Old Geezers Out to Lunch

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

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.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Donald Takes Another Dump

You'd be mad, too, if your hair dye kept bleeding down
and staining your face orange. 
The scariest thing about Donald Trump isn't his right-wing ideology, or his xenophobic principles, nor even the fact that he's a liar.  The scariest thing about Donald Trump is the obvious fact that a: he is stupid, and b: a notable segment of America is rallying around a stupid man as their hero.

Trump's stupidity is self-evident, even if you do nothing more than listen to his speeches and interviews. His misuse of language and grammar, his imprecision of word choice, his butchery of idioms, is the stuff of a poorly read seventh grader. He said the other day, repeatedly, that closing our borders to Muslims could be "quick." What he was he was trying to say was, not that a closure could be enacted quickly, but that the duration of the closure might be "short-lived"  or "temporary."

Another quote from an interview on MSNB a few days ago;  "We have to get a hand around a very serious problem. And it's getting worse. And you will have more World Trade Centers and you will have more, bigger than the World Trade Center if we don't toughen up, smarten up, and use our heads." The man talks like a 12-year old trying to bluff his way when the civics teacher calls on him after he was just caught napping.

Here is a recent statement he read aloud, speaking of himself in the third-person:  "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." He's now repeating this absurd idea once every hour or so in the days since.

Trump's ignorance of current events is obvious, of course, but he's also stupid on simple common sense levels. In practical terms, how would it even be possible to do what Trump proposes? Nowhere on any passport is there any identification of religious affiliation. And it's not like people carry religious identity cards that can be screened at airport security. There is no way, really, to distinguish between a visitor from Turkey or Ethiopia who is Christian from one who is Muslim. Any person of even average intelligence could have deduced the dumbness of the idea just by thinking for a few minutes. (What is unspoken, of course, is the real message: Trump and his fearful white mob would really like to close America to brown people. Period. Brown people scare this bunch. )

And Trump genuinely does not understand the danger he poses here: by posing this as a religious war between all Muslims and the rest of the world, he is doing exactly what ISIS wants—making Muslims feel alienated from the rest of the world. Here's a fact: ISIS would love to see Donald J. as president. I wonder if the crowds in South Carolina have considered that.

Can you imagine this delivering the State of the Union address?
Mind you, it's not a given that a dumb president can't be an effective leader, or that a smart president will automatically be successful.  Ronald Reagan was no genius, but some would acknowledge him as a good leader. And he seems to have at least been smart enough to pick advisors who handled things capably while he took lengthy naps each afternoon. George W. was obviously dim and he also picked horrendous advisors, but he was not as dangerously stupid as Trump. And a couple of very smart presidents—Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama—were disappointing as presidential leaders. In fact, of notably smart presidents in the last 50 years who were also successful leaders, the list might stop at Bill Clinton.

But no candidate I can remember in recent times combined Trump's ignorant stupidity with an equal measure of out-of-control ego. George W knew in his heart-of-hearts that he wasn't the sharpest blade in the political cutlery drawer. Donald J. Trump, on the other hand, is too dumb to understand that he's dumb. Any man who continually brags about his wealth is actually worthless, and the one who repeatedly proclaims his brilliance is anything but. We all see it, but Donald does not.

This latest foolishness has some people saying that Trumps candidacy has jumped the shark, that Ted Cruz' recent advances in the Iowa polls are the beginning of the end for Trump's comedy of errors. (Cruz has his own baggage, the insanity of which is unfortunately being hidden by the even greater outrageousness of Trump). But don't write the Donald off just yet. His minions are just too numerous and too rabid to ignore. There is something almost predestined in the absurdity of what is unfolding here, a political fate that Americans have earned as result of their worship at the church of celebrity.

Hillary Clinton must be rubbing her hands with glee. Without Trump in the race, there are at least three GOP candidates who could likely win.  But with Trump in the race, either as the GOP candidate or as a Ross Perot-style independent,  Hillary wins in a landslide. We hope.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A deranged bird saved my life

Welcome back our talented guest geezer Sehr Wenig, the only female geezer to have graced these pages. Sehr writes today on a sobering subject that sooner or later touches the lives of most Geezers and their loved ones. Please wish Sehr well as she begins her medical journey. I, for one, am placing my bet on her. 

