Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Beauty by Accident

As some of you have gleaned, gardening is for me a meditative tool for understanding things about myself and about the workings of the world.

My level of calm and contentment at any given moment is in almost direct proportion to the time it takes me to get the dirt out from under my fingernails at the end of the day. (A TMI tidbit: repeated vigorous fingertip lathering of the wiry-haired naughty regions during a shower is almost as good as a toothbrush or nail brush for getting dirt out from under the fingernails. Much better than shampooing the more silky-haired noggin.)

But I digress. What I'm observing while now sitting in an adirondack chair in the shade today is how often beautiful things evolve by accident

Several years ago I planted several shrubs in a small front-yard island to form a kind of backdrop for a little concrete birdbath. The intent was to shield the birdbath from the street, but to make it visible   from the house. Among the shrubs there is nine-bark, a flowering spirea, a yellow-leaved barberry, and some other shrub whose name I've forgotten (yes, I'm that type of gardener). There was also a weigela that unfortunately went to that great compost heap somewhere along the way. A clump of volunteer monkshood has grown up it its place—not a shrub, but big enough to be kind of shrub-like in its impact, and also providing dark indigo flowers in the frigid fall, well after the first hard frost.

The little shrub island has languished a little for years, barely acceptable but never achieving the look I hoped. At various times I considered major renovation on the mess, but because I didn't really see in my mind's eye a replacement goal, I just waited. Historically, I've not been a patient man by nature, but ever so gradually over the years I've come to understand that change is inevitable enough as it is. The world changes between each blink of the eye anyway,  so I no longer feel all that compelled to speed change along unless some inspirational idea hatches to drive me to action. "If you don't know what to do, wait until you do," a friend once mentioned to me. And I agree.

As I look at the shrub grove now, though, I find that it has evolved into something resembling perfection, at least for this moment. The shrubs form a solid mass of backdrop leaves shielding the street and framing the little bird bath statues and iris in the foreground. Its foliage colors complement one another in a way that pleases me, especially in that amber light near dawn or dusk. Several little songbird families have taken up within the dense leaves (my favorite is a pair of chickadees clearly nesting within), and a white-tailed rabbit has a den somewhere inside, too. The presence of a rabbit is itself not a happy thing for a gardener who grows lilies or lupine, but the damn little beast makes my wife and daughter smile, and for this moment, at least, the whole vignette produces an effect that seems quite perfect to me.

This is the way gardening has been for me—the way life has been, for that matter. Perfection very often erupts almost by accident out of ingredients that just a little while before were clearly, and sometimes extremely, flawed. Better late than never, patience has become a decided virtue for me as old age begins to dawn. Lacking an inspirational idea to guide, my best decisions have been to watch  and wait until things inevitably evolve into something entirely different and sometimes wonderful. After all, you can always leap into action if things turn to real crap.

Critics will point out that the pleasant little shrub grove would never have happened if I had not planted those shrubs some years ago—an act of deliberate will, and hardly accidental.  True enough, I grant you.  But then I would point out that this present beauty would not exist if I'd rushed into a an act of replacement too quickly, simply because the plantings failed to obey my immediate will.

And it's also quite true that our acts of will don't always get it exactly right. There is still (and always) an element of accident that steers the most deliberate of plans. After all, this little snapshot of perfection I perceive today doesn't exactly resemble that vision I had six years ago.

In my perfect vision, there were no rabbits in the garden, just red-tailed hawks to manage the rabbits.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I'm Not Worthy.....

I'm a Geezer, but a relatively young one—a Baby Boomer geezer. I'm not even in the same class as the geezers of the Greatest Generation. Mind you I have some degree of traditional Greatest Generation mentality. I'm known to try and fix things rather than buying new stuff. And I'll sometimes cobble together weird stuff from stuff laying around. I once created for myself a pair of lawn-aeration sandals by taking a pair of old oversized boots, cutting a wooden insole exactly the right side, inserting them into the boots, then driving long nails through the soles pointing downward, so that I could walk across the lawn and drive deep aeration holes into the turf. At the time, this was far more satisfying than spending $40 once a year to rent a lawn aerator.

