Sunday, October 31, 2010

on the wings of a goose

My part of Mexico is not blessed with the splendid museums of Mexico City -- or even Xalapa.

But my part of Oregon has several museums of interests.  My favorite being the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum just outside of McMinnville.

We will skip over the reputed connections that Evergreen International Aviation has had with certain government agencies.  They make for interesting tales.  But that is not why I asked you here today.

McMinnville is a smallish (about 30,000 people) college town that has upgraded its image from farm land center to being the aorta of Oregon's wine country.

It seems to be an odd place for a major museum.  But the son of the CEO of Evergreen had the dream of planting a world-class air museum on one of those former fields.  And, with his acquisition of Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose, that dream became a reality.

I suspect most of you have heard the tale of what must be one of the more eccentric dreams of American aviation.  During Word War Two, the United States early on discovered it had a logistical problem.  The American manufacturing base could churn out plenty of trucks and tanks.  But getting them from the United States to Europe was a slow process. 

The navy was the lifeline of supplies.  And the German U-boats were tearing up shipping.

That is one reason it took so long for the Allies to invade Europe.  The basic tools of war needed to be assembled.

Howard Hughes had a dream.  Of the world's largest aircraft.  A huge flying boat made almost exclusively of wood.  A fleet of those airplanes could quickly shuttle the supplies our allies needed to take the war home to the Nazis.

The notion was revolutionary.  As revolutionary as the idea of sinking battleships with bomb-laden aircraft.  The navy had almost an exclusive monopoly on supplying overseas troops.  Howard Hughes was to change that concept.

But not in the second world war.  His dream plane was not completed until 1947 -- after the war was complete, and no one was ready to fight another.  The Spruce Goose flew once.  And then languished as a tourist attraction in Long Beach.

Until 1992 when Evergreen purchased it, had it disassembled, and shipped by barge to Oregon in 1993.  Eight years later, after being restored, it became the centerpiece of the new Evergreen Aviation Museum.

I have visited the museum several times -- because flight flows in my veins.  The Spruce Goose is always the centerpiece of my visits.

I made the pilgrimage again on this past Saturday.  You could feel the damp rising in the day.  A visit to a museum was a perfect match.

I even had my photograph taken while sitting in the Spruce Goose's cockpit.  But I got as much joy out of walking around an F-5, the fighter version of the T-38, the supersonic trainer of my flight school days.

But I made two new visits on this trip.  The first was to the newly-opened space museum -- that is just waiting for a Space Shuttle, if the cards fall right.

And the second was to the IMAX theater.  The 3-D film was about the development of the Boeing 787.  But that was not the most interesting part of the theater.  The lobby is dedicated to heroes of flight.  Amongst the photographs were two of men I know -- General Chuck Sams, one of my legal mentors, and Congressman Denny Smith, one of my political mentors.

It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  To see a good portion of aviation history in person -- and to remember some of the men who have helped me along the road of life.

Not all Saturdays can be spent as well.

Friday, October 29, 2010

skipping the grace notes

Fall arrived this last week with rain, wind, and plummeting temperatures.

My morning walks to work are now brisk enough to require a light jacket.  And, perhaps a light, as well.  The twenty-minute walk starts in the dark, but the day is in full dawn by the time I enter the shop where people are good enough to exchange a fair amount of money for a bit of my day.

But what I have noticed most are the sounds.  Mainly birds getting a fast start on the day to catch the unwitting worm.  After a bit of song.

The most notable are the Canada geese noisily flying in B-24 formations as if wishing a terrible end for the Ploesti oil fields.  Geese heading east.  Having found their Eden, they are not interested in migrating anywhere.  They can breed and honk here all year long and live the high life without fear of Elmer Fudds trying to turn them into the centerpiece for a Thanksgiving dinner.

As I started through the Capitol grounds, I could hear another gaggle -- closer to the ground.  But it was just a group of state workers chatting on their way to work.

This morning I started thinking about how each day is a gift.  Getting up.  Getting out.  Enjoying.  And all I need to do is share what has so graciously been given to me.

As I sit at my desk, I realize how hollow that thought now sounds.  The last two mornings, I have encountered the same homeless man a block from my work place.  Unshaven.  Damp from sleeping outside.  Carrying his cardboard bed.  Waiting in the same place to cross the street.  We have passed each other without making eye contact.

The first time I saw him, I had the urge to stop him and ask him if he would like a cup of coffee.  Something to momentarily beat back the morning chill.  But I didn't.  I walked on by.  Too busy.  I had Important Things To Do.

