The Fingerprints Of Others…

I’m big on appreciating formative moments in my life; those times when a person, a circumstance, or an occurrence makes an impact so indelible that it will stay with me for years to come. I refer to these as the finger prints of others. Rarely a day passes without me reflecting on some of the fingerprints others have left on my life through the years.

From profound tragedies, to near-death experiences, to simple observations or words of wisdom that people have offered me through the years, the fingerprints of others have shaped who I am – because I allow them to.

In the past couple of months two occurrences took place that fall into this category; formative moments that I won’t let go of anytime soon.

There, But For The Grace…

Last week I was walking my dog on a well-manicured greenbelt in-between a sea of suburban dwellings clad in stucco and topped with ceramic roofs. Well out of his place, my dog and I were approached by what appeared to be a homeless man, unkempt and not walking too well – perhaps drunk.

The greenbelt of happiness...

The greenbelt of happiness…

As the man got closer, my dog, who has barked or snarled less than a dozen times in his 9 years on earth, began to growl at him. It also appeared, as he got closer, that he was well beyond drunk. Barely able to walk, but he headed our way intentionally – perhaps to ask for money.

My dog, Stroodle, sneered more as the man approached. I had never seen this behavior from him before. The homeless man, I suppose because he may have been in fear, kicked at Stroodle. Understand, he did not kick him, he only kicked at him. However, as Stroodle’s steward in this life, my protector instincts took hold and I punched the man in the chest. Not to be mean, but to keep him from hurting my dog.

Stroodle; center of his own attention...

Stroodle; center of his own attention…

The man fell to the ground and began crying. He was a sad wretch with bloodshot eyes, in filthy clothing, with no apparent direction, and then he was crying – and I had just hit him.

I attempted to help him up, but he refused. He then turned away from me, and staggered off in another direction leaving a scent of body odor and alcohol that would stay with me for a few more hours. As he was ambling away, Stroodle kept growling at him.

In the same scenario I would do this again – protect my dog using minimal force — but what was minimal…?  I can’t let go though, of the grown man on the ground crying at what I had done, though I know he was probably crying over much more.

I couldn’t help wonder where the man had been, what had lead him down this path, and where he might end up that day – or any day. There, but for the grace…

A Pee, A Picture, And A Pistol…

I had been traveling from Denver to the San Diego area last month helping a friend relocate her belongings. Rather than see her pay movers, I volunteered to load and drive a 26’ truck across the American west, with my friend and her dogs as the chase team. She was on a budget and I needed a road trip. It was a good fit.

On morning #2 of our trip we left Richfield, Utah as the sun rose. Just a quick stop for gas, and my obligatory 12-pack of Diet Coke to caffeinate the long haul ahead, and we were soon on the road. After an hour or so, I needed to make room for more Diet Coke by releasing that which I had already consumed.

We were clipping through the red clay and green scrub about an hour north of Cedar City, Utah when I spied travel complex with a large rainbow canopy above the gas pump islands. No city, no town, no other signs of civilization – just a gas stop alone in the desert. As I pulled into the complex, my friend followed me. It was soon evident that the travel plaza was no longer in business, just a truck stop ghost town. To a guy like me, that’s a playground.

If you're ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee...

If you’re ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee…

Since we didn’t need gas or food, and I still had to pee, I decided to give the place my business just the same. That’s when my inner child got the better of me, and I decided to explore and photograph the abandoned buildings of the complex – something I do frequently cross-country trips.

As I photographed one of the abandoned gas islands, a small SUV approached me at a decreasing speed until it came to a halt beside me. A man in a shirt and tie, but with no coat was behind the wheel. He had mirrored sunglasses that looked more like 2 compound eyes.

“I’m going to ask you to leave” the man said in a whisper. “This is private property”.

Me being me, I asked him if he was a representative of the owner, and if so could he prove it. I turned and continued to photograph some broken glass outside one of the structures.

“Hey” he shouted, “I am the owner!” That’s when I looked down to see a small handgun pointed at me.

Ok, I said. I’ll be moving on. No further words were exchanged.

I walked slowly back toward the 26’ truck where my friend was waiting outside her car, giving her dogs some water. I explained that we should get going, but said nothing of the man with the gun – since he had been out of her sight the entire time, and I didn’t wish scare her.

Up in the truck, back on the road, and still trembling from my experience, my eyes spent equal time divided between the road in front of me, and my side view mirrors for the next several hours. I would not see the man with the small SUV and the compound eyes again.

So Many Changes In Such A Short Time…

Despite my military service, and hanging out with some questionable characters in my young adult life, I had never before stood at the barrel of a gun facing back at me. Not for a moment did I think the man would pull the trigger, but afterward I could not let go how the life of my daughter might have changed if I had made one more sarcastic remark that could have put him over the edge. I continue to wrestle with that one. A fingerprint on my life, to be sure.

