January 29, 2008

To Beard or Not To Beard

To beard or not to beard: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to let my quarterback go out there alone, or whether I need to show my solidarity.

These questions began to itch me a few days ago. I was getting a little scruffy looking because in the tropical stupor that is Fort Myers Beach I had forgotten to shave for a few days. Then the story hit the papers about the injured ankle of Tom Brady, quarterback of the Super Bowl bound New England Patriots. He was spotted in New York with a protective boot on his right ankle when he was delivering flowers to his supermodel girlfriend. It just clicked for me. I have been wearing a supportive wrap on my right knee and I once gave flowers to my wife. Boy, Tom and I really are alike.

The picture above is Tom Brady. I know, you thought it was me. Many have made that mistake. I just can’t pass by a cologne counter without being mobbed by women who think I am the guy in the ads. They wanted me to do an ad, but I no longer possess a suit coat or a shirt with a collar and so I declined.

I am worried about the injured Tom. He needs my help. So in a show of solidarity I have changed from “forgetting to shave” to “growing a beard.” It was not such a great leap.

Notice Tom’s beard in the picture. The scruffy look is all the rage. It is not as big a rage in the campground as it is in Manhattan and in LA, but I know it will catch on soon. I am just an early adopter.

I want to show you how well my beard is coming along:

I know, most of you think that I am substituting a picture of Johnny Depp, but it really is me. Depp is the other guy that people get me confused with a lot – Brady/Depp, Depp/Brady. I am very careful about which pirate ships I board. Fort Myers Beach boasts a pirate ship for kids. I know where to go if I ever need a job.

Growing a beard is not as easy as it looks. I tried once before, about fifteen years ago, and I failed. Like Tom Brady on the field, I have a problem with gap coverage. A beard with gaps is not a good thing. And a defense that does not fill the gaps is in trouble.

I am hoping that in the last fifteen years I have become more macho. I certainly have been busy embracing my masculine. I am not sure that my fragile ego can take another failure or wait another fifteen years to try again.

So on Super Bowl Sunday Tom Brady will be on the field with his ankle heavily taped and I will be in my RV watching with my knee lightly wrapped. Our beards will be growing. If one of us loses, I can always say that I forgot to shave. I am not sure what Tom’s excuse will be. He may have “to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as the Bard wrote.

Bard/beard, beard/Bard. Get it? It all is carefully tied together. Scary, isn’t it.

January 27, 2008

Just Do Nothing

Writing this blog has interrupted one of the most important things that I do all day. And sometimes I do it all day. I have sprung into action ruining all that I have worked so hard to attain. I have been trying to follow the advice of my newest guru, Arlo.

I recently heard an interview of Arlo Guthrie on XM Radio. If you came of age in the sixties, you have to love Arlo. He was one of the original smart and funny hippies and he wrote some great songs: Alice’s Restaurant, City of New Orleans and others. I even owned one of his albums. He had big hair – great hair. He still does, although now it is gray. Maybe that is why I like his so much. I have always envied good hair. And he chose to live in Massachusetts and still resides there. Most of the singer songwriters of that generation seem to have ended up in LA.

The interviewer asked Arlo a lot of the usual questions, and then he asked what I thought was a stupid question: “Do you have any hobbies?” What was this a job interview?

Anyway, Arlo answered quickly, “Yes,” and then was silent. We all waited for the answer but only silence followed. Silence on the radio is not good. The interviewer jumped back in and asked, “Would you like to share what they are?”

“Yes I would. I’m an expert at doing nothing. In fact, I have perfected the art of doing nothing. It’s not an easy thing to do. You won’t find anything on the internet about how to do it. But it is important because it sets the stage for doing something.”

So now I know what I have been doing all this time: I have been setting the stage. And all this time I thought that I was just doing nothing. This is good because it turns all my doing nothing into something important. My doing nothing is really getting ready. It has purpose. It has importance. It has been raised to an art form. I am feeling better about myself already.