This morning when I saw him, I started to stop him in the crosswalk.  To invite him into the warmth of our building.  But I was on my way to Eggs Benedict.  A meal I could have shared with him.  But I didn't.  Instead, I turned to look over my right shoulder at him shuffling away to wherever he was going.

Opportunities to show grace to those around us arise every day.  And we too often simply allow the moment to pass.  Unremarked.  Unreflected.

I do not have regrets.  But I want to learn to be more open to these grace notes of life when they occur.

Maybe I will see him tomorrow.  If I do, I will invite him in a for a cup of warm and a chat.  Whether or not I do, I am going to listen for those moments when I can share the joy that is life.

Whether here -- or in Mexico.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

weighing heavy

Newspaper layout editors are a frustrated lot.

That is the only conclusion I can draw from an odd juxtaposition in today's local newspaper.  Someone is laughing under his green eye shade.

Story number one, by itself, falls into the "frat boy wants to makes good" category.

"Mexico aims to build record-setting burrito"

You can almost write the story yourself.  Someone wants to get his nombre into the Guinness Book of World Records.  And what better way than food?

Next month, 3000 people are going to roll out the burrito in Mexico.  Well, roll up the burrito.

2.7 kilometers worth of burrito.  (That's 1.7 miles for those of us still stuck with the English system -- even though the English are not.)  That is 700 meters of 12-inch wide (to mix my systems) burrito.

Enough beans, cheese, sour cream, and tortillas to --  Well, to match up with the story just across the page:

"One taco too many"

Mexico is fast pulling up on the United States to earn the award for most obese nation. 

So, says a recent OECD report.  Seven out of ten Mexican adults are overweight; three out of ten are obese.  Mexico actually has a higher portion of "overweight" citizens than does the United States.  Even though the United States holds wheezingly holds the obese title.

I can empathize.  During my six-month sojourn north of the border, I have managed to regain the thirty pounds I lost when I moved to Mexico last year.  And I know why. 

My broken right ankle was an obvious cause.  In Mexico I walked everywhere in my village.  In Oregon, I could not move around without crutches.

But that excuse is dead.  I have been able to get around quite well recently.

The major cause has been my diet.  I have been eating all sorts of foods I cannot get in Mexico.  And they all have two common ingredients: fat and salt.  Sitting at a computer desk all day indulging in nervous eating has strained my belt line.

The good thing is when I return to Mexico, I will be able to shed the pounds again.

But my Mexican neighbors will continue to gain weight.  And there is a price to pay.  Diabetes is the top cause of hospital admissions after childbirth in Mexico, and the second-biggest cause of death.

Mexican food can be high in fats.  Tacos.  Enchiladas.  Refritos.  All cooked with lard.  They are partly to blame.  But those foods have long been part of the Mexican diet.

What has changed is the convenience of middle class living.  Mexicans are learning that food does not need to take a long time to cook.  The resulting reliance on processed and junk foods adds to the weight problem. 

But the Mexican medical community has fingered one food as the main problem: refrescos.  Sugary soft drinks.  Fizzy or still.  But sweeter than your first kiss.

Add an ever-growing sedentary lifestyle in front of the television, and you have -- the second most obese country in the world.

But, just like The States, the problem appears to be somewhat regional.  In my seaside village, most young people are as fit as California surfers in the 50s.  That may be because that is what they are.  The young are active beach people.

Drive a few miles from the beach and people start looking as if they had just driven in from Wisconsin.  (Yeah. Yeah.  I know.  But Mississippi has taken enough hits.)

And for all of the recent ballyhoo from America's first lady to have Mexico join the Get Slim plan (something most of us in Mexico interpret as a revenge plot on Telemex), Mexico will enjoy growing cheek to cheek with its portly neighbor to the north.

As for me, I long ago learned a simple trick.  If you want to look slim -- hang out with fat people.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

hereafter -- here and now

My weekends in Oregon are dwindling.  I make it to be two more before I head off for the bloggers' conference.

A week ago, it was the beach.  This Saturday, it was OMSI, a movie, and dinner.

If you did not grow up in Oregon, that acronym may baffle.  Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.  An idea that grew out of Pacific Northwest Victorian curiosity in the 1890s. 

But that was not the OMSI I knew.  My first memory of the museum in its old home next to the Washington Park zoo.  It opened in 1958.  We went there as a family soon after.

My favorite exhibits?  The meteorites, the pendulum. and the visible woman.  But, my favorite was the visible bee hive -- with the queen marked on her "hump" with a dot of red finger nail polish.  For those of us who were slow enough not to notice that she was gigantic compared to her worker sisters.

