On the rocks

A man of two minds walks into a bar...

...And he's kind of a joke. A couple months ago I went into a local bar after dinner, alone. I'm not sure, but I may never have gone into a bar alone in my life; certainly I never have at night. Once I was there, I didn't know what to do with myself. I wasn't especially interested in anything on their TVs. I chatted with a few people but mostly sat there. Eventually I found myself talking to an ex-mil guy my age. When I paid my bill, I expressed surprise to him, and the bartender, that I hadn't been charged for one of my drinks. The bartender didn't say anything, but after she went away, Ex-Mil said something to me. He said sometimes people are going to buy you drinks. He said it like it was obvious and there was something wrong with me for not getting it.

Probably there was. I was driven there by the need to get out of the house. With my wife out more, I'd been entertaining myself with hobbies, but I'd had it with being home alone. I was bored and a little frantic, confronted with the realization that I had no life, no friends in this town I could call and just go hang out with. There wasn't even a bartender here who knew my name. That, at least, I could remedy with the steady application of money while killing time. And that bartender knew it: as I was leaving, she slipped me a poker chip with the name of the pub stamped on one side and "ONE FREE DRINK" on the other. "I hope we see you again," she said.

Between what the Ex-Mil said, and the bartender's siren song calling me towards the rocks, I was scared shitless. It was still early, but I went home hyperventilating.

Things have changed since then. Things have been changing fast. As it stands, I now have the first friend I've ever had that I wasn't thrown in with - all my other friends were schoolmates, coworkers, all people I had to be around for one reason or another. I've never had the tools to make friends with strangers I met once rather than people I had to talk to all the time. That seems to be changing. 2008 has seen a lot of upheaval in my life, a lot like 1999 did. That was a big year. In 1999 I finished my Ph.D., got divorced (it wasn't my idea), moved out of the state I grew up in, got my first job, and met and fell in love with my second wife. Then, for whatever reason, things slowed to a crawl. This time it can't. It's vital that I learn to sustain a constant low level of novelty in my life. I cannot let myself get into a rut, no matter how much mental effort it seems to save me. Because if you save all your mental effort for more important things, without ever realizing that those important things are totally absent from your life, then there's no reason to get up at all, and on some level you know it. There has to be a little challenge to every day, something that forces you to think in a new way. I say "you" but I mean me. I don't pretend to speak for anyone but myself, and for myself only to the best of my imperfect knowledge.

This is exciting. This is my future past, this is about today. Today I get a chance to improve. Today I get a chance to transgress, or to laugh like a toddler, or to fuck like Henry Miller. Maybe all three - maybe even all at once.

A few things that make me happy

Here's a picture of a water feature in our back yard. The previous owner installed it, so I can't claim credit for how nice it is, or for the bright poetry of a single pink flower deciding to bloom in the exact center of a birdbath.

That's a healthy water lily growing in a submerged pot. For a couple hours a day, a pump runs the water over the lichen-covered rocks on the right and back into the pool.

On the left is a small and very delicate Japanese red maple tree. It's like a fuzzy alien. At the bottom of the picture are a couple of "night bloomer" flowers, which look like weeds during the day but open up when the sun is down. At the lower right is a grouping of "hens and chicks" plants. They're also very delicate - they get knocked out of the dirt when one of the dogs steps on them. And lastly, at the top of the frame, is mint, a key ingredient in mojitos.

These are simple things that manage to have a surprising beauty just being what they are. They make me happy. There are a lot of things I should like about my very nice house, but these things are my favorites.

Bad car karma

I've lived in Cleveland for a year and a half, and during that time I've had to have suspension repairs performed on two different cars.

When I lived in Chicago, there was a period of three years during which I got hit every twelve months. I got paranoid, so I bought a car I thought would be indestructible: a BMW with all-wheel drive, traction control, and stability control. It was rock solid and had more airbags than Congress. During my first year in Cleveland, I had to pay $1500 to have its axles replaced or some equally ludicrous thing. The car had other reliability issues, and I felt like it wasn't worth the money, so I traded down.

I've been driving a Mazda3 since September. I just had both front wheel bearings replaced. It cost $825. Living on the East Side, I have no easy access to highways, so I'm doomed to commute crosstown on these motheaten roads.

To be fair, I may have bad car karma. I am the veteran of seven moving blowouts. Nobody I've ever talked to has had more than one or two. This is the legacy of a youth spent driving beaters that were bought for cash. And on the other hand, I may just be hard on cars. I don't speed excessively, but I do accelerate hard, brake hard, and utilize space in lanes that others aren't using. Now I know why people leave some lanes unused: they're bumpy.


So you know about the bike trainer. I've made friends with it. I find I like the way it makes my legs feel, the sense of power-in-reserve that I get. I want that for the rest of my body. So a few weeks ago I started doing pushups and situps and dips and whatnot. That hasn't quite caught on ... maybe it's all the cat hair on the floor that puts me off.

I needed more. Saturday I went to a garage sale and gave this dude $50 for a weight bench, two long bars, two short bars, and a heap of iron and concrete that outweighs me by a fair margin. You know what's really good exercise? Disassembling a weight set, carrying it up out of a basement in 95 degree weather, carrying it down into a different basement, and reassembling it.

I am now thoroughly overequipped - I know this is what I need, but I don't know what to do with it. I'm not going to touch the stuff yet until I have a basic idea of what's safe and advisable. My plan is to have a friend who's fitter than I come over and get me started with a few basic exercises and do's and don'ts. After a month or so of that, I'll hire my wife's trainer to come over for an hour or so for advice.

I've become quite enamored of the classifieds-and-garage-sales approach. I was looking at a $370 Schwinn flat bar road bike, but now I'm going to look seriously for a used bike. I know I'd be perfectly happy with a $100 ten-speed. That's what I've always had. Actually, what I'd really like is for somebody to show me how to mount my old Thule bike rack on my car. I've lost the manual.

A brief hiatus

I'm back after a brief interlude of blogging at myspace. While myspace has its charms, I like Blogger better as a blogging platform. Enough better to run it separately.