By the way, Arlo was wrong about the internet. It has a lot of stuff about the art of doing nothing. Just google it. Zen Habits has a lengthy article about the art. But if you read it you will see that the author believes that it takes a lot of effort to do nothing. You have to do nothing just so.

I don’t agree. You don’t have to plan to do nothing. You can just fall into it. In fact, that may be the best way to access the art. Notice when you are wasting time: surfing the internet, staring out the window (my personal favorite,) reading a trashy novel, napping, watching Seinfeld episodes for the tenth time. All of this is doing nothing.

Don’t pick up an important piece of non-fiction. That would be much too active. Walking on the beach does not qualify. Floating in the pool does, but swimming in the pool does not. If you have to exert yourself, it’s out.

So get at it. Start doing nothing. And don’t put it off until you have time. If you need time for it, it will not qualify. Just say “Yes” and let the silence hang the air. Don’t rescue it. Just do nothing.

January 25, 2008

Right Time, Wrong Place

This picture is of San Carlos RV Park and Resort in Fort Myers, Beach, Florida, where I am currently residing. “What happened to Homosassa?” you ask. Ah, I will tell you.

Simply put, Homosassa was the wrong place for my wife and me to be. After many years spent in Fort Myers Beach, we decided to try a new area this year for many good reasons. However, our decision turned out to be wrong for us. So we cut our losses and moved on to what we new best – Fort Myers Beach.

We have been fortunate to find a place in the same campground we were in last year. Since we did not have a reservation, we are bouncing around a bit from site to site. But the air is warm and the beach is nearby from every site.

I have had a hard time getting ready to write this piece. My blogging was delayed by the move and I wanted to get started again, but every day I found an excuse not to write. Today I finally realized that I did not want to tell you that I made a mistake. I get a shame attack from mistakes of all sizes. And going public with the mistake only magnifies the shame.

By not admitting my mistake, I remained stuck. I could not write about all the other great stuff that I have been noticing: osprey, visions of Jesus, Rush Limbaugh, and tattoo’s. Can you imagine what you have been missing?

There. My confession is over. I will give myself three lashes with a wet noodle, when I am not using the noodle to float in the heated pool.

January 19, 2008

Northern Correction

I am becoming aware that the difference between the North and the South is more than the red state/blue state distinction. I am seeing things here in Florida that I just do not see at home.

Every other commercial vehicle on the road is a pest control truck. How can all these pest control businesses be supported? I guess that I do not want to know the answer. I also saw a truck for a company that traps wild animals. Again, I do not want to know the details.

One of the local shops is a Motorcycle Apparel Outlet. I didn’t know that there were stores devoted solely to motorcycle apparel. Apparently they are so plentiful that there are outlets to handle the overflow. I wonder if anyone would notice my motorcycle apparel when I am driving my motorhome.

On Route 301, which runs north and south in Central Florida, on Sundays you can watch mud bogging. I have not seen the actual races but my interest was raised by the name and by the big pits of mud. Apparently trucks race around and through the mud to some sort of dirty victory. Now that is real after-church entertainment.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the North and South hit me when I read the Ipswich Chronicle, my hometown newspaper. My mail is being forwarded so I get things a little late. Last week I had read an article about how successful the new Riverwalk has been in Ipswich. In fact, until the snow storm hit, the local Christmas parade was intended to have Santa sit and meet children on the Riverwalk. It was a nice local story.

The next week’s issue of the newspaper had a correction that read something like this: Correction: Last week’s article about the Riverwalk was intended to read Santa and not Satan.

Ah, except for the snow storm we would have had Satan listening to all those kids on the Riverwalk. Now that would have made for a story! I think that Ipswich, located in Northern climes, would have rolled with the story. Talking to Satan would have been mildly upsetting, but many Northern residents already equate the commercialization of Christmas with Satan.

