Old Geezers Out to Lunch

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

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Minneapolis Streetwalker: August 25, 2016

Maybe it's because my left knee is throbbing tonight, or maybe because the time of day reminds me that a good friend a couple of thousand miles away is likely at this moment under a radiation machine getting zapped for cancer treatment. Whatever the reason, as I sit at the Lake Harriet band shell watching a free outdoor evening concert, I find myself musing about the various injuries and wounds and illnesses that are part of the human condition.

My recent goal  to walk the length of every street of Minneapolis over the next few years is off to a steady but slow start, hampered by a leg brace protecting my surgically repaired knee. On most days, I go to a neighborhood somewhere in the city to walk a bit toward the overall goal. On this day, the last few hundred yards of walking involved Ms. Mercurious and I walking from our parking spot to the outdoor band shell on the shores of a pretty city lake beset with sail boats cruising in the early evening light. After a day of activity, the knee is now communicating with a rhythmic throb—not angrily, but just letting me know its feelings on the matter.

There are plentiful signs among the audience members that I am by no means alone in having a physical challenge, which in my case is only a temporary thing.  Off to the right, a young woman wears a plastic boot over her lower leg, possibly recuperating from a bone fracture. Up at the front of the seating area, a couple of people are in wheelchairs—whether due to injury or chronic condition is not entirely clear. To our left is a fellow with his left arm and shoulder in a sling. Elsewhere,  I spot a variety of canes and walkers and other assistive devices. The free concerts draw a lot of geezer patrons;  I feel right at home here.

For some reason, my attention is especially drawn to a man sitting ahead a few rows and off to the left.  There is something weary and a little forlorn about him. He is about 70 years old and has the appearance of a former club biker winding down after a hard life. He wears a somewhat battered black leather jacket, and his shoulder -length white hair hangs, curtain -like, from a head that is entirely bald on top. His white beard is now carefully trimmed at the neck and high on the cheeks, but I imagine that back in the day it may have a ferocious thing, a full and prickly bramble. From his sleeves I can see signs of indeterminate tattoos peaking out.

The man does not look overtly unhappy or irritable, but neither is there any expression of contentment or happiness. Most in the crowd, even those sitting alone, are slightly smiling at being part of a crowd listening to pleasant music on a truly wonderful, cool summer night, but this fellow’s expression is blank and best described as resigned and perhaps just slightly morose. I notice that his right leg is slightly shorter than his left, as evidenced by a thick-soled orthopedic shoe on that foot. Is this a congenital problem, I wonder, something that has made him feel different since childhood, or is it the result of some serious motorcycle accident? My imagination, as always, tends toward the dramatic explanation  In any case, I am slightly concerned for his seeming lack of joy tonight.

I glance around the crowd, again taking in the individuals here and there with signs of injury or chronic disability. I am of course only spotting the individuals with obvious visible signs. Many, many more people in the crowd likely have invisible problems or traumas, current or historical, that can't be identified by sight alone. We are all very much alike in this respect.

About the only people who do not yet have some form of wound or pain may be the little kids playing about the aisles and the space in front of the music stage. Some of them have those magic sneakers that flash neon lights in response to some strange generating machinery in the heels; their feet flicker in the night like high-tech fireflies. When the kids got too rambunctious, some of the parents rein them in. I wish they parents would simply let their kids dance. 

One pretty little dark-haired girl in a sun-dress pirouettes in circles with her arms clasped together behind her back, and on each revolution her broad smile reveals deep dimples in her cheeks, evident even from thirty feet away in deepening darkness. 

In the right mood, I sometimes get a precise sense of what a child will look like in old age, or what an adult likely looked like as a small child.  It's as though I see people as lenticular portraits—as toddler, teenager, old-timer—all at the same time. In this little girl dancing to the music, I now see early echoes of an adult I know. When she was a youngster, I'm sure the woman I'm thinking of looked and behaved a lot like this little dancing girl by the lake.

Even these apparently carefree kids, though, will eventually know some woundedness, if they don’t already. It is an unavoidable part of life.

If you think all is a slightly depressing thought to have on such a night, you'd be quite wrong. My mood tonight is not at all melancholy. Instead, I find something reassuring  about the observation, as it seems to me that our shared experience is what unifies the crowd tonight. It is our ability to accept and transcend ordinary human pain and frailty that has brought us all here tonight to enjoy the music and the evening. In the final measure, music, art, and other forms of social communion are really a means of both articulating, and rebelling against,  human limitation.

A sentient being, the mystics will tell you, is any creature who is capable of suffering. On this night, we are all gathered for a free concert in the park as sentient beings, quietly and elegantly sharing the discomfort and the related ecstasy of the human condition. 