Still, I don't hold a candle to the old-timers of yore...

We're now in the process of helping my now widowed mother-in-law clean out her house in anticipation of moving from a sprawling country house on a large lot overlooking Lake Pepin along the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota, into a smaller, manageable home in town. My main contribution to this endeavor is do the outdoor repairs, and  to clean out and stage the items from the garage and shed for the upcoming garage sale—the stuff owned and stored by my father-in-law, who passed away this winter at age 90-and-ten-months.

Boomer's table saw, patent-pending. 
It's a fascinating exercise, as I've learned more about this man than I knew from 40 years of being his son-in-law. But that's perhaps the way it is about any man—if you really want to know him, spend a couple days going through his garage.

Boomer was clearly a fairly obsessive/compulsive fellow, judging from the sheer amount of stuff he squirreled away. While he did not qualify as a hoarder, he was still able to store an enormous amount of strange paraphernalia into a simple two-car garage. Mind you, this was a garage in which he still parked two large Buicks. We now know that when he said he was going out to "clean out the garage," what he was really doing was rearranging things so that more stuff could be stored out there.

Industrial pressure tank  plus
compressor plus flexible copper tubing
equals perfect home air compressor
For the most part, Leonard only saved stuff that he could envision using some day. A great bulk of this stuff probably created in him a visual image of some kind of secondary McGiver-like role some day. For example, many years ago he somewhere came across what seemed like acres of extruded metal grating, as well as hundreds of feet of galvanized plumbing pipe....which he stored away behind the shed.

WTF?  we all thought. And then one day we drove down to visit one weekend to find that Boomer had built a flight of stairs 60  steps long down from the high bank of his yard all the way down to the lake shore at the base of the bluff. Each step was cut from that rigid extruded metal that he had cut into precise tread size, and the railings were fitted pieces of that galvanized piping.

Rather than throw away an old refrigerator, he put it out in the shed, where he used it as an airtight storage cabinet for paints and solvents.

Bench grinder featuring washing
machine motor

He was like that, and most of things I've now pulled out the rafters and off the shelves is stuff I can visualize a projected use that lived in his mind. Fifty-five empty coffee cans with lids.....120 empty burlap potato sacks...a huge roll of very heavy reflective mylar fabric....a partial leftover roll of old linoleum from a kitchen installation 30 years ago.

This portable rolling tool cart uses the
back end off a child's tricycle for the
rolling end. Opposite end uses wooden
handles off an on old wheel-barrow. 
Other stuff was harder to visualize a use for. A coffee can filled with 12 severed heads of golf 4-irons. Where does one get a bunch of 4-irons, and what possible use did Boomer intend for them?

The garage and home has held fully 22 coffee makers, ranging from monstrous 60-pot "event" pots to little Mr. Coffee pots. And fully 12 of these no longer work. But Leonard was a tinkerer, and surely imagined that he would play with the wiring and fix them some day. There is a strange home-made table saw cobbled together with spare parts and an electric motor and welded together by hand. The thing weighs about 200 pounds, but is still entirely functional. A huge bench grinder that built in the same way.

But one item really tells the story of who my father-in-law was. Deep in the back of the shed, I ran across this item, and it took me a minute or two to figure out what I was looking at. Instead of buying a commercial lawn edger, Boomer created his own, by taking a 12-inch table saw blade, filing down the teeth to a workable length, welding it to some kind of metal motor spool, then attaching it to a leftover mop handle he had stored with 20 other discarded broom and mop handles up in the garage rafters, and voila....

Seriously....I am not worthy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blink, and Spring is Over

It may not look like it to my friends from Arizona and California, but it has been a early spring in Minnesota, as seen in these photos of my yard, taken just moments ago. With daffodils already largely faded and tulips in full bloom, this represents is a pretty advanced state of affairs for an April 26 in Minneapolis.