A deranged bird saved my life.

So did the dashing on a stucco wall on the building next door.

And my friendship with a Geezer I’ve considered my brother for more than a decade.

Some credit must be given to the fine and compassionate doctors and nurses and technicians caring for me now, but without that bird and that stucco and that brother, it may have been too late for their miracles.

Mine is not the kind of lump women are typically warned about, but a gradual thickening, a change in the density of the right margins of my right breast. The weirdness made itself apparent in early August, but I convinced myself it was merely my imagination run amok.

Daily inspections whispered a truth I wasn’t ready to hear – loud enough to make me check every day but quiet enough I could pretend not to hear.

I took to wearing a bra 24 hours a day, leaving one on the edge of the tub while showering so I could cover the developing dimple beneath my nipple before I faced the mirror to brush my teeth each morning.

And then a bird began beating itself to death against my bedroom windows.

Day after day, before the sun rose, that bird flew into the windows above my bed – over and over and over. I asked friends and colleagues how to stop its slow suicide, but no one knew how to help. One morning I moved to the second bedroom to escape the relentless thwacking, but the bird moved with me -- the one and only time it flew into any window other than the one above my bed.

About 10 days into the bird’s mysterious assault upon itself, I glanced out the window above my shower, contemplating the bird and its neurotic mission. There, shaped into the dashing of the stucco on the next building, stood the letters, WTF.

How could a contractor ignore such an obvious sign, I wondered as I slipped on my bra and turned to the mirror to brush my teeth.

Some weeks later, the bra was no longer enough to silence the thwacking of my own head against the ever-more transparent truth.

I called my brother to confess my fears. Exactly as expected, he urged me to go to the doctor. Exactly as expected, I edged closer to taking action. Leaving myself in fearful limbo was one thing; stranding him there with me was something quite different.

As the bird beat itself against the window the very next morning, I called my doctor. While the receptionist set up an appointment within the hour, the bird departed.

That first appointment set off a firestorm of tests and visits during which very kind professionals poked and prodded and scanned my breast from every angle. Ten days later, a biopsy confirmed my deepest fears, and we began making a treatment plan. I have every reason to believe that plan will be successful.

The bird has not returned.

WTF remains.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good News....and Bad News

Just when I had fully relaxed into the fact the middle age is drawing to close and old age is about to begin,  a complication arose.

At the dentist's office I ran into an extended survey in a waiting room magazine that tells me that based on lifestyle and general health and outlook questions, I'm effectively not quite 55 years old instead of nearly 60, as my driver's license believes.  

I truly don't know what to do.

This computation is based on an elaborate, multi-page survey. Wanting to know the complete dirty truth, I was fully, brutally honest in answering.  I was forthright  about my weight (which is fine if I was 6 ft. 3" tall; unfortunately I'm 5 ft 8"), and about the fact that my cholesterol and blood pressure are on the high side. I was ruthlessly honest about the red meat I eat too often, and about the fact that I have a nasty sweet tooth. I 'fessed up to my occasional insomnia, my allergies, the arthritis beginning to make my toes and ankles ache.

I was brutally honest about every last thing they asked.

But it appears I have enough healthy habits to more than compensate for these vices. I checked off the smallest option for number of alcoholic drinks per day above zero (on average, about one or two glasses of good Scotch per week). It appears, now, that a little bit of imbibing is considered better for you than none at all.  I spend 15 or so days a month in the YMCA pool or exercise room, and walk perhaps an additional 10 or 15 miles a week. The daily regimen includes 45 minutes of meditation, which the surveyors apparently like very much. Early to bed early to rise seems to be a plus. My work stress has taken a large turn downward—that alone probably reduced my age by a year or so. The last loved one lost to disease was now more than a year ago, not front and center in my outlook on life.  And my fondness for a good cheeseburger is apparently neutralized by the nuts, grains, and vegetables I happily eat.

