Tag Archives: Stories

I Meet My Match

Many years ago, we lived in the mountains of western North Carolina. A long ridge rose up on the outskirts of the small town in which we resided. From where it began, the rise to its highest point was around 3 miles in length. There, the ridge abruptly ended with a rocky outcropping, rapidly dropping away several hundred feet to the valley below. Along the ridge, a meandering and relatively steep two lane road led to the top of the ridge.

It goes without saying that any self-respecting town in which such a geophysical feature is found is also the home of a legend relating the sad tale of a young maiden whose true love had gone off to war, or to sea, or on some such quest.

You probably know the rest of the story. When fate, in one form or another kept her true love from returning, the young maiden, overcome with remorse, met her demise by flinging herself headlong off of said geophysical feature.

The ridge in our town was known as Jump Off Rock and the maiden in the legend associated with it; a Cherokee Indian whose warrior soulmate never returned from battle.

It’s interesting to note that over the last few generations, your average young maiden appears to have been made of tougher stuff or to have come up with more constructive strategies for handling any remorse they may feel in relation to absentee true loves. That’s probably a good thing.

That aside, I had taken up cycling as a means of keeping myself fit. I’d been a jogger for several years, but a hip injury had caused me to cut back on running. When I discovered that pedaling a bike didn’t negatively impact my hip, I hung up my running shorts and replaced them with a pair of black spandex cycling pants and away I went.

The ride up to the top of Jump of Rock became one of my favorite cycling routes. From my home, the round trip to the top of the ridge and back was about 15 miles. The climb up to the rocky outcropping wasn’t comparable to climbing the Pyrenees Mountains in the Tour de France, but I’m not ashamed to admit that it would cause one’s thighs to burn before the top was reached.

One spring afternoon, I completed the climb to the top, pulled my bike over to a grassy area near the outcropping, and was sitting there basking in the internal glow of having once again made the 3-mile assault to the top without having to stop anywhere along the route to catch my breath.

It was then that I noticed an old man hobbling toward me from the other side of the road. He was 85 years old, if he was a day, and was relying heavily on a weathered wooden cane which looked like it had been handmade from a crooked tree limb.

He slowly walked over to where I was relaxing in the grass. For some time he stood there silently gazing at my bike as it lay in the grass between us.

Abruptly, he reached out and began hitting the derailleur on the back wheel of my bike with his gnarly wooden cane. For the uninitiated, the derailleur is the device that allows for the multiple gear changes typically found on modern road bikes. For the record, my bike had 12 gears.

Then in a heavy, guttural German accent he shouted, “What’s that? What’s that!

That’s the derailleur. It allows me to change gears on the bike which makes it easier to pedal when riding up steep slopes like this one.” I explained.

He paused for a moment, shook his head slightly from side to side, and shouted, “One gear! One gear! When I was a boy, my schoolmates and I rode our bicycles from Zurich to Lyon, over the Alps, with only one gear!”

He paused momentarily to catch his breath and clear his throat before adding, “One gear!

Believing that he had sufficiently made his point, the old man silently limped back across the road to his car and drove away; all the while shaking his head.

I sat there for a few moments pondering whether or not I should go over to the rocky outcropping and hurl my bike, myself, or both my bike and myself over the edge.

But realizing that I didn’t want to be found laying at the bottom of the cliff in those spandex biker shorts, I got back on my bike and rode home; a more humble man than the one who had just ascended Jump Off Rock.

Technology is my Friend

A couple of nights back, my wife and I were watching a show on the TV when she made a comment about my aging Apple iPad Mini 2 which happened to be laying on an end table between us. I can’t remember what inspired that topic of conversation, maybe it was a commercial, but to my surprise, she said something along the line of, “You know, maybe it’s time for you to upgrade to a better iPad and then I can have the Mini 2?” She even suggested that I should get one like that which our youngest son had recently acquired.

To be honest, I had been feeling a bit constrained by my iPad Mini 2’s somewhat minuscule 16GB of storage. So it didn’t take a lot of persuasion for me to pursue that line of reasoning. You might say that my reaction was similar to that of the old firehouse horse who, on hearing any alarm, immediately springs into action!

To make a very brief story even shorter, in less than 36 hours, I had in my possession a shiny new iPad Pro with 256GB of storage. I’m still trying to figure out what I did to have been granted such amazing good fortune. If I ever do, I’m going to bottle it and save it for use sometime in the future.

