Saturday, September 29, 2007

AFV if I only had a camera

Sept. 28, 2007 -- Bemidji, MN.

It's cold already. Early risers have to scrape frost from their windshields before they can hit the road. Frost? No. Make that read ICE. Seriously.

Later in the morning, hoping the permafrost is forgiving, we make our way to Lake Itasca, where the famed headwaters of the mighty Mississippi have such a humble beginning that true believers can walk across the stream. Allegedly.

The Mystery Woman is determined to repeat her derring-do of 35 years ago and hop, skip and jump across the river. You'll recall this is the same woman who showed no fear in asking a group of motorcycle gang members if she could borrow a knife.

She has a mystical connection to the river and will not be denied.

We meander through the state forest where the fall leaves blaze with colors that are so beautiful they challenge description.

About 600 feet down the dirt path, there's a clearing. It's official, Lake Itasca empties into a small stream designated as the start of the Mississippi. For a few miles, the river actually flows north. True statement.

The Mystery Woman, still 35 years old in spirit but not in conditioning, makes it into the Mississippi with a hop, skip, jump -- and plop.
Look closely.



She nearly drowned. From laughing so hard. The scene from top to bottom would have made it to the finals at America's Funniest Videos. And me without a video camera.

But she was getting chilled so we cobbled together some mismatched clothing, put her in the car, turned on the heater and headed south toward the Twin Cities.

When we stopped for lunch, I asked the Mystery Woman if the waitress had anything to say about her attire.

Yes, she sniffed, they all commented on how dry I looked.

I hushed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wine: savory Gamay Noir, White Burgundy

When I first started drinking wine, it was not for the bouquet. Rather, it was to get into some college girl's britches.

Nothing else matched the pageantry of pulling the cork from a bottle of wine. Sophistication at its zenith.

Pay-back came when, as young marrieds, we could afford only the boxed wines. When overtime fattened the weekly paycheck (reporters got paid every Friday so they could make it through the weekend), we would splurge with a bottle of cheap wine. You knew it was cheap by the screw top.

Wine has always been a little pretentious. Wine jargon is a little too fruity. Confession: try as hard as I might, I've seldom actually detected the taste of discreet tannins, nor do I fully appreciate voluptuous and velvety tones. Peonies? That's supposed to help me understand? And what the hell is a nose?

Over the years, I've learned to fake it (like everyone else, I suspect). "The lady will have Chardonnay. Me, too."

Sadly, cork taint is prompting the return of the screw top. Expensive wines, cheap wines. If all wines have screw tops, how will you know who has money?

Revenge is on the way. Wine savants fear that some dreaded thing called "screw cap reduction" will become noticeable enough to warrant a return to corks.

Bacchus is smiling.

Clink.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sen. Larry Craig no laughing matter

Mention U. S. Sen. Larry Craig and "get a rope!" is the knee-jerk reaction.

I am not gay. I am not Republican. I'm positive. But I have voted for both.

And I hope I am not a hypocrite.

For the record, I dislike Sen. Craig. But he deserves his day in court. Lawyer friends (is that an oxymoron?) tell me what he did in that bathroom stall is not illegal.

Had the Senator contacted an attorney at the time, he might have beaten the rap.

Probably too late now. At least in the court of public opinion. But aren't you surprised at how his own Republican party attacked and then abandoned the man?

Hypocrites abound, on the left and the right. I believe Sen. Craig is a hypocrite, too, when it comes to his stance on family values and gay rights.

Damn. It was very difficult to write this without giving in to the temptation to join the line-up of cheap laughs, double meanings, etc.

But equal justice for all means just that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Marcel Marceau, now silent

I saw Marcel Marceau's real face for the first time today. Sadly, it was in his obituary in the NY Times. Odd, isn't it, that his chalk-face was better known to the world than his real face.

What an amazing little man. His art, his imagination swept us out of our theater seats, across the proscenium and into his vision of the world.

And what vision. Without a sound and using only his hands and his body, the mime would act out universal truths in four minute routines.

Imagine a sketch where "one of his hands played evil, the other good, twisting and struggling until they combined in prayer." Imagine.

Marceau was a man of many talents; an artist, an author of children's books and a movie actor. Largely unappreciated in his native France, he was truly a world treasure.

A 1999 NY Times writer once wrote that Marceau remained a model of classic mime, not a fossil.

"If you love your art, you just do it," said Marceau. "Time will judge me."

