20 August 2017

Who am I?

In terms of Broadway's bombastic musicals, of which there are myriad, my favorite is Cameron Mackintosh's "Les Miserables." To its credit, it is not based on a movie. It is based on a real event, the pesky French Revolution, as interpreted by Victor Hugo in his seminal novel of the same name. So at least it has that going for it. Another thing it has going for it is one of its least bombastic songs, "Who Am I?" This song is belted by the protagonist, Jean Valjean, as he comes to grips with who he truly is, as he asks, "Who am I?"

I've been asking myself that same question of late, "Who am I?" What deep existential crisis is causing me to ponder this question? What event occurred that has caused me to look deeply into my soul? Well, remember who is writing this and I don't think you'll be surprised by what's driving this.

So what is it then, you ask? What has led to this navel gazing (and for those of you have had the misfortune of seeing me sans shirt you know that there is ample opportunity for navel gazing)? Quite simply, I've had a pang for something that has me questioning if I am ready to retire.

I'm beginning to think that I'm ready to move to Del Boca Vista.

If I do that, it seems only appropriate that I become the Republican committee chair for the community.

If I do that, I should be driving the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and her widow friends at Del Boca Vista to the 430PM buffet because 500PM is entirely too late for dinner.

If I do that, I feel like I should be watching Fox News and agreeing with that wee man boy huckster, Sean Hannity.

I'm feeling all these frightening things because of that pang I mentioned earlier. That pang, which I blame entirely on our local Chevrolet dealer, is for a car. That's right, a car. If I were a normal nearly 51 year old man, you'd be expecting me to tell you that the car that is calling my name is either a Corvette or a Porsche or any other compensating vehicle. Nope, not me. It's this:

That's right. A Cadillac CT6. An enormous, land yacht Cadillac. Are these not the milieu of retired insurance salespeople and bankers who shuttle back and forth between Rotary Club meetings and appointments with their proctologists?

Every time I see this car, prominently parked in front of the aforementioned local Chevy dealer, I am bewitched. As bewitched as I am by it, I am unnerved. I have no idea why this thing appeals to me. I certainly do not fit the key demographic that buys this car. I really have no business liking this car and yet, I do. Hence, my spiral into the philosophical question, "Who am I?"

Fortunately, I have some answers. A) I read my own Tweets and am reminded I really am not the key demo Cadillac is after and 2) I could never bring myself to unload the kind of cash they want for this Barcalounger on wheels.

As to the question of who I am, well, that mystery remains unresolved. I'm still figuring that out. This much I know, though, that this morning as I drive by that dealership on my way to get religion, and I see that car, I'm still going to wonder, "What would I look like driving this thing to the Chuck-A-Rama?"

06 August 2017

I'm Back.

Well, after an unprecedented absence / break / disappearance from the Den, I'm back, for better or worse.

My last post, on Memorial Day, was 68 days ago. I wish I had some dramatic backstory to give you as to what caused my near ten week absence. I can affirm that I was not kidnapped by aliens, unless they gave me a heaping dose of Propofol, in which case, I affirm nothing. Also, none of Trump's goons came after me for my Twitter feed (although I may be tempting fate on that one) and forced me to work in one of Ivanka's sweatshops as punishment for exercising my freedom of speech.

While none of those things went down, life kept going.  That's the only excuse I have for my absence: life happened. Regretfully, some of those things didn't get documented. I'm not going to turn this into Patty and Selma's Egyptian Slide Show Nightmare but here a couple of highlights.

The RM came home for the first week of June, in the company of a lovely young woman named Megan. She seemed to really like him because when they rolled off the plane, the RM was dressed in the latest in what can only be described as "Utah County Young White Mormon Rapper Thug Chic," and she wasn't bothered. Suffice to say, I was highly agitated. Anyway, we spent a great week with them and loved getting to know Megan. Two weeks after they returned to the Zion Curtain, the RM asked Megan to marry him and she said yes, in spite of the aforementioned clothing debacle. We are delighted for them and excited to welcome Megan into our family.

