In the grinder.

Wasn’t I just saying I hoped this week would be a little easier than last? Guess what? It’s not. Nothing horrible, just a fairly blistering pace. Plus, Alan’s sick — came home with a sore throat and a canker sore, the latter of which seems to be bothering him more than the other. I hate canker sores so bad, so I get it. Probably shouldn’t have made ribs with so much chipotle pepper in the rub, however.

But once the weekly menu is set in this household, it is set. No substitutions!

Now it’s Wednesday, and things are finally slowing to a nice, steady trot. Have some lines to re-bait, and an application for a workshop/conference next spring in Columbus, spaces in which are to be awarded on a competitive basis. That means I must start the bullshit machine that lives deep in my chest, so a nice steamy batch can be perked up when I start to write.

The spot includes a week of lodging in my ol’ hometown. That’ll be fun. I’ll invite all my friends over to trash the hotel, Led Zep-style.

Before I go on, though, I want to make a book recommendation. (I haven’t changed the On the Nightstand feature in close to a year, but I have been reading, promise.) I recently finished “In the Darkroom,” Susan Faludi’s memoir about the last year’s of her father’s life, after he underwent a sex change in Thailand and emerged as Stefanie. I bought it on the advice of Hank Stuever, mainly in an attempt to sort out my frankly confused thoughts about transgenderism. I lie somewhere between full-and-open-embrace and the position laid down by more radical feminists, who reject transwomen as having a claim on the gender at all.

I don’t come to the debate with animus, however. I’m just very confused.

Faludi came to the reopened relationship with her parent — they had been estranged — as a middle-aged woman and an incisive journalist. And she misses very little about the tangle of contradictions that Istvan Friedman, who became Steven Faludi, who became Stephanie, presents to the world. A man who’s had three names and two genders in the course of a lifetime will have an interesting life’s story, and s/he is no exception. Istvan Friedman was a Jew in WWII Budapest, which meant he was no safer than Jews anywhere else in Europe. Born to a wealthy family that was atomized by the Holocaust, Istvan survived on luck and hustle, shape-shifting his identity and front to match the occasion, many of them perilous to his health. He later emigrated to Brazil and then to the U.S., where he became Steven Faludi (“a good Hungarian name”), married and became a father. But that didn’t work out, and he repatriated to Hungary and eventually shed another skin, emerging as Stefanie. His tale is only reluctantly told by the septuagenarian matron that was his final identity, but his daughter is relentless in her pursuit of her parent’s true nature. The picture that emerges — the title is a play on both her father’s occupation as a photographer and photo processor and the nature of his manipulated self — is hardly sharp. People are complicated, and some people are really complicated.

But the book is wonderful. It’s in Alex’s hands now; his father was a Hungarian immigrant, and Stephanie’s story is of a piece with her native land, itself a bundle of contradictions. I thought I knew my Holocaust history, but I knew little of Hungary’s role in it, it turns out. The details were appalling and dispiriting in the age of Trump, and the behavior of Istvan/Steven/Stephanie, both then and in the contemporary era, are baffling and revelatory. (Stephanie votes with the far-right party, the one that teeters on the edge of ethnic cleansing.)

I don’t really understand transgenderism that much better now, but I’m enlightened about one of its story threads now, and I recommend “In the Darkroom” to anyone in search of a good read on this or any of its related topics.

So, a new thread for us to chat about the final debate, and some bloggage: I’m appearing on WDET tomorrow to trade snappy banter about it with two other panelists; I’ll be the one with the higher voice and XX chromosomes. Listen live in the 9 a.m. hour Thursday, if you’re so inclined.

Last week I went to Flint and stared into a hole, watching a typical pipe replacement, a huge project just getting ramped up. Read this thrilling tale of mud and infrastructure, here, after it goes live at 6:10 a.m., EDT.

The catastrophe of citizen journalism, from NYMag.

“Mulatto cock.” OK, I’m done.

Posted at 5:50 pm in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 53 Comments
 

A little light reading?

Friends, I have another insane evening and busy day tomorrow, and I have simply no time to blog here. Part of the reason is, I spent most of the day at a local hospital, waiting on Alan as his designated driver for a little outpatient stuff — nothing worrisome, but even with a wifi connection, phone and laptop, I didn’t get much done, not with the TV and the various incarnations of the Loud family who filtered in and out.

I considered working in the chapel but figured that wouldn’t be included in the practice of a respectful agnostic.

