Old Geezers Out to Lunch

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

Monday, June 22, 2015

Citizens of 4F, June 22, 2015

It was one of those humid, hot weekends in early summer in the upper Midwest, and after a night of the atmosphere percolating, this Monday morning saw a number of thundershowers popping up. As a result, the morning 4F metro-transit bus into downtown Minneapolis was more full than usual, with some folks who normally walk or bicycle choosing to ride the buses instead.

I was struck once again this morning by the peculiarly Minnesotan politeness and grace you witness on the mass transit system around here. I have traveled a great deal for work over the last 20 years, and whenever possible I ride the mass transit systems rather than taxis or rental cars. After all, the people-watching opportunities are far better in places like the NYC subway system than they can possibly be in a cab ride from JFK to midtown.

When people use the term "Minnesota Nice," they clearly must have had exposure to how people behave on the light rail lines or public bus system. On this morning's crowded 4F, I see people right and left graciously sacrificing their seats to provide for the comfort of others. One man helps a woman who is struggling to get her umbrella closed.  An elderly woman points out to a young man that his backpack is unzipped, and mentions that its contents may get wet unless he closes it.  These are  standard acts that you see all the time, here. Not too long ago, a mid 20s young woman tried to give up her seat so that I could sit (talk about making you feel old), and this morning, each time a woman boarded the bus, at least three men leaped to their feet to offer up their seats. At each discharge stop in down-town, each passenger politely thanks the driver as they disembark, to which the driver offers each one, individually, good wishes for the day.

I can't say that I've seen this kind of behavior routinely in any other city in America. In the NYC subway, you could be on fire before anybody tries to help you, and then only if the flames pose a problem for other passengers. Usually, an act like this is the exception that proves the rule of generally self-centered boorishness, but in the upper Midwest, this is the standard behavior.

You get something close in the southern states, where there is a friendliness and helpfulness that is somewhat unique. Clerks and counter-help in places like Atlanta and Charlotte are notably friendly, and I've had waitresses in southern states frequently address me as "Hon," or "Sweetie." I wonder, maybe, if there's something about extreme climates, south and north, that fosters this kind of behavior; you don't see it in places like Chicago, LA, Boston or St. Louis.

Strangely, though, such politeness and consideration is not seen in solo drivers of cars on the streets
and freeways in Minnesota.  In Minneapolis, car drivers treat pedestrians like passenger pigeons to be hunted, and I can count on one hand the instances where a competing driver slowed to assist my entry onto a freeway.  Typical driving speed is at least 10 mph above posted speeds, and God help you if you block some speed demon's free path in the fast lane on the freeway. I've wondered a little bit about why this highway behavior contrasts so starkly with the behavior of people on the mass transit, or, for that matter, among pedestrians walking the streets, where holding the door for one another is common etiquette. The socialist in me has suspected that this is evidence of some kind of class difference—more working class mass transit users are inherently nicer to one another, while the wealthier management classes with their automobiles are inherently more selfish.

But my GOP friends would accuse me of Commie bullshit nonsense for that interpretation, and I think they'd be right.  The difference, I think, is in the anonymity that comes with driving alone and isolated in an automobile, where it is much easier to let your inner asshole see the light of day. In situations where you are rubbing elbows with your fellow citizens and looking them in the eye, as is the case on a public bus, a certain degree of sympathy and compassion is fostered.

I do know that arrive at work calmer and in a better mood when I ride the bus than when I fight traffic by driving myself. So whenever possible, it will be the 4F bus for me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mad Marvin, Episode 2

It's with some trepidation that I allow another short piece by Mad Marvin to see the light of day. He was mightily impressed by the fact that his earlier piece got a fair number of responses, and I fear his submissions to will become increasingly insistent and vile and threatening unless every so often we vent the steam cooker that is his brain. This piece is one of the less inflammatory among the two dozen or so he's submitted to date.  And we now feel obliged to begin running the following disclaimer:  "the views expressed here are those of the contributor, and do not reflect the beliefs, policies or recommendations of the management."   —the editor

I'm Mad Marvin, dammit.

The problem with this country is that we're too (censored) nice.