It is a cool night, and Ms. Mercurious senses that I’m growing chilly in my shorts. She was wise enough to wear long pants. As she extends her lap blanket to over my bare leg,  I glance down, and realize that what she has offered me is the colorful quilt that my father-in-law was given as a patient undergoing treatment in the hospital for a terminal illness last year. After he passed away early this year, my wife adopted this blanket as a warm remembrance of her dad. This is the blanket with which she now covers my scarred knees, and the warmth it gives me is as much about its symbolic value as its colorful cotton threads. 

As the song ends, the aging biker applauds softly with genuine appreciation. He stands up, and with a slightly arthritic groan he walks past me out of the amphitheater. Our eyes meet as he walks by, and I see he now has a quiet smile on his face.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

No Time, Like Now

Since I am a Geezer, after all, it's no surprise that the last few years have put me face to face with various intimations of mortality. Recent years have seen us bid farewell to both my father and father-in-law at ages 83 and 90, respectively. Several good friends have become breast-cancer survivors, and even my recent knee injury, though little more than a glorified mechanical issue, has reminded me that the body physical is a resource that wears out eventually. Late last year, I turned 60 years old, and an instant later I'm now looking at my 61st birthday in a few months. It's not that 61feels particularly old to me, but it does remind me of the fact that when another 10 such moments or so, I will be 70 years of age, and at that point it becomes a little hard to ignore the reality.

All of which makes a Geezer consider quality of life and what goals and aspirations one should have when you can no longer pretend that you are not a Geezer.  I find the concept of a "bucket list" to be silly, at the very least; still, one can't ignore wondering where to put your energy and physical ability while the energy and physical ability is still there for the putting.

One of my best friends this week was faced with a medical decision as she concludes treatment for breast cancer. One option would have statistically increased the odds for a longer life, but only by a matter of low single-digit percentages. Following that course of action, though, would give her a 50-50 chance some rather serious side effects that could greatly compromise quality of life. Either way, these things are merely statistical odds, but she chose to think of the option as long life vs. good life. After a period of contemplation at the beach in Santa Monica, she is choosing to maximize the chances for a good quality of life at the possibility of making it shorter. With her good life, she wants to roam the country a bit with a camper trailer she owns, perhaps traveling with her granddaughters from time to time. She wants to write books, and meet people and see things she's not yet met or seen.

Which is a very admirable thing, I believe. And this makes me wonder a bit what I hope to do with the 10 or 15 or perhaps 20 decent years of Geezerhood ahead (for the males in my clan, 80 years of age is a pretty ancient patriarch).

The goals, I realize, are pretty modest and accomplishable. I want to spend some time roaming the southwest US, where the desert relaxes me and connects me to a sense of the earth's majestic age like no other landscape. I also want to spend time in the mountains again—either in Colorado, Canada, or Alaska, where I sense the incredible drama of time. To see some places I've not yet seen,  I want to travel some places with my bride, to other places with good friends. I want to be the daycare provider for grandchildren. I want to once again own a friendly dog.

And I want to walk every street in Minneapolis.

I'm not sure where this last aspiration came from, but I'm sure it has to do with the fact that I've been almost unable to walk for the last month and am thus reminded of how precious physical mobility is. I checked into this, and learned that there are just over 1200 miles of officially sanctioned streets in Minneapolis proper, and doing the math reveals that it should be easily possible to walk this territory over the next 10 years. A pace of 120 miles a year is, after all, less that 2.5 miles a week. In good times, I probably walk that much each day.

So on a pure distance basis, this is laughably easy, though of course in practice it means driving to various neighborhoods, some of which are not particularly safe. And it means doing it on minus-20 degree days in mid-winter. And on days when it is raining. And on some streets that are barely streets at all, but cruddy little alleys behind railroad tracks, etc. etc.  Still it's a modest goal, really.

My son and I were hanging out yesterday. He was, I think, still caring for the invalid in some manner. For the first few weeks of surgical recovery, the family was taking pains not to leave me alone, and with my wife gone for the day, he showed up at the house once again yesterday. I explained to him that I now have limited mobility in the bad knee, enough to let me fold the leg into the car and actually drive myself, but we ended up hanging out anyway, watching the olympics. Then we took a drive to get milk shakes and go to Barnes and Noble. On the way, I mentioned my goal of walking Minneapolis over the next few years, and upon leaving the bookstore, he glanced into my shopping bag and the street map I'd purchased. Shaking his head and said. "I should have figured. You're gonna cross off the streets on this map as you walk them, aren't you?"

