Old Geezers Out to Lunch

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017


I've checked to make sure, and have confirmed that the CenturyLink technical support and customer service departments are open until 5:00 pm EST, and it's still only noon in Minneapolis. Still, it's not until the third attempt at running the gauntlet of the automated response system that I get through to a live tech support representative, who announces herself as Emily.
"How can I help you?"
I've had plenty of time to rehearse this and know that my chances for success are best if I succinctly and accurately describe the precise problem.
I say: "CenturyLInk is our provider for both phone service and internet/television. But every time the phone rings or anytime we hang up the phone, both the television and internet go dark for 5 to 10 seconds before coming back on"
She says nothing for a moment. Then "yes?"
"Is there something we can do about it?" I say.
"I will put you on hold to find out," Emily says, "Remain on the line, please."
My I-phone timer tells me that 24 minutes now pass before Emily returns to the phone. "My technician wants to know if you have an RF filter installed."
"I have no idea," I say. "The internet service was installed about 4 months ago. Maybe the service guy installed one, but I don't know."
"There really needs to be an RF filter," Emily says, with a note of accusation in her voice. "Also, your phone and internet are listed as two separate accounts, on two separate DSL lines. They really should be just one."
"I thought so too, back when they installed things," I say. "But Century told me they couldn't merge them and had to install them as separate DSL lines."
"That's wrong," says Emily, again with the note of accusation as though I have steered this situation. "You need to call tech support, tell them to connect you to customer loyalty, and then tell customer loyalty that you need these two accounts merged."
"You ARE technical support," I say. "I just called tech support, and I'm already talking to you. Can't you just patch me through to customer loyalty?"
"I can't connect you," Emily says. "You have to call technical support back, and tell the next person you talk to that they need to connect you to the customer loyalty department."
I consider this for a moment. "But Emily," I say again. I've already called tech support, and that's why I'm talking to you. Why would calling the same number again help?"
"Not NOW," Emily says impatiently. "When the office reopens on Monday."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Old Men of the YMCA: 10/16/17

I had only been in the whirlpool for a few minutes after my afternoon swim when a new fellow, Douglas appeared. I know many of the other old men who visited the YMCA in the afternoon, but Douglas, about 60 years of age and exceedingly fit, was new to me.

I was alone at the time, so when Douglas soon began a rather peculiar behavior, only I witnessed it.

After a few minutes of routine soaking, Douglas announced that he was going to submerge himself entirely, but reassured me that he would come up again. This was a bit puzzling to me, since I’d never seen a grown man do this in the whirlpool before. But I shrugged in nonchalance—each to his own. I figured perhaps Douglas wanted the benefit of the whirlpool jets directly on a sore neck, or something similarly benign.

But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that he was planning to submerge for rather lengthy periods of time. On the second plunge, I watched the second hand on the wall clock approach close to 2 minutes before the guy came up for air. I was, in fact, almost ready to go down after him when Douglas finally did come back up.

A few minutes followed during which Douglas recovered from his adventure. On the third dive, Douglas had only barely submerged himself when Frank came out of the locker room door and climbed into the pool. He would be the third guest in the water, though he did not yet know it.

The turbulent surface of the pool, along with a fair amount of foam, pretty much hid whatever was under the surface, and so Frank had no idea there was a third inhabitant lurking below. I suppose I could have warned Frank that the pool, in fact, held three souls, but I confess to feeling a little impish at this point. I was rather looking forward to the sudden emergence of  Douglas from the depths, just as Frank had settled in for a relaxing soak.

What I did not expect, though, was that Frank would sit directly on top of aquatic Douglas. But so he did. A most entertaining melee ensued as Frank shot up and out of the pool, having sat directly down on a large mass of soft, living organic tissue lurking in the depths.

It could not have been more fun for me if it had been the creature from the black lagoon, rather than merely Douglas, who now sheepishly climbed out of the pool with an apology to Frank.  Frank, for his part, was literally speechless for several moments as we watched Douglas exit to the locker room.

Once things settled down, I also apologized to Frank, acknowledging that while I had been looking forward to the seeing his startled expression when Douglas rose up out of the water, I by no means expected that Frank was going to sit directly on top of him.

Fortunately, Frank had a sense of humor himself. “You would tell me, wouldn’t you?” he said, “If there are other people down there?”

