Monday, May 27, 2013

The Final Frontier

In 1969 I was just 5 yrs old.  I can remember very clearly having dinner with my mom and dad at a friend’s house.  I think the gentleman of the family we were visiting was a “flying friend” of Dad’s.  As a child, I sat patiently on the lime green shag carpeted floor of their living room as the four adults sat on the front edges of their sofa cushions and stared wide-eyed at the small black and white television that, not so long ago, had become the focal point of nearly everyone’s living room. 

Fuzzy images of rockets and lunar modules flickered across the black/green screen as gasps of astonishment and wonder volleyed back and forth between the two couples.  I knew then, that something important was happening. I even understood that men were walking on the moon, and that they had traveled there in a tube powered on reason, science and balls of steel.  The living room of this particular home opened on one end to full sized windows which led out to an upper balcony.  Through the glass, I could see the moon, painted silver, sitting quietly on a cloudy pillow in the royal blue sky of the Southern Hemisphere.  My eyes shifted, in slow time, between the images on the television, the expression-filled faces of the grownups in the room, and the moon.  Perhaps unlike so many, whose love for science was born of science fiction, my love of science fiction was born of fact, as it unfolded in black and white that hot spring night, so far away, and so long ago. 

Often, as a child, riding my bicycle, I would fantasize that I was instead in command of the Starship Enterprise, from Star Trek, or the Jupiter 2, from Lost in Space.  Bath time was just an excuse to journey fathoms below on the atomic powered Sea-View 7, or Jules Vern’s Nautilus.  It was also the beginning of a lifelong love affair with all things mechanical.  As tomorrow’s wizardry becomes today’s playthings, I have found much happiness in acquiring the skills and knowhow to build, design, adapt and customize in my own workshop.  I am able to see and interpret most machines and devices from ‘the inside out.’  In my mind’s eye I can visualize, or imagine, a “blueprint” of how something is put together, which often surrenders its secrets before I take something apart.  Music, for me, is similar.  Creating music, or even repairing or building anything, is sometimes like following a path through a forest.  Sometimes the path is clearly marked, sometimes you have to get on your hands and knees to see it, and every once in while there is no path at all.  Sometimes you just have to cut your own way through.

Today Eileen and I went to see the new Star Trek movie, “Star Trek, Into the Darkness.”  To say that I am a “fan” is putting it rather lightly.  I'm older than the original series, but only by a year, and it’s fair to say that Star Trek and I, like so many others, have grown up together.  It’s the genius of Star Trek that has kept me riveted for so long, and the hope that we may in fact know a similar reality. 

I loved the movie, as I'm sure I will love, and faithfully see, every Star Trek or science fiction offering the future may hold, but still….this time….something was wrong.  It wasn’t until we were on the way home that I began to realize what was so off-putting about today’s trip to the movies.   First, it was fantastic!  It was in fact, too fantastic.   So much of the success of the story depended on moments of “good” luck on the part of the new Captain Kirk that his ingenuity and cunning seem to have been written out of the script.  It is Spock’s character who steals the show, which is OK, but it guess I just liked it the other way around.  Now before every other Trekker writes to me and tells me I don’t know what I'm talking about, and have completely missed the point of the new “time-line,” let me say this…you are probably correct…but it isn’t logical….

This brings me to the second reason I’m writing all this about what is, after-all, just a movie.  It was entirely predictable.  I had purposely stayed clear of most of the previews, and did not read any reviews or spoilers, but I could easily have (If I could type fast enough) written the script about a five minutes head as the movie unfolded before my eyes.  I felt like I was asked to watch a story, albeit in a new time line, that I had watched before.  The visual effects, outrageously stunning!  The movie “magic,” wonderful!  The acting, very cool!.......but never for one second did I get the sense of excitement as I wondered what was going to happen next.  I did not experience any anticipation, nor sense of relief at the outcome.   This is, after all, what science fiction is all about.   It is to this, that I felt the movie left me wanting more.

