Two weeks ago I passed a few days in the house where I did most of my growing up. For all my travels, I’ve always managed to find my way home at least at Christmas time.
I get up early. That doesn’t change just because I happened to have a few days off. One of the perks of waking up before the sun is that you get to see it rise over the Appalachians. In a lot of ways, those clear mornings were a throwback.
On a dead calm Boxing Day morning, the wood smoke hung thick in the George’s Creek valley. A hundred years ago it would have been coal, but for a distant observer it didn’t make enough difference to notice.
For a couple of minutes, it was like watching a living picture postcard from another age – a sight that realistically hasn’t changed much from the 19th and 20th centuries into the 21st. It was one of the first times I think I really appreciated just how slow time can move out there in the hills.
It’s the rare moments like this one that fill me with the idea that maybe someday I’ll go back to stay… but before long other realities of time and space crowd in and the moment is gone. There are real reasons I’ll never really go home again, not to stay… but those reasons will never, ever be because I’ve gotten tired of the view from down the crick.
I just signed the paperwork starting the process of selling the condo I bought in 2001… Back when I was a fresh faced, 23-year old college graduate just a year or so into my first adult job in extreme southern Maryland. Back then St. Mary’s County was just starting to grow up – it’s first great strides towards becoming another bedroom community for the District.
Coming out of a two room granny flat that was about the size of my current laundry room, the condo felt palatial at the time. It was 725 square feet of all mine. The first step along the path of my own version of the American dream. If my time in Frostburg molded me, St. Mary’s, and my little condo was where I was tempered and really learned how to be me outside the orbit of the known and familiar.
With the paperwork signed, I’m about a week and a half from seeing the place back on the market for the first time since I snatched it up. I’m feeling an awfully heavy dose of nostalgia tonight – for nights on Solomons, at the Brass Rail, or the Green Door, for friends made and contact lost over the long intervening years, and more than a little for the 23-year old version of me who was so very determined to bend the world to his will, got kicked around a little by life, and kept on coming.
I’ve had chances to sell the place in the past, but could never quite bring myself to let it go. Now, though, it feels right. My long time property manager is closing up his business and being a long distance landlord has lost a lot of its luster. It’s probably a few years past time, really. The place deserves a shot at an owner who’s going to call it home again. I’d like to see that… but of course if another investor shows up with a big bag of cash, I’m not going to send them away.
As much as I’m feeling and appreciate the moment of nostalgia, it does have it’s limits when it comes to making decisions with the dollars and cents.
1. There are a few topics where I could probably claim expert level knowledge. There are far more in which I am reasonably conversant. There are many in which I can fake competence if conversations don’t last too long. The secret to successfully using my big ol’ brain box is to turn me loose on something in one of those first two broadly defined areas. Setting me loose in the third and expecting expert level performance is just going to result in you being disappointed and me being even more annoyed… especially when there are any number of individuals within spitting distance whose baseline knowledge on the subject exceed my own in every possible way.
2. It’s good to see so many people caught up in the history of #DDay75… but my inner history geek wishes some of them would pay attention to history a little more closely when it’s not the anniversary of monumental events. They’d be amazed at what it could teach them… and maybe they’d even gain a little insight about why nine times out of ten I’m mostly sitting around muttering that “they’re really going to try that again.” In my heart of hearts I really do think if given half an education in history people would be stunned by how little new there is under the sun.
3. OK, so here’s the thing… When I lay out a process for you that’s guaranteed to work correctly 100% of the time and you opt to not follow that process and create your own circuitous route from Point A to Point B, don’t then call me whining because it didn’t work. What happened there isn’t a process problem. It was a pure failure to follow fucking directions problem and that puts it squarely in your lane rather than mine. Good luck with it.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to think of an original post to cap off the week on a Friday night. With the archives now well and truly exhausted, though, I’m left with no choice.
