There are many barnacles. There are only a few whales. Barnacles live by filtering the water for food. Their life is one of probabilities -if you see a barnacle, you know the water is rich with microscopic food. No barnacles, no food. They grow where they plant themselves and their fate is tied to their location. When they breed, they release trillions of eggs, adding to the richness of the zooplanktonic mass. Baleen whales eat the same food as barnacles but seek out nutrient rich waters to sustain themselves. They are few in number, birth one whale at a time, and live to decades. Ironically, the surface of a whale is a kind of paradise for those fortunate barnacles that latch on. Their waters are constantly optimized for food, allowing them to multiply. Over time, they slow the whale down due to hydrodynamic drag. Eventually, they kill their host and home by obstructing the blowhole. The barnacle knows not what it does, and cannot be expected to love the whale or express any regret over the state of the world. The whale in turn compensates by swimming harder, breathing harder, but eventually, it succumbs to its fate, and cannot be expected to hate the barnacle nor feel sorry about all of its labors and efforts coming to this end. Nature provides for both barnacle and whale, giving each a lifetime suited to its fate.
What is a good childhood? That is the question that came to mind as I thought about Graham’s achievement of the Eagle rank. Is it a big house, having the latest toys, and fun vacations? Is it schooling? What are the values that we are trying to transmit to these boys as they become men in the blink of an eye?
Graham joined scouting as a Tiger in Iowa in 2008. 60% of his life, Graham has been in Scouting. It has been an education that has been continuous and parallel to his formal schooling. It is the best we can do in 2017, because we still need to teach these boys life lessons without sending them to the market to sell socks like my grandfather had to do when his father died in debt with 6 siblings and bleak prospects. Graham doesn’t need to go out and sell socks, but he still gets to learn important principles. These values are codified in the oath.
Fun vacations, check -every year since first grade, Graham and I have slept in the woods somewhere in Iowa or in Ohio. One year, we even took his mother and Sam, and the whole troop helped one another set up tents in a wind storm blowing off Lake Erie after a two mile bike ride in the dark. That was the last time she went, but we both understand the value in these experiences in the cold, the wet, the uncomfortable. My favorite memory is a cub scout campout I did when Graham was 10 and Sam was 3. We had to hike with all of our gear three miles through a wooded trail, and everyone carried their load and myself thinking, what good boys I have, what greatness might await them.
The latest toys -Graham got a pocket knife at a young age, when hovering parents worry about their kids cutting their pancakes with blunt table knives. Graham understood the gravity of that privilege, and understood it to be a tool, one of many that took maturity and skill to be allowed to own. Graham got a two man tent and hiking boots that was his sole shelter for several years during Scout campouts -I remember finding him asleep in a puddle of cold water in it after they had set up in a downpour out at Wright Patterson. Despite the temptation of sleeping in the car, I joined him after drying him off. Graham got a flint that lets him start fires as our ancestors did a quarter million years ago, and let him cook chicken in cardboard boxes and buckets like a hobo king. That is a certain kind of victory not all parents get to have.
A big house? Graham has learned that anywhere he goes with his troop, the trees and sky overhead are the roof, and the fertile ground ‘neath his feet are his floor. The world is his house, and in this solar system, you can’t get a bigger house. He knows he can bed down for the night anywhere and can withstand discomfort with equanimity. He knows he shares this house with great friends and family. He knows that this house needs careful stewardship and is something to pass on to the next generation. He knows that filling this house with love is a good thing, something worth striving for.
What will Graham do, who will he become? That is a developing story, but it is with great security that I know that the Boy Scouts have prepared Graham for the next steps in his life. We love you Graham, and we are so very proud of you. Congratulations on your achievement.
My younger son is a Cub Scout and we go on campouts. Inevitably, there is a camp fire and the tradition is to tell stories, usually spooky. When I was a kid, the stories had some creepiness to them, but they have all been banned -too scary. Now, the camp fire tales are just funny jokes -dad jokes, involving puns and worse. As the Halloween campout for our pack arrives, I’ve thought up some good ones:
1. This part of Ohio was on a trail where pioneers camped out on their way further west. The legend has it that as a family of settlers slept, the two boys disappeared into these forests, and the mother refused to go any further. The local farmers say that at night, a pale woman shows up at the door and asks for her boys and if there are any young boys, she grabs them to take them into the woods. They say you can tell it’s her because her eyes are sunken empty holes that cry bloody tears.
2. The local native Americans warned people never to pee in the woods at dark. A black hole forms from which demons reach out to grab you and pull you in.
3. Thirty years ago, a boy went missing around these parts and there was a long search for him, but they never found him. They say that you can hear him crying at night asking you to take him home, and you know it’s him by the dead butterfly in his mouth.
4. The bababoo is a angry spirit that will take your body and make you say and do terrible things against your will. Terrible things happen. You invite it in by saying bababoo thirteen times.Mayhem ensues that cause permanent harm.