I am not sure that Satan would have been so welled received in the South. This is a very conservative and highly religious area. Satan is taken seriously. I have a feeling he would not have been welcomed in their Christmas parade.

But maybe if Satan had dressed up in some motorcycle apparel outlet stuff and rode in his muddy truck, nobody would have noticed.

January 17, 2008

All Greek to Me

Yesterday I was in Greece. At least it felt like Greece. I really was in Tarpon Springs, Florida, which is home to a Greek sponge diving community. Beginning in 1905 experienced sponge divers were brought over from the Greek Islands to work the substantial sponge beds of the Gulf. They stayed, started families and built a strong Greek community. You will still hear a lot of Greek spoken in the restaurants and shops of the sponge dock area.

I might as well be in Greece because I am disoriented. After traveling for two weeks I have landed in my final winter destination: Homosassa, Florida. I am at a new campground in a part of Central Florida that I visited only briefly in the past. So everything is new.

When I am traveling I am not disoriented because no orientation is necessary. I am always on the move and everything is temporary. But now I am in a location for three months and I have to figure out how to do life here for three months.

Where is the grocery store? Where can I get propane for the motorhome? Is there a library and can I use it? How am I going to blog from here? Are there good restaurants near by? Where is the beach? Where is the golf course?

I like to know the local weather so I carry with me a small weather station that relays the local weather by satellite. Although I am near Tampa, the weather station thinks I am near Pensacola, Mobile or Birmingham. If the satellite can’t find me, how am I supposed to find me?

Maybe that’s what it’s all about: finding me. How do I find me when all the people, places and things around me are strange? Am I still me?

I think that I will grab a sponge and go looking.

January 13, 2008

The Anorexic Shopper

This is the view of St. Augustine from the Anastasia Light House. St. George Street in St Augustine is a pedestrian walkway that runs several blocks through old town. It is a delightful mixture of gift shops and historical buildings. Others would say that it is a history based tourist trap. I like the place because it has a great feel to it. St. Augustine claims to be America’s oldest continually occupied city. First were the Spanish, then the English, then the Spanish, then the English, and so on. It makes for great architecture.

We were visiting St. George Street with our little dog, Zoe, in tow. My wife wanted to visit the Spanish Quarter which I have seen before. The Spanish Quarter is like a mini version of Sturbridge Village with all the occupants working in period costume - doing old stuff while dressed in old stuff. So I waited with Zoe on the street and read a book for a couple of hours. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day.

It occurred to me later that I could have visited some of the gift shops. I could have just checked everything out. But shopping does not seem to be part of my nature. Let me clarify that. Shopping without a specific purpose is not part of my nature. If there is something that I really want, I am a great shopper.

Once I wanted to get a blue, zippered sweatshirt without a hood. They are hard to find because almost all zippered sweatshops have hoods. I am the only one who wears this particular combination. I could not find one and I returned from the mall without a new sweatshirt.

My wife said, “Did they have other colors?”

“They had green ones”

“Why didn’t you buy the green.”

“I went to buy a blue one.”

It was clear to me. I was on a mission to find the blue. I never deviate from my mission.

Someone once suggested to me that I needed to learn how to “graze” in a store. I should just go in, look around and notice stuff. I have only one question. Why? Is grazing fun? Doesn’t grazing lead to purchasing? Wouldn’t I end up with lots of stuff that I don’t need or want?

Craig Wilson writes a weekly essay in USA Today and this week he mentioned that he has been spending too much money. So for the next year he is going to buy only necessities: food, medicine, travel, etc. Apparently travel is a necessity to him. He did this once before and it was “cleansing” for him.

I would compare Mr. Wilson to an overeater. He is just doing too much of a good thing when he is shopping so he needs to cut back. I am not an overeater shopper. Maybe I am bulimic? No, a bulimic shopper would buy the stuff and then bring it back. I am an anorexic shopper. I just do not shop.

