Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Riding the Lost Coast

I haven't posted anything interesting for awhile, which is not to say this will be either, but I was pleased with the way it turned out.
This is a piece about the Lost Coast of California. I expect to return to California next month, but I probably won't get to this spot on that trip.
This was published a couple of years ago in
Motorcycle Tour & Cruiser magazine, which has since mutated into RoadBike magazine.

The golden eagle came at me head-on, the California morning sun glinting yellow in his right eye as he pierced me with his gaze.

Framed by ancient oak trees that overarched the empty two-lane blacktop, his brown wings extended a full seven feet as he held a motionless glide about 10 feet above the pavement.

A moment earlier I had glimpsed a large shadow flash across my path from the right as I leaned into a gentle right turn among brown grassy hills. Glancing up and left, I saw nothing but blue sky.

But now, there he was, squarely in front of me. Regarding me sternly with his golden eye, the eagle welcomed this wayfarer to his wild domain with a magnificent show of confidence and authority.

I cut the throttle and pulled in the clutch, then held my breath as our shared momentum drew us together. He flashed over my helmeted head and was gone.

I smiled as I re-engaged the engine of my ’91 BMW K100RS.

The Mattole and Silkyone Indians who once peopled this wildest stretch of California’s north coast regarded the eagle as a bearer of messages from spirit to man. They would have seen my encounter as a very good omen.

I considered myself officially welcomed to the Lost Coast.

This rugged place where 4,000-foot peaks meet the Pacific 160 miles north of San Francisco is the least-visited segment of the more than 800 miles of California coastline. Here the mountainous terrain so intimidated the road builders that they swung California Highway 1 and U.S. 101 inland just south of Eureka to penetrate the redwood forests rather than force a route through the King Range. Much of the Lost Coast lies within Humboldt County where, even with the communities of Eureka and Arcata, the population density is just 34 persons per square mile. By comparison, the state of California averages more than 212 people per square mile.

I live in Indiana but I visit Northern California almost every summer as a happy consequence of having a son on the West Coast. Over the years, I’d wondered what adventure I was missing by taking the redwood route south and skirting the mysteriously named Lost Coast.

A little research revealed at least one good streetbike road into the area. The route from Ferndale down to Shelter Cove is mainly two-lane chip-and-seal blacktop, although Marilyn Machi, who took my reservation for a room at the Beachcomber Inn at Shelter Cove warned “there’s one place that’s unpaved, but you ought to be able to make it.”

Fresh from a good night’s sleep at the Eureka KOA, I struck camp in the foggy darkness, wolfed down a quick McDonald’s breakfast and rode south to pick up the road to the Lost Coast in Ferndale.
A worthy destination in its own right, the Ferndale is five miles off the beaten path of U.S. 101 and a century behind most California architecture. Its elegant Victorian main street and residential facades are a legacy of a prosperous dairy industry that made Ferndale a melting pot of Scandinavian, Swiss-Italian and Portuguese cultures.

I marveled at these ornate “butterfat palaces” as I idled through town. The road to the Lost Coast awaited me at the south edge of Ferndale, snaking up a fog-shrouded hillside and marked by a sign pointing to Petrolia and Honeydew.

It’s a nondescript little road. Without the sign, it might be mistaken for someone’s driveway. Fog and rough pavement kept me in second gear as I steadily climbed through the misty forest, gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation in the four-mile ascent to Bear River Ridge. The fog that told of the nearby ocean was heavy with moisture, forcing me to wipe my visor with a gloved finger every few minutes.

Finally, near the crest, I broke into bright sunshine. A tongue of marine fog filled a valley to my left with billowy white, transformed into glorious white cloud tops by the morning sun.
I kept a wary eye out for deer and other wildlife. I’d read in that morning’s Eureka newspaper about a small commuter plane hitting a deer at the local airport. An airport official said deer have become so accustomed to aircraft, people and machinery that they remain on the runway while pilots try to land.

Descending toward the coast, I was in treeless grassy hills now and presently the sunlit sky yielded again to fog. A sharp right turn and I caught sight of a line of surf pounding a misty beach, marked by a massive rock, barely visible a few hundred yards offshore. A switchback down and left and I was riding south along the shoreline, looking for a place to pull over.

A bronze plaque informed me this was Cape Mendocino, once the site of a 422-foot-tall lighthouse that guided mariners from 1868 through 1951. Despite the navigational aid, the offshore rocks claimed nine ships over those years. The light house has been dismantled and now sits in pieces down at Shelter Cove, awaiting restoration.

This six-mile stretch, devoid of human habitation, is the only part of the 80-mile ride from Ferndale to Shelter Cove with an ocean view. Pressing on south, I soon discovered I was not alone. A herd of cattle fanned out across the steep hillside to my left, some eyeing me, some gazing out to sea like cud-chewing sentinels. I overtook three of their number on my side of the fence, strolling along the road and looking perplexed with their newfound freedom.

All too soon, the road bent left, back up into the coastal hills and a few foggy miles on I found myself in Petrolia. This crossroads village is so named because California’s first oil wells were drilled about 3 miles east of here on the north fork of the Mattole River. A dog barked at a passing cable company truck as I read how the Union Mattole Oil Co. made its first shipment to a San Francisco refinery from here in 1865.
By now, the road surface had improved to the point where I was routinely managing fourth and fifth gear and 50 mph. I made quick work of the 24 miles to Honeydew, pausing once to accommodate a road resurfacing crew and again to chuckle at a homemade sign warning of “Road Cows.”

It was just north of Honeydew that I received the golden eagle’s benediction. Golden eagles are common here, favoring rugged terrain that creates abundant updrafts for soaring.

As the road wound past ranches and farms, I noticed a large number of “No Trespassing” signs. I thought, “These folks sure like their privacy.”

The route isn’t well marked and there were several junctions where I stayed on track only because one road choice looked slightly better traveled than the other. Even so, I made one false move. Taking what looked like the most promising route, I found myself dead-ended a few hundred yards later in a barnlot.
The village of Honeydew offered me the option of continuing southeast in search of Shelter Cove or taking the twisty Bull Creek Road to the north. This narrow paved road climbs about 2,000 feet over the ridge to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and continues for about 23 miles through old-growth redwood forests east to U.S. 101. I decided to save that ride for another day.

A few miles south of Honeydew, I found the unpaved section – a rough washboard stretch of perhaps a half-mile, full of steep 180-degree uphill switchbacks that called for first gear and lots of concentration. I was grateful it was an uphill run because I suspect I would have felt my ABS kick in had this been a downhill ride. The official Bureau of Land Management map warns, “This Section Not Recommended for Travel Trailers.”

I stopped about 11:30 a.m., three hours into my ride, to check my maps at a crossroads offering a choice between Ettersburg and Briceland. The road bearing to the left looked slightly better maintained and I chose it in the hope it would lead to the Shelter Cove Road before it turned to dirt or worse. I later learned I’d chosen well. Turning right would have taken me down the challenging and unpaved Kings Peak Road. As it was, I had good pavement the 11.5 miles to the road junction that pointed the way west to Shelter Cove.

By noon, I was poised at Paradise Ridge, the last mountainous rampart before the road slaloms down nearly 2,200 feet to Shelter Cove. The seven-mile descent to the coast is marked with dire warnings to RV drivers about fatal crashes over the last decade.

“We’ve had quite a few tragic accidents,” said Carol Sullivan, who lives in Shelter Cove and works for the Bureau of Land Management. “In fact, there’s even a t-shirt that says, `I survived the Shelter Cove Road,’ with a picture of an RV with its brakes on fire.”

