Life’s been good (to me so far)…

Every now and then you find yourself sitting inexplicably in a mile long line of traffic on your way home from the office. As you’re sitting there building up a good head of steam wondering what slack jawed yokel is standing between you and the sweet, nurturing balm of home, you sometimes get a gift. I know this because I got one of these gifts this afternoon. It was a gift in the form of my phone serving up a song I probably haven’t heard for more than a decade; one that I first heard when it was already playing on “classic rock” stations; one that takes me right back.

Instead of sweating my ass off in a Jeep with the windows open hoping to catch a breeze, I was behind the wheel of a ’91 Chevy Cavalier, its paint peeling, and seat frames welded something close to upright. I was beating the hell out of that old car on 4×4 trails, and running it flat out across railroad crossings to see if we could get all four tires off the ground, and planting it high center on a snow bank when I though I could pass a coal truck on snow covered roads. I was riding shotgun in an ’81 Camaro – you know, the kind with the side pipes and blue light in the dash.

For those almost nine minutes, Joe Walsh blazed forth one of the definitive songs of my youth misspent in pool halls and arcades and at backyard bonfires and some of the tamest house parties you could possibly imagine. For a couple of minutes rolling at dead slow along Route 40 in Havre de Grace this afternoon, we got the whole band back together and we were young and brilliant and brave and foolish again with a whole wide world stretching out ahead. Those were some times, man.

The universe couldn’t have picked a better time for a reminder that it really has been good (so far).

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Memory. My memory isn’t what it was. Although it was never particularly strong, I find I need to write down ideas more quickly now than before. At least twice this week while driving I had ideas that passed the “this would be something good to write about” test. Sadly between the time I had that good idea and when I safely parked the Jeep, the thought had completely flown. It seems I’m going to have to start sending voice notes to myself just to stay on top of random thoughts throughout the day – and *that* is a thought that annoys me to no end.

2. Rain. Enough with the goddamned rain already. I’ve had to mow the grass three times in the last 10 days just to keep the place from being completely overrun. I’m not looking to turn the mid-Atlantic into a desert or anything, but a little moderation would go a tremendous way towards letting the yard be something other than a muddy hot mess.

3. Thoughtcrime. I’ve come to the conclusion that despite what good it may also bring, social media is essentially toxic – or at least it has become toxic at the hands of its users. Wide swaths on the left and right are committed to their ideal of thought purity where anyone expressing any except the conventional and sanctioned opinion must be set upon and beaten down by one side or the other. Deviate from approved goodthink and the thinkpol will be johnny-on-the-fucking-spot to make you pay for it. There’s no interest in rational discussion or differing opinion. Thoughtcrime must be rectified until goodthink prevails. At the risk of being declared an unperson in the eyes of social media, I’ll continue to live my ownlife. To do otherwise in the face of popular adherence to minitrue orthodoxy is cowardly and fundamentally doubleplusungood.

Chrome…

Google Chrome is a remarkably powerful web browser. When running on Mac OS it’s also an incredible power and memory hog. At least once a week it bloats so badly that it makes my desktop unusable. Starting today I’m going to take a trial run of living life without Chrome.

Since it’s Mac native, I’ve given Safari the honor of being the first test platform. Although today’s tests have been limited, it’s held up admirably – and more importantly hasn’t slowed the machine down to an infuriating place. As it turns out the threshold for victory in these real life tests isn’t going to be all that high. Anything that lets me get through a week without crashing the computer will likely get a pass as a better option than continuing on with Chrome.

There was a time I’d want to go out and try all the obscure browsers hoping to turn up something with wow factor to spare. These days, I’m mostly about simplicity in use rather than wow. I don’t care so much how the machine runs just so long as it does. I’m not going to spend a lot of time wanting to tinker around under the hood until it behaves “just so.”

I’d love to place all the blame squarely on Google here, but if I’m fair, I’m currently running a slightly more than 4 year old machine that was a touch under powered when it came out of the box. The ever increasing demand for raw processing power in a computer hasn’t been kind to my Mini. Truth is, switching browsers is probably the last ditch effort to coax a bit more life out of the machine before bringing a replacement online. If I were smart, I’d go ahead and make that purchase now instead of when something finally fails on me… but then needing to buy a computer right-the-hell-now after the old one has crapped out is pretty much one of my oldest continuously observed traditions.

Ditching Chrome won’t solve all that ails computing here, but it could well alleviate the most obnoxious symptom of aging equipment. For today, that would be more than good enough.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You’re a racist. Can someone explain to me, perhaps using small and easy to understand words, why I’m a racist because I believe it’s a responsibility of the federal government to have functioning boarders for my country. My travels have carried me to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico and I entered those countries using their established processes and in accordance with their laws. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect the same of people who want to come to the United States.

