April 2nd, 2015
There have been major historic figures who lived with very strange phobias. You’d think that unwarranted fears might have gotten in their way, but perhaps they just spurred these people on. George Washington battled with taphephobia, a fear of being buried alive. Alexander the Great suffered from ailurophobia, a fear of cats (had the Persians only known). I myself struggle mightily with late onset jargonophobia, an unmitigated fear of the deterioration of language.
I suspect I had been carrying the germ of this condition for decades but it only rose to the level of consciousness four or five years ago when a sales manager I answered to discovered the term "at the end of the day". It became his clarion call, punctuating and re-punctuating every sales meeting until I could no longer hear the phrase, or even watch him coiling to unleash it, without emitting a small shriek. I changed professions, but there is no relief from the paralyzing grasp of jargonophobia.
The phrases now grow shorter and I find myself quickly escalating into full Munchian mode as I dodge the linguistic grenades of "bucket lists" and "man caves". Not to mention "wow factors". I am quite certain I would not survive all three of these in the same sentence (note my caution here).
I do cling to the vague thought that suffering from a strange phobia may yet signify fame in my future. But Washington and Alexander were high energy individuals, while all I really want, at the end of the day, is to brush my teeth and get to bed.
February 14th, 2015
The thing about waterfalls is that they, like other forms of music, can transport you from one emotional state to quite another; pummeling your problems, washing your worries, and generally setting you straight.
In New Hampshire where I come from, when water falls it falls cold. When my wife and I decided to get married thirty something years back, and when we also took on the writing of our vows, and when I found myself absolutely stuck on what exactly I ought and ought not to be promising (and was beginning to suspect I might be embarking on a sizable mistake) it was to the mountains and the clarifying world of cold, rushing water that I went.
Angel Falls at the head of the Flume Gorge in the White Mountains was discovered in 1808 by someone’s 93 year-old grandmother who had wandered up into the mountains looking for a good fishing hole. When she returned home (fishless) and told her family what she’d found they refused to believe her. Which tells you something about them (or perhaps something about her). At any rate, while it is a curious story it cannot hold a candle to the western North Carolina one of the besotted Cherokee brave who flung himself from Blowing Rock only to be returned somewhat later by a providential updraft (though it seems a person who can believe this story is likely on a mission to believe).
All ancient stories aside, thirty-odd years ago I sat basking in the sun, perched on a rock wrapped round by spring snow at the sharp plummet of Angel Falls, and just waited. Waited till the words started to drip, then trickle, and finally flow, washing away all doubt and fear. Just like that it came together; the marriage happened without further hiccup or hesitation. So that’s that story; and of course everything’s been just peachy ever since.
October 25th, 2014
When kale comes calling in black pants and white shirts, delighted to find you home and eager to discuss the merits of vegetarianism, throw wide your door for the simple chance to sample something well beyond your sphere.
October 7th, 2014
I was out on a hike, minding my own business, when I overheard a young man describing the science behind the flat bottoms of the cumulus clouds that had gathered overhead like a flotilla of cotton laden barges. “Warm air rises, and as it rises it cools until it reaches its saturation point and then it forms clouds. The flat line is where the change happens, that’s the dew line.”
I thought this revelation might trip some distant memory of 8th grade science class, but there was no sudden: ‘Oh, of course, the dew line!’ Indeed 8th grade has largely slipped into the realm of undocumented rumor. All I remember is a couple of teachers. First, a hulking Science and Phys Ed teacher named Miss Nelson who surely had a first name but was known matter-of-factly as Moose. It was Moose Nelson who prophetically uttered: “Russia schmussia, the country to keep your eye on is China. When things get dicey in China there’ll be a price to pay!” That was 1959. And I do keep an eye peeled.
The other was Robert Halloran, a short, huge-bellied, red-faced, wheezing student teacher who had us read "Great Expectations" in class, and who shockingly informed us of the inevitability of carrying some variety of parasites in the gut — an affliction which I have always assumed was rather actively claiming him. Mr. Halloran was known as Stumpy.
Moose and Stumpy. Rocky and Bullwinkle.
