Speaking To The Past.

While I was on one of my daily bike rides the other day, I came to the realization that with the passing of my 46th birthday, I have been legally driving a vehicle for 30 years. I found this a little hard to believe, because I never feel like I’ve been in this life for that long, and the idea of three decades passing since taking that written test for my learner’s permit was slightly startling. Because cycling puts me in a “zen” mode, these thoughts led to the pondering of what I would say to my 16-year old self; what nuggets of life experience would I say to my younger self if I had the opportunity to.

1. Try not to care about what others think. Now I know that’s not easy for a 16 year old boy that’s trying to navigate his way to his life path, a path that you know is different from many of those around you, but caring about what others think is going to hold you back. It has taken me a really long time to figure that out.

2. Dad loves you more than you’ll ever realize. He doesn’t say it that much but he shows it in his way, even though you don’t always see these gestures. He’s proud of you for being just the man you’re going to be and that’s something you’ll realize later on.

3. The music teacher thing is just a diversion. I know you’re going to try for that degree because that’s what you feel you’re suppose to do, but it’s just a diversion. Go with it, but mark my words, you’ll learn a lot more about life than about music when you go to college. You’ll end up doing what you really want to do.

4. Maintain that inquisitive nature when you’re around computers. Keep doing what you’re doing with that Commodore VIC-20. All of that knowledge and skill that you don’t realize you’re developing is going to help you in the long run. Big time.

5. I know you don’t think you’re going to master the art of driving a stick, and yes, I still remember the time we stalled the tractor behind the barn and the dump truck up at the lumber yard, but you’re going to love driving a stick and you’re going to insist that all of your vehicles are a manual transmission. And not only will you be able to drive a stick, you’ll eventually get airborne in those airplanes you dream about.

6. There are millions of people just like you, even though you feel like you’re the only one in our hometown. It’ll get worse before it gets better, but it’s going to be awesome in the long run. And besides, you’re more honest about yourself than others around you. Remember that. Others will appreciate you for being yourself, even the ones that you don’t think would ever understand.

7. The teacher that was kind of a dick to you that one day in class? Yeah, he was a dick through and through.

8. You’re surrounded with a great group of friends. Even the classmates that scare you and that you’re afraid to talk to… you end up having great conversations with them at the high school reunion.

9. Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to put out at the prom. There will be hints about it and maybe some pressure at the senior prom, but you don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. Enjoy the evening for what it is.

10. Jenn is on your side all the time. And Mom is mom and she stays mom and it’s all good.

11. Don’t be afraid to explore your surroundings and then keep reaching out farther and farther. Folks think we’re crazy for some of the road trips we’ve gone on, but the truth of the matter is, they’re probably jealous.

12. Life turns out to be awesome. Folks probably will think you’re all pollyanna, but remember, you don’t really care what people think when you get to my age, so it’s OK to say that life is awesome, because it really is. You’ll get through the hard parts just fine.

Brain Power.

I live by the philosophy that I should be always striving to improve myself in some way. Whether it’s listening to political radio or reading up on some random topic or even try adjusting my eating and exercise habits to find what works best for me at the particular moment, I always try to better myself.

Some of this is inspired by a secret desire to become some sort of superhero, I suppose. There’s always that kid in me that hopes that someday I’ll be struck by a lightning bolt and be turned into something beyond the ordinary. Other inspirations include movies such as “Limitless” or the movie coming out this weekend, “Lucy”. While I have no desire to be a ScarJo, the idea of unlocking secrets of the universe with an enhanced mind is compelling to me. And yes, I know that the “humans use only 10% of their brain” thing is an urban myth (as opposed to a rural myth?) but nevertheless the concepts in these two movies are, well, thought provoking.

Enter Lumosity. Now I routinely listen to Binaural Beats to relax or to nap or to better focus my attention while working, and these exercises work for me, but I haven’t found a way to improve my short term memory and the like. Lumosity is designed to help one exercise their brain. The brain is basically thought of as a muscle and with the proper workouts, it’ll function better, and Lumosity helps one reach that goal.

Now, usually I would jump into the full-blown, paid up plan offered by software such as this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to use the free version of Lumosity starting today and through the end of August. If I find that I’m satisfied with my progress using the software, I may invest in the paid version, which helps exercise your brain in more ways.

I’m interested to see how this experiment goes.

Crazy?

So yesterday I was passing through one of the large aircraft hangers to make my way to the bathroom when I casually remarked to a fully uniformed soldier, whom I had never met, “the sound of AVgas flowing always makes me have to take a piss.” He looked at me with a slightly surprised look and said, “enjoy, buddy.”