Due to an ever-increasing population of swarming school-children visiting the place, the museum moved to larger quarters on the east bank of the Willamette River in 1992.  Handy for freeway passersby to look down from the Marquam Bridge for the startling sight of a submarine -- the USS Blueback -- moored next to the museum.

Even though I have been to the museum for IMAX films, I have not been to the museum since I was in college.

That changed on Saturday.  We arrived with only an hour to look at exhibits.  We decided to limit ourselves to "Identity: an exhibition of you."  Something in the title appealed to me.

We got to change our gender and ethnicity through photos.  Determine whether we were introvert or extrovert; traditionalist or innovator; wired or laid back; male or female-brained.  And the results were not too startling -- even though the photo-morphing was.

And in the midst of it all, there she was.  The visible woman with light up organs.  When I was in the sixth grade, I had her smaller counter-part -- the visible man with painted, but unlit, organs. 

I thought of meeting her acquaintance again when we went to our movie. 

The Clint Eastwood-directed Hereafter.  The story of three disparate characters who have had a close encounter with death.  A talented male psychic in San Francisco with a gift to contact the dead.  A beautiful French woman  telejournalist who nearly drowns in the 2004 southeast Asia tsunami.  And an English boy who survives the death of his identical twin.

The film spends most of its time building the individual tales of the psychic hiding from his talent.  The journalist trying to publish her book on the afterlife.  The boy looking for a way to contact his dead twin.

The psychic's love of Charles Dickens's books ends up pulling the three of them together for the film's climax.  Thoughtfully, combining Dickens's fascination with dreams, ghosts, and orphans.

But the film is not really any more about the hereafter than The Christmas Carol is about Christmas.  It is about relationships and people coming to terms with their lives amongst each other.

And it is well worth seeing.  As long as you are willing to be patient and watch simple threads weave together.

One last weekend in Oregon well spent.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

steppin' out with my humor

The Capitol Steps have been frequent visitors on these pages.  The political satirist group tends to wander through Portland near election day, and they were in town last night.

Beth (of Minto Dog) and I have a tradition of driving up to Portland to see the Capitol Steps when they are in town.  (They seldom darken the doors of the local Salem theaters any more.)

Portland was one of those cities that had the foresight to save one of its grandes dames of the golden age of cinema.  When the studios were at the height of their powers, they held a vertical monopoly on their products.  Not only did they make the films.  They distributed them.  And showed them in their own theaters.

The vestiges of that control were still around when I was young.  The two grandest theaters in Portland were the Paramount and the Fox.  But, by the 50s, the studio system was disappearing.  The Sound of Music (a Fox production) understandably played at the Fox.  But Cleopatra (another Fox tale) played at the Paramount.

But both of them were mirrors of their times.  The Fox was a gaudy 1910 art deco palace.  The more sedate Paramount did not show up until 1928.  And it is the only one of its ilk to remain standing.  Now, as a live performance venue.

Monday night's performance was a bit off.  Well, the performance was fine.  It was the audience that was off -- somewhere else.  It appeared that at least two-thirds of the seats were empty -- including a huge chunk of the dress circle.

And because it is a live performance, the lack of an audience, no matter how enthusiastic, inevitably affect's the performers.  And this audience was not enthusiastic.

As political animals, we tend to take ourselves far too seriously.  We have no trouble laughing at our political enemies.  After all, we all know they are boobs.  But, let someone poke fun at our own sainted political heroes, and we grimace while sitting on our hands.

A lady sitting next to us took that division a step further.  Whenever the performers were portraying a political figure she did not like, even though the skewering was thorough and hilarious, she would merely glare at what she perceived to be the devil incarnate. 

But I think she may be one of those people who lacks a sense of humor.  She was even offended by one of my favorite non-political bits: a satirical rendition of prescription drug abuse, Ten Pills and You're Fine, to the tune of Windmills of Your Mind.  She found nothing amusing.  Even though the actress who performed the piece nailed it.

That may say something about civic America.  Politics -- even the humorous variety -- is simply not that interesting to us any more.  Maybe because politics isn't.  Disillusionment is running pretty high these days.

But it does interest me.

There are things I miss when I am in Mexico.  This is one of them -- knowing a political culture so well that you can enjoying watching its entrails being eviscerated.

I guess I will have to rely on P.J. O'Rourke to keep me laughing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

fleeing the flu

You should be reading a new post today.  And -- you should read one yesterday, as well.

There are post topics aplenty.  Unfortunately, I have not been feeling well.

Nothing big.  Just another of those anonymous "flu-like symptoms" conditions.

Headache.  Fatigue.  Muscle pain.

Every time I sit down to write, I feel a nap would be a better investment.

