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imageI’m remembering a time when we were taught to despise the Red Menace, to fear nuclear war and fallout, and to take pride in ‘Made In the USA”. There was a sense of community, from local to national. School was hard and awards were earned. And then a sense of entitlement was born. Acquiring material things, through borrowing, replaced hard work. We, the West, grew both in weight and debt. And then we lost our identity, exporting our exceptionalism, selling our wealth to the highest foreign bidder. Instead, we chose to redefine our melting pot as winners-one-and-all with political correctness overkill. Rather than taking pride in our nation, we bled out its character into globalization. We are now less unique as our history becomes more blurred with each new radical voice of condemnation. Where ’tis the season?

I’m remembering that whole Arab/Jewish problem from way back when, during a time when we would all sit back, watching the evening news, and remark how they’ll never get along, just as they never have for the past 5,000 years. And now we’re living with similar threats of violence from day to day, not wondering if, but rather wondering when. Not a history buff, but I’m guessing we placed a target on our back as we watched Europe help the Arabs defeat the Ottoman Empire, during WW1, not for the sake of the Arabs, but for the sake of oil. From our want and dependence we helped a region of the world remain medieval in its beliefs and culture, and modernized them only in a way that would eventually make them a force to contend with down the road. The end of the road has arrived. When ’tis the season?

I’m remembering things so recent and so long ago, mixing like oil and water. Shades of the past, made up of pride, discipline and responsibility, all three as outdated as fresh milk, wall calendars and rotary telephones. Insulation and isolation. Snow forts and sugar-dusted cookies. The smell of wet dog and burning wood. A proposal on bended knee. A crisp, new dollar bill. Both play and a hard day’s work – energy before and exhausted after. And then, suddenly, the world feels small, constructed, anew, of endless ideas and inalienable demands. God is a sideliner, more so now than ever, enjoying our varying celebrations in His name. He is as patient as a cat. He understands us, and weeps there from. Such comedy and tragedy. Until ’tis the season again.

$16 trillion of debt is a big number, one no one wants to own. Number 99 belongs to Wayne Gretzky; 7, to Mickey Mantle. But who would dare wear a jersey boldly emblazoned with the number of the national debt? And the annual increasing heat index, who feels and cares about the suffering as personally as Mother Earth? If it was so hot that everyone believed the Equator had moved so far north and now passed through your backyard, would you really feel bothered that the winters of yesteryear were a thing of the past?

I think I’ve invented a word: Acreation. Its definition might be similar to those of ‘amoral’ or ‘atrophy’. And it could be thought of as the antithesis to procreation. Its meaning would be to no longer create. And as it relates to the current status of our nation’s debt and our world’s Eco-system, I propose we spare our children and grandchildren these burdens by not having any children. After all, both political and media pundits continue to emphasize what a mess we’re passing on to generations to come.

It seems like a simple concept, to ‘acreate’ so as to spare the unborn a lifetime of hardship. But if that were true, those who currently have children would have made a choice for a better world for their already-existing children, unflinchingly, whatever that sacrifice might have entailed. But similar to how easy it is for us to ignore these large-scale problems, it’s just as simple to ignore the burdens those yet to be born will encounter. So we adapt.

In the movie Doctor Zhivago, Yuri the good doctor is advised to “adapt” to the social changes coming to Russia at the end of the first world war and the beginning of Bolshievism. He doesn’t. Rather than becoming a cog in the Soviet machine, he takes his wife, son and father-in-law, forsaking his occupation, and finds sanctuary in a farmhouse on the family’s isolated country estate. There, he becomes a sort of country gentlemen, writing poetry and growing vegetables. It’s a good life. But something is missing. Life and life-changing events, where people connect with other people, creating unique experiences. So, eventually, Yuri travels to the nearby town and takes a mistress.

It’s hard to have the best of both worlds – solitude and a sense of community. Each has its own set of obligations. And although I could go days, particularly during the winter, spending the entire weekend indoors, eventually I find myself venturing out for a breath of fresh air or a bite at a nearby restaurant. As always, I need to get back to what stirs the emotions and thoughts – interaction with the outside world. There’s this give and take between the hermit-me and the community-me, feeding off each other. And in the end, growth and waste join hands, further making the world what it is today and probably always will be – a perpetuation of decay.