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Old Geezers at the YMCA, Sept. 17, 2017

Four old white geezers, ages ranging from about 62 to about 75, were sitting in the hot tub at the YMCA, soaking up warmth after their swims has drained the heat from their slowly declining circulatory systems. Knowing what I know of the clientele, we were middle and upper class folks, several retired, the others on extended lunch breaks or in semi-retirement with afternoons free. One was working a sore knee in front of one of the whirlpool jets. 

Two young men in their late 20s or early 30s sauntered up to the whirlpool with a casual rolling gait; both were extremely muscular with a hardness to their bodies that was in decided contrast to the comfortable pudginess of the old white guys already in the whirlpool.

A slight but obvious nervous tension appeared in several of the old white guys. The newcomers were men of color, and appeared to be of mixed ethnic background—I took them to be Hispanic and African American. This is not where the nervousness in the white guys arose, but rather in the fact that the newcomers were liberally tattooed with images that might lead one to believe that they might have some present or past affiliation with gang life. One young man had blue teardrops tattooed below one eye, as well as several intricate and aggressive tattoos on his arms and legs.

The other young man had a huge tattoo of a crucifix on his chest and belly. The scrollwork on the cross was intricate and complicated, reflecting a good deal of time and skill by the tattoo artist. The cross-arm of the crucifix ran fully across the young man's nipples and the vertical post of the crucifix started just below his chin then ran south to disappear beneath the waistline of his swim trunks toward his pubic area. On each side of the crucifix, just below the cross member, was a large word that together read "Suffer, Jesus," the words separated by the vertical post of the crucifix.

I found myself puzzling the presence of that comma, and reflected on the difference that it would make for that comma to be missing. "Suffer Jesus" might be interpreted liturgically as "Allow Jesus into your life," while "Suffer, Jesus" wanted to be read grammatically as an imperative, a rebellious order telling Jesus that he should suffer.

Either way, it was a slightly shocking tattoo in this environment, and I think the palpable nervousness of the old white guys was mostly because of this single tattoo and wondering what it implied about this pair of powerful young men of color.

I was expecting the scene to play out in uncomfortable silence for several minutes as, one-by-one, the old white guys slipped out of the hot tub and scurried into the nearby shower room. Instead, though, one of the old guys said "Hey, where did you get the bottled water? Is it sold here?" I hadn't noticed that the young man wearing the crucifix tattoo had entered the hot-tub holding two ice-cold bottles of water. "

"No, man," said crucifix man. "I buy them at Munch and Pump for $.45 each." 

"They sell bottled water upstairs," the other young man said, "But it's highway robbery at $2.50 a bottle, and they are really small bottles."

"I know," said another of the old white guys, unheard until now. "How in the world do they justify that much money for simple water?"

Several minutes of relieved sports-related pleasantry now passed between everybody in the hot tub, then the young tattooed men stood to exit the whirlpool.  "Here man," said crucifix man to the old guy who had first asked about the water, handing him one of the bottles. "I've got two, and you look hot."

The old guy accepted the bottle of water, and started to make noises about paying the young man back.

"No sweat," said crucifix man. "It's just four bits." As the two young men headed for the locker room, the other one turned back with a pleased and slightly surprised smile on his face "Have a good day, dog."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Citizens of 4F: August 22, 2017

The seasons change with lightning swiftness in Minnesota, and during this morning's walk to the bus stop, I can clearly see we have now entered the transition, the saddle season between summer and autumn. Yesterday saw what might well prove to be the last summer thunderstorm, a long heavy rain storm driven by southern winds carrying lots of moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the skies are a piercing blue and the wind is a cool gusty breeze from the northeast. Yesterday's upper 80-degree temperatures have been replaced by buoyant air in the mid-50s. By mid-afternoon, we may well be back in the upper 80s, but we have now reached that season where mornings and evenings will clearly belong to autumn while summer is still fully present in the mid-day hours.

It's the kind of morning where the beverage I purchase from Starbucks to drink on the bus ride might be either iced latte or hot chocolate, and either would be perfectly appropriate. Today, anyway, I choose the iced latte.

Some of my fellow passengers on the bus this morning are wearing long-sleeved flannel shirts or light sweaters in acknowledgment of the autumn soon to be upon us, while others hold tight by wearing short-sleeved polo shirts in anticipation of the warmth that will mark the mid-day hours. Both forms of dress are fine today.

