Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 2012: A Potpourri


July 20:  I write every day.  That has been well established in these monthly letters.   Normally, it is not terribly hard to find things to write about each day.  There are ideas and notions rumbling around in my aging cranium.  When I have nothing, I can count on the rest of the world.  There is always news.  There is always some colossal in either the fantastic or idiotic sense that is worth writing about.  On rare occasions, when there is nothing in my noggin and the world is relatively calm, I revert to "dear diary" entries lamenting on the inevitable gaps between the person I am and the person I believe I should be.  These are almost never worth sharing.
The bigger the notion or theme, the more likely it is to span a few days and thus turn into a monthly letter which I share with all of you.  So far this month, the clever idea and larger theme has eluded me.  When that happens I tend to fall back on a potpourri format that I am falling back on this month.  
Eski Dostlar:  This is Turkish for old friends.  There is, of course, a song by that name http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EI-3B-nxSs.  The older I get the more meaningful this term eski dostlar, viejos amigos, hin paregamner, or old friends is to me no matter in what language.  I worry that I am not keeping in touch with my old friends properly.  I neither call, email, nor see them often enough.  Some I think of often.  Others come and go into and out of my short term memory.  When I apologize for not keeping touch, several of you, old friends, have reminded it me that it is a two way street and they have been equally bad at maintaining contact.   A few have pointed out that I write a letter, this letter, each and every month to everyone I think might be interested in reading them.  By doing this, they point out, that I do keep in touch.  It never seems enough.
The popularity of Facebook is exactly that it provides a very convenient format to facilitate keeping in touch with lots of people.  For a few minutes or hours per day, one can find out the doings of those that care to share.  It is quite convenient.  The key is to keep from gobbling up too many hours of the day.   I just began on Facebook.  Why did I take so long?  When I first considered joining circa 2006, I asked my children if I should or could join knowing that, at that time, Facebook was almost exclusively the domain of their generation.  My son, Aram, put it succinctly, "If you join, I will be compelled to quit."  In an effort to be a good father and provide my children with space, I did not join.  They both gave me the green light a few years ago but for fun and just to be the obstinate father , I refused to join until June of this year.
My old friends, are for the most part, still around, still available to call, email, or see.  I know we are standing at the edge where those in my generation will begin to leave.  I saw it with my grandmother and I see it with my parents.  If you live long enough, you will begin to outlive your contemporaries.  At some point, you will only have the memory of your friends.  That is good and bad.  The good is the memory.  It is wonderful to think of and reflect on old friends.  The bad is the loneliness.    This is not meant to be morbid.  It is just a fact of life.  I suppose the lesson here is to keep in touch when you can. 
New Friends:  It is important to keep expanding one's circle of friends... and not just on Facebook or LinkedIn.  This is important if for no other reason than to still have friends given that you might outlive most of your generation.  My parents, who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary as this letter comes out, do exactly that.  They are active and involved.  My dad coached the women's cross country team at Schoolcraft Community College in Livonia, MI until two years ago.  He recruits athletes for the Detroit Armenian Youth Federation and HMEM teams.  In the past few years, they have lost some of their closest friends and relatives.  I know this has made them... what is the word... let's say "reflective."   But, to their credit and as a great example, they take it in stride.
My dad just had a serious surgery.  He had his aortic valve replaced.  We were quite concerned even though we were assured the surgery is routine.  Such surgery is always called  “routine”  when it is happening to others.  It is anything but routine when it is happening to you or one of your loved ones.  Dad came through the surgery with flying colors.  Amongst other things such as having a skilled and talented surgeon, his lifelong commitment to health and fitness really helped in his recovery.  The amount of calls, cards, flowers, and fruit baskets he received from friends old and new has been overwhelming. 
This also reminds me of my friend David Attarian's father, Jirair.  Jirair Attarian was a distinguished Armenian writer.  He was born in Konya in 1914 but live a majority of his life, an Armenian life, in Beirut.  The family moved to the United States in 1972.  He passed away in 2006.  In his life in Woodside, Queens, Jirair Attarian kept his circle of friends vibrant and active.  He sought out younger artists, musicians, and writers.  He became their mentor and friend.  Young writers, artists, and musicians sought him out.  When Jirair passed away in 2006, it was amazing to hear the words of these friends talk about their friendship with him.  His example and lesson had a profound impact on me.
Legacy:  On July 22, Penn State University took down Joe Paterno's statue in front of Beaver Stadium.  The storied coach was an icon and a legend.  Everyone loved him.  This applied to Penn State fans for certain but to college football fans in general.  What was not to love and admire?  Coach Paterno did great things for Penn State.  He was a role model for coaches in a jaded age.  He personified class and a squeaky clean program.  He was all this until last year, when the sad and sordid crimes of his former defensive assistant came to light.  It has been revealed that Coach Paterno knew about these crimes and underplayed them.  Now, it seems he might have been involved in a cover-up. 