Wave good-bye.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

AARP and sex

Stay with me. This first item is about AARP and geriatric sex.

AARP has an annual budget around $878 million in revenue. Of that amount, the federal government chips in $83 million through a wide variety of grants. Since 1989, AARP has raked in over one billion in taxpayer money.

Doesn't that sound like a good screwing to you?

...

This year, America will spend an estimated $275 billion on prescription drugs. Within a decade, that number is expected to grow to nearly $500 billion.

On average, brand-name drugs cost three times more than generic meds.

Good news: spending on generics is now 63 percent of U.S. prescriptions.That's up 13 percent in 2006, compared with 2005.

Wal-Mart is getting into the act. Currently the Big Chain carries only 350 discounted generics. Next year, 2,400 generics will be available to its employees. Can a similar deal for consumers be far behind?

No matter. I will not shop at Wal-Mart. More about that later.

...

Speaking of getting old, the 82-year-old boxing ring at Madison Square Gardens has been retired and is going to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. It will be replaced with a slightly larger ring. The only part of the old ring they'll keep is the brass bell.

...

Fess up. You've always wanted to live in a houseboat on the Mississippi. Now comes a St. Paul developer who wants to build a $90 million ship of condos that would travel the 6,000 miles of inland waterways. On board planned amenities include theaters, beauty salon, grocery, restaurant, deli and fitness center. Next stop: New Orleans.

Mark. Twain.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Internet's impact -- good/bad?

Question: does the Internet move society forward?

Too deep? OK, let's get closer to home. Is this blog necessary? Not only "no" but "hell no." This ditty is just one of 90 million blogs.

But let's have a more knowledgeable guy discuss the Internet. Yesterday on PBS The News Hour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Andrew Keen about Keen's new book, "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture."

Here's some of their discussion:

JEFFREY BROWN: The subtitle is, "How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture," very provocative. What's the key argument you're trying to make?

ANDREW KEEN: The key argument is that the so-called "democratization" of the Internet is actually undermining reliable information and high-quality entertainment. By replacing mainstream media content, high-quality radio, television, newspapers, publishing, music, with user-generated content, we're actually doing away with information, high-quality information, high-quality entertainment, and replacing it with user-generated content, which is unreliable, inane, and often rather corrupt.

The value of Internet content

JEFFREY BROWN: And where do you want it to go? I mean, you said that you're not advocating getting rid of all of this; it would be impossible anyway. So you end with a chapter on solutions. What do you want people to -- how do you want to leave people, in terms of thinking about the future, thinking about their own use of the Internet?

ANDREW KEEN: A couple of things I would encourage people to think about. Firstly, if your listeners are using the Internet to express themselves, if they are one of the 70 million bloggers, the hundreds of thousands of people posting their videos on YouTube, the tens of thousands of people doing editing on Wikipedia, for them to ask themselves, "Is this really valuable? Do I need to tell the world what I'm eating for breakfast? Do I need to tell the world what I think of the latest TV show?" Much of the self-expression on the Internet is wasteful.

... I think the most corrosive thing of today's Internet is anonymity. That's what's creating such an uncivil world. It's a pre-social contract place. It's a state of nature. We're not behaving ourselves properly on it, very often because we don't reveal who we are. Much of the most uncivil conversation, much of the unpleasantness of the Internet is carried out by people who won't reveal who they are.

Back to me. This is serious stuff and worth thinking about in more depth. You can read the entire interview here.

Old schoolers will probably like what he has to say. Truants (from the old school) will not.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

With apologies to L. M. Boyd*

Relax. It is only a rumor that Campbell's will recognize Baby Boomers with a large-type alphabet soup.

Name the American subculture that marries 70 percent of the time and votes 82 percent. You wouldn't be wrong if you said moderate Muslims.

Rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon are said to be four million years old, which begs the question -- how old are rocks a the top of the canyon? Haven't all rocks been on Earth the same amount of time?

If you are older than 55 and looking for a job, figure the hunt will take you nearly seven weeks longer than your younger, better-looking next-door neighbor.

Every day, 1,000 veterans of World War II die. Salute.

Several airlines offer cloth napkins with button holes to international business class passengers. Picture that.

Traveling with kids? Rent strollers and stuff from Baby's Away or The Traveling Baby Co. Those napkins with button holes would work here, too. Urck.

