TYOLD Day 22: Muskrat Sam

The news broke today that the Captain & Tennille are getting a divorce after nearly 40 years of marriage. This has inspired my Differently for today which is this: I am coming out of the closet.

No, not that… I did that years ago.  I’m coming out of the closet as a Captain & Tennille fan.

I had all of their albums when I was kid – every single one of them. I even had a poster of them that I put up on my bedroom wall.  It looked like this:

cat

(you really can find anything on the Internet)

Mind you it was hung near the poster of Jimmy & Kristy McNichol that came with the album they did together. Oh yes… I’m letting it all hang out there, folks!

I loved the Captain & Tennille and not just their hits. “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Shop Around” are obvious but I would sit and listen to their records from start to finish over and over and over. When the records got scratched, I replaced them with 8-tracks, my friends. Don’t judge me! I also watched every single episode of their variety show and was sure that they were going to be my best friends someday.

After hearing the news of their impending divorce, I went on to Spotify and listened to a bunch of their songs and had such intense late 1970s fat kid alone in my bedroom pretending to be a (soft) rock star memories that it nearly killed me. I have not listened to “Song of Joy” – the 1976 album with “Shop Around” and “Muskrat Love” – in probably 35 years but I remembered every single track, in painfully vivid detail. Yes, I was able to sing along to Captain & Tennille deep album cuts.

As with all great love affairs, my passion for Captain & Tennille was brief. By 1979 I was mainlining disco, in 1981 I was in love with Olivia Newton John, and in 1984 my mind was blown open when I heard “When Doves Cry” for the first time and understood what music could really be.

These days I’m more into EDM (Calvin Harris, Tiesto, Avicii, etc.), old school soul and funk (James Brown, Aretha, Bill Withers,etc.), and current pop/rock (Pink, Kelly, Katy) but after listening to the Captain & Tennille today I am not ashamed to admit that I still found some of it charming in an era-specific kind of way.

So don’t be ashamed, Muskrat Heads! Join me in professing your love for C&T! Even if their love can’t keep them together anymore, our love for them will never truly die!

BTW, just in case you don’t believe that it ever happened, I give you…

kanj

TYOLD Day 21: Remembering Sh@# I Didn’t Want to Remember

I finally broke down and saw Dallas Buyers Club tonight.  It is looking increasingly likely that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are going to win the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, so I figured I kind of had to.  I didn’t want to watch the Oscars and find myself being one of those people who has to say “I heard they were really good.”

But I really didn’t want to see this movie.  Why should I pay $12.50 to watch people dying of AIDS when I watched that in real life in the 1980s and 1990s?

Have you ever had some sort of severe physical pain?  A broken bone, a surgery, the birth of a child, perhaps?  You can remember that it happened but you’re remembering the theory of it; the intellectual knowledge that you were in pain.  Most people can’t remember what that pain was actually like on the kind of level they did when they were experiencing it.  If they did, most women would probably never have more than one child.

It’s not like I had ever really forgotten what the world was like back in those days but it has been decades since I knew a person who died from complications due to AIDS.  When that much time passes, it fades and becomes abstract.

Seeing Dallas Buyers Club made me remember the late 1980s and early 1990s.  It made me remember shit I didn’t want to remember.  Fear.  Pain.  Death.  Hopelessness.  I’m a little mad at the movie for bringing all that up again.

But it also made me remember people I hadn’t thought of in 20 years and others that I have thought of more recently but not as often as I used to.  It made me miss them but in ways that made me smile, so I guess the movie made me remember shit I did want to remember, also.  That alone makes it qualify as my Differently for the day, I think.

For the record, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto deserve every single award they are getting and many, many others that have not been created yet.   Do not argue with me on this.  You will lose.

quilt

TYOLD Day 20: Keep Moving

Noting it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I realized that I had never watched the entirety of his famed “I have a Dream” speech. I had read it, at some point I’m sure, and had seen the abridged version (the last few minutes that include the most famous lines), but I had never watched the entire thing.

