Inside the landscape

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California is filled with beautiful places, and I’m pointing one out in this shot. Panoramics usually don’t render very well on a computer screen, but to know that I was in such a place–and wide awake at the time–is a pretty awesome feeling.

Playing a new game

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A few days before my family and I left for a vacation in California, my little one told me that she had been reading my blog, and it made her sad. It’s certainly not something that I wanted to hear, so I decided to ask her why.

“You tell stories about the run and jump and other things we don’t do anymore, and I miss them” she told me.

I told her that I wrote stories here so that she and I could have a record of them, and if we outgrew them one day–and we’re bound to do with most things–we can look back at them fondly. And if some stranger we’ve never met before wants to read the stories, that’s OK too. Better to have the stories than to rely on our memories, which are wonderful things but are not always as reliable as they could be.

My reply seemed to satisfy her, and I was reminded of our conversation a few days later, when we were on a beach near Pacific Grove, California. We were on the 17 Mile Drive, which I had never heard of before and now I’ll hardly ever forget it. But there’s a story to tell that I hope she finds some day.

The waves came crashing in, as they always have done before, and the two of us decided to turn this experience into a race. We would walk out toward the water as the wave was coming in, and after it crashed and the water came ashore, we’d begin to backpedal, all the while saying “back…back…back” as if this would keep the water away from us.

A successful round was going all the way back before the water reached your toes or–in my case–your shoes. It was fun because even if you misjudged the wave’s size or speed, the worst that would happen is some surprisingly cold water would touch your feet. With all of the hardships in the world, a few moments of trying to outrun an ocean wave felt like a rare treat.

We called our game “Back…Back…Back” and I’d be surprised if we ever had an occasion to play the game again. But it marked our time on the beach that day, and proved to me that while some games might be outgrown or cast aside, our love and our ingenuity never will.

View from a cable car

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The cable cars in San Francisco are a singular experience in a singular city. I loved the days that I spent here, and I’m sad to be leaving now for the flat city that I call home.

I’m a Chicago guy, but the experiences I’ve had here will stay with me forever. I understand the old Tony Bennett song more than I ever did, and I haven’t even left the airport yet. I can only hope that it won’t take me forty-some years to get back here again.

Karma

Sitting on the pier at Santa Monica, watching the sun as it descends toward the Pacific Ocean, reminds me of the blessings I have in my life. Two great kids have made all the difference in my life, and spending time with them will create memories that will last for the rest of our lifetimes.

Dinner last night with an old friend from grammar school was another reminder. We talked about the old days and where life has led us since then. He told me, and I don’t disagree, that karma leads us to where we are in life. And I’ve been rewarded with the good kind, fortunately.

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If you’re an idiot and you know it

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Social media has taught the SAE fraternity, and all the rest of us who are paying attention, an important lesson: Don’t be an asshole, even for a few seconds. And when you sing racist songs, you are an asshole.

What I haven’t yet heard anyone say is that the racist tune that was sung on the bus was set to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” A simple child’s tune about happiness, which any three-year old knows how to sing, should never be used as some sort of racial manifesto.

How many others have sung this song, within the SAE organization? We won’t ever know, but the ones who sang it on the bus learned it from somewhere. Anyone with a speck of common sense knows that much.

There are times when I wish the Internet and social media existed when I was in college, back in the late 1980s. But then I reconsider this idea, for while I never sang racist songs, I did do some stupid things which I would not want to end up going viral. After all, the college days might fly past, but the Internet is forever.

My Grateful Beard has disappeared

I spent much of February 2015 growing a beard. It originally grew out of the hockey-related idea of a playoff beard.
If you keep a routine that does not allow for shaving to intrude, the thinking goes, it will somehow create a benefit for one’s team. Or at least it allows you to share the experience with others who do the same silly thing.

I called this phenomenon the Grateful Beard, since it grew out of a waiting to see if I was going to get tickets to one of the reunion/farewell shows the Grateful Dead is playing this summer in Chicago.

I’ve been to four Dead shows over the years, with the last one being almost 22 years ago now. Four shows isn’t much by some standards, but most people haven’t even been to one show, so I’m happy to be as experienced as I am. For a rock lifer like me, hearing Jerry and his band play live confers some degree of street cred that few other bands can match.

Jerry Garcia once said that the trick is not to do something better than everyone else does it, but to do something that no one else is doing. The band was singular in their time, and that shows in what will surely be a hyper-crazy demand to be a part of the three shows this summer. this is a one-time thing, and I want in.

