I didn’t plan to spend so much time writing in my second act.
I didn’t plan to become a weekly blogger or to write a book about the Olympics. I also didn’t plan to spend thirty years working as a cost accountant and process designer for a single company. That wasn’t what I dreamed of as a child. I am still in shock that we’ve lived in this house for two decades and that I have apparently raised a physicist and a music teacher.
I thought I’d be going out to museums more often and watch less television. I thought I’d eat more pizza although, now that I’m older, I wish I’d eaten less pizza. Plans–life plans–are like that. They’re really more like wishes.
In the Company of Writers
I spent a lot more time in my youth thinking about writing than actually writing, although I did harbor a notion that I would become a famous writer, someday. I blame Freddy van der Gelder, this kid in my fourth grade class. We were supposed to write a sentence that included the word “beautiful,” then pass our papers to a neighbor. I wrote “The beautiful lake was shimmering in the moonlight.” His hand shot up, he was so excited to read it out loud. That was my First Like. Continue reading “100 Blog Posts and Counting”
The screen begins to undulate in a moire pattern of yellow, green, and orange. Purple drips start to appear, and just as your eyes start to scream No more!, jaunty waves of violins, punctuated with trumpets and cymbal crashes, chime in to assault your ears. Words appear. In Russian. The screen dissolves to a man wandering behind a curved iron gate in front of a honey-colored wall … crooning. What is he singing? Why is he so cheerful? Is that his real hair? And why is he singing like that?
My friend was kidding, but we are traveling again for the fifth time this year, and it’s not getting old. THIS time, we’re traveling into the land of enchantment, the land of mesas and long horizons, the land with dirt that coats your shoes and pant legs and gets into your pores. This is the land of rock and cactus, a land of exceptional beauty, the jewel of America, the Southwest.
Bombing down I5 through the Central Valley, we were happy to turn east through Bakersfield instead of crawling through El Lay Basin for five hours. In Palm Springs, we stopped at a small but delightful botanical garden called Moorten’s which boasts the World’s Largest Cactarium. The yucca and ocotillo sprawled with joy across hand-lettered signs. The greenhouse was full of rare variations: cactus with hair six inches long and soft to the touch, cactus that grew downward from a hanging pot, and even cactus that stretched like a pile of snakes along the ground — “Grows Horizontally.”
In Redlands, a small college town on the east side of San Bernardino, the “fast food” joint called Red Panka, begs to be franchised. The theme was Peruvian food and my quinoa shrimp saltado salad was virtuous and delicious; the fried plantains for dessert topped it off beautifully. I jotted a note to my Post-Traveling Self: Convince someone to open a Red Panka shop in Castro Valley! Continue reading “The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part I: Looking Up”
I remember September 20, 1973 when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in three straight sets at the Houston Astrodome in the Battle of the Sexes. I remember when Ms. magazine debuted and when Virginia Slims was a sponsor of the magazine and women’s tennis, when people debated about the merits of letting cigarettes bankroll feminism, but feminism needed the money. I recall when it was fashionable for men to call you “little lady” and drape their arms around your shoulders in casual conversation. I remember when tennis rackets were made of wood.
When Rackets Were Made of Wood
The movie, Battle of the Sexes, brings the story of the King/Riggs match to life. The film gets the tennis right; the film gets a lot of things right. Wooden rackets weighed 25-30% more the aluminum ones, and the racket face was much smaller, which means players couldn’t hit the ball anywhere as hard. Tennis then was much more a game of strategy — ball placement, serve and volley, and the strategic use of the lob. The tennis match choreography shows this to great effect. To the modern viewers, the play may seem oddly lethargic, almost as if it was in slow-motion. That was the reason Riggs beat Margaret Court, known at the time as The Arm because her height advantage gave her more power and a longer reach. Riggs wasn’t faster; he played more strategically and was wilier about placing the ball. After all, if you can play wearing scuba flippers or wearing a hoop skirt, then your play is about wrist movement, not power.
The trailers for the movie and many of the reviews don’t mention Margaret Court, but she’s a core part of the film, which I appreciated. King would never have played Riggs if he hadn’t already beaten the #1 women’s tennis player. The movie even hints at Court’s rampant homophobia which has made recent headlines, a topic that would have not been included in any biopic of this subject made before the 1990s. Emma Stone is a credible King, but Steve Carrell is a drop-dead perfect Riggs, a showman playing tennis in a dress or with a drink in his hand to win a bet, a game of slow but deceptively accurate shots. Continue reading “Battle of the Sexes: The Political is Personal”
I went to make myself some grits on Friday night for dinner. As the water was boiling, I pulled the container out of the pantry and noticed that the plastic ziploc bag was neither air-tight nor water-tight as it was supposed to be. This turned out to be a problem where, for at least ten seconds, I considered whether the grits were still salvageable because, after all, people in India wouldn’t waste food. I determined that reclaiming the bottom third of a $2.89 box of grits was not worth whatever dire ailments might ensue.
Then, it turned out there was a similar issue with what we thought was a tightly-sealed container of steel-cut oats. Crumbs. Mildew. As we unearthed a few more containers, my wife said, “Do you remember that problem we had with water damage a few years back?”
Uh-oh. That was quite a few years back, during the great recession if I recall, when I was out of work for a short spell, and we were moving money around to pay for a leak that required rebuilding and replastering the wall at the back of the hall closet which is on the other side of…. Oh, the pantry.
Well, these things happen, a small problem that you dig under, and suddenly it’s a large problem. Half of a Saturday gets devoted to cleaning out and assessment, followed by trips to the hardware store, powering up the Black and Decker tools, consultations with experts i.e. your DIY friends and the internet, and half of Sunday, and all of it far more involved than you planned for.