Today, I corrected that. If you need to do the same, here’s the video:

After watching it, I flashed back on my experiences intersecting with the legacy of Dr. King, which came during the Plucky Survivors See America road trips I took with my best friend Mary. I went back to re-read those parts and came away proud of what we had written and wanted to share it with you.

First, from 2006 and our visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site were Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated:

This stunning facility is made up of several unified buildings – a new structure adjoins the shell of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and across the street is the boarding house from which the fatal bullet came.

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee

You go through exhibits made up of state-of-the-art graphics, photographs, multimedia and interactive displays, and artifacts which explain the whole history of the Civil Rights movement, starting well before the Civil War and working step by step through the underground railroad, school integration, Jim Crow laws, soda fountain sit-ins, bus boycotts, marches on Washington, and so much more.

It culminates in a hallway positioned between two recreated motel rooms; one a typical one, all made up for the day, the other in a rumpled state, just as it was when its occupant decided to step outside on the balcony. The railing outside has borne a wreath since hours after 6pm, April 4, 1968. This is holy ground, reverent and inspiring silent contemplation as you listen to Mahalia Jackson singing a lament in the background. We dare you to not be moved by this spot.

The balcony of the Lorraine Motel where MLK Jr. was shot.

The balcony of the Lorraine Motel where MLK Jr. was shot.

From there you cross the street and enter a tunnel that takes you upstairs to a recreation of the tawdry room occupied by James Earl Ray. From the seedy bathroom you can see how easy it was to take aim at that balcony across the street.

This section also contains a broader perspective on the meaning and effects of assassination from Yitzhak Rabin to Harvey Milk (shown as stars on the constellation as it would’ve appeared in Memphis on the night of April 4, 1968) plus an interesting look at the lingering questions of whether or not King’s assassin acted alone.

The man overseeing the door encouraged us not to linger upstairs but quickly move along to the exhibits on the first floor, which emphasize “our accomplishments.”

He said, “You know how Katie Couric started last night? She couldn’t have done that a few years ago. That’s part of the accomplishments.” He’s overlooking Barbara and Connie, of course, but we got his point, and more importantly, his optimism and attitude; why focus on such an ugly and tragic moment? Why not look forward?

The exhibits in toto were so profound we couldn’t really say anything for a long time after, and we aren’t any better at finding the right words now. The one thing that struck us was how massive and seemingly impossible the task was and how each victory was just a small chip away at an edifice that surely would never fall. And yet it did.

That’s where the man at the door was right; it never truly ends. We may have won the battle to desegregate schools but today are higher rates of unemployment for African-Americans; Jim Crow law were declared illegal (and immoral) but there are still women who make less average wages than men and gay people can still be fired from their jobs in 37 states because of their sexuality. We truly honor the incredible work those people did by continuing their struggle in all areas of injustice, and never giving up, because it’s also never truly hopeless.

Then from 2009 when we visited the MLK Historic Site in Atlanta:

From the cemetery we went to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. This is a cluster of buildings erected next to the new Ebeneezer Baptist church, across the street from the historic original, and down the street from the nice Victorian where Dr. King was born in 1929.

Martin Luther King Jr's boyhood home in Atlanta, Georgia

Martin Luther King Jr’s boyhood home in Atlanta, Georgia

The first building holds excellent exhibitions on MLK and his historic context. There was a room containing the mule cart that carried Dr. King’s casket during his funeral procession, plus all the dry official documents that were issued upon his death “by gunshot wound to thorax.” Such a simple stark phrase to sum up not just the death of a man but what seemed at the time to be the death of a dream, of justice itself. The exhibit also had letters sent by children to Dr. King’s children after his death. One in particular was a drawing of three kids, all sad faced and crying, and underneath it read, in tipply child’s handwriting, “Sorry about your daddy.”

Across the street is another visitor’s center which contains Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize, plus other mementos and artifacts of his life, including his minister robes, his toiletries, a case of cufflinks, and a very, very well thumbed Bible. There are also copies of books he read on Gandhi, and a room devoted to that other messenger of peaceful protest and justice.

Martin Luther King Jr's Nobel Prize

Martin Luther King Jr’s Nobel Prize

Out front is Dr. King’s tomb, a shining white sarcophagus set in a placid lake of blue water.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Tomb.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Tomb.

