Monday, March 18, 2013

Out On The Weekend

Saturday, 11:00am
He Is Not One Of Us (Late For Breakfast)

I thought I would start a weekend road trip with a stop at Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich to-go.

Seemed simple enough. 

I try to limit my appearances at Starbuck’s. I feel like at any moment someone will turn to me, pointing, and in a loud voice scream, “HE IS NOT ONE OF US!”,  and they’d be right. I haven't been to a Starbuck’s in a while, but I knew this one was close and on the way out of town, so I straightened my collar, adjusted my sunglasses, and went in.

It was surprisingly quiet out in front - sometimes these places seem the center of the known Universe when I drive by -  but the line almost spilled out the door when I opened it. I was immediately assaulted with the sensory overload of great whirring sounds and Barristas screaming names of customers over the mellow din of the Starbuckian New York-L.A.-Jazz-Pop music (with an occasional classic jazz performance thrown in to make your ears calm down). 

As I stood in line and began to notice the people who made up the Starbucks clientel, I realized that I had subconsciously left my sunglasses on for two reasons: to observe people without being obvious, and so as not to be ‘seen’ with these people: high school girls in shorts-too-short with beefy weight-room boyfriends holding on to their girls as if they might blow away in a good wind; real estate salesmen in full suits making too-loud proclamations of clients with "unrealistic expectations in this market"; and of course, middle-aged mommies will their heads in the perpetual state of ‘cell phone tilt’ (shoulder-phone-ear) navigating the door with both hands full of coffee while managing what I am sure was a life-or-death phone conversation about trying to find time in Junior ‘s schedule for Pop Warner Football season. I stood in line for 5 minutes, and as it all seeped under my skin and made its way to my chameleon brain,  a strange thing happened; my body rejected the entire experience and gave my thought grinder immediate orders to evacuate the premises. 

I left. 

And I noticed as I left that everyone, not just a few folks in line, but everyone turned to watch me walk out as if to see what newbie couldn’t handle the modern process for achieving coffee nirvana. It was me, and I had not even gotten to the ‘corporate coffee language challenge’ as in “How do I say ‘small house coffee’ again?" So I did the next best thing I could think of...

I went to the McDonald’s drive-thru.

I try to limit my appearances at McDonald’s. They probably get more negative stories than Starbuck’s, but I went to McDonalds and felt proud of it. I know that is not something you hear everyday, but times being what they are, I was happy with my order: small coffee and small fries. Cost me $2.58. Thats it. 

Yes, french fries for breakfast, and not just because they must be laced with heroin (why else would we crave them at any time of day or night just by their smell?), but because I was late for breakfast. No breakfast served after 10:30am, and the sad part is I already new of that curfew as a veteran of many ‘Big Breakfast’ Saturday mornings. (For the uninitiated, McDonalds ‘Big Breakfast’ is the adult breakfast version of a Happy Meal with no toy, though if anyone deserves a toy for surviving an hour of screaming toddlers McDonald’s, it’s the adults. I’d suggest small airplane bottles of booze as an amendment to your coffee. “McBourbon with your coffee?" "Why yes, and Super-size me, please!”).

“Too late for breakfast?”, I asked, knowing full well it was.

The drive-thru cashier replied, “Yes, I am very sorry.” 

“No need to be sorry”, I said, “I’ll just have a small coffee and small fries”, which was an order my thought grinder immediately began to question given that I would be in the car for the next three hours and would almost guarantee me an unscheduled stop somewhere before my final destination.

“Sorry again about breakfast” she said as I drove through. 

“Quite alright”, I said, and I felt like she might just be the nicest drive-thru cashier on the planet. 

My thought grinder figured she must be new.

As I drove away, my thought grinder spouted out, “See there, you not only need to know your place in line, but you gotta know what line you should be in.” That my thought grinder could come up with something that profound and clever at the McDonald’s drive-thru made me smile. 

Yes, I felt pretty good about myself...until I was 5 miles out of town and realized I had forgotten about the two family-owned coffee shops where I could have easily gotten coffee and some thing to eat while supporting local, non-corporate franchised businesses. What a schmuck.