In the end, what we all expect, in direct opposition to ‘acreation’, is ‘a creation’. From the taste of a finely-prepared meal to the gurgles of a newborn, these are the things that, for better or worse, distract the individual from a worldview involving domestic financial uncertainty and over-whelming global challenges. These are the things we can actually get both our arms and mind around.

Today I am heavier than a kite. Slower than a fast pitch. Far more unbalanced than a unicyclist. So much more tired than an infant, yet somehow still just as alert. Aware not of new things, nor surprised by change. Wiser, yes. But less certain.

The dance is slow, though the song remains unchanged. Music, old and new, finds me, holds me, hides me. My legs and back ache, aching from foolish thoughts and reminding me, “You can’t do those things anymore.” Reminding me with their creaks and sharp jolts. Over and over, reminding me, “No leaping from boxcar to boxcar or dashing and bounding from the hoods, roofs and trunks of junkyard relics. No swimming in cold, murky, steep-banked rivers, daring the slipstream to grab hold. No springy, chimp-like climbing through trees younger than you.” A constant reminding.

Remembering everything at once or a piece at a time. Remembering a good home season from that good home place where all was good. Life breathed on its own. No need for life support. No worries about how and when things would be better. No darkness.

Remembering that time of young laughter. Stupid laughter. Alive-as-hell laughter. Me and friends, out there, gaming the daytime and splitting the night. Racing in mind and body. Daring, not death, but life to scold us for taking too big of a bite.

Remembering that kiss, a sweaty, nervous embrace. Awkward. Sweet. Wondering how, why and, finally, never minding. So then another kiss, the dance floor vibrating, heavy, as if alive, filled with its own naked, penetrable pulse. Terrifying thoughts of youth creating youth…and responsibility.

Remembering responsibilities and opportunities, both fortuitous and obligatory. Rewards of commonality. A dot. A speck. A dime a dozen. Now you see me, now I am long forgotten. A losing battle. Alas, now spent, I am not a fighter.

A subtle soft rhythm surrounds me, keeping me safe. It’s a sort of quiet surrender, made of one part memories and one part resolve. There’s a ticking sound. My mind catches the whiff of the stench of a tick here and a tock there, so loud and so often. “Fill them,” I tell myself. “Cover the scent of those pendulum strokes before their sound finally trails off, leaving you in your grave.” Alas, I am still not a fighter.

Unlike ‘then’, ‘now’ takes patience. There’s this narrowing passage where the wall, once spread wide like the wings of a bride, collapses around me like a shutting casket. The long journey is so short, so brief. A grand missed oppurtunity for, I realize too late, I have taken it for granted, like many. There’s still time, yes. But it’s not the same. Never will be. Never.

My soul is lighter than a kite. Faster than the speed of sound. In perfect balance with the heavens. Awakened. At least I hope so. I just don’t know for sure. But for certain, I am finally older and old.

A man falls 24 miles from somewhere this side of heaven at a speed of 834 miles per hour, tumbling while bordering on the verge of unconsciousness. No problem. Eventually gravity and increasing air pressure work as one, creating resistance and balance so the man-of-science/daredevil is able to elude disaster, finally, stepping casually back to a place where motion is barely detectible in a universe filled with ever-turning cosmic gears, collapsing stellar mass, and other things that go bump in the night.

Meanwhile, back on the surface of the Earth, someone enjoys a southerly breeze, in the middle of October, in a place in Minnesota where the leaves lay crunch-worthy on dry lawns and in curb gutters, and where pea-sized, pea-colored tree seeds fill sidewalk cracks. Little orbs that dare to make our planet appear more significant than it really is.

There’s a young lady kneeling on the grass of the old high school football field, digging around in the turf with a metal detector by her side. From behind, she is young, approachable to some, no doubt, and clad in blue jeans and a blue shirt. Her long brown hair dances in the breeze as her trowel blade clinks against metal. Less likely a gold nugget. More likely an errant screw or bolt from the installation of the new fence around the old field where junior high soccer players practice for global supremacy in a sport made for global worship (once those pesky globalists, one-world visionaries, finally get their way).

