Category Archives: random thoughts

Non sequitur

Lately, I’ve been finding myself uttering this expression a couple of times per day.  It must be where I’m living that has me periodically announcing this to myself.

It shouldn’t matter, being stared at.  But young or old, a preponderance of locals still break their necks to get a good look at the weirdo in their midsts.  After a few years, I thought I’d be over it by now.  But I recognize it must be an internal flaw (surely one of many).

The fallacy of a non-sequitur. The inference drummed up from the premise just doesn’t follow.

Why should a stare matter anyway?  It shouldn’t.  That is the non sequitur.  It only matters in my head.  In the reality of life, the logic the internal voice tries to make of all the rubbernecks matters not.

For example, the internal role-playing may discuss what impressions others will have if I, literally, skip through the park.  The voice tries to sneak in something like, “this will be uncomfortable,..they will be gawking.  Maybe I should not workout here.”

The what-will-the-neighbors-think is a learned notion that must be clinging in the imagination like excess residue that won’t wash away.  Yea, sure, we can’t just run amok among ourselves without mutually accepted behaviors.  Yet at the same time, altering reasonable actions because an internal voice is making deductions about what others “may” think is a bit of nonsense.

Hence, I’ve been trying to preempt the prattle with the command of “non sequitur” whenever the voice begins the what-others-may-think soliloquy.

If my ego is giving me a particularly hard time,  repeating non sequitur aloud (mostly) assuages its insistence.

Hmm, perhaps I’ll need to make wider use of this latin-based phrase.

The Break of Dawn

If I were a true punster, the title would be The Crack of Dawn.

The first year of college right out of high school was a jumble of experiments.  At 18, the school was far enough away from home that commuting was impractical; therefore I arranged a government loan to cover dormitory accommodation as well as tuition.  The guy who’s room I shared upon arrival must have drawn the short straw because he didn’t seem so thrilled to have landed a green, freshman roommate.  With his waist-length hair, he sported a “been there/done that” attitude.  But he quickly warmed up to my irresistible charm (haha) when he carefully showed me how to use his sophisticated reel-to-reel tape stereo system, top of the line for its day.  The speakers were almost as tall as I, making his impressive recording compositions from bands like The Who mind-blowingly absorbing after we would share a bowl of hashish.

Bunking with him lasted only a month or so before a spot opened up on the fraternity floor where a couple of my friends were staying, so I soon became an unofficial frat member.  It wasn’t a jock frat, rather a mix of background and color.  If there were any athletes in the fraternity, it ended up being two of my friends and me.

Shortly after arriving on campus, I noticed a poster at the gymnasium’s entrance inviting students to join the swim team.  No experience necessary read the sign.  “Hmm, I might be up for that,” I thought.  I had never participated in an official school sport, and the idea of no experience was an attraction.  After all, how hard could swimming be, I thought, having swum in the ocean almost every summer growing up.

But it was grueling, with daily practices of endless laps of freestyle, breast, back, and fly strokes.  I didn’t know until after I joined that a friend, the only other guy who selected this college from my high school, Bob, had also joined the team.  We then became friends with another Bob, who we called Dunk, an abbreviation of his last name.  Bob had participated in organized swimming before, and Dunk was a superb competitive platform diver.  We still call each other friends to this day.  Together the three of us, along with Billy Beirster, from Brooklyn, NY, were the newbies on the swim team.  We were a tad on the unrestrained side, whereas the balance of the team was,..umm, more mature.

As in any sport, the games, or meets in this case, made the practice worthwhile.

As an example, Billy would regularly, actually upon request, demonstrate his nostril inhaling prowess by snorting jello at lunch in the school cafeteria.  In those days a cup of jello cubes was a staple dessert selection.  Beirster would carefully and steadily balance a cube, which was at least six times larger than his nostril opening, with one finger below his nose, while he closed his other nostril, as focused snorters do.  Then, with everything still, except for the wobbly jello cube precariously balanced on his fingertip, it would suddenly disappear up his nasal cavity with one quick, short snort.

