Friday, May 28, 2010

Up, Up And Away!

Children dream of adventure. Start with a tricycle, then a two-wheeler with training wheels then zoom! First they want to cross the street alone, then they want to walk to a destination. Eventually adventure means stories, from fairy tales to novels to epic sagas of obstacles overcome and golden goals met and won.

It doesn’t stop. Teenagers want to drive and drink and screw and not be in school. They get a little older, and they want an exciting job and not to be in college. After that, it’s any job that pays well. Then, later, a job they don’t hate.

See? We’ve crested the hill and now we’re on the downside. We still want adventure, maybe never more so. Our idea of it changes proportionately. Now adventure can be as simple as paying off a credit card or going to a new Starbucks. Pathetic? Maybe. But we’re older now. We’re out of school. Driving is a necessity, and opportunities for both drinking and screwing aren’t the variables they once were.

What we’re left with is perspective. Stories about valiant heroes battling dragons became novels about valiant individuals battling their inner demons. It’s still wish fulfillment, but the bigger we get the smaller and more meaningful our wishes become.

Think about it. You still crave adventure, we all do. But without a cyclone and a yellow brick road to guide us to it, adventure isn’t easy to come by in the real world. Oh, it happens. Metaphor aside, there are very real monsters out there as much as there are very real heroes. And, to pick up that metaphor again, it’s up to us to slay our own dragons.

Friday, May 21, 2010

3 Birds, Some Bugs & A Turtle

Or, as Robert said, “I know there are animals here somewhere. I can smell their poop.”

Stipulated: When we lived in San Diego, we had annual passes to that zoo. Hiking the hills for a couple of hours a day, through glorious and exotic foliage, passing the various non-human communities, was a familiar treat. It’s been more than a decade since then, but that’s our (apparently impossibly high) standard.

There’s a huge banner outside the L.A. Zoo, advertising an exhibit coming in 2007. They’ve also taken out half the parking lot, which doesn’t seem to matter because there was plenty of close parking. There were more “No Trespassing” and “Exhibit Closed” signs than there were open exhibits. The solitary gorilla in the enclosure sat with his back to the crowd. You know he was doing that on purpose.

Once upon a time, on hot days in San Diego, we used to sit on a bench in the aviary amidst the infinite number of colorfully loud birdies and play cards. So we headed straight for the aviary here. Other than a cramped flamingo ghetto, all we saw were three birds and a turtle. I put bugs in today’s title but there weren’t even that many of them.

If we go back, it will be because of the woman who was cleaning up tapir poop. For all the bleak shabbiness of the place in general, she scratched the tapirs behind the ears like they were puppies. They were as cute as puppies too, and she showed them such tenderness, such obvious love, that it made the whole experience a happy one. Besides, I adore warthogs, and theirs is named Wanda.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frying-Pan Fired

This is a saga of karma, Nemesis and ultimate redemption. Doesn’t that sound good? Well, on a stupidly small scale, it’s accurate.

First the karma; it’s simple enough, really. When I went to my regular gym yesterday, it was jam-packed with people behaving even more annoyingly than usual. Standing around talking, neither training nor getting out of the way of anyone who wanted to, “belligerence” was the word of the day. My gym-partner and I gave up, and I made my solitary way to my back-up gym. There I was faced with two different but each archetypically perfect 20-something fitness females prepping for a competition, both training right next to me. Karma, from the frying pan into the fitness fire.

They were also my Nemesis. My discipline is good. I’m there almost every day, but I cater to my age and tend to do the minimum I can do and still live with my pride. Granted, that’s a middling lot, but it wasn’t enough when I saw how hard these young women were working.

Today was also a solo day, and I went straight to the hardcore gym. It’s gray, achy-bone weather, and I was making excuses to myself while on the treadmill. You know, stuff like “at my age this is fine” and “my bones ache so I don’t have to do that much.” That’s where the redemption comes in.

Angrily, and with great determination, I gave myself a mental wedgie. This is as young as I’m ever going to be, and so what if my bones ache? Somehow I managed to stop whining and kicked into gear for a workout of which I can be proud. It’s not Significant, it doesn’t matter a damn, but there are times when doing enough really is enough, on every level.