There is nothing we can say about that.

Except; that tomb, and the toppled statue pictured here may be the iconic starting images for what we think is emerging as the theme of this trip; endurance and resilience. Anything from minor adversity to catastrophe can topple and break plans and lives, and it seems impossible to piece it together again afterward. And yet; Sherman marched through Atlanta and left it in ashes and here it is, alive. Dr. King is tragically, senselessly murdered, and here we are, this same night, about to see a black man accept the nomination as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. It’s forty years later, and that’s much too long, but it happened, what surely on April 4, 1968 seemed utterly hopeless.

We didn’t know that today was the 45th anniversary of the I Have a Dream speech, but it’s appropriate; we went through exhibits on what brave people did in the face of crushing odds, and tonight a part of their dream is being realized. We honor their legacy when we endure despite our own stumbling blocks, no matter how destructive they are. We don’t want to insert ourselves into history, but being here today on this day, Obama, 45th anniversary, our own journeys, felt serendipitous, and moved us profoundly.

And remember the compassion of the letters from the children; if one generation fails, perhaps the next one can succeed.

Finally this, from 2006 and our stop at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, located along the Selma to Montgomery march route:

And then there was this quote in that tremendous video from Martin Luther King Jr. himself: “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.” That’s the lesson we are trying to take from all of this; sometimes, it’s all so huge, what needs to be done, but you do what you can… just keep moving.

TYOLD Day 19: Misadventures in Baking

I wanted something sweet.  I always want something sweet, but that’s beside the point.  What matters here is that I wanted something sweet but wanted to try something different so I experimented with brownie baking.

I took some regular brownie mix (I know – leave me alone – I don’t have time to do scratch) and added random stuff I had in my refrigerator or cabinets.  What I wound up with is mini-brownies with some “extras”:

  • mint chocolate Hershey’s kisses
  • strawberry preserves
  • raspberry preserves
  • maple syrup
  • cookies & cream Hershey’s “drops”
  • triple sec

The preserves ones kind of exploded while they were baking.  Okay, exploded is too strong of a word, but they basically expelled the preserves onto the pan and then, in turn, the bottom of the oven.  That’ll be fun to clean.  If I ever cleaned my oven, that is.  (leave me alone, again).

The ones with candy stuffed inside didn’t explode but instead turned into something approaching bricks.  I’m pretty sure that if I baked a few million more of them, I could build a house.

Mmmmmm, brownie house…. (drool, drool).

Okay, I’m back.

The triple sec and syrup ones came out the most like a normal brownie but as far as taste… well… let’s just say that I won’t be winning any epicurean awards anytime soon.

And the answer to the inevitable question is, of course I’m still going to them eat them all. What are you?  Crazy?

brownies

 

TYOLD Day 18: Passing Torches

There’s a guy who lives in my building who is, officially, the nicest guy on the face of the earth. I don’t know him, really, other than passing him in the hall or the parking garage on occasion, or maybe running into him in the laundry room, but he always greets me, and everyone else, with a smile and a “Hey, how are you?” And it’s not an obligatory kind of “Hey, how are you?” It’s a genuine one. He actually wants to know how you are, which is weird to a misanthrope like me, but I have come to appreciate him and his sunny disposition.

The other night as I was getting home from work, he was arriving at the same time and we wound up at the mailboxes together. He gave a smile and a “Hey, how are you?” but I could tell something was off. I said I was fine and asked him how he was and he said he was fine and that was probably going to be the end of it. But then he stopped and said, “Actually, no I’m not fine. I just found out my dad has cancer.”

And he meant just found out – like 20 minutes earlier. I was the first person he encountered after getting the phone call as he was driving home.

For a moment I thought it was weird that he would tell me this incredibly personal thing but then I realized why he did it. He lived here in the building when I was going through my cancer drama and got the lowdown on what I was going through first from my parents, who were staying here for awhile after the big surgery, and later from me as I was pretty much homebound for the better part of a month.

He was telling me about his dad because I had cancer. And more importantly, probably, I had lived.

