Saturday, November 07, 2009

My Dad

It is the 10th anniversary of my father's death. The following article was published in the Honolulu Advertiser shortly after I moved to Hawaii.
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Two men who had the strongest impact on my life both died within weeks of greeting the new century. Both were in their 80's and both lived exemplary lives and each succeeded far beyond their original modest goals.

They both formed me, even though they didn't know each other. One I knew from birth and every day thereafter; one I met briefly, only once. From them I learned value and integrity and perhaps most importantly, to accept all people as equal no matter their color or their beliefs or their status. Each gave far more than they got.

I was a rambunctious child, and my dad guided me into sports to burn all that energy. I never shared his love of golf, but I did well in tennis, gymnastics, softball and whatever the guys down the street were playing. That was okay, but I had a higher calling in those days and that's where the other man came in. He rode his revered white horse alongside his faithful Indian companion and literally saved people's lives and their farms from evil men. This seemed a good choice of profession to me. Okay, my horse wasn't quite so magnificent and I wasn't allowed to cross the river during the rainy season and there weren't really enough evil-doers in my town to make a career of it - even if I was willing to forego school to do it. Instead, I watched every episode of the Lone Ranger and absorbed his message - that good and bad is based on deed, not on race or creed or color. If perhaps those days had more absolutes and less gray areas than today the concept has never wavered.

My dad was not famous; the idea appalled him - except for occasional remembrances about his college basketball prowess and his vocal similarity to Perry Como. He lived a quiet life, kept the same job for years and was happy to do so. He never really understood my wanderlust and need to keep pushing and challenging, but he never held me back or tried to say I shouldn't. He was proud of all his children because we stayed clear of drugs and drinking and driving, paid our bills - even if he had to occasionally add to the pot. He wanted nothing more from us than to be good and productive people. The only thing he ever insisted on was that we invest in a retirement plan. He would stoop to any level to get our money and get it working for us. Today I'm grateful, at 15 it felt premature.

Clayton Moore, the actor who is best known for portraying the masked Lone Ranger, insisted on never being seen in public without some eye covering. When the producers wanted a new, younger lead for their upcoming movie and went to court to bar Moore from wearing a mask, he wore dark glasses. He continued to live an upstanding life, long after the series ended, insisting he would never let down the millions of fans for which he was such a strong role model. How different that is from many of our so-called celebrities of today. A few years ago I appeared an hour early for a book signing of his autobiography, feeling kind of silly that I was still so in awe of this man, now in his late 70's (not to mention my age). The line was already out onto the sidewalk, and the store had to send to a rival store for more copies of the book. We are hungry for the good guys.

I learned all that is important to me from these two men, quiet heroes in their own way, lessons instilled before I was 10 and I hope I can say never wavered from. Lessons about value, about duty and obligation and being fair, working hard and giving back. Sure, life has some curves, some days or months, even years, can incur real setbacks. Yet no matter how dark it seemed, somewhere deep inside myself I knew that everything would turn out all right in the end. The Lone Ranger would come galloping up or my Dad would write a check or offer words of comfort or - surprise - I would figure out a solution on my own. Even now, with their recent loss, I don't feel alone because both men and their examples of living are always within me.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tabloid Hell

Since President Obama was elected I've been less inclined to blog. Simply put, I'm less angry and chagrined. I feel that finally we have someone leading our country that deserves the job and is actually doing the job. Sure, I voted for Clinton, but held my nose. Don't get me started on Bush, both of them. The only good thing about Bush pere was Dana Carvey. Bush fils had nothing good about him. Except his colossal f***ups gave the electorate the gumption they needed to reach way out into the unknown. And boy, did we score!

So that leaves me with not much on my mind. I don't know if that's a cop out, what with all the calls to service and all. I know I should be doing more for my community and the world but it seems like I've been pushing boulders uphill for decades and frankly, I'm ready to hang back for a while.

At first it was fun watching the Republicans unravel. They deserved it, marching in lockstep behind such a dolt. But lately it's like throw a rock and you'll hit a self-destructing Repub. Mark Sandford has taken adultery to new lows and seemingly relished doing his public pennance. Thankfully we didn't have to watch his wife staring hurt and gooey-eyed at him. She took the kids and bailed, good for her.