5. UFO’s are very common here. They say that aliens take you into their ship and replace your mind with one of theirs, and put you back where they find you. They activate you when you fall asleep while camping.
6. The goat beast comes when people are unhappy or worried. It has creepy yellow eyes that glow in the dark and it waits to grab you when you walk in the dark to slowly eat you over days.
7. The grumpkin looks like a short bearded man, but you know it is him by the fact that his feet are on backwards. He’ll ask you a riddle and if you can’t answer in three tries, he will make you do a terrible thing or take your soul.
8. There are house ghosts that were people who died alone, angry, and outside in the dark. You hear them walking around cabins in the dark, and they stare at you while you sleep. You can only see them when the cabins are their darkest. You can hear them breathe. They are crying softly, and they want to come into your warm bed.
9. On a cold fall night, the fairies come together for their feast. They roast a young boy that they lure out into the woods with sweet fairy music, usually at night, starting with a sweet smell and shimmery lights.
10. Window monsters will try to get your attention by freezing you in your tracks with terror, and try to get invited in with false promises. They get stronger when you close your eyes or try to ignore them. Only by looking into the dark faces and eyes do you weaken them, but if you blink, they have you in their control, and make you open the door.
1. De Tommaso Shoes -these are handmade Italian shoes. They are like Maserati for your feet. They are so comfortable and stylish, yet surprisingly affordable with the weak Euro. Ideally, you go to Italy and have cast of your feet made so that they can make any shoe out of the current catalogue for you and ship them. If you are so lucky to be in a store near the end of the season, spring through summer, you can pick up clearance items ready to wear which will exceed any shoe you might conceive of getting. Wearing them, you are ruined for any other shoe like a dog fed hand raised and massaged steaks.
2. Quart of Legal Seafood Fish Chowder. They will ship it to you on dry ice, suitable for hoarding for yourself or sharing with honored guests like the Dalai Lama, if he eats fish. He doesn’t! TOO BAD!!!
3. Watch wardrobe with automatic watches in round v. square, gold v. silver, black v. tan v. metal bands. Given the flood of cheap Chinese watches made in factories that were moved brick by brick from Switzerland (hence “Swiss” movements), the only thing is replacing the cheap bands with decent ones that may cost more than the watch. The whole choice matrix ends up being 12 watches for about $50 each, cheaper than a single actual Swiss automatic watch or an Apple Watch.
4. Calfskin iPad and iPhone cases from Piel Frama. They make luxurious, buttery soft cases for electronics that are distinctive. Sure you can find a black synthetic leather one from China, but nothing beats these supreme cases from Spain.
5. Old Potrero Rye Whiskey -From Anchor Distilling in San Francisco, this is a tough bottle to find, but a tastier quaff you will never find.
6. Scotty Cameron putters are magic when your putting stroke is on -it telegraphs the transfer of momentum to a ball in ways other putters dream of. A vintage Ping putter comes in a close second if you can find it in good condition. These are like treasured family swords -the classically Karsten Eye shaped ones which I prefer. Billy Baroo!
7. MacBook 12 inch, 2015 edition, maxed out, in gold. The specs might not be as fast as some PC’s, but it will run Windows better than most PC’s and the inimitable MacOS. For blogging on transcontinental flights and writing the great American novel.
8. Zerolemon 20,000mAH Solar powered battery. It charges every gadget from iOS to Android and even the MacBook 12, and will recharge itself from sunlight. Great for blogging the post Apocalypse with all your gadgets running, although all the good real estate will still be occupied by the un-Raptured. Also good for keeping charged on the beaches at Sibari.
9. Human Siri -a personal assistant that arranges your work and personal schedules and does short notice baby sitting. Text human Siri, “I need to fly to Prague via Milan from Minneapolis but returning to New York via Barcelona, with two day layovers on both legs at the place with the bald concierge in Milan and the Latvian one in Barcelona. And pick up a bag of Arugula and pine nuts; leave it on my front seat.”
10. Sous-vide control system -this is to food geeks today what microwave ovens were to upper middle class people back in the 70’s. The basic premise is that a recirculating heating system brings a volume of water to 140-170 degrees, below boiling, but above the denaturization point for proteins. By placing vacuum sealed seasoned meats into these baths, they reach a fool proof medium rare to medium well, with carmelization being done with a finishing heat under a torch or under broil in the oven. This is the key to foolproof non-rubbery chicken without burning off all the spices. This is how tenderloin roast is managed in restaurants. This is how I want to cook in the future.
11. 3D Printer -These have come down in price to the point where they are almost the price of high end paper printers -about $500 will give you a 3D printer that will keep you in infinite supply of Lego pieces, iPhone cases, plastic zip guns, and prosthetic hands. I want.