Not that there wasn’t lots to read for when I simply had to shut down and reboot my brain. Like this:

50ways

And this:

firsttestsofipad

I kept looking at that U.S. News, thinking of the cleaning crews, the hundreds of families who have drifted in and out of this waiting room over the last decade. How many hands have straightened that issue and put it back in a stack for the next day’s influx, never thinking to look at that giant date on the cover and ask if maybe this one could be pitched? I didn’t even want to consider the germs that might be on it. (I washed my hands four times over the course of the day and didn’t put them near any mucous membranes.)

The iPad was introduced in 2010, if you’re interested. Steve Jobs did the rollout in San Francisco. Sunrise, sunset…

So back to work for me, and high hopes I can pick up this burden again tomorrow. Talk amongst yourselves.

Posted at 7:45 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 115 Comments
 

Four more weeks of the crazy.

My old friend Adrianne often calls me on Sundays to catch up, and she did this past week. Of course we talked about The Only Thing Anyone is Talking About These Days ™, with all its assorted craziness. I have to be stingy with Washington Post links, because they’re pretty good about enforcing the 10-articles-a-month thing, but I really must draw your attention to two of them – this one, about a disturbed woman who is Trump’s No. 1 fan, and the frankly insane appearance of the candidate himself on Saturday night in Pennsylvania (where the disturbed woman lives! Coincidence? I think not!).

I had just hung up the phone when it occurred to me that sometimes, only Bill Murray can put it into words.

I honestly feel very bad about Melanie, the woman in the first story. Life has dealt her a raw deal, and she lacks the coping skills to make it better. I don’t think she’s typical of Trump voters, but she’s certainly a rather intense concentration of their worst traits, isn’t she? And there are so many people willing to take advantage of her emotional fragility and, shall we say, tenuous grasp on reality. Get past the stuff up top, about what she believes, and read about her life. It’s hard not to feel pity.

As for Herr Trump, well, talk about a tenuous grasp on reality.

Prediction: After the election, he’ll continue to hold rallies. And people will come. I’m not sure how he’ll make them pay off, but he’ll figure something. Guys like that don’t give up the grift easily, and he seems to feed off rallies in some strange way. He really sounds like he’s about to go off the deep end, though, doesn’t he?

Halfway through the statement, Trump took a nearly 20-minute-long break to cover a range of topics, including these:

— He reflected on how his movement has “the smartest people… the sharpest people… the most amazing people.” He said the pundits — “most of them aren’t worth the ground they’re standing on, some of that ground could be fairly wealthy ground” — have never seen a phenomenon like this.

… — He recounted how the “dopes at CNN” and “phony pundits” refused to acknowledge how well he was doing during the primaries. “Then we started getting 52 percent, 58 percent, 66 percent, 78 percent, 82 percent,” Trump said, not making clear what those numbers mean. “And they just didn’t understand what was going on.”

— He said Clinton could not fight bad trade deals or Russian President Vladimir Putin because “she can’t make it 15 feet to her car,” alluding to video that showed Clinton buckling as she unexpectedly left a 9/11 memorial service early. Her doctor later said she had pneumonia. Trump then imitated Clinton by flailing his arms and jostling side to side. He walked unsteadily away from the podium as if he were about to fall over. “Folks, we need stamina,” Trump said. “We need energy.”

— He claimed that he has a “winning temperament” while Clinton has “bad temperament.” Trump continued: “She could be crazy. She could actually be crazy.”

When are the Trump endorsements going to start coming? You know they’re out there, being written by sweaty men and women who are, just this once, thanking God that editorials are, by tradition, unsigned. They hope they can get away clean. We’ll see.

Does anyone think the tax story will change anything? I don’t. It won’t change the polls, anyway, but I enjoyed reading this how-we-got-the-story story, just the same.

So, how was everyone’s weekend? Me, I got started on what I expect will be a multi-month affair — cleaning the basement. Multi-month because I can’t stand to do it all at once, and prefer to ruin an hour or two of a succession of weekends. I opened a box that was sealed and marked, in Alan’s handwriting, “Nancy’s letters.” Found this:

jimmy

More from my vast collection of purloined letterhead.

There were also letters, one from my first boyfriend, after we’d broken up. He wrote that he still loved me and hoped to earn back my respect someday. (We’d split up over his drinking.) Alas, he died before we could be reconciled, in a one-car fatal. Which seems as good a transition as any to the bloggage, which starts with this great Jon Carroll remembrance of a recently deceased friend, who was also his AA sponsor. Great sponsor, difficult friend:

I found that the program worked. Not entirely, because I will always be an addict, but better. And it was Pamela who brought me that. It was Pamela who made sure I went to meetings; who framed the issues in a more useful way; who took my telephone calls at any time in the evening. I was just one of her sponsees, and her phone rang a lot, and she always had time. She was just a miracle. Her sponsees adored her. I adored her.