When I began work at Ford Motor Company in 1975 there was a saying the older guys used to bandy about.  They even had Xeroxed copies of this little saying on their desks or taped to the walls:  One aw shit wipes out a hundred attaboys.  I am sure this saying is not unique to Ford but it sure fit their culture back then. 
Joe Pa's reputation is following this maxim.  He accomplished a lot.  He did a lot for a lot of people.  He was a great donor to the university he loved.  But, one aw shit has ruined all of his attaboys.  The “aw shit” was so devastating, his health took a dramatic and immediate turn for the worse and he simply passed away.
It would be to easy to assign some of this blame to the media.  It is not their fault.  The fact of the matter is that the media simply did what they are supposed to do and that is to report news.  Another fact is that the world has simply shrunk because of cable and the internet.  Any blip of interesting news will be everywhere immediately.   “Aw shits” now travel at the speed of light.
The whole thing is so very sad on so many levels.  I am glad Sandusky is in jail.
Aurora:  The Paterno story is sad, disappointing, and disgusting.  What happened in Aurora, Colorado this month was sadder and more disgusting.  On July 20th, James Egan Holmes went to the premier of the new Batman movie armed to the hilt.  He just started shooting.  He killed 12 people and injured 58 others.  Insane.  Sad.  Horrible. 
What makes someone go into a cinema armed with several guns and just open fire on innocent people?  How did the gunman come to the conclusions that he needed to do this horrible crime?   I cannot fathom a thought pattern that would take me to killing innocent people. 
Does this happen in other countries or is this mostly an American phenomenon?  I get the impression this kind of things happens more here than elsewhere.  Does that mean we have more psycho people?  Do such crimes occur in other countries around the world and we simply do not learn about them?  I am assuming that we have more than our fair share of these kinds of crimes. 
Other countries have other problems.  Certainly there are places where terrorism takes the place of Aurora like crimes.  There are other countries, dictatorships, where the government forces are the criminals.  People are arrested and never seen again. 
I am sorry for the families of those killed in such a random and cold manner.  I hope that those injured full recover.  I seriously think the death penalty fits this crime.
What is with Hollywood?:  It is like all creativity is gone from Hollywood.  They keep making and remaking the same movies.  For example, there is the new Batman movie referred in my reflections on what happened in Aurora, Colorado.  It is like the umpteenth make or remake or sequel of Batman.  It is supposed to be the end of the latest Batman trilogy.  It is the real honest to goodness last ever remake, at least this year, of Batman, the son of Batman, Batman returns, or whatever we want to call them movies.  It seems like each time in this series of Barman movies that, if this is even possible, there is two times the number of actors playing the Dark Knight.  Really? 
There is also another Spiderman movie.  Didn't they just make a trilogy of Spiderman movies starring Topher Grace?  (Topher Grace might have even played the Dark Knight in one of the Barman movies for all I know?)  Why another Spiderman movie?
I just saw a TV commercial for the remake of Total Recall, a movie originally starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The trailer footage on the commercial looked very high tech and might be a better movie.   The first one is still a good movie, why make another one.  I am pretty sure that I not go to the theater to see either of these movies.  If I ever watch them, I will simply wait a few months until they are available on cable.
In 2003, Ang Lee directed a movie, Hulk, based on comic book character the Incredible Hulk starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly.  In what seemed like the next year (it was actually 2008 however), The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton and Liv Tyler was released.  Really?  Why?
I should not be mystified or be asking why.  The answer is simple:  money.   I read somewhere that this phenomenon is due to the industry having become more corporate.  Because they are more corporate, they are less creative and want to go with... well... what they know.  So, they keep making and remaking movies especially if we keep going to see them.
The Wisdom of Yoda:  Yoda is a fictional character from the Star Wars movies.  Yoda is one of the great Jedi masters.  He is a green, gnomish, and elfin who is a master warrior, philosopher, and teacher.  Yoda is also known for his unique syntax.  He speaks using a subject object verb form that makes everything he says seem wiser than if uttered by anyone else in a normal pattern.  Instead of saying,  as I might right now, "I am writing my monthly letter."  Yoda would say, "Writing my monthly letter, I am." There is even a website called the Yoda-Speak Generator (www.yodaspeak.co.uk).
There is a quote from Yoda that has captured my interest of late:  "Do or not do.  There is no try."  This is exactly what I need to remind myself every day.  There are things in my life that I am forever trying to do or accomplish.  I say I am trying to do this or I am trying to accomplish that.  In this class of endeavors which are all subjects of previous letters, Yoda would slap my hand.  I am either doing it or not doing it.  Trying, in my case, is simply another way of saying that I am not doing it. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Turning 100K

