Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Year That Was

So 2011 is coming to a close, and the Year of the Mayan Prediction of The End of The World sits waiting.  As is typical for this time of year, we tend to look back and review the year that was on a global level.
But this is my blog, so I am going to get personal.
2011 was an interesting year. I fell in love. I got my golf game back. I got my life back. I learned more deeply what makes me tick. I lost a childhood friend. I gained some new friends. I embarked on a new activity that I had never done before. I went to Memphis. I rekindled a childhood friendship. I went through a roller-coaster of issues at work.
In all, a typical year.
Love Comes Calling - In the Spring I fell in love with a lady that actually fell for me first. Imagine that. Ours was a brief, but torrid, emotion-filled experience that left both of us sated and exhausted. What started as what we viewed as divine fate bringing us together ended three months later with stark realizations of basic differences that, unfortunately, could not be reconciled.
Love Comes Calling Part Deux - In the Summer I met a much younger woman, 25 years younger than me in fact, that, again, seemed interested in me. Hey, as much as I like to think that I could actually be attractive to a woman in her 20’s, rationale says, uh no, dude. Until she reminded me that mutual attraction knows no age limits. We had a wonderful four months together that ended when, again, stark realizations set in. Here was a women blossoming and unfolding, wanting a family, and dating a guy that only has one more year of child support to pay.  I could father her children, but only if was willing to delay my retirement for about ten years. I wasn't.
My Real Love Returns - Before there were any significant others in my life, I fell in love. I was six years old. And the object of my affections was a game. Golf. When 2011 started my golf game was in shambles, as I had played maybe a half dozen times in the previous two years.  You have to know this about me - I am a golfer. It is in my DNA. And when I do not play for extended periods of time I get depressed. Conversely, when I play often I am happy. So, to connect the dots, at the beginning of 2011 I was depressed due to lack of golf. And my goal in 2011 was to be happy, ergo, play more golf.
Hey, I’m a man. We’re simple creatures.
My blog has at least five stories from this past year related to rekindling this passion. I played with former Pittsburgh Steelers. I re-connected with my dear friend from childhood, My Man Mike, and we played weekly. I practiced 2-3 times a week. And by the end of this year I got my handicap back down to a 7. Not as good as I used to be, but still not too shabby.
And I was happy again.
I'm Pretty Effed Up - About halfway though the year I re-connected with 12-step recovery meetings, and through this I discovered some ugly truths about myself. Things that most everyone else knew about me, but I was blind to. Things like arrogance, self-centeredness, selfishness and fear. But I also learned to give myself a break - the only perfect man was hung on a cross, and I'm not into having nails driven into my hands and feet. So I now know the things about me that drive people away, and it is now on me to do something about them. Like they say, the truth will set you free...but first it's gonna really piss you off.
Namaste - I took up yoga. This is a wonderful activity that blends exercise, stretching, breathing and inner peace. I met new friends, and I love my instructor. Literally. I love her. I don’t know if she knows this, and Lee, if you’re reading this story, surprise! I love you.
Goodbye John - An old friend from my childhood died, Johnny Allen. Age 52, of cancer. John was an odd kid, as was I, which made us pretty close - the two geeks on the block. John’s death was a real wake-up call that we could be taken at any moment, for any reason. Rest well, John.
Work Is A Four-Letter Word - My job is very demanding. Unfortunately, often that demanding-ness gets piled atop with unreasonable, unrealistic and sometimes moronic tasks, simply because someone had what they considered a spark of creativity. When the truth is, they were proposing things that didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding. This happened often this year, and it really reinforced the old adage, God grant me the serenity…you know the rest. I cannot control these people. I only have two choices - accept them, or find another place to work. One or the other will occur in 2012.
So as this year fades to a close and 2012 stands waiting in the wings, I take the lessons of 2011 along with me, which are three simple words - live, love laugh. Especially laugh.
Because I used to be disgusted. Now I try to be amused.
Happy New Year everyone.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


So it’s Christmas Day in Orlando. With no family in the area and no significant other to spend time with, I was faced with a dilemma – what do I do with myself all day?

This is what golf was made for.

I just got back from walking 11 holes at Winter Park Country Club, a delightful little track that is very walker-friendly. The course was technically closed and none of the pins were in, but that didn’t stop me – or the other two dozen or so players I saw out there.

Free golf! Merry Christmas to me.

Anyway. I hadn’t touched a club in about a month and hadn’t played in almost two months. This usually means a sloppy round where I swing too hard, and am too stiff to really play well. It would usually take 5 or 6 holes just to loosen up, let alone commanding my body to execute the shot my mind has envisioned.