I need to increase my appearances at these places. If they don’t provide small airplane bottles of coffee supplements, I can bring my own.

Oh Christmas Tree

Someone put a Christmas tree
ornaments and tinsel
on the side of the road
next to the highway
on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

I could not see if there were gifts.

...and I smiled and thought,
“I’ll never be that clever.”

The tree gave its life 
for some ridiculous ceremony:
kill a tree from the forest
and bring it in the house.


I’d like to think 
they gave it a very special ceremony
when they brought it there
with that beautiful view
for it’s final resting place.

One ridiculous ceremony deserves another.

One Thing, Everyday

I need to create something 
no matter what.

A song
or just a lyric,
a poem
or just a rhyme,
some prose
or just some ramblings,
grand ideas
or just some thoughts,
an argument
or just an opinion.

Big or small
doesn't matter.
One thing, everyday
or else
whats the point?

Our Last Talk

When I drive by the hillside
I can see the house,
the place you rest

Seems long ago
our last talk.
I remember the day well
but can't remember what we talked about.
I was afraid,
but you weren’t.
I called to comfort you
but you comforted me.

I dreamt of you that night.
You came to me and told me 
not to worry.
I believed you.
I woke up crying
but I felt better.
I still toast your memory when I remember.

Sunday, 8:00am

Through morning fog
a vision.
Majestic tree
with branches 
arms and fingers stretched
holding clouds like leaves.

Ken Owen,   March 2013,   Van Niddy Press

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Getting Old Is No Walk In The Park

Happy Birthday
Jack and I are getting older.

I have been going back to Fremont to walk My Dog Jack a few times a week. Jack and I used to live together in a big brown house. He was a cute little boxer/mix puppy when he came home to live with me. I raised him, trained him, and we went on great adventure walks everyday. That was seven years ago. I haven't lived with Jack for three years now, but it seems longer.  I have no idea what he thinks about why I left, but I know he loves it when I come back. I do too.

It's a funny thing when you realize the passing of time in others, even in dogs.

I always said that my birthdays don't make me feel old, but watching kids grown up and have their own babies can make you feel old quickly. "So-and-so's kid just had a baby?" Boom. You are instantly much older than you were 5 minutes ago. 

This year I had a strange thing happen to me on my birthday; I gained an extra year. Seems I had gotten it into my head that I was going to be 54, but when I started getting Happy Birthday wishes I was reminded that I was now 55. So I had to force-feed the idea of gaining two years in one day into my thought grinder, and that gave it a dull aching feeling. Dull aching feelings usually come the day after a birthday because on your birthday everyone celebrates you and that feels good, but the day after your birthday it becomes "You are a year older. Now what?" You know how on your birthday people will ask "So, do you feel older today?" Well, I had never had a birthday where I woke up feeling older until this birthday gave me exactly that. It wasn't the best way to start a birthday.

Pants On The Ground
Over the years I have watched my hair line go north, my waistline go east, and everything else go south, but I know there is one special event that is out there waiting for me, and when that event happens it will mark the day when I truly become a senior citizen or, in other words, just plain old. I think I know how it will all transpire:

One evening I will rise up from my man-chair in the living room with my half-glasses on the tip of my nose, and as I brush the crumbs from my belly and shuffle into the kitchen to get another adult beverage I really don't need, thats when the life changing event will happen:

Without warning, provocation, or premeditation, my pants will fall down.

I can only hope this significant event occurs as I have described - in the privacy of my own home - and not, say, at my grand-babies wedding when they laugh and giggle and say things like "Oh no, Grandpa's pants fell down again! Gross!"

(Yes, I said "again" because apparently once this pants-falling-down thing starts there is no way to keep it from happening all the time.)

I had a Great-Uncle who used to flop his false teeth around in his mouth and make goofy smiles at us when he was drunk. As a young boy I thought it was wonderfully funny. His wife yelled at him to stop and acted mad but I don't think she meant it. I am not sure I'll ever get to that point, but you never know. I had a tooth pulled last year and that made me think "Is this is the start of it all? How long before I get drunk and do the floppy teeth trick before someone yells at me to go to bed?" 