Something happened today that never happened to me before. My car odometer hit
100,000 miles. I have owned, leased, or driven nineteen cars since 1971. Today was
the first time any of my cars crossed the 100,000 mile threshold.

My first two cars died in accidents. I killed them before they were anywhere near
100,000 miles. Then I had a series of Ford and GM products in the 1970s, 80s, and
90s. When I was working at Ford, I was not keeping the cars very long. We got good
deals on slightly used cars and the culture was to turn cars over and drive the latest
models.

After I left Ford, I continued to buy Fords and then General Motors cars. I kept these
cars longer. While the quality of American cars had improved, long term reliability
was still an issue. These cars were all rattle traps and never made to even 90,000. I
maintained them, they just began to wear out around the 70,000 mile mark. They were
pretty good cars up until that mileage.

In the mid-90s, I gravitated to Toyota and Lexus. These cars would have made to
100,000 or beyond but they were leased.

In 2002, I bought a Toyota 4Runner. I had wanted this truck in 1995 but the Chevy
Blazer was $5,000 less. When my son took that car to college, I again wanted a 4
Runner, but this time General Motors was offering 0% financing and I ended up with
another Blazer. The first Blazer began to have "issues" and required repairs equal to
the value of the car. So, I gave him the second Blazer and without even checking with
GM, went to the Toyota dealership, picked out a beige 4Runner Limited and drove it
home.

I paid it off faster than I anticipated and have owned this car for ten years and one
month. I did not drive it much in 2007 and 2008 when I had a company car, but every
other year I put about 12-13,000 miles on it.

Others that I know that have this same vintage design of 4Runner has as many 250,000
miles and their vehicles are still going strong. I look forward to my car lasting that long.
It is paid for. It runs great. Maintenance costs will be less then car payments and
maintenance for any new car I might by. It would be awesome to get another ten years
out of this truck.

100,000 is not a big deal in the large scheme of things. Many people are driving cars
with that much mileage. My mother told me today that almost all of her vehicles had at
least that much mileage. Others I know buy Mercedes or BMWs with 50,000 miles on
them and drive them to 150,000 miles. My experience is only a big deal to me. When I first started driving, the odometers were mechanical and when they crossed 100,000
they started at zero again.

I will write about it again if I get to 200,000 miles.

File this one under:  minor curiosity in the big scheme of things.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tour de Lake Forest

I am a bicyclist.  I have established that much in this blog.  July is an exciting time because it is the height of my outdoor season.  I have already logged 1,067 outdoor miles and am on pace to hit the 2,000 mile mark.  That would make six out of the last seven years with over 2,000 outdoor miles.  Last year due to schedule constraints and a knee issue, I only did half that amount.   

July is doubly exciting because it is also the Tour de France month.  There are 22 teams of 9 riders each, the best cyclists in the world, giving it their all in one of the grandest and most grueling events in all of sport.  These riders are all incredibly lean and strong.  They have to be for the endurance required in this sport.

The first tour took place in 1903.  The Tour has been run every since with the exception of 1915 - 1919 and 1940 - 1946 because of the two World Wars.  The French dominated early and have 38 tour wins to date.  The Belge are in second with 18 wins followed by Spain with 12 and the US with 10.  The US never scored a victory until Greg LeMond won in 1986.  