12. A year of private piano lessons to be administered twice weekly in the evenings in the home to play just a single piece -Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in the expanded piano arrangement from beginning to end by heart. I figure, if I can only play one piece, this will be it and should satisfy me for a lifetime, because it reminds me of how it feels to be young in New York City. May take 5 years.
^o^ –a golf ball with angel wings
The ethics and morality that I live by? Golf. Or specifically golfism. It’s the body of customs and practices, some written down in the USGA rules, some not, of waiting your turn, taking your shot, being respectful of other players and expecting treatment in kind, of being able to compete on a level playing field of scientifically calculated handicaps, of justice served to one’s self, of counting every stroke. In planning, executing, and acknowledging your golf shot, there are transcendent moments when you are fully alive and in the moment and the universe pulses in synchrony with your heart and your soul flies with the arcing ball. There is a special place, my friends, that I go to once, maybe twice, a week and it is a golf course. Have you played golf, my friend? I mean really played Golf?
ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat is premiering in the New Year and it makes me think that mainstream media again is trying to figure out how to portray Asians not as sidekicks, comic relief, faceless hordes, sinister but emasculated male villains, or hyper-sexualized dragon ladies. It represents a reboot of this effort. The first time they tried almost a generation ago with Margaret Cho’s All American Girl. That show was broken by the network’s demands that Cho be more Asian doll sexy and the jokes more relatable (racist) to an audience not aware of Asian American culture. I propose the following metrics of Asian American racial progress.
1. The number of Asian American male leads in mainstream American television and cinema with top billing. Randall Park didn’t get equal billing as James Franco and Seth Rogen even though he had to carry the comedic load in much of the Interview. Selfie’s John Cho is one person, who I guess ironically is our Sidney Poitier, but the show got axed just as it was getting decent.
2. The amount of time it takes your Asian American child to face racism by one of his peers after day one of kindergarten.
3. The quality of the local Asian food -is it a world class eatery with an enigmatic monosyllabillic name or is it Chopstick Charlie’s. Are there authentic Asian items on the store shelves or just pale “Oriental” facsimiles? Are there bearded white hipsters non ironically crafting obscure regional kimchis?
4. The number of buildings at Harvard with Asian names. Famously, Harvard turned down the Wang family’s generous offer of a huge donation in exchange for renaming North House in the late 80’s, saying that North House -named for a compass direction, was to stay that way out of tradition. Less than ten years later it gets renamed Pforsheimer House. I guess it isn’t our turn.
5. The ratio of Asian men marrying non-Asian women in proportion to the Asian women marrying non-Asian men.
6. The frequency of having to school non-Asians in how to eat the food, in what the differences are between Asian countries, and why we can speak without chopsocky accents. And why we find “Oriental” to be mildly offensive.
7. The number of Asian Not Ready for Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live. Yellowface is just as offensive as Blackface.
8. The number of times in a year when the politically correct social media rage machine eats a celebrity or politician for making a racist anti Asian comment with the same kind of vigor with which it destroys someone making a racist anti Black, anti Woman, or anti Semitic comment or joke.
9. The number of Asians shaping and directing mainstream American culture.
10. The number of Asian American Presidents of the United States.
So I watched the Interview, the Seth Rogen – James Franco road film about assassinating Kim Jong Un played by Randall Park. Buried in the brouhaha is an interesting casting choice of Diana Bang, a clearly talented and very funny actress who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Chairwoman of Samsung’s entertainment division, Miky Lee. I can’t help thinking the money people at Sony Entertainment not getting a chuckle out of this. I have a bit of dyspepsia over Sony dissing Samsung and laughing at Koreans killing other Koreans. The movie is painful to watch because I don’t find North Korea too funny, but I think this movie needs to be available to be watched because it is the eye of a very strange and new kind of shit storm and because it is my right. Corea Libré!
I have to confess that I like to scare little kids. That feeling of spookiness is one of those childhood sensations that you lose with innocence. The toddler’s wide eyes, the pursed lips, the knitted eyebrows, the scooching over to your side –these are fleeting moments that are quickly lost to school, electronics, and television. The stories I tell are more life lessons than actual tales –mostly of sad ghosts who regret telling lies, spirits who never let go of their anger, and being trapped by your own foibles. I have a feeling that I got this from my grandmother who would tell me folk tales and parables about boys who got eaten by tigers and had their faces erased by angry spirits who appeared alternately as beautiful women and sly foxes. The day the magic ends is when the kids figure out that Santa Claus doesn’t slide down the chimney and the Easter Bunny is some poor flub sweating in a smelly outfit.
The generations since World War II have been separated into marketing niches of Greatest and Boomer, then X,Y, and Z, but I suspect that no set of people since Homo erectus figured out fire, speech, and monogamy, have faced as much rapid technological and cultural change as have the people born since 1950. This unmooring of cultural institutions, socioeconomic niches, and family structures is remarkable and deeply unsettling to many.