I think I was overreacting.

Young Old-Men
The other day I looked down at the top of my hands and thought,  "My hands look like the wrinkled and spotted hands of an old Chinese gentleman. How did this happen? When did this happen?"

That wasn't my best day either.

A friend told me on my 40th birthday "we are now young old-men" and I though that was pretty darn clever. Now at 55 I think I would rather consider us 'old young-men' but I am not sure why, and it might just all be silly ways of not admitting we are older than we used to be.

Jack has arthritis now. He's young for that, but these things can happen early in big dogs, so now it's my job to teach him to slow down and not chase the geese off the baseball field. I am the perfect man for the job. I've tried to explain all this to him, about being retired from geese chasing, about acting like a dignified Chinese gentleman while shuffling nobly through the park, to try and look at the geese and think "you used to bother me, but I am older now and I've grown past that."

Its not easy.

When Jack was young our walks were long and fast paced. Now we take slow walks up to the neighborhood park and saunter about like two old Chinese gentlemen with our wrinkled and spotted hands and achey legs, shuffling our feet, sniffing the air, watching the clouds, observing. 

there is...

no reason...

to hurry...

on our walks...


A New Set of Things
Like Jack and his geese chasing, I have a whole new set of things that I need to get past: 

People either go very fast or very slow on the freeways now. There is no in-between. As a result of this, you are either tailgating someone or someone is tailgating you. Its a little more than disturbing to look up and see someone trying to park their car in your back seat while your driving.

Lately the only parking space open at the grocery store is the one where someone has left their shopping cart. I'm not sure who is lazier, the person who left it there or all the people who saw it and cursed at it but didn't get out and move it and drove around looking for another space. That you couldn't take 2 minutes to return the cart you used makes you a lazy asshole. Of this I am fairly certain. Creative cart placement on parking lot tree-islands is something I took pride in when I was making the transition from being an young asshole to a young-old man. Now as an old young-man, I strut with some strange sort of prideful cart-pushing-walk to make sure everyone sees me taking the time to return my cart and not be an asshole. I am probably still an asshole for many other reasons, but the reasons are changing just like the list of things I need to get past. Leaving my cart in the parking lot will no longer be one of the reasons.

I need to get to where I can say of these things, "That used to bother me, but I am older now and I've grown past that." Perhaps Jack can help with that, or maybe the old Chinese gentlemen in the park would have some sage eastern advice to offer me on all this like "its the journey and the sites, not the destination that's important. So chill the hell out and quit chasing geese and yelling at people who tail gate and leave their carts in the parking lot".

Good advice.

Shuffling Your Feet Is Not For Everyone
Chasing geese off of the baseball field when you have arthritis is not a good advice. 

I don't know what makes the Chinese gentlemen shuffle their feet while moving slowly in the park, but I don't think it was a life of chasing geese off the baseball field, but you never know. Jack can barely move at night after a walk and geese chasing, but he loves it so much I can't stop him from doing it.  Most days we stay on leash and parade proudly like two Chinese gentlemen with wrinkled and spotted hands and achy legs observing the sites, but somedays, well, you just gotta say "fuck it" and try one more time to get those geese. 

Jack did catch a squirrel once, but that was back in the days when he was a young old-man. I was stunned, and for a brief moment elated for him that he'd finally caught up with one of those damn squirrels, but then I instantly felt like an accomplice to murder. He snapped the neck on that little guy with such force and precision I'm sure it was instant lights-out. Then Jack wanted to finish our walk with his little trophy-squirrel hanging in his mouth. Took all I could do to get him to leave that squirrel on the trail, which I am sure made no sense to Jack, and by the time we came back that little squirrel was gone, well on his way to wherever squirrels go when the shuffle their feet to slowly.

I wonder if squirrels get arthritis?

No, probably not, and come to think of it, I have only seen one squirrel shuffle his feet in the park like an old Chinese gentleman with wrinkled and spotted hands. And that, as they say, was that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chimps In Bars

I have been given a front-row seat to observe a unique social phenomenon:

Men act like chimps when in close proximity to a beautiful woman.