If you hang on, so will I.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

marking time

There are plenty of signs on this toll road we call life that tell us we are not as young as our heads tell us we are.

The first sign is the most annoying.  The letter from AARP that arrives proximate to your 50th birthday -- inviting you to stick your snout in the slop trough of special interests.  That one was easy to ignore.  Into the trash it went along with the rest of the junk mail.

Then there was 60.  Not as easy to ignore -- because my father's reflection started showing up in the mirror each morning.  Proving that aging is not an incremental process.  It comes on in surges -- like a melting glacier.

And then retirement.  Giving up a profession that had kept me well-fed and mentally alert.  In exchange for a very nice retirement in Mexico.

But none of them had a great impact on me.  After all, I am a boomer.  Sixty is the new twenty -- or so our besotted minds like to believe.

Until reality hits.  And it hit me last week.

There are terms our culture assigns to the old.  Bingo.  Ball room dancing.  Cruises.

But nothing says senior like "Social Security."

I mentioned earlier this month in spinning the wheel that I was considering taking my Social Security retirement benefits early -- at 62, rather than waiting until I am 66.  I am not 62 -- yet.  But I am old enough that I can apply for my retirement benefits.

And apply I did.  On line.

Anyone who has read my blog for very long knows I am a skeptic when it comes to government.  I have not experienced either efficiency or effectiveness in most of my contacts with government.  For that reason alone, I was shocked at how easy it was to apply for my retirement benefits.

I decided to apply before I left for Mexico -- fully anticipating that an in-person trip to the local Social Security office was a high probability.  But I was wrong.

The electronic form was well-designed and easy to use.  The questions were easy to understand.  The multiple choice options were thorough and made sense,  And it was quick.  I probably spent no more than ten minutes filling out the form.

One day later, a very polite woman called and asked me to clarify two of my answers.  And the application process was complete.  I should be receiving my first check in a few months.

It was so simple, I could have completed the entire process at my computer table in Melaque.

I made a point of thanking the young attorneys at the lunch table for their generosity.  After all, the withholdings from their paychecks will just about equal what the government is about to put in my account.  A great little shell game that is.

One of my favorite episode of The Simpsons involves this exchange.  It is Bart’s birthday.  Grandpa Abe Simpson gives Bart a big box of money.
Marge Simpson: Where did you get all the money?
Grandpa: The government. I didn’t earn it. I don’t need it. But, if they miss one payment I’m gonna raise hell!

Sometimes, there is true pleasure in being old.

Friday, October 22, 2010

in the sands of luxury

I have always enjoyed films and novels that either have reversed or truncated time lines.  Memento being one of my favorites.

I would like to say I have been that creative about my tale of the beach.  This is installment number three and should have been number one.  And I fear that is more the product of a disorganized mind than an indice of artistic genius.

But we can all pretend.

This trip to the beach was a spontaneous idea.  I knew I wanted to go -- earlier in the week.  But it was not until I realized how good the weather was going to be before I decided to push the button.

I seldom make reservations.  Part of that is simply my style.  Planning is a nuisance.  But I have discovered on several recent trips that failing to have reservations is an invitation to discover the glories of sleepovers in hotel lobbies.

So, on the morning of the day I intended to arrive at the beach, I started calling around to my favorite spots.  Apparently, the entire Willamette Valley was planning on spending the weekend at the beach.  Most places were full.  Those that were not full offered only one bed per room.  I needed two.

My friend Roy offered a suggestion.  He and his wife had recently stayed at a hotel on the beach -- with a hot tub on the deck.  The hot tub sold me.

It turns out that the hotel is actually five separate boutique hotels -- each about the size of a large home.  I chose a two-bedroom suite.  And it was one of the best experiences I have had on the coast.

The master bedroom had a bathroom en suite and a jacuzzi tub.  There was an additional bathroom for the other bedroom.  Plus a large living room and a functional kitchen.

But the best thing about the setup was the whole reason for going to the beach -- the ocean.  The hot tub on the deck was icing on the cake.  If I had more time, I would have spent most of the day sitting on the deck -- reading and watching.

The whole trip was over in two days.  But the mini-vacation worked wonders for me.  I got outside to see new sights and to have a few new experiences.

It was almost a joy to return to work on Monday. 


Thursday, October 21, 2010

handsome errors

I need to work on my Spanish.

Each day I have spent in Oregon, I can feel at least five good Spanish words fall out of my head and shatter on the floor.  (I would have used the Spanish verb for "shatter," but it jumped from the ledge of my hippocampus on May 24.)

Even knowing my own handicap, I wallow in schadenfreude when I realize the life boat of language refugees is overbooked.

