My brother Kevin once told me the story of a man with a terminal illness who said his biggest regret was all the time in life that he spent polishing his shoes. Sometimes we are lucky enough to experience our moments of clarity before being prompted by a deathbed. For the last two decades, I have opted for comfort and only wear running shoes unless I am on a hike or at the beach. I wear running shoes with suits and sports coats. I wear them while swimming in the lake. So I have not been tempted to polish a pair of shoes for a long time. But I was so struck by my brother’s story that I enthusiastically attempted to apply the wisdom to other activities. I did not shave. I did not make the bed. I did not wash the car. Best of all, I did not feel guilty about it. I had the higher ground. Unfortunately I referenced my strategy in a Blog and so my wife realized I was not getting senile. I was just getting lazy. So she took some counter measures. Eventually we hammered out an agreement which was a total victory for me. I have it in writing that I do not have to polish my shoes for the rest of my life. She conceded that I am actually growing senile. And I have the choice to shave either before or after I make the bed.
My wife gave me a library book Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf. A good friend recommended it for me and apparently my wife agreed I should read it. This reminds me of an incident when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I was taking a bath in the 4th floor attic that had no shower where my brother Kevin and I shared a bedroom. I do not remember if my parents had told me to take a bath but they were yelling up the stairs to remind me to wash thoroughly, including armpits and joints behind my knees. Then in a stage whisper, mom told dad that they should handle this issue by putting deodorant in my Christmas stocking like my grandmother did when my mom needed it. I could have shouted, “I can hear you.” But I was mortified and wanted to shut down any further discussions, especially since my wonderful Christmas morning surprise was now ruined. Why are people tiptoeing around behind my back, trying to get me to switch on my brain? Has it been off all my life? No wonder I flunked Chemistry. Or did I accidentally turn off my brain and everyone wants it back on? The process is complex because this DIY book is 236 pages long! It took me 137 pages just to get to the “21-Day Brain Detox plan.” The basal ganglia is prominently featured in the plan and that term sounds disgusting enough to temporarily shut down my research. Disclaimer: I have received no compensation for this book review although any such compensation would be welcome and provide incentive for the removal of any reference to basal ganglia.
When my youngest granddaughter Zofia was four years old, she famously called me “the stupidest grandpa ever.” I confirmed with her that she was saying I was even stupider than grandpas dead hundreds and thousands of years ago. I gave her room to amend her statement and declare me just “one of the stupidest grandpas ever.” But she held firm. In the interest of full disclosure, I cannot recall what provoked her outrage but evidence could exist that would make her claim arguably credible. I did lose track of her once and she went across the street and told a neighbor lady who was a stranger that she had been left home alone. Nonetheless, I spent a few days offering her examples of other candidates for the stupidest title. She finally made one concession and called me the “second stupidest grandpa ever.” She had learned the value of leaving wiggle room when making absolute statements. My next goal was to extricate myself from the top ten stupidest grandpas. I was so proud when she refused to engage further on this topic and did not step into that trap. Back then, I was Zofia’s Manny while her parents worked. She threw me under the bus so many times when giving daily reports to her mom. But I reminded everyone of what Zofia’s grandfather used to say: “You get what you pay for.” Now that Zofia is ten years old and so much wiser, I am going to ask her if I was stupid to work for free.
Everyone has favorite words and phrases. I like cheugy because it sounds chewy and gooey. I love first sentences of my three sons: (1) “Because I not;” (2) “Who gives a care,” and (3) “Hi, I’m Matt.” If not the first sentences, they were the earliest memorable ones. I have deleted the expletive from my wife’s favorite question: “What were you thinking?” My daughter-in-law Ali tells people not to ask me a rhetorical question like that one because I answer them, e.g., “I thought it would be funny.” At least I am honest. Or at least disingenuously honest. Or dishonest for short. The words with the biggest impact on me were the few times my Mother said, “I am so disappointed in you.” Since she was my biggest fan, provoking those words was difficult to do. She was so polite that she would usually only think them. One time she verbalized her disappointment because I lied about going to the movie Goldfinger which was “morally objectionable in part” in the Catholic rating system. She was more upset about the lie than the movie, although she used a magic marker to color a bikini into a one piece bathing suit on a James Bond movie soundtrack album cover. My DIL Asia has choice words to describe me but they are in Polish which I cannot understand. My DIL Claudia does the same in Spanish. In verbal conversations, I very rarely ask questions because it allows other people to talk. But I notice questions generate comments on Blogs. So, what are your favorite words, phrases and sentences?
My ten year old granddaughter Zofia has always had discriminating taste buds. She ate hummus as a two year old but only the original version from the PCC Community Market. Zofia could tell at first bite if I substituted the wrong hummus. Apparently a person can hate one hummus without hating them all. We had long philosophical discussions about the tale of the Princess and the Pea. Around then Zofia took complete control over two households. Her mother Asia makes her a waffle with strawberries and honey on weekends as part of our competition to see who can spoil Zofia the most. This past Saturday, Zofia said the honey did not taste right. All honey tastes good to me. But Asia had indeed tried to sneak some different honey past the princess. Later that day, Asia dropped Zofia off at our house and was going to come back with a “healthy” smoothie and a “healthy” slice of pizza from PCC for her daughter. Asia politely asked if we also wanted some pizza. The half dozen usual suspects hanging out were not exactly clamoring for healthy PCC pizza. But if someone volunteers to bring any kind of food to my house, I am always enthusiastic. Asia stubbornly refused the $20 I offered to help cover the cost. But she did return the opened and non defective honey to PCC and received a refund for it! What? You told them your daughter did not like it and they felt sorry for you? I would have taken the used honey and even paid for it. But she already knew that, right?
