Be-udiful

Next Saturday, Carol and I will be attending her 50th high school reunion in Yonkers, N.Y. My role will be her dutiful arm ornament. As jewelry, I'm closer to the kind left unclaimed in a pawn shop, rather than glittering off the wrist of a NY socialite. Plus Carol was the head cheerleader for her high school (Carol insists she was never the head cheerleader, but she's not telling this story, I am). Which means expectations could be high for someone like a Johnny Depp or a Michael Douglas to be draped around her. I can do Randy Quaid, or with dim-lighting, maybe a Paul Giamatti in a stretch of credulity, but my guess is some form of "looks were never important to me," will find its way into introductory conversations.

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In praise of decrepitude

 

   I was reading a travel narrative, and the writer used a word that struck me in an epiphanal way. Theroux was describing his coastal tour of Britain (The Kingdom by the Sea) as "long coastal stretches of decrepitude."

   That I wanted Carol and I to see what he was writing about on our own upcoming trip ("...what had been villages well served by railway lines had become curiously anorexic-looking and tumble down, somehow deserving the epitaph from 'Ozymandias.'") struck me as very odd: I wanted to sightsee. As I read on ("defunct viaducts, abandoned cuttings, former railway stations, ruined railway bridges) it occurred to me Theroux was describing what 1500 years from now would be the ancient ruins of a then former world empire. The funny thing is the current existing sites of 1500 year-old ruins hold no interest for me. In fact little is more boring than a well-preserved and properly docented or audiophoned historic pile of slave-constructed rocks, except for maybe the section of medieval religious paintings in a typical European art museum.

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The green mile

Anyone reading between the lines of this travel blog has to surmise that the way Carol and I eat and drink in Europe is not sustainable year round. Even when we spent all that time in Germany, we still found ways to turn the food pyramid on its head (thanks to some wonderful Italian restaurants there). Inevitably though, we wound up enjoying our last meal in Europe the way diners on death row enjoyed theirs. "When we get home, we're going on a diet," Carol would intone solemnly. I would receive those words with the same death row chill an inmate would experience in learning there'd be no intervention from the Governor.

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40 years and still wandering

  Moses might probably understand, but that's about the only one. And even he would note I wasn't looking for any Promised Land.

   In June 1971, I left the United States, and spent the next nearly three years traveling abroad. Always with very little money, I amounted to little more than a vagrant for a good portion of that time. On the positive side, I was genuinely looking for some place and station in life where I belonged. It had never occurred to me in that time of my life that in order to find what you're looking for, you need some idea of what that is.

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Oxford, the one in England

When I told my New Orleans family and friends I'd be spending my summer after college graduation at Oxford, they assumed I'd be heading to northern Mississippi. Probably to pick cotton, for all the good my degree in Political Science was going to do me. When I told them it was "the one in England," they still thought I was going to pick cotton. Planning to go back there this October after more than 45 years, I realize that picking cotton might have provided the needed structure in my life that neither childhood or adulthood has evidently provided.

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Golf widow

Views like this make it tempting

Views like this make it tempting

 

   We were having a glass at Carol's daughter and son-in-law's golf club. The patio features a wonderful view of the course that routes through a valley with the purple and sage saddleback range in the distance. I commented on the panoramic view and the course's deep green under the fading sunlight. Carol looked at me, smiled hopefully and said, "Doesn't it make you want to get out and play again?" This is what my spudlike home life has spawned: a partner who willfully wants to turn herself into a golf widow, just to see me get off the couch once in awhile.

But not with this backswing

But not with this backswing

   Regarding the couch itself, Carol has rearranged it recently in order to better balance out the crater that forms on the spot where I consistently park my tuckus, and which I refer to as my office. I suppose a few expansive words of explanation are in order, though I may have written on this subject previously. (I don't keep track of these things, and may explain why my daughter's nickname for me is "Johnny Two Times.")

This relaxed means I haven't started yet

This relaxed means I haven't started yet

   First, as I've said, the couch is my office. Here I compose (or decompose, depending on one's point of view) my blogs, deliver my podcasts, read and what I like to call imagineering, but that Carol refers to "staring aimlessly into space as if you are dead." (Which may explain her occasional mirror check under my nose.) And, yes, it's where I occasionally catnap to recharge my creative juices, juices which do tend to pool up around the corners of my mouth.

   As you can see, golf would be a wholesale disruption of such a smooth-functioning, well-oiled creative machine. First is the tee time, which adds a strict structure to the day. You have to change shoes four times, shop for balls and tees, and perhaps worst of all, introduce yourself to upwards of three total strangers, at least one of whom probably voted for Trump and plans to do so again.