A case in point.  As we were driving back to Lincoln City from Seaside this past Saturday, my telephone rang.  That alone is odd.  I may get about two calls a week on my mobile.

It was my friend Ken.  And I could tell his Irish genes were busting to tell me a tale.

He and his family had just left their favorite Mexican restaurant in Olympia.  On the way out of the restaurant, they encountered two couples coming in.  The hostess asked, as hostesses are wont to do when the answer is obvious: "Four?"

The wife of one couple, who must had just returned from a very educational week in Cancun, responded: "No.  Guapo."

Now, confused, the hostess asked: "Excuse me."

To which, the semi-lingual wife responded: "Guapo.  [Counting her party] Uno.  Dos.  Tres. --"

And pointing to herself:  "Guapo."

Now, for all I know, despite her gender confusion, she may have been muy guapa.  And I certainly have no stones to cast about linguistic shifts.  We all have tales of embarrassing moments in improvisational Spanish.

When I began the process of retiring to Mexico, I received a lot of advice on where to live, how to develop patience, where to obtain my FM3.  But the most valuable advice I received was: learn Spanish.  And then use it.

Before I get on the airplane south, I need to pull out my Spanish programs and start learning the language again.

Even if I cannot learn it in three or guapo sessions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

electronic lazarus

It was not the Hindenburg going down in flames.  No cries of "Oh, the humanity."

But my world was shaken for a bit.

My Kindle died.  At the beach.  Not in Mexico, as I had predicted, but in Oregon.

I had been having trouble with the sliding power switch for a week.  It would catch now and then when I turned the Kindle on or off.  That should have been a warning sign.  The equivalent of dizziness for a diabetic.

I bought the Kindle solely for use in Mexico.  I love reading.  But, I have loved books even more.  The feel of their weight in my hands.  The smell of leather bindings.  The texture of the paper.  Hedonism writ large.

Books have always been one of my favorite sensual pleasures.  So, I was a bit surprised when I started using the Kindle.  It turns out that reading is my true pleasure.  And I read more using the Kindle.  No idea why that is true.  But I hear it from my fellow Kindle users.

That is why I was a bit concerned about the power switch.  Something bad was about to happen.

On Saturday night, I was well into James Swanson's Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse when I stopped to do something.  I turned off the Kindle.  When I returned to resume my reading, I flipped the switch and -- nothing.  I tried again.  Nothing.

Thinking I might have drained the battery, I plugged the Kindle into the wall.  Nothing.  Not even an indication that power was getting to the device.
Amazon has a good reputation for fixing or replacing damaged goods.  But my departure date for Mexico would probably arrive before a repaired Kindle could UPS itself back to me.

I decided to try one last option.  Before my Kindle arrived, I loaded the Kindle software on my laptop.  The user guide was part of my electronic library.  I started browsing the trouble-shooting chapter.  Of course, I had taken each of the steps recommended.

But there was one last step I had not thought of.  Before I retired, my favorite professional device was a Compaq iPaq -- a PDA.  I loved it.  But it was notoriously unstable.  I had to soft reboot the device regularly.

I never thought that the Kindle might have a similar reset button.  But it does.  If you hold the power switch to the left for 15 seconds, it will do a soft reboot.

In my case, it worked.  I was back to reliving the days following the end of the Civil War in minutes.

Just like Lazarus, what was dead, now lived.

And the power switch is sliding easily without catching.

Its ultimate fate (and value) now resides in Mexico.

Monday, October 18, 2010

sand and paws

During my benighted youth, I loved "sword and sandal" movies.

Those films from the 50s and 60s featuring heroic tales, men in shifts, and women who patiently and piously awaited the return of warring husbands.  The RobeSpartacus.  And the mother of them all: Cleopatra.

Yes, Captain Oveur, I did like Gladiator movies.

But this weekend was a sand only weekend.  But no sandals.  After all, it was the Oregon coast where sandals are as useful as a period in a Faulkner novel.

I have been in Oregon for six months now.  And not once have I made it to the beach.  This summer was custom-built for beach trips.  But I did not head over that way until this past Friday.

It was well worth the wait.  I will tell you a little more about the first day there.  But I wanted to share Saturday with you.

This was one of those unplanned trips.  A true mini-vacation where you get up and decide where to go.  And while you are going there, you just might completely change your plans.

The day began with a bit of nostalgia.  I wanted to take a look at some of the houses in Pacific City -- where I once planned to retire.  I thought most of the houses were grossly over-priced in 2007 and 2008 when I was shopping for a place to retire.

In 2007, I considered buying a recently-constructed house close to the beach with no view for $210,000.  The place was tiny with a one-car garage.  I eventually decided not to buy because my house in Salem was a one hour drive from the beach.