No, that's not it.  The problem is that we're phonies about being nice. As a society, we really ought to say what we think more often, and stand up and say so when the people around us full of horse (manure). As it is, too many people are living a lie, trying to act like saints when they secretly are entirely mean SOB's. This isn't fair to the genuine nice people (there are some, and I ain't one of 'em). How can we know who's really nice if everybody is pretending to be that way?

But my thoughts wander.

Last month I was down in Denver visiting my brother, and one day after the ballgame it was still really nice out so we planned to walk all the way down to the park by the capital. My brother has an old friend who hangs there.  On the way we stopped at the Yard House for a beer, and when we came out, across the street on the corner in front of the Barnes and Noble store, a nutcase was standing on a little suitcase yelling out a bunch of stuff about how God hated us all. God especially hates gay people and he also hates everybody who allows gay people to live.

Now, Denver is not Boulder, but it's still a decent enough place, and I was pretty sure that 9 out of ten people who passed by this creep must have felt a little sick about him. Yet (censored) nobody told him he was a (censored) (rectum). They all pretty much ignored him. (Feces). Since when is it a good thing to tolerate evil? Anyway, we went into Barnes & Noble to use the bathroom and buy coffee at the Starbucks inside, and when we came out, the old (rectum) was still standing on his stupid suitcase, still ranting.

We watch him for 20 minutes or so, and in all that time, the only person to throw a cup of hot coffee at him was me. Don't you think that if this dumb bastard was dowsed in scalding coffee by 30 or 40 people an hour, he'd get the message that his dumb (feces) wasn't acceptable? I really don't think tolerance is the great thing everybody thinks it is.

Like I said. We're too (censored) nice when it comes to ignoring and tolerating dumb-ass stupid (feces). If somebody is full of bull (feces) we should tell them so. And if they're truly evil, then we should scald them with hot coffee.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Rainy Night in Manhattan, June 2

Manhattan, NY is not an easy city to get lost in, since the streets are numbered in an orderly fashion, and with rare exception they run north-south and east-west.  But any city on a rainy or snowy night can pose challenges, and the last three days in Manhattan have been rainy indeed. Tonight after dinner with sales colleagues, I roamed the streets alone for a short time, and soon found myself just slightly lost, a little confused whether my destination was to the east or west side of Fifth Avenue. It was strangely interesting and rewarding to first be slightly misplaced among the drizzle and fog clouding the street signs and familiar landmarks, and to then to find myself back to the Hotel Indigo on 28th St, where a glass of Scotch in the bar with friendly colleagues awaited. There is nothing that leaves a person with such a feeling of basic human competence in the world as to independently discover one's way to any destination—geographical, metaphorical, mental, spiritual.

I read somewhere that some psychological study determined that the reason men refuse to ask directions is because they can't bear to look uncertain and indecisive in front of others. It is a hallmark of leaders, apparently (or maybe insecure leaders) that they never ask for directions.

Maybe so (who am I do argue with USA Today psychologists), but frankly I think there are different reasons I behave this way.  I kind of groove to the low-level excitement of being lost and then finding my way.  The feeling of uncertainty followed by discovery is  pleasing and much more rewarding than if some body tells you how to get there.  And I don't think it has much to do with impressing anyone else, since I'm much more likely to deliberately lose myself when I'm all alone. It's a habit born our of purely private, selfish reasons. When I'm with people, I'm much more likely to ask directions or reach for the I-phone app, because other people sometimes are unnerved by feeling lost.

As a kid growing up in the countryside, I sometimes deliberately headed off into ravines and deep woods, walking for a couple of hours until I had no idea where I was, then try to find my way back home. Mind you, this was rural countryside in southern Minnesota rather than the Pacific Northwest wilderness,  and it was not all that dangerous really, especially if you've grown up in such an environment. I do remember my parents, though, getting a  little freaked out by this behavior.

When traveling on business with a free afternoon with a rental car these days, it's great recreation to simply drive aimlessly, not worrying where I am,  just to see the neighborhoods and businesses and lifestyles in Virginia or North Carolina or Irvine California, or Boston. With enough time before a flight home, there's not much chance getting so hopelessly lost that you can't come back. There is also another profound advantage: you often find things you didn't know existed at all. New restaurants not in any guidebook, hiking trails, public gardens.