Shelter Cove, built on a grassy marine terrace overlooking the Pacific and flanked by mountains on three sides, is a picturesque fishing village that is home to about 200 permanent residents. Much of the town’s economy is based on charter fishing and tourism, with eco-tourists representing the latest wave of visitors. Shelter Cove offers several headlands, bluffs and beaches that make the place an ideal vantage point to watch for the flukes and spray signaling the spring and fall migrations of the California Gray Whale. You can also pass countless hours watching the birds, seals and sea lions. Deer are a common sight throughout the town and Roosevelt elk occasionally wander in from a nearby meadow called Hidden Valley.

Many visitors to Shelter Cove arrive by light plane, using the 3,400-foot-long airstrip that forms a kind of centerpiece for the town. Some come to hike or fish and others fly in for a day of golf on the course that wraps around the asphalt runway.
I followed the convenient signs at the north edge of town and easily found the Beachcomber Inn where Marilyn Machi checked me in and advised me that, this being a Tuesday, the only restaurant open was the deli at the nearby campground and RV park. After unloading my bike, I cruised the short distance down to the deli. In no time, I was relaxing on the patio with a tasty lunch of clam strips and chips under the covetous gaze of a dozen or so noisy seagulls.

The patio affords a spectacular 220-degree panoramic view of the ocean and I could hear sea lions barking as I watched charter fishing boats bobbing on the gentle swells offshore. While I dined, four other motorcyclists rode into town and cruised past.
I caught up to them later over a mocha latte at Cheryl’s Coffee House. Riding a mix of touring bikes and cruisers, these four friends were up from the San Francisco Bay area for a couple of days and had ridden down from Ferndale about 90 minutes behind me.

One of them, who had been down this road before, observed that the “No Trespassing” signs we’d passed suggested some of the locals might be marijuana farmers. This, after all, is Humboldt County – one of the prime pot-growing counties in all of California and the United States and we were there at harvest time. They said they noticed folks smoking dope in their yards as they rode through Honeydew that morning.

“People here are very independent and private,” said Carol Sullivan later, but she wasn’t eager to brand all of her Lost Coast neighbors as dope-growers. “It’s very common for people who live close to public land to keep up signage. Mostly, it’s a liability issue and they’re concerned about people getting hurt while on their property.”

Sullivan, who grew up in southern California, fell in love with this remote area while studying natural resources at nearby Humboldt State University in Arcata and moved to Shelter Cove about three years ago.

“I like the fact that it remains pretty wild and untamed. The forces of nature haven’t been completely conquered by human beings here,” she said. “The King Range is one of the fastest rising mountain ranges in North America. A lot of mountain chains uplift maybe 10 feet in 1,000 years. Our uplift rate is considerably higher: the King Range rose three feet in a matter of seconds in the 1992 Petrolia earthquake.”

While some maps show Chemise Mountain Road and Usal Road winding south from Shelter Cove to link with the Pacific Coast Highway north of Fort Bragg, it’s no through-route for street bikes.
Usal Road is a narrow, winding remote dirt road that gets minimal maintenance, Carol said. “That means it is passable to high clearance vehicles in the summer when it is dry, but usually quite bumpy due to erosion caused by the wet season. There are usually some really deep ruts, lots of washboarding and many times downed trees block the road for a few days at a time… there are no services in the area.”

I spent the afternoon exploring Shelter Cove and walking on Black Sand Beach at the north edge of town. Dinner was a burger and fries at the deli.

Returning to the Beachcomber, I was drawn into conversation with a pleasant young couple from Marin County who were overnighting at the inn after a couple of days down at Mendocino. They shared conversation, cheese and champagne with me on the patio outside their room as night fell.

I awoke the next morning smelling eucalyptus from the grove outside my window. Loading my bike in the soft misty light of morning, I could hear the barking of sea lions as they greeted the day from the rocks offshore. Their voices, a strange delight to my midwestern ears, carried clearly through the moisture-laden air.

Even though I had a full day’s ride ahead of me, with plans to ride down through San Francisco to Big Sur, I was in no hurry to leave this remote pocket of serenity.

I rode my loaded bike down to the deli, bought a styrofoam cup of coffee and walked over to the launching ramp to watch the charter fishing captains ease their boats into the cove for another day on the water. Squadrons of gulls kept an expectant vigil from nearby rooftop perches.

On my way back to the bike, I exchanged morning greetings with Tom, a cell phone sales rep from San Francisco, and his friend Ray, a Shelter Cove resident. Noticing I was about to ride out of town, they regaled me with their favorite Shelter Cove Road story: A local couple, the story goes, were involved in a romantic interlude in a pickup truck, parked in a turnoff somewhere this side of Paradise Ridge. Somehow, the parking brake got released and the truck rolled forward, launching off of the cliff.

“They were topping trees on the way down,” Ray recalled. He added that the man was killed and the woman survived with serious injuries, draining most of the humor out of the situation.

So, mindful of runaway pickup trucks, I saddled up and took the only streetbike road out of town, climbing the ridge and savoring the 24 miles of redwoods and twisties to Garberville and the U.S. 101 freeway. I was sorry to see Shelter Cove and the Lost Coast recede in my mirrors, but something tells me I’ll be back.

Shelter Cove Resources
Here are some handy names and numbers if you visit the Lost Coast:
Bureau of Land Management King Range Project Office – 768 Shelter Cove Road, Whitethorn, CA 95589 707-986-5400
Shelter Cove Information Bureau – 707-986-7069
The Tides Inn – Spacious oceanfront rooms and suites just a short walk from the day use airstrip, golf links, restaurants and local services, 59 Surf Point, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7900, Beachcomber Inn – Six rooms and a hillside ocean view, 412 Machi Road, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 800-718-4789
Mario’s Marina Motel – Rooms and bungalows close to the beach, 533 Machi Road, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7595
Oceanfront Inn – Suites on the beach, 26 Seal Court, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7002
The Lighthouse – One luxury suite, 62 Seal Court, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7002
Shelter Cove Motor Inn – Spectacular cliffside ocean view, 205 Wave Drive, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 888-570-9676
Shelter Cove Ocean Inn Bed & Breakfast – Four suites with excellent ocean views, 148 Dolphin, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7161
Shelter Cove RV Park, Campground & Deli – Tourist information, cold deli foods, a grill and steam table, the market has a variety of drinks, 492 Machi Road, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7474
The Cove Restaurant – Fresh seafood, steaks, pasta, vegetarian specials, 210 Wave Drive, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986- 1197