A lucky set of events allowed me to letter in swimming that first season.  To be given a “letter,” an embroidered patch, intended to be sewn on the back of a varsity jacket, required a certain number of points acquired by placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the official events.  We competed with various state colleges and universities around Pennsylvania.

Billy Beirster had no problem snorting them.

One of the “away” meets was with a team not known to have particularly fast swimmers. Therefore our coach allowed some of us a chance to accumulate points by resting the regular starters.  I ended up placing first in the 50-meter freestyle event that evening, which, if I remember correctly, gave me a healthy chunk of points towards the letter that year.  A couple of my teammates were smoking pot before that meet, which may be the reason I had a further edge.  I had learned my lesson with drugs and swimming earlier in the month by popping a tab of LSD just before a swim practice (not one of my most intelligent experiments).  During the endurance laps, the psychedelic effects kicked in big time.  The water started feeling thick like the jello Billy snorted.  Every time I took a breath, hallucinations of large, colored clouds with dragon details appeared against the folded up bleachers.  The lane markers on the walls at each end of the pool would spin clockwise, then counterclockwise, and gyrate to appear further distant the closer I became until I finally banged into the wall.  One of the senior swimmers approached me while I was still in the water, looked into my eyes and said, “Freddie, you don’t look so good, I’m going to recommend to the coach that you go back to the dorm and rest.”  “Thanks,” I gratefully replied, “I’m feeling a little out of it today.”

Receiving a letter like this required points.

But I’m rambling.  This is about Dawn.  Or rather Valerie.  She could have been a poster flower child.  After all, the Vietnam war was still in full swing and the hippie movement hadn’t yet faded. The second draft selection was processed during that first college-year and luckily I received a high number, meaning I wasn’t compelled to enlist and fight in a war that made no sense.   Anyway, I was semi-intoxicated by Valerie’s presence.  For whatever reason, she liked hanging around Bob, Dunk, and I.   Not long after I met her though, she changed her name to Dawn.  She was tall, slender, pretty, long blond hair, light and smooth olive skin, a down-to-earth sultry voice, intelligent, and au naturel.  If she wanted to change her name to Dawn, who was I in my half-stoned mind to opine.  I fell for her all the same.  My puzzle was that she didn’t fall for me.  I dreamt about her and was confident she would be the perfect girlfriend.

It was a popularly unpopular war, Vietnam.

Toward the end of that first school year, I was therefore thrilled that she wanted to accompany Bob, Dunk, and I to our hometown for a long weekend.  “Maybe she’ll become enraptured with me away from school,” I naively pondered.  But then she met my brother D.  It must have been his long curly locks during the time he was living out a short rebel streak that attracted her to him.  Bro D was renting a room from friends of mine in town.   When I met them one morning, I walked into his room and there they were, in bed together.  He just looked up at me and smiled.  I could only smile back, even though there was a sudden gnarly turbulence in my gut.  He was doing what any red-blooded guy would do if given a chance, so I could only admire him for that.  He happened to conquer what I couldn’t.  He didn’t know I liked her.  I never told him because admitting so would have acknowledged a made-up fantasy.  Anyway, better him than someone else, I remember thinking.

Shortly after that, something clicked.  How could I take anyone serious who had changed her name from Valerie to Dawn?  Her closest friend changed her name to Born.  The bohemian outlook started seeming a little too hippy dippy.  Just that quick she was erased from my desire board.

I quit full-time college midway through the 3rd semester (2nd year) as I couldn’t figure out why I was going into debt studying for a degree I didn’t much care about.  I’d go on to attend five universities over the next 10 years (another experiment I wouldn’t recommend) before figuring it out and receiving a diploma, or two.  But what brother D didn’t realize, nor did I, is that toward the end of that first year, he helped me over a short phase with the Break of Dawn.

Band Camp Pussy

There’s no harm going way back,…right?

It was a feeling I tried to prevent from creeping in.  Band camp pussy.  While successful most of the time, that pesky voice would appear from seemingly nowhere, hover for a while, performing a muted overture.  I pretended it wasn’t there, ignoring its minor phrase.  The thought though didn’t miss a beat and patiently waited for an encore.

