Tuesday, June 26, 2007

were we ever away?

Have you ever noticed how, when you've returned home from a vacation, after a day or so it seems like you were never gone at all? You may have had the most memorable, exciting two weeks of your life, but once back inside the confines of your home and life, it seems like it was all a dream.

You've unpacked you suitcase and that signals the return to reality. At home, inside the laundry still has to be done, the beds made, the bills paid, the meals cooked. Outside the grass has to be cut, the plants watered, the weeds pulled, the hedges trimmed. How did this place ever survive our absence? How did we ever survive being away?

It's not like we haven't done this before. We frequently spend a week at a time at our lake cottage and then return home to take care of the usual business of living. But this time we stayed there for two full weeks and that extra week seems to have exaggerated the catching up chores. Yet, now that a full day has passed since we returned home, it seems that those last two weeks just slipped by and disappeared like the smoke from one of our bonfires. And here we are, cutting grass and doing laundry, watering plants and paying bills. Vacation? What vacation?

Friday, June 22, 2007

golf is life

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he plays golf. I don’t mean how well he plays, but rather how he approaches the game, how he observes the rules and how he relates to his playing partners. I’ve been playing at the club here near our cottage for nearly 15 years now and I have played with many of the regulars, or members, as well as a lot of perfect strangers in that time. And I think I have experienced enough different players and attitudes to make some observations that ring true more often than not.

Golf is a game that has a backbone of rules that govern every conceivable situation you might encounter during play. It is also a game that requires its players to enforce those rules themselves without benefit of a referee or umpire. Integrity and honesty are the words most often used to describe the behavior expected of its players. So when you are paired up with someone who blatently flauts the rules or interprets them in a cavalier manner, your enjoyment of the game can be considerably diminished. And yet that happens all too frequently.

The most common transgression is improving the lie of the ball. Nearly everyone does it. But the rule states that the ball must be played as it lies. Players who move their ball into a more advantageous position are the kind of people who look for an advantage in everything they do and aren’t above a little cheating to get it. Those are players I think of as sneaky and untrustworthy. I would expect them to look in my medicine cabinet or read my mail when I wasn’t looking.

Then there are the players I think of as the Wanna-be-Never-was-Never will be’s. They talk a good game but can’t seem to produce the shots they are bragging about making yesterday. Their usual refrain is “I never play this bad otherwise. I just can’t get it going today.” Fact is, they can never get it going except in their head. On the course they have trouble hitting the grass. But they sure love to tell you about the great shots they made when no one else was around.

One of the most annoying players you can encounter is the “Know-it-all.” This guy knows everything there is to know about the game, from an extensive mastery of the rule book to a detailed indepth knowledge of the history of the game. He considers himself the definitive arbiter of all things associated with the game of golf. The fact that he is often wrong doesn’t deter him from expounding endlessly and sharing his knowledge. Try to correct him or disagree with him and you will likely spend the rest of the round arguing instead of playing. When I encounter this guy I just keep quiet and laugh behind his back.

If I want a lesson I go to the golf pro and arrange for him to give me the help I need. I don’t necessarily expect my playing partner to offer me his swing advice. But there is always some yahoo who needs to exercise his inner coach and offer you his unsolicited advice about how to correct your lousy swing. The “Coach” may be the most annoying of all playing partners. He has the insatiable need to teach you how to do it right. He knows every crappy swing tip and technique ever written about in any golf magazine. And he wants to share his extensive library of golf knowhow with every swing you make. I find it very difficult to refrain from wrapping my seven iron around his neck or knocking out a few of his teeth with my wedge. Unsolicited advice is no advice at all. It is maddening.

There always seems to be one guy in every group who insists on anylizing every shot he makes or doesn't make. He loves to explain exactly what he did or didn't do. And he assumes that we are all interested in hearing about it. Wrong. We are all only interested in our own shots and how well we made them. We all have our own problems and don't need to be burdened with his as well as our own. His explanations of his swing mechanics is the last thing that anyone is intnerested in. A match made in heaven is to pair him up with the "coach." Then they can bore themselves to death whole we get on with our own games.

Once in awhile you’ll find yourself playing with a newby, someone new to the game, who is unfamiliar with the playing traditions and nuances of the game. They show up at the course without having done the requisite homework, so they don’t know how to act or how to observe the little rituals that inform the game. Not only do they not know how to play they do not know that they do not know. It can become difficult not to fall into the role of “coach” or “know-it-all” at times like that. But everyone has to start somewhere and I, like everyone else who plays the game, was once a newby. I just think it would be the smart thing to do to learn about the game you want to participate in before subjecting your playing partners to your ignorance.

Lest I sound like some overly snooty elitist, let me say that golf is a game for everyone. Even those that irritate and annoy you have a right to play and should be allowed the privilege of participating in one of the greatest pastimes ever invented. The vast majority of the time I spend on the golf course is spent with like minded players who add to my enjoyment of the game. We cheer the good shots and sympathize with the bad shots. We do the necessary dance steps on the greens and replace the divots in the fairways. We play when it is our turn and wait patiently while others take their turns. When one of us hits a ball into the woods, we all help to look for it. We allow faster players to play through. We count all our shots and play by the rules.

All this is, I guess, a metaphor for life. Play by the rules, tolerate those who annoy you, keep your advice to yourself unless asked, replace your divots, repair your ball marks on the greens and enjoy your trip around the course.

Monday, June 18, 2007

special days

Father’s Day

I never get too excited about these so-called special days, you know, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, anniversaries of various happenings, birthdays, and those Hallmark holidays. They never quite live up to expectations when you expect them to be special. That’s why when they turn out to be surprisingly nice, they are so much more memorable.

Yesterday is a case in point. Father’s Day is not a big deal for me. Everyday that I think about my two wonderful children is a celebration. That they think enough of me to call me and wish me a happy day, is more than enough celebration for me. Since Mary and I are here at the cottage, I did not see either of the kids yesterday. But Jon called me twice just to talk. That was very nice. And Carrie made a huge effort to call and wish me a happy Father’s Day. Hers was a huge effort because she is in Etosha, Namibia, Africa right now doing something with big man-eating animals and phone service there is not what you might call convenient or cheap. So I feel really special because they both made an effort to connect with me yesterday. I couldn't ask for more.

Friday, June 15, 2007

summertime

Wednesday evening

It’s been a lovely couple days. I don’t usually use a word like “lovely” to describe anything, but I can’t think of any other description that is as apt. Monday was Mary’s last day of school for the year, so Tuesday morning we loaded the van and headed for the cottage. She couldn’t have asked for a better start to her summer vacation than the two days she’s had so far. And tomorrow promises to be just as perfect. The sun has shown brightly, the breeze has been refreshing, the humidity low. Summer doesn’t get any better than this.

We haven’t done anything exciting unless you consider reading, walking, floating on the lake in a kayak, reading, playing with the dog, reading, writing, eating, reading, napping, bicycling, reading some more, drinking wine, watching the Sopranos, drinking some more wine and reading some more, exciting. If any of those fits your description of an exciting beginning to the summer vacation, then we’ve had an exciting two days so far. And get this, I haven’t even been to the golf course yet. That shortcoming will be rectified tomorrow, so don’t feel badly for me.

Thursday

Thursday morning is my time to play golf with a group of retired men in an informal league. These are all guys in their mid sixties to mid seventies who really can’t play golf very well but can talk a helluva game and have a good time doing it. I am probably the youngest guy out there and am considered to be the best player as well. My golf game leaves a lot to be desired, so you can imagine how badly the other guys play. Handicaps range all the way up to 37 with the average being around 25. My handicap nowadays hovers in the low teens for the most part, but has been as low as 8 in years past before Parkinsons Disease took away some of my game.

The group is an interesting cast of characters whom I know only in rather shallow terms, since I don’t socialize with any of the away from the course and only know about them from listening to conversations and the tidbits I can pick up along the way. The conversations on the course are mostly about the sorry state of our games on that given day, but other information can be gleaned by listening and occasionally asking a pointed question. I was most surprised to find out that several of the players are retired cops from the big city who have moved to this area to get as far away from their previous life as possible. One of them was a homicide detective who worked on the Jeffery Dahmer case. Another was a robbery detective who looks and acts more like a grade school social studies teacher. And there’s the retired fire captain who is never without a plug of tobacco in his cheek. He spits his way around the course. There is the requisite sampling of former salesmen of various commodities who always have something to say and a quick joke to keep your attention, trying to close one more sale. There’s the dirty old man who never seems to run out of off color jokes that amuse him more than his audience.
Then there are several avid hunters and fishermen who talk mostly about the latest hunt or catch and the conditions under which they were achieved. One of those guys always wears a feather or two in his cap that he finds along the way. We are all under strict orders to save any found feathers for his cap. We have a chicken farmer (only a hobby he insists), a rabbit farmer, a college housing coordinator, a wealthy industrialist, an architect, several former factory workers, a retired Catholic priest, and me.

Golf is the great equalizer. Most of these men would never have crossed each other’s paths if it wasn’t for golf. The full range of political and spiritual beliefs are represented in this group. It is a microcosm of the society we live in. There is a bit of verbal sparring and vocal ridicule, but it is mostly in fun and never taken seriously. We cheer for each other’s good shots and shake our heads knowingly at the bad shots. There may be a lesson for all of us here in how to get along better. Maybe if every world leader was required to join a golf league and play with people he would not normally encounter in his daily work of ruling the world, there would be fewer disputes that result in bloodshed. Hit a wicked slice or a nasty duck hook off the tee and you realize just how human you are and how alike everyone else you are.

So that’s my recommendation for settling the world’s problems. Get everyone on the golf course and cheer for the good shots and tsk tsk the bad shots and we'll all get along a lot better.


Saturday morning

I'm sitting in a comfortable overstuffed easy chair in a new llittle coffee shop in town that actually h as internet access. Civilization has arrived in this central Wisconsin town. Now that I can get a coffee fix while tapping away at my MacBook's keyboard, I may have found a little slice of heaven. I'll try to keep in touch more regularly now. As if you care.........

Sunday, June 10, 2007

out with the old; in with the new

Twenty-six years ago I got this lawnmower for a Fathers Day gift.

It served me well for all those years, with an occasional problem. But, hey, its a machine and machines sometimes have problems. Well, this past week it had its final problem. It just decided to give up and die on me while I was in the middle of cutting the backyard. It had been acting up recently, sometimes refusing to start, other times coughing and wheezing and complaining when the grass was too long. I nursed it as best I could, but it was obvious that its time was drawing near. Perhaps it had overheard our conversations about replacing it sometime soon and just gave up trying to please me anymore. Anyway, it is now only a memory.

Fathers Day is rolling around once again so the time seemed right to get another gift and to start fresh with a new and shiny machine. Allow me to introduce the newest member of the family and my new favorite toy.

Luckily, I didnt get discarded with the old mower, although I have had a few breakdowns myself recently. Hopefully, both the new lawnmowwer and I will last another twenty-six years like the old mower. By then I will be probably be under the grass that is being cut. Until then, I will ride in style.

Friday, June 08, 2007

fine isn't fine unless it's FIIIIINE

"How do I look?"
"Fine."
"What do mean, fine?"
"I mean you look just fine."
"Just fine? You mean I look just acceptable? Tolerable? Ok?"
"No, I mean you look terrific. As usual."
"You didn't say it like that. You said I just look fine."
"How else am I supposed to say it?
"You could say it like you mean it."
"I see. What I say isn't as important as how I say it. Right"
"Well, it would help if you put a little feeling into it."
"Ok. How about this. You look FIIIINE. You so FIIIINE."
"Now you're just making fun of me."
"Fine. Have it your way."
"Fine."

Guess which part I played in this conversation. The doctor says I'll be fine, thank you.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

alone vs lonely

There is a decided difference between being alone and being lonely. I have never had a problem being alone. Often I much prefer that to the constant attention needed when with someone. Being alone allows me the luxury of indulging myself by doing those things I want to do without having to share my indulgence with someone. My creative side requires a certain amount of aloneness to bear fruit. So being alone is not a hardship for me, but rather a welcome state much of the time.

Having established that, I recently have found myself more and more in a state of loneliness. I have found that I prefer having company more and more, when I used to regret the time spent with others as robbing me of “me” time. I attribute that new feeling of loneliness to the fact that since my retirement I have less and less contact with the world outside my home. When I was working, even though I often worked alone, I had a lot of daily contact with others, both clients and just people going about their business. That kind of contact was more than sufficient to satisfy my need for human interaction, so that time away from work became especially precious. Now that I spend most days alone at home I find that human interaction much more difficult to come by. And so I am feeling pangs of loneliness that were never there before.

In years past I would relish the opportunity to go to the cottage alone for a few days whenever there was a project there to work on or just to get away for awhile to recharge t he batteries. Being there alone was a real treat. That was the kind of being alone that I cherished. Now however, I find that going to the cottage and being alone there is less enticing. It’s often too damn quiet. The fact that I might not see another human being for a couple days weighs heavily on me. I no longer look for opportunities to escape to the cottage as a reward.

Yesterday I drove up to the cottage intending to stay until Friday. I went to cut the grass and take care of some piddling little maintenance chores that could wait if I really admitted it. I also expected to get in a round or two of golf. I am normally passionate about my golf game and will find any excuse to get to the course. However, yesterday, after finishing the grass cutting, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of desolate aloneness. Even the prospect of going to the golf course didn’t ease my sense of loneliness. All I wanted to do was get back in the car and drive back home where Mary would be available to talk my ear off. And so that’s what I did. I came home to escape being alone and suffering another bout of loneliness. And even though Mary is gone all day at school, knowing that she will be here before long is enough to make me feel less lonely during the hours I’m alone.

I obviously need to get out more. I need to find opportunities to be with people. My feelings of loneliness are easily cured if I will just break out of my comfort zone here at home. Besides, my golf game is really suffering and we can’t have that, can we.

Monday, June 04, 2007

mission accomplished

It wasn't so bad after all. Shopping, I mean. It turned out to be nearly enjoyable. I place the credit for that easy experience squarely on the shoulders of the salesman at The Mens Wearhouse where Mary dragged me kicking and screaming.

This is not a commercial for The Men's Wearhouse (I'm sure you've seen their tv commercials), but I have to commend them for the quallity of the service I received from them on Saturday. The salesman who helped us was a congenial, well spoken and knowledgeable young man who didn't make me feel stupid, even though when it comes to dressier men's clothing, idiot fairly describes me. He quickly learned what we were looking for by listening to Mary while I stood there and nodded occasioinally. To his credit he immediately realized that she was calling the shots and I was just there to serve as a mannequin for the stufff he gave us to try on. He didn't try to lead us to what he wanted, but listened and gave us what she wanted. Good salemanship.

For me the worst part about clothes shopping is the trying on part. It is just so tedious. And I confess to having some difficulty at times with buttons and shoelaces, so I need Mary to be in the fitting room with me to help out. I won't hold it against her that she found it exceptionally hilalrioius at one point when, while trying to get a shirt on, my pants fell down and gathered around my ankles. Ok, it looked funny, and I laughed too, but I wasn't there to made fun of. Shopping is supposed to be serious busuness. Our raucous behavior must have sent a signal throughout the store, because when I came out of the fitting room to show off my new duds there were three other salesmen who wanted to join in the fun. Man did we get the good service then.

The result of all that fun and games was a very spiffy new me. I came away from there looking fantastic. I mean I looked gooooood. For about $250 I was transformed into someone my children won't recognize. Even the dog might have some issues with me when she sees me all decked out. Now I just have to get Mary to take me out in public sometime so I can wear the emperor's new clothes at least one time before the wedding in August. You know, to break em in a bit. I need the practice wearing dress clothes. Gotta remember not to wipe my nose on the jacket sleeves or wipe my shoes on the back of my pants leg. Damn there is so much to remember. Looking good ain't easy, but with a little practice I might just turn out alright.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I'd rather be naked

This could be the weekend from hell. Mary has insisted that we go shopping. Clothes shopping. For me. I’d rather stick hot coals in all my orifices. Twice.

The reason for this tortuous event is that she has decided that I need appropriate clothing befitting a gentleman officiating at a wedding. Apparently my usual daily costume of jeans and t-shirt doesn’t quite make the grade. I offered to wear a clean sweatshirt over the t-shirt but that ain’t gonna fly either. So she is dragging me to wherever it is that they sell the right stuff for those of us in dire need of appropriate costuming. But I would rather prance naked through the mall than shop there.

And while I agree that I probably should have something to wear dressier than a clean pair of jeans, I think I should be allowed to do my own shopping. Just because my idea of dressing up is to wear the jeans without the stains and a shirt with buttons, I don’t feel that I need my Mommy to guide me to the men’s department. Granted, if left to my own devices, I would most likely spend an inordinant amount of time in the hardware or electronics departments of the department store and manage to avoid the suity place where they grab your crotch to measure your inseam. Yeh right. And while there may be some precedent for my needing supervision when selecting clothing, I don’t think it’s fair to hold the 70’s over my head any longer.

She claims that if I’m allowed free rein in choosing what to wear, I will most often opt for the clown suit. Granted, I did have plaid bellbottoms and shiny polyester shirts at one time, but that was in the 70’s when everyone dressed like a carnival barker or a refugee from an LSD trip. I was way cool back then.

I did own a suit at one time. I bought it to wear to my mother’s funeral over twenty years ago. I do not want to wear that suit again. Even if I could. In the ensuing 20+ years since the last wearing of that suit, let’s just say that I have expanded my personal horizons somewhat. Stuffing all of me into those pants would be grounds for a lewd and lascivious arrest. Small children would be traumatized.

So I guess I will have to bite the bullet and allow her to decide what looks good on this old man’s body. I really do clean up pretty well when properly supervised. As long as we don’t make this cleaning up nonsense a habit, I think I can stand a onetime ordeal of clothes shopping. I’ll think of it as a wedding present for my daughter. She will be expecting cash, but hey, I can only do so much.