Sunday, June 27, 2004

On the road again

Just nine days ‘til I’m off on my 19th Annual Mid-Life Crisis Tour.
That’s what I call my summer motorcycle expeditions from my Midwestern home to the glorious vistas of the American West.
Friends in the East have invited me to visit on the bike for several years, but the West almost always wins in the directional tug of war with its lonely roads, mountain, deserts and spectacular scenery.
I haven’t worked out a precise route but the basic plan is to make best speed to the home of friends near Breckenridge, Colo., possibly stopping to visit writer friends in the Kansas City/Topeka area.
My Colorado friends are also hosting another couple from my local BMW motorcycle club, so we should have a great time hanging out, riding the Rockies and gasping for oxygen at 10,500 feet.
The only precisely scheduled part of the trip is the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America International Rally in Spokane, Wash., July 15-17. The annual BMW MOA rallies routinely attract 4,000-6,000 riders and passengers. Typically, they’re held at a fairground or park, although last year’s was the first-ever urban rally at Charleston, W.Va. Mostly, it’s an excuse to go for a long ride to what the organizers hope is a glamour destination.
I’ve attended most of them since my first in 1986 at Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey, Calif. That was when Big Sur put the hook into me and has managed to reel me back to that magical coastline 10 out of the past 11 years.
The Top O’ the Rockies BMW Rally is the previous weekend in Paonia, Colo., so I may use that as my Colorado jumping-off point for Spokane.
My friend Wayne and his wife Peggy left about a week ago for Alaska. I’ll meet them at Spokane and maybe ride down the California coastwith them. I know a bunch of fun roads in the Big Sur area and Wayne is keen to explore them.
Somewhere in my post-rally ride, I need to include a day or two with my son in Portland, Ore.
After Big Sur, my general plan is to make my way home by the most interesting route. My to-do list includes U.S. 6 through Nevada, an excellent place to find out how fast my new BMW K1200GT will go.(I set my personal land speed record near Tonopah, Nev., on that road about six years ago – 146 mph on a ’91 BMW K100RS. The mile markers whip by about every 20 seconds at that speed. The bike seemed to have a little more speed in it, but that’s the point where I chickened out.)
But I digress.
What I really wanted to talk/write about is how I’m starting to get into a traveling mood.
If you know Cancerians, you know we’re homebodies. We enjoy being comfortable at home with our stuff. So, left to our own devices, some of us might never go anywhere. Maybe that’s why it takes a really dramatic change in scenery to get me motivated.
The first day on the road, droning through the lush humid Midwest, is a tedious chore. Illinois is boring and Missouri is even worse. I-70 is the closest thing to a quick way across the Show Me state (I once found myself behind a car from Missouri where the owner had altered the slogan on the license plate to read, “The Blow Me State.”). But I-70 is a steamy slog over bad pavement in the company of bad drivers and thousands of semitrailer trucks, churning the air into a buffeting, pummeling force. It leaves me frazzled and short-tempered by the time I reach Kansas City.
I start smiling early the second morning with the rising sun in my mirrors and the rolling central Kansas landscape, flooded with light and color, in front of me. As far as I’m concerned, out there around Lucas and Russell where you can still see fence posts hewn from the native limestone and the oil well pumps slowly bob their steely heads – that’s where my West begins. And that’s when I begin to feel a fresh new adventure spilling out before me.
After Missouri’s I-70 traffic pipeline, the early morning Kansas road seems almost empty. I can set my electronic cruise control for a little over 75 mph, crack open my visor to drink in a stream of cool morning air and revel in the glorious experience of being alone with my thoughts in a beautiful place.
It’s moments like this when it occurs to me that long haul motorcyclists are, perhaps, cut from the same bolt of cloth as cloistered monks and Zen and Hindu masters.
We sit in the same position for extended periods of time, alone with our thoughts. However, instead of Enlightenment, our goal is to physically be in a specific place where we are not now.
But, to do it right, you have to let go of the goal and surrender to the now of the journey.
The process, then, is much the same: if we sit in the same position, mastering our physical and emotional needs and desires for a sufficient amount of time, we arrive at our goal.
Through self-discipline we become, then, masters of space and time.
Or maybe we’re just people who like to punch a hole in the wind for hours at a time.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

A favorite quote

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man."
Thomas Jefferson

Friday, June 25, 2004

Yeah, I know, "old" is a relative term...

I know these words will come back to haunt me someday, but old people - feebs - make me crazy in retail situations.
There is one drugstore in our tiny (1,500 population) town and, what with various prescriptions for me, my wife and her college student daughter and high school student son, I'm in there more than I care to be. That's mainly because I work from home and that makes me the pharmacy go-fer, in addition to taking care of all of the other day-to-day tasks associated with keeping a household going.
This puts me in direct contact with the population segment that uses the health care infrastructure the most - old people.
(Now, I realize that being born in 1945 makes me a geezer to a lot of people, but I'm still young enough to put a premium on getting my transaction done and getting the hell out of the way of the next person in line.)
Every time I go to the drugstore, I end up behind at least one desperately slow old person who refuses to use a credit/debit card and insists on writing a check for his/her medications.
I put a stopwatch to one woman a couple of weeks ago and was amazed to note that she took more than three minutes - THREE MINUTES!!! - to write a check. Good, God! I thought she was writing her memoirs!
And, of course, it took her another couple of minutes to slooooooooooowly record her payment in her check register and stuff her checkbook back into her purse, also in slow motion. Did I mention it took her a long time to fish the checkbook out of the purse in the first place? Then she had to fumble with her prescription and put it into the purse. Then she had to put on her wraparound ultra-dark space invader sunglasses and shuffle toward the door.
Unfortunately, the woman behind the counter is also pushing 80 and incapable of doing anything quickly. When she swipes my credit card through the card reader, she moves it so slowly that it's a miracle that the machine can read the datastrip. She obviously doesn't understand that the faster she swipes it, the more likely it is that the machine will get an accurate read.
This afternoon, she interrupted the transaction to take a phone call from someone wanting to talk to the pharmacist.
"Do you want to talk to the pharmist (yes, that's exactly what she said)?"
Maybe it's time to increase my Wellbutrin dosage.

Trash day

Friday is trash* day around here.
That's the day the private trash hauler, who charges us about $20 a month since there's no municipal trash collection in this small town, shows up to haul away a week's worth of flotsam and jetsam.
The packer truck (I know that's what it's called because I spent a summer riding on the back of one) shows up anytime between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Unless I've been so efficient as to get the trash to the curb on Thursday evening, the first thing on my Friday agenda is to go through the house with a plastic trash bag, emptying waste baskets and dragging the big trash containers out to the street.
The ritual has changed slightly in recent weeks since we acquired a paper shredder. My wife insisted we get one after we discovered the chief perpetrators of identity theft are methamphetamine users and their favorite way to get indentity-theft information is by going through people's trash for bank deposit slips, canceled checks, credit card receipts, and the like. (The #2 ploy is stealing mail from your mailbox.)
Since meth manufacture and use is rampant in our rural area, it just makes good sense to shred personal papers. Besides, it comes in handy for making packing material for shipping Ebay merchandise.
I always have a flicker of nostalgia when I reach for the waste basket under my desk because it's been under a series of my desks for nearly 50 (ack!) years. That puts it in the running for the oldest continuously used thing I own.
Back around 1956, when my parents bought me my first desk, they selected a light-gauge steel waste basket with a Mercator projection world map. It's a Rand McNally map, but there's no copyright date on it.
Nevertheless, you can tell it's from the mid-1950s from the long-forgotten place names.
Like, for instance:
Vietnam is French Indo-China
Hawaii and Alaska are U.S. Territories
The Republic of Congo is the Belgian Congo
The west coast of Africa is lined with long-gone names like Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa
Cambodia is called Siam
There are East and West Germany and Yugoslavia
It's got dings and a few breaks in the rolled-metal rim, but I can't bear to part with this relic of my/our past. Perhaps my grandkids will find it amusing. Or maybe they'll just throw it out with the rest of the trash.

*Notice I don't call it garbage. For some reason that has always eluded me, a lot of people - most of them on the East Coast - refer to all household waste as garbage. In my world, "garbage" means food waste exclusively. Hence, the term "garbage disposal." "Trash" means non-food waste.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Levitation, anyone?