I didn’t drink. Stuff got better.

But things change. After 15 years or so, I slowly stopped going to meetings. Part of was the God thing; I was an atheist. “Are you drinking?,” Pamela would ask. “Then don’t worry about it. AA doesn’t care.” And, officially, it doesn’t. But then someone at a meeting says, “God never gives you more than you can handle,” and people in the metal folding chairs nod their heads and murmur, and I don’t say, “that’s demonstrably not true. Example one: death,” because even though you’re supposed to be honest, some kinds of honesty will alienate you from the group.

They were estranged in recent years, although Carroll’s wife befriended her and was, in fact, the one who found her body. There’s a nice passage in there about forgiveness, but I don’t want to give away the store. Read it yourself.

This Scott Adams takedown Alex posted over the weekend is great. What a maroon.

Finally, mankind’s battle with raccoons is not going well. The raccoons are getting smarter, as any person who’s ever taken them on knows too well.

And so another week looms ahead of us. Mine will be simultaneously fast-paced, vexatious and fun. Hope yours is, too.

Posted at 12:18 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 92 Comments
 

Rainy day.

Yeah, it was just that kind of day:

lodgeflooded

Torrential overnight rains FUBAR’d all the local freeways, not just the Lodge, abated for much of the day, and then picked up again at quitting time. Alan generally works from mid-morning until early evening, leaving for work about 9:30. Typically it takes him 20 minutes to make the drive. I texted him at 11:15 asking how bad the commute had been, and he reply was: “Just got in.” Ugh. There are days when I wish I had more contact with two-legged mammals during my work day, but there are just as many that I’m profoundly grateful my work can be done anywhere I can take my laptop and phone.

Right now I’m propped up against the foot of my bed, with Wendy close by. Cozy, but she’s going to need a walk soon and she hates the rain.

I did a fairly innocuous story a few weeks back, about how Michigan cities are changing their infrastructure to deal with rain events like these, which are far more frequent in this era of climate change. An interesting thing I’ve noticed lately: No one I spoke to, or speak to on related matters, bothers to deny climate change, and I’m not just talking to commie college professors who’ve walked across melting glaciers. It’s here, it’s happening, we better get used to it. Someone from a state farming organization told me a grain elevator is either built or being built near Saginaw, a farther-north location than had ever been able to support one before. Corn and beans are being grown, in pockets, as far north as Gaylord; make your Michigan hand map, find the topmost knuckle on your middle finger, and that’s where Gaylord is. That’s pretty damn far north, 50 miles south of the bridge, above 45 degrees latitude, for crops we generally associate with the flatlands of downstate Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, among others.

Meanwhile, many elected officials continue to insist it’s either a) not happening; or b) not our fault; or c) can’t be fixed, so woo, let’s all put a pineapple tree in the back yard. Also meanwhile, we just endured a blistering, dry summer, and just took in a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours.

Sorry, great-grandkids, we broke the planet. Enjoy the off world colonies.

I’m not really depressed or anything. In truth, I adore an occasional overcast day like today. We had one — just one — when I was in California, and the locals were moping about it. “You mean, the sun isn’t actively trying to kill me today?” I said. “This is not a terrible thing.” We had a very California summer, so this feels like a pleasant reprieve. Of course, knock wood, I got no water in my basement (yet). So there’s that.

Now I’m thinking about dinner, and have some grocerying to do beforehand. Let’s see what sort of bloggage can be scrambled here.

The Detroit News, Alan’s employer, has never endorsed a non-Republican for president in its 143-year history. Until today, when the editorial board endorsed…Gary Johnson. Sigh.

Remember how Donald Trump kinda-sorta defended himself for stiffing contractors at his various properties, saying, “Maybe they didn’t do work to my satisfaction”? I wonder what this piano dealer did to displease him. Was middle C flat?

The New Yorker knows how to deal with this beauty queen.

Great weekend, all. See you Monday.

Posted at 5:45 pm in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 117 Comments
 

A big bowl.

I mentioned my age here the other day, which has never been a secret. I’m 58. So those of you who have read some of the pamphlets Hillary was talking about on “Between Two Ferns” probably suspect the truth, and I’m here to confirm it: My baby-makin’ days are over. I’m past menopause. (I can never remember: If you’re “menopausal,” I think that means you’re going through it. But once you’re one year with no periods, you’re…what? Post? Whatever. It’s in the rear-view mirror now.)

The biggest shock was how little a shock it was. I recall picking up Kate at a friend’s house on the coldest day of the year, the kind where every house feels chilly, when you wrap yourself in fleece and wool and rub your hands together a lot. The girl’s mother opened the door in a tank top, sweat beading at her forehead, veritably steaming. I guffawed, but she wasn’t amused by hot flashes at all. I don’t think I had a single one. I also didn’t go crazy enough to be institutionalized. I didn’t get old and crone-y overnight. My sleep got a little dodgier, but that was it.

