Friday, October 28, 2011

On turning 65

Question: "What do you call a middle-age woman in a relationship with an older man? Answer: A nurse." (Ouch!)

I'm not sure where I heard or read that recently, but it definitely hit close to home for me. I have a penchant for younger (i.e., middle age) women and now that I am approaching age 65 I feel for the first time that I qualify as an "older man".

I'm thinking about this because recently I attended a seminar on signing up for Medicare (it still hurts to even think about this). There's nothing like the prospect of signing up for mandatory insurance for the elderly to make a person feel OLD.

Last year when I was on the brink of turning 64 I lamented getting older but I didn't feel like I was approaching old age, but that's changed as this birthday approaches. There's something about SIXTY-FIVE that just oozes "old age". It's the age we associate with retirement, collecting Social Security and enrolling in Medicare! That sure sounds like old age to me!

So here I am only 365 days older that I was a year ago, I'm in great health (i.e., no need for a "nurse" yet), I'm as fit as I have ever been and I certainly don't need those ubiquitous little blue pills that are so popular among men my age (and even younger, if the TV ads are to be believed). But even if I don't feel, look or act old, I know that "everyone" (i.e. middle-aged women) will THINK I'm old because I'm 65.

I guess I have some options, at least as far as trying to attract women is concerned. I could limit my interest to women closer to my own age, but that sounds pretty confining - I hate to restrict the possibilities to such a narrow field. I could maintain my current MO and hope to meet someone open-minded enough or desperate enough to have a relationship with a 65 year-old guy. Or, and this is the way I'm leaning, I can start lying about my age. I've been told I don't look any where near my age, so I think I could pull it off. Shave five, maybe ten years off my age and it's a whole new ball game. Of course I'll have to keep my Medicare card out of sight.

That's what is on my mind as I approach my next birthday. There are probably more pressing concerns with which I should be preoccupied, and I'm sure there are more interesting topics that I could write about, but a guy only turns 65 once (unless I wind up in a relationship with someone who thinks I'm 55) and I want to wallow in it.

Know any eligible nurses? I am not ready for my "Golden Years".

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dirigonzo's Place is One Year Old!

"So with that in mind, I'm going to offer up my observations, opinions and comments about life in general. I'm doing this mostly for my own amusement and entertainment but if you would like to follow along, that's fine, and I welcome any contributions, criticisms or critiques you may want to add."

That's a quote from my very first post, "Why I'm Here". Now that a full year has elapsed since I wrote that, it seems like a good time to look back and see how faithful I have been to my "mission".

First, the numbers: I have produced a total of 66 posts so I haven't been what one might call very prolific, but quality over quantity is always a good policy so that's my rationale for averaging only a little more than one post per week. Surprisingly (to me at least) there have been more than 750 "page views" from a worldwide audience, including Canada (hello, neighbors to the north, and thank you), Germany, Russia and Singapore(!). More surprising, perhaps shocking, is that this blog has 4 "followers", none of whom are, as far as I can determine, related to me by blood or marriage. So a special thanks to each of them, and also to anybody who has taken the time to comment on the posts. I really do appreciate your interest and your participation - I don't understand it but I appreciate it.

Topics have been random and varied; one post might lead a reader to believe this is a political blog and the next may read more like the personal rants of a man who has nothing particular to say and way too much time to say it. Some posts are reminiscences, some discuss current events and one or two are just plain wishful thinking. One good thing about blogging, as compared to having actual conversation, is that I don't have to worry about my audience getting bored and yawning in my face or making a lame excuse to walk away; I can talk about whatever is on my mind and as long as it entertains me, no problem. If it happens to entertain someone else too, all the better.

So as we embark on year two you can expect the same unpredictability, inconsistency and weirdness - this is how my mind works. And since I know that there is an audience out there, no matter how small, I invite you to jump in with your own random thoughts. I try to acknowledge every comment and if you want to debate a point, well that's OK too. Unless you're rude or wilfully ignorant (i.e., have your own "facts") in which case I'll probably just delete you in the interest of maintaining my blood pressure at a reasonable level.