Before high school, I relished team sports where ever I could find them, rec leagues mostly, since the parochial school I attended had no sports.  I wasn’t a tough kid, yet I wasn’t a wuss.  For example, on the football team, I was a halfback on offense, except that I never ran the ball.  That was the job for the other halfback, the fastest guy on the team.  Whenever we ran sweeps, my job was to run in front of him and block.  Because he was so fast, I would dive, arms outstretched, splaying the defensive backs who would fall over me, allowing my teammate a clear path to the goal line.  To congratulate me, the coach would raise my arm after the games to show off my dirt and grass-stained ensemble.  So hey, I knew I wasn’t a wimp.  OK, so this was only a 6-man (haha, kid) midget football league.

Around that time, dear ole dad brought home a couple of instruments — a trombone and a baritone.  He had played both in the Marine band.  Brother D picked up the baritone and I opted for the shiny gold trombone and started lessons soon thereafter.  I loved the ability of sliding, this time into and off of notes.  For the next several years I blew plenty of horn.  By the time I reached high school, I had several years of horn blowing under my belt.  While my friends joined the football team, I played in the band.

I’m not tooting my horn, but in the school orchestra, to the consternation of some upperclassmen, out of seven trombones, as a freshman, I shared 1st trombone chair.  Concert performance pieces dictated our practice.  However, besides the occasional parade march, the physical side of playing was the orchestra’s double-duty of performing at football games.

Every summer, therefore, involved a couple of weeks of band camp.  We had to learn and practice marching formations in a medley of sequences, usually with an eight-count every five yards or 90-degree turn.  And we didn’t just walk.  We high-stepped it, with knees to waist level.  We had to look and sound snappy.

Knees to waist level was the deal.

The seasonal football games were a major school-spirit event.  The band provided minor, periphery entertainment.  Truthfully, I didn’t care for organized football.  I much preferred informal ‘pick-up’ games, found in the many parks around where we lived.  These unofficial games were raucous, energetic, and fun.  School football seemed more tense and brutal.  Sure the theme was strategy, excitement, and heroes, but in a way, we were glamorizing the brutishness.

Essentially I felt relegated to cheerleading as a band member.  The weekly hoopla wasn’t striking the right cord.

Fortunately, I eventually composed a good excuse for quitting the orchestra, and trombone.  Not only was the subliminal band camp pussy message evidently still in tune with a few neurons, but my front teeth were chipped and needed caps, so applying pressure to the horn’s mouthpiece was not to the required scale.  But the conductor opened a spot for me to play the cymbals that year.  I agreed, as marching staccato with the percussion section was invigorating, and crashing cymbals with gusto during The Star Spangled Banner in front of a home crowd yielded whole notes of internal jazz.  But the exhilaration was soon out of pitch.  I think I made it 3/4 through the season before I handed in my spats.  That nagging thought finally won.  Was I indeed a band camp pussy?

A simple but beautifully sounding Conn slide trombone.

I found the Conn slide trombone in its original case buried in storage about 15 years ago and had it refurbished with the delusion of picking it up again.  But blowing horn after such a long break stayed an illusion.  I was flatter than the tires on my carbon road bike.

As a side note, so this message is not left off key, the truth is, band camp was cool.  The physicality, choreography, rhythm, cadence, and the coordination while playing music and witnessing the whole emerge greater than the sum of the parts, produced ample measures of stimulation and gratification.  I’m guessing the pussy part snuck in as a postlude.

It was just another cloudy day

The sun hadn’t made an appearance from dawn to dusk, well covered by a fast moving cloud mass at both medium and high elevation.  Nevertheless, the sky was beautifully overcast, with a broad spectrum of gray hues defining a sort of polyrhythmic flow above.

Finishing our first year in college, a friend from high school, nicknamed E, and I, decided to head to Florida for Spring break.  Not that we knew much about spring breaks, we were just going to visit our friend Jimmy.  Neither of us had cars road-worthy enough of the thousand-mile trip, so we decided to hitchhike to South Carolina, where we hooked up with a friend K, who was attending college there and also had a school break.  And a car.