2. Oh my God the traffic! In the absence of anything even remotely newsworthy to cover, news outlets across America have spent a fair amount of time over the last 36 hours commenting on the high volume of Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the roads. The fact that large numbers of Americans take to the roads as part of their holiday tradition probably hasn’t been news since sometime immediately after World War II. Hyping it as “the worst traffic we’ve seen since… last Thanksgiving,” is just lame and not worth the time it took to script the story. Maybe we could use the free air time and column inches to report on something going on somewhere else in the world. I mean you do know that other places aren’t stuffing their faces with turkey and pie today, right?

3. Selective memory. My liberal friends are howling because of the conservatives President-elect Trump is appointing to fill his Cabinet and White House staff positions. In a grand fit of selective memory, they seem to have forgotten the howl that went up when President Obama selected his cabinet and counselors and surrounded himself with leading lights from the left. Sorry folks, that’s what happens when the party running the Executive Branch changes. It means the heroes of the opposition party have to go away for at least four years. Expecting a liberal president to appoint a deep bench of conservative advisors is stupid… and so is expecting a conservative president to surround himself with liberal lions.

Time flies…

I heard a statistic this morning that 25% of the people living in the United States weren’t yet born on the morning of September 11, 2001. I don’t know how accurate that number is, but fifteen years is a pretty long time and there do seem to be an awful lot of young people wandering around these days. To them, today’s date is something from a history book – about as tangible as the attack on Pearl Harbor or the burning of Washington. For those of us who lived through that gut wrenching September day long ago, though, it’s not so much history as it is something we carry with us every day.

If I were to walk into Great Mills High School today I could show you exactly where I was standing in the lobby when someone passed by and told me about an explosion at the World Trade Center. I commented wondering why they were running old footage of the bombing back in ’93. No, that wasn’t it, they assured me, dragging me down the hall to the library where a dozen people stood gape-mouthed around a television cart.

Bells ring. Class changes. I’m due back in my own room. Walk me into that room today and I can show you exactly where I was standing, elbows propped on my lectern, when we saw the first shaky images of the Pentagon burning and then when the towers fell. A lot of these students were military kids and maybe they “got it” more than some others. It might have been the first and only time in my brief teaching career I experienced a room of quiet searching, of contemplation, and of understanding that fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters would soon be going in harms way. There was no use trying to “teach” anything at that point. The best I could manage in that moment was just talking, individual conversations about what happened, about terrorism, and about what came next.

In my head the details of that morning are still every bit as vivid as that damned bright blue sky. I don’t expect that will ever change. Time flies, they say, but there are some moments, no matter how far past that stay with you forever.

Unexpectedly gone…

It doesn’t happen often, but there are some times, some moments, when I just don’t have the right words. Anything I manage to get down on the blank page feels somehow inadequate to the moment.

Saying a real goodbye is always a struggle. Saying a final goodbye almost beyond my weak capabilities. Since long before our written histories, honoring the dead was a task for the living. Maybe it should be hard to put those ideas into words. Maybe, at its core, goodbye should be something felt rather than something said.

Another of the too rapidly diminishing links to my youth is unexpectedly gone. My memories, though, remain – of summers spent “far away”, of learning to love the Chesapeake and those creatures that dwell on, in, and above its depths, of family in better times. Those memories remain and loom ever larger in my mind, making it that much harder to think of saying the inevitable goodbye.

As I’ve worked and reworked these few sentences tonight I keep coming back to a quote first heard long ago. One of our greatest warrior philosophers offered that “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” While it may be foolish, I’ll mourn tonight – but I’ll also be well and truly thankful that such a man lived.

This world is a little less warm and its light a little less bright for his passing.

A memory of a different time and place…

I won’t claim to have ever met Nancy Reagan. I did see her once, briefly, in the funeral procession for her husband as they drew down Constitution Avenue towards the Capitol. I remember thinking then how small and sad and utterly alone she looked even surrounded by the full pomp and dignity of a state funeral.

I stood in line a little more than seven hours to pass by the president’s casket as he lay in state in the rotunda. We don’t lionize our former first ladies like that or I’d probably be planning another long night queued up on the Mall to pay my respects. I was still a kid when President and Mrs. Reagan left the White House, but when someone refers generically to the president and first lady, theirs is the image my mind conjures . It’s hard to imagine a world in which the Reagans now both belong to history.

So this is my altogether too modest effort to mark the passing of a great lady, whose tenure as First Lady of the United States was marked with glamour, class, and a sense of unrestrained optimism in a country and a people. Like her husband, Mrs. Reagan was a good and faithful servant of the republic. I honor her life and memory.