But as I posted previously, the mail order didn’t work out, and my money order arrived in the mail a few days ago. I took one last picture of my Grateful Beard, complete with a legitimate touch of gray in it, and shaved it off yesterday morning.

Now that the Beard is no more, I understand that it–like the Dead shows this summer–was a unique and singular experience. Never again will my whiskers depend on the content of my mailbox. So even though my efforts did not lead to the miracles I had been seeking, I still had some way of marking the time along the way. It’s a small thing, but I am memorializing it here, all the same.

Here’s hoping that the telephone and Internet sale this morning leads to greater success than the mail order did. What I can say confidently is that no Beard will be grown during this process.

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Farewell, Harris

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When I played youth baseball in the Khoury League many years ago, there was one kid on my team I really hated. And hate isn’t a feeling I come by very easily, either. But I had my reasons, and they came flooding back to me this evening. The best thing about writing a blog is having some outlet for the thoughts and stories that swirl around inside my head, so here goes with this one:

Harris is my last name, but I never thought of referring to anyone by using their last name. Tom Jones would have been Tom to me, not Jones. But this teammate of mine delighted in calling me “Harris.” Even though he had the same first name that I did, he never once referred to me by my first name. I found it strange and more than a bit disrespectful, and if I was a different sort of kid I would have let him know about it. But I was a tall, awkward kid who wasn’t prone to violence, so I let it go. There were other things worth getting upset about, I suppose.

The way that “Harris” was pronounced made it even worse. It was a drawn-out nasally sneer, like “Haaaaaris,” and it was irritating enough to hear it in the first place. But to then realize that not only was I being mocked, but so were my parents, my siblings, and essentially my entire family, it made it really hard to hold that inside. So I internalized it, instead.

As far back as I can remember, I think of myself as “Harris” whenever I’m trying to get something across to myself. “We need to get this project done, Harris, before it’s due next week.” Things like that. As much as I didn’t like it when someone else called me Harris, I have routinely allowed myself to do it. It’s a coping mechanism, you might say.

Over the past few weeks, as I discovered that an actor named Harris Wittels had a recurring role on the show “Parks and Recreation,” I thought about how cool that was. Somebody was actually given Harris as their first name, and everyone who came into contact with him called him that, and not in an insulting manner. Even better, the character he played on the show was also named Harris. It’s annoying that Tony Danza always played characters named Tony on screen, but when Harris Wittels became Harris onscreen, it was nothing short of awesome, at least for me.

When I learned today that Harris died at the age of 30 from a drug overdose, I was shocked and a little bit saddened. I know that “Parks and Recreation” is finishing up its run soon, but Harris Wittels still had lots of time to do other things. Maybe he would have gone and been Harris again somewhere else, or perhaps written other books to go along with Humblebrag. The entertainment industry was his oyster, and now he’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Farley and Freddie Prinze. It’s a shame, really.

I’m now at an age where whenever somebody dies–whether I knew them or not–the first thing I want to know is how old they were. Somebody who dies at 52, like Jerome Kersey just did, reminds me that the end can come at a relatively young age. Although I have zero in common with Jerome Kersey, he got to walk the earth for 52 years, so hopefully I’ll get at least that much time myself.

But 30 is another story altogether. Harris Wittels found that drugs were to his liking, and his success afforded him both the money and the opportunity to indulge this habit. I never had either of these things when I was 30, and looking at what happened to him, I’m glad of it. Something is going to get me one day, but it won’t be drugs, I hope.

So from a Harris who lives a life of anonymity, to a Harris who appeared to have the world by the tail, thanks for wearing the name like a badge of honor. I wish you had allowed yourself more time to do it.

Years in the life

Orwell A few days ago, I made a discovery that I didn’t want to make. I found a website listing ages and the names of well-known people who died at each of them. Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see who else had died at my current age of whatever-it-is (I know the number, but I don’t want to put it down for posterity here).

My favorite author is George Orwell, and it turns out that he died at the same age that I am now. If I can make it to my next birthday, I’ll have outlived him, in the way that I already have with Elvis and Thoreau and Jimi Hendrix. Each of them lived a whole lot more than I have (and that’s why we remember them still), but in reducing life down to one number, I have them beat.

My next birthday is still four months away, and until it gets here I’ll think of George Orwell often. Here’s hoping I’ll get to leave him behind soon.

January goes away

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If I had to rank the months of the year in order of my personal preference, January would be at or near the bottom. Winter will do that, I’m afraid.

So after today, January goes away for a good long time. If all goes well it will come back again, for me and everyone reading this. But until then, several warmer and more agreeable months lie ahead, just not right away.