For this, I can only credit genetics and luck. And so far, I can’t say being a crone is bad at all. Now I only feel like crying when something tragic is happening on my radar screen, not because the kid at the deli didn’t see me standing there for 10 minutes, or because someone cut me off in traffic. My keel is even most of the time, my sails unbuffeted by hormonal storms. Which reminds me of seeing a lactation consultant when I was a new mother, trying to figure out nursing, and I said, tearfully, “These hormones! They’re like drugs!” The nurse looked at me kindly and said, “Honey? They ARE drugs.”

Other things are happening, to be sure. I won’t go into the details, because if you’ve been there, you know, and if you haven’t, why wreck the surprise? Hint: It involves eyebrows. Seriously. EYEBROWS. I wake up in the morning and see Andy Rooney looking out of my bathroom mirror. I hate this.

Here I’ll put in a word for exercise, again. If there’s one thing that really does help almost every aspect of physical and mental health, it’s self-care, and especially self-care that includes regular exercise. I don’t want to be a bore about this, but seriously — fountain of youth.

So the other day I found myself killing time at one of my favorite shops, and I saw this dress. Tried it on. It fit like a glove, and I looked at it with a strange mix of emotions. It’s the very definition of what I was talking about the other day, the too-young dress for a matron of my age. Not only is it tight and sexy, the print is covered with cherries. If there’s ever a fruit with a lewd connection to a woman’s sexuality, it’s cherries. Maybe peaches, too, but definitely cherries. Wearing a tight dress covered with cherries is sort of a dirty joke on the hoof, isn’t it? What about an old bag wearing one? As Tom and Lorenzo might ask, “What message is this dress sending?” Is this a Girl, That’s Not Your Dress dress, or what?

Reader, I bought it. It was on end-of-season sale, big-time. Haven’t worn it yet, because I don’t live a cherry-dress-every-weekend life, but every so often I’m invited to an event where it could come in handy. I have a mix of business/party dresses in my closet, and when I was 30 pounds heavier, they were all black. I love me a black dress (got a new one of those, too), but life is indeed a bowl of cherries, and this little retro number stole my heart.

I’m just dreading having to get the I AM WEARING THESE CHERRIES IRONICALLY tattoo across my collarbone. But looking forward to the red heels I ordered to go with. Because you always need another pair of those.

A little bloggage to start the week, as the countdown to the debate starts.

The Narcan backlash. It turns out that when addicts are saved from death by Narcan, they don’t wake up and say, “Hallelujah! Point me to a rehab center!” They go out and get high again. A problem.

There have been many times in this campaign season that I’ve felt amused, felt disgusted, felt astonished, but the moments of actual queasy-making nausea have been fairly rare. I felt it when Donald Trump surrounded himself with Medal of Honor-wearing soldiers, and I felt it this weekend, when he said he was going to invite Gennifer Flowers to the debate. She won’t be there, but is there a truer measure of this man than that reality-show blurtage? It’s almost literally sickening.

OK, then, time to pack it up and map out my week. Hope yours goes well.

Posted at 12:17 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 104 Comments
 

Tracking shots.

I’ve been rewatching “Rome,” the HBO series on guess-what. Every time I watch a costume drama I wonder whether horsemanship is part of a British actor’s training. So many of them ride very well, and it’s not easy, doing it on camera. I recall an actor who played General Custer saying the hardest part of inhabiting the old general was riding a horse to a mark and getting it to stand there.

I also wonder how British English became the default accent of filmed depictions of antiquity. Maybe because it has a wide range of accents within it, from Cockney to Buckingham Palace, that we Americans somehow recognize as Street and Classy.

Yes, these are the thoughts that occupy me on a Thursday after a long week. They’re all long, aren’t they? And despite the pleasures of working at home — sitting around in yoga pants all day, making banana bread on my lunch break — there’s something about not having a quitting-time whistle, or its associated rituals, that tells you it’s time to put down the hammer and go sit on the porch a bit.

Or it might be that I’m just in a sour mood because I came across some tracking video in the course of my research today, and was repelled by it. You know what tracking is, right? A politician on the trail is followed by an opposition operative with a video camera, recording every word that comes out of their mouth in a public setting — and whatever private moments they might be lucky enough to get, at least if it reflects badly on their target. Both sides do it, oh yes they do. I once sat at a joint appearance by Sen. Debbie Stabenow and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who was angling for her job. I was sitting in the front row, and when Stabenow was done talking, her tracker got up from the seat next to me and another young man took his place, taping Hoekstra.