The U.S. median household income, adjusted for inflation is now $48,451. What? Still not enough, you say?

Don't believe everything you read in the paper. Newspapers have always lied about their own circulation numbers. They never adjust for population growth.

Minnesota hunters have bagged 2,502 black bears this season. Don't go out in the woods alone after Oct. 14. That's when the season ends.

-----

* L. M. Boyd was my hero. Yours too?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Haband Generation

Me, a hypocrite? Well, maybe.

A couple of reader-friends have taken me to the woodshed because they think my use of the term "geezer" is not consistent with my defense of the elderly in general.

Guilty as charged. "Geezer" is offensive to some. However, I have the same reaction to the use of "senior." For some reason, I abhor that word.

I jokingly refer to myself as a geezer-hunk in part using "hunk" to mitigate "geezer." The other reason is because I have buns of steel.

Somebody needs to come up with a new way of describing those of us fortunate enough to reach "a certain age." We need a new moniker. How about The Relaxed Fit Generation? I've got it: Haband's Heroes.

Generation Jones is a grabber. The name describes both an age group and a movement. It's very interesting.

But the Generation Jones age group is too narrow to describe the entire aging population. And, I suppose, that is the problem. Can a single term be descriptive to identify a huge population chunk that ranges from young/old, to the active/old, to the old/old.

This search for identity is not just cosmetic. In the near political future, the Congress is going to be forced to come to grips with Social Security and Medicare reforms. AARP The Mighty is even holding regional discussions on SS. It would be nice if we were all wearing the same jersey.

Meanwhile, I guess I'll just have to be content with the Mystery Woman's name for me. She calls me "Honey."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Old age. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

Can jokes about old age be funny without being degrading?

Disclaimer: if you don't have a good sense of humor, aging is going to be a problem. Laughter is the best tonic, along with a little gin.

But we all get a little weary of jokes about memory, body parts, gravity, etc. Ditto with scatological humor which is too easy and too often not funny.

The volume of geezer humor will grow as the Baby Boomers and Generation Jones kids morph from pupae-hood to the adult understanding of Medicare, Part D. We could all use a good laugh.

It's dangerous to dissect humor. Especially about a sensitive subject. However, maybe we can learn by example.

Take this quip which is part of a promo for Life, Part II, a snappy show about old age on Twin Cities Public Television in Minneapolis. The weekly show is hosted by actor (and backgammon champ) Alan Rosenberg.

Here's what 70-year-old Dick Cavett has to say about aging: "I don't feel old," he said. "I feel like a young man with something wrong."

Funny, poignant -- and true for most of us. If we are lucky, the brain (and a sense of humor) could be the last thing to go.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Too old to drive?

This won't win me any friends: Don't coddle older drivers.

You've read that most automobile accidents happen within a few miles of home? Well, most older drivers forsake cross-town freeways in favor of neighborhood streets. Correlation?

So how do you know when you're too old to drive? Oh, you know all right but you just won't admit it. But you know. Here's a quick test: Look in your driveway (or front curb) -- is there a 1990 or older Buick parked there? You get my drift.

Giving up your car often creates hardship, so plan ahead.

You may have to move. Figure out where you go the most often and move near those places or near a bus line. You don't need all that space in the family home anyway. Dust bin.

But it will be so expensive, you say. Listen old friend, that paid-for jalopy still costs you money. Figure out what you spend annually on maintenance, insurance, oil and gasoline. That paid-up car still costs you thousands of dollars. You can ride lots of taxi cabs for the same money or less. In many cities, cab drivers work the same zone every day and they get to know you and your schedule. Fringe benefit.

Driving a car is a huge responsibility. You are making life or death decision all the time you are behind the wheel. Let that sink in -- life or death decisions.

Show the wisdom that allegedly accompanies age and hang up your keys when it's time.

Copy, paste -- send to Gramps.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Web grays as more older people get wired

These geezer sites are like Facebook -- with wrinkles, according to an article in today's New York Times.

The number of graying computer users is growing. There are now just about as many geezer geeks over age 55 as there are in the 18-34 crowd.

Think back to a couple of weeks ago when a study revealed the seniors were interested in the same thing that revved the kids' engines -- sex.

Is it any wonder then that social networking sites for older people are proliferating? But the geezers are interested in more than just hooking up. Indeed, the senior sites discussions range from health care to face lifts to retirement issues. Stuff that would not yet interest the younger set. And never will, so they think.