What I’m thinking about doing, now that there’s a more than twelve year deep back catalog of posts, is to use Friday evenings to revisit some of the “best of” posts from the last 4,380+ days. Maybe this is the chance to trot some of the golden oldies out of the barn for a fresh look using something like an “on this date” format.
I’m giving it some thought – do I add fresh commentary, note where I’ve changed my mind and where I haven’t, try to provide some fresh insight? Yeah, I don’t know yet.
The thought of going on a deep dive expedition way back to 2006 is equal parts tempting and terrifying. I like to think that in the intervening years my writing style and substance has improved. Then again maybe it hasn’t. Honestly so much of that was written so long ago I’ve entirely forgotten it. I want to imagine that the Jeff who’s sitting here at the keyboard now is very much a kindred spirit to the one who wrote those early posts. Believe me, you don’t want me to delve too deeply into how much of my self-identity is tied up in being blissfully consistent.
So, I guess the only think I’ll say tonight is “we’ll see.” If next week around this time you find yourself reading something dated from 2006, don’t worry. You’re not caught in a time warp, it’ll just be me doing more excavation of the past in the never ending search for clicks.
I guess you can say I got to have the real fanboy experience this past Friday. Now, I can sit comfortably and interact with generals, political appointees, and elected officials all day long without being the least bit impressed, but put me in front of seven random guys from California and I’m a mumble mouthed mess who can barely bring himself to make eye contact with the god of his own making. It’s good to know that I can still feel over-awed by something, I suppose.
A quick photo op and a few mumbled words would have been plenty enough to make my day, but with my 40th just passed, I wanted to do something a little more out of the ordinary. I’ll say without reservation that sitting fifteen feet above the stage watching your favorite band belt out the songs that have become the staple soundtrack to your life was really one one those thrill of a lifetime moments. I’m still trying to get the dumb grin off my face.
Sitting behind the main speakers, the sound is a little muddled and some of the site-lines are better from the front row, but for seeing the “whole picture” there’s really nothing better. You get to see the organized chaos of on the fly equipment swaps when earpieces stop working and the interplay between shadowed band mates when someone else is taking their moment under the spotlight. You get to see the massive human effort involved in making the seven guys on stage look like they don’t have a care in the world beyond being there making music.
I wanted an experience, bought my ticket, and saw the show. It would have been an absolute steal at twice the price.
There’s a certain smell to summer in proximity to the Chesapeake. It’s not the saltwater smell you find at the beach. It’s not the aggressive punch of decomposing plant matter in the wetlands right down along the water’s edge. It’s a smell I only know from a few miles inland. It’s salty and woody and vaguely marshy. It’s a good smell and a familiar one for me. For a few weeks during the hottest parts of the summer I’d catch it in St. Mary’s County when I lived down at the southern tip of the western shore. It’s here now, too, at the northern reaches of the Eastern.
My first memory of that smell, and where I remember it most distinctly, is an a little town in between those two points no one reading this would have ever heard of. It’s the smell of long ago summer visits to far away relatives, of horses, of learning to pick crabs and to shuck oysters, and swimming until the pool’s rough bottom had worn blisters on my toes. It’s s a smell of a simpler time, or at least one that seemed simpler by virtue of knowing so little about the world’s machinations. It’s the single smell I’ll (apparently) forever associate with one very specific place and time.
It’s not a smell I’ve ever encountered elsewhere in my travels – there’s no hint of it in Petersburg, or Honolulu, or Memphis. Oregon has its own particular smell of the old, deep woods and powerful running water, but it’s not at all the same. I picked up that fleeting scent a few nights ago. It’s that time of year. The instant recall and deeply fond memories of times and people long gone couldn’t possibly have been stronger. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed at what small details the brain snatches for its own and hides away only to restore them with perfect clarity years and decades later.