I can fly, kinda sorta.
Back in the 1980s, I took the advanced Transcendental Meditation courses that led up to learning to levitate.
Actually, levitation is a bit of an overstatement.
If you were around at the time, you probably saw or read stuff in the media about how Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was teaching people the technique of yogic flying. Photos were released showing cross-legged meditators in mid-air above mattresses of foam rubber.
Yeah, I did that.
But let me back up a bit to 1967.
That was the year of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. The adventurous part of me desperately wanted to drop acid and head to ‘Frisco with a couple of my college friends. The responsible part of me was engaged to my first wife and had just landed a job as a reporter with the largest evening daily newspaper in the state.
So I passed on the Great Adventure and chose the path of responsibility.
In retrospect, I don’t regret it. My two buddies who took the other path fried their brains on drugs. One is living on 100% disability from a helmetless motorcycle crash and the other, who graduated with a math degree and a 4.0 GPA, was last seen being homeless and living on the beach in Fort Myers, Fla.
Even though I was newly married with my first child on the way and in the first year of a 34-year newspaper career, I still had one foot in the counterculture. I had subscriptions to the Berkeley Barb, the San Francisco Oracle, the Los Angeles Free Press and the Village Voice. If I couldn’t live it, I could sure as hell read about it.
So when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began showing up in the counterculture media, I was one of the first in the Midwest to notice and be intrigued.
One of my friends, the future motorcycle crash victim, learned Transcendental Meditation – TM for short – gave up dope and adopted the mannerisms of a peaceful, blissful soul. I was impressed.
Two years later, the first TM course was offered in my city and I was quick to sign up. I showed up at the initiation site with my $75 course fee, my three pieces of fruit, flowers and new white handkerchief which the initiator used in a puja – a ceremony of gratitude to Maharishi’s deceased teacher Guru Dev and all the other masters who handed down the tradition of meditation. At the end of the puja, he intoned my mantra – a meaningless sound which he had me repeat verbally, then continue repeating mentally with my eyes closed.
A couple of minutes later – at least that’s what it felt like - he asked me to stop repeating the mantra and slowly open my eyes. I glanced at my watch and noticed 15 minutes had passed. Hmmm. Something was going on here.
I and all of the other people who learned TM that day returned for the next three evenings for “checking meetings,” follow-up instructional sessions in which we received more information about the technique as we accumulated experience by meditating for 20 minutes twice daily at home.
I learned, among other things, that the difference between the actual and subjective times of meditation meant there were periods in which I had “transcended,” i.e. gone to a place where there is no thought. Instead of having awareness of the mantra or some random thought, there was no object of awareness – a state of pure awareness without an object. This, we were told, is a timeless state but since our nervous systems were rendered inefficient by the stress of day-to-day living, we could not be consciously aware of that state and, therefore, it accounted for those gaps in time that made a long meditation seem short.
Sometime during the first couple of weeks after being initiated, I was seated comfortably in a living room chair at home, doing my afternoon meditation, when I experienced what felt like a bolt of lightning shooting up my spiral cord and exploding in a blinding white light in the top of my head.
“Holy shit! How often is this going to happen?” I wondered.
Someone later explained it was what is known as a Kundalini experience in which all seven of the charkas – energy centers along the length of the spine – opened, allowing my life energy to surge to the top, or Crown Chakra. It was a rare and good thing, however distracting. It never happened to me again, but it was a cool experience and one most people never have.
I, of course, became a true TM zealot and doubtless tried the patience of all of my friends as I jabbered on about what a great thing TM was. I’m sure many of them thought I’d become a hopeless head case, especially when I opened my house for use as the city’s first TM center and took a month off without pay in August, 1970, to attend a teacher training course Maharishi conducted at Humboldt State College in Arcata, Calif.
Sometime around 1978 or so, Maharishi began teaching the sidhis – an advanced technique that supplemented the regular TM routine and was aimed at cultivating a variety of qualities and abilities, culminating in levitation.
The course was conducted in several phases and, all told, cost $3,000. The various phases were taught in two-week sessions at Maharishi International University – a TM-based college on the campus of the former Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa.
In each phase, we learned a set of sutras, words or phrases that were supposed to promote the development of the desired qualities or abilities. Repetition of the sutras was tacked onto the end of the regular meditation session. By the time we got the final set, including the flying sutra, our 20-minute meditations had become extended into an hour-long program, beginning with yoga postures, alternate-nostril breathing called pranayama and concluding with flying.
So what’s it like to fly?
Outwardly, it looks like you’re hopping – sitting cross-legged on the foam, bending slightly at the waist and leaping forward. Inwardly, I was aware that my muscles were initiating the hop, but at the same time, I felt an unusual lightness, a buoyancy that suggested something was happening beyond mere physical exertion.
People experienced this to varying degrees and there is a euphoria that goes with flying. Some people found themselves making involuntary vocal nonsense sounds, analogous, I suppose, to the “speaking in tongues” some religious types experience. One of the guys in my group inexplicably fixated on the phrase “tunafish.”
“Tunafish! Tunafish! Tunafish! Tunafish! Tunafish! Tunafish!” Ned would mumble as he hopped across the room. It was a pretty bizarre scene.
Maharishi encouraged us to gather at our local TM center – by now the movement had bought a large house in my city for use as a center – to do our program and fly together twice daily. The theory was that group flying produced a powerful positive influence in the atmosphere that nullified stress and resulted in reduced crime and antisocial behavior in the community as a whole.
That required a considerable amount of time – about three hours a day, counting drive time to and from home – for me and I only made it down to the center for my evening program on a sporadic basis.
Maharishi tested his theory in a couple of global hot spots, sending large numbers of TM flyers to Iran just before the fall of the Shah and again to the Philippines just before the collapse of the Ferdinand Marcos regime. If the intent was to quell the revolutions brewing in Iran and the Philippines, the experiments were very conspicuous failures. It was around this time that changes in my life, a shortage of time and doubts about the efficacy of the technique combined to make me less and less regular in the full hour-long program.
I went back to the 20-minutes twice a day until around 1992 when I quit altogether.
These days, I meditate occasionally on an as-needed basis.
I don’t regret my involvement with the TM program: it spared a lot of stress, cured a case of spastic colon, kept me free of recreational pharmaceuticals and helped me go from 3 packs of Viceroy cigarettes a day to smoke-free in two weeks.
My mistake was trying to make it into a way of life and taking the whole thing way too seriously.
As far as the levitation goes, it’s been more than 20 years since Maharishi started teaching yogic flying and I don’t know of anyone who has actually achieved hovering. So far as I know, they’re still tunafishing across the foam rubber mattresses.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Me too

Yes, this experience resonates with me:

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Pink Floyd

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

But I never could call him "Hoppy"