Seems the results are very predictable and based on genetics.

Did you know that scientists found chimps who throw their shit and hit their target showed more activity in the part of the brain where speech would eventually develop, and have concluded that shit throwing was one of the earliest forms of expression and communication and, therefore, a pre-cursor to the development of language?

So think of it this way: ‘shit talking’ has, over the millennium, developed from ‘shit tossing’.

I have participated in great yawping sessions of shit tossing amongst groups of men, but it is the shit tossing from men at women I find most fascinating. I am not new to this phenomenon. I have always watched in amazement and awe as many of my fellow chimps have tossed great amounts of shit at women in bars to get their attention. Some of my closest chimp friends developed into great shit tossers and got wonderful results from their shit tossing. I was never a good shit tosser, just never had the knack for it, so I became a passive observer of shit tossing and learned early on the first rule of being an observer of shit tossing:

Keep your distance.

If you get too close to a man-chimp who is tossing shit at a woman, well, we all know what can happen: everyone is fair game when shit is being tossed. So the prime objective of being an observer of shit tossing is to not get hit by flying shit, because when monkey shit gets into your thought-grinder, bad things can happen. It can tear a hole in your heart on its way to kicking you in the balls. 

It can be very discouraging.

When man-chimps are trying hard to toss wonderfully witty and clever bits of shit at women, even your favorite man-chimps will say stupid, ridiculous, even hurtful things with no regard to any of the other chimps around them. It just comes out, and I doubt they even realize what they are doing or saying when they are in their shit tossing frenzy. It’s part of their man-chimp DNA. They cant help it.  

Like I said, it’s genetics.

I have renewed my respect for women. Having to deal with all that flying shit must be exhausting, though some women seem to genuinely enjoy being the subject of great shit tossing efforts while others seem really bothered by it, but then again it might depend on which chimp is throwing the shit. I guess that is a different scientific study all together.

We have come a long way in our evolution as a species, but in regard to shit-tossing, well, maybe not so much. 

Ken Owen,   Van Niddy Press,   March 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

Brave Birds And Sensible Shoes

The mechanic said it will be 3 hours if I'm lucky.

That does not make me feel lucky at all.

Time to fill
time to kill time
and search for coffee...

Women don't wear sensible shoes anymore and I suspect men have no problem with that, although I do wonder what office managers think when women wear 5" heels to pa-wok she comes and half the office grinds to a halt.

We really are a melting pot here in California....been here 30 minutes and have heard people speaking Russian, Hindi, and Spanish...I don't notice English anymore.

I don't know anything about birds, but these little ones (sparrows?) that hang around outdoor food courts seem pretty brave and boisterous. Are they telling their friends "don't come here, nobody's giving away any food" or are they shouting at the customers and placing their orders? "Get that cheesy-egg thing, its delicious and I can feed all my kids with that one!"

Almost 11:00am and the morning fog is having a hard time lifting away and is still battling the new rising sun for dominance over the parade of non-sensible shoes.

Men (young men mostly) still wear blue shirts and brown khakis for their office feathers which is much more sensible but pretty god-damn boring as far as feathers go. A born-and-raised-here software programmer talking about rents in The City to his new Asian co-worker over coffee said "you'll do fine here", and he will: he'll send his money home to his Mom and she will pick him out a bride and he'll make a trip back home someday and pick up his new partner for life that he has never met and he'll be fine with the whole pageantry of glorious feathers and the ceremony of it on the outside, but on the inside he'll never tell them who he really wants to build a nest with, and all this will baffle and intrigue his American office mates, but they've seen this many times before. Something good to be said about the whole process I suppose, but I'm not smart enough to know if its right or not so that's that on that.

Who needs coffee? Apparently everybody.

This just in: Sun wins battle over Morning Mist, Fog curses "I'll be back at 3:00!".
So where does it go to hang out until then..? pa-wok pa-wok in 4" patent leather means "watch out for me because I am on autopilot while texting and not watching where I am going and if I fall from this height I will most likely spill my coffee and all my other shit will go flying and hopefully I won't break my fucking neck so watch out."