Many people would change things in their life if they could go back in time and do something different. My friend Goktug wishes he had been sober when he proposed to his fifth wife because he mistook her for someone else. Goktug’s brother regrets he waived inspection on the home (now a boat) he bought on a beachside cliff. Goktug’s uncle regrets investing all his savings in the 2005 Cheeto Lip Balm product launch. My regrets are more modest. At the St. Robert’s (Shorewood, Wisconsin) 8th grade graduation in 1961, I was selected to read the Last Will and Testament for graduates who bequeath their good qualities to the 7th graders. Of course, the three nuns who taught the three 8th grade classes wrote the list. I just read it. Two other boys were in the running for the honor and no one in those times ever entertained the idea that girls could be considered. The list consisted of one liners like “Jerry Bell, his concentration, a rare gift.” His was a good one because he received the tag line about his gift being rare, possibly as recognition for being the runner-up for the reader assignment. After the ceremony, Mike Smith, the star Fullback on the football team, confronted me as if he were going to punch me out. Some people had laughed at his gift and he did not know the meaning of “fortitude” until I explained it to him in glowing terms. I do not remember a gift being written for me and assume being the reader was considered enough recognition. I only regret not finishing by adding an impromptu fictional student: “Tom Ziegler, his quiet invisibility.”
If my daily Blog is ever missing without explanation, it means one of two things. Either I died and my family refused to post the eulogy I wrote for myself or my oldest son has pulled the plug through some backdoor access he created when he set up my WordPress account. He thought a Blog might be safer than the comedy videos I was trying to create on YouTube. I can imagine my wife telling him, “I don’t care if Geoff embarrasses himself by spilling gravy on his own shirt but if he starts waving the gravy boat around and spewing the contents on others at the table, then usher him out the back door while I settle the tab.” Everyone who heard my routines missed the punchlines. I used part of one sketch in my October 13th post. I start by explaining that the birth of the 100 billionth human in history caused hospitals to run out of unique fingerprints and begin issuing duplicate ones. Back in a 2016 practice session, my wife interrupted this opening line with the observation that “Hospitals do not create fingerprints.” Yeah, that’s the first joke. Still no laugh. So I tried the routine on my daughter-in-law Asia who interjected at the very same point, “Wow, I had not heard that!” My audience was not ambushed. They knew I was testing a comedy sketch. We proved that not only was I unfunny but also that my family had no sense of humor. A match made in Comedy Hell. I would search for more evidence of my routines but I am too busy boiling a new batch of gravy.
I took Federal Jurisdiction from Professor David Green in my last year of law school. Instead of a final exam, he asked us to write a take-home brief on some issue I can no longer remember. It would count as 100% of our grade just like final exams typically did at the school I attended. When we brought our papers to class, he told us to add the grade we thought we deserved. When the grades were posted, he announced that he had given everyone the grade they submitted. It was the only “A” I received in my entire law school career. I was elated, not just because I received an “A” but because I had a winning instinct although I was as shocked as everyone else. I never heard Professor Green’s explanation because I was not one of the modest students clamoring for more information. I never looked back. But no one had a basis for complaining about a grade when they were on the record claiming they deserved it. I assume he was teaching that you better be projecting confidence to judges, juries, and clients who expect A+ work and/or that you should never submit less than your best. Or maybe he just disliked false modesty and people who fish for compliments. I do not even know if he bothered to read our papers. I have cultivated a very high opinion of myself that extends beyond the workplace and is not always considered an attractive trait. Like any narcissist, I need someone else to blame and I am picking Professor Green to take the rap for my arrogance.
Hiking on the Summerland Trail last Tuesday, my friend Mick and I were debating about the composition of heaven as if we had reservations there. Will pets be allowed? What if loved ones keep screwing up and miss the cut? Do you get a choice of which spouse you will be with? I told him my wife and I had a discussion about whether we should split up and contract second marriages just to have an extra option when the terms and conditions are presented. Mick was suspicious and asked when we had that discussion. I had to admit that we will actually be having it after this Blog is posted. If you accept the premise that heaven exists, you surely must acknowledge that an earthly mind (or in my case, an earthy mind) is not capable of contemplating that state of being. What if heaven is a sophisticated Star Trek holodeck where you interact with versions of the people who make it heaven for you. Your dog is there, your brother is not, and your second wife is frozen in a time frame before she started drinking and ran off with your brother. Of course those people can be in their own parallel universe holograms with or without versions of you. This is not likely the true vision of heaven because what are the chances that a higher being would develop a nirvana that I could intuit. It just demonstrates that infinite possibilities exist. Further information is on a need to know basis. Still I am making a list of people I want on my holodeck. Some of you are on the bubble.
I began running in my thirties when I heard it would add ten years to my life. Sure enough, my workouts immediately made me feel ten years older. Running is a strong a word. I began jogging. Once on a long training run north of Seattle, my daughter-in-law Asia ran ahead when my pace deteriorated. As I shuffled along the trail, a young Veteran with a big back pack caught me from behind and slowed his walking pace to match my “running” gait. We talked about our military experiences. I have none but did most of the talking. Eventually he walked on ahead and I ended my charade by walking normally. By the time I made it back to my truck, Asia was frantic with worry because she cannot drive a stick shift and would have been stranded if I had expired on the trail. At first, I was depressed when my already mediocre race times cratered as I aged. I was a middle of the pack runner but eventually the pack disappeared and I was measured by age and not time. I began to place in decimated age categories. Three years ago, I actually won by default in the 70+ group as the only entrant. Some freaky and unanticipated genetic fluke preserved my joints this long. Life hangs in the balance between good and bad luck. Three of my younger brothers have predeceased me. Maybe luck or maybe running actually did add those ten years to my life.