I have always lived on the assumption that if people knew what I was really thinking that it would ultimately end up with me in an orange jumpsuit, sitting in a padded room, making rag rugs with blunt scissors for the rest of my life. As a kid that was a recurring nightmare of mine, getting locked up for being “different” which was translated to “crazy”.

Many people don’t care about these things, especially after age 40. I decided to join that line of thinking at age 46 and honestly, I don’t care anymore. And frankly, not caring what other people thinking about me, crazy or not, is a refreshing feeling.

The world is much more screwed up than I will ever be.

News.

As I write this, my Twitter feed is scrolling at a rapid pace with news about Malaysian Flight #17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which crashed somewhere near the Ukraine-Russian border this morning. As of this writing, unconfirmed reports say that it was shot down. Photos of wreckage are already starting to appear.

My Facebook feed is scrolling by with a selection of surveys I should be doing, including which character of “AbFab” I am, which season of “The Love Boat” I would be sailing on and what kind of car I should buy.

Guess which social network I’m focusing on today?

While I mourn the loss of human life, I find it oddly comforting that my Twitter feed is showing some actual news stories, instead of drivel such as the Breaking News that the former Miss Delaware was suing her state because she didn’t realize she was too old to compete for Miss America and was subsequently dethroned by someone in Delaware that does that sort of dethroning thing. I don’t know if there’s some sort of maniacal cackling when they rip the crown off the head held up with Aqua-Net, but nevertheless, this was national headline fodder up until just a little while ago. And honestly, I found the fact that a beauty pageant contestant crying on the “Today” show about how awful her life is to be quite insulting to my intelligence. This put my on a rampage to clean up my Twitter feed and remove such superficial drivel. I was following Debra Messing, but her tweet announcing the arrival of her “glam team” sent me over the edge and I had to unfollow her. I’m sure she’s lovely and all but I don’t really need to know that she has a glam team, I don’t want to meet her glam team and I don’t want to know what the glam team is doing to her.

I guess I’m feeling all serious today.

There are so many distractions, courtesy of technology, in our world today and over the past couple of days I’ve been starting to feel quite rebellious towards these distractions. Glam teams, crying beauty queens and technological commentators that barrage me with ads and self promotion have no spot in my agenda today.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the passengers and crew of flight MH17 today.

As for the former Miss Delaware, read a book, get a clue, get a life.

Driving.

As I fly toward my goal of becoming a licensed Private Pilot, I have to admit that I don’t find myself enjoying driving as much as I used to. One of the most important things about being a pilot is that you do what is expected of you. For example, when we fly around the airport in the pattern, we always enter the pattern at the same place, fly at a pre-determined altitude and do what we are suppose to do.

Driving should be approached the same way.

Now, everyday I go for a walk in the morning and afternoon during the work day. This gives me the opportunity to stretch my legs and theoretically, clear my head. When one is constantly working out logic through software programming, it’s amazing what a few minutes away from the desk can do to bring a new perspective to a problem.

Except when you’re trying not to get hit by folks flying down the road at speeds way above the posted speed limit.

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If you look close in this cockeyed photo, you’ll notice that the woman (confirmed as she flew by me), is creeping onto my side of the white line. This is because she was driving so fast that she was unable to maintain control of her vehicle while talking on her cell phone and smoke a cigarette. Technically, her behavior as a driver is rather unexpected, but the truth of the matter is, in today’s world her behavior should be totally expected. Because this is what people do today.

I find this disheartening.

Because of my passion for all things transportation, idiocy on the road really rubs me the wrong way. I have wondered if I should become a drivers’ license examiner when I retire from my current job (it’d supplement my Certified Flight Instructor certification that I’m going for nicely). When I think about this I realize that I’d probably garner a bad reputation among the learner’s permit crowd rather quickly because I’d make sure that the lad or lass going for their license would be driving in an expected manner.

I don’t think that’s a priority anymore.

Maybe I should just keep it in the sky and watch the chaos from above.

Machias.

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So today I turned 46 years old. In a way I can’t believe that I have reached this age, because I can easily recall being an adult and remembering my parents at this age. Even odder, the character Maude, played by Bea Arthur, was this age when the series started and for goodness sakes she just seemed old. I don’t feel old. For the most part I feel great. Earl says my life is still revving up for the crescendo. I think young.

I’ve had this blog for nearly 13 years and I don’t think that on this blog I’ve ever discussed the origins of using a derivative of “Machias” as my screen name in various places. I’ve had some locked down blogs over the years where I talked about it, but never here in my wide-open view blog. Since at age 46 I don’t really give a crap as to what people think anymore, I thought I’d tell the story.