Ah, but there has been something I’ve been doing for the past couple of months that I was curious in seeing if it would help my game. Yoga.

I have done about eight sessions of yoga, every Monday night, and I love it. Aside from the obvious benefits of stretching and gentle exercise, it has taught me some things I did not expect. Things like breathing. Don’t laugh. Many of us do not control our breathing very well, or underestimate the power contained in that seemingly automatic physical function. Slowing your breath down, feeling it, listening to it, can greatly affect your mental state.

Yoga also teaches you how to slow down, how to move gracefully, balance, discipline, and self-love. Get your mind out of the gutter. I mean self appreciation for finding time to take care of yourself.

So today was the first time I played golf as a practicing yogi and was anxious to see if there was an effect.

There was. Quite a profound one.

To begin with, that anticipated stiffness and swinging too hard? Didn’t happen. I felt quite loose actually and I didn’t seem to have that ‘kill the ball’ mentality that accompanies the first round in a month. On the first tee I hit a nice solid 3-wood down the left side about 225 yards – a shot I would have taken in the middle of the summer let alone for the first swing in a month.

I walked, which offered a great time to work on breathing. In and out through the nose, deep, full breaths. Leisurely steps. Just be. Enjoying the moment.

My golf swings felt very flowing. Sure, I hit a couple of meh shots, but they weren’t from trying to kill the ball, but instead they were just from, well being human. That’s another thing yoga has taught me – there is no right or wrong. Just do what you can and accept. No judging. I really needed this kind of attitude instilled, since I get way too critical of myself. Not in yoga – each week I stare in amazement of my beautiful instructor, Lee, as she is able to execute positions I can only dream about accomplishing, but never once have I felt pressure to emulate. Be happy with being me, and love myself for making time for me.

By the middle of the round I noticed something else. I had gained distance. On the last hole, a 260-yard slight dogleg left, I hit a perfect cut-driver that settled five yards short of the green – that’s a 255-yard CUT driver. That was Jerry from 30 years ago right there.

This is going to be a wonderful marriage of two activities. Golf and yoga. For golfers like me that are starting to age, and you are finding that the body just doesn’t respond like it did when you were 25, try yoga. I think you will be very satisfied with what it does for your game, your attitude, and your frame of mind.

Merry Christmas. Namaste.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

End Of An Error

So the news today on my Yahoo ticker said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ‘officially’ ended the Iraq War - the longest war in American history, nine-plus years.
Thank God.
This was a war that should have never been started. And before I am taken to task for Thursday-morning Quarterbacking or for the expected ‘there goes that liberal again’, let me just state that I was never in favor of this war. I recall the run-up to it in late 2002 and early 2003, when then-President Bush was ginning up the threat by Saddam Hussein and then-Secretary of Defense Colin Powell addressing the United Nations, thinking, ‘My God they better be right.’
They weren’t. Not even in the same country (literally) as being right.
This was a war launched with dubious claims about a far-away dictator that presumably was set on attacking us. The decision was made in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and instead of focusing our response on those responsible for those attacks, a ‘threat’ was drummed up that was really a personal vendetta. Saddam tried to kill Bush’s daddy, so he must pay. So, instead of going after al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we went after the guy Bush wanted for his own visceral pleasure. Saddam had to pay, so give me a reason to make him.
Now, disagree with that if you must, and I know many must. Usually those neoconservatives that, to this day, insist it was a justified war. The problem with that mindset is, then, what exactly were we trying to accomplish there? Because that became a moving target - first it was about WMD. When none were found it was about ousting Saddam. Well, that could have been done with one very strategically placed bullet, not an invasion. Then it became about transferring Iraq into a bastion of Democracy amid a sea of Islamic fundamentalists. Then it was about staving off the easily-predicted civil war that we instigated. Then it was about not letting Iran take control of a country that we hoovered the leaders out of. Remember Dick Cheney saying we would be greeted as liberators? How did that work out?
You can tell when someone is losing an argument when they constantly change the rationale for starting it in the first place.
Here's what was accomplished - Over 4,400 Americans killed - more than died on 9/11. Over 100,000 Iraqis dead.
And for what? Panetta said nice words today, letting the troops know that their efforts were not in vain. Well of course he would say that. The troops were and are heroes - maybe even an elevated status of hero, for they did not question, only sacrificed. So my eternal gratitude goes to those that served, and they really had no choice - they gave oaths the defend and not question decisions made by those far above them. Their sacrifice is honorable and just.
It is those that put us into that quagmire that should be scorned.
Dick Cheney. Don Rumsfeld. George Tenet. John Ashcroft. And George W. Bush. The blood is on your hands.
Look where we are today. Awash in debt since the war was unfunded (and taxes were cut). No safer than before, because, again, no WMDs were found. Weakened. Military forces strained, battle weary and fatigued. Over 30,000 troops with missing limbs or other injuries and countless more emotionally crippled -  that we now must take care of for the rest of their lives.
Yet despite all that, there are some who stubbornly and reality-vacated cling to the notion that leaving Iraq now is wrong. John McCain stated yesterday that we could face “failure” in Iraq if we pull out now. Well, Senator, with all due respect to your personal sacrifices, exactly what did we “win”? What gains are in jeopardy? Iran may swoop in? Well gosh, why wasn’t that considered before we even pulled the damn trigger in the first place? And lastly, just how much longer should we stay there? A decade? A century?
I am going to reserve expanding on my thoughts here as to what should be done with those that supported this mess and still do to this day. Yes, I understand that Congress authorized war actions - at the insistence of the adminstration's claims and through incendiary 'You're with us or you're with the terrorists' rhetoric - but for those that still, to this day, think it was the right thing to do, honestly, have and should lose all authority to make any such decisions in the future.

