too.

It used to be that during the summer months I’d take long bike rides to peruse my old haunts for changes or as a way to recap old memories still lingering there. But something happened this year that altered that perception.

Surprisingly it wasn’t the old haunts that had changed. Instead it was something that clicked differently inside my head this time around. I came to the sobering realization that not only were the old places gone but now they were relegated to the dust bins of history.

The Twin Cities had become a wasteland of relics from my past. A time long since forgotten except in black and white photos and old vinyl recordings. Time has that tendency to erase most vestiges of a period and in its place leave only vapid memory vapors that drift in and out of our consciousness from time to time.

The changes were all around me but I didn’t see it until this summer.

I first discovered the Midtown Greenway many years ago. It’s a four and a half mile old railroad bed that had been converted to a bike path. That route begins on the Mississippi River Boulevard and ends around Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. It became my gateway to downtown Minneapolis, Nord East, the Mississippi River and many points North and East.

The intoxicating smell of soap weed and other noxious plants permeate the air. It brings back poignant memories of delivering newspapers past weed-choked empty fields those warm summer mornings.

An old black man is sitting outside his public housing unit. He’s smoking the first of many funny cigarettes. He waves and shouts: How ya doing? I answer “Just great” as I fly by with a casual nod. He smiles back and takes another puff.

West Bank

The West Bank is where drunks and druggies and the homeless used to pester me outside the Triangle Bar. Now there are new groups of immigrants taking over the streets. The crowds used to be white. Now, not so much. The Triangle bar was shuttered decades ago and with it a visible reminder of my youthful days of hopes and dreams and wild aspirations.

New Vikings Stadium - Minneapolis, MN

I wander downtown before our newest edifice to professional mayhem. Before Sunday afternoon begins this is where the bruisers and the brawlers gather for yet another party celebrating their ‘glory days.’ It’s a modern day rendezvous of rabid fans and modern-day hucksters.

East Bank

A couple of blocks from my first apartment there used to be a seedy rundown strip mall with a Red Owl Grocery store where I got my meager staples and tins. Progress erased any and every vestiges of that old neighborhood.

A grassy corner is all that remains where my squalid apartment building used to languish.

I heard about a new film that was just shown by the U of M Film Society called the ‘Dinkytown Uprising.’  It was written, directed, filmed and produced by a fellow student I took some film classes with way back in the late 60’s. He was a radical back then and hasn’t changed his colors much since then.

If rubble could talk it would speak volumes about Dinkytown. But those voices are mute now. They’ve been replaced by developer’s fact sheets and city planner’s visions for a new student hometown. Dinkytown today isn’t even close to what it once was. Now that they’ve ripped the soul out of the place city fathers want to make it an historic district. What a joke.

Wandering through the U of M campus did little to regenerate old memories. The closest I came to old mindset was the U of M School of Journalism. That was before I dropped out, got drafted and began the rest of my life in earnest.

The Dew Drop on the campus of the University of St. Catherine’s was a fount of old memories. There were a couple of girlfriends back then and toe-dancing with romance as if I knew what I was doing. When that failed I began tripping around the globe until that ended in matrimony.

My wife was one of the first of her post-war generation to escape small town America. There are condos and a marina on the river now where the old Robin Hood Flour Mill used to stand. It’s a new generation that has discovered small town America and the ancient lure of the river.

Driving out to the old Schumacher farmstead I see that Dumfries tavern is gone now. It’s been replaced by several double-wides with ATVs parked in front.

Then glimpses from the road of the old farmstead. The farm house is gone now and only the barn remains as a relic to someone else’s past. I’ve got more than thirty-four years of history there.  Strange to see it gone.

I don’t think I’ll be retracing my old bike routes anymore. It won’t be because of bad memories. Rather the absence of visible landmarks makes it harder to reconcile memories with recollection, nostalgia with history and reality with a reflective glance at my past. It’s a gravel road that has long since been paved over.

Yet time is on my side. I still get to look back through old photographs in awe and amazement at what once was while still listening to those old familiar musical refrains. I’m still reliving so much that others can’t or won’t see or feel themselves.

Come next spring new adventures wait. Charlotte, my youngest granddaughter, is now a two-wheeler like her brother. Perhaps I can enlist them as my posse and together we can discover new routes and adventures around the Twin Cities. I’ll be a younger man then and hopefully still eager to blaze new memory trails for that younger generation.

Perhaps I’ll cross trails with some old memory haunts yet undiscovered.

That wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Peter Pan Syndrome

Recently a friend of mine had a reunion with a group of neighborhood women she hadn’t seen in over thirty years. Not surprisingly and following statistics, two of the women had been divorced and remarried while the first two remained married.