There was a time during the early adult years where I was quite lost in ways that weren't geographic at all, but that were phenomenological, philosophical, spiritual—maybe even neurological. Or maybe all those things.  Lost in such a way that for awhile it wasn't even clear that coming back was possible. Oddly, finding a way through that period required that I first embrace being totally, utterly lost.  In any case, in retrospect I'm glad for that experience so long ago. It was as though the universe was offering me a chance to see how lost a person could get and still find a way.

So sometimes the benefit of getting lost is the satisfaction of competently finding your way back to the world you left.  But there are also times when you need to lose yourself in order to push on through to the other side. Which is probably a good thing to remember for Geezers who will become Really Old Geezers, in a future that's not all that distant anymore.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Introducing a New Geezer

Editor's note:  This essay represents the first offering from a persistent wannabe Geezer who calls himself Mad Marvin. Marvin is the oldest Geezer to ever write here, and is not a member or even acquaintance of the original Geezers Emeritus. We don't even really like him. Well into his 60's, now,  Mad Marvin was once an original, tie-dyed-in-the wool hippie liberal pinko of profound peace-loving sappiness. But later in life a profound cynicism overcame him, manifesting in rabidly extremist views. These days, his rants retain their liberal flavor on some occasions, though escalating to nearly anarchist levels. At other times he is unabashedly right-wing in his views. He is, in other words, quite literally schizophrenic. And off his meds. 

It is likely we will print only a small fraction of the wacky diatribes he submits to us; we just don't have the energy to edit each piece in a way that makes him remotely presentable. 

The last 50 years of stupid-assed US foreign policy can be symbolized by a single goddamn event that's just unfolded in Iraq.

After 20 years of US combat, supposedly aimed at freeing Iraq from tyranny and giving them the gift of democracy,  the evil ISIS faction (which makes Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard look like (censored) Little Sisters of the Poor) takes a key Iraqi city. The nationalist defense force, four times larger than invaders, offers virtually no resistance, instead fleeing and abandoning a couple billion dollars worth of high-tech American guns, missiles and tanks to the invading ISIS forces.

The ISIS forces, despite their startling victory, are far from being beacons of bravery; they've  now essentially hidden behind women and children, setting up headquarters in dense residential areas so that the US is hesitant to help the cowardly nationalist forces by striking back, out of fear of harming civilians. (The nationalist forces, it seems, aren't even willing to offer on-the-ground reconnaissance to help direct missile and air attacks against the evil bastards.) The homeland Iraqis, in other words, as a culture are just about as (censored) and spineless as the (censored) French people were when Hitler frowned at them in WWII.

(Censored). Will we ever, as a nation, grow tired of this pattern? Over and over and over again, from Korea to the middle east, same (censored) story. With professed noble intent, we decide to take on the evil fascist dictators and terrorists of the world, only to end up handing over incredibly dangerous tools to people who would love to shove those weapons up our United Ass. Or leave behind a landscape filled with landmines to blow little kids to bloody bits. As a nation, we're like a kindergarten teacher who, instead of cookies,  hands out out sticks of dynamite and matches to a classroom of (censored) autistic 5 year olds.

Don't get me (censored) wrong, by the way. I admire the Iraqi and other Islamic immigrants to this country. They are the cream of the crop, the ones with spine and spirit. They should be given awards for escaping the in-bred (censored) hillbillies of their homeland. We should actually be embracing them and celebrating their triumph rather than mistreating them like they are extensions of their evil and cowardly (censored) acquaintances back home. If we were a little more admiring and welcoming of these folks, maybe they would be less disillusioned and less likely to learn hatred for us (and from us).