The day after they left, Our Lady of Awesome and our two grandchildren arrived for a glorious two week stay. I took a week off while they were here and we had a tremendous time together. I was reminded that I am no position to argue with a four year old about anything, especially when it comes to dialogue from "Toy Story." We picked strawberries. We found out that Pez are made in Connecticutistan. We found out that my granddaughter harbors zero, and I mean, zero fear around water when we took them to Ocean Beach for the day. After having them with us for two weeks, we were reminded how hard it is to live so far from all of our children and grandchildren.

July found me in London for a week for business and I'll never complain about that. After that, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I spent a weekend in NYC to celebrate her latest birthday. That included taking in "The Lion King" on Broadway. I've steadfastly refused to see it for a host of reasons but I finally caved and surprised her with tickets (she genuinely had no idea). I will admit it was not horrible. I then had a quick trip down to Atlanta where I had a chance to take in the Porsche Experience Center. This was an insane experience and I highly recommend it. Seriously.

Suddenly, June and July were gone and we're inexplicably into the first week of August and 68 days below by without me posting. I'm back now. Back to the occasional inanity that are my posts. Back to the observations of a middle aged man doing time in New England. Like I said, this is for better or worse.

29 May 2017

On Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2017

As is now tradition here in the Den, I repost my annual Memorial Day post written a few years ago:

Today is the last Monday in May, when the United States observes Memorial Day. As this day is a time to remember those who have died, millions across the country will pause to remember the meaning of the day and will honor those who gave their lives for the freedom of this nation.

It is a solemn day. So many gave their lives defending the freedom of this nation. They may have questioned the reasons why they were sent to war, but they went. They died defending our system of beliefs. They deserve our utmost respect and reverence.

I've often wondered how my generation would have reacted had we faced the cataclysmic events that catapulted the U.S. into World War II or had we been teenagers when the Towers fell on 9/11. My gut tells me the reaction would not have been as admirable as that of our counterparts in 1941 and 2001. I'm not proud of that. Perhaps that's why I have a particular obsession with the literature of war. From the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, I have read a slew of books and I have been inspired and humbled by the sacrifices of those who were far less selfish than my generation. I mean what does my generation have to call its own? MTV. Madonna. The coke-addled 80's. We set the bar pretty low, people.

I'd like to share a list of some of the books that have had a profound impact on me as I've considered the actions of those who fought for this country. For your consideration:

  • Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose - actually anything Ambrose has written is worth reading, but this telling of Easy Company and World War II is amazing.  The HBO mini-series is an incredible companion and should be required viewing in any and all American History courses.
  • In the Company of Soldiers, Rick Atkinson - gripping look into the early days of the Iraq War
  • The Greatest GenerationTom Brokaw - the generation I wish my generation could be.  Read this and understand why.
  • Behind the Lines, Andrew Carroll - letters from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.  Deeply personal.
  • War Letters, Andrew Carroll - the first of two books that capture war from the eyes of those that fought.  Stunning.
  • One Bullet AwayNathaniel Fick - inspiring story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.
  • The Heart and The Fist, Eric Greitens - second story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.  Both are stories of very smart young men who could have been sitting in an office on Wall Street, but instead chose to fight for their country.
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand - incredible story of a U.S. Olympian turned soldier turned P.O.W. and his story of survival.  I was so sorry I hadn't heard this story when I was in school.  But I went to public school in Arizona, a state where you'll do more time for knocking over a 7-11 than for killing a child.  I shouldn't be shocked about the quality of my education.
  • The Cat from HueJohn Laurence - a reporter's ground-level view of the war in Vietnam.
  • Final SaluteJim Sheeler - this is one of the most moving books I've ever read.  I wrote about it here.  I defy you to read this book without weeping for the lives that were cut short.  The subtitle of the book is 'A Story of Unfinished Lives.'  Is there anything sadder?
  • Lost In Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff - while not about a battle field incident, this book is an epic story of survival and ingenuity during World War II.  Further proof why they were the Greatest Generation.
  • Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Giles Milton - another perspective on the Greatest Generation but from the British. This is fascinating story of a British guerrilla campaign to disrupt HItler through epic bravery and cunning sabotage. 

    I would also invite you to find this movie on DVD and to watch it. Please watch "Taking Chance" as a part of your Memorial Day remembrance. It is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made and the honor given to our soldiers. Please watch it today.