Each woman had been through the typical trials and tribulations so common with couples today. They had gotten married in a bright rainbow flush of love. They had children and assumed their lives would play out as so many others had. Then something changed along the way for two of the couples. Perhaps it was infidelity or a loss of faith in their partner. Two of the women ended up on the other side of the marriage equation. The other two held steady to their marriage, kids, a career and now retirement with the same spouse.

What struck me about my friend’s lengthy discourse with the two divorced women was an overwhelming consensus that if they had to do it again they would never have gotten remarried at that stage in their lives.

Their reasoning was very clear. When men get old, the women argued, they are not fun to be around anymore. Old men get set in their ways. They look old. They sound old. They talk like old men.

Herein lays the dilemma for many of us. When is casualness in retirement mistaken for slovenliness? When is enjoying a cup of coffee and the newspaper in the morning someone else’s waste of time? When is finally being able to relax doing what you want to do mistaken for a lack of ambition or direction?

There is a freedom of thought and expression on the west coast that extends far beyond the hedonistic pleasures of Palm Canyon Drive. It can be found in the artist communities of Idyllwild. It is prevalent among the hermits, musicians and malcontents of Joshua tree and on the coast with the seaside poets and painters of Laguna Beach.

This creative expression can be found in the visual renderings of imaginative minds, the music of dreamers, the mauling of vernacular vestiges in the name of art and the casual clothing found most everywhere. It’s casualness I’ve embraced in my old age.

When we vacation in Palm Springs I like to emulate the natives. Each morning I put on my swimming suit, flip-flops, and a t-shirt. On chilly mornings a fleece will suffice until it warms up.
I don’t always shave every day. It takes about two or three days for some semblance of a shadow to appear on my face. Most of it is gray so it’s practically invisible anyway. Until the back of my head resembles the great waves on the North Shore it’s not time for a haircut.

On more than one occasion it’s been suggested that perhaps early senility has set in or as someone close to me likes to say “I’m losing it.”

Am I the only male of our species that thinks shaving every day and wearing underwear are two grooming rituals that can be ignored every once in a while assuming the environment is as I’ve described it?  Or must I acquiesce to the proper rituals of male grooming that the other half thinks is so important no matter what the environment? In a nutshell, if I’m working at home in my office and not in public, do I have to shave and wear underwear just because we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s the proper thing to do?

Photo courtesy of Brett Kolles

Photo courtesy of Brett Kolles

I have a middle-age friend who loves to bring his male friends up to his mountain cabin a couple of times a year for a ‘guy’s weekend.’ They have water balloon fights, play soccer, fly kites off the mountainside, ride Mountain bikes recklessly through the woods, and in short, act like kids for the weekend. Is this stupid or just men being men?

Women would say one thing. Men would defensively say another.

Perhaps we’re talking about the idiosyncrasies of older men or just men in general. What is a man cave other than modern days refuse for men to hide from women and just be themselves (or as women would say, just being stupid)

Women seem to have a plethora of concerns for their husbands, partners or significant others as the aging process becomes more apparent. They worry about their men getting old and acting it. They fret about them not shaving every day. Not getting a haircut when it’s needed (their determination, not his) Not dressing appropriately in public or semi-public for that matter. They worry about their man’s personal hygiene.

For those more insightful women they worry about their man not having a lot of male friends. Not to mention a myriad of other complaints from a lack of interest in anything remotely akin to her interests to just plain old boredom.

A few of my blogs have dealt with or at least edged alongside the concept of growing old. Occasionally I like to ponder what it means to get old. At times I wonder if I’m deluding myself with my interest in popular music, new adventure travels, living abroad, athletic endeavors, getting more involved with my grandchildren and a myriad of other activities usually left for the younger set.

Is it the Peter Pan syndrome raising its young head again or something more ominous such as denial of the inevitable aging process? Are sore muscles and stiffness the inevitable results of a life well lived or simply a lack of exercise? Am I kidding myself when I say you’re never too old to grow young again? And don’t fade slowly into the dark; instead leap boldly into the brightness until it burns you up.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that this whole writing thing of mine is a culmination of many goals and desires first initiated during my lost years. It’s spawned a desire to reconnect with old friends, revisit and examine my past and to do so while focusing on my future and adjusting for the reality of my life as it is.

From Snow White and the Seven Seekers to Looking for Susan’s House, this vision quest has become an important part of my life and I’m not about to let it go.

This attitude or delusional meanderings of mine seem to have struck a cord with a lot of folks who read my blogs. So either my readers find something of interest here or they’re just curious what my problems are? Or maybe they simply like to look at the old pictures I post?