There is no time like the present. Early this morning, I drove up to the far reaches of north Minneapolis and walked around three whole blocks, with knee brace unlocked for 30% range of motion. My speed should get better with time.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Slow Down

Three weeks ago, the universe decided to issue one of its lessons to me, using its pesky and often annoying "laws of physics." The lesson was: "Slow down, you dummy."

The circumstances of the lesson?  On the July 4 weekend, while racing to change clothes in order to join a beach party and begin social consumption of some very fine Scotch with a good friend, I slipped on the basement stairs at my mother-in-law's house. (Mind you, no whiskey had yet been consumed.) When my left heel bounced down two steps and met the immovable object of the concrete slab floor, my patella tendon in the knee snapped loose, launching my left knee cap up under the skin of my lower thigh. The patella tendon is what secures your tibia to the rest of your leg musculature, and without it your leg is about as useful as that of a marionette that has had its strings cut. It flops around like a really big chunk of pasta.

Sow down! the universe was saying to me. Slow down, you dummy, or I'm gonna hurt you. There, you had it coming.

What ensued, of course, was surgery and the prospect of a long recovery that will occupy the remaining weeks of summer and all of the autumn. The irony of this was that the universe issued to me exactly the same message six years ago, when a similar accident on a different set of steps executed exactly the same injury to  the other knee. At that time, I was hurrying to get steaks on the grill at a father's day picnic. So I darned well should have already learned this lesson.

The next months will see this lesson from the universe will be reinforced and reiterated,  because surgery for tendon reattachment and the subsequent recovery and rehabilitation makes "slowing down" mandatory. Nothing whatsoever happens fast with a knee immobilized for many weeks. If the universe seeks to impart such a lesson, this is indeed the injury to do it.

Doing things slowly is not in my nature, and so this is a hard lesson for me to learn. My whole life I have done things in a kind of restless frenetic manner that borders on manic impatience. I walk fast, I eat fast, I read fast, I work fast, I play games fast. There are Saturday mornings where I have pulled a thousand weeds from the garden, done the grocery shopping, and washed three loads of laundry, all before 9:00 am. Fast.

I have taken a kind of perverse pride in this speediness, and it's true that in some cases this pace has served me well. In the professional world, completing tasks quickly is usually a very good thing, and my speediness has never compromised quality in an overly harmful way. In the business world, doing lots of work very well is much more valuable than doing very little to utter perfection. I have always been somewhat proud of the fact that I accomplish a lot, and do it quickly.

The universe does not agree with me, however, and as they say, pride goeth before a fall. In my case, literally.

Recuperating from knee surgery has seen me vacillate between being grumpy over not being able to do some things at all and not being able to do anything quickly, and increasing moments where I'm beginning to understand the merits of patient slowness. Virtually everything I do takes at least twice as long as it once did, and some things take even longer. Certain bathroom routines involve virtually disrobing from the waist down to accommodate a massive leg brace, and putting on shoes can take me five minutes or more. A simple walk around the block was a 30 minute endeavor the first time I did it, and making a meal is a painstakingly slow process.

But there's nothing for it but acceptance, which I am doing ever so gradually and a little grudgingly. There are two ways to approach such a reality, I'm finding. My natural impulse initially was to be annoyed by the whole thing, and indeed some of the time this has been my reaction: grumpiness bordering on melancholy. Gradually, though, I find there are meditative virtues to the slow life. If it takes you 15 minutes to walk a hundred yards,  you begin to see things in the flower beds, the houses, that you never saw before. If it takes you several minutes to walk past a single home, the opportunity to meet the homeowner and strike up a meaningful converstation is much better.

Each act of walking become an exercise in meditation, if you are utterly focused on every movement. When just  preparing for a shower takes 15 minutes, the feel of warm water cascading over sore muscles is enjoyable indeed. The other day, it took the better part of an hour to pick fresh zucchini, tomatoes, kale and green beans from the garden while teetering precariously on crutches. But my word, the salad and shrimp stir-fry tasted better than I ever remember.

Today, I found myself in one of my grumpy moods for awhile, annoyed at all the things I cannot do at the moment. But a few minutes ago I joined my wife on the deck, where we sat in web chairs next to one another but facing in opposite directions, reading our respective books.  I glanced over at the teak bench and for moment and despaired over the fact that it badly needs to be refinished and that I cannot do it at the moment. But relaxing into the reality of this enforced inactivity,  I began to admire the look of the grayed wood,and found a strange reassurance in the fact that nature always has its way with mankind's efforts to preserve things and have things our own way. Settling into the moment, I leaned back to admire the wisteria vine that has formed a green nest of the deck, and recognized that in the shifting wind patterns and cool temperatures today there is a hint of September coming.

And for this moment, anyway, I found complete satisfaction in the slow life.

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.