So with these memories and a rekindled thirst for knowledge I googled ‘dew line’ when I got home. What I received was a whole page full of articles on the Distant Early Warning System, that cold war line of defense that anticipated Russian missiles arriving via the north pole. The theory being, as I recall, that an early warning would give you time to locate a grade school to break into and curl up under a desk — or better yet, you might lunge into an air raid shelter from which, if you managed to survive two weeks on canned food, you would then emerge to check the status of the corn and tomatoes in your mother’s garden.
I imagine that the DEW line still exists, now manned by a skeletal crew of men in their 90’s who dress each morning in khakis, do some light calisthenics, and take steaming cups of coffee to their various front porches, where they sip and slowly scan the skies.
September 25th, 2014
Legend has it that Robert George, who ran Evans Printing Company during the middle part of the previous century, once donned his coat, gripped his briefcase, and tipped his hat to the receptionist as he pushed the street door open to the low light of a late winter afternoon — only to return almost immediately. “I thought you’d left for the day, Mr. George,” the receptionist said. “Couldn’t leave,” he explained, “still got eight minutes on the meter.”
By the time I joined Evans in the mid 70’s it was Robert’s son Morton who ran the company. And Mort was visited by no such compunctions; so this trait isn’t necessarily passed down. Mort George was a wonderfully stout, sea captain-bearded, curious man, perpetually primed for laughter. He drove one of the few AMC Aspens that were ever actually sold; a car Mort was quite pleased to own. It was a small round car that much resembled him, and the wraparound glass mirrored his extroverted personality.
We never did establish a strong rapport. “So Craig, how’s your Volkswagen?” was Mort’s stock attempt to engage me, but it was a non-starter; I was not then the talker I have since become. Further, I knew nothing about, and cared little about, cars; still don’t. Nor could I bring myself to reciprocate with: “So Mort, how’s your Aspen?” I probably should have. Given the choice, Morton George would always opt for laughter.
Hope you’re still out there Mort, the world has need of you.
September 17th, 2014
There is a coolness in the air now, it’s long sleeved shirts for morning walks. Evening symphonies are closing down as the cicadas pack their instruments. Concussive black walnuts, too green and round to be natural, plummet from on high and bestrew wooded trails where only the box turtle walks with impunity. Percussive acorns loosened from the high oaks hovering over our parking area rain down, hammering our cars and gathering in the windshield wells. In aviaries, looking up comes at a calculated risk — but that risk is magnified here. And the real rain, when it comes, which is often and with short warning, can be Singaporan.
September 10th, 2014
Tuesday was a slow day in Uber Asheville, but rather than sit around waiting for the phone to ring I took the opportunity to bone up on Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s not a bad one as disorders go — which is to say that it is, after all, seasonal. So it comes and goes, like mosquitoes. What did surprise me was learning that there is a summer version of SAD. And the summer symptoms are pretty much the reverse of its more popular winter cousin: weight loss instead of weight gain; insomnia rather than oversleeping; agitation not lethargy. So, very different indeed — but none of these are choices you’d happily make. And as a result a serious industry has emerged to address and combat the disorder.
What you probably don’t know (and might perhaps choose not to) is that a 2007 study ranked New Hampshire highest on the country’s SAD scale with an estimated 9.7% of the population affected. I would have guessed Alaska. Perhaps Alaska was just too far away to be included. Or maybe Alaskans are simply a breed apart. Yesterday I did provide a ride for a man who had just driven down from Anchorage. 4500 miles. He described his premature excitement of crossing into the US, with 2000 miles still to go. And the near giddiness experienced as he entered Iowa. Probably not a man subject to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
As for me, I’m keeping my eye on the winter. I plan to get plenty of sunlight bundled up on my back deck. And since snowfall is minor in the Blue Ridge there will be no excuse for not exercising. But really, when you get down to it, there’s not a demon here or in New Hampshire that could withstand a regular dose of this spot in Asheville’s River Arts District.
September 7th, 2014
Yesterday I officially embarked on my late life, two-pronged career as Uber driver and oral historian; listener to stories all day long.
This has indeed been an eye-opening week. It started with accompanying Santina to a Unitarian Universalist Church service on Sunday. I have long enjoyed claiming that my last non-Christmas church service was Easter 1958. I’m sure this isn’t true, but I do enjoy saying it. Perhaps I will continue to.