In high school, there was a gaggle of guys, and for some reason, we called ourselves (and still do) “great men.”  I think the origin started when any one of us did something daring or noteworthy (stupid?), he would be called “a great man” (even if we were still teens).  The term stuck.  Anyhow, this trip was a mini-reunion for four great men.

E and I hitched to the Carolinas, catching rides with all types of characters.  We were invited in the back of converted hippy vans to smoke pot and were even picked up by the Grand Marshall of the KKK as he was passing through Virginia going to his home in North Carolina.  Yes, that KKK.  He treated us to lunch at a roadside diner. The manner of his talk raised the eyebrows of two guys from north of the Mason Dixon who didn’t share his culture nor his beliefs.

After meeting K at his University, catching up on nourishment in the school’s almost vacant cafeteria, we headed south for another 12 hours, freed from the need to stick our thumbs out for a ride, arriving at Jimmy’s at dawn.

A few ‘great men’ gathering for lunch about 5 years ago.

To me, Jimmy was truly a great man.  He defined cool.  He was also good looking, with a sophisticated suave, yet down-to-earth demeanor, and at the same time charming, funny, engaging, and a downright damn nice guy.  He set us up with accommodations in the dorm of his quasi-military flight school, where he was studying to pilot planes.  After inviting us to breakfast we all went to the beach, which was directly in front of where we were staying.

I was exhausted, not having slept much during the past 36-hour trip, so I crashed on the beach, not able to participate in the catch-up banter that first day.  There is nothing like sleeping surf side.  Having spent time on the New Jersey and Maryland seashore growing up, dozing in the sand by the water was nothing new.  What I didn’t realize this time was that Florida is different, i.e., closer to the sun by an ever-so-slight a fraction that it matters.  So I took off my shirt and fell fast asleep on that somewhat windy overcast day, the image of the beguiling sky firmly imbedded in my memory before my eyelids took over.  I hadn’t planned to sleep the entire day, but I did, which proved to be a huge mistake because apparently, as I learned later that evening, the Florida sun can burn right through clouds.  I woke up as red as an overripe tomato and in pain that seemed to grow by the minute.  That night I could not sleep, not because I slept on the beach, but because my skin hurt so much.  Every movement hurt, even picking up a glass of water made me grimace.

Somewhere near how I felt after a cloudy day in the Florida sun.

I was down to my last five bucks, regretting to spend half of that on a can of solarcaine, a sunburn relief spray (prices were that different then).  I don’t remember if it helped much, but I’m sure the placebo effect did.  The sun’s torturous impact lasted at least two-full days.  Just as the pain was subsiding, our visit was over.

Jimmy died not many years later while piloting a commuter flight in New Jersey. He was barely 25.  In retrospect, at the time it was nice to have had those several days with him just hanging out, away from our homes.

I had been sunburnt before, but never like that day.  The experience was enough to gain a healthy respect for cloudy days in tropical climates.  That particular cloudy day also reminds me of a young guy and great man, who, having a much shorter than normal existence, still unknowingly left a positive influence.

Just waking up on the Jersey beach, in those teen years, yet un molested by the sun.

Do you have a cloudy day?  😮😀

Moments of Heat

It’s summer, it’s supposed to be hot.  At least north of the equator.

The Shanghai area, with very high humidity, can seem like a steam bath some days, with temperatures hovering around 100 deg F, and the “feels like” higher than that.  That’s fine by me, no complaints.  It’s just that the other day I was late for an appointment and had to jog a few blocks, in street clothes during midday, which turned the perspiration glands on high.  It’s not ideal being in a meeting with sweat rolling down your face and back.  But, ideal may be overrated.

It brought me back to the first time I had a taste of real heat.

A good friend, B, and I decided to take a road trip to California from eastern Pennsylvania.  We were 21 years young.  B had saved up and had just bought a new MG Midget.  He was so proud of his new purchase and kept it well buffed, always a soft cloth handy to banish any bug or dirt marks.  The British made sportster, an appealing dark olive body with a black canvas top, fit two comfortably, possibly a third with the top down. The engine sounded throaty like a sports car should.  It was without a doubt a cool car for two young East Coast studs to drive to California and back.  We had only two plus weeks, and our sights were on the Pacific Ocean, from San Diego to San Francisco, so we aimed to drive straight through, day and night, rather than dally along the way.