It was January 1991. I lived in the southwestern corner of New York state in the small city of Jamestown. I was single at the time, though I lived near the boyfriend I had from ’87 to ’89. I was dating a guy at the time who I thought was way out of my league, because I didn’t think I was attractive and he was pretty good looking. (I’ve stalked him on Facebook and he didn’t hold up well). I was flat broke and barely making ends meet by working part time at the local Hills Department Store and also working for The Resource Center, one of the county chapters of the Association for Retarded Citizens that could be found all over the Empire State. I thought things with the guy I was dating was going fairly well though I felt unsettled and like I was drifting through life in general. I didn’t feel that I could ever be what I really wanted to be, mostly because the gay thing, and I bought into the stereotypes of the times of what gay men should do with their lives. I had also attended the funerals of too many of my friends back in Boston (due to the AIDS epidemic) and frankly I was retreating back into my shell.

I had $20 to my name. Pay day was a day away, but I could float a check if I had to. It was my day off and I couldn’t find the guy I was dating to see what he was up to. My car was running like crap but I decided to go of a drive and grab some lunch at McDonalds because my cupboard was bare.

I was sitting in the drive-thru at Big Foote McDonalds (named after the street it was on) when there was apparently some hassle in the drive-thru, the woman at the register was mixing up orders. When I got to the window, she told me the guy in the car in front of me had my order.

Now, I had noticed this guy because he was making out with another guy in the car back between the speaker and the window and I thought that was rather racy for the little city we lived in. I could see the driver, a very attractive redhead but I couldn’t see the details of the other guy other than I could tell that he was a guy (no boobs).

The guys in the car in front of me figured out they had the wrong order and both got out of the car, one to the window where I was parked, the other headed inside. The one with my order was the attractive redhead; the other going into the restaurant was the guy I was dating. Both realized who I was and kind of frozen.

I was crushed.

I stammered a thanks for giving me my food and told them I didn’t want to talk. I don’t know if the woman at the window realized that she was watching the Gay Peyton Place or not, but I got my food, stammered like I usually do and headed out. I gobbled down my food as I drove and decided to go for a ride. With probably $15 in my pocket and maybe a 1/2 tank of gas, I’d drive to Buffalo and back. The long way. In January. Little did I know that the forecast was calling for heavy snow.

I wound my way through the hills of the Southern Tier, still cranky and very unfocused by finding out that I wasn’t good enough for this guy after all and was heading up Route 16 near Arcade when the snow as becoming way too much for me to handle. I decided to head home after putting $10 of gas in my car; hopefully I’d make it from the middle of nowhere to the middle of barely somewhere.

I could barely see and was moving at around 15 MPH, snow swirling all around and the roadway very slippery, when all of a sudden there was a cow standing in the middle of the road. I jerked the car to the right and was thankful to find there wasn’t a ditch but there was a snow bank and some soft ground. The cow ran off laughing; I sat there spinning my tires. I wasn’t going anywhere.

Completely unprepared for inclement weather, I got out and looked the situation over. The nearby house had no sign of life. The snowbank was piled high and the road was no longer visible. Trying to decide what to do, I noticed a pickup truck coming down the road. He slowed his crawl down even further when he got to me. I looked in and could see what appeared to be a big guy wearing a black leather jacket. He had a gun rack in the back with one gun.

“I’m dead”, was my first thought. A few months earlier, while working as a programmer at a manufacturing plant, I had been told by a co-worker that if we ever met outside of work that he’d derive great delight by shooting me between the eyes. This scared me to the point of quitting the job without any notice to the company at all; I just abandoned the gig.

He jumped out of the truck and walked over. He was 6’1″ or so, black leather jacket and gloves. He was wearing jeans and he had a baseball cap on. He had one of the most magnificent black beards I had ever seen.

“Havin’ trouble?”, he asked. He seemed friendly enough and thankfully the gun had stayed in the truck.

“Yeah, there was a cow and I tried to avoid it…”, I went on about my predicament.

“I have a chain, let’s see if we can’t yank ‘er out.”

His demeanor made me very comfortable, though I couldn’t explain why. I had a feeling that he might be gay but he didn’t fit any of that which I expected from gay men, and besides he had a gun, so I just thought my mind was falling out of my head.

He hooked up the chain and spun his truck around. He told me to gun it in reverse when I felt the tug. It was just a few minutes and the car was out and back on the snow covered road.

He came back to the car and we unhooked the chain. I thanked him and offered him the $5 or so I had left in my pocket. He declined and said, “No problem. Watch out for the cows! You’re lucky you didn’t hit that!”

He gestured to where the car had gone off the road and while doing so he said, “You’ll never forget Machias!”.

When he said that word, “Machias”, a gong went off in my head in a way that I just can’t describe. I still get chills when I hear that word. I don’t know if I was called Machias in a previous life, I don’t know if some angel or spirit guide is named Machias or what, but I know that it’s a word the resonates with my soul in a very, very positive way and by him saying that word, I no longer felt afraid of this man.