The same house is currently on the market.  I pulled out the flier -- thinking it would be for $200,000 or so.  The price?  $399,000.  And it was not an anomaly.  House after house was at least 100% higher in listing price than when I looked three years ago. 

At least, I knew I would not be tempted to staty in Oregon by picking up one on the cheap.

The real reason, though, for the stop was to hike over the dunes to the beach where Jiggs and I would take walks of indeterminate length.  Depending on his mercurial mood, we would be on the beach for any time between 15 minutes and four hours.

Saturday was the perfect memory day.  Temperatures in the 60s.  Clear skies.  Almost no wind.  And plenty of people sharing their lives with their dogs.

Having my fill of nostalgia, we decided to head north to Astoria, one of Oregon's oldest settlements, to see houses used for movie location filming.  In this case, the house used for Goonies.

But we never made it to Astoria.  While driving through Cannon Beach, we saw a helicopter stand offering tours of the area.  We pulled a fast u-turn, bought our tickets, and in 15 minutes, we were airborne over Seaside and Cannon Beach.

You know my rule about video in blogs.  I seldom use them.

But today is the exception.  I invite you to join me for a flight over some of the most beautiful coastline in America.

I will let the video speak to that part of our souls that yearns to fly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

beach daze

I should have let you know in advance, but I wandered off to the Oregon beach for the weekend -- and left comments piling up in my in box.  As soon as I get organized, I will fill you in on my fun weekend, how I am starting to feel REAL old, and my dinner with André (kind of).

But, right now, I am heading to bed.  And sleeping is something I do well no matter where I am.

Friday, October 15, 2010

waters of life

My good friend Laurie, over at
Honduras Gumbo, has urged us fellow bloggers to join her in writing about water today.

She is a gracious southern lady, and I was raised never to disappoint the expectations of women.  A principle I have met far less often than my upbringing would have expected.

I have written before about water and its micro relationship with us.  It is easy to take water from granted.  Especially, when you grow up in Oregon where the excess of water is a constant complaint -- usually, in the form that falls from the sky.

But even Oregon is a western state.  Due to the summer weather patterns, we Oregonians often suffer summer droughts.  Farmers and ranchers are far too familiar with that cycle.  Without the series of dams that constipate our rivers, we Oregonians would be as parched as any Wyoming cattle man in the summer.

Even with that growing appreciation of water in my former home, my move to Mexico has taught me just how rare a consistent supply of high quality water can be.

Like most people in my small fishing village by the sea, I rely on the water man (and it always is a man in our traditional village) to deliver large bottles of drinking water to my house.  The bottles come in 20 litres.  And I consume at least two a week.

While I was recovering from my broken ankle, Ivan (my water man), took me to the small water plant that filters and bottles the water he delivers to me.  The water comes out of one of the local rivers just before it empties into the ocean.  I have no idea how it tastes in its natural state  -- though, I can imagine. But it quite pleasant after being filtered.  In fact, it is the sole source of drinking water in my house.

Our local municipality supplies water to the house.  But I do not drink it.  The water is treated.  But it is pumped from the street into a large black tank on the top of my house -- where the water sits fermenting in the sun.

I have been told that the water is perfectly safe to drink.  But even my Mexican neighbors drink bottled water.  Not to mention the fact that the street water will often simply stop for a week or two -- with no warning.  Usually, a malfunctioning pump.  Or thieves with a wiring fetish.

So, I rely on the kindness of vendors to bring water to me.  And if the river flow stops?  What then?

That scenario is certainly possible.  Mexico City's water infrastructure is, at best, tenuous.  Water to homes is regularly turned off for a day at a time.  Sometimes announced.  Sometimes not.

For today -- this special day of water action --, I will leave the editorializing to those who have better data at their fingertips.  What I intend to do is simply stay more aware and act as a good steward of the water God has placed in my hands.

And simply ask you to do the same.

Monday, October 11, 2010

spinning the wheel of life

My personality can be a bit quirky -- at times.

And, at 61, you would think I would stop developing new ones.  Quirks, that is.  Not, personalities.

But they keep popping up. 

A new quirk is: putting off decisions.  Big decisions.  I just ignore them.  This from a man who has spent his life as (if you will pardon the disinterment of the word) a "decider."

This trip north has turned out to be a perfect example of Ogden Nash's definition of a sin of omission:

And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from Billy Sunday to Buddha,

And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.*

What I "shudda" taken care of was getting the house ready to sell.  My realtor was very candid with me.  Now is not the time to sell.  But she recommended I replace the windows.  I didn't.