That kicked me into gear. First I asked what kind of cancer and asked if he had good doctors. His dad is being treated at the same hospital where I had my surgery so I offered referrals for my oncologist, Dr. Wile E. Coyote, and my surgeons, Dr. Frenchy and Dr. James Earl Jones. The latter two may not be the warmest human beings on the face of the earth but I’d recommend them as cutters any day of the week.

Then I told him how important it was for his father to be an advocate for his own health. Cancer is scary, I said, and it sucks, and sometimes doctors forget how scary it is and how much it sucks and you can feel left behind. I told him to make sure his father is asking questions and asking them again and again if he feels like he isn’t getting the answers he needs. And most importantly, no matter how much they may act like it at times, the doctors are not doing him a favor – he is paying them for their services and therefore they work for him.

Next I told him that he had to remember that cancer doesn’t happen only to the person who has it, it happens to all the people around him or her. It is imperative, I told him, to make sure that you are doing what you need to do to maintain your balance physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If you let yourself fall apart, you won’t be any good to the person who needs you most.

Then I gave him what I was sure he really needed.

“Look,” I said, “It’s going to suck. A lot. I know this from experience. But I shouldn’t be here and I am. They are doing amazing things with cancer these days and if I can make it through it, I’m sure your dad can too.”

He thanked me profusely and that was the end of the encounter but it stuck with me. For the last couple of days I kept going back to it, circling the memory like a dog circles as spot before he lays down there. Something about the experience was tickling a portion of my brain as if it were a memory, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.

So how does all this qualify for today’s Differently, especially since it happened a couple of days ago? Well, today I ran into my neighbor again and he thanked me again for the advice. He said it made a difference.

And for some reason that’s when it clicked for me.

My best friend Mary dealt with breast cancer on and off for the better part of a dozen years. During that time, she became something of a cancer expert and was always eager to give advice and encouragement to people she met who were encountering the disease in one way or another. Sometimes it went beyond advice and encouragement – sometimes she would tell total strangers what to do and darned if she wasn’t usually right. I watched her do this a couple of times and it was amazing how she would just sort of downshift as if she was starting up a hill and then pick up speed until she got the person to the top.

The way I was talking to my neighbor about cancer was exactly the way Mary used to talk to people about it. Realizing that stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes. I felt as though a torch had been passed.

I have talked about having cancer before; I sometimes feel as if I talk about it too much. But this was the first time I had talked about it with the context of trying to help someone who had run headlong into it. I made a difference. That may have happened before in my life, but today – my Differently for today – is that I knew it.

passing-torch

TYOLD Day 17: Differently Spontaneous

I heard a commercial on the radio this morning on the way to work. I don’t remember what product they were selling, so in the end it wasn’t that great of a commercial, but it featured various people saying that they were resolving to do things that would fall in the category of taking risks or being bold.

One of them said something like “I’m going to go to the airport and buy the next flight to anywhere.”

That struck a chord with me and I want to do that at some point during this year of living differently.  Just go the airport and go somewhere for a weekend or a few days.  Don’t plan, obsess over details, make binders with moment-by-moment itineraries, pick routes to and from everywhere, read guide books and travel blogs about the destination so I know everything that I have to see… totally spontaneous.

Unfortunately I couldn’t do that today because of work and this weekend is out because I have plans and next week I’ve got this big presentation and then I’ve got this event next weekend and then there’s my doctor’s appointments and I have to get an oil change and I don’t want to miss the mid-season premiere of “The Walking Dead,” but maybe I can plan to be spontaneous the third weekend in February.

I will do it.  I promise.  Well, I mostly promise.  I think I have to work up to something that big so I decided to start with a smaller scale, spontaneously random thing for my Living Differently day 17.

Today, I went to lunch at the Topanga Plaza mall with some co-workers and afterward walked up to the directory with the store listings and map.  It looked like this:

directory

The randomness I had picked for the day was to blindly pick three different stores from the directory and I had to go to one of them and buy something.  I looked the other direction, waved my arm around, and landed first on Swarovski Crystal, then on Swatch, and finally on Lucky Brand Jeans.