If the kids aren't watching, you might find one of these worth bookmarking: Eons, Rezoom, Multiply, Maya's Mom, Boomj, and Boomertown.

Interesting "discoveries" about the geezer population:
-- marketers have figured out we have money, and we spend it.
-- Internet researchers learned we find a site we like and stick with it, unlike the youngsters with short attention spans. I check Arts & Letters every morning. Have for years.
-- venture capitalists, themselves, are beginning to enter the grey zone as they get older and take longer to bounce back from keg parties. Some are considering investing in geezer sites. A few have.
-- AARP is an acquired taste for boomers who find membership "labels" them.

Networking could prove to be the biggest boon for seniors. As we age, we lose friends due to death, migration, illness, and, in my case, personality flaws. Many seniors are just not connected. Anywhere.

But with the Net, that problem could be diminished, if not solved.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Pickle days, B.E. (before ethics)

It was my first trip back to Austin after joining Cong. Pickle's office in Washington, D.C., and I was looking forward to seeing old friends.

Mr. Pickle leaned over and began to give me advice: Now, George, you're going to be 1,500 miles from home and I don't want you staying out all night in bars and coming in to work the next day still half drunk.

Yes, sir.

But while you're out, find reporters and buy them drinks. Here's twelve bucks. (Remember, I told you he was tight with money.) Knowing $12 wouldn't go far even in the 1970's, I went to the bank and got a hundred dollar bill. Big dog.

In those days, the reporters hung out at the Alamo Hotel, which was two blocks from the Austin American Statesman's downtown building.

Seedy is too dressy to describe the Alamo Lounge. It was dark, dank, smoke-filled, in other words, just perfect.

The drinks were cheap and the B.S. was strong.

At Last Call, the waitress delivered the bill, a whopping $32.00. Since I was the ranking political flack at the table, I was expected to pay. So I whipped out the hundred dollar bill.

The bartender couldn't make change. Seriously.

OK, the reporters said as they fished for quarters to help pony up, you buy tomorrow night, Phenix.

Next night, same bar, same reporters, roughly the same bill, same results, the bartender could not make change for my $100 bill. The reporters grumbled, but paid the tab.

Next day, two of the Capital Press showed up at my office in the Federal Building. They personally escorted me to the bank to break the hundred.

That night, I paid.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Don't stereotype old people

The dust-up with Tony Carrillo and his fans was interesting and illuminating. The brouhaha was over his F Minus cartoon that I found degrading to the elderly. It featured an older guy facing the door and a young woman saying, "Uh...I think Grandpa needs to go out."

I had an old friend suffering from Alzheimer's who stood at the front door wanting out. He's dead now. So is his long-suffering wife who cared for him through more than a decade. She died just a few months after her husband.

And I still maintain that if you changed the grandpa character in this cartoon to a black man or a gay man, there would be organized hell to pay. That's the truth test.

Ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Ditto stereotypes.

But I don't intend to belabor our disagreement any further. Instead, I would like to focus on some of the things I learned in the exchange.

-- Carrillo has a wicked sense of humor. His rebuttal to my last blog was in writ in "large font type."
-- some of his fans are funny. One wrote me that he was not going to read my blog any more. "I mean it," he said (it was his first visit, obviously.)
-- these days, everyone has a voice. I'm an old newspaper guy accustomed to writing editorials from Olympus and letting the pieces fall where they may. It surprised me to see several hundred people land on my site via click-throughs from the cartoonist's web site.
-- sadly, the responses appeared to run mostly along generational lines in an old versus young theme. Too bad.
-- AARP. Who?

I'll close with this advice to the youngsters: Don't piss off the old people or we'll spend your inheritance.

Friday, September 7, 2007

F Minus cartoon slanders geezers

Goddammit. This proves my point.

I really like the dark humor in Tony Carrillo's new cartoon strip called F Minus. It's sometimes edgy, sometimes oblique and nearly always right on.

But today he's gone too far. Look for yourself. It crosses the line and ridicules older people who might be suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or dementia.

Exactly who is going to take him to task? Nobody, that's who. If we are lucky, AARP will give the cartoonist a slap on the wrist in their monthly magazine.

That's too late. We need an advocate who will jump on this right now. Forcefully. Make it hurt. Make him apologize, sure. But more than that, make Americans aware that we will not allow this kind of generational slime go unchallenged.