When I was a kid in the early 1950s, all of the boys my age had a favorite cowboy movie/TV star.
It seemed most of them favored Roy Rogers. Gene Autry was past his prime and, even though Roy sang too, Gene's "singing cowboy" act seemed a little too sissified for us he-man 8-year-olds.
We also got plenty of exposure to the second-tier guys like Rex Allen and Lash Larue. As a midwestern lad, I was kind of non-plussed by Duncan Renaldo's Cisco Kid. And I have to admit a fondness for Guy Madison's historically inaccurate Wild Bill Hickock, but Andy Devine as his sidekick Jingles gave me the creeps.
I thought the Lone Ranger was cool, too, but when the chips were down, I was a Hopalong Cassidy man.
Despite his screwy name, to my young sensibilities Hopalong Cassidy was just too cool.
I had a genuine black Hopalong Cassidy denim jacket, made by Bell, with white stitched steer-head outlines on the pockets. I had pearl-handled Hopalong Cassidy cap pistols and a cool black leather holster rig in which to carry them.
My parents even decorated my bedroom with official gray-and-silver Hopalong Cassidy wallpaper.
(I found some of it on Ebay a few years ago and had it framed. It brought back long-forgotten memories of drifting off to sleep on warm summer nights with the chirp of crickets outside my bedroom window.)
I remember my first grade teacher offering a Hopalong Cassidy comb, hairbrush and mirror set to the boy who came to school for a whole month looking the neatest and best groomed. I desperately wanted to win. After all, I was practically the only declared Hopalong Cassidy fan in the class. Who better to take home such an appropriate prize? So you can imagine how crushed and disillusioned I felt when Mrs. Baum declared my friend Bill - a Roy Rogers man, for Christsake - the best groomed boy in the first grade.
Maybe that's why I've just combed my hair with my fingers ever since.
So last week, when my wife and I found ourselves pawing through a couple of boxes of $5.99 bargain DVDs at Best Buy, I couldn't pass up a disc of five feature-length Hopalong Cassidy films. Feature-length, in this case, means a running time of 60-65 minutes. "Presented in original classic black & white" and with digitally enhanced audio. Well.
I can't recall exactly what it was about William Boyd's character that resonated with me as a kid, but seeing him through 58-year-old eyes was something of a revelation.
Over the years, my memory of the specifics of Hopalong Cassidy had faded, leaving me with a short list of symbols - had gray hair, always wore black, carried a pair of pearl handled six-shooters, rode a white horse named Topper. That was about it.
Suddenly, there he was on my TV screen - moving, talking, smiling, slugging bad guys - like a childhood friend I hadn't seen in 50 years.
But the details. There were subtleties in the character that, if I had noticed them as a kid, it must have been on a subconscious level, not anything I could have articulated as an 8-year-old.
Bill Boyd's character comes across as a nice guy with a quick grin, an easy laugh and a genuinely friendly nature. There was a powerful playfulness in his nature that gave the audience the feeling that he was letting them in on the joke. It was such an "inside" thing it was almost prototypically hip.
The character had, for lack of a better term, more "texture" than other western heroes. It was something my wife noticed too and commented on.
Yes, Hopalong Cassidy was "the thinking kid's cowboy."
Or maybe that's just my take on it in the same way that you can divide ZZ Top fans into two groups - those who get the joke and those who don't, but don't care.
Either way, it was fun getting reacquainted with my boyhood hero this week.

Updates from previous subjects (like you care)

My former tenant - the one who spazzed out on me when I offered to buy her a washer and dryer, rather than repair or replace the antique laundry equipment I'd left in the basement of my rental house - apparently thinks she can ignore a judge's order that she pay me about $2,100 in lost rent.
More than 30 days have passed since I won my case in small claims court and I've received no payment or communication from her. So I took the next step last week and filed to have the court garnish her pay. The court will contact her employer to determine how much she makes and how often she's paid. Then the court will set a hearing date to give her one last chance to pay up before collecting my debt for me.
Since I plan to be motorcycling in the Pacific Northwest and California much of July, I expect the hearing date will occur during my absence.
Not a problem. My wife, who is a whole lot angrier about this than I am, is eager to represent us at the hearing.

In another resolution to a bad situation, the former newspaper coworker I mentioned last month - the one who was seething over a bad employee performance review - quit her job last week. Happily, she found a job with more pay and advancement potential and is out from under the thumb of the Evil Empire.
Coincidentally, another friend - a woman who had been a correspondent of mine when I was running the suburban bureau for the paper - last week quit her job as editor of the chain's suburban weeklies.
You could put out a pretty spectacular newspaper with all of the talent that has walked away from that place in the last three years. Certainly, it would be better than the current product.

What's that yellow thing on my wrist?

It's a LIVESTRONG wrist band that means I support the Lance Armstrong Foundation, at least to the tune of $1.

My local BMW motorcycle dealer was wearing one when I was in his shop a week or so ago and he explained it is a show of solidarity with bicycling superstar and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong in his work in behalf of all cancer victims.

Here's the press release from the LAF website:

AUSTIN, Texas — May 17, 2004 — As a tribute to Lance Armstrong’s inspirational fight against cancer as well as his historic attempt at a sixth Tour de France win, the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) and Nike will launch the Wear Yellow Live Strong campaign. Nike will donate $1 million to the Foundation and lead efforts to raise an additional $5 million through the sale of yellow wristbands engraved with Lance’s mantra, Live Strong. All proceeds will benefit LAF programs that help young people with cancer live strong.

“Young people with cancer should be empowered to fight hard, dream big and live strong,” said Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, champion cyclist and founder of the LAF. “We all have important work to do to make sure young people get the tools and services they need. Nike’s incredible support for our mission will help the Foundation do our part to raise awareness, funds and even spirits.”

For Lance, yellow is the color of hope, courage, inspiration and perseverance — as well as the color of the leader’s jersey in the Tour de France. Live Strong Yellow Wristbands allow everyone to share that spirit — especially the 10 million people living with cancer in the U.S.

Live Strong Yellow Wristbands will be available beginning May 17th for $1 each at and Niketown locations. All proceeds will benefit the LAF.

“The money raised through the Wear Yellow Live Strong campaign will give us new opportunities to provide leadership, resources and support for people, especially young people, living with cancer,” said Mitch Stoller, president and C.E.O. of the LAF.


And thanks to Vadergrrrl for her kind words about my blog. Hers is a fun read too. I recommend it.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Progress, or the illusion thereof

I'm good at overthinking stuff and getting stuck in the details.
I find myself thinking about a half-dozen if-then steps out into the future which, while it can inform me of possible problems, can also paralyze the decision-making process.
Like, for instance: The previous owner of my 101-year-old house apparently didn't have much use for treated lumber. So when he had the upper balcony over the front porch done, his choice of materials assured that the part of the deck that's not under roof would get wet and rot. Which it did.
Our first clue, other than the mushrooms growing on the deck (really!), was when we saw water coming through the porch ceiling whenever it rained. Now, after a couple of seasons of procrastination on our part, the porch floor has started to warp and buckle and rot.
There are already plenty of demands on our time and resources, so we sort of went into denial about the whole thing, but when it rains incessantly like it has here for the past two springs, it became painfully obvsious that something has to be done to protect our investment.
Our first spring in the house, a contractor retained by the town council was rebuilding sidewalks in our neighborhood. Under state law, the homeowner is responsible for sidewalk maintenance, but the town got some grant money and was keen to see the decades-old root-buckled and cracked sidewalks replaced, so the town council offered to pay half of the sidewalk replacement bill for every participating homeowner. It sounded like a good idea to us, so we signed on.
In the course of the work, the contractor mentioned to my wife that he had done some work on our proch when the house was in the hands of the previous owner - I can only hope he wasn't the dope who set us up for our present problems. He said he had offered the previous owner a comprehensive porch repair plan, but the guy passed on the offer.
So about a month ago, I decided to see if I could track this guy down and ask if he could have a look at the porch - after all, he was familiar with it.
After several fruitless calls to the town hall to get the name and a phone number of the contractor, I had just about given up.
In the meantime, an old friend of my wife phoned yesterday to catch up on events - they hadn't spoken since before we were married - and mentioned that her husband was an engineer/contractor who was looking for business. Hmmmm.
So I called him today and he and his wife are coming over tomorrow evening to eyeball the porch project. Maybe he can also figure out why wind-driven horizontal rain has penetrated the west wall of our bedroom and caused water to leak through the ceiling, directly above my wife's $2,000 Bernina quilting sewing machine. (We acted in time to rescue the Bernina on both occasions, but it was a scary few minutes.)
Of course, today was the day the town clerk-treasurer finally returned my phone calls and gave me the name of the mystery contractor.
At the same time, the editor of a larger regional newspaper called today to follow up on a job interview he had invited my wife to a month ago. The coverage areas of his paper and hers overlap and, even though her paper has a smaller, less experienced staff, she's been beating his people to all of the big stories and generally embarrassing them. As is the style with papers in that chain (starts with a "G"), their solution to competition is to buy it rather than beat it. Her attitude, having worked for an even larger paper in that chain, is one of great reluctance to re-join the evil empire.
Mostly, she's curious to see how much money they're willing to spend to seduce her to the Dark Side. We shall see. As much as I hate to do business with them, more income would solve a whole bunch of problems.
She knows I'll support any decision she makes and she also knows that I'd rather see her having fun in the newspaper business for less money than be miserable for lots of money.
The editor at the regional paper offered my wife a cut in pay to step up to their operation. A cut in pay, for Christsake! She told them that was absurd and to forget it unless they could come up with more money. They're presumably now looking for more money, but she got what she wanted - an offer that makes it clear they value her.
On yet another front, we just got home from the town council meeting where we finally got the council to vote to top and, if necessary, remove the three huge maple trees that menace our house from the other side of the town-owned alley that doubles as a driveway for our house.
The dimmer members - well, all but one - finally grasped the idea that they can remove the trees now, or they can wait for them to fall on our house, then pay for the damage and then pay to remove the trees.
Besides the concern that a tree could smash my house, my other motive for wanting the trees gone was so I could have a clear shot at one of the DISH TV satellites. My goal was to dump my crappy overpriced cable TV service in favor of DISH TV so I could get TechTV. But I learned recently that TechTV got sold to some idiots who dismantled its brilliant stable of personalities and lineup of shows. So now it's pointless to switch.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Me, about whom it all is. Posted by Hello