    Rather than commenting on the dumpster fire that is our nations's commander in chief/Russian pawn, can we pause to remember what this day, Memorial Day, is all about?

    It is a day in which we pause to remember those who have given their lives while serving in our nation's armed forces. In spite of our faults, which are myriad, this is still an amazing country. As so many have given their lives to protect our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy today, especially given the environment we are in, we should never forget just how precious those freedoms are. Never.

    I am profoundly grateful for the actions and sacrifices of those who gave all for the freedom of this nation.  May we honor their memory on Memorial Day.

28 May 2017

Mistakes were made and I blame 1979

13 year old me on the far left (but clearly not far enough left).
1979...I hate you.
In a post earlier this month, I wrote about my Aunt Robin who succumbed to the heinous monster that is Alzheimer's Disease. With plans now in place for her memorial, my cousin Leigh requested some family photos so that they can be displayed at the memorial. To help me with that project, she sent me the gem that I've included in this post so that I would have a flavor of what she was looking for.

In looking at the picture, one phrase keeps coming to my mind over and over again, "Mistakes were made," and to be fair, those mistakes were made by me. I've not been shy about sharing my long history of awkward adolescent horror that was captured on film and this will be no different. So let's parse this train wreck.

First a little historical context for you. Picture it, if you will...it's November 1979 and for the first time in many, many years, the Lyons/Kramer families have gathered from Florida, where my grandparents lived and Arizona, where we lived, in Durham, North Carolina for a Thanksgiving reunion. The turkey would have been evidence of the time of year but given that its beige color blends nearly perfectly with my suit, it's more than a little hard to see the bird.

To celebrate that long awaited reunion, I chose to showcase my own poorly developing sense of no style by sporting a three piece suit/explosion of beige. The short sleeve dress shirt and tie combo was a minor league error but an indication of things to come. I mean who was I? Sipowicz? Also, the tie, which looks like it was sewn into the suit for convenience but wasn't (I swear!), was of my own choosing. The jacket, mercifully unseen here, as I recall (but remember repressed memories may not be 100% accurate), had brown faux leather patches that every painfully awkward, late in puberty adolescent boy wants to have in order to pull off that "I'm a professor" look that was sure to make him a hit with the ladies. The best part about this suit was that it was made of, wait for it...corduroy. This was 1979 corduroy which meant it when you walked the corduroy rubbed together loudly enough to make noise as well as emit smoke from the friction. Awesome!

As I was trying to achieve that professorial look, it was clear that I was trying to adult the heck out of this event. I can tell that from my expression captured in the picture. You may see it and think, 'That's what happens when you try to pull a face in a family photo.' I say nay. I recall trying to capture something of a je ne sais quoi attitude about the gathering and you can see how that worked out for me, which is to say not well. Speaking of expressions, I've got to hand it to my sister for not hiding her feelings that day at all. When I shared this picture with her, she said, "Ha ha! I was mad at somebody here." I think she may have had a side order of rage with Thanksgiving dinner. To be fair, this has given us more than a few laughs in the past few days.

Now you may be wondering where I procured the suit featured in today's mini-lesson in my "Learn From My Mistakes" series. I've blocked it out, if I'm honest, but I'm going to go out on a limb and blame the good people of JC Penney and their 1978-1979 catalog. Methinks the travesty in beige I was wearing was found on page 247 of that catalog. Looking back on those catalogs is an invitation to some kind of post-traumatic psychotic event. That said, if you want to bust a gut laughing about that catalog, you need to read this right now. This legendary post is now nearly 10 years old but unlike the catalog that it skewers, it has not aged one day. It's genius!

Since 1979's epic fail, I've learned a thing or two. I've tried to avoid self-emolating by not wearing corduroy. I've steadfastly avoided short sleeves and ties, with the exception of two years on a bike in Miami as a missionary. You try trotting around Little Havana in long sleeves in August...I've learned that you can survive the horrors of your teenage years, no matter how awkward, and find someone who thinks you're pretty darn OK (it should be noted that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML is a saint). I've learned family forgives things like that a beige suit.

To my family that I'll be seeing in a few weeks at Robin's memorial, rest assured, the suit will not be there. You're welcome.