Why don't the elderly in America get respect? Because of crap like this cartoon.

We're going to have to do it ourselves.

Send the cartoonist an e-mail: tony@fminus.net and tell him he's funny, but this cartoon is not.

Send the same message to his syndicate, United Feature Syndicate, Debra Graynor, head of Customer Service, dferrandina@unitedmedia.com.

I'm sure the cartoonist did not mean to insult the infirmed. But he did. The larger point is that this abuse will happen every damn day unless we take a stand.

Now I feel just like John Belushi's character "Bluto"in Animal House when he asked: "All right, who's with me?"

Sigh.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Where were you when JFK was killed?

I wonder if this idea would work as a book...let me explain.

See that book cover to the left of this screen? It touts "When the News Went Live," a book written by four of us who were radio/TV reporters when President Kennedy was killed. The book chronicles our experiences covering the story of the century as the nation pivoted from newspapers to television as the major source of news.

We wrote the book for history, not money.

As we pump the book in panel discussions, the same thing happens after each presentation -- people want to tell us where they were and what they were doing when the president was shot.

That awful day is the Pearl Harbor for our generations. And we are getting older, dying, and soon those stories of how we survived as a nation, as individuals, will be gone forever.

We were so busy as reporters covering the breaking story that we didn't have time to cry until days later. So busy, in fact, that I didn't stop to think about the impact this would have on people throughout America, throughout the world.

I remember one person from Nebraska who was just a school kid at the time told us that the principal gathered all the students outside where they formed a circle around the flagpole, said a prayer, then dismissed the kids to go home to their parents arms.

Another told of the boss, crying, going from office to office to tell workers to go home.

There a millions of poignant stories out there that are worthy of being told. Preserved for history. I would like to try to tell those stories.

Where were you?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Potpourri -- AARP, patooie

These things have been on my mind lately. Quick, before I forget them:

-- Texas has passed a new law making it tougher for older people to get on the road. Good. Driving is a huge responsibility. I would suggest even more people would stop driving if we had decent public transportation. And, I could have saved the state time and research. You know it's time to turn in your driver's license if you look in the driveway and there's a 1989 Buick parked out there.

-- We went for a ride down the Mississippi in a houseboat over the holiday weekend. I never knew they made so many two-story boats. What a hoot. Off the subject, sorta. Research shows that most male drowning victims are recovered with their zippers down. No, they were not thinking of a Senate run in Idaho; they stood up in the bow to answer nature's call and fell overboard. Blame booze.

-- Did you notice how fast the gays and lesbians jumped Jerry Lewis for saying "faggot" during his MD Telethon, and how fast he apologized. Lesson learned. We need someone like that who will kick butt every time older people are ridiculed. AARP, are you listening?

-- I finally found the perfect guy to give AARP some much-needed muscle. He's 59-year-old former linebacker Mike Flynt, who just made the football squad at Sul Ross in West Texas. That is not a typo.

In closing, I would like to plaigerize the guy who sent an angry letter to Abe Lincoln: "You will hear more from me when I am ready."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Teachers like first day of school, too

Today is the first day of school in Minneapolis. And the neighborhood takes on a renewed vibrancy. We live three houses from an elementary school and the joy of recess period reaches our living room when the windows are open.

Is there a law that says school bus gear boxes have to grind?

Guess who has the most trouble getting to sleep the night before opening day? According to the teachers, it's teachers. They get so excited that several group up and just go to the movies since they're going to be wide awake anyway.

The first day of school, retired teachers sometimes meet at the coffee shop for breakfast out of habit. They like seeing each other and miss the hustle of first day of classes whether they will admit it or not.

Here's a secret: Teachers like Happy Hour on Fridays.

I owe my journalism career to teachers. In the fifth grade, Hampton D. Anderson encouraged me to publish a two-page school newspaper. As I graduated from high school, Ms. Dick Cozby surprised me with a $200 Rotary Club scholarship, which got me into Texas Tech. Funny, we only knew her by her married name. Such was the style back then. Never knew her first name.

When I transferred to the University of Texas (following the Mystery Woman who had escaped a year earlier), my editing lab professor, Mr. Lee, told me I would never make it in journalism because I had a dirty mind. I wrote a column in the Daily Texan for married students called "Old Wives Tail." Mr. Lee was just mad that it took him a year and a half to catch my little snicker.

Anyhow, each of us owes a bunch to teachers. So here's to them. Clink!

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