I became a techno-geek years before that terminology was even imagined, so it’ll come as no surprise that I keep up with the latest advancements in computer/tablet technology. I also knew that my son had indicated that since acquiring his, he was now securely joined at the hip to the iPad Pro.

As soon as I opened the box and extracted my copy of this amazing device, I immediately felt it interfacing with my hip as well. I’m fairly confident that I also heard a monotone voice whispering, “Resistence is futile. You have been assimilated.

By itself, going from 16GB of storage to 256GB is a life changing event. It put an end to the revolving door of apps coming and going on my Mini 2 as I came across new, untried applications and uses for that device. With the iPad Pro, I’m now able to install and utilize apps with impunity. But that’s merely scratching the surface of its capabilities.

Some reviewers have indicated that the iPad Pro, along with a Bluetooth or Smart keyboard, can replace the need for a laptop computer. I’m not sure that I’d go that far, but it is a computing powerhouse. For those so inclined, countless reviews of the iPad Pro can be found on YouTube.

Suffice it to say, that I’m thoroughly enjoying the process of getting mine configured for my usage and learning about all that it can do.

Once again, I find myself in techno-geek heaven!

Retirement = Free time …. not necessarily

Before I retired, I never really gave much thought to what I’d be doing with all of the “free time” which retirement was supposed to place at my disposal.  Based on the number of hobbies and pursuits that I have: such as ham radio, reading, photography, writing, etc., I suppose I assumed that I would occupy most of my time in the pursuit of those activities.

After nearly six months of retirement, that’s not been the case.  Bummer? Well, maybe.

raquel-martinez-96648-unsplWe all know that those two evil twins, Accountability and Responsibility, will raise their ugly heads when and where you least expect them!  Paying bills, balancing the checkbook, buying groceries, doing laundry, cutting the grass, running errands around town, and other mundane, yet very necessary tasks, fill as much of my “free time” as those aforementioned hobbies and pursuits.

Quite frankly, I believe that’s the way it should be.

It turns out that retirement is not like being set free on a giant playground with no responsibilities and no time constraints.

That said, I’ve recognized that retirement grants you, and you alone, a great deal of freedom in determining when and how you choose to address those things which still demand your attention and for which you are still responsible.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

It took a while, but over the past few months I’ve come to the conclusion that the greatest reward of retirement is simply having:

           Freedom of choice when it comes to the deciding when to do those
           tasks you need to do versus those activities you want to do.

toa-heftiba-362237-unsplashIf you manage that freedom properly, it’s still possible to find yourself with an abundance of free time to do whatever it might be that you want to do each day; or conversely, to elect to do nothing at all!

And what a joy that last option can be!

I’ve come to believe that success in having an enjoyable and rewarding retirement will be determined by how well individuals balance this new found freedom with their on-going responsibilities.

In retirement, you really do become your own boss and take it from me, that’s real freedom!

That’s why, when others ask how I’m enjoying retirement, I tell them that I feel as if I’m residing in a very pleasant Alternate Universe from the one in which I existed during my working life.

And make no mistake, it’s a very satisfactory universe at that.

Photos by Toa Heftiba and Raquel Martinez on Unsplash

Residing in an Alternate Universe

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I retired recently after being continuously employed for something like 42 years.  I recognize now that while I was actively working, I really didn’t expend much effort in considering the passage of time.

timeDuring those years, management of the here and now aspects of time was a much more immediate concern.  Time was a tool which I carried on my left wrist.  It reminded me that I needed to get to work every day by a certain time.  That I needed to arrive on time for meetings, to find time for lunch each day, to ensure that results were delivered prior to deadlines.

You know the drill; like sands through an hour glass time marches on and there’s no rest for the weary.

There were only a few periods during my career when I felt like those 42 years would never end.  I guess I just didn’t have time for such contemplative, non-value adding musings.

Now that I’m retired, all of those working years seem to have gone by in a flash.  Clearly the perception of time is based on where one is standing as they are considering its passing.

Looking back at my working years, time was very rigid taskmaster populated with a maze of ever expanding benchmarks, most of which were very securely set and which demanded strict adherence.

Now that I’m retired, time has become very fluid, extremely malleable, and only occasionally demanding – and then in a most friendly and wonderfully passive manner. These days I no longer think of time as being carved in stone.  It’s more like having an amiable Pillsbury Dough Boy who looks after my schedule.