Now, I am stuck in another Hamlet vortex.  A financial decision.  Should I apply for Social security benefits at 62?  Or 66?  Or 70?

We all know the logic.  The longer you wait, the higher the benefit. 

If a retiree takes Social Security benefits at 62 (with a 25-percent reduction), rather than waiting another 48 months for full benefits at 66, the break even point is 78. That means the retiree would have to die at 78 for the early benefits and full benefits to equal each other.

But, the world is not economically static.  Factoring in the current value of the benefit, assuming a 4% rate of return, the break even point increases. The retiree would have to live to 84 to make waiting for full benefits worthwhile.

That is how economists think.  I like to think of it as being a little bit like going to Las Vegas.  The government wants me to take early benefits and bets I have the genes of Methuselah.  I bet I will die young and leave a good-looking corpse.

I don't have the genes of Methuselah.  My nearest ancestors are a mixed bag of untimely deaths and healthy centenarians. 

The actuarial tables say I should live to be about 80.  My family tree says that is optimistic.

If I include three generations of ancestors, death seems to be on a rather erratic schedule -- running from 43 to 100.  I have already managed to live longer than a grandmother, grandfather, and great grandfather.  But the average life span is merely 74 years.  The median -- 77.

Those numbers tell me to take the money early and put my full bet on black.

Death may be a dark specter.  Politics is darker still.

Social Security is not as unhealthy fiscally as Medicare.  But it does have a rather serious cough.  Taking early retirement makes sense if only to get my salesman foot in the door before the whole program turns into a personal thank you note from the president to each retiree for being such a good citizen.

So, later this week, I will fill out the form that will start the trickle of Social Security checks down Mexico way in a short three months.

My windows in my unsold house may suffer from my indecision.  But I will soon join that "happy few, we band of brothers," who can speak without ceasing on such topics as COLA and direct deposit.

* --
Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man has long been one of my favorite Ogden Nash poems.  It is well worth reading in full.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

time out for wisdom

I just realized the tone of yesterday's post was a bit more pessimistic than I intended.  When I started the essay, I wanted to conclude with one of my favorite Sophocles quotations. 

But I forgot.

So here it is.

Sometimes one has to wait until the evening to see how glorious the day has been.
The author of Electra knew of what he wrote.

Or, better yet, the patron saint of expatriates -- T.S. Elliott:

Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

retirement -- round dos

The Starbucks was not unique.  But are they ever?  Manzanillo or Paris, you feel as if you are within walking distance of the Pike Place Fish Market.

A lawyer colleague had invited me to coffee to talk about my job duties over the summer.  She ordered coffee.  I was happy with a plate of conversation and a side of smug complacency.

Well, I was complacent until she said: "I see you flunked retirement -- just like my Dad.  He flunked twice.  What is it with lawyers?"

At the time, I was a bit offended.  No.  I was defensively offended.  Because she had hit a raw nerve.

When I came north, I told myself returning to work had nothing to do with flunking retirement.  I was simply returning to help my employer transition the new guy into my old job.

That exchange came back to me on Saturday afternoon.  School friends from Olympia drove down to spend the day with me.  Their daughter needed to do some shopping.  So, off we went to the local outlet mall.

I know it verges on sexist to say it out loud, but most women enjoy shopping.  Most men don't.

While the women folk went off to gather treasures, my friend Ken and I sat on a bench doing our best impression of two old guys waiting for a bus.  And we were good.

The topic quickly turned to retirement.  He told me he is making the jump soon.  He was amazed that all of his friends and colleagues ask him the same question: "But what will you do?"

"But what will you do?" I heard it a lot.  And still do.  One of our blog colleagues has grabbed irony by its horn and named her blog accordingly.

It was not until that afternoon that I realized the question is based on a false assumption.  Embedded in those five words is a far different question: "If you do not do what you are doing now, who will you be?"  The assumption comes from a society that defines its members by what they do.

I am not just Steve at work.  I am Steve the Attorney.  Just as there is Holly the Adjuster.  Mike the Vice President.  Brenda the CEO.

Strip those titles from our names, and we become as anonymous as a dethroned czar.  People with no apparent purpose.

Or so we think.  And perception matters.  Especially, our self-perception.  Until we are happy just being ourselves and are happy being alone with ourselves, slipping into retirement can be as frightening as creeping Alzheimer's.

Ken and I had quite an exchange on why "what we do" is irrelevant to retirement.  And I felt as if I had just had another side order of smug complacency.

That is, until I remembered my coffee get-together last spring.  I suspect I did flunk retirement.  When I heard my old job was being filled, I played with the idea of applying for the position.  That thought passed quickly.  But i did the second best thing.  I offered to return to train my replacement.  Because I thought I still needed something "to do."

