What I Looked Like At One Time…


What I Looked Like At One Time...

Second grade–and yes, I know that I look like a VW driving down the road towards you with both doors open. What you don’t see was the way my ribs stood out like xylophone keys in an old cartoon.

There was never a medium look for me–before I attained my human fire-hydrant physique in my teens I was so skinny that my mother wouldn’t let me take my shirt off at the beach for fear that people would think she was starving me…

Adjusting to Sixty

Every day I find out some new aspect to being sixty. Not just the physical aspects – but the social, mental and emotional sides of living at this age. For example, while I was working at the Swanson River oilfield in the summer of 1972 I got hit on the head hard enough to make my knees buckle. I got hit on my head a month ago and the two experiences have been very, very different.

1972: We were pressure testing valves that were to be inserted in a line of tubing being put down a well, the test requiring the use of 36” pipe wrenches. In order to get sufficient force to seal everything off correctly we had to use 48” cheaters – pipes put on the handles of the wrenches to increase leverage so we could make a tighter seal.

Being nineteen and invulnerable – and also of tired & careless because I was working the first overtime of my life I wasn’t wearing my hard hat. You can see the equation working itself out.

(W + M) x E = S + T

W:  36” pipe wrench (with an extension much longer than warranted for)

M:  210-pound young man hanging on one end

E:  An environment covered with oil and water

S: The wrench slipping

T: One tremendous blow to the head.

I got up right away, “shook it off” like nothing had happened then put the wrench down and walked over to the water fountain only to collapse just before reaching it, catching myself n the edges of two barrels located next to the door.

I was a little shaky that night but was just fine the next day.

2013: I either blacked out or “instantly fell asleep” just as I was entering the loo. I had no idea anything was happening until I heard a loud bang and felt the side of my head start to really hurt.  I got up right away – only this time my knees also buckled right away so I got to my bed as soon as possible and spent some time there before trying to go about my regular routine.

What’s it all mean?  While I recognize that I am physically not as capable as I was 39 years ago inside of me is a 20 year old saying “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?” My muscle memory and reflexes still want to follow that old template and it shocks me when I can’t do it. There’s a template in my brain that wants to shift me into “watcher” mode, making sure my wife and children are protected and taken care of. The reality though is that with my age and disability I am the one that has to be watched over with my wife and sons checking on me, following up and making sure that  I “did in fact go to the doctor after all”….

My beautiful Saxon princess is making the transition much better than I am, falling back on the phrase “It is what it is”. Unfortunately I have not been able to be as graceful, falling back on the phrase “it isn’t what I want” but I know that I will eventually make the transition to a life without 36” pipe wrenches with four-foot cheat bars.

Music: The “Hot-Cakes” Syndrome

Ask anyone to list the best record albums of 1973 and invariably “No Secrets” by Carly Simon shows up in the count. I had been listening to her work for less than a year when this record was released and its haunting and evocative music sort of sealed the deal on making me a firm devotee. The photo on the front didn’t hurt either, though any lingering glances in that direction earned me “the look” from my girlfriend, a heavy-lidded, disapproving gaze that could peel paint off the wall and put any one of Superman’s various “-visions” to shame.

“You’re So Vain” was the break-out single from the album but the whole disc in general struck a resonant chord with young people everywhere. Full of music about love, heartbreak, family expectations – there was a three minute soundtrack for every possible heartbreak and during that year of 1973 (and into 1974) I went through all of them. Listening to “No Secrets” was central to my coping with the deep depression and heartache of that year. I was partial to Side 1 and I think I played it so often that it ground the vinyl down far enough for me to listen to Side 2 without turning the record over.

A little more than a year later Carly released an album titled simply “Hotcakes”, which we all assumed to be a follow-up album. I don’t think I ever waited for a record with as much anticipation and high expectations as I did when standing in line in front of the record store the day the albums arrived.

I paced the way a new father paces awaiting the birth of his child.  I was like a jukebox junkie, though the monkey on my back had beautiful chestnut hair and voice to match. Making the purchase was a blur of throwing money at the clerk and sprinting to the door, after which it was all I could do to refrain from running all the way home. Crashing through the door of my apartment, I

  • opened the shrink-wrap
  • pulled out the record
  • placed it on the turn table
  • and turned on the stereo

all in one fluid movement …and started listening.

…to nothing.

What a bitter disappointment. Oh, there was plenty of music. Happy music. bouncing joyous stories of marriage, motherhood, and security, all of which did absolutely nothing for me. It was the cruelest of all buzz-kills: the buzz-kill with no buzz in the first place.  Though I couldn’t tell you exactly why, happy music was not what I needed. I needed the moody evocative sad music of her album from the year before, maybe to help me understand that I wasn’t all alone in feeling heartbroken.

As it turns out it I wasn’t the only person disappointed by “Hotcakes”.  At the end of its time on the charts it earned the dubious honor of being one of the lowest selling albums of Carly Simon’s career. Fans couldn’t connect with her happy music as well as they could her angst-filled tunes.

A similar thing happens to me with my journal. “Happy” doesn’t sell well – more accurately it doesn’t show up as much as “sad” does.  I’ve kept a journal since my first semester at Ricks College in the fall of 1972 and I have found a pattern that shows up all the way through. If I am having a hard time, if I’m depressed, I write pages and pages of entries. But if everything is OK and life is good I hardly write at all. It makes it hard to go back and read through my journal because in many instances it seems like I was miserable all the time when I know that wasn’t the always the case. I’ve even taken to editing some sections of my journal just to maintain a semblance of balance in the book or if I am doing extended reading in my journal I keep a calendar handy so I am able to assess the feelings expressed in terms of how much time I had spent “bottomed out” rather than the number of pages involved.

I’ve also tried to “push-start” my writing to balance things out as well. Sometimes when I plan my week I will designate specific days to write in  my  journal no matter what – and if you know me at all you know that if I write something down in my planner it will get done.  (Let’s hear it for the good side to Obsessive/Compulsive Behavior) You see, in addition to discovering that hard times = more journal writing, I also found out that increased journal writing = more spiritual growth. I’m not sure what causes what, but I do try to force myself to write more often hoping that growth will follow.

Is this a case of trying to push a string? I don’t know. What I do know is that I need to be better than I am in so many ways… and also know that it will take something much more meaningful than waiting for another cold day for Ms. Simon to have her picture taken.