But if history shows anything, it's that we'll never learn. We (censored) get what we (censored) deserve.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thoughts on Events in Garland, Texas

Like most people, I reacted to the news of the terrorist attack on the cartoonists' conference in Garland, Texas with weary discouragement and outrage. It lent fuel to my increasing belief that we are currently in a new form of World War, with radical Islam battling pretty much the rest of the world. The definition of a World War, after all, is a conflict "involving most of the world's most powerful nations."  The 15-year "war on terror" seems to qualify, given the involvement of the US, Great Britain, France, etc. etc. (It does seem to me, though, that calling this a "war on terror" is slightly misleading. Let's call it what it really is: a war of Judaic/Christian culture vs. that of fundamental Islam.  It's really a particular subcategory of terror that we're fighting here.)

Like many westerners, each time a new such episode occurs, I have the slightly shameful thought that the west should go whole-hog and stamp this thing out once and for all; a small, rarely vocalized thought that if radical Islam wants jihad, then the west ought to respond in kind and get this thing over with. After all, they started it. But then I tell myself that this group represents a small faction of a religious philosophy that includes many, many innocent people. I'm a bit ashamed of the angry knee-jerk reaction I sometimes harbor.

It also bears consideration that we (meaning some members of the west) have a role in this. Somewhat lost in our outrage is the fact that a principle organizer of this event, Pamela Geller, turns out to be a hate-monger of the most dedicated and profound ilk. In her recent history, she has made a tidy career of persecuting all manifestations of Islam, including organizing successful opposition to the construction of mosques and Islamic culture centers. A key organizer of the American Freedom Defense League Initiative, as well as a highly visible supporter of the English Defense League—both organizations seeking the virtual extinction of Islam—her blog "Atlas Shrugs" has been labeled a hate site by PayPal and government watch groups. (Ironically, given her own Jewish heritage, members of the English Defense League often appear in public wearing swastikas; the passion here is not ideology but pure hatred).  Her response to the Texas shooting was something akin to jubilation—it proved her point and justified her career of hate-mongering. Violence was the goal of organizing the event.

None of this excuses this or any other Islamic terrorist activity in any way. Our culture is based on freedom of speech, and much the way Westboro Church has the right to scream hate messages about gay people, this woman has a right to organize a conference aimed, really, with hopes of a violent response from Islamic radicals. But neither can we ignore the full reality of the situation. If police officers had been killed in this operation, Pamela Geller and other organizers would have borne some moral responsibility for inciting violence.

And before we automatically trumpet the rights of expression for a conference aiming to caricature the prophet Mohammed, we should make sure that we'd be equally comfortable if Ms. Geller had organized a conference awarding a prize for the best depiction of Jesus Christ fornicating with the Virgin Mary. I wonder how serious we'd be about defending freedom of speech in that instance.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Last Message from a Geezer Pedestrian

In the last year or so, Minneapolis has gained a lot of press as a city at the very top in terms of being "friendly" to the bicycling community. This is testament to the effectiveness of the propaganda practiced by the political arm of the bicycling community. In reality, Minneapolis is a metropolis now besieged by BUFO (Bicyclists United for Fascist Objectives).

To be perfectly clear, I am not painting the entire bicycling community with this paintbrush—only the arm that wields political clout. Much the way Germans of nationalist sympathies between the years of 1935 and 1945 could not be said to all be Nazis, not every innocent man or woman riding a two wheeler in Minneapolis is a member of BUFO. The reality, though, is that BUFO is where the power lies within the subculture, and it now threatens to symbolize bicyclists everywhere in the Minneapolis metro area.

It started innocently enough, and with noble intent. Bicycling in the early days was seen as a healthy lifestyle, both for individuals and for the environment. It burned no fossil fuels, and in a city already known for healthy lifestyle, a burgeoning bicycle culture was as a source of pride. For a city with frigid winters to have practitioners cycling madly away in the dead of January, it was a source of substantial pride. Anybody can bike in Santa Monica, CA. It takes a special place for such a culture to arise in frigid Minneapolis,

For a long while we were lulled into complacency as a city as BUFO took hold. All of us, even devoted automobile drivers and pizza eaters, felt some pride whenever USA Today or Shape magazine proclaimed us  as a bike-friendly and oh-so-healthy.

Gradually, though, more and more green grassy parklands began to be paved over with 6-foot wide paved bike lanes; regional parks where hiking had been the norm were converted into either mountain-bike pathways or paved recreational bike trails; whole city streets lost entire paved lanes to exclusive use by the bikes; pedestrian sidewalks were consumed by bike lanes;  and yet nothing was enough. The BUFO bicyclist lobby demanded more and more.