If anyone were to ask me how long I will keep blogging I would answer the way I answer almost every "how long will you..." question - I'll keep doing it as long as I'm having fun. It's been fun for a year - let's see what the "terrible twos" bring.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Advice to the Lovelorn"

No, I'm not going to offer any advice here, to the lovelorn or anyone else. This is about those ubiquitous columns that seem to appear in every newspaper in the world (well, all the ones I've read anyway).

My earliest recollection of newspapers goes back to the mid-'50s, when the Bangor Daily News was delivered to our house every day except Sunday - there was no Sunday paper. I'm pretty sure that the first thing to attract my attention to the paper was the comics page - comics in those days were pretty much geared to younger readers. But the second feature to capture my interest was the advice columns. As I recall the BDN carried two columns, "Dear Abby" and "Ann Landers", side by side on the page next to the comics. Who doesn't love to read about other folks' problems?

In those early days the emphasis seemed to be on generic "relationship" issues, hence the "lovelorn" appellation. In those simpler, more innocent (on the surface, anyway) times, the "problems" were pretty blase and the advice was predictable but still it seemed a little scandalous that anyone would "air their dirty laundry" in public (anonymously, of course). Abby and Ann, who were twin sisters by the way, were very popular back in the day.

An example from my teenage experience will illustrate the type of advice the "lovelorn" might expect to receive: My first girl friend (you know what I mean) and I went steady (that's what young couples did then - "hooking up" hadn't been invented) for a year or more when I, heartless cad that I was, lost interest in the "relationship" and went in search of "greener pastures". And she did what any distraught young woman who had lost her boyfriend might do - she sought advice from Dear Abby (or maybe Ann Landers, I don't remember). And she received a reply which said something to the effect of, "Forget him and find somebody more interested - and more interesting (ouch)". Now that's the kind of advice she could have gotten from her big sister (that's another story) or her best friend or even her mother. Forget him and move on - how hard is that to figure out? But coming from Abby (or Ann) it had extra authority, and she seemed to enjoy showing it to me and "rubbing my face in it" (that's not the worst thing she did, but that's a story for my shrink).

The women who wrote as "Dear Abby" and "Ann Landers" both had long successful runs with their columns but they have both passed away. "Dear Abby" continues to appear in the daily paper, written by Jeanne Phillips, daughter of the original "Abby", and the advice is still what you would expect. I continue to read but without any expectation of there being anything but "the same old same old"; the times have changed over the last 50 years but apparently the problems - and advice - in "Dear Abby" have not.

A more recent arrival on the columnist scene has a different approach to advising the lovelorn and anybody else who submits their problems to her. Carolyn Hax column "Tell Me About It" offers the type of specific, no-nonsense guidance you might expect to get from a session with a $100/session therapist. The Washington Post, for whom she writes, describes her this way:

"Carolyn Hax's advice column is the standard of measurement for the genre. Since her explosion into syndication in 1998, Hax has revolutionized the advice column by giving in-depth, ruthlessly practical, sometimes controversial, often coffee-up-your-nose funny advice that also happens to be really good.

Hax has an uncanny ability to see through what people are saying to the real issue: who they are, what they're doing and why. Then, instead of telling readers what to do, she offers them new ways to think, so they can find for themselves the solutions that best meet their individual needs."

When I read Hax I frequently find myself thinking, "that's great advice, I can use that", or (more often), "I wish somebody had told me back when...". Honestly, there are things I would have done differently if there had been a Carolyn Hax to kick me in the ass when I needed it. Or maybe I wouldn't have listened (I'm not much on taking advice from anybody) but still the advice she offers makes much more sense in a practical way then any you will get from the other columns.

