Old Geezers Out to Lunch

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from "Up North"

Thanksgiving is considered a winter holiday in Minnesota—especially in those years where winter is already in full force by Halloween. This year has been fairly normal, weather-wise; no significant snow yet, but it was a brisk 10 degrees this morning with a stiff breeze. All of which makes it all the more amusing to hear the answers I get to a brief exercise in holiday friendliness at the office.

During a morning greeting to colleagues  this morning, I asked an ordinary question: "Is your family traveling anywhere for Thanksgiving?"And surprisingly often, considering that Minneapolis is already the northern-most significant city in the continental US, you get the following answer:

"We're heading Up North."

If the football game on television is lousy, this is how they
spend the lazy hours after Thanksgiving dinner "up north."  
In our land, Up North as as a destination is a proper noun. It's evidence of our heritage as a rural, wilderness culture that quaint little Minneapolis—where you may well see black bears and wolves, and even the occasional moose within the metro area on occasion—is too southern, too metropolitan for most people when they have time off. "Up North" is where so many of us prefer to spend spare weekends and holidays. This is especially ironic to witness in the heart of the cold seasons, when rational people would do everything in their power to head south to warmth if they had the chance. Here, though, if they can't escape to "Up North," citizens at the very least will head outdoors on bitter winter weekends to get in a little snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing, or snow-mobiling (peppermint schnapps or hot buttered rum in thermos jugs is mandatory), or to drill two-foot deep holes in solid lake ice in order to fish (photo, above).

This is what Thanksgiving looks like in the boyhood land of the
Geezers, located in subtropical southern Minnesota

It's quite nuts, and I, for one, am not partaking. My family will be heading south, thank you very much.  A whopping 60 miles to the south, to the place where all the namesake Geezers of these pages were raised. And while in this tropical southern paradise, we'll spend the night after Christmas shivering around bonfires on the streets of our tiny town, watching local damsels parade on floats in thin tights, accompanied by sheriff deputies and civic officials in convertibles and on hay wagons,  while breathing clouds of chilled vapor into the night air while awaiting the ceremonial lighting of the town's Christmas light pageantry.

Nope. None of that Up North stuff for me.

Happy Thanksgiving y'all, from, and to, Geezers everywhere.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Headline Says it All

This morning in my local newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a headline spoke volumes to me:

"Fewer State Kids are Uninsured."

Minnesota's transition to life under the Affordable Care Act has been smoother than many, albeit by no means easy. We have a good share of bugs in the on-line enrollment system. But unlike many states, we opted for a state-managed system early on, modeling it somewhat along the lines of Massachusett's long-standing system. Hence, we've avoided the debacle of the federal system, and are well on our way to a workable process.

There have been a good many complaints, of course, not the least of which is that costs to individuals very widely, depending on where you live within the state and on the nature of the insurance you currently held. I know of a few people whom will likely have to unwillingly change from private insurance to the pool system. And some folks who live in outstate regions pay considerably more than similar folks in metro areas, since the size of the pool is notably smaller in smaller communities. It's not an ideal rollout of the healthcare system, at all. But these people seem to be outweighed by the people who seem more or less pleased by the rates and the quality of policy that will be seeing in the new system. I have friends who had been privately insuring who tell me that their transition to the new pool will be quite beneficial. But the real advantage is in headlines like this one:

"Fewer State Kids Are Uninsured"

Minnesota is not a large state in terms of population, and it's true that even now, some 68,000 kids remain without health insurance. But it's a demonstrable fact 16,000 kids more kids have health insurance today who didn't have it a year ago, before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. Projections say that we'll cut into this by similar margins over the next three years.

I by no means suggest that Obamacare is perfect, or even that it's a  good system. It's far from good.  With legitimate bi-partisan collaboration, we'd sure have winded up with something far, far better. But at a time when prevailing practice and legislation seemed heartlessly unwilling to bring any kind of regulation or control to health care costs, surely this has to be better than the alternative headlines we were headed to.

Even the reasonable critics of Obamacare must see some virtue to a reversal of  annual headlines reading "More Kids Uninsured."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Spring in New Zealand

No time for elaborate commentary, but here are today's shots from our vacation on the northeast coast of New Zealand. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Old Dogs, Old Tricks

—this piece was written quite some time ago, but I've held it back from publication, afraid, I think, that some of the Geezers would be unable to handle the sentimentality—Mercurious

I spent the weekend in Washington DC with four old friends I've known since I was 12, 13 years old. We went to junior high and high school together, stood up for one another at our weddings to high school sweethearts, watched our children grow up, progressed in careers together, and one day in the future we'll be considering how and when to support one another after heart attacks or at funerals.

This particular DC gathering represented a large segment of the group with whom I have played a ceremonial Christmas-time game of Monopoly since 1972. For 37 years, I've grown older with these guys over Monopoly played on the very same board. In 1972 we were shaggy headed, bearded, and some of us stridently liberal. These were Monopoly games of a peculiar intensity. At times, the negotiating of real estate between rolls of the dice has been measured in hours. (I'm not kidding about this.) In recent years, though, we've sometimes flown in to a host city from far-flung regions to join the game, since we're somewhat scattered to the globe now.