I went to the Lucky Brand store  - a place I had never been before – and found cute t-shirts on sale for 50% off.   I got this one:

tshirt

I’m not a close your eyes and point kind of guy, normally, but this time it turned out well.

Now about that airplane ticket…

 

TYOLD 16: The Boringest Place On Earth

Woodland Hills is the capital of the boxy office building, with acres and acres of office parks that are filled with boxy buildings that are always beige, if not in color than at least in style, often both.

The complex I work in is a massive affair with seven literally beige buildings and two literally beige parking garages that are so huge that getting in and out of them takes much longer than it should. The latter is actually a little creepy. You get in your car and you drive and then you drive some more and then you keep driving and you go down a ramp and around a corner and then you keep driving and it seems like there’s no way you can still be on level 3 but you are and then you actually see your fingernails start to get longer and you’re only on level 2 and by the time you get out of the garage the sun is coming up and it’s time to go back to work.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but not by much, I swear.

Anyway, I have never really gone to explore the office park because, well, it’s an office park and so really, why? But today I had not made it away from my desk for more than a couple of minutes so in the afternoon, as the temperatures soared to a delightful 84 degrees (sorry, pretty much everywhere else) I decided to go take a walk around the entire complex just to see what I might see.

It was most beige and totally boring, although there was this sculpture.

photo 2 (1)

The interesting thing about it was not the sculpture itself, but rather this plaque at its base which reads: “This project is in satisfaction of an art development fee obligation.” In other words, the people who built the place didn’t want to take up valuable real estate that could have been used for more boxy beige office building space or even larger parking garages that would take even longer to get out of, but they had to because of some ordinance that said that their beige office building complexes had to have a tiny bit of something other than a beige office building.

I personally would have preferred a cupcake store of some kind, but I guess people who work in the boringest place on earth can’t be too picky.

TYOLD Day 15: Shaken, Not Stirred

Two shocking admissions…. I am 47 years old but have never owned a proper set of martini glasses and, although I made them for others when I was a bartender, have never made myself a proper vodka martini.

Both of those egregious oversights have been corrected.

martini

Please don’t give me crap about the lack of an olive.  Why take up room where more alcohol could be with something silly like a garnish?

TYOLD Day 14: Keep Calm and Carry On

I have lost my poker face. I used to be really good at masking my emotions, good or bad, in public or professional settings, maintaining a calm visage most of the time. I have never actually played a serious game of poker (something for TYOLD?) but I would have been great at keeping my tells to a minimum.

But the older I get, the less I am able to mask my annoyance, my disappointment, my contempt, and my disdain for the things that annoy, disappoint, contempt, or disdain me.

Shut up… you know what I mean.

I am a curmudgeon and I accept that about myself. I have always believed that if I live long enough I will wind up on a porch somewhere, throwing empty vodka bottles at the neighborhood children. Patience has never been my strong suit but it has been fading more and more over the last few years and seems to really have picked up a downhill head of steam after the whole cancer hooha. People seem to go out of their way to be inconsiderate, inept, intractable, inflexible, or just plain old dumb and these days I find myself lacking the ability to put up with it, even in situations where not doing so could get me in trouble.

I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to put up with people who are inconsiderate, inept, intractable, inflexible, or just plain old dumb but certain contexts demand it (at work, for instance). Other contexts require, at the very least, a more subtle approach than an eye roll, a disgusted sigh, and/or a muttering of something like “what a fucking idiot.” The latter have been my go-to choices lately, which isn’t good.

As evidence, I would point to the incident in the Florida movie theater yesterday, in which a man was shot and killed by another patron when he got belligerent over being told to stop texting. The world should be thankful that I am completely anti-gun because I totally get the impulse.

I have been working, recently, on regaining my poker face. It isn’t easy, I have to tell you, because people are so frequently inconsiderate, inept… well, you know the rest.

So my new thing for today was to focus on keeping calm and not letting other people get to me.

It has not been easy and I freely admit that I didn’t always accomplish my goal. For instance, the clerks at the supermarkets in Los Angeles seem completely flummoxed by the new law that bans free plastic bags for environmental reasons. This means that you have to either bring your own or buy them at the check stand.