One thing that never gets old is watching the Enterprise transverse from impulse power to warp speed. It has been the delight of my inner child for decades.  I have played “Starship Enterprise” in my car, on my motorcycle, on my sailboat, my bicycle and even when I learned to fly.  Science fiction is not merely a media genre.  It is the living-out-loud of our hopes and dreams, our ideas and future possibilities.  It’s possible, I suppose, that we have even become used to seeing something marvelous on screen, only to realize it as part of our daily lives in a few short years.  

As a civilization, we have landed spacecraft on three planets, two moons and three other celestial bodies.  We have traveled beyond our solar system, more than eleven billion miles, and are still going.  We have found 778 (seven hundred and seventy eight) planets, including those in our own stellar back yard.  We are just beginning, and soon I imagine our own galactic infancy will find new purpose.  It’s up to us to inspire ourselves.  It’s up to us write the soundtrack that fuels genius.  It’s up to us to turn fear and apprehension into poetry and courage.  It would be a crime against all of us, if we begin to settle for what we see on the big screen….as real enough.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fat Feet!

With all this body fat I’ve been pedaling off in the last months, one of the more surreal results, at least for me, has been the realization that none of my clothes fit anymore.  Even my shoes don’t fit as they used to!  While I don’t think I had “fat” feet, I have learned that with significant weight loss, your feet can actually become a little narrower, and even the arch returns to perhaps what it should be.  I can verify, at least, that my feet no longer “hurt” like they did ten months ago, and that the symptoms of planter fasciitis have pretty much disappeared.

This led to a much needed and long overdue “going though” of my clothes closet.   I have three general categories of clothing.  The first is “New” clothes.  These clothes are brand new as in…I just bought this shirt at the store because I need to look halfway decent for something and there are currently no decent looking shirts in the “new” category.  Or, in the same category, are clothes are a still “new-ish” because I haven’t built an engine in them yet or framed the side of a building while wearing them.

The second category in my closet is by far the largest.  This is the clothing that I wear “Every Day” for every purpose.  I might mow the lawn, go to work, go to dinner, or muck about for any and many reasons.  This category consists of clothing from the “new” section, that have been demoted for some reason, as in, I accidently welded something in my new shirt and now it has a burn mark on it.  Not bad enough to throw it away, but not “new” worthy anymore.  It is likely, that in my own cloths buying history, I have never bought an article of clothing that did not start its life in the “new” category, only later to be cast downward in importance and priority, to live out its life in the perpetual abyss of “every day” service.

Lastly are my “Grubby” clothes.  Like the name suggests, this is what I wear when I “know” I’m getting dirty.  It’s what I wear when I plan ahead and have an idea of what I'm going to be doing.  Last week I changed the engine oil, transmission oil and filters and performed general tune-ups on all our cars.  Since I fully expected to get a little gritty, I put on some old trousers and a work shirt and got busy.  Like the “every day” clothes, nothing in the “grubby” group started out there.  They were once wonderful new clothes that got a little abused and were put to work as “everyday” outfits.  When those clothes become so stained, ripped in a place you can’t hide, or just so unfit for everyday duty, they are again demoted to serve out their remaining years in grubby, oily, and sometimes on fire, rough service.   I will occasionally choose these clothes over “everyday”, because I may have just purchased a new shirt or pair of jeans for something important and am more “mindful” of trying to keep them in good order, so of course will instead choose to work in a more suitable attire.  I have, in the past and will again in the future, purchased brand new work pants, designed for actual physical labor, like Dickies or Carharts, and because they were new, worn them to a fancy dress party.

It may appear to the reader that I have racks and racks of clothes, but I do not.  I buy clothes as often and with as much skill as many women will check their motor oil.  Only on those rare occasions, when I absolutely am forced too, or even when it’s too late, do I buy new clothes.  However, over many years I have accumulated enough to fill a third of our shared master bedroom closet.  Also, Eileen was running out of room.  As I consider myself luck to still be sharing the closet anyway, it was obvious that some of “my” stuff had to go.  It was time to go through it all and sort out what fit, and what doesn’t, what I could give away, and what will become new shop rags. 