This was a war that had no other reason than to make certain people in power feel better. Bush declared himself a 'Wartime President', as if that justified whatever other bumblings he accomplished through his tragic presidency. He will go down as the only president to start an elective war, a war that did not need to occur. We were not threatened, there was nothing in our national interest at stake, other than his misplaced and swollen pride. Worst president ever? How could he not be?
In summary, the only thing that can be said, and the only real positive statement that can be made about this vulgar and immoral mess was made by President Obama yesterday -
Welcome home.
You never should have left in the first place.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Of A Certain Age

(For John. You were a good man. Rest in peace my friend.)

“It’s a shame we have to die my dear, but no one’s getting out of here alive.”
- Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters

I got some sad news today as an old friend from my childhood days died. Johnny Allen, age 52, passed away from cancer. John grew up across the street from me, and we were pretty close as kids – climbing trees, building snow forts, that kind of stuff. Little Johnny Allen. Dead. Reality check for sure.

I know I am getting older. Hell, every person on this side of the ground is. But I am now getting to the point in my life where I go, wow, I’m 53. I really should be acting my age.

Someone tell me what that is, please.

I have heard older people say ‘You’re only as young as you feel’ or ‘Age is just a number.’ True. And I don’t feel – or  act – 53. Heck, some may say I am still like the 10-year old kid climbing trees with Johnny Allen and that in certain areas I need to mature. I get that, but I tend to reject those pieces of advice. Stubborn streak I guess. I want to remain childlike but not be childish. And I know I have a long way to go in both those areas. I still have the ‘wow’ amazement of a child, which I want to keep, but I also have traits that make people shake their heads and say grow the F up. Good with the bad I guess. But I have to wake up to me every day so I will try to keep to my internal gut barometer on what is or isn’t acceptable. Like I like to say – the only perfect man was hung on a cross with nails through his hands and feet.

I’ve had some recent experiences that has reinforced the fact that most of my life is now behind me. Example – I just friended someone on Facebook, a guy I see every week at the place here in Orlando where us Browns fans congregate. He’s just Shaun to me, a fellow bud. Then I noticed he was born in 1976 – the same year I graduated high school. Here’s a guy that I just think of as a fellow suffering Browns fan, and he is, but he could be my son. Wow.

Many times you see these email threads where people reminisce of what it was like when they were younger, to illustrate how much things have changed. Well, here’s my list –

I remember straight-on Kickers in the NFL.
I remember when there was an AFL.
I remember watching Nixon resign on national TV.
Our TV growing up had three stations – CBS, NBC & ABC.  Period.
We listened to music on albums or on 8-track tapes.
I owned 8-track tapes.

It’s hard to believe that those experiences peg me as ‘getting old’. Oh well. On the plus side of the ledger, I am still alive, and do not look my age. And a couple months back I actually had a 27-year-old girlfriend. She was born in 1983 – when I was two years removed from college & trying to pick up, well, 27-year olds. So I got that going for me.

But boy, some days I do feel my age. My annual checkups now consist of the obligatory prostate check & colonoscopies. So I guess, for a man at least, that aging means having a doctor stick things in your ass.

Good luck finding something there. Besides my head. 

But as Johnny showed, we can be snuffed out at any time. To that end, they say to live your life to the fullest. Well sure. But also, just live your life. Because, just like me, you have to wake up with yourself every day.

I hope you like what you see.