Good luck.

Should white men shave their heads bald and just give up? I'm not suggesting comb-overs or other such attempts at making the most out of not much left. Bald looks great on black guys of any age and thats just good genetic luck, but I have seen only a select few white guys where the look works and I have no idea why that is. To shave your hair off only to find you have an ugly dome would be most disheartening, I'd think. Wonder what the little sparrows think when they see people with no feathers? Probably don't care much but I'd bet they'd say something nice like "your nest at home must be very warm and comfortable since you gave it all your feathers. Good for you. I have all the feathers I need, maybe yours will grow back. So now if you could give me some of your cheesy-egg thing that would be fantastic. Thanks."

I never heard her coming because she was wearing sensible shoes...mup mup mup.

There must be a gym nearby. Spandexy giggly-wiggly-asses announce to world "I might as well be naked but they won't let me so here it is" and now I know where the older men in leisurely jogging suits have been coming from. Remember the first time you heard the expression "10 pounds of bologna in a 5 pound sack" and you giggled hysterically, or was it just me?

I closed my eyes for a moment and thought I saw a constellation, which would mean I'm seeing stars and that might explain a few of these last lines. Allergy medicine and caffeine and hot sun would serve me better on the deck at home and dreaming, but suddenly the stars are gone because... pa-wok pa-wok on wooden platforms that will serve her well in the next flood when the dyke bursts and we all run screaming, except she won't be running, she'll be high-stepping above the water and looking down on us drowning fools and saying "So much for sensible shoes in a flood, eh?"

I had pa-wok pa-wok and that slit in her skirt is the only reason she can still move Casual Friday means no tie required but Managers still wear their suits and brown shoes with sultan tassels as if to say "tassels are pips for the feet and show my rank even when they make me take off my tie, but I keep one in my pocket just in case".

pa-wok pa-wok pa-wok back the other way means so far so good on the wooden platform stilt-walking before the flood.

"It's not for us to answer that question, it's up to her to answer that question" is what the Indian man said at his outdoor 'lets get coffee and decide who should answer the question' meeting, and I wonder what the question is and why they are batting it around and no one wants to answer it. The only question I have this morning is "What is a fair price for a wheel barrow?" I am not afraid to ask the question, so I think I'll go shopping and I'll let them know what I find out.

I'm glad the young couple behind me just left because I was having visions of reaching over and strangling her to make her shut up with her drivel about Kardashians and Honey Boo-Boo and her mother who had problems when she was growing up. I think her man friend would have thanked me and taken her coffee and cheesy-egg thing.

These little birds are fearless. I doubt they are born that way, which means they learned it from their parents who have become fearless around us trying to live and get bits of those cheesy-egg things. Impressive. I don't think we teach our kids to be fearless. We should rethink that.

I get whiffs of sugary sweetness hanging in the air from the Costco bakery when the wind shifts this way. Smells wonderful and reminds me of those huge waffle cones at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, but I can't eat two dozen banana nut muffins the size of my head, so no thank you.

The cheapest wheel barrow I found was $50 and that seems like a lot to me so I'll keep looking, but now there is no one here to tell the answer to my question because the men in the meeting have gone back to their nest to tell her it's up to her to answer the question. It must be a very hard question to answer, and in this case it seems tassels on your shoes won't help, tie or no tie.

More Russian talk behind me. It sounds like a very wet language where there is a snake in your mouth whipping around and spitting out these fantastic gibberish words and then yelling "hahahaha!" but even that sounds different.

Lunch time is over now and all the non-sensible shoes and tie-in-your-pocket people are back at their nests. The only ones here now are the people who shuffle their feet because they are tired of selling coffee to the people in non-sensible shoes and ties in their pocket, so now it's their turn to feed the brave little birds who love that cheesy-egg thing.

Lets meet for coffee sometime.

I'll be the one in the sensible shoes (no tassels).

Ken Owen,   Van Niddy Press,   March 2013