Father's Day

This is my seventh Father's Day without a father.
My dad died a few days before Thanksgiving, 1997. There hasn't been a day since then that I haven't thought about him. Usually, it's something I'd like to phone him to tell him about, but of course, I don't have the number.
I grew up in a small town of about 2,500 people. My parents were active participants in the community - not high-profile ego-involved leaders, but solid citizens who instinctively were drawn to community service.
I was an only child, so I got most of my parents' attention. One of my earliest memories of my dad - I was probably 4 or 5 - was that he liked to take after-lunch naps on the big (to me, anyway) burgundy couch in the living room. I liked to snuggle in next to him and pretend to doze. He'd give me a hug and say, "You're my buddy." It felt good and secure.
A creek that was as big as a small river ran through our town. My dad bought a pair of bamboo fishing poles with red-and-white plastic bobbers down at the hardware store, dug up some worms from the back yard and took me for my first fishing excursion. Mostly, we pulled up crawdads, but I remember his excitement and mine the first time I hooked and landed a little sunfish. We took it home and mom cleaned and cooked it for me for dinner. It didn't make much of a meal, but it was the cap to a great little adventure.
My dad born in 1910, one of nine kids. His father had been raised in the German Baptist faith - we call them Dunkards in our part of the country, but you might call them Mennonite or Amish. Some folks have traced the lineage all the way back to Switzerland and the first of our line to come to the New World arrived on these shores around 1730 - decades before there was a United States of America. They settled in Pennsylvania and some, including my branch of the family, were part of the pioneer movement that settled the Midwest. One of my ancestors was the first white settler in my home county and there's a town there that bears our family name.
My granddad wasn't a good fit with the Dunkard scene - he was musically inclined and, by all reports, was a helluva baritone player. When he was still in his teens, a scout for John Phillip Sousa's band heard him play and tried to recruit him, but granddad's religiously conservative parents forbade it. He eventually left the German Baptist Church for the less-restrictive life of a Presbyterian.
He got involved in Democrat politics, served as township trustee and was elected county treasurer in the 1930s.
My dad had just finished high school when his father became county treasurer. Granddad needed a deputy in the treasurer's office and wanted dad for the position. So dad gave his college savings to his brother John and went to work in the courthouse. Uncle John went on to become a high school math teacher.
My parents were married in 1939. My mom was a student nurse at a time when nursing students were supposed to be single, so they eloped and were married in secret. In retrospect, it seems like an incredibly rebellious and daring thing and completely out of character for my parents, but it just illustrates how much of our parents' thoughts and lives we never know or understand.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, dad volunteered for the Army. They turned him down because he was too old (31) and had a heart murmur. If he had been accepted, he would have been the first of his line to wear a military uniform in recorded history. That honor fell to me in 1965, but that's another story.
My dad got into the insurance business - not like the smarmy hustlers who push life insurance, but as an independent agent selling homeowner's and auto and crop hail insurance from an office on the courthouse square. He and the other downtown businessmen - lawyers, shopkeepers and the like - gathered at the drugstore coffee counter at midmorning every day and he usually came home for lunch. He didn't make a ton of money, but we were comfortable and belonged to the country club where dad enjoyed a few weekly rounds of golf when the weather permitted.
Dad enjoyed the occasional beer, but I can never recall seeing him drunk. That's something my two sons will not be able to say if they ever write a Father's Day memoir.
My father was also scrupulously honest. I never knew him to lie, misrepresent, cheat, cut corners or take unfair advantage of anyone.
(A friend once told me a story about conscience and honor: we all have a golden star inside our chest that spins parallel to our heart. Whenever we think or do something we know is wrong, the spinning star tilts and the whirling points nick the heart, causing pain. If we ignore the pain and harden our heart, the points of the star wear down until this warning mechanism no longer works and we lose our sense of right and wrong. I'm confident that dad's star was gleaming and razor-sharp when he died.)
He served a couple of terms on the school board and was president of the board during the planning and construction of the present high school building.
He was very shy when it came to public speaking and I remember how nervous he was about speaking to a gymnasium full of people at the dedication of the new building. But he was understandably proud of what he and the board had accomplished.
In their later years, he and mom made a couple of trips to Europe, but mostly they were stay-at-home types and his idea of a good time either involved hitting a golf ball or watching his Chicago White Sox struggle on TV.
He was a cigarette smoker most of his adult life, but quit in the early 1960s. Even so, about 10 years later he was diagnosed with a cancerous nodule on one of his vocal cords. Laser surgery was available, but new, so he opted for the traditional scalpel, which left him unable to speak above a whisper for the rest of his life. I remember when they wheeled him off to surgery, he clasped my hand in his, saying the last words I ever heard him say with his full voice: "You're my buddy."
By the time he abandoned his body in a nursing home bed that November afternoon in 1997, he had weathered prostate and heart surgery, a broken hip and a couple of strokes. But even though there were long periods toward the end when it appeared he wasn't really there, I could still see the occasional twinkle in his eyes that assured me his personality and sense of humor were intact.
Mom was at home, planning to visit the nursing home in a few minutes, when she got the phone call telling her he had just died.
Mom's memory was pretty wobbly by this time, so her recollection was that he was still alive when she arrived at the nursing home. Her version is that he looked at her, stuck out his tongue in a joking manner and then died.
The nursing home staff says it didn't happen that way, but maybe they just didn't have the eyes to see it.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
Your buddy