In the early days of the sport, the bikes only had two gears and they were not easily changed.  The gears were on opposite side of the rear axle.  The riders had to stop, get off the bike, take a wrench to the rear wheel, and flip the wheel to engage the other gear.  They often had to change gears in the cold of the various mountain ranges in Europe..  This was a source of great frustration to an Italian cyclist Tullio Campagnolo.  Campagnolo was an even better inventor than he was a cyclist.  In 1930, he invented the quick release axle.  He founded the Campagnolo cycle component company.  He went on to invent derailleur and cable based gear changing systems.  Both these inventions are still used.  They have evolved but still based on the original Campagnolo designs.

Lance Armstrong has the most Tour victories with 7.  Eddy Merckx of Belgium, Jacques Anquetil of France, Bernard Hinault of France, and Miguel Indurain of Spain all have five victories.  

The longest stage of the Tour took place today, July 13.  It was 226 kilometers from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davezieux.  226 kilometers is 140.4 miles.  140 miles!  David Millar of the UK won this stage.  He completed this distance in 5 hours 42 minutes and 46 seconds.  Millar, a 6’3” 170 rider from Great Britain, clipped along at an average of 24.6 miles per hour.  Amazing.

I cycle but it is a completely different sport than Millar and the other competitors are doing this month.  Cycling is no different from golf, tennis, baseball, and others.  Rank amateurs and weekend warriors dabble at these sports.  We use equipment that looks the same and some cases, for the well heeled, it actually is the exact same equipment.  We may even look like we are playing the same sport.  The difference is in the level of performance.  The professionals are so much better than the great majority of the rest of us.  This what makes it look like it is not the same sport.

In homage to the boys in France, I took my Schwinn Le Tour fixed gear out for a ride.   I did a whopping 12.3 miles at an even less impressive 15 miles per hour.  

Where is my yellow jersey?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Stupider the Betterer

It is a Tuesday night at 11 pm.  I got home at 9 pm dragging my butt a bit from the amount of work facing me.  I had a little bite to eat and actually got some work done.  I sat down to do my daily writing.  My wife had fallen asleep watching a rerun of The Golden Girls.  Yes.  I could change the channel and watch something that would make the writing go faster and perhaps even take the edge off.  Funny, some people would have a drink to take the edge off.  Here I am counting on the several hundred channels of Comcast to provide something between The Golden Girls and a slug of Johnny Walker Black on the rocks.

What to watch?  I grabbed the remote and deftly surfed my favorite channels and voila, in a matter of less than fifteen seconds, I found it.  Bingo.  Yeah baby, that's what I'm talking about.  The day took a serious upturn.  I found a Harold and Kumar movie.  This one is Escape from Guantanamo.  The first Harold and Kumar was stupid.  This, the second one, is even stupider.  It is exactly what the doctor ordered tonight.  It kind of made my day.  For me, there is nothing like the perfect idiotic movie or TV show to make me laugh out loud and, in general, feel better about things.    The only thing that could have fit the bill better would have been some Three Stooges shorts.  Heck, I did not even mind that this Harold and Kumar movie was on a channel with commercials.  I write more during the commercials.

My daughter, in recent visits, would come and sit by me while I was watching a movie.  She would say pretty close the same thing each time, "This movie is really stupid.  How do you find these things?  No one can find stupid movies like you can"  I don't really know, it is a gift I guess.  I watch the Stooges.  I watch Seinfeld.  I watch movies like Idiocracy, The Brother from Another Planet, and a seemingly endless variety of movies put on TV just to make me laugh.  

I remember when the first Harold and Kumar came out.  The advertisement sang to me like one of Homer's Sirens.  I was sure it was going to be a major cult film.  I thought these guys were going to be the Cheech and Chong of the new millenia.  I was wrong.  I was probably the biggest fan of the moronic film.  I could not have been that wrong... they did make two sequels.

Why do I like "stupit" movies?  Why do I like slapstick physical humor?  I have no clue.  It goes back as long as I can remember.  I loved Lunch with Soupy Sales when I was as young as five.  I was addicted to the Stooges.  My mother even banned my from watching the Stooges in first grade simply because she was gravely and justifiably concerned I was well on my way of being a member of their Amalgamated Association of Morons local six and seven-eighths.  I am not sure if that was the case but Soupy and the Stooges just made me laugh... out loud and a lot.

Well my writing is complete.  The day is done.  Thanks Harold.  Thanks Kumar.  Say goodnight Gracie.