To appreciate a Minnesota spring, you have to keep your eyes open practically to the point of foregoing sleep, as it arrives and is over in just about a blink of an eye.You can quite literally go to sleep one night with mere buds on the trees, and wake up the next morning to open leaves.

 I sometimes say to outsiders that a Minnesota spring, while beautiful, is about ten days long. This is only a slight exaggeration, as we indeed have had years where the temperatures shift from below zero to the mid 80s in the space of 10 days (It happened one year in the mid 1980s).

As evidence of this, I offer three shots of the same front yard—although taken in different years, they represent the same yard on an April 15, an April 25, and an April 30.

Only today I hung my winter coats in the spare closet upstairs. Tomorrow, I'll be firing up the air-conditioner.

Happy spring, Geezers.

Monday, April 18, 2016

We're Back.....

I owe a thanks to Geo for reminding me how long its been since we've posted here. No, we have not closed down Geezers. The truth is that your fearless editor has seen a number of life changes, some good, some not so good, but in concert, these have greatly distracted me from the all-important work of entertaining and educating approximately 2,537,666 rabid followers of these pages.

Of the many issues distracting your editor and the other Geezers:

• A political season that is simply guaranteed to demoralize any self-respecting Geezer. What can you say when its almost certain that our next President will be Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, or Donald Trump?  It's a horrifying state of affairs, to be sure—too absurd to even satirize, I'm afraid.

• The death of your editor's father-in-law. My wife's father lived a fine life until age 90, but a death in the family is a difficult thing in any circumstance, and in our case it also involves coaxing an aging mother-in-law out of an unmanageable house—a home that  has served as repository for some 3 million plus knick-knacks and items of paraphernalia, each of which must be pried from her grasp. A considerable amount of time recently has beens spent doing plumbing, masonry work, and light carpentry in preparation for selling the old gal's house.

• A good friend struggling with cancer, which certainly occupies some degree of your editor's thoughts. Best wishes to Sehr Wenig, who you may recall reading here in the past, publishing some fine pieces as the only Dame Geezer to grace these pages. She is actually doing some rather fine writing these days as she makes her way through the midst of the chemo phase of treatment, and perhaps can be coaxed back onto Geezers to share some of her experiences.

• A change in your editor's employment status. After 31 years of office-based and executive work of a moderately high level, I've now cut my working hours in half and am working from home. You might think that this would give me all the time in the world to grace the Geezer world with wisdom, but in reality I've found such enjoyment in gardening, a return to true editing, hanging out at the gym with the other old men, and otherwise practicing simple enjoyment of life, that the pull of Geezers has taken a back seat of late.

But enough of such relaxed laziness. I am far too early in the Geezer years to neglect the public any longer by puttering around, so with this notice, I promise that the world shall hear from the Geezers on a regular basis from here on, until the end of time or the end of Donald Trump's second term as President, whichever comes first.

....No,  please.....that's enough applause.  You embarrass us.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Holiday Cheers....

Please welcome back "Since George Shaw," who offers this rather strange "holiday" offering taken from real life....

Here's a little tale that may bring Christmas joy to those of you who have experienced unpleasant divorces:

When my wife Maureen was an undergraduate, her roommate was Eileen, a very dorky girl. One night they go to a party, and who should be there but Sheldon, Maureen's high school classmate, a very serious fellow and also dorky. Maureen introduces them. Dork-match from heaven; they marry, become good friends of ours, move to Madison for grad school, and have two kids. Maureen and I shake our heads about the prospects of their kids growing up normal, given that Sheldon is a librarian and Eileen a construction worker, but we keep it to ourselves.