And I am okay with that. I'd rather be reading a book. And there is always my birthday or Christmas when a blue, zippered, non-hooded sweatshirt is bound to appear.

January 10, 2008

Mermaids, Cats and Alligators

I snapped this picture at the KOA campground in Point South, South Carolina. It’s called “The Swimming Mermaid.” The title seems redundant to me. Are there non-swimming mermaids? I have not seen one. Of course I have not seen “The Little Mermaid.” But it seems to me that water is always involved.

This mermaid sculpture seems destined to stay out of the water and I think I know why. The pool at the campground had the following sign: “This pool is equipped with a URINE DETECTOR.” I should have taken a picture of the sign too since you probably do not believe me. But I swear it’s true! Just ask the mermaid. Why do you think she stays out of the water? And so did I.

I am telling you all this so that you know what classy establishments I frequent on this trip. Just last night I went eat at the Saltwater Cowboy in St. Augustine Beach. Saltwater and cowboy – there are two words that you don’t often see together. I read some good reviews on the place at chowhound.com. Several reviews mentioned that feral cats roamed outside the restaurant. Again, how often do you see the words feral cats and restaurant used in the same sentence?

The Saltwater Cowboy was as advertised – good Florida cracker food with an entrance lined with cats. They are famous for their catfish, oysters and alligator tail. I had the St. Louis ribs. St. Louis seemed far enough to be safe.

I am staying in Anastasia State Park on the beach in St. Augustine. Right down the street is one of the big local attractions – Alligator Farm. You actually can pay to be scared by alligators. I have drawn a line in the sand. I am not paying to see them and I am not eating them.

I wish someone would introduce those alligators to some feral cats! Or vice versa!

January 7, 2008

Cherry Bombs

I am a fan of country music, especially when I am driving down the highway. There is nothing that makes the miles go faster than a good song about how a man or woman has been wronged by her man or woman, and only if he/she had known how he/she had been hurt by his/her treacherous behavior, he/she would have changed. You now know the secret formula for a country hit.

Country music provides all of my expertise on relationship building. A couple of cd’s is much cheaper than an hour of couples therapy. And they are usually so much more to the point. As a result, I have not done my wife wrong in a long time. I keep waiting to hear those magic words, “Baby, you’ve done me wrong,” in a low southern drawl, but I haven’t heard them yet. So I guess that I have been perfect in the relationship department.

Sometimes you can really learn something valuable from a country song. After hearing Kenny Chesney sing, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” I went right out and bought a John Deere. I didn’t know you actually had to ride it and do work on it. I was excited about the song “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” That was the one song that I have found to be scientifically inaccurate.

Yesterday I heard a song by the Cherry Bombs that I cannot test out: “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Off All Day Long.” Although I have no experience with such events, somehow I know the lyric to be true.

Sometimes country music is pure genius. Who needs Dr. Phil when you have the Cherry Bombs? And a tractor.

January 5, 2008

Scared in Suburbia

I saw this sign as I was driving down the exit ramp for a highway: “My Child’s Pack – Bullet Resistant Backpacks Sold Here.” It hung on a small sporting goods store in Danvers, Massachusetts. I went back a few days later to take a picture because the sign stunned me.

I live near Danvers and for many years worked in that middle class suburban town. It is a fine little town. Why would any child in this area need a bullet resistant backpack?

I recalled a conversation that I had several years ago with a relative in California. It was August and his small children were getting ready to go back to elementary school.

I innocently inquired, “Do your kids walk to school?”

“No,” he replied, looking at me in amazement. “No kids in California walk to school. We drive them.”

Apparently too many bad things have happened to little kids in California.

I wonder if that same attitude of fear has migrated across the country to the East Coast as most trends do. I hope not. I still see kids walking and riding their bikes to school in my town.

I am hoping that the sign is an aberration. It does not look too permanent, hanging up there with duct tape. Maybe it was a quick reaction to Columbine.