For some reason, we started our excursion on a mid-week just after sunset.  In celebration, we foolishly packed a cold six-pack of beer along with a couple of hefty, expertly-rolled joints.  Being his car, B started the driving trip.  We made it to the middle of Virginia that first night before he turned the driving duty over to me at about 2 am.  The beer was finished, and we had burned through one of the joints.  B said he was tired.  I happily, although reluctantly because I was also sleepy, took command of the new sports car while he slept.  In retrospect, how he might not have imagined, after partying with him up to that point, that I wasn’t also tired, was, unfortunately, not beyond me.

This MG Midget was significantly cooler in the early 70’s.

It was somewhere around dawn when the rumble of the interstate’s shoulder woke me up, just as I was about to smack into a thin reflector post.  To try and avoid it, I over compensated with the steering wheel and the car lurched back into the highway, spinning counter clockwise a couple of times until we landed back on the shoulder, just as a tractor trailer wailed past.  While we were spinning B was screaming, which added drama to the already confusing few seconds.  When the car stopped, we both looked at each other,  steam oozing from the car as I realized I hadn’t missed hitting the post.  We got out of the car.  After surveying his new baby, he was distraught.  The impact with the post cut the front bumper in half, creased the front grill, and the bounce of the reflector landed an ugly dent in the middle of the hood.  I apologized as much as I could have and tried to persuade him to see the bright side, that we were alive and the car still worked.  B was despondent nonetheless as his brand new wheels were suddenly disfigured and we had barely begun our journey.

Fortunately, the damage was mostly cosmetic, so we continued.  But the next few days were accompanied by an umbrella of gloom.  It was like his newborn had been assaulted.  In those tight quarters, I could feel his pain.  Whenever we stopped I tried to steer B away from staring at the car’s new defective look.

By the time we reached Arizona, oil had started spritzing onto the windshield.  WTF, I thought as I happened to have been driving again.  I pulled off at the next exit which luckily was on top of us.  We popped the hood and could see that the oil cooler, which sits right inside the front grille, was leaking, more than likely from the jolt a few days earlier.  We could not continue, especially in the desert heat, without fixing it.

It was late Saturday afternoon, and we were in some podunk town in central Arizona. But luck was with us as we drove slowly and found an auto parts store that had the foreign part we needed.  The problem though, was they were closing in 5 minutes, and we didn’t have tools.  They didn’t install.   The sales guy suggested a garage on the other side of town if they were still open.  We decided to split up.  B stayed to purchase the oil cooler, and I hoofed it to the garage.  I remember a thermostat reading showing it was 120 deg F.  This was no time for walking so I ran block after block trying not to stop, hoping I could get to the garage before they closed.  The next day was Sunday, and we didn’t want to burn two days staying in a small desert town. Bathed in sweat I barely made it, but mister garage guy wasn’t about to stay open to do the work.  However, he was kind enough to lend me a wrench, if I promised to leave it by his door, which meant climbing a fence when we were finished.  No problem, I assured him.

I lightly jogged back to the car-parts store armed with the wrench I hoped would work.  The two non-mechanics in us somehow successfully managed to change the radiator-like filter in the parking lot.  After refilling it with the not-easy-to-find special oil, which we stocked up on just in case, we were ready to go.  We drove back to the garage so I could return the wrench where I climbed the fence and, with pleasure and relief, placed the tool by the guy’s door with a note of thanks.  But what garage guy didn’t tell me was that there were dogs loose after hours.  One of them spotted me and started racing toward me, fangs out, barking like he found an intruder (?).  I ran and leapt to the fence, climbing fast, managing to clear enough elevation before the K9’s teeth were able to chomp on its unexpected invader.  I never jumped a fence so quickly.

We both laughed.  I was just happy to see B in a cheerful mood and his baby running well.  It was all hilarious, and lucky.  I was drenched as I tucked myself in the passenger seat.  Even though the sun had gone down, it was still over 100 deg.