Fast forward a few years - Eileen bites hard into the Jesus thing, and divorce is unavoidable given that Sheldon enjoys a beer now and then. A nasty divorce with a bitter custody dispute. Apparently, both are counseled by their respective attorneys to provide documentation as to their being the better parent, and both request the testimony of their mutual friend, who happens to be an elementary school teacher. Maureen, in one of the dumbest things she has ever done (next to marrying me) says yes to both. Her objective testimony then sets out each parent's strengths and weaknesses. Eileen gets custody (surprise-surprise). Needless to say, we haven't spoken to either of them since.

Until, fast forward another thirty-plus years, we get a call yesterday from Sheldon, in town to visit his dying mother. Maureen is on her way out of the house, but Sheldon and I have a long chat, catching up on old times. Eventually, I brag about our 5 grandkids. Sheldon claims he has 5, except 2 are step-grandkids from his current wife (another librarian), and 2 are foster-kids that Sheldon's daughter is trying to adopt. So I win, right?

Then Sheldon plays his trump card. His one biological grandchild, his daughter's 8 year old son, is named Sheldon. I ask how Eileen took this. Sheldon says, "Well, I never talk to her, but I understand she cried for a month."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's Minnesota, not Mars

"I'm not completely sure, but I think St. Paul is over there someplace." 
For the rest of the world and most Americans, few places on the North American continent are more anonymous than Minnesota. Certainly Europeans and Asians have little sense of where we're located. This in itself is not surprising: if somebody asked me where the Qinghai province of China is, I'd certainly have to glance at a map to tell you.

But a typical European has rough idea of where Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City is located, but is utterly mystified by the idea of Minneapolis. I've run into an occasional well-read Londoner who knows of the "Twin Cities," but when I've explained that we're located a full 8-hour car ride north of Chicago, they get wide-eyed and are convinced that this must very nearly be the North Pole. Once a native Londoner,  upon learning where I hailed from, congratulated me on getting away from the snow and ice. This was in early August, and when I told him that the temperature back home was currently 35 degrees C,  he would not immediately believe me.

The lack of geographic awareness of Minnesota is so pronounced that I have practiced a standard answer with foreigners:  "Right in the center of the country, up against Canada, and just to the left of the Big Lakes." Then there's  a nod of recognition. I have had people know where Green Bay, Wisconsin is located, but are entirely baffled by Minneapolis. The only place more anonymous: Nebraska.

Here's the notion most world citizens have of Minnesota, if they know of us at all.
Yes, this is a Minnesota
thing. Don't ask. 

• It's cold.
• It's a wilderness.
• It's home to the largest shopping mall in the world.
• It's a cultural backwater, the place where Fargo was filmed.

These are all only partial truths. It is bitterly cold in the winter, but the summers are in fact unpleasantly hot and humid. The wilderness areas are confined, really, to the top 25% of the state, though a rare wolf or black bear may roam down here occasionally. The Mall of America is no longer the largest in the world, though it's damn big, as evidenced by the travel junkets that fly here from Japan, China, etc. just to shop there.

And its not nearly as rough-hewn culturally as most people think. There are fine museums and restaurants here; very good dramatic theater. When a sales director, a snooty French woman,  visited us in Minneapolis, she was frankly amazed. She expected to find us motoring around in snowmobiles and pickup trucks,  going to bingo tournaments for entertainment—not creating highly acclaimed productions of The Tempest at the Guthrie Theater. (Actually, for the pickup trucks and bingo tournaments, you have to cross the river to St. Paul. )

Oh yeah, I know these people. 
Other Americans are similarly a little mystified by Minnesota. The recent season of the Fargo TV drama has the characters trotting between Fargo, North Dakota; Brainerd, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; the Black Hills; and Laverne Minnesota—much the way Californians bop around the San Fernando Valley. These locations are hundreds of miles apart and such random travel is impossible. It's possible, though, that this plotting is a sly joke on the part of the Coen brothers, executive producers of the television series and directors of the original movie. Raised in a Minneapolis suburb, you could easily imagine this plotting flaw as part of their joke.