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.   Taken with an iPhone set to mono...

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.
Taken with an iPhone set to mono…

Last week I punched a homeless drunk in the chest, only to see him fall to the ground and cry. Yes, I was defending a helpless animal, but I had to hurt a person in order to help a dog. Another fingerprint from which to learn, and yet another wrestling match to take place in my head.

It is the fingerprints of others, as much or more than my own actions through the years, that have shaped who I am and who I am still to become. Like fingerprints on a doorknob accruing over time, the person I am today is much dirtier than the man I was 20 years ago. Of course unlike the doorknob, the fingerprints left on my psyche aren’t dirt so easily washed away. The dirt stays with me because I allow it to. In this case though, let’s not call it dirt – let’s refer to it character. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Ry Cooder. Enjoy!

An Amazing Age,,,

Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words — mank and ind. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.” Jack Handy

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An Amazing Age…

A father stood by a campfire sharing thoughts of life with his discouraged adolescent son. He explained that life can be hard, but reminded his son that it was much worse for their ancestors. He explained that they live an amazing age. He spoke about how quickly man can cover long distances – much faster and further than even a few generations ago. The food system had advanced in a way that fewer people were going hungry, and food was much easier to produce. Though wars still took place, there were less of them, and with fewer casualties within them. Tyrannical leaders had declined in number, and advances in medicine had enabled longer lives, and a better quality of life with each passing year.

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Of course that conversation could have taken place in any age of man going back 4,000 years or more. And I guess that’s my point; that every generation of man reaps the benefits of advancement. All who have lived, have lived in an amazing age.

Today we live with the most advanced technologies and social structures to date, and certainly the most complex. Yet I’m not such a fan. The worst unintended consequences of advancement are… a lack of advancement. I too am a discouraged youth.

And Then, Depression Set In…

I have experienced my share of depressive episodes – those times when continuing my own life seems the worst possible solution. I have survived those episodes though, without medication, for one reason above all others, the knowledge that my depression always passes – always.

I don’t wish to understate the value of medication for those who live with depression. That technology – the advancement of pharmaceuticals, has changed and saved millions who live with depression. I only suggest that for me, the best medicine is the knowledge that my depression always passes – always. It’s kind of old school.

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When I’m in the throes of depression, it’s not so easy or so convenient to conjure up thoughts of it passing. Nor are those thoughts fast-acting. They do come though, with no side effects, nor any cascading consequences which may lead to more cascading consequences.

In recent decades depression has become better addressed, both scientifically and socially. Depression can be treated, discussed, and most importantly, it can be allowed. That it is allowed, is a great social advancement – part of our amazing age.

I Need A Kind Of Therapy Which Hasn’t Been Invented Yet…

I live with another ailment though, one which is rarely discussed and may not even exist beyond my tortured mind, though I suspect it does; the inability to comprehend and cope with the increasing complexities of our amazing age. I live in a greater state of flux today than I did at age 40. Each new advancement for the betterment of mankind seems to come with choices, tenfold.

Last night I spent 75 minutes navigating the Netflix search menu, looking for a program worthy of my time. Eventually I selected a series of TED Talks on space exploration. Seventy-five minutes spent searching. In that amount of time I could have watched 5 of those TED Talks, or 4 episodes of McHale’s Navy. I yearn for the black and white Admiral TV of my youth. Only 12 channels choose from and a few dozen more on UHF, but most of those were snow.

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Driving last week my advanced navigation system was guiding me to a job interview. Knowing the area fairly well I decided to trust my hunter-gatherer instincts and took an alternate route. The voice from the speakers kept attempting to reroute me – even to the point when I was directly across the street from my intended location. “Make a U-turn and go 1 mile to the Rancho California Exit” the voice said. My destination was 50 yards away. That actually happened.

I can’t remember my daughter’s phone number – because I don’t have to. Talk about an instant panic attack when I needed to call her from someone else’s phone…

The thought that gets me through my depressive episodes, that it always passes – always, doesn’t work for my complexity issues. The increasing complexities of life are exponential. They never pass, they only get worse. To paraphrase Lewis Black, “Exponential means to get crappier and crappier and crappier.”

I’m not a neuroscientist nor a cognitive psychologist, but I do read some of their work when time permits. Once conclusion I can safely make is that in no way is the human brain keeping up with the pace of our advancements. My disease may not be your disease yet, but it will be.