Friday, June 18, 2004


I just don't get tattoos.
I realize some perfectly respectable people have them.
For instance, former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz has a Princeton tiger on his backside. The Dixie Chicks have little chicken tracks on their feet - one for every #1 single.
You see, it's because of my upbringing.
My parents were definitely not skin art fans. I don't recall ever having a conversation with them on the subject, but somehow they communicated to me that a tattoo was a sign of sleaze and ignorance - something nice people just didn't do.
My first encounter with tattoos was when the carnival came to town. Our little county seat community of 2,500 recalls its history for a week every summer with an Old Settlers celebration. The true centerpiece of the celebration is the annual Old Settlers meeting at the city park shelter house where all of the old-timers congregate to argue over whose pioneer ancestors arrived first and whose forebears had the most distinguished service records in America's wars. At least I think that's what they do at those meetings. I never went.
For those of us who grew up in the '50s and later, Old Settlers meant carnival rides, games and shows arrayed on three sides of the courthouse square.
My earliest recollection of Old Settlers is a fuzzy memory of my parents and me picking our way down the crowded street, stepping over huge black electrical cables and red wooden junction boxes, and watching the people who paid to be spun and looped and flung around on the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Ferris Wheel and the Scrambler and the Octopus.
For me, the Ferris Wheel was the entry-level big kid ride. You soared up into the black night sky, your senses filled with the smell of cotton candy, the sound of calliope music and the flash and glitter of a million colorful flickering lightbulbs. At the top of the arc, you could look straight into the second-floor windows of the big limestone courthouse and peer down on the roofs of several of the courthouse square business buildings.
My mother, who still had a bit of the thrill-seeker in her, introduced me to the Tilt-a-Whirl, a basket-shaped car that spun on a circular track, part of a larger platform that undulated and rotated. Most of the time it was pretty tame, but once or twice in each ride, the rotational forces would combine to spin the basket so fast and hard that it smashed you against the back of your seat with a startling force that could get a young boy's adrenaline flowing. The Octopus was the next step up. it afforded the same kind of high G-force spin, but this time you were 15-20 feet off the ground and preoccupied with thoughts of sheared bolts and airborne disaster.
But the most intimidating ride of all, the only one that could actually put you upside down (!!!!), was the Bullet. It consisted of a 20-foot-long steel arm that spun on a central axis. At each end of the arm was a bullet-shaped capsule that could seat four people - two-by-two sitting back-to-back.
As the arm turned, the capsules could rotate from side to side, keeping the occupants right-side up as they soared up and then swung earthward or inverting them through the dizzying loops. Watching the inversions was great fun because the process generated a shower of loose change, combs, cigarettes and anything else that fell out of the riders' pockets as they hung upside-down from their seatbelts, screaming.
All the while, the contraption made a creepy ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sound as it spun relentlessly.
So what does this have to do with tattoos?
Well, the guys who ran these machines of delight and terror - the guys in whose greasy hands we placed our lives - were invariably decorated with the most lurid tattooed images we kids had ever seen in our short, sheltered lives.
These carnies were something completely outside of our experience. They had greasy hair, wore dirty shirts with rolled-up short sleeves and exuded an exotic danger that spoke of unimaginable depravity and debauchery. They made the roughest dead-end kids in our school look like preppies and they scared the hell out of us. We'd hand them our ride tickets and do our best to avoid eye contact as they strapped us in.
This, then, was who got tattooed - scary, dirty, greasy drifters from the distant edges of society who would never, in a million years, move in the same social circles as us or our parents.
So, image my consternation, some years ago when tattooing started to catch on among my friends and associates.
In the latter days of our marriage, my first wife spoke wistfully about getting some kind of flower tattooed on her back.
A woman friend whose judgment I'd always respected, took her teenage daughter to a tattoo parlor and both came home with calf decorations.
While few people go the whole hog "Illustrated Man" route, it's hard to gaze out on a crowded beach or swimming pool without seeing a dozen tattoos at a glance.
Enough of my friends and acquaintances have gotten them that I have to keep my horrified impressions to myself. Instead I just smile and nod and mumble some vague affirmation, like, "Cool," or "That's a good one."
Even if I didn't have this knee-jerk disdain for tattoos hardwired into my nervous system, I could never get tattooed.
I can't think of a single symbol or sentiment I'd want to carry on my hide for the rest of my life. I've seen my perspectives and tastes and attitudes change so many times in my life, that I know it would just be a matter of time before I looked at my decorated body part and wondered, "What the hell was I thinking?"
Plus, I'm not eager to earn the disdain of other people out there who share my attitude about skin art.
So I guess I'll leave the tattoing to the Maoris and the Dennis Rodmans and the Bruce Willises and the Britney Spearses.
As far as I'm concerned, there is only one kind of tattoo that commands my respect: the involuntary ones you can still see from time to time on the wrists of Nazi concentration camp survivors.

Degrees of separation

Ever play the "degrees of separation" game? The one where you figure out how many acquaintances separate you from someone else - usually famous.
One degree would be someone you've actually met and spoken with. Two degrees would be someone they've met, and on and on.
Like, for instance, there are four degrees of separation between me and Adolf Hitler: My German friend Irmi (1 degree) is the daughter of a seamstress (2 degrees) who did personal work for Eva Braun (3 degrees) who, of course, was the eventual wife of Hitler (4 degrees).
So here's what comes to mind at the moment:
George W. Bush (2 degrees)
Tony Blair (3 degrees)
Vladimir Putin (3 degrees)
George H. W. Bush (2 degrees)
Ronald Reagan (2 degrees)
Margaret Thatcher (3 degrees)
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1 degree)
The Beatles (2 degrees)
The Rolling Stones (2 degrees)
The Beach Boys (1 degree)
Natalie Cole (1 degree)
Nat King Cole (2 degrees)
Buckminster Fuller (1 degree)
Doreen Tracey (original Mouseketeer)(1 degree)
Walt Disney (2 degrees)
Michael Eisner (2 degrees)
Billy Graham (2 degrees)
Willie Nelson (2 degrees)
Barbara Mandrell (2 degrees)
Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger) (2 degrees)
Bob Dylan (3 degrees)
Tom Petty (3 degrees)
Roy Orbison (3 degrees)
Donovan (2 degrees)
The Who (3 degrees)
Queen Elizabeth II (3 degrees)
Prince Charles (3 degrees)
Princess Diana (3 degrees)
Weird Al Yankovic (2 degrees)
Hermann Göring (4 degrees)
Heinrich Himmler (4 degrees)
Albert Speer (4 degrees)
Josef Göbbels (4 degrees)
Tom Brokaw (2 degrees)
Jim Davis (creator of Garfield)(1 degree)

Kind words

I just discovered a very kind comment from CountChocula30, a talented writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, who also started blogging last month. Her blog, Unbearable likeness of Bean, is one of a handful I read on a regular basis. It's always a fresh, fun read and I strongly recommend it. She did me the honor of putting a link to my blog on hers and, as soon as I satisfactorily ascend the HTML learning curve, I'll return the favor. In the meantime, this will have to serve as your gateway to her stuff.
Thanks Count! (Or would you rather be called Countess Chocula?)

Thank God for Lee Hamilton

News item:
Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton blasted the mainstream press yesterday for distorting the Commission's findings on links between Iraq and al-Qaida, saying those findings actually support Bush administration contentions.

"The sharp differences that the press has drawn [between the White House and the Commission] are not that apparent to me," Hamilton told the Associated Press, a day after insisting that his probe uncovered "all kinds" of connections between Osama bin Laden's terror network and Iraq. Hamilton's comments followed a deluge of mainstream reports falsely claiming that the 9/11 Commission had discredited the Bush administration's claim of longstanding links between Baghdad and bin Laden.

But the Indiana Democrat said the press accounts were flat-out wrong.

"There are all kinds of ties," he told PBS's "The News Hour" late Wednesday, in comments that establishment journalists have refused to report.