Fargo did a much better job in coaching the actors to accurately mimic the Minnesooohhtta accent. We do squeeze our vowels with great ferocity, especially as you go further north. When I travel abroad, people very often suspect I'm Canadian.

Right. Hit the road, Mitt. 
But nowhere is the ignorance of Minnesota more evident than when political candidates visit here to campaign.  Many of the Democrats seem to have a basic understanding of who we are, probably because of the legacy of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy, and now Al Franken. If they show up—as Hillary did last week—they typically dress like professionals, as they would if they were visiting Chicago or LA. If they go casual, as Obama sometimes does when he visits, it's realistic casual—open collar, perhaps button-down shirt rolled up at the sleeves.

But the Republicans, they have no clue who we are. When Mitt Romney visited, he invariably wore preppy loafers and crisp oxford shirts starched severely, and designer jeans pressed so hard the creases could cut flesh.

Cruz and Trump, caught just a moment before they kissed.
With tongue. 
Even worse was Ted Cruz's visit this past week. He chose to come to Rochester, Minnesota in a yellow plaid flannel shirt—a kind of lumberjack ensemble—but with one with a decidedly Texas/western cut to the fabric.  It was utterly silly, and showed that he understood Minnesota not at all.

You see, if there's one thing that Minnesota can't stand, it's Texas. We don't even like the idea of Texas. While Minnesota has its share of feisty individualists, our brand is understated, almost mute, and we have no time at all for the kind of silly bragging that Texans practice routinely. You betcha, he's kinda a goofy fella, he is, ya see.

Mostly, though, it's because Texas is home to the Dallas Cowboys football team, who, along with the New England Patriots, are the most hated sports franchises in all of Minnesota. For us, Jimmy Jones is the anti-christ. Ted Cruz has no chance here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Starbucks & Tupperware

We're happy to welcome back Sehr Wenig to these pages. We're hoping she will return often with insights learned as she regains her health. 

I'm heading home for a lengthy holiday visit with my grown children, my granddaughter and my parents. It will be the last trip home before a major eight-hour surgery in January to combat the Big C. After waiting through a long, long Starbucks line at LAX early this morning, I quietly picked up the tab for the young woman behind me in line. As soon as she understood what was happening, the young woman began demurring. “Oh, no. I’m fine. I can pay for my own.”

When she finally understood that I wanted nothing other than to say Merry Christmas, she accepted her Grande Earl Grey tea but remained visibly uncomfortable. A moment later, she brightened just as visibly and said, “I was going over there to get water. Can I bring you one?”


The workplace team I lead held our annual holiday gathering/white elephant gift exchange a few days ago. At the end, as everyone was beginning to tidy up, someone said, "Oh, wait. There's one more gift," and handed me a lovely gift box. Which turned out to be an empty foil pan.

Other people began pulling wrapped gifts from under their chairs and handing them to me. More people streamed into the room, each carrying a gift. Each gift box or bag held an empty food container, many decorated with words like, "Made with cancer-fighting nutrients...and Love," or "Chemo-fighting fuel."

By the second gift, I realized what they were doing and sobbed through unwrapping the rest—which took nearly 20 minutes.

My team, other people from our company, and a slew of former employees have organized themselves to provide meals for the entire time of my convalescence. They have investigated my Pinterest food boards, talked to my daughter, and discussed what foods I enjoy when we go out or order in. They made a group Google doc and calendar.

I could not stop crying. It was one of the sweetest, most humbling things I've ever experienced. The kindness and thoughtfulness and genuine effort overwhelmed me. My first coherent thoughts afterward were about how I could repay their kindness.


“I was going over there to get water. Can I bring you one?”

The young woman will never know it, but she gave me something far more valuable than a bottle of water. She revealed that my practice for the coming months will need to be a little different than hers—that I'll need to accept kindness without need to "make things even."

The time for paying it forward will come. For now, my task is to accept with gratitude.

It’s not an easy task, but the important ones never are.