Running through a sleepy town in the Arizona desert in full sun during the middle of summer was my first experience with real heat.  While feeling dribbles of sweat during the meeting the other day, I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that at least I didn’t have to rush to change an oil cooler or outrun a mad dog to jump a fence.  It was just another moment of heat.

Hacking

While it may not be the new verb on the block, hacking has morphed into a new comfort zone, shedding some of its bad rap.

When I was young, the ‘hacking’ I knew was messy.  Hacking a branch off a tree was sloppier than cutting it off.  Hacking was also the loud bursts of a spasmodic cough you could hear coming out of heavy cigarette smokers.  And of course, hacking was the description serious golfers gave to my golf swing.  The fact that I unintentionally hacked off a few plants at the roots with a gold club made me a hacker.

Could this have been the reason I was a hacker?

Then came personal computers, their coded languages, and the unauthorized access to other’s data.  Computer hacking was born.  If you hacked, you were a hacker.  Hackers were, and many still are, devious, spreading bugs, viruses and stealing what isn’t theirs.

Then at some point in recent evolution, we included building something quickly and being able to solve a problem using a shortcut, as part of the hacking definition.  Hacking became a good thing.  You can now find online life-hacking tips.  Dave Asprey, in his book Head Strong, discusses various techniques for hacking the brain to optimize its use.

One suggestion for brain hacking

Vanessa Van Edwards, the author of Captivate, outlines a multi-step approach to hacking the personality traits of others, for enhanced relationships.  I recently read a blog post by a doctor discussing the benefits of exercise hacking to improve workouts.  Hackety, hack, hack, hack.

Many of us are looking for shortcuts and tricks to gain an edge.  That now means hacking, which is okay, if, in the end, we are more productive, efficient, healthier, and good to each other.

If that’s the case, count me in.  I could be down for some serious hacking, wherever I can find it.

October 2, 2017 Update:

The Hacking of the American Mind, by Dr. Robert Lustig, maybe a hack worth considering.

No-Fault Thought

It’s an insurance policy I took out for myself several months ago.  No-fault thought (NFT) — prevents crashing into a wall of nonsense.

Gibberish thoughts tend to badger the consciousness more often than necessary.  Those thoughts are the slight annoyances that occur when, say, someone pulls in front of you, either when walking or driving, or when someone says something or behaves a certain way that doesn’t suit us.

If I feel like this at times, it’s a mirage

Why, I contemplated a few months ago (in a moment when the mud must have cleared), should anyone or anything annoy me?  Because I’m human?  Because I’ve got ego and emotions?  Because I’m right and someone else is wrong?  They are (seemingly) justified rationalizations, but only a mirage.  So I took out the policy.

The essence of NFT is that everyone’s actions or words are justified in their own minds.  If their conduct doesn’t conform with mine, no one is at fault.  If someone crosses my path, utters remarks I don’t appreciate, or otherwise interrupts my rhythm, it’s not their fault. They were acting or moving according to their own tempo.  Our rhythmic waves intersected for a split second.  No one’s fault.

The policy helps curb the voice which insists, periodically, that the universe should act a certain way.   NFT doesn’t mean that some people are not irritating at times.  It just means that in their heads, we’d have done the same thing.  By turning to the policy, it helps to allude a moment of annoyance.

This guy was vexing if only for the time being before I remembered NFT

Being exasperated with anything or anyone is really an admission of impatience, or more often, displays our limited understanding.  Even a flicker of irritation shows us that we didn’t, at that moment, have the capacity to understand.  The NFT policy is a blanket license to admit we actually don’t comprehend why others do what they do.  We can’t.  None of us has the experiences of another.

The clever suggestions in our heads can so easily justify a form of self-righteousness.  The downside — it’s most always ill-perceived and leads to moments of unhelpful grit.

Have there been times I’ve forgotten about NFT?  Sure, fog runs thick between my ears more often than I care.  On the bright side, NFT has been seeping into consciousness with more frequency since I picked up the policy.  It must be, like most things, a matter of practice.

Until I can find a way to paste No Fault Thought in my frontal cortex, the times that I can recall the policy helps to serve as a reminder that I’ve got a limited capacity for understanding others, and I am better off nipping tiny worthless thought spirals in the bud.