Now Sarah Palin. All this talk of her chances in 2012 is just stupid. Read my lips, it's over. A friend is soon vacationing in Alaska and I said bring home the gossip, what they're really saying about her up there. She wasn't doing all that well at the job she bailed on but the real reason she left was money. Ethics violations caused her to repay her family travel. As governor she has to watch what she spends taxpayer money on. As a freelance speech giver, with her star quality and few others - maybe Rush Limbaugh and his jiggle speech - she can command the really big bucks. Just ask Bill Clinton how to go from decent money to obscenely rich - a few pep talks a month with photo ops and it pours in. The far right needs a celebrity to call their own and she fills the bill but getting to the lower 48 is not easy as a sitting governer who can't bring her family on the public trough and worse, those pesky consituents think she should stay put, govern the state she was elected to govern.

So for a while it's silly season on the right. They'll get their act together eventually. Even Norm Coleman saw the light and let Al Franken be seated a mere seven months after the election. Okay, he didn't so much see the light as he saw the inevitable and realized he could run for governor and probably win, name recognition being what it is. All that free publicity fighting for your cause translates into votes if you don't go so far out that you get stupid. He stopped just inches short of that.

But really, it's no longer interesting. We're losing the art of intelligent conversation. Too hard to get attention. Obama would be a great president even without his rock star quality but with it he can get the attention we as a nation need to go forward. It has been a really tough year and not likely to get better for a while. Knowing that a grownup is in charge, someone who knows what the job is, who can play politics but is not of politics, that is a gift. We as a nation needed him desperately and we rose to the occasion. After years of voter apathy, this election was everything this country was meant to be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Misery Does Not Love Company

I have the flu. A really nasty one that won't go away. I have no time for it. I never have time for it. I had a lovely trip to Europe to see family and friends and theatre and all good things. I returned home full of vigor to restart my body and restart my life and read my Yoga Journal cover to cover.

Cough cough. So it began. Nearly two weeks later I sound like a freight train rumbling through the station. Sleep is easy, medicated to the hilt. And still, every morning I wake up, still sick. Sometimes worse, sometimes almost a glimmer of better, but overall definitely really sick. The doctor says it has to run its course, and it's not the current trendy swine flu. No this goes by the uninspiring name of "seasonal."

I'm wondering why my body betrayed me like this. I was really going to give it good nourishing food, more yoga and meditation. I was serious this time, a new improved me. Why didn't my body believe me and do it's share? Is this my subconscious sabotaging efforts to be better? Am I secretly a loser hanging on to a foolish possibility of change when it's all predestined from birth - like who gets to be Brad Pitt or Michelle Obama? I'm sure they work hard and deserve themselves and it probably wasn't easy and maybe their work ethic is ten times mine but really, I was on a roll. I had a plan!

Then my body said oops, not yet. Momentum is now so far behind the only way I see to catch up with chores fallen by the wayside is to throw everything away and start over.

Now that I think of it, maybe I tried to change with the same old junk. Maybe the junk goes first then the change. I'll try that next time.

Meanwhile I've lost five pounds, no appetite with all the meds. So maybe I'm not so far off course after all. I guess there are worse diets out there. But it probably wouldn't kill me to give away a lot of junk, either. Maybe this is my wakeup call, that maybe my body said sure, I can take off that pesky weight and then we'll buckle down to serious exercise. Maybe this is me in action!

Or maybe I just have the damn flu.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Keep your ears stiff

A German acquaintance said that to me today. I'd never heard the phrase but I suppose the American equivalent is hang in there.

Attitude is everything or as Abraham Lincoln was credited with saying - Most people are about as happy as they decide to be. Have you ever noticed that unhappy people tend to wear it like their only coat, holding tight to all their misery, sharing with anyone who can't get away quick enough. Oh sure, stuff happens to us all making us angry, miserable, in pain and any number of things that can ruin a perfectly good mood. The difference is that unhappy people use any less than perfect event to add another layer to their misery, like adding a rumpus room onto their house and then accumulate all the junk that goes into it.