No Going Back. Close Your Eyes And Ears Going Forward…

There’s no going backward though, only the hopes that humanity will figure out how to take the greatest advancements from the past, retool them, and superimpose them on the future. We won’t see horse drawn carriages again, but we already see cars without internal combustion engines and that’s a legitimate advancement. That those cars might drive themselves is also an advancement. If self-driving cars are an advancement, there will surely be unintended consequences along with them – like losing our inherent ability to find north or south quickly, or to minimize what little muscle tone most people have left – from turning that steering wheel.

I genuinely believe the humanity is headed in a positive direction, pulled by the underlying currents of a higher purpose. Read the books Nonzero and The Better Angels Of Our Nature and you too might be convinced of this. That future though, might look a lot like Idiocracy. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head…

Aja: More That A Continent…

The Era…

In the 1970s my social contemporaries we largely tied to the music of Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Rush, Pink Floyd, and the like. Not that I didn’t have an ear for it too, I did. Listening to the rock & roll of the day was among my primary hobbies. It was an era when vinyl was king, and the thematic or the complete album was central to FM radio. Though this was also the era of disco and the early stages of punk rock, the FM radio of the day was all about dirty hippies making well-orchestrated masterpieces.

Counter to most of my friends at that time, one band I focused on more than Frank Zappa, Uriah Heap, or Deep Purple was Steely Dan. This was a band most of my friends couldn’t connect with, yet they were my obsession. With those who did though, it did seemed like we spoke another language.   Being a Steely Dan fan at the age of 15 landed one a very good seat at the rock & roll nerd table at school – just behind the kids from the short bus.

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The Scope and The Band…

Steely Dan’s heyday was from 1972-1977, though they are still active today. Starting with their first album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, the primary players were producer Gary Katz and musicians Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. Many musicians showed up on Steely Dan albums through the years. In the early years, the same dozen or so players were granted parts on most of their first five albums.

As the band evolved, the varying players were depended on to raise their game with each successive album. If they did not, they would be used less or not at all. Notwithstanding that as their music style changed, there might be less of a need for a flugelhorn, and thus less of a need for flugelhorn player Snooky young. By the time their 5th album, The Royal Scam was released, the hierarchy of Fagan, Becker, and Katz was firmly in place, but also beginning to strain. Though it would be a year before the world would hear their 6th album, that year took forever – at least for me.

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The Album…

We all know what it’s like to anticipate an album release. In the pre-internet, non-digital music days of my teens, this was the first album I remember truly waiting for. All we had in 1977 was teasers from Rolling Stone magazine, word of mouth from friends, and hints from DJs to tell us when a new album might be out. The buildup for Steely Dan’s 6th album was overwhelming – by design. When Aja was finally released in 1977, I was at Peaches Records & Tapes before anyone that day.   I took my fresh copy directly home and listened to both sides over and over for a couple of days on the Marantz stereo of my teens.

From the first track, Black Cow, I realized this album was distinct from any of their previous albums. It was large. Though they had always been a jazz influenced project, I never considered Steely Dan anything other than rock & roll. In hindsight so many years later, I consider Aja the first jazz album I ever owned.

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This was Steely Dan’s best album – period. Aja was made when producer Katz still had some say and control over the rotating players of the project that Fagan and Becker abused in process. Aja was Fagan’s vision, but it was to be was Katz’ finest work as producer. From beginning to end, there’s not a single bad track:

Black Cow

Aja

Deacon Blues

Peg Home at Last

I Got the News

Josie

No matter where my tastes in music have drifted through the years; punk rock, country, Americana, the paisley underground, blues, and jazz, Aja has been a constant, and has never been out of my rotation. I have owned Aja on vinyl 3 times, on cassette, on CD, and now I stream it digitally on a regular basis. Though the delivery system has changed through the years, the effect has not.

Listening to the song Deacon Blues frames my mind in the same way sitting on a jetty and staring the ocean’s vague horizon does. Time slows down. I relax. I breathe more deeply, and forget all things but the moment. Listening to the song Aja after a long day is like the first glass of wine before dinner; it subdues the monkeys perpetrating lesser thoughts in my head.

The Memory…

All these years later when I think of the 70s as a collective, I don’t default the image of a powder blue Volkswagen Bug with bold flower stickers all over it, Richard Nixon, The Godfather, images of Vietnam, hot pants, women’s lib, or even the Rolling Stones. When I think of the 70s, I think first of Aja, its album cover, the arrangements and the artistry it contains. I think of driving my Ford Fairlane to the edge of town alone on a Friday night, turning my Pioneer Super Tuner to 11, and laying on the hood — transporting my soul to a place I can’t fully define.

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If the fingerprints of my past are responsible for the all marks that have made my soul so scuffed and leathered through the years, being touched by Aja gives that soul a smooth feel and a golden tone – if only for an hour. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Steely Dan’s album Pretzel Logic.  Enjoy!