These days of transition always fill me with a kind of extreme, pleasurable melancholy. I am critically aware that there are a limited number of these summer-autumn transition seasons left for me to fully enjoy. I am approaching 62 years of age, and in 20 more years, I will be an old man of 82. My father passed away at 82 after two difficult years confined to a care facility, and for the men of my family, he did well to live that long; most expire in their 70s. So a realistic degree of optimism tells me that 20 more good years is a reasonable projection for me. If I'm really lucky, it might be as many as 30 more seasons, but however you look at it, it must be acknowledged that the clock is ticking. It is self deception to pretend otherwise. 

Oddly, this is not a depressing thought at all, but one that makes this particular morning all the more glorious and wonderful. The temporary nature of life fills me with a kind of painful love for the world and all the things and people in it—a fondness that simply wouldn't be possible if we didn't recognize that life is a limited gift that will end some day. It is death—or more precisely the recognition of death—that makes life so wonderful. It can be argued, even, that a life must end for it to have any meaning at all. 

On a store at 36th Street and Lyndale Avenue, a large mural with the single word "LOVE" has been painted across the brickwork in an old-fashioned serif-font typeface. The word is brightly colored in warm southwestern hues across the side wall of a pet-food store. A man sits on a promotional bus-stop bench with his back to the giant word, oblivious to it. 

I wonder at the intended grammar of the word in this setting. Today, I choose to read LOVE not as a noun but as an imperative verb. I think the artist intended it as the prescription for how we should behave in the world when faced with a clear sense of life's mortal quality.  Love. 

How is it, I wonder, that in all the days of bus trips along this route, this is the first day that I've recognized this mural?

Friday, August 18, 2017

An Angry Geezer

I'm now categorized as an "young old guy" or "mature middle-aged fellow," depending on who is doing the labeling. To my 87-year old mother-in-law, I'm relatively young, while to my kids, I'm clearly a dinosaur.

But however I'm labeled, I will tell you that in my six-plus decades on the planet, the last year or so has seen a level of social, political, and cultural rest the likes of which I have not seen since the 1960s and early 70s. And I'm fairly certain its going to get worse before it gets better.

Now, philosophically I believe in principles that lean in the Buddhist direction. In other words, I believe that on a universal level it is tolerance, compassion, and equanimity that have the power to eventually create peace and happiness for everyone.

What I believe and what I'm able to practice are two different things, though, and I fully acknowledge that I'm not a great Buddhist yet. In immediate terms, I'm pissed as hell at our president and his chief priest Steve Bannon and the 35% of Americans who appear to be their disciples.

The problem with a Ghandi philosophy of peaceful, non-violent social resistance is that it takes so damned long, and in my American experience, I observe that it is usually genuine physical action that brings about change. And yes, sometimes that action borders on the violent. In the 1960s and 70s, it was only at the point where the Black Panthers stopped being peaceful neighborhood activists and began stocking their headquarters with guns in defense against police raids that civil rights change began to accelerate. And it was at the point where college protestors began throwing tear gas canisters back at police that we as a nation grew truly weary of the Vietnam war.

It's now been shown that Donald Trump's most recent fake fact—that the violence in Charlottesville, VA involved equal culpability by white supremacists and members of the Antifa crowd—is so much bull dung. Objective reports verify that the right-wing crowd arrived with clubs, helmets, shields and pepper spray in anticipation of conflict, and that Antifa members became physical only when the right-wing began pushing and shoving and punching ordinary counter-demonstrators. Left-wing violence was indisputably an act of self-defense. After all, who was it that drove a car through the crowd in an act of murder?

Nor does the insistence that there were "fine people" to be found on the white nationalist side of demonstration seem to hold any water. Virtually all the advertisements and posters announcing the Charlottesville event either featured the confederate flag, or more blatantly stated things like "White People, Take Back Your Country from the Jews!" Where, I wonder, are the fine people who come out to participate in an event defined in such a way?

I'd like to be able to frown and discourage all violence wherever it occurs. Maybe white supremacists and Neo-Nazis can indeed be defeated through peaceful disagreement over a period of many decades. And I'd also like to be that guy who gathers up cockroaches, takes them outside and releases them into the wild. However, I'm an imperfect human being, and in practical terms I feel that cockroaches of any ilk need to be stepped on, or at least chased back into the shadows and made afraid of the light.