"There are all kinds of connections. And it may very well have been that Osama bin Laden or some of his lieutenants met at some time with Saddam Hussein's lieutenants."

Hamilton said that while his probe had failed to uncover any direct operational link between Baghdad and Osama bin Laden's terror network in attacks on the U.S., there's no question that "they had contacts."

And then there's today's statement from Vladimir Putin that the Russian intelligence service gave Washington information shortly after 9/11 that Saddam might be planning terrorist actions in the U.S.

If nothing else, these developments should serve as a wakeup call to anyone who hasn't already figured it out that the mainstream media is working with a knee-jerk reflexive liberal bias. It's a bias so strong and so profound that everybody from NPR to the New York Times to Dan Rather couldn't wait to spin the 9/11 Commission findings to "prove" Saddam was never a threat to us and that the Bush administration acted irresponsibly by liberating the Iraqi people.

The distortion by the liberal media has been so egregious that a career Democrat politician can't stomach it.

I've said it before and I'm saying it again: I don't give a rat's ass whether we had proof of Saddam's links with Osama and his gang of wackos. The plain fact is that we liberated a nation that had been hideously oppressed for decades. It may well turn out that the amalgam of disparate tribes that constitutes modern Iraq is incapable of democratic self government. The shining fact remains that the United States of America did exactly the right thing at the right time. I haven't the slightest doubt that we will be vindicated by history.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

You can check out anytime you like...

but you can never leave.
That seems to apply to newspapering.
It's 11:15 p.m. and I'm stuck at my wife's newspaper - dragooned into service when servers crashed and they found themselves in the midst of a production crisis. She and her coworkers are making progress, doing clever computer work-arounds to access wire copy, reconstruct lost pages that had ads on them and send the painfully constructed pages to the production department.
I became the de facto wire editor, searching the AP state, national and international wires for enough stories to fill four pages.
It's reminiscent of the all-nighters I pulled with colleagues on my college student paper nearly 40 years ago. It was the dawn of the offset printing era and I had the dubious distinction of being the production manager during the semester when we switched from hot type to cold. We set type with a diabolical machine called the Varityper which produced a column of justified type, line by line, after first typing the unjustified line, then automatically spitting it out in justified form. It was a horrible piece of crap and could not be counted on to function properly for more than a few hours at a time. The Varityper service guy was continually on the road to our office and we did plenty of late-night improvising of photos and ads to make up for copy that couldn't be typeset.
So tonight's little dance with wobbly techology - this is a smallish daily with an antique computer system that's prone to seizures and crashes - feels very familiar and tinged with nostalgia.
But tonight's labors will end with a long drive home, rather than a ramble across campus for a couple of pitchers of beer.
I guess that's the difference between being a 21-year-old college kid and a 58-year-old recovering journalist.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Haiku, kinda

For some reason I haven't yet determined, my wife asked this morning how Haiku is structured. I Googled up the answer on a web site dedicated to Haiku.

Naturally, it told me more than I ever want to know about Haiku, but I did determine that - in English, anyway - it's three lines: three syllables in the first, five in the second and three in the third. In the original Japanese, it's a 17-syllable poem with a 5-7-5 structure, says the web site.

But as I cast about for examples, I find tons of English 5-7-5 Haiku and lots that don't follow that rule at all.

After writing a few 3-7-3 mistakes like...

Crazy bitch
Fucking looneytoon renter
Garnish pay

Me venting
Japanese poem structure
Stress as art

I realized I was off track and wrote:

Oh, God damn
Middle line is five
Not seven

But not before I wrote to my wife:

Thank you, dear
For giving inspiration
Now can't stop

It is kind of habit-forming:

Five-seven-five structure
Offers more good word choices
Liberating style

It's just early June
Fourth of July three weeks out
Fireworks bang next door

Checking on the mail
National Day of Mourning
Disrupts my routine

Almost one o'clock
Wasted morning on Haiku
Signing off for lunch


Friday, June 04, 2004

Surplus contacts

I'm in a frenzy of Ebaying today.
When I retired my 1991 BMW K100RS motorcycle last year in favor of a 2002 BMW K1200GT, I decided to part out the old bike. My dealer advised me I'd be lucky to get $2,000 out of it as an intact motorcycle, since it had more than 160,000 miles (all of them mine) on the odometer.
I decided, instead, to part it out on Ebay, suspecting I could easily surpass the $2k figure. Turns out I was right.
So far, I've sold almost all of the fairing, the seat, saddlebags and after-market exhaust system for more than $2,200 and there's still a whole lot of parts left.
I've been going out to the garage every month or so, unbolting a few parts, photographing them and listing them on Ebay to make my monthly payments on the new bike.
So far, I've only made one out-of-pocket payment since last October.
So today, I listed the dual Fiamm air horns, the rear fender, the main upper fairing part (They cost nearly $1,000 new) and the headlight.
As is usually the case, once I start listing things on Ebay, I can't stop. I cast my eyes over all of my stuff looking for likely auction fodder. I had the stock AM/FM radio, cassette player from my '94 Honda del Sol sitting around, having replaced it with a CD player a month ago. So into the auction it went.
Next, I found myself eyeing (no pun intended) a couple of boxes of Johnson & Johnson Acuvue contact lenses. My prescription changes from one year to the next and these are still sealed in their original package in brand new condition - they're just not my current prescription.
So I was all set to list them on Ebay when I read the fine print on the box that says, "Caution: Federal U.S.A. law prohibits dispensing without prescription." Rats. So even if I managed to fly under the Ebay radar, I'd still be asking for trouble from the Feds if I tried to recoup some of my investment. I'd even thought of a clever dodge in hopes of getting around the "dispensing" language - sell them for entertainment purposes only. Stick them on the neighborhood cat or dog and watch them lurch around. That oughta be good for a laugh.
But there's probably a whole bunch of bad animal karma associated with that kind of behavior, so I'm stuck with two boxes of perfectly good disposable contact lenses. I guess all I can do is hope my eyes return to that prescription range someday.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Back from the high country

We've only been home from Colorado about 72 hours and I'm ready to go back. The weather in Summit and Park counties was wonderful - sunny and pleasant every day we were there.
Coming home to tornados, clouds and rain is a real shock.
As I expected, we made good use of the time, shooting more than 2,000 photos with excursions to Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde and Moab, Utah, not to mention 4WD forays over Boreas Pass and up Mosquito Gulch. It was a glorious time and a welcome relief to months and months of having to share our time with one or both of her kids.
My younger son's wife went into labor Friday night, which worked out nicely since we'd already planned to leave for home early Saturday. As it turned out, we left at 3:30 a.m. Saturday and arrived at my son's house 20 hours and 1,300 miles later, just in time for the birth of my first grandchild.
Little Elisabeth has a cleft lip and palate, which came as no surprise since it showed up months ago on ultrasounds. The good news is that her soft palate is intact, so she can develop plenty of suction for eating.
My son and his wife already have a team of specialists lined up to repair the lip and hard palate and their first appointment is next Monday.
I never thought much about being a grandparent, so I'm still turning the idea over in my mind. I've decided I like it. While it's a reminder of advancing age, it's also a promise of immortality - at least as far as projecting my DNA into the future is concerned.
My son is a jazz musician and the little girl's middle name is Ellington, as in the Duke. My wife and I were much relieved by their name choice. An earlier possibility was Anika - rhymes with the Jewish holiday - and I was secretly hoping they'd come up with something a bit more conventional.
Granted, it wasn't as avant garde as Moon Unit or Dweezil, but it didn't do anything for me.