I still have things that I plan to do each day, but I hesitate referring to those events as being “on my calendar“.  That implies far too much structure in how I manage my days.

If I want to go to the gym later in the day rather than first thing in the morning, so be it.  I can just as readily sweat at 11:00 am as I can at 7:30 am.  The stamps on those envelopes that I need to mail won’t expire if I wait until tomorrow to go by the Post Office.  And since the local grocery store no longer gives the Senior Citizen discount on Wednesdays (how dare they), I can just as easily restock the pantry on any day of the week!

I’m slowly recognizing that I’ve become a resident in an alternate universe where I control time, rather than it controlling me.  And it’s really quite a nice place to be.

I haven’t broken contact completely with that other universe in which I used to reside, but I find that I’m merely an observer of it, rather than an active participant.

traffic-jamAs I drive around town, particularly during the morning and afternoon rush hours, I realize that I’m awash in a sea of folks dressed in the now standard business casual attire and tightly gripping their steering wheels as they frantically search for any opportunity to gain just one spot ahead of where they find themselves in the endless lines of traffic.  No doubt their minds are swamped with the plethora of reports, meetings, and tasks that are dictating their schedule for the rest of today, tomorrow, and next week.

I suppose that once in a great while one of the residents of that other universe may glance over at me and momentarily wonder, “Why does that old codger look so relaxed and content?”  Apparently, they can’t see the Pillsbury Dough Boy sitting in the passenger seat whimsically wondering what we’re going to do with the rest of the day.

Photos by Rawpixel and Evgeny Tchebotarev on Unsplash

Another of Life’s Little Surprises

Have you ever had the opportunity to know, or as in my case, to work with a really memorable character?  One of those rare individuals who stand out from the crowd due to their life experiences, their sense of humor, or their easygoing curmudgeonry?

Well, I have.  His name was Bill and I had the good fortune to work with him for about eight years beginning in the late 80’s.  Bill was a human warehouse of humorous anecdotes regarding things that he had seen and done, the source of countless limericks learned in his college days, and wellspring of unique descriptive phrases which I came to realize were mostly of his own creation.

Bill was 15 or so years my senior and as he moved closer to retirement age he began to describe his problem with weight control as “Creeping Obesity“.  It’s a concept with which many folks who are in, or moving beyond, their middle years can readily identify.

Two events that I’ve experienced over the past two days caused me to recall Bill’s Creeping Obesity and to recognize a parallel condition that I’ll identify as Creeping Dotage; dotage being a nice word for senility.

Like most people, I have a smartphone, an iPhone in my case, and I carry it with me for nearly 100% of my waking hours.  If it’s not in my hand, it’s in one of my pant’s pockets, or sitting on a table or desk in front of me.

Two days ago, I was walking through my kitchen when I thought of something that I needed to check on.  I’ve known for some time that the answer to any and all questions can be found with a quick and simple Google, so I reached into my pocket for my phone.

But it wasn’t there! No problem, I must have left it on the desk beside my computer. Nope, it wasn’t there.  Maybe I left it downstairs when I was checking the weather on the TV.  Nope.  Did I leave it in the laundry room? Nope.  The bedroom? Nope…… and on and on and on!

I walked through and searched every room in this house at least 3 times without finding the phone.  As I was approaching total exasperation, I walked for a fourth time into the den where I had been watching TV.

As I was approaching the chair in which I normally sit, something in the deep recesses of the back of my mind told me to look down. There, laying in plain sight on the Persian carpet, but perfectly camouflaged, was my iPhone.  The phone, in it’s jet black case, presumably had fallen off of my lap as I had gotten up from the chair and had landed face down in an area of the rug which was equally dark.

Fast forward one day to yesterday.  Sitting in the living room, I remembered that I wanted to check on a baseball score from the previous night, so I reached into my pocket to get my phone, but wait, it’s not there!

Two days in a row!  Surely not! This can’t be!

By this point, I’m confident that you know the drill and will understand that after 3 or 4 circuits of every room in this house, my iPhone was still AWOL.