An example from today's column: a question from "Single parent, confused, and lonely" sought advice on reconciling with his ex-fiancee, and the reply started with this: "The Confused and lonely are doing all the talking, when the single parent in you is the one who needs to be heard." Now I have been "Single parent, confused, and lonely" and I'm telling you that reply, and the rest of the advice that follows, is spot on! She ends with this: "Treat this sequence for her return as nonnegotiable: Come back, get well, prove beneficial to kids, come home." That may seem obvious, but I'm telling you "confused and lonely" can make it hard to see. (As you may have guessed, this might have been helpful to me several years ago.)

These columns still appear on the page opposite the comics and I still read them; and I would miss them if they weren't there.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My "Occupy" Movement

First, I don't mean for this post to in any way trivialize the "Occupy Wall Street" movement or any of the supporting movements that have cropped up across the country - I totally agree with their cause and support their goal of giving voice to the "ninety-nine percent". But just as I didn't join in the protest marches of the '60s (I was not what you would call a "radical" then) I probably won't be taking to the streets any time soon to join the occupiers of Portland or Augusta; I will try to find a way to support them, though, even if it's only to write a strongly worded letter to the editor.

With that said, I have inadvertently started an "Occupy-like" action of my own on Blogger. Like the real world occupiers I am not certain of my message and I have no demands (not yet, anyway) but I know my cause (whatever it may be) is just. I have occupied the blog "Rex Parker Does the New York Times Crossword Puzzle" (RPDTNYTCP). I have long visited this place daily to read the host's write-up of the puzzle and his guests' comments (there are often 100 or more). Usually I leave a comment of my own, but since I am a "syndicated" solver, i.e. I do the puzzle 5 weeks after it was originally published, my comments go largely unread, which is a shame considering how witty and insightful they are (that was the wine talking).

Last month RPDTNYTCP celebrated its fifth birthday (anniversary?) and it occurred to me that it would be fun to go back to the posts from the early days of the blog to see how much had changed. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to share it with modern-day Rexites (as I refer to his followers) by posting excerpts in the comments on the current (syndicated) puzzle. And so "RPDTNYTCP on this date five years ago" came into being and has become part of my daily "occupation" of Rex Parker's blog. And the response has been underwhelming.

Now I'm not seeking personal recognition or glory; just as with this blog, whether anyone reads it or not is immaterial as I write for my own amusement. What disappoints me, and I guess what I have decided to "protest" against, is the dearth of comments by other syndicated solvers. RPDTNYTCP has over 1400 followers and Rex has said that over one-half of his readers are from syndication-land so why, I wonder, do only a very few offer their comments on any given day?

It can be said, in fact it has been said many times, that there is very little new to be said about a puzzle that was published weeks earlier and that has been pretty much totally dissected by the "prime-timers" (those who comment when the puzzle originally appears in the NYT or, more likely, on-line). To which I say, "Phooey". Every solver, even those of us out in the hinterland (geographically and chronologically), has a solving experience and a point of view that is unique, and I for one would enjoy reading about more of them. The commentary added by the likes of @NotalwaysrightBill (whatever happened to him, anyway?), @RedValerian, @Spacecraft (and all the other "anonymice"), @WaxyinMontreal (there seems to be a burgeoning Canadian contigent), @Pippin and @Deb@RoomscapesDecor, to name just a few, is every bit as informative and interesting as those from 5 weeks earlier.

So I'm on a mission: to occupy the syndicated space of RPDTNYTCP by appearing daily to comment on the puzzle and to offer a peek into the early days of the blog. My hope is that just as the "prime-time" blog has grown and evolved the syndicated segment can, too. "We're more than one-half, we're more than one-half!" Well, maybe I need to come up with a better chant but you get the idea. If you do the NYT crossword puzzle, even if you only TRY to do it, get over to RPDTNYTCP and leave a comment, dammit!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Teenagers, technology and the comics

"Zits" by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman is a comic strip that I read regularly and enjoy very much. I mostly like it because the main character, Jeremy, is a typical teenager who reminds a great deal me of my sons when they were his age, and his parents' reactions to situations he creates mirror my own experience as a parent. Clearly the creators understand what it is to be like to be the parent of a teen in this day and age.