It’s just business, but imagine being in this business. If this was your job. You had to get up every morning and be that asshole, hoping to get the next macaca or 47 percent moment (yes, I know the latter wasn’t gotten via traditional tracking, but it was tracking just the same). You want to know why politicians never speak honestly, why you have to pay a fortune to hear one talk about bitter clingers (not that that’ll ever happen again), why they’re such robots — this is one reason.

Ick.

OK, enough. Time to stop staring at this screen, because it’s not good for me. (Andrew Sullivan says so!)

Why I don’t watch CNN anymore is no mystery (we cut the cord). Why I didn’t watch it for years before we cut the cord is pretty well encapsulated here. Also: Wolf Blitzer.

Mike Pence disapproves of you badmouthing the police. Just thought you should know.

I think I’m ready to go surfing again. Have a great weekend.

Posted at 12:03 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 45 Comments
 

It’s important to try new things.

(Note: This is long, I know, but well-illustrated, and in my defense, I’ve written longer pieces about mass transit, tax policy and road repairs. Mea culpa.)

On the flight out to California, en route to a week at Endless Summer Surf Camp, I tried to inventory and analyze my fears. You know: Confront your monsters, call them by their names, face them down. In no special order:

** The Big P. I’m a good swimmer, and like most Midwesterners, I’ve been to Florida and the Caribbean, but apart from some dabbling in little wavelets in the Gulf of Mexico or Bahamas, I’d never been in saltwater over my head, never mind contended with riptides, sharks, stingrays or any of the other dirty tricks an ocean has up its sleeve.

** Physical limitations. I’m going to be 59 in a couple months. I’m pretty fit for my age, but my age is eligible for AARP membership and my knees are a mess. Big one, right there.

** Looking like an idiot. We all fear this one, right? The older I get, the less it bothers me. Still, it bothers me.

There were others. But those were the biggies — failing utterly, breaking something, shark attack. I could very easily see a scenario where I spent the week on the beach with an ice pack and crutches, and that was the best case, the one where I wasn’t airlifted home in medical humiliation or a body bag.

It didn’t work out that way, thankfully. For this I can only credit the good people at Endless Summer Surf Camp, which I’m mentioning by its full name again and putting in this post’s tags, because I want anyone like me who might be considering a stay there to find this post high in the Google results.

The first surprise was the camp itself, which is in the San Onofre State Park. I envisioned nights drifting off to sleep to the eternal sound of the ocean. Um, no. I was envisioning a mini-Yosemite, and was brought up short by what it was — a strip of asphalt for camper parking, a belt of chaparral, high bluffs over the Pacific and the beach itself. In fact, it was carved out of Camp Pendleton, the Marine base:

marines

The sound of their ordnance roaring in the hills was sometimes startling, but for anyone who’s camped near Grayling, Michigan? Pretty familiar.

Neither asphalt nor chaparral is welcoming to tent camping, but Jason Senn, the camp’s owner, has made it work — an RV parked at either end of a strip of spaces, grass-colored carpet laid between, and about 20 tents hard by one another, in two rows. If you brought adequate padding and a decent sleeping bag, it was no worse than sleeping on any forest floor. The surprise was the noise from the San Diego freeway, which was, no kidding, maybe 100 yards to the east. So no ocean sounds, but what Realtors call the Detroit river. What’s more, about halfway between was a rail line, and a busy one, although thankfully not near any crossings, so no horns at 2 a.m. After a day it all became white noise. Much like the ocean.

This was where we spent our days:

beachcamp

It’s probably a half mile walk down from the top. Even on Labor Day, when the parking was filled to capacity, we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. I guess even Californians get picky about recreation when you have to walk so far, and then walk back up a steep hill.

For beginners, it’s hard to imagine a more welcoming spot — a long beach break, with waves breaking far enough out that a clumsy oaf like me has enough time to clamber to her feet before arriving back on land. For the more advanced surfers, the waves were long, many of them “a-frames,” like the ones sought by Col. Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now,” that break with symmetrical right and left shoulders. (The point of surfing is to travel parallel to the wave; perpendicular rides are for coming in or beginners like me.)

But first you have to get “outside,” beyond the breaking waves to the relatively calm ocean beyond. It’s no small thing, because the ocean really doesn’t want you there.