Farther down the street, an elderly man, seated in one of those uncomfortable white plastic indoor/outdoor chairs, smoking a stogie, probably long bored of both work-life and home-life, moves swiftly from the front yard and back into the three-seasonal porch of his home, hiding from a passerby who, he worries, might be selling something. The passerby, having seen the man half a block away, wonders, what the hell! Just walking here!, while smelling the faint stench of cigar remnants.

At least the sky allows the sun to shine. It hangs. It lingers. Not too warm though. After all, this is not the desert. This is not the inferno terrain where T.E. Lawrence led an Arab uprising against the Turkish Empire. That was a time, way back then, when Damascus was ripe for the taking and the grapes of Damascus were not yet ripe. That was a time when Persia was primitive…wait a minute…sort of like today where there’s been an explosion from a car bomb. Car bombs thank the auto industry which thanks Henry Ford which thanks American know-how which thanks the Industrial Revolution which thanks the Age of Enlightenment. Sure. Not so cut and dry as all that, but you get the idea.

Peace in the Middle East? Yeah, that’ll happen.

A woman digs for buried treasure while one man hides from life and another man falls 24 miles from the sky. Yes, he descends. So much for reaching for the heavens.

It’s appropriate that the film Last Summer is set on Fire Island, just a ferry’s ride from the Long Island mainland, as the sun-baked atmosphere is as dry as kindling and the cool crashing waves from the Atlantic are no match for the palpable, hot energy surrounding four teens confronted with the challenges of adulthood.

It’s 1969 when two gangly teenage boys, Peter, (Richard Thomas, pre-Johnboy), and Dan, (Bruce Davidson), wander across Sandy (Barbara Hershey), a comely child-woman boasting a 157 IQ, kneeling in the sand, trying to save a seagull dashed on the beach from a fishhook in its throat. Sandy’s intentions are to make a pet of the seagull, as well as the two boys, and to train all three in the art of obedience. As the saying goes, she has hand. As the three become more bound by true confession and experimental groping and intimacy, the aura of the ménage a trios is similar to that of a pack of ferel dogs. They taunt the local toughs with their overt sexuality. They steal beers and drugs from the grownups’ stash. They fill out a blind date questionnaire with erroneous information with intentions of messing with both the dating service’s computer and any respondents.

You get a sense of the period in U.S. history from the setting. Hyannis Port is a far piece up the coast, where Camelot’s tarnished image has been dragged down in the American collective psyche by cynicism toward both Vietnam and Chappaquiddick. Parties of the privileged, up and down the beach, are mired in alcohol and illicit drug use. And the teens are ‘digging’ the rebellious sounds of the late sixties while boredom slowly creates an underlying narcissism.

As the threesome train the seagull to do tricks, a fourth teen, Rhoda (Catherine Burns), enters the picture. She is critical of the perceived abuse of the seagull. Rhoda’s high-mindedness and grandmotherly bathing suits ensure her place as the outcast within the group. She’s far more principled compared to the other three, but she’s heavy-handed, acting like the jailer/babysitter who kids can’t help but attempt to fluster while enjoying every minute of it.

It’s Rhoda’s timid sexuality that sets up the final and disturbing scene. It’s a bit over the top and I can’t help but wonder if something less destructive and, instead, more ambiguous would have equally given the film a more profound conclusion. That said, it was this shocking final scene that I vividly recall from the first time I saw this film 30 years ago and what compelled me to seek out this hard-to-find film. (Since when does a film with an Oscar nomination become lost, priced at $189 on Amazon.com and unavailable on Netflix?) Based on Evan Hunter’s novel of the same name, I can imagine the author’s attempt to illustrate the pathos of the time, equally disturbing and depicted in the rebellious wanderlust of Easy Rider or the death and darkness of Apocalypse Now. All three of these movies end with a shot to the gut, leaving the viewer to either ask “Is that the end?” or to wonder how often dare we forget someone might be watching over us and managing the ledger of deeds and misdeeds.