Today, many of the major one-way thoroughfares in and out of downtown all have 30% of their space devoted to bicycle traffic that is laughably sparse. By one recent audit, a major street that gets 500 automobiles per hour in rush hour traffic sees only 6 bicycles in that time frame. Yet not only does that street devote 40% of its surface area to bicycle-only lanes, but the BUFO force is steadily demanding that more space be carved away to their diabolical juggernaut. At this very moment, an intense debate is underway for adding yet another major bike street—in a location exactly two blocks away from a current one.

Our bicyclist community (or at least the BUFO core), now legitimately believes that it owes no responsibility to follow traffic laws. They routinely ignore stop lights and stop signs, and weave in and out of traffic lanes in a manner that would get an automobile drive stopped and breath-alized. In those instances where near misses occur between bike and car because a biker has run through another red light, you can be guaranteed that he will shake his little fist and curse you loudly.

So effective is the propaganda machine that when a fatality occurs, BUFO once again trots out imaginary statistics that proclaim that 99.9% of the time bike-car accidents are the fault of the motorist. This is utter nonsense as any new car driver to the city will verify. A colleague new to our city told me recently that he had never seen a place where more aggressive, arrogant, and self-entitled bicyclists existed. Yet that statistic—that cars are at fault virtually all the time—is now taken as conventional wisdom that cannot be challenged.

When bicyclist is killed in a car accident in Minneapolis, a national day of mourning ensues. His BUFO brethren very often erect a memorial on the spot, in the form of a painted "ghost bike" that draws attention to the tragedy. This despite the fact that there's a very likely chance the bike rider died while adjusting his headphones with one hand, sending a text message with the other, while staring high into the trees to identify another bird species on his lifetime watch list. While running a red light.

BUFO party members now have official uniforms, in the way of spandex biking shorts and colorful shirts printed with the names of famous bike racing personalities. The echo of young neo-nazis wearing Hitler tee-shirts is striking. The absurdity of this seems lost on all, but it makes it clear that this is a political movement. What other reason could there be for a routine bicycle commuter to dress like Lance Armstrong?  What would the reaction be if I were to don a NASCAR racing suit every time I climbed into my Mazda to run to Home Depot for garden supplies?  I would of course be jeered, yet my 50-year-old colleague can arrive at the office dressed as Tour de France racer #2045, with black bike shorts squeezing his prostate into oblivion, yet no one dare make comic fun of him.

Completely lost in the current political/cultural environment are the rights and needs of a group that has now all the dignity of Kurdish shop-owners in Sadaam Hussein's Bagdad—the lowly pedestrian. Long the victim of motorists who view pedestrians as passenger pigeons to be harvested for sport, the Minneapolis pedestrian now is being routinely hunted by bicyclists, as well. A pedestrian waiting at a corner for a walk sign can routinely expect to have a bicyclist shout at him angrily to get out of the way so he can plow through on the sidewalk against the traffic light. Yesterday on the way back from lunch, I crossed an intersection lawfully in a crosswalk when a bicyclist, crossing at 90-degrees against the red light and against the pedestrian "walk" sign, pushed me in the back of the head because I had failed to yield the right-of-way to his lawlessness.

Hold a place in your hearts for the recreational bicyclist of yore. Maintain a soft spot for the traditional pedestrian. Soon they shall be forgotten.

Editor's note:  The BUFO does not exist, at least in not any official way. That detail is fictional.   But that single invented fact is the only thing hyperbolic in the entire essay printed here. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Naked Admission

I like showering with naked men.

This is as big a surprise to me as it is to anyone. Over the course of my life, all pleasurable shower and bath experiences I've had,  both in fact and in imagination, have been with members of the opposite sex, not my own. Over the years, I've showered and bathed occasionally with my wife, as well as people like Susan Sarandon, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Julie Christie and even, once, Scarlett Johanson (....fact AND imagination, remember) and found it to be great good fun in each case. At no point did I ever enjoy showering with, say, George Clooney.