On day one, I and two other total newbies, Adam and Susan, were paired with Romolo, an instructor. He said he got into surfing via downhill skateboard racing, which suggested a certain X-Games fearlessness. Venezuelan, slender and fit, with a cockscomb Mohawk and rapid-fire speech, brown as a bear and so graceful on a board it looked like a part of his body, this guy was put in charge of three middle-aged adults. He gave us a lesson on the beach, and then it was time to paddle out, shuffling our feet through the shallows (stingrays) and following instructions. As we picked up our boards, he crossed himself. It was a startling gesture for someone who’s gone downhill fast on a skateboard, but who am I to argue with a man’s faith? I crossed myself, too, just in case he knew something I didn’t. (Of course he did; I’d never even been in the Pacific Ocean.)

The water was warmer than I expected, maybe 70 degrees, but I was still grateful for my wetsuit. We shuffled through a few knee-high crashers, then it was time to go belly-down on the board and paddle. Within seconds, a wall of whitewater was bearing down on us. “Turn over!” Romolo called, but I couldn’t process the command — he was calling for a turtle roll, where you roll off onto your back, holding the board over your face and letting your legs trail. The wave hit me smack in the face, a HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT moment, but I stayed on the board.

“Celia! You have to roll over!” I heard Romolo calling. (Adam’s name he mastered, but Susan and I became Sonya and Celia.) I knew he was talking to me, but rolling over just wasn’t in my skill set yet. The next wave was bearing down. I hung on tight. SMASH. Honestly, it wasn’t too bad; later in the week I learned a different strategy for getting through, but for my first trip out, I committed to punishment, even as I gave Romolo every reason to be grateful for his religion. Finally, after a few more direct hits, we were there, outside, and we sat up on our boards. Romolo scolded me; you can’t just power through like that, you can get hurt, if the waves were bigger, etc. I was honestly just letting it all pour over me, like the waves; I felt a fugue-like disassociation. Where the hell was I, and what was I doing out here? Is this the ocean? Are those bombs? And more to the point, how the hell was I going to get back to the beach?

I’ll spare you the details of every ride. Romolo spotted the waves for us, and gave us the push we needed to get up to speed, because none of us had any idea how fast you have to paddle to catch them. For the first, I couldn’t rise from my stomach, again because it was just so strange and disorienting. The second, I got to one foot and knee. There were wipeouts galore along the way, and those taught me as much as the fleeting successes — that the ocean might throw me around like a rag doll, but I wouldn’t drown or lose my board (thanks, leash), that each one would pass, that I could still swim, and that this rolling and tumbling was useful. Stressful, too, with a whirl of unfamiliar feelings and emotions, including fear but also the dawning exhilaration of what we were all working toward. When I think of that first day, I don’t remember moments so much as a slide show of images and sounds — white water overhead, smashing down; Romolo’s face, worried under his wet Mohawk, lips white with zinc oxide; the blue ocean beyond; the way the waves outside lifted and lowered us as we sat our our boards; “Celia! Paddle-paddle-paddle! Faster-faster-faster!”

I was grateful to walk back up the hill at the end of the day. But inside, I was also itching to get out again.

Day two brought a new instructor. I figured I had ai-yi-yi’d Romolo into enough of a tizzy that when an amiable Brazilian ambled up to me on the beach and introduced himself as Rafael, my first thought was: I see I’ve been bounced to the special class. But Adam and Susan were still in the group, so maybe it was just the rotation or something. In any event, either Rafael was a much better fit or it was one of those when-the-student-is-ready-the-teacher-will-appear things. His accent was drawling, his mood chill, his encouragement gentle. He had a “two-step pop-up” that seemed made for less-nimble people. And I knew what to expect now.

I also had a bigger board, a foot longer and noticeably wider. This may be what made the difference when I finally wobbled to my feet and stood, more or less upright, and stayed up, almost all the way to the beach. It was different from my first belly ride in many ways, but mainly the illusion of being just a tad more in control and the pressure on the bottoms of my feet, all of which said: So this is what a flying carpet feels like.

For the record, this is what a flying carpet feels like. And I couldn’t even steer it yet:

flyingcarpet

So. Thus reassured that I could, and would, eventually be able to do this thing, it was possible to relax a little and pay more attention to my fellow surf campers. Besides Susan (who is from Grosse Pointe, and traveled with me) and Adam, there was Rusty, an instructor, seen here making breakfast:

rusty

When I met him I said, “You look like you were sent here from central casting.” He laughed, because he’s Australian and everything amuses him. He introduced me to the Cosmic Psychos, an Aussie punk band responsible for this song, which tells you a great deal about Aussie punk bands. When I was showing my pictures around the office last week, one of my colleagues took a look at Rusty and said, “He looks like he was sent from central casting.”