   I used to write about golf. I reviewed courses and equipment. I might as well have been reviewing neurosurgery for all I knew about those subjects. I once attended a golf equipment show as a "reporter." I examined and tested gear designed to improve your game. I tested a device that analyzed my swing using laser technology. The equipment representative had nothing to say about my swing, save that its outside-in, reverse-pivot, chicken-winged hack probably wouldn't work on a golf course, but I might have inadvertently given myself LASIK surgery in the process.

I am glad that Carol likes to drive

I am glad that Carol likes to drive

   Carol has offered to take lessons and join me on the links should I decide to take the game up again. She's never played, but believes, having read my experiences as a golfer, "it shouldn't take that long to get up to speed." I took that as a positive statement of her commitment and aspirations, though I'm not altogether sure she meant it that way.

   Well, so much for that for now. Time to move to the other side of the couch. New house rules.

Tijuana two-step

   The clue that my calculations on the day were significantly off was when we walked passed a parking lot snug against the San Ysidro border station. Carol wanted to show me Mexico, one country I had never visited before. "I took the kids to Tijuana when they were young, and I had dental work done there once."

   So why I didn't simply turn all the logistics over to Carol will remain one of those mysteries that crop up whenever women try to explain men.

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Farewell tour

   I watched the woman, standing out of her seat and self-indulgently dancing, while blocking the view of the stage for all those seated several rows behind her. I was as captivated by her selfish exhibitionism as I was Jackson Browne's soulfully heartfelt music emanating from the stage. I thought, based on recent concert experiences, why isn't that damn woman blocking Carol and I?

   When I first arrived as yet another of southern California's transplants, I had a strong feeling music concerts would be in our future. So many venues well within driving distance. I was right. Our Year of the Concerts began in July with Jethro Tull. With most of the crowd on Social Security, it was a sedate bunch, their mobility limited by bad backs, joint replacements and adult diaper rash.

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A not so distant mirror

   For my background reading for our Italy trip, I'd stumbled across a couple of memoirs written by Americans coming to grips with their Italian heritage. I settled into My Two Italies by Joseph Luzzi. I was particularly intrigued by his recounting of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's years in power. Berlusconi headed the Italian government from 1994 until 2011, when he resigned to face charges of "bribery, Mafia collusion, false accounting, tax evasion, government corruption, and sexual solicitation."

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 Field of dreams

   It was my daughter, aged 14 at the time, who first pronounced Wrigley Field as unfit for human habitation. Never mind that the Friendly Confines is the second oldest in the majors, dating back to 1914 (Boston's Fenway Park opened in 1912).

   "It smells like urine," she sniffed, as she walked the concourse holding her nose.

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The boy of summer, Part 2

   As the home of the Milwaukee Brewers has a retractable roof, there was no chance of a rain delay. We did, however, pick the very night again the home team chose to honor its newest inductees into its Wall of Honor. Since the Brewers' former stars were always thorns in the side of the Cubs (or the White Sox when the Brew Crew was in the American League) I was not inclined to celebrate the likes of Ricky Weeks, J.J. Hardy or Trevor Hoffman.

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The boy of summer. Part 1

   One thing I've learned as a result of my quest to visit all 30 major league ballparks is how much less enjoyable a baseball game is compared to watching them one after another all day and night with the volume on mute, while reading, writing or just lying half-dazed on a couch.

   First, there's the presence of people -tens of thousands of them - milling aimlessly about looking for things to eat and drink, as dentists and gastroenterologists gaze smilingly at their soon-to-be-expanding revenue streams. My question is why is red and blue cotton candy not sold in grocery stores if it's such a seemingly popular snack food? Same goes for nachos and soft serve sold in batting helmets?

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Sabbatical: Guys and Dolls

    I consider taking one's granddaughters on a road trip to American Girl Place something akin to guerilla grandparenting. As a grandpa, you are most decidedly in an alien land of pink. Armed with only a credit card, you are surrounded by the enemy's many check out counters primed and ready for battle. Steeling yourself, you tell yourself you can get out of this with your bank account remaining in good standing, even as the dead dolls eyes of WellieWishers stare back at you with what you swear is a sneer of pure mockery.

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Sabbatical: The catch

   Playing baseball as a 12-year-old, I once made the All Star team. Coach told me it was because I could bunt. My tendency in all aspects of baseball was to let the ball play me, as if it were a living thing, and I the object of its pernicious pursuits. Playing infield, grounders chased me like wild rabbits. In the outfield, flyballs came at me as if it were a game of dodgeball.

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