Now, although it's not a terrible thing to actually be younger than I am, it does leave me with a dilemma. I was very much looking forward to the many senior citizen discounts I  become eligible for when I turn 60 years old next month.  I don't lie easily, and if I say I am 60 when in reality I'm effectively only 55,  I'm sure to get busted. I can imagine now the teller at the movie theater who, when I ask for a senior ticket, frowns and asks to see the result of my US News & World Report age survey. 

I must be careful not to regress any further, as might happen if I lose some weight. That was a goal of mine as I enter semi-retirement, but now I'm not so sure. I'd rather not have to send back my AARP membership card. Maybe if I drink a lot more Scotch, it will balance out a weight loss. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Human Wound

I recently came upon this small bit of writing from several years ago ago while cleaning out some digital file folders. Most bits of writing one discovers during such housekeeping is utterly disposable and you're well advised to snuff out all the 1's and 0's that form them, lest somebody come upon them and recognize that most of your writing is clumsy indeed.  But this one I decided to save for a little longer, at least until the next digital purging. I don't recall what prompted the writing of this. Sometimes words come from places you can't quite identify. 

I’ve come to believe that the quality that distinguishes humans from other living creatures is not "intelligence," but rather the fact that we are the one creature who is consciously aware of a woundedness, a sore spot, a mortal tenderness that is the source of both all our pain and ultimately our joy. Other living creatures, though subject to the same natural pains and laws of physics, remain blessedly unaware of the nature of the mortal wound, and hence do not suffer or rejoice in quite the same way as do conscious humans. The dawning awareness of this woundedness, this tender spot, is represented culturally and spiritually by many images: the fall from grace, expulsion from Eden, entrapment in samsara: all are mythological symbols of the sting that ensues when a conscious mind recognizes its essential mortality, its woundedness. 

How we respond to our wound governs the quality of our lives, in the end. It determines if we remain trapped in dreariness, or find at-one-ment of some kind.  The traditional path of a life is to attempt to cover up our mortality, to hide it from others and even ourselves. In anger and fear, we try to plate over our mortal wound with thick layers of costuming and personality and neurosis, trying to keep others from seeing it and trying to forget about it ourselves. 

We go to war to protect our wound. Our civilizations are largely structured around the effort to hide the wound. Our technologies evolve, in part, as efforts to defeat the wound. We dress in fancy clothes and dwell in palaces to distract ourselves away from the wound. Though all these are common strategies, they don't make for a very pleasant way to live.  It is a happy occasion to wake up from this condition and see the reality.

Fortunately, the wound is inherent in us, and cannot be avoided forever, even if we wanted to.  Clear seeing will eventually show you the truth of this. Knowing the woundedness, accepting the wound and working with it is a sign of our evolution, our consciousness. To hide from the pain, on the other hand, is to live a life of non-truth. And to do this may even be to live an evil life, for virtually all evil acts are strategies to hide from pain or to push it onto others that we might pretend that it doesn't belong to us. 

We are lucky that we can’t hide forever from the truth, and a genuine glimpse of our own mortal wound is what offers us the opportunity to change, to awaken. To awaken and feel the wound after a long period of hiding is something to celebrate. Some day, you may well come to realize that the moments of greatest trauma were also your moments of greatest awakening.

Sometimes through luck, sometimes with help, you may find that there is another way to respond to the knowledge of our wound. We do not have to hide, we do not need to defend. We can acknowledge the wound, accept it, live gladly with it even. We can tenderly care for our own wound, and treat the tender spots in others with equal compassion and empathy. We can respond to it with good nature, with irony and humor and understanding. Sometimes this is the path of the artists who live to articulate the experience of our human woundedness; the mystics who lived and died with compassion for the wounded; the saints who care for the universal wound. And there's a bit of this trait found in every good soul you’ve known. They are aware of the wound and are caring for it in themselves and others. 

Perhaps you have known people who live this way routinely, or maybe you've begun to  discover it for yourself: It is when we are confronted with the indisputable and unavoidable truth of our woundedness that a conscious, free life begins.

The happiest people I’ve ever known are those most aware of the tender wound in themselves and others. They ache for other people, and with them.