It was in this endeavor, this week, when I discovered an unknown, or perhaps long lost 4th category of clothing.  When you get fat, you get fat slowly, overtime.  It’s an effort that takes little concentration, but can be accomplished if you just keep at it.  In the race between my belly button and my belt buckle, my belly button was way ahead….years ago.   Not only do you get bigger, but so do the clothes you buy.  I used to think that there some sort of conspiracy, perhaps, that “they” were putting size labels on ever smaller clothes.  When I hit a 3x t-shirt, I was convinced that it wasn’t me, but Wal-Mart that was the one to blame.  The bigger I got, I began to hide some clothes that were still in the “New” category and were too good to get rid of, but had become too small to wear.  In the back of the closet, I found a treasure trove of pants and shirts that I easy remembered really liking, and could now fit into once again.

I got rid of a lot of clothes this week, and I am grateful in ways indescribable, that I no longer have to wear them.  The pay off has been in the re-discovery of shirts and pants long forgotten.  The best surprise of all was a shoe box I found with two pairs of Hushpuppy’s shoes.  Guess what!  They fit again! The first pair, a groovy 70’s set of black suede with white piping, I got when I took a job as a busboy for a local seafood chain when I was just 14 years old.  I won’t say the name of the food chain here, but it sounds exactly like Red Lobster.  The second pair I got in the 80’s is red, white and blue leather.  I cleaned those off and wore them to a wedding today, along with a shirt from the “new” section and  pants that are hovering dangerously close to a trip to the dark side of the closet and its residents, the “Grubby” clothes.  It’s hard to believe that shoes I bought some 35 yrs ago are still in good working order.  To be honest, they really belong in the “New” category, even though they are hardly new.  But they are new to me, new again, anyway, and if the comments I got at the wedding today about my red, white and blue suede Hushpuppies are any indication, they are still in style…….like I would know……

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tattoos, Earrings and Red-assed Baboons

Today I saw a T-shirt in an On-line cycling apparel store that said, “Scars are Tattoos with better stories!”  Man….I like that.  I'm going to order that t-shirt up.  How that little phrase appeals to my internal sense of cosmic order and “no-shit-a-tude.” 

Before you get all defensive and assume that I don’t like tattoos or have some issue with folks wearing them, take a deep breath and read on.  I really and truly do not care what anyone does with their one and only true possession, their body.  I don’t believe that it’s up to me, not for a single blistering second, to dictate or judge another because they have chosen to participate in what has become our latest and most popular personal fashion interest.

Folks have been tattooing themselves for thousands of years.  Tattooing is known to exist in many of the earliest of human tribes throughout Europe and Africa, and became more mainstream in the 17-1800’s when sailors where exploring the Polynesian Islands.  Even the word, “tattoo”  finds its origin in the Samoan word “tatau” as described by the great explorer Capt. James Cook.  As late as the 1800’s, tattoos were even considered a mark of great wealth in some European royal circles.

The problem I have noticed is not in the tattoos themselves, or in the wearing of them, but is instead a little more endemic in our modern culture.  Remember when everyone used to smoke?  Smoking used to be cool.  I smoked, I liked it.  At first, it seemed like anyone who smoked was a rebel, in that James Dean super cool way, and was in some part a social outcast or outside observer.  You didn’t mess with them, because they quietly exuded an air of potential danger.  In the same way, someone who had a tattoo, or more than one, was clearly not to be messed with.  They sported an “I don’t care” attitude and were considered to be “on the edge.”  Generally, a smoker might have been considered rough, but someone with a tattoo quite usually also smoked, making them rough and tough.