This is not to say that I believe we necessarily need to physically assault members of the Neo-Nazi crowd wherever we find them. There are levels of violence that can be pursued in a war against these bastards. On one level, all disagreement—verbal and political—is an act of violence. I do believe that we need to make it clear, at least through the verbal and political violence of word and opinion, that we do not tolerate that which is intolerable. White supremacists need to be insulted, derided, chastised and in every way made to understand that we do not tolerate their beliefs and do not accept their right to spread the disease. And decent people do need—and in fact have a responsibility—to physically protect themselves when attacked. To practice tolerance with this crowd is like accepting the right of small pox to exist.

As for Steve Bannon, if he were to suddenly step in front of my car on the street while jaywalking, I would apply the brakes—but I fear that I'd think for a long, long moment before doing the right thing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Citizens of 4F: June 27, 2017

The United State of Trump motors on. The legislature now has made it clear they want to move 22 million Americans off their health insurance in order to redistribute wealth back to citizens who are already affluent, and the Supreme Court is about to once again give businesses the right to discriminate based on religion and sexual preference. Recent special elections in which Republicans have won 4 out of 4 tell us that we have moved from the U.S.A to U.S.T. and aren’t swinging back, despite or melancholy hopes.

So this morning on the #4 bus into downtown Minneapolis, I began to evaluate my fellow passengers according to demographics that I can’t ignore.

In the last election, Minnesota went narrowly for Hillary Clinton, but only by the smallest of margins. And since this morning’s passenger assortment is mostly white and male, it seems pretty likely that it hews close to the national average that elected The Orange One into office.  So….

Arguably, the unholiest of the four
riders of the apocalypse...
Of my 25 fellow adult passengers on my bus this morning, half of them are standing in the aisle and did not vote at all in the last election, and may not have ever voted. These folks, studies suggest, may not know who the vice president is, nor their U.S. senators, and almost certainly do not know who their U.S. Representatives are. And as regards state politics, the only elected official they may know by name is the current Governor, though even that is not a slam-dunk. Such is the level of disinterest and apathy. Not that I can blame them, exactly. If the options are sitting next to Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi, aren’t we all tempted to stand?

Of the remaining 50% on the bus, perhaps one voted for an off candidate, such as Gary Johnson, who ran as a Libertarian, or Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. Or maybe they got no votes at all.  
...followed closely by this numb-nuts.

Of the other 12 or maybe 13 passengers on my bus who did vote in the last presidential election, 6 or 7 sitting on the right voted for Trump, and 6 or 7 sitting on the left voted for Hillary. Pretty much a tossup. In other words, out of 25 passengers on this bus, the Dems and Repubs each talked only 6 or 7 into taking a seat.

Many of us liberals saddened and depressed by the last election have spent much time in the last few months imagining that we must now convince one of the 6 or 7 Trump voters with their butts planted on the right side of the bus that they must switch seats to sit on the left.  But think about it for a moment. The reality is that 2 or 3 of those folks already have “Deplorable” labels on their underwear or maybe even tattooed on their inner thighs. (Hillary may have been stupid to say so, but she was right). And sitting next to them are a larger bunch of folks willing to overlook deplorable labels because they are too fearful of ethnic minorities or a gay people or liberal women.

Not that the Ragin' Commie is much better.
Do we really thing any one of these people is going to change seats? You’d have more luck converting a Baptist into a Hindu than to talk a Trump voter into taking a seat next to Bernie Sanders or Al Franken, who are yacking up a storm sitting just behind me. And don’t get me started on Nancy Pelosi, who none of us want to sit near.

But here’s the thing. About half the passengers on this bus didn’t vote at all. They are just standing in the aisles, bored and frankly repulsed by what they see. All that’s necessary is to make friends with a single one of them. What is shameful about our nation is not the 25% of  passengers that sit on the right side of the bus, and not even the  10% or 15% of 'em with "deplorable" stamped on their underwear. No, what is shameful is the 12 or 13 passengers that are standing up while we on the left ignore them.

Forget about those sitting across the aisle, my friends. They ain’t movin’. If we didn’t win a single one of the four recent special congressional elections when the Republicans are led by the worst excuse for a president since Warren Harding, who are we kidding?
And here I have no words...

But I suggest we each have a look at those folks standing in aisle, the ones who have no desire to sit by any of the four loudmouths shown here or others of their ilk. Offer up the seat next to you to a single standing passenger and make friends with him or her. Suddenly, the bus changes its destination, and we’re headed back towards America.