I choose to believe that the Apocalypse is not upon us.

January 3, 2008

New Year's Absolution

I have not made a New Year’s resolution in many years. It always seemed like a setup for failure. My church had a program in which you could write down your resolution and the minister would mail it to you a year later. It was soooo nice to be reminded that you were a shirker. It was almost like being Catholic again.

So this year instead of a resolution I am going to make an absolution. This is another throwback to my Catholic days. Absolution is part of the sacrament of Penance. I started doing this at age 7. Little Catholics are big sinners.

You go into the little wooden booth and confess your sins to the priest. He asks if you are sorry. You say yes (officially known as an act of contrition) and then he gives you absolution. He absolves you of your sins. You are forgiven officially by God’s emissary here on earth. You will no longer be going to hell or purgatory – at least until you get out of the confessional and commit your next sin.

In 2008 I am taking a priest-like stance and I am absolving myself for all of my errors. I can’t seem to use the word “sin” any more. I am forgiving myself – plain and simple. I don’t have to list my errors or mistakes. It is more of a general absolution.

I am not forgiving others, because no one else is to blame. Some time during 2007 I had an “Aha!” moment and realized that I was responsible for all of my problems. I had spent a lifetime blaming this person or that person when all of the time it was me.

I recently explained this newfound knowledge to my therapist. He told me that when he was in training his instructor said that when the client realizes that he is the problem then that is the end of the therapy. The client is ready to go do what needs to be done.

I’m not ready to end therapy, but it does feel like some sort of milestone. I don’t have to concentrate on changing everyone else’s behavior any more. I can just concentrate on me.

So my first step is absolution. May it make for a happy new year.

January 1, 2008

Stress and Grease Free

I have been hurtling down the highway in my motorhome heading for Florida, so I have had a lot of time to think about deep, serious questions.

I was asked recently what profession or job I would want to do if I had it all to do over again. This is the adult equivalent of the old question asked every child: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I still do not have a good answer to that question, but I am actively looking. Just recently I saw a real possibility. The sign on the side of the soda dispenser at the Subway in Tolland, CT, cried “Hiring, Hiring, Hiring.”

The pay was $8.65 an hour with medical benefits. Included was a large discount on food (a dubious value.) The real draw for me was the promoted “stress and grease free environment.”

I have been looking for a stress free work environment for some time, so this would work well. I have not thought a lot about “grease free.” I kind of like grease. I don’t want to worry about my cholesterol at work. But I had bacon on my sub so how grease free could they be?

Stress free work is hard to find. Until the other night the position of waitress was high on my list of possibilities. The Friday’s in Scranton, PA, provides an ESP button on every table. Push the button and it pages the waitress. I asked the waitress about it and she was lukewarm about it. She said a good waitress does not need it. And she has some trouble with tables of teenagers and people who just want to be funny. Clearly she was annoyed by the pages. Clearly it adds stress to her job. So I crossed waitress off my list.

At the Chick-Fil-A in Virginia I saw what appeared to be the perfect job: “Sampling Hostess – Part time, 3 days a week.” I know. You’re thinking that three days a week would be a lot for me, but maybe it is not a whole day. I’m thinking maybe three hours a day. The real plus is the sampling. I love sampling food. I could probably do that for more than three hours a day.

The rest of the ad read, “You must be very outgoing, friendly, energetic and like working with people.” I am not exactly the outgoing sort. I like going out – by myself. Would that do? I can be friendly if I have to be. Would I have to be friendly to people that I don’t know? Energetic? Not a chance. But you can’t be everything! Do I like working with people? Exactly what people do they mean? And what do they mean by “like?” And “working” is kind of a tough one for me.

You will notice that the ad said nothing about “grease free.” I’ve been thinking about that and I now think it is an important element of any future job for me.

So I have come up with the perfect ad for me. I want to work in a “stress, grease and work free” environment. I will keep looking until I find out. I will not settle for less.