So it's somewhat surprising to find at this late stage in life that I actually enjoy showering with my fellow men, at a time when nakedness around ANYONE should be a little intimidating.

Working out four time a week has paid HUGE
dividends for me. You should have seen me
four months ago. 
In January, with incentives both from my health insurance provider and from my employer who has begun to match the insurance company's credit, I joined the YMCA again. It was not without trepidation, I will say. Now approaching 60, I am nowhere near the physical specimen now that I was 30 years ago—or even 10 years ago, for that matter. I am most certainly on the plump side, enough so that it makes my doctor chide me;  and I really, really think twice about going shirtless at the beach or to mow the yard. I no longer impose that indignity on the public; they've done nothing to deserve that spectacle.

It's not that I was ever Adonis, but back in high school and college I was moderately athletic and maintained a fair amount of activity into my 40s. There is nothing about me that has ever been the legitimate source of excessive naked pride, if you get my drift, but there was a time when I was above average in fitness, and I certainly didn't feel at all ill at ease to be seen naked back then (except perhaps if a Catholic priest happened to be somewhere in the area).

But that's  most certainly not who I am now, and so it was with trepidation that I considered getting back into the gym, taking my clothes off in the locker room, showering openly with other human beings. (In recent years, I tend to hide my eyes if walking in front of the big bathroom mirror alone in my own home). I am just plain shy in the best of circumstances, and am now decidedly insecure about my middle age paunch, which is now pronounced enough that I have to crane my neck forward and down to inspect.....things.

But much to my amazement, I am finding the locker room rituals to be quite relaxing, and not nearly as awful as I expected. For one thing, there wasn't the expected hoard of healthy young guys to contrast with my decrepitude. This is the YMCA, after all, and the vast majority here are old geezers like myself with sags and wrinkles that are at least as pronounced as my own. (Actually, at most times of day, I'm younger than the median age, I think).

To my surprise, it's rather freeing to let it all hang out with a bunch of men of middle-age and beyond, because there is no way to hide and hence there is nothing but open acceptance here, really. Amusement and good-natured conversation abound, and the whole atmosphere makes me look forward to retirement, when I can spend a couple of hours a day at the gym rather than the frantic 60 minutes afforded now. (And um, no, it's not that I want to spend that full two hours each day being naked.)

At no time is the locker-room amusement more pronounced than when some 20 - 30-year old arrives with his carefully razored torso. This hairlessness of body is all the rage among young adults these days, I know, but men are supposed to be hairy beasts, and the rest of old guys can't really resist smiling at little when some some young metrosexual enters the shower room with his cold and exposed pet salamander. Open laughter has been known to occur, because we older guys would never think to trim the shrubbery. It's ironic that the men who experience embarrassment in the locker room aren't the old sagging codgers, but waxed young men painfully aware that they're the source of amusement to their elders.

One old fellow, a urologist, had fun one day by casually mentioning to another old guy in the shower room that he had ordered a patient's penis amputated last month due to gangrene. He explained, loudly enough for an unsuspecting hairless fellow to hear, that shaving the genitals can lead to ingrown hairs that can become infected and lead to devastation. (This is, I later learned, a true problem). The young man paled and scurried quickly from the shower room, nervously glancing down at his plumbing.

The greatest of all sources of amusement is when somebody who is older, who ought to know better, shows up with his chest and naughty bits all plucked, shaved, waxed and otherwise denuded. No clearer sign is there of mid-life crisis than when a mature fellow tries to act young in this most private of all ways. When somebody like this enters the shower room,  dead silence reigns as all the oldsters bite their cheeks to avoid laughter.

I'm sure all this would be different if this were an LA fitness, where I most certainly would be out of place. If fact, I understand that at the more chic gyms, or even at YMCA's with a younger clientele, the young men are rather appalled by the ease with which older guys will walk around and talk while buck naked (see this quite funny article written from that perspective).  But this is old-guy YMCA, after all, and here I find it just fine to shower with naked men, where everybody laughs about the foibles of the young and takes delight in making them uncomfortable.

Who knows, I may even start mowing the yard topless again. Let the neighbors beware.