Like so many things we do, we do them because we want to establish an identity.  We dress, act and participate in life’s offerings that resonate with our sense of soul and purpose.  To identify and be indentified in a certain light is as old as time.  Tattoos are no different, but it does appear that the “edginess” may be dulling just a little.  So many people, young, old and every variation in between now proudly adorn themselves in ink, bought and paid for in one of the many local tattoo parlors.  One can no longer make an assumption of character or presence based on body paint alone.  It’s a good thing, I think, because any social stigma that dies off in our collective conscious is a move in the right direction.  Another example I can think of is the earring.  I remember when a man who wore an earring was automatically considered to be a thug, gay or a displaced pirate.  No longer.  That little personal identity preference went from disapproval, to mass appeal in no time.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, social approval or disapproval can have the inverse affect.  It’s not long ago when a man wearing a clerical collar was considered to be above reproach, a pillar of moral standing and unqualifiedly entitled to our trust.  Just ask yourself today, what goes though your mind when you see a priest in public. Perhaps it’s an awakening whose time has finally come.  Something about “judge not lest you be judged” comes to mind.

On my body are no tattoos, but there are many scars, some deep and long, others little more than a nick.  Some I earned by acting bravely, others were engraved in my flesh through acts of carelessness and reckless stupidity.  No matter how I got them, they are mine and each one tells a story.  The one on my thumb is the result of dropping the corner of an engine block on my hand while trying to manhandle it into the bed of a truck.  Another, on my skull, is the result of childhood neurosurgery.  Surgeries, welding burns, sheet metal cuts and battle wounds can be found if you look hard enough.  No matter the mark, I’ve paid for every single one. 

I like the idea of a tattoo, but have never been able to decide on one particular design.  There are a couple of things a scar has over a tattoo.  One is its stealth like quality.  They don’t usually come to light until someone gets close enough to notice, and by then, that someone is usually a friend.  A scar also has the added delight of another dimension.  Most scars can be felt with the caress of fingertip from an interested party, while a tattoo cannot.  A tattoo, however, can be wondrous as an art form, a picture board and often can turn a body into a novel. Tattoos are often treasured by their owners and deeply profound and personal.

Still, for me anyway, there is a notion which hides in a corner of my thoughts.  The thing is….everyone is doing it.  It’s become a fad, which in some respects really detracts from those who don’t follow along with the latest craze, like all the “shee-ple,” who do something just because they want to fit in and muster the appearance of “cool.”  It’s possible that the original motive for getting a tattoo has faded with time and popularity.  The desire to do a thing because it is unpopular hardly seems worth the effort anymore, armed with the knowledge that soon most others will follow along. Like a baboon’s shiny red undercarriage, most of us like to flash our hobbies at the world around us in the hope that we might be perceived as just that extra bit more special than the next shiny, red-assed, baboon beside us.

Cycling finds some overlap here.  Everyone rides a bike at some point in their lives, but it used to be that few took the adventure to the next level, suffering pain and great personal cost (like getting a tattoo) to advance an interest and love in something that not everyone else did.   About ten months ago now, when I got back into cycling after decades of over eating and fat-ass-ery, I was not prepared for just how popular and mainstream long distance road biking, mountain biking and overall cycling had become.  Like all things that seem to piggyback our identities, the technology and marketing are a phenomenon unto themselves.  Where there is a fad, industry pounces like a lion waiting in the long, dry grass.  Soon, and without objection, we habitually surrender our collective jugular to the jaws of capitalism and opportunity. 

Like the T-shirt in the beginning of my story, I will do just exactly that.  I want that shirt and I will buy it.  I will buy it because I want to wear it.  I want to wear it because I identify with the subject matter, and it in turns identifies me.  I love being a cyclist, and I like how I feel when others connect with me and share the same desire, to see the land, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, mounted on the latest carbon fiber wizardry and adorned in the most recent “Techni-kit.”  (That’s my new word….don’t friggin’ steal it). 

When I was younger, I did try to fit in with the crowd.  I smoked too much, and I did get my ear pierced, (actually I did it with a small finish nail, lighter, a hammer and the corner of a table, which accounts for another scar on my noggin) but I never did get a tattoo.  It’s not the “getting” that kept me ink free.  As a musician, poet, mechanic and cyclist to name a few interests, I could never find the one tattoo that would label me well enough for the reader.  I long for a day when we, as people, will be able to identify one another, free of judgment, stigma, ill conceived perceptions and ignorance by recognizing each other by name alone, accepting all that we are, will be and desire to be, to embrace each other in love.