There was also Margery and Tony, Canadians, who come all the way in from Whitehorse, in the Yukon, to surf at Endless Summer every year. They’re both in their 70s, and meet up with their son and his partner. And they get in the water, yes. Paul was a childhood friend of Jason’s, a quasi instructor, quasi because he was rehabbing from a terrifying motorcycle crash a year ago that sounds like it could easily have cost him a leg. Here’s Paul and Susan, Paul elevating his leg because it was swelling. But yeah, he surfed, too:

paulandsusan

Irish Mike came all the way from Dublin:

mikesrobe

That robe he’s wearing is in every surf shop. I thought it was maybe some sort of cult garment until I figured it out — it’s a modesty coverup so you can change into your wetsuit commando, which I guess a lot of people, especially guys, prefer. The driftwood stuck in the sand behind him was the wicket he and Rusty set up for a cricket pitch they made. He surfs year-round in Ireland, in frigid water, requiring dry suits with hoods, gloves and booties. I’d say he earned this kelly-green tattoo:

mikestattoo

There was Daria from Montreal, Cara from New Jersey, Preston the Navy dentist on leave, Ron and Marisol from L.A. and Cristophe, French by way of San Diego. Many others. We socialized on the beach and in the camp, watching surf movies on TV — there was a lounge, with couches, a nice perk for asphalt campers — and sitting around the fire, where we talked about Donald Trump and Detroit and all the places they were from.

And day by day, I got just a little better. I started to recognize the tides, asked Preston about the Marine watercraft sitting far offshore, watched a school of baitfish fling themselves out of the water a little farther outside. (I tucked my arms and legs onto the board, unsure what, exactly, might be chasing them.) Three pelicans flew by in formation 20 feet from my face. The waves rolled by in moving pyramids, the wind whipping their tops into spray, a beautiful sight. And this happened:

dophins

Dolphins, not sharks.

And then it was over. Susan and I made our way back to Los Angeles, via the same rail line that ran through the camp. (It kills me that LA, a city perhaps more associated with cars than even Detroit, is so far ahead of us on mass transit by rail.) I was working my way through a burger as big as my head in Marina del Rey on Friday night — and please, feel free to file that under “sentence fragments you hoped you’d never read here” — when it struck me why I was feeling so buzzed by the week just concluded: It was all so very unfamiliar.

My vacations have always fallen into one of two categories. There’s the kind where all you want is total sloth and torpor — lead me to a beach/pool chair, put a drink in my hand, refill it at regular intervals and point me to bed hours later. And there’s the kind where you embark on an adventure, a dive into a new culture, a strange place, and go-go-go until it’s time to board the plane home.

Some people are partisans of one or the other. A true moderate, I enjoy both. This summer, I took two vacations, at the beginning and end of the season, and both were the latter kind. Iceland was a world away, San Clemente on the other side of the country, but both are places so different from my usual routine that they left me feeling …bigger, somehow. Expanded. More open. Wider, maybe, although that may be all the granola bars I ate on the beach. But different somehow, a little wiser about things I thought I was smart about but it turned out I was dumb about. And isn’t that the point of this journey? To enlarge ourselves, to encompass more, to get out of our ruts and see the world? We’re all just visitors here, so we might as well try new things once in a while.

So until next year, Adam, Romolo, Susan and Rafael:

onthebeach

I leave you with a bookend to the other pictures I shot all summer — sunrise in Grosse Pointe. Here was the first-day sunset over the Big P, with the tiny crescent moon coming down on its own journey:

sunset

This is the new lock-screen photo on my phone. Reminding me it’s out there, waiting for me next summer.

Some photography by me, most by A.J. Mcclintick.

Posted at 5:50 pm in Same ol' same ol' | Tagged , , | 36 Comments
 

Pix or it didn’t happen.

I’m back, and I had a wonderful time. I’d like your indulgence to work on a longer post about the experience, which I’ll post in a few days. It turns out I have a few thoughts about the last week, and I don’t want to rush into just bleating them out there, but at the same time, I also don’t want to put in a few hours of work crafting them while I’m still on vacation. And I have a couple of big-busy days ahead — it’s Bridge’s 5th birthday this month, and there are parties and panels and places I have to be, none around the corner from the office. Oh, and checking the calendar, I see I have a deadline in a few days, too. Grr.

Well, I asked for this life. All I need is a little forbearance. In the meantime, how about a picture or two?

Here’s the group from surf camp — some day campers only, most overnighters, all tons of fun:

groupshot

That’s me, second shaka sign from the right. Our group included two doctors, a dentist, more engineers than you could shake a stick at, bankers, a police lieutenant, firefighter, sales people of all kinds and I don’t know what.

And here’s the photographic proof I was there and successfully stood more or less upright on a moving surfboard for at least a few seconds:

mesurfing

Oh my, was it ever fun.