1. Temptation. Being a diabetic at Christmas has got to be like being a priest in a whore house; sure you can walk around and take in all manner of temptation, but you’re really not supposed to touch any of it. Not that it stopped me over the last two weeks from ingesting all manner of cookies and fudge and suet pudding and candy and cake. Yeah, I probably sliced weeks off my life, but damn it was all good. I’m terrible at resisting temptation. Yet another reason I’d make an awful priest… and why I make an even worse diabetic.
2. Situational awareness. One of the problems with having a big, beautiful human-sized brain is that it lets us make projections about the future based on past experience. What my past experience tells me is that this wonderfully unproductive Christmas vacation is rushing towards an end and there isn’t a thing I can do to slow it down. If that doesn’t annoy a guy, I have no idea what would.
3. There is no number three this week. As you read in #2, I’ve been off and that removes a pretty significant source of annoyance. I’m sure we’ll be back to a full head of steam by this time next week.
I’m afraid we’re screeching back into one of those times when I’m going to spend far too much time casting around for new blog ideas. In this case, the problem isn’t any kind of block, but rather that everything I really want to write about is embargoed or otherwise of a nature that I consider it out of bounds for this forum. It really is a pity, because I know there are some real doozies that are sitting in my notes just wasting away. Sure, maybe they’ll see the light of day sometime in the future when they’re less relevant, but there’s no denying that takes the edge off them.
If you’ve read The Cynic’s Guide, you’ve already read most of this story. God knows I’ve already lived it. The best I can tell you is that the past is a pretty damned good indicator of what the future is going to be like. It’s 100% situation normal in the belly of the bureaucracy… and that’s a uniquely off combination of comforting and infuriating. If nothing else, I know what to expect. I’ve been here before after all. The names and faces are different, the scenery has changed, but it’s the same old, tired story. The more things change, the more they never do… at least this round of eye rolling is on the banks of Mother Chesapeake instead of Big Muddy.
As often as not, Sunday dinner at my grandparent’s house meant roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and all manner of home cooked food. While I may not have a dozen or more gathered around my table at 5PM on the dot, at least once a month, my house fills with the savory smell of roasting beef as I do my best to keep with tradition. Sure, I’ve made some tweaks to the recipes – I use more garlic than my grandmother would have ever dreamed of, for instance – but the underlying idea is still the same. Sunday dinner is important, if for no other reason than it’s a touchstone with the past.
While we’re on the topic of touching the past, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that this week’s posts from the archive are now available for your reading pleasure. Pulled into the present from the last half of June and July 2008, today’s posts are a bit more pithy than they’ve been in the last few weeks. They feature a few more explanations of some of the more colorful words and phrases that show up in my vocabulary from time to time. Get your dose of the archives soon, because from the look of things, in two months this particular Sunday tradition will be drawing to an end.
Yeah in and year out, December regularly has the lowest readership of any month of the year. Everyone is busy and that’s to be expected while they’re attempting to fill the world with their personal version of holiday cheer. I mean, I can’t really expect everyone to drop their Christmas planning just because a new post or two show up on the internet. The logical result is that December became something of a dumping ground around here. Since the numbers weren’t on my side, posts got less frequent, shorter, and weren’t exactly “A” level material in a lot of cases. I like to think more recent Decembers have seen that trend reverse a bit as I try to keep the focus on delivering quality pith every day of the year.
December 2007 was seriously short on posts. It looks like I was only managing to get my act together every three or four days back then… and what did show up was often super short and lacked the snark that I think helps define jeffreytharp.com.
What does that mean to you? Well, instead of dribbling them out over two weeks, I’ve taken the unprecedented step of posting the entire month’s worth of material in one go. With these 10 posts, we can bring 2007 to an end. Next sunday, I hope you’ll join me as we launch headlong into 2008. With only ten months and 14,000 words of archive material left to post, this little project is closer to its end than its beginning. I still think it’s been a worthwhile effort if only to remind me about how ridiculous our own pasts can sound when we have the benefit of hindsight.