While watering the lawn, those are the words I heard shouted from a neighborhood kid playing with friends. It’s an obvious reference to the Al Pacino classic Scarface, a movie about an enterprising Cuban immigrant making his way in Miami in the ’80’s by delving into political corruption, drug trafficking and murder. The quote comes at the end of the movie during a cataclysmic scene in which Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, armed with a M16-A1 assault rifle, his “little friend”, is indiscriminately shooting anything that moves.

Any other day, overhearing such a quote might sound harmless while soliciting a chuckle. But not today. Today we find ourselves, as a nation, once again, caught up in the bloody blur of fantasy and reality combined. James Holmes, this year’s Jared Lee Loughner (aka former U.S. Senator Gabrielle Gifford’s attempted assassin and murderer of six bystanders), has taken his place in the history books, filled with youthful homicidal maniacs, by going on a killing spree during an opening late-night screening of the latest Batman installment in Aurora, Colorado. I’ve yet to see the film, but the formula is, no doubt, that of the usual fare. Evil tries to take control of everything and, in so doing, kills innocent people while good plays its part in attempting to minimize collateral damage while more innocent people are killed. All the while, impressionable children are allowed to exercise their freewill to decide what is best for their personal viewing. After all, what harm is there in that?

Not every child falls under the trance of no-pain-plenty-gain that can be ascribed to violent movies and video games. Still there are those that have fallen into a dark hole of escapism and are willing to cross over to the dark side, viewing all others as either ants or non-entities. The rub is that few are interested in paying the ultimate sacrifice for their transgressions, i.e., going out in a blaze of glory like Tony Montana. Psychotics like James Holmes and Jared Lee Loughner appear more inclined to hang around, after the fact, to evidently bathe in the glow of their newfound notoriety.

In the early morning hours of August 7, 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit did the unimaginable by attempting what is known as “the artistic crime of the century”. After six years of planning, he crossed the World Trade Center on a cable stretched between the two towers. Although he insured an increase in security at WTC, he also made history and, by doing so, risking his own life rather than taking the lives of others.

Petit’s feat is that rarity where we find ourselves in awe. Yes, we also share his fear from afar. But we do so knowing that he alone is taking the risk, all of it, upon his shoulders. Guys like Holmes and Loughner imagine themselves as the Red Dragon from a Thomas Harris novel, desperately dreaming of a very twisted state of awe from the rest of us. To their cell-confined-for-life lives I say, dream on. And say ‘Hello’ to your little friend.

Brittle plastic on a sprinkler head and a stubbed toe make for ticky tack fouls in life unequal to starvation and the Bubonic plague, yet they’re pretty close. I’d like to enjoy the remaining moments I have on Earth, but there’s so muchticky…mucht icky… Mutt…much Ricky…much ticky tack that crawls up from the underground, and bends you over backwards. See. Even getting out this last line found me fumbling and bumbling, stymied either by iPad technology or else by App wordplay that would rather redirect me rather than work with me. Yeah, I know. It’s my own fault. Why? Cuz I’m living.

More from the ticky tack front: this afternoon, my wife and I shopped at Target, imagining we could find brake pads for those worn out ones for my bicycle. They had everything else but brake pads. (Are we that much of a slow-moving society that we no longer need brakes? Maybe.) From computerized and multi-functional gadgets to helmets of all shapes and colors, and even a spare kickstand. Since when does a bike manufacturer not include a kickstand for every bike coming off the assembly line? And once a kickstand is off, why replace it? The annoyance it provides during a bike ride – slowly dropping with each bump along the trail and rubbing against the peddle – overshadows it’s usefulness.

Speaking of bikes. While at Target, my wife mentioned getting another bike, a bike rack, and going to places where we could go biking along bike trails – when we have the time. I told her we’d be too old by then and not interested in making the effort. I suggested the time is now. I now suggest that the town of Hackensack is calling us, to come ride that town’s piece of the Paul Bunyan Trail. Tedious upgrades. Cross winds filled with hot air. Low hanging branches like monkey arms to slap our faces. Nothing like it. Ticky tack on the fly.