I stayed plugged in, news-wise, but there were things I was happy to let pass by like a wave in the lineup, unridden by the likes of me. The Matt Lauer thing, for one. Gary Johnson wondering what a Leppo is, for another. One of the best things about vacation is sitting around a campfire, listening to other people talk about stuff, and only joining in if you feel like it.

Needless to say, I usually join in. It’s m’nature.

But this is the start of a new week. Hillary has pneumonia. Oh, what joy to consider the slime that will be stirred through the national stew as that one gets around.

Maybe I should go back to California. I got money saved. Hardly anyone would miss me.

But no! The wave is coming — gotta start paddling.

Posted at 6:56 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 73 Comments
 

Several sunrises.

This summer I upped my swimming from twice to three times a week, in preparation for the surfing safari I’m currently on. As I believe I’ve mentioned at some tiresome length, this summer I’m swimming at a different pool — the one at the Grosse Pointe Shores city park. They have a program for early-morning lap swimming, open to non-residents.

All five of the GPs have a pool, of course, and each has its stellar feature. The Woods, where I live, has the largest and nicest of the five, with a great double water slide, but it doesn’t have Tim, who coaches us gratis all summer. The Shores pool is shallow in its lap lanes, but it’s the best-situated of the five, in that it overlooks Lake St. Clair, which lies to our east.

Which started me on my summer-long campaign to capture how beautiful the sky was, almost every morning.

June29.606
June 29, 2016, 6:06 a.m.

Your basic establishing shot: The pool, the people, the lake behind. The sun already above the horizon just after 6 a.m. A perfect Pure Michigan day ahead. It’s already too late for a good sunrise shot; once the orb clears the horizon it bleaches out every attempt to capture it, at least with an iPhone.

July15.609
July 15, 6:09 a.m.

A couple weeks later. You can’t go all the way down to the lakeshore, not without climbing a fence or going through some locked gates. So for a while I shot through the kiddie splash pad, seen here with no water running, because the kiddies are all still in bed. Almost exactly the same time, but the sun’s lower in the sky.

July26.618
July 26, 6:18 a.m.

At some point it occurred to me that the sunrise picture is the biggest cliché in photography, and I started trying to make them more like abstract art. I was also cropping out a feature I came to call That Bush.

August5.621
August 5, 6:21 a.m.

It was a dry season, so clear skies almost every morning. The pictures got prettier as the sunrise came later. This is the look of a day when the humidity will try to kill you, but still — very pretty. There’s That Bush.

August8.601
August 8, 6:01 a.m.

Sometimes I’d try to capture something other than the cliché sunrise, so here’s the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, next door. That tower is always described in historical and tourism materials as stately and Moorish. But even that day I realized…

August8.602
August 8, 6:02 a.m.

…the sunrise is still prettier. I think it rained a little overnight; those are the clouds heading off to the east.

August10.620
August 10, 6:20 a.m.

Brutal, brutal heat and humidity that day. Tim altered the workout for it, because it was difficult to breathe, even in the early morning. That Bush is seen with its twin, That Other Bush. (Yes, I know they’re really pampas grass.)

August12.616
August 12, 6:16 a.m.

The rain was starting to come back by now, and this pink-and-purple morning color theme emerged for a few days. I stopped worrying about clichés.

August15.619
August 15, 6:19 a.m.

Totally bananas pinkness this day.

August22.618
August 22, 6:18 a.m.

I told myself, “No more stupid sunrise pictures,” but then I spotted those geese.

august24.619
August 24, 6:19 a.m.

And now we’re in the final week. Let us pause for a word from E.B. White:

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone, over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” A little maple tree heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety.

Last day for me. Oh, so sad! It’s dark!

September1.608
September 1, 6:08 a.m.

School started this week, and the outdoor pools closed. When I get back, I’ll be swimming inside for the long, long school year. Soon enough, there’ll be no sun in the sky when I arrive, and little enough when I leave. But lord willing, Tim will be there, and we’ll keep turning lap after lap and waiting for next year.

Posted at 12:01 am in Same ol' same ol' | 169 Comments
 

Old Familiar H.S.

Recognize this place? You should. It’s the go-to high school when the script calls for one. Most notably, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll high school of the great b-movie of the same name. It’s also the alma mater of one of LAMary’s sons, and the highlight of the tour she gave me yesterday.

Unfortunately, it’s the only picture I took. Sorry about that — a bit jet-lagged.

On to San Onofre today, which my reading material says is one of the best places on the globe to learn to surf.

Good thing, too. Catch y’all later.

— Gidget

Posted at 2:28 pm in iPhone, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 58 Comments