Today, the clerk scanned my merchandise, which involved about 20 bags of Valentine’s candy for work, and then asked me if I wanted to buy bags. I said yes and she asked me how many. I said, “I don’t know… let’s see how many we fill up with what I bought.” She said, “We have to know how many bags before we start bagging it.”

This is actually a carbon copy repeat of the same thing that happened in a different supermarket last week. Both times I thought, “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my entire life.” Last week I said it out loud and gave the clerk a look that would have withered plants. Today, I just thought it, kept my poker face, and said “Why don’t we fit it all in one and whatever is left over I’ll carry separately?”

This came about five minutes after it took three people to figure out how to fix the sandwich I ordered at the deli counter.

And about 5 minutes before that, a guy staring down at his phone walked right out in front of my car in the parking lot, nearly turning himself into a hood ornament.

And that was after several incidents at work, that I won’t go into just because you never know who is going to read this stuff.

Through most of it… not all, but most… I remained calm and kept a pretty good poker face.

It nearly killed me. Maybe it’ll get easier with practice.

keepcalm

TYOLD Day 13: Radio Daze

I have a suck commute.  Yes, there are others who have worse, but the roughly 14 miles of the 101 Freeway through the San Fernando Valley that I have to traverse every day is one of the seven circles of hell. That drive, which should take less than 15 minutes to make, regularly takes me 40 and that’s not even when there is a truck broken down in the middle lane and for some reason the CHP decides this means they need to block off THREE F-ING LANES of the freeway while they wait for a tow truck.

1 Hour and 11 minutes to get home tonight.  Why do I put up with it?  Because the high temperatures this week are supposed to be ranging between 81 and 85 degrees.  For all of you living in places where there isn’t terrible traffic, let me ask you this: how’s that polar vortex working out for you?

To keep myself company on my way to work I usually listen to Stephanie Miller, high-minded progressive talk radio mixed with lots of fart jokes.  On my way home, I usually listen to one of the playlists I have on Spotify or iTunes, which range from high energy EDM that must be played at a decibel that probably causes brain bleeds to ones that feature soothing music and lots of ballads.  The latter I call CTFD – Calm the Fuck Down.  It works on nights when trucks are broken down in the middle lane of the freeway.

But tonight I decided to do my “differently” with a little satellite radio experiment.  I randomly twisted the dial and decided that wherever it would land was what I would listen to on the way home from work.

I ended up on Sirius XM 82, Radio Classics.  I’ve never listened to the channel before, but they play old shows from the classic days of radio, back before that infernal picture box came along and stole the thunder.

The first show I heard was Sam Spade, the classic detective story starring Steve Dunne in an episode called “The Crab Louie Caper.”  I missed the beginning set up but it had something to do with a murder on a crab boat and Sam trying to get a confession out of a crazy fisherman.  He eventually dressed up a fake body to get entangled into the firsherman’s net so he would believe that God was trying to send him a sign to confess.  It was classic noir cheese but it had one fantastic line: “Tell me what I want to know or the next thing you hear will be the nurse bringing you your breakfast tray.”  I totally intend to Shia LeBeouf that at some point.

The next one was a show called The Third Man starring none other than Orson Welles.  It starts with him saying something like “You may remember Harry Lime from the movie The Third Man and how he wound up dead in a sewer in Vienna.  Well, Harry had many stories before that sad ending and I know every one of them.  You see, my name… is Harry Lime.”  Dun-dun, DUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNN.

I had to go look this up but the movie of the same name starred Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles as the aforementioned Lime who was a cad, a rogue, a bounder, and a con man.

The radio show tells stories of his misadventures before the film and this one was about him trying to pass off a worthless painting as a Renoir to two airhead Brazilian socialites.  It involves double crosses and nefarious henchmen and a surprise twist at the end and was pretty entertaining.  Orson Welles had a voice!   Wow.

It was almost enough to make me forget about the suck commute I had tonight.

Almost.

Steve Dunne and Lorene Tuttle from Sam Spade

Steve Dunne and Lorene Tuttle from Sam Spade