See, that’s the redemption. It doesn’t matter what you’re down on yourself about, what matters is that you fix it.

Besides, it cracks me up that in this case, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is literally true.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Diagonal Dialectic

The guy was sitting with a companion, at a table kitty-corner from ours. Is it “kitty corner” or “catty corner”? Never mind, I digress.

Now that I think about it, and having reread my adorable and witty yet ultimately pointless description of the aforementioned guy’s strange behavior, I think I’ll shelve that and we can discuss the digression instead.

So, which is it? Do you say “kitty corner” or “catty corner”? Take a stand and hold your ground. Don’t cop out and say that you say “diagonal”. No one does that, not in real life.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Let’s talk about perspective. An unfunny joke can be hysterical depending on who tells it. (Ask Melva for the gas station story. Trust me.) The worst of the 80s came back, only now it’s cute and quaint with the perspective of time. Never mind, bad example.

The point, such as it is, depends on how you look at it. Smile and the world smiles with you, unless they think you’re plotting against them. “All the world loves a clown” except for sensible people who find them disturbing.

Attitude is everything. Turn that frown upside down. Look at the bright side. Bludgeon yourself with peppy clich├ęs until you’re either distracted or not bothered any more.

And if you can’t change your perspective, don’t worry about it. Just wait. This too shall pass. If it doesn’t, if it’s the new normal, then your perspective will adapt and you’ll find a way to look at it that you can live with. There’s an example for you: as much as I loathe the “new grammar”, I just ended a sentence with a preposition, with no distressing physical side effects.

Remember, as bad as the 80s resurgence was, shoulder pads never came back. There’s always a bright side.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Honor, Loyalty and Starvation

I have a good friend who is about as unlike me as it is possible to get and still stay within the species. Our politics are polar opposites --- to the point where I prefer not to discuss issues at all, though he would happily argue until the cows come home. Speaking of cows, he is an unabashed carnivore who dislikes plant food and I am a fishy-vegetarian. If we ever got locked in each other’s kitchens, we would starve.

For all our differences, he is a good friend. I find the “why” interesting enough that I’m telling you all this.

My friend values honor and loyalty, as do I. Now, I know a lot of people who are both honorable and loyal. I am fortunate in that. But I don’t know many who think about these traits as independent qualities, or who would value them particularly if they did.

My grandmother used to say that she’d rather spend time with someone she respected who disagreed with her than someone she didn’t respect. When I was young, and she was still alive, I didn’t really understand what she meant. Maybe I should get a Ouija board, just so she can say “I told you so.”

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Who Wants The Shoe?

Pass “Go”. Collect two hundred dollars. Roll again and move. These are words of wisdom, folks.

There’s a quote I’ve carried with me since Mrs. Jorgensen’s 11th grade English class. (Nothing to do with Monopoly™ -- wait for it, you know I always come back.) William Butler Yeats, “The eagle flies in an ever widening gyre.” That image has stayed with me since 1977. It describes a cycle, except you don’t end up where you started, you’re a bit higher. Then you go through it again and again, the same cycle, only each time it’s a little bigger, a little higher. There’s progress. No matter how discouraging, pointless or repetitive life seems, there’s always progress. That image has gotten me through a lot, and I’ve clung to it all these years, except…

Except it’s wrong. I finally looked it up. The actual quote is “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” Not even an eagle, a falcon. Also cool, but sheesh. The poem really is by Yeats, and called “The Second Coming”. It’s religious, which I most sincerely am not. I don’t know about Mrs. Jorgensen but I suspect it’s way too late to ask.

Conceptual spank! Here was this metaphysical mental video that carried me through the dull and the bad, but now it turns out to be something else entirely. Read it yourself if you’re curious, that’s not my point.

I’m keeping the bath water and throwing out the baby. No, wait. That’s not right either. My beloved metaphor for the vicissitudes and travails we all face is less apt than a stupid Monopoly™ game. So instead of a lovely eagle in flight, now I have to use that old shoe going around the board. Sure, it’s always the same board, and you’ll land on someone else’s property and you won’t get the good Community Chest card, but every time you pass Go, you’ll still get your $200 and that’s still progress.

The moral here is: Don’t look a metaphor in the mouth, because it might bite you in the ass.