Equally concerned with the sieve that my mind was apparently becoming and with my inability to locate the missing phone, in desperation I walked one last time into the room which serves as my office.  I scanned the desk and moved everything that was on it.  No phone.  Then that same remote place in the back of my mind whispered to me, “Move the office chair!

iphoneI reached down and grabbed the arm of the chair.  But wait!  What’s this?  As my hand wrapped around the chair’s arm rest, I realized that it had also wrapped itself around my perfectly camouflaged iPhone which had been hidden in plain sight resting on the jet black arm rest.

I’m pleased to report that it’s after 2:00 pm.  It’s been over 24 hours since the last unfortunate incident and the iPhone is resting peacefully on a piece of lily white paper just to the left of my computer as I type these words.

Yes, Bill.  I hear you.  Undeniably, it’s Creeping Senility.

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

Whiskers vs Beards

Is there a distinction between whiskers and beards?

I’m not sure I would have ever thought so, but for an article I read many years ago which pointed out that men sporting facial hair who happened to have the reputation for being ne’er do wells, villainous, or simply in disrepute were more often than not described as wearing whiskers.  Whereas, men with facial hair who were admired, of high character, and just all around good guys were adorned with beards.

On October 15, 1860, 11 year old Grace Bedell of Westfield, NY wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, who at the time was running for the office of President of the United States.  In it, she wrote:

I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin.

Within a month, Lincoln had grown a full beard, softened his visage, and shortly became the 16th President.  It’s interesting to note that after assuming the office, his “whiskers” were thereafter most often referred to as a beard.  At least by those residing above the Mason-Dixon Line.

I’ve grown a few beards in my time, at least five that I can recall.  I’m referring to them as beards because I’m presuming that I don’t qualify as a ne’er do well.  Two were grown during my college days, two during my working career, and the last being the one I’m now maintaining.

my-beardDue to my Scottish highland ancestry, the two college era beards were of a reddish, auburn hue, while the two grown during my middle years slowly morphed into shades of light brown.  As you can see, my current effort has taken on a somewhat more philosophical shade of white.

gabby-hayes-4I seem to think much more deeply about things since I began to let it grow a few weeks ago.  As such, I can’t decide whether the beard makes me look more like Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, or Sigmund Freud.  Others have suggested that perhaps Gabby Hayes would be the better comparison.

As a footnote, the mustache adorning my upper lip has been in place without interruption since 1973.  Beards, and/or whiskers, may come and go, but the ‘stache is here to stay.

But back to whiskers vs beards.  Facial hair on men is quite common these days, but I rarely if ever hear it described as whiskers.  I’m quite confident that this is not due to a general decline in the numbers of ne’er do wells and villains.  On the contrary, those numbers are decidedly on the increase.  I can only assume that the term whiskers has fallen out of use due to the never ending evolution of language and the words we choose to use.

A decent beard has long been
the number one must-have
fashion item for any

fugitive from justice.

–  Craig Brown

Sleep with Honor

HammockI’m a fairly pragmatic individual, so when I find that my eyelids are growing heavy, regardless of the time of day, I’ll say to myself and to anyone else within earshot, “It’s time for a bit of sleep with honor.”  Invariably, this will lead me to the nearest sofa, recliner, bed, or other comfortable flat surface for a few moments of repose and restoration.

I began using the phrase, sleep with honor, during my Junior year of college.  Thankfully, the Vietnam War was beginning to wind down and the Paris Peace Accord had been signed.  Then President Richard Nixon gave a speech on January 23, 1973 in which he described the accord as providing the means for the U.S. to obtain “Peace with Honor” which had been a campaign promise he’d made way back in 1968.

The Vietnam War had been a hot topic on college campuses all across America since the mid-60’s and squarely on the mind of all military draft eligible male college students.  For that reason, the phrase Peace with Honor resonated with me, and many others, as representing something which I could and would heartily embrace.

Even as a college student, I was never a believer in late nights or burning the candle at both ends.  Whenever I found myself growing weary, I assumed that my body was attempting to tell me something and that I’d be wise to pay attention.  As I referenced earlier, I’ve always been a bit pragmatic.

Consequently, I never hesitated to call it a night and head to bed when the mood struck, regardless of the fervor with which I had been studying or (perhaps more likely) the intensity of the party that was rolling along in the apartment next door.

In response to the inevitable inquiries shouted in my direction by apartment mates and friends as I left in search of peace and quiet in my own apartment, I’d simply reply, “It’s time for a bit of sleep with honor.”

And I’d then go softly into that good night.

 

Photo by Mateusz Dach from Pexels