I went largely for the music which is directed by our fine neighbor, Milton Crotts. As the church swelled my discomfort grew, but it slowly dawned on me that the discomfort was not attributable so much to a deep seated dislike for religion (though I do confess to a deep seated disinterest), as to a minor(ish) condition of agoraphobia — which would be a fear of crowds; and not, as it sounds, a fear of agriculture. I have no fear of agriculture whatsoever. I’m quite fond of agriculture. I even like the feel of the word ag-ri-cul-ture as it pinballs out the mouth. It’s an old-fashioned word, like ‘dungarees’, which is what I called them growing up; and on the knees of mine you can usually find evidence of agriculture.
It also occurred to me during that service that if I am to promote my oral history work I will need to become involved with the larger society, of which the UU Church is a part. So a question arose as to whether I would actually stoop to use the church as a marketing tool! And indeed I would, but the fact is I met some very nice people there. People I’d be delighted to talk with over a cup of tea. People with stories that run both parallel and perpendicular to my own.
With this fuzzy feeling of potential change, I approached the troubled waters of setting out on my first Uber drive. The largest complaint from Uber riders concerns drivers who don’t know their way around their city. And I don’t. So procrastination was actually in order. But at some point you simply have to trust. Like falling backward off a ladder into the supporting arms of friends — an exercise I participated in without qualm some 30 years ago.
Fortunately my first rider, a young man, local teacher, was fully prepared to provide turn by turn back road instructions to a distant destination. For his efforts — and for having been my first rider — he was presented with a freshly baked loaf of bread, which took him, I am quite certain, by surprise.
My second ride was a group of four young medical people from Washington DC who were headed downtown for a wedding reception. Somewhere south of the city they all piled into my Matrix (I didn’t dare look), and we arrived safe and sound after a few more lefts and rights than absolutely necessary.
So, here we go, into the woods.
September 6th, 2014
For countless millions of years the Earth whirled through space listening only to the low grindings and gurglings of geologic change. From those rumblings sprung rivers and mountains. Eventually plant life; and well into the spin cycle — animal life.
The appearance of early animals resulted in no major shift to the planet. Animals came and animals went, rumblings continued, the mountains grew, continents re-arranged. But then came man with his need for order, and the world has never been the same.
As a member of the current evolutionary strain I often struggle to find my way from one end of the day to the other. And why is that? Lack of order. Being a millipede or a muskrat would be a pretty straightforward thing. And while moose are said to be unpredictable, they don’t even begin to unpredict like human beings do. Human beings complicate a potentially simple existence by identification with politics, religion and sports teams (sometimes classified as a subset of religion).
Sadly, those complications are further compounded by occupation. The deer that watch me from my driveway have no need to choose a way of life, no practical knowledge of style, no dubious electronic skills; they just move about, always in seeming harmony. I, on the other hand, spend most of my time attempting to understand what it is I should be doing. Right now I can happily advise that I am about to become an Uber driver. An Uber driver is a good thing to be because it allows me to set my own schedule; which in turn allows me to pursue oral history work and writing bits; which might lead to my ultimate goal of becoming — not a driver, not an oral historian, but a muskrat.
August 26th, 2014
Until about fifty years ago the guiding principle with purchasing magazine advertising space was to buy the space your budget suggested and then fill it, as you might a pair of pants, until it began to seem unsightly. But in the 60’s Volkswagen began buying big space and putting remarkably little in it. Thumbing through a magazine you’d recognize a VW ad even before you saw the copy — not so much by what it was as by what it wasn’t. Good exercise for the brain, and somehow reminiscent of the game Battleship where every incorrect guess provides very precise information about where something isn’t.
During the Space Age distance began to be measured in light years; sometimes thousands of them. Even one light year is, of course, impossible to imagine. I found it grounding to think of a light year as the length of time it would take an ant to walk to Argentina.
More recently the concept of black holes was introduced. Black holes aren’t particularly about distance, but getting your mind around a black hole is akin to considering how long it would take an ant to walk to Argentina if you first factor in the length of time required for an ant to realize that it has an interest in visiting Argentina.
And now we know that those black holes are not actually full of nothing, they’re full of mysterious dark matter — yet another concept that has me tripping on the threshold. I find it helpful to consider black holes as swirling vortexes into which all those old VW beetles were drawn.
Meanwhile I’ve become the embodiment of the Battleship game, confidently calling out my insurance agent coordinates only to hear an internal voice say “Nope.” Learning who I am by coming to terms with who I am not. It’s not all bad. Exciting things are brewing.