This week there were 3 consecutive strips that struck me as particularly applicable to two things about which I am really sensitive: growing old and being technologically challenged. The perspective that Jeremy brings to these topics puts the divide between teenagers and their parents in stark relief; we are growing "old" while they are growing "up" and the technological "generation gap" is, it seems, insurmountable. Check out the strips copied above to see what I mean.

These three strips all gave me that, "Yeah, that's what I mean!" kind of reaction. I mean, EVERYBODY my age needs reading glasses but NO teenager can possibly imagine what that's like, or that they will one day be in the same boat! And in my house nothing more starkly defines the technological difference between me and my sons then the telephone! I can remember when "cordless" was high tech and "wireless" was science fiction! My sons will probably never have a "land-line", and there may come a time when they only remember them from "the good old days".

So when I see Jeremy needling his dad about how obsolete the phone book has become, I can relate - to the dad, that is. In fact I just had a conversation with my younger son telling him to stop calling "411" every time he wants a phone number since those calls cost almost two bucks each (guess who pays the wireless bill), while the phone book is free. And when how to make a long-distance call has to be explained to a teenager ("You have to dial a "1" first...") and "nation-wide calling plans" have replaced even the concept of "long distance" for him, well I just don't see how we old folks are ever going to bridge that gap.

So there in the panels of a daily comic strip I confront experiences that occur in daily life in my reality. And seeing them there puts things back in perspective for me: my experiences/frustrations/joys are not uniquely mine - they are typical of parents of teenagers everywhere, and this gives me a better understanding of my own experience. And it helps me cope with situations that might otherwise drive me nuts - instead of getting all worked up over typical teenage (even though my younger is now 20) behavior, I just think about how Jeremy's parents might react if he did something similar. It's nice knowing that my incredulity at teenage behavior is not all that unusual. And if I can laugh at it in the comics then I can laugh at it in real life, too - and that seems a lot better than getting upset, don't you think?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I live alone

Today has been a cold, blustery, wet and generally miserable day - the kind of day that reminds those of us who live near the 43rd parallel that Summer has shone its last rays on us and moved south for the winter. So faced with this bleak awareness I did what I often do in such depressing circumstances - I drew a tub full of very hot water and climbed in to soak. In my experience many worries and even some aches and pains will be dispelled by a good long soak.

I'm not sure how long I had been there, drifting in and out of that state of semi-awareness that hot water will induce, when I sensed a nearby presence - not a mystical sensation of an other-worldly being, no this was more along the lines of aroma of dog. So I popped open one eye and glanced over to see Buddy the Cocker Spaniel standing quietly next to the tub with his face only inches from mine, staring intently at me. This is not typical Buddy behavior; his usual MO when he wants something from me is to either bark loudly and repeatedly or lick me on the face, either of which he could easily have done. Buddy is not a starer so his restraint was surprising. And when he saw signs of life he blinked a couple of times, turned around and walked out, apparently satisfied that dinner would be served at the usual time after all.

I was just beginning to slip back into my euphoric state when the labs arrived, their presence loudly announced by the cries of Thor, the cat who thinks he's a dog. Apparently Buddy had failed to communicate my well-being to them so they came to check for themselves, and being retrievers their approach was much more scent-related. They subjected me to a thorough sniffing which apparently convinced them that I wasn't dead (my yelling at them to get out might have contributed to this conclusion) and they too left without any purpose to their visit other than to establish my ability to serve their next meal on time.

I tried to regain the peaceful, easy feeling I was having before the entire Brat Pack felt obliged to check on my well being but the moment was lost, and the water was cooling off, so not too much later I climbed out of the tub, which stirred much joy and celebration (i.e., barking) among the pack, as they apparently interpreted my emergence as a signal that it was dinner time (it was not, but I gave them a treat anyway, just for being so concerned about me).