Modernity has atomized the family, but we are still the Pleistocene mammal subject to possessiveness, territoriality, and stranger anxiety. We are just a handful of base pairs removed from our mutual ancestor with the chimpanzee who kill and eat intruders. And so we naturally flock with our kind in our hominid fashion, and wish to destroy the other if they get in the way. What stops us?
Strong ideas keep us from burning witches. Ideas of justice, equality of human worth, and an appreciation of value of freedom and liberty bind us together in a common identity. These ideas are shared across borders instantaneously, usually in English, on the internet via smart phones and social media. These are rather old American ideals and should not be new to those wary of change. Instead, it is the broadening of the definition of *American* that jars people. It is an America that people are still looking towards as they overturn dictatorships and established tyrannies. We see it in the Arab Spring, in the continue march of the huddled masses to the gates, and in gay Americans fighting to achieve equal status. We witness it as a force that China is trying to subvert with overt fascism, with likely failure in the long term.
This neo-Americanism is the lingua franca of business and diplomacy. It is the common operating system that everyone demands. At home, to succeed in this new America, you have to learn how to pass for a new kind of American. It is a fact that if you make yourself smile, your brain will register positive in its happiness centers, and you will transition to happiness (try it!). If you carry a smart phone, participate in social media, and read at above elementary school level, the centers of the brain that are stimulated will drive change. Corporate HR policies, public school codes of conduct, and public social mores are aligning around and driving this change, even for older Americans who one would assume would be all for not changing. It used to be said that you are basically set in your ways by the time you are forty, but I think even that generalization is done because I increasingly see retired people with smartphones and tablets watching the latest Youtube videos and family photos on Facebook. This at least informs them about the tectonic shifts in society, and at best changes deep seated notions.
Public perceptions of gun ownership, healthcare, education, equal rights, and our relationship to the world are being debated because the minds of the people are changing. And contrary to what even the history books say, it was not the federal government and federal troops that desegregated the schools, it was We the People. The shibboleth of these times, our times, are the smart phone, social media accounts, and the networks connected by these. Are you in?
One of the things about the USGA and GHIN is that you have to be part of a club to register your golf scores. I could join the several Northeast Ohio based golf associations, but it would be nice to just join a club. The problem is that a private club is a considerable commitment of time and money. So it was with some joy that I found Highland GC, which is a large 36 hole municipal course. The Red Course is two traditional nine holes that go out and back into the clubhouse, while the Blue Course is an 18 hole track that does not come back for a breather between nines. They are about ten minutes from my driveway, and there is hardly ever a line.
That kind of convenience comes with some compromises. There is no pro shop. There is no driving range. And finally, there is no club for affiliation and registering of scores. It is a municipal golf course and there is a golf egalitarianism that is lost in the rarefied districts of private club golf. In the parking lot, there is an eclectic mix of luxury sedans, beaters, and even a loaded pickup truck. At one time in America, all the different classes mixed in the public sphere, at school, work, and play. This has eroded and you can see it in the economic gerrymandering of neighborhoods and suburbs reflected in their anchor malls and grocery stores. The municipal golf course is the last preserve of the public commons. On the first tee this morning, I saw three groups lined up, Asians, African-Americans, and whites.
Sadly, they were segregated and rather prickly, being all men of a certain age. If you are in the late fifties and are playing golf on a municipal course with swings that could be good for tree chopping, you worked hard all your life, never got handed anything, and have generally skeptical view of the world. On line, the reviews complain of lack of services, poor conditions, and discrimination (both forward and reverse). Yet even with the apparent race relations of a prison yard, and stiff necked, flinty eyed glare of blue collar pride, golf etiquette prevailed and all the groups let me play through with courtesy and even a little banter about the good weather. And that is the lesson for us all. In golf there is hope.
The African American twosome were the first to let me through. Both had the mien of philosopher kings, ancient wise men, spiritual healers. They clearly enjoyed each other’s company and were in no hurray, and shooed me onwards. The Caucasian twosome were clearly betting on everything that could be bet upon during a round of golf, and seemed to be making bets about me as I played through. They were congenial and courteous. The foursome of Koreans were the most fearsome. They didn’t smile at me when I asked to play through, and I held off speaking in Korean because I thought it might trigger some kind of outburst that could only come from 4 Korean dads, but I overheard them their captain say, let him through in Korean. They watched me tee off in silence and I bid them adieu.
The course had its problems -I suspect from lean budgets and a very hot and dry summer. There were dead patches on the greens and fairways, and uneven mowing on both. That said, from the tips, the course was a lot more fun than I could usually expect to get for 35 bucks.
Addendum: found out they mow on Monday. Once mowed, the fairways and greens are very nice. This place is growing on me. Plus, the starter asked me if I was a golf pro or golf writer, which really made my day.