“Well thanks for your help.”, I shook his hand.

He said, “it’s Larry. Now you be safe, lad.”

“I’m John, thanks again”. And off he went back to his truck with the gun.

A few months later I was DJing at one of the gay bars in the sleepy little city. I looked out over the bar and saw a tall man with a magnificent black beard walk in. It was warmer; the leather jacket was open. He grabbed a beer and was looking around when he spotted me up in the DJ booth. I looked down quickly, he walked up to the booth.

He pointed at me, grinned and said, “Machias.”

The soul resonating gong went off in my being again, and I said, “it’s John, but yes, Machias.”

We made small talk that started off with him asking if I found anymore cows in a snowstorm. During our conversation and a few romantic gestures of kissing and the like the DJ booth, I realized that Larry was just being himself and wasn’t trying to conform to any sort of preconceived notion of what it was like to be gay. I admired that greatly about him and though I didn’t know him at all and never saw him again after that night at the bar, he really changed my path. It wasn’t long after that that I found a new job and started getting my life back on track again. I know that he was a strong man, I know that he was great kisser and I know that he wasn’t afraid to go after what he wanted. Other than that, for all I know he disappeared into the ether.

So when I hear the word Machias, it’s a reminder to just be myself and not be afraid of my place in the world. And it still resonates with my soul in incredible ways.

Shave.

So I haven’t shaved my head clean in a few weeks. For the most part I have had a clean shaven head since age 30 or so, but now that I’m in my mid 40s I’m kind of getting bored with the look. This is unfortunate, because I’m naturally bald and when you’re naturally bald with the fringe around the sides you don’t have a lot of options, unless you want to look like Donald Trump and honestly, that’s not my gig.

Folks are starting to notice that I have gray hair on the sides and back and subsequently they’re asking if I’m growing my hair out. This gets into a discussion about the maintenance required to maintain a shaved head, which is more maintenance than most expect. When I have a shaved head I shave it everyday in the shower. I use shaving cream and a Mach 3, pretty much like most guys use on their face on a day to day basis. This evening, at ground school, the subject came up and I ended up telling the story about the time I had a barber shave my head who then followed up the shave with a wax, buff and shine. The barber was in New York at Hell’s Kitchen. I looked like a well waxed terrazzo floor when all was said and done. It was an experience I shall never forget. People laugh when they find out that my head was waxed and buffed. I found it slightly disconcerting at the time.

The discussion at ground school ended up talking about the shaving methods of many of the men there; most still use the traditional shaving cream and razor method, though not all do. One guy uses an electric razor. I don’t understand why men that shave choose to use an electric razor; they’re never a close shave and it seems like an unnecessary application of electricity. It’s not really old school.

If I had my way I’d still be rocking the flattop I had in my mid 20s. But those days are long gone. And while I rather enjoy shaving my face using implements that were traditionally used by men in the 1950s, I don’t really derive any pleasure whatsoever from shaving my head. It’s a chore that I don’t particularly enjoy. This is why I haven’t shaved my head in a few weeks.

Maybe I’ll go get a real haircut over the weekend. At the very least the barber can fake it.

Accomplishments.

As I grow older I am naturally becoming more set in my ways. I’m a little more rigid with the routine, I like to think that I have a little more focus. I suppose this is part of the aging process.

One habit that I developed many years ago that I continue to this day is making the bed in the morning. Now making the bed wasn’t a high priority when I was growing up; my Mom didn’t really focus on having a neat and orderly house. We were comfortable, aside from the occasional cat on the breakfast table, but there was clutter and things were in disarray at times. But after striking out on my own at age 18 I discovered the wonderful feeling of having a well made bed when it was time to retire from a long day. So the one of the first things I do in the morning is make the bed. Earl was happy to discover that I did this when we first moved in together and he has remarked on many occasions that he enjoys hopping into a neat and orderly bed at night.

The way I figure it is by making the bed first thing in the morning, I have accomplished something at the beginning of the day, which will hopefully set the tempo for the rest of the day. However, if the day turns out to be a disaster and I accomplish absolutely nothing for the remainder of the day, I will retire for the evening in a comfortable bed and will be able to revel in that first accomplishment of the day.

It’s kind of zen in a way, but it’s often the little things that make the world better. And one of my little things is making sure the bed is made.

Pressure.

So I checked my blood pressure the other day and it was at 118/81. This is a heck of a lot better than the beginning of the year when I was 156/98. I think there’s quite a few contributing factors to the lowering of my blood pressure, including the new position at work I started in April, my love of flying, my increase in exercise and probably the blood pressure medicine. I have been prescribed Norvasc 5 mg daily.

The Norvasc makes me feel like crap. I have a constant headache, