Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Magic Touch

They say that everything Midas touched turned to gold. Well, everything my grandfather touches may not have the same effect, but what a touch he has. Just this past Saturday up at Lake Muskoday, my father and I were attempting to get a four-wheeler ATV that hadn't been run in two years going. We tried and tried, be it charging the battery or adding some fuel additive. However, we were shit out of luck as they say until the arrival of my grandfather, the man with the magic touch. After telling him what we did, he proceeded to adjust the carburetor with a screwdriver and Whalla!, would you believe it, the darn thing proceeded to run. All my father and I could do was look at each other and laugh in utter amazement. God damn it, he's still got it! This member of the "Greatest Generation" is a jack-of-all trades as so many of his generation are or were. Growing up during the Great Depression, knowing how to fix things was a necessity, a matter of survival. As America got richer in the post-WWII era, I believe that fewer of us have that magic touch. It doesn't work, well, that's alright, I can always buy a new one! I feel that we'd all benefit if we took the the time to learn from them and appreciate them while we still can. Don't let that touch of gray fool you... hidden beneath you may just find a touch of magic.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Relativity of Age

Just take a leisurely stroll down Hallmark St. or Shoebox Blvd. and you will surely realize that we are a nation obsessed with age. Word on the street is that 1st birthdays have become the newest rage (we're so sorry 50). Forget that Johnny or Susy doesn't have the tiniest inkling about what is going on- who cares! Yes, you can leave your gift in the porch, and please have another hamburger Bill, I don't want to be stuck with frozen leftovers. For the brave and adventurous, a detour down Botox Alley will unveil some gruesome, grotesque sights as narcissistic, self-absorbed seekers in the spirit of Juan Ponce de Leon clamor after the ever elusive Fountain of Youth. No matter that it hasn't been found since 1513- keep looking, it's gotta be here somewhere! In the face of such madness, a side order of wisdom is wanting. Luckily, we can turn to wise ol' Abe Lincoln who once remarked, "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." Yes, there was a time when presidents were talented writers and orators. I have only to look at my grandparents for the living embodiment of Abe's wisdom. My paternal grandparents just drove from Florida to Roscoe, New York nestled in the rolling green Catskill Mountains. For over 30 years they've made this 1,200 mile journey; the thought of doing it once makes me cringe. My grandfather is 3 months shy of 90, and a disabled WWII vet; my grandmother has had hip surgery, and yet the journey continues. My maternal grandmother, well into her 80s, continues to travel to her native island of Ikaria in the sunny southeastern Aegean Sea year after year. Odysseus would be proud. Their lives tell me to bypass Hallmark St., Shoebox Blvd., and Botox Alley. Just roll down your window, hurl your GPS, and keep driving down the freeway of life...and don't count the tolls along the way.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Take the Time to Smell the Coffee

Just this past Sunday, Michele and I enjoyed a nice breakfast with my in-laws to celebrate Father's Day. Food always has a nice habit of bringing people together; after all, it has worked for centuries. That's what I call wisdom. The day before, I eagerly went to Starbuck's to pick up a new pound of coffee. On the way, my thoughts traversed three continents in the span of about 10 minutes. Would I choose beans from the dense, parrot laden regions of South America, the hot, open plains of Africa, or the reaches of far flung Asia? While perusing the racks, I was asked if I needed help. Help! Hmmph! I was a bold explorer on a mission, a veritable Dr. Livingstone in the bowels of the steaming Congo. I settled on a pound of Guatemala Antigua. It seemed exotic yet practical, although I was told by a young female barrister that I looked like a Cafe Verona type of guy. For the next few hours I was eager to brew that first pot whose aromas I envisioned would transport me to an undiscovered Mayan temple buried in thick, green jungle. My in-laws arrived Sunday morning, and quickly told me that they looked forward to having my coffee (side note- they knew nothing of my purchase- they just happen to like my coffee-I guess we all have some kind of talent). When Michele went on to explain my feelings of excitement and anticipation over yesterday's purchase, we all had a warm chuckle, and I said, "It's all about the small things in life." My father-in-law quickly agreed. So, take the time to smell the coffee... and don't forget about the roses either.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pan's Pastures

We are stardust, we are golden
We are ten billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

Having just returned from my summer home this past Memorial Day Weekend in Roscoe, N.Y. located in the beautiful Catskill Mountains, I am reminded of these lyrics from the song Woodstock written by Crosby, Stills, & Nash. They were written in the aftermath of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair that took place from August 15-18 1969 in Bethel, just a few miles away. Some say close to 500,000 people came to that festival over the course of those four days. The festival took place on Max Yasgur's alfalfa fields. I doubt the alfalfa was responsible. I'd like to think it was Pan, or even perhaps Dionysus, who long asleep, summoned the masses after being awakened. Pan after all was the god of shepherds and flocks, mountain wilds, and rustic music. A son of Zeus, his worship began in the mountainous region of Arcadia. He like to play the flute, and was said to inspire fear in people as they traveled through lonely places. Hence, today we are said to experience panic anytime we are extremely scared. But over time, Pan got a bad rap. Being half-man, half-goat, he was an easy target. Bye, bye Pan. Hello, Satan! I guess the hooves did him in, pushed to the back of the closet like a dusty pair of platform shoes. Dionysus, another son of Zeus, was the god responsible for shedding the skin of our normal selves through madness, music induced ecstasy, and even wine. Could it be that Pan and Dionysus were brought back to life on Yasgur's alfalfa fields that August? One thing I am sure about is that there's nothing quite like being surrounded by the beauty of nature when it comes to making more bearable the hectic pace of modern day society. Let's face it, we've all entered the rat race with no idea how we've even become rats, how far the destination line is, or if the race is even worth running. Henry David Thoreau dropped out, took a detour, and went to Walden Pond before he was passed his first plastic cup of Gatorade. While there he penned the lines, “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.” Now that's something no amount of electrolytes can provide. So let's get back to the garden. While we never know what we may find there, we sure could use it. There's no need to panic... just keep your eyes open for the first patch of alfalfa you can find.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Inspirational Improvisations

Today was a day that reminded me of the power that we have to affect the lives of others for the better. We, yes, we can exercise this power in ways we may never intend, or even contemplate. Like jazz musicians effortlessly creating sonic beauty in the intensity of the moment, we too can compose our own inspirational improvisations. Where can the score be found? What faded sheet music under some dusty piano will give us the tune? The word itself stems from the Latin, inspirare, meaning "to blow into." So, I guess it can be said that when we inspire others for the better, we are in a sense investing them with a breath of a special kind. CO2 of a special strain. Compassion squared. Which reminds of something a friend said to me a while back, "Oxygen is the best drug." Lots of truth in that. I guess that's why I never forgot it. The poet Robert Hunter sought inspiration when he penned:
Let my inspiration flow in token rhyme, suggesting rhythm,
That will not forsake you, till my tale is told and done.

And we can provide it... we just have to remember to breathe. Until our tale is told, of course.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Doubt- A Matter of Physics?

There's an overabundance of certainty nowadays. Shades of gray don't have a chance on the corridors of power. Certainty is on the march with brazen self-assurance. How did doubt become marginalized on the outskirts of society, holed up in some Midwestern highway-side cheap motel? If it ever got the chance to checkout with the concierge, who would be there to help foot the bill? I think we've lost our human connection with Mr. Doubt. Maybe we're looking in the wrong place. Werner Karl Heisenberg observed that we can't predict with 100% certainty where a particle will be at any given moment in the microscopic world. In order to determine the motion of a particle, one must be able to measure both its position and velocity. Since the position of a particle is impossible to determine here, certainty is trampled by the forces of doubt. Could it be that indeterminism, not determinism, is the way of the universe? If so, maybe we need to reclaim doubt, and begin asking more questions. That's what the ancient Greeks did, and look at what they accomplished. Plato did say, "The unexamined life isn't worth living." I think he was onto something. Walt Whitman, the great American poet exclaimed-

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I'd like to think Walt got it. Doubt is the fertilizer that will continue to allow questions to sprout. Let's start sowing the seeds; the world could surely use it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


...They say "laughter is the best medicine." Nothing can lighten the load, or make one joyfully participate in the rib-knocking pleasures of human companionship than laughter. The Buddhists say that all life is suffering. So, perhaps tragedy is the wellspring of comedy. "When you've got lemons, make lemonade" they say. I'll take mine extra sweet. The noun amusement stems from the verb amuse. Could it be that at the heart of one of our deep-belly laughs is one of the nine muses from the springs of Helicon and Pieris? These daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who claimed Apollo as their leader were no mere water nymphs, but also goddesses responsible for such creations as epic poetry, history and music. Europe entered into an Age of Enlightenment by looking back and rekindling the achievements of the ancient Greek and Roman world. Those seekers were onto something. In pre-Revolutionary Paris there was a Masonic Lodge called Les Neuf Soeurs or The Nine Sisters that was attended by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire. They were two pretty smart guys. Next time we go to a museum, it can be said that we are entering a cult palace of the muses. Pretty cool. So, to get back to amusement, let's always remember the importance of laughing. It's roots are pretty deep. You never know who's responsible for those tears coursing down your cheeks, or your desperate gasps for air. It could be Calliope, or even Cleo.

Sing in me O muse!
That my eyes may see
And my heart feel

Friday, May 18, 2007


Let's face it. We're all guilty of it to some extent. I often find my mind probing the depths of this all too human tendency. Denial runs the gamut from the trivial and ridiculous "He'll never know I ate two of his ravioli", to the serious and tragic "Iraq". The famous English political philosopher Edmund Burke once said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." He also quipped, "I venture to say no war can be long carried on against the will of the people." Nicely said. We should listen to people like Edmund more often. Just this week, one of the most powerful Christian evangelisists died, Jerry Falwell. He and others thought he was a good Christian. This was the same man who said after 9/11, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen." Doesn't sound very Christian to me. Maybe he was in denial. Despite ever increasing violence in Iraq, President Bush still remains optimistic about his troop surge, and believes we should too. When asked by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward if he ever consults his father for advice he replied, "He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength. There's a higher Father that I appeal to." Could this "Father" be the source of his current optimism? Maybe he is in denial. All I do know is that denial can have disastrous effects. So the next time you steal two more of my ravioli, and then deny it, I'll give you a pass. Things could be far worse. They could have been prepared by Chef Boyardee.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Weight of Time

Perhaps one of the catalysts for putting pen to paper, or finger to key in the digital age, is the desire to make sense of the random bombardment of thoughts that is an unavoidable consequence of consciousness. At least that's the way I see it. I remember watching Al Pacino's film take on Richard III a few years ago, and finding the appearance of a homeless man in NYC in the film particularly moving. In tattered clothes dispensing street wisdom outside the Met, he said that one of the reasons why young Americans are so prone to violence is that they don't know how to express themselves. If they were exposed to the wisdom to be found in literary works, then perhaps they would learn how to channel and express their thoughts, impulses, and emotions through original, creative outlets. Amen! In the tradition of the Bard, he is an apparent "fool" in the eyes of the world, like the court jester or the servant, but the repository of wisdom. So, I heed the call! I recall Ginsberg saying, "When the muse calls- answer!" The muse has been singing her siren song for too long now. So move on you 10 nimble fingers of mine, and may the keyboard's keys heed the punch song of my soul. And now, a little poem for you...

The Weight of Time

The weight of time
wears me down
like a potato-heavy
burlap sack