And I am glad I did.  The last six months have taught me I made the correct decision -- to retire.  I am now ready for a titleless life.

A life that will resume in four more weeks.

Warm up that hammock.  I have a rendezvous with the rest of my life.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

toe shoes and soldiers

Mother Nature could be one of my Mexican neighbors.  To her, time is not as important as relationships.

The calendar may say that fall arrived two weeks ago.  But Mother knows best.

For the past two weeks we have had mid-summer weather in the Willamette Valley.  Two weeks that now look like a lovely parting gift.  Because summer is at an end.

When I headed out the back door to work yesterday, the sky was almost clear.  But the light blanket of warm humidity I had grown accustomed to was gone.  Replaced by a lovely 45 degree briskness.  Perfect for an equally brisk walk to work.

But not everyone got the memo about fall.  Bushtits and sparrows were doing their melodic best to defend their ever-decreasing territories.  Before they pack up their bags and head south.  Leaving room for the juncos to move in once the snows start in the Cascades.

This blog once referred to the author as "a boy from Powers."  That was partially true.  My family lived in Powers when I was young.  But we moved to the Portland area after my third grade.

I have some very fond memories of living in Powers.  Especially, of my grandmother's house.  Whenever I would stay there.  I would rise early and feel the chill of fall mornings in the coastal mountains.  The same chill I felt this week.

There were always boyish battles to fight.  Over the years, I had collected a variety of toy soldiers I stored in an old Maxwell House can.  West Point cadets.  War of the Roses knights.  Roman legionnaires.  Battle of the Bulge infantry.  It was almost as if Toy Story had merged with Night at the Museum.

But battles need a purpose.  Each side in these vegetable garden set-tos had a queen.  A symbolic queen plucked from a fuchsia bush. 

For some reason, fuchsias always reminded me of ballerinas.  Perhaps it was the toxic of effect of too much Nutcracker Suite at a young age.  And I assumed all ballerinas were queens. 

By the time the battles were complete, the sun had its effect on the poor fuchsia blooms.  What was once a thing of beauty was soon reduced to a flattened mat of color.  An early lesson of the futility of war.

Yesterday morning I walked through the grounds of my old law school.  And there it was.  A
fuchsia bush along the walkway.  Boyhood memories started tumbling out of my head.

I have no idea what became of my coffee can soldiers.  Maybe they are the playthings of another boy now.

Trying to fight off the effects of the seasons as futilely as the lonely bushtits and sparrows.

Monday, October 04, 2010

beavers, ducks, and women

Football (the American variety) has never been my favorite sport.

Give me a good game of basketball, and I will be happy.

But this weekend, I donned my football fan togs twice.  Both times because it made women happy.

There is a woman I have worked with for over twenty years.  Let's call her Beth.  Because that is her name.  She was my first paralegal.  Then she went on to better positions in the company.

I have been meaning to take her out to dinner before I head south.  When I suggested Saturday night, she informed me dinner would have to be early or late -- either before or after the game between her beloved Ducks and Stanford University.

I suspect she thought I would not be interested in the game.  But I was.  If I could share a bit of conversation with her.  So, we split the baby -- and decided to have dinner in a local sports bar.

The game was advertised as a major match-up.  Both teams were undefeated.  And the Ducks were seeking revenge for a humiliating defeat last year.

There is something about watching sports in an eating establishment.  All of the usual dining protocols disappear in favor of rank chauvinism.  This being Salem, there was not a large Stanford contingent to defend the Cardinal (the color not the bird; Stanford having become so post-modern that mascots become Teutonic concepts).

And there was emotion to spare.  The Ducks started off slow enough to qualify as a Pop Warner team.  After the first quarter, they trailed 21 to 3.  Librium was distributed freely.

You can imagine the pandemonium when the Ducks finally realized football was the game of choice, and pulled off a 52-31 victory.  Leapfrogging them into the number 3 position nationally.

But the best part of the evening was renewing my friendship with Beth.  After all, relationships even trump sports.

I had another example of that on Sunday afternoon.  My niece, the angelic Kaitlyn, is a freshman at Oregon State University.  When she enrolled for her classes, she stopped by the marching band booth.  Piano and violin are her instruments.  Not the best marching band choices.

Instead, she signed up to be part of the band's flag team.  Even though she had never twirled a flag in her life, she signed up.  Lack of confidence not being a Cotton personality trait.

On the first day of football season, there she was.  Right up front -- leading the band onto the field. 

A football weekend?  Certainly, it was.

But, more than that.  It was a great weekend to rebuild relationships.