So as I said, I live alone - but it's pretty hard to ever feel lonely.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The big red, white and blue van

Once a week I drive a van to take veterans to the Veterans' Medical Center. The van will hold up to 8 passengers but 3 or 4 is a typical load for my run. Most of the riders are my contemporaries, Vietnam-era veterans but other wars are represented, too. I have veterans of both Iraq wars (Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom I think are their official designations) and at least one who served in Afghanistan (I'm sure there will be lots more to come).

Today's run was a little unusual, and very special - I had 3 passengers, one served in WW II, one in Korea and the third one was in BOTH of those conflicts! The number of veterans like these is dwindling (but sadly being rapidly replaced by younger veterans of more recent wars) and I felt honored to have them riding with me.

The van itself is pretty recognizable. It's decorated with the Stars and Stripes and the huge DAV (Disabled American Veterans) logo on both sides and the hood is pretty hard to miss. So as we make our way through town or cruise down the highway it's pretty apparent who we are and often we get a reaction that can be the highlight of the trip. Pedestrians often smile and wave and we always smile and wave back; drivers will sometimes make a space for us to slip into traffic on busy road; children waiting for the school bus stare, their mothers blow us kisses; and on-coming cars flash their lights and wave. It truly is heartening to know that so many folks really do appreciate these veterans and the sacrifices they made for their country.

None of which prepared me for what happened today. As I waited at a red light on a busy 4-lane road a huge garbage truck pulled onto the road behind me and as he got closer to us he started blowing his horn long and loud, like maybe he had lost his brakes and was going to rear-end us right where we sat. All this horn-blowing cleared the lane next to him so he moved up beside us, still honking and tooting leaving me totally confused but still unable to move anywhere, if that was his intent. And as he pulled alongside the van so I could finally look up and see him, the driver was grinning ear-to-ear and giving us a big "thumbs up" as he went by. So I guess all the noise and hoopla was just his way of saying, "Thanks for your service". Did I mention that it was the highpoint of our day?

So if you ever encounter on of those big red, white and blue vans in your travels, or maybe even a passenger car with "Veteran" license plates, smile and wave - I guarantee you will make the occupants very happy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dirigonzo's "Down and Dirty" Chili Con Carne

Chili is a guy thing - what man do you know who doesn't claim to have a great recipe for it? Even President Obama when asked if he cooked said he makes a great chili. So tonight as I enjoyed my latest batch of my own personal chili creation it occurred to me that I should share my secret recipe so that others who are as gastronomically challenged as I am might be able to produce a batch of perfectly respectable chili without actually knowing a lot about cooking.

First you should understand that for most of the last two decades I have been the single parent of two sons, now ages 26 and 20. So the primary requirements for anything I cook are: will they eat it?; is it reasonably nutritious?; and can it be ready in 30 minutes or less? Chili is almost the perfect food based on these criteria. Of course this doesn't allow for a lot of simmering and slow-cooking as the experts call for. "Quick and easy" are critical to a single parent so some elements of traditional gourmet cooking have to be sacrificed.

I can't tell you when I discovered it, but I stumbled upon a way to make a pretty good imitation of real chili that meets of all of my criteria as a parent. And now that my sons are grown and (more or less) on their own I still make it for myself occasionally, and I actually think it's pretty good. So now I'm going to share it with you, for what it's worth. Here's what you"ll need:

1/2 pound ground beef
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 jar salsa (I like Newman's Own Medium Chunky, but use you own favorite)
1 can tomato sauce

Brown the ground beef in a large skillet; drain the fat.

Add all other ingredients (and anything else that sounds good at the moment); stir and heat thoroughly.

That's it - serve right out of the frying pan. Add a salad (I buy the bagged variety) and a slice of garlic Texas Toast and you have a meal. And if your effete friends ask you about the recipe, tell them "It's a secret."

For a variation on the theme, add some elbow macaroni to the mix to produce "chile-mac" which is Alex' favorite. Enjoy!