The fact is I don’t want to grow up if it means looking and ending up like a lot of the old men around me. So what if I don’t shave everyday? So what if I wear my swimming suit in the morning or continue to listen to classical music (meaning music of the 50s and 60s) while still opening myself up to newer forms of musical entertainment?

I would argue that as long as I’m staying involved and and using my mind every day for something other than mindless chatter at the coffee shop or listening to talk radio, it’s time well spent. For a lot of folks my age long range planning means “What’s for dinner?” I’d like to believe that I can see a little further out than that. I’m not falling apart but simply focusing on things of greater importance in this world in which I’ve chosen to live.

Despite the challenges of old age and calcified ambitions that sometimes have to be pried loose from the rigid assumptions of past generations, I intend to continue my quest to discover, examine and write about whatever it is that interests me.

They say the secret to a long and successful marriage is to let the man handle the big things and the woman handle the little things. Then make sure your marriage is all about the little things. This works for me.

As long as I can wear my Southern California attitude whether I go…with or without underwear.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Back Step in Time

For many years I considered mind games such as ‘what if…’ and ‘but if not for…’ to be exercises in futility. They were simply excuses to ponder ones history and guess what might have happened back then. It was nothing more than living in the past. I don’t intend to recount my ‘glory days’ until there are no more mountains to conquer and no more seas to cross.

Now a couple of recent conversations have changed my perspective on the matter.

In his book ‘Self Matters’ Dr. Phil McGraw, Ph.D. (Yeah, I know, Dr. Phil) suggests the reader identify ten defining moments in their lives and seven critical choices they’ve made. The number I assume is arbitrary. The point is that each one of us has made critical choices in our past lives and whether we knew it or not at the time it changed the direction of our lives dramatically.

Cretin High School - Photo Credit Jerry Hoffman

I’d already gone through that exercise many years ago and it proved to be enormously eye-opening.  There were a number of events in my younger years that propelled me into what and where I am today. Those were life-altering events such as being accepted into Cretin High School, returning to the College of Saint Thomas, living abroad, getting married, starting my own business, my investments and even getting fired once. Each event helped shape the person I evolved into. Along with those events were life experiences and relationships that could have gone either way.

After reminiscing with a couple of old friends about our respective lives I was forced to turn my attention to those people, events and actions of mine that might have gone in another direction. Despite past prejudices against ruminating through my past I found myself drawn to some old pictures. At that point my over-active imagination ran rampant with repetitive thoughts about what if…

The dye was cast and the mold begun. I was scheduled to go to Monroe High School at first until a last minute cancellation got me into Cretin. Monroe was a good school but it wouldn’t have been the same.

She was the first one. Emotions I’d never experienced before. Yet it withered and died like most high school romances.

An atypical college romance interrupted by two years of military service and a strong desire on her part to head out east. She went to Boston. I moved to Denmark.

Maria was my translator and confidant at the Danish laundry where I worked. She was married but a great friend. She wanted me to stay on but wanderlust pulled me away.

Her name was Heidi. She was a college student in Denmark. I met her when she worked briefly at the laundry before returning to campus. She wanted me to stay with her on the coast where she was in college. I deferred to better judgement. We lost touch with one another after I left for the south of France.

A Dutch potter and a painter. They were the best of friends and accepted me into their ragtag eclectic band of brothers. It was 1968 in Amsterdam and things were wild. They promised to get me a job and even had an apartment lined up that I could share with some of their friends. I had a job waiting for me back home but little else. It was very tempting. 

Neighborhood I almost moved to in Amsterdam

More of the neighborhood that didn't become mine

Amsterdam Nightclub 1968

Tram I would have taken to work in Amsterdam

Travel Agency where I would have worked in Amsterdam

Dam Square - site of a lot of anti-war demonstrations in the 1960s

In the end I declined their offer and returned home. We wrote for a little while then I / we moved on with our lives. A great group of folks.

We started writing to one another as pen pals.  I visited her in England once and she came to Ohio but we never hooked up…here or there. She was bright, fun and fascinated with the states. I think she wanted to be a librarian or a school teacher. I hope her wish came true.

Sharon - The power behind the rocking chair

Mix an ISTJ (off the charts) with an ENFJ (off the charts) and what do you get besides an affirmation that opposites attract. It worked for me. There were life twists and turns every step of the way. Even marriage and kids didn’t slow the evolution of our lives.

Now I pound the keyboard every day and wonder how I got here in the first place. It could have been Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Tennessee or Baltimore. Instead it’s a quiet street in Apple Valley, Minnesota and a mountain view out west.

Who knew?