Today, there is considerably less hair on some of us, but the beards or mustaches persist on several, and these days we argue health care reform rather than US involvement in Vietnam. A bit more honest conservatism has crept in, although a short while back Obama snared even the single acknowledged Republican among us. 

Over the course of these three recent days in DC, I was struck by the fact that each one of us had changed, and yet we're still largely the same fellows we were as boys of 16. We have surely mellowed and refined somewhat. It's as though time, like a steady wind, has carved us into unique shapes that still bear the imprint of the original. Dr. Golf is still by far the classiest among us, the Meistro is still the somewhat eccentric dreamer and musical whiz, the Professor retains the common-sense bombast for which he was once justly famous.  The Mathematician is family-guy personified, as well as sports expert without peer. If my pals were asked, I'd imagine they still see in me some of the same edgy cynic I always was.

It did please me, though, to realize that we had all been improved favorably by time—in character, if not in waistline. We have all enjoyed success in career and especially in family. It is an unusual group of  well educated and highly opinionated men, but as a group I saw that in middle age we have grown more tolerant and less arrogant than we were in the old days. At least that's what I felt about my friends; I'd like to think I've moved a little bit that way, too. I will admit, though, that a couple of times this weekend, sheer sentiment led me to think that I'm not quite worthy of friends this fine.

What I have always loved about this group of guys is the quality of the conversation. In the old days, we would gather together each summer in the week before going back to college, holing up at a northern Minnesota fishing resort to drink copious amounts of beer and argue politics and religion until dawn each and every day. Today, we drink Manhattans and Scotch and fine tequila and bourbon,  but the quality of the conversation is, if anything, better than ever. On the metro subway back out of downtown at 2:00 am early Sunday morning, the debate among five middle-aged gentlemen wearing ties and coats, was over whether Huckleberry Finn and the musical Finnegan's Rainbow were indeed racist in the time they were created, or were instead meant as social commentaries even as they were written. I daresay such a conversation rarely happens on that subway at 2:00 am.

This is now, and always has been, a very competitive group of gentlemen. Over the weekend, we played several rounds of games on playing boards that are yellowed and faded with age, with pieces made of old-time wood, not modern plastic. While I came out on the short end of two games of Risk, the outcome was different in the game that truly matters.

I kicked ass in Monopoly.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saturday in the Countryside

I'm a country boy who is now perfectly at home in the city, but one drawback of the city is that it encourages you to dwell mostly in your head. By the end of last week, I was checking my 401K balances twice a day, and was fuming about lies being spoken by political candidates. Then I suddenly awoke and realized that I had been deluded into believing that the stock market was a real thing rather than a useful fiction created by greedy people, that politics is meaningful, and I knew it was time to hit the country.

Minnesota is a fabulous place, because you are never more than a few minutes from genuine, unspoiled countryside. State Parks, National Forests and Parks, State Wildlife preserves abound in these parts —there are more than 200 in Minnesota. I live in the heart of Minneapolis, but six miles from my house is Fort Snelling State Park, where there are 20 miles of trails meandering along the Minnesota River Valley flood plain. Even in the middle of the city, you can sometimes see whitetail deer, coyotes, fox, and wild turkey.

This weekend, it was William O'Brien State Park that was my destination. O'Brien is located about 30 miles northwest of Minneapolis, on the river bluffs of the St. Croix river that forms the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. This part of Minnesota is unique, in that it is one of the few areas of the Midwest that were not scoured by glaciers during the last ice age. As a result, it is filled with limestone bluffs of prehistoric vintage. Driving through this part of Minnesota, you are reminded of the segments of France where neanderthals created the famous cave paintings—that's how old the landscape is.

It's a little-known secret that appreciating natural landscapes is best done on cloudy, even rainy days. While sunny autumn days have more brilliant colors, the muted pallet of a rainy autumn day is artistic in a way that defies description. You see more on a misty day, where subtlety reigns.

It has been a late fall here in Minnesota, and as a result the autumn colors, even at this late date, are a mixture of many shades of green along with the yellows and reds and oranges of traditional fall. The forests here are a mixture of conifers and hardwoods, but the predominant species are birch, oak, maple and ash, which means that reds, yellows and oranges are the predominant colors. The most vibrant color now, though, comes from the grape ivy creeping up the sides of trees, and the sumac that fills the transition zones between the hardwood forests and the open prairies that cover the tops of the hills.

The woods were pretty much deserted; campgrounds were empty, and I passed only two other hikers all day long. It was ideal, because solitude is what most restores my spirit. It not really much of a hike, at least the way I would have defined it 10 or 20 years ago, because the tails are wide and smooth and well groomed, and not all that demanding. Still, when I tallied up the distances between checkpoints on the map at the end of the day, I found that I had put in a good 6 miles of strong up and down walking, punctuated by lengthy stretches spend sitting and meditating.

That night, soothing pleasantly tired legs in front of the fireplace as I ate homemade chili, I realized that the day's prescription had pretty much cured my current ailment.

For the moment, anyway, I didn't give a damn about the stock market, or about mayoral politics.