Happy and successful people by their very attitude save a lot of that grief. They're strong enough they don't get trapped into playing another person's game, if only because miserable people steer clear of them. I had a boss that hated good cheer. When he treated me with disrespect I upped the joy - to everyone but him. I'd like to say he came around and it's now a successful relationship but far from it. However, there's not much he can do because my work output is excellent and others have noticed. Okay, that's not always the best way to handle things because ultimately he is my supervisor and does my evaluations and approves various requests but I finally filed charges against him and I did that because I simply got brave enough to do so. Really, it took a lot to risk it because I had to assure myself I was worth the respect and not live in fear of losing a salary especially in this economy.

It's hard to do the right thing because it's not always appreciated and occasionally there are repercussions. But by respecting yourself enough to take the risk and understand the potential consequences often the lesson learned and the progress made will outweigh and downside. Yes, it might not. That's why it's called experience.

I often hear things happen for a reason. Maybe. It's a good debate and conversation over a glass of wine. I tend to prefer we make our own luck. And that's all about attitude. Face forward and take a giant step. Then when you fall back it might be only a small step. That's progress.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Making a List

Time’s list of 100 most influential people came out this week and I’m not on it. I didn’t expect to be since I’ve led what could be called an ordinary life. Some close brushes with fame through working at a Hollywood Studio and in a Governor’s office when he ran for president. I read most of the bios in Time, being a fan of bios overall, and I usually do that sort of personal connection that people do. You know, kind of like Stanley Kowalski’s “couldda been a contendah.” Except for, well, probably laziness, which I prefer to call well-rounded behavior, I could be there, too. I’ve never known a successful person who didn’t put everything they had into it. Talk to their children.

I pay my bills, am solvent and well employed – so far – in this economic meltdown. I raised and educated a child as a single parent, finishing college after my divorce since I rushed into marriage like all my friends. Nothing sends a young woman to the altar faster than being the last one in the group to marry. It wasn’t like today, when single can be a badge – although as I get older it gets less interesting, or maybe I do. Back then couples couldn’t live together without marriage, now it seems everyone does. Straights brag “who needs a piece of paper to show our love” and gays desperately want to marry to show theirs. Sometimes life is just mixed up. Have you ever liked a guy who liked a girl who liked another guy and so on, everyone unhappy and lovesick? I remember thinking if everyone took one step backward and hooked up half would be happy and the others would adjust. Nothing crashes further and faster than burned out love. The country music genre depends on it.

I thought that as I got older things would settle down a bit but that’s not proving to be so. I am really mad at the financial community who thought we were pawns in their egocentric games of my weenie earns more money than your weenie, just another male version of who’s got a bigger one. Seriously, couldn’t they have sent in for some of those spam-generated products and left my 401K alone? I’m angry because I saved my money and paid down my mortgage, one that I can afford, and don’t have a room-sized plasma TV. I upgrade my possessions as they are needed not when the next toy comes out. I’m not broke but I will work another year or so past my planned retirement like plenty of other people because of those so-called masters of the universe who weren’t even masters of their own impulses.

So how does one live well in these times? By remembering there is lot out there that’s good. We had a food drive last weekend and the amount soared above expectations. People got it; this was the year to help. Everyone is hurting but no one should be hungry.

Electing President Obama shows that we have, as Lou Grant said to Mary Richards, “Spunk.” He may have hated spunk – although he didn’t really – but it’s great for our country. As our new president, that spunk is what will take us out of the dark place we’ve been. The Bush election may have been stolen or it may have just been diabolically clever and 9-11 may have set things in motion or it may have been an excuse but bad heart equals bad actions. Hoo boy, did we get bad actions, lies and torture, bullying and lack of attention, the gamut of Murphy’s Law.

We need to take stock of what we have, focus on the half full glass filling up. Remembering life isn’t a game of winning at all cost. All those stories of Little League parents going nuclear so little Johnny or Sally can shine. Bribing and browbeating teachers to complain about a grade when here’s a thought, try having your kids do their homework.

Schools are a disaster in many areas because those who can afford it go to private school leaving public schools to teach the problem children, the poor children, the hungry children who can’t concentrate. Rich areas have good public schools and there are bright spots in poor areas but overall it’s shameful. Teachers are such heroes, every day out there on the front lines, making the world just a bit better when they reach out to a child. Yet we idolize sports icons that brag about sleeping with thousands of women. We gasp at steroid use when even me, who doesn’t follow sports at all, have been reading about it for years. When someone’s neck grows by four inches, hey, it ain’t from pushups.

We all know what’s right. We all think we believe it. But we get caught up in trying to stay ahead or afloat. That’s getting tougher. But all of it, ALL OF IT, was preventable. We sent to Congress too many boobs with hands in the till, we let money buy our vote because sound bites are easier than reading the facts. The good ones were squeezed out because they couldn’t compete in a crooked game. I know so many people who never voted until Obama came along and then it was to jump on the bandwagon, I’ll bet. Not enough people want to make an effort to do what matters. They want what they want and most of all don’t want to pay for it. Too many people want lower taxes and then have government as daddy, writing the checks. Oh so easy then, gimme lots more money to get into debt with.

Now we’re all rushing to go back to basics because we finally found a leader who makes it seem cool again. I read we get the government we deserve and thankfully we deserve this man. Even better, he seems to think he deserves us; that we aren’t beyond help, we’re good kids who sashayed out behind the school to cadge a smoke. We got caught and have to clean the graffiti off the walls for a while to show us the error of our ways. And we’re finding it’s really cool to help make it better. Like a pebble thrown in a pond it ripples out into something worth looking at. The tiny pebble is not influential but the ring of movement it creates can sure build momentum. We need our influential people but they can’t do it alone. They need us as much as we need them.

Each day if everyone did one thing to make something better then wrote it down before bed, thinking about how it felt and slept with it under the pillow. It’s how Obama won, one vote at a time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Return with us now to Yesteryear

Everything comes around again. Growing up we lived by my father's credo of living below your income aka saving for a rainy day. He bought store brands on sale, in fact almost everything was bought on sale. Cars were maintained and kept longer than anyone we knew. There were many embarrassments as we became aware of our better endowed friends. His telling us he was probably worth more then they were fell on deaf teenage ears.

Everything comes around again. Sure, there were years during my early days of having a salary - first get a really cool car! Friends were for impressing. Gradually, as it does for most of us, we retreat to the familiar and as my daughter grew and became self-sufficient, no longer draining resources, I found a job to my liking and having spent many years in a shop till you drop mode, I pretty much had what I needed and found the ultimate in bargain shopping: a tax-free company matched 401(k). It was actually free money, as if I got a substantial raise.

Add in market growth which, alas, cannot now be done thanks to those who thought they ruled the financial universe and complained about their measly $40 million bonus payments.

Plenty has been written about that anger and certainly I share it but how to live well now? It turns out that the lessons of my childhood, about not buying what you can't afford and having some money put away - as a child of the 60s I call it "f*** you money" - I can now afford to take advantage of all the bargains out there. I donated my two-decade old TV that didn't get above channel 64 and splurged on a nice flat screen at a huge discount.
I read all those articles about how people are saving money in this economic crisis. Except it turns out I already do most of them. It's how I live. Thanks, Dad, you may not have thought those lessons stuck when I came home with yet another pair of shoes - you can only wear one at a time, he opinied - but it was a phase. During a mortgage meltdown I own my home, am saving for a remodel not refinancing, have a well balanced portfolio that yes, has taken a hit but is still solvent. (Most of it started and insisted upon by you.)

Living well is really about common sense. Do you need this right now? Is it within your budget? Eating well saves on health care costs. Maintaining your car rather than going plasma TV avoids car payments and higher premiums. So many things can be accomplished if you just wave at the Jones' and not try to keep up with them. Oh, they're in foreclosure?
Thanks Dad, for life's financial lessons. It has never served me so well. Now others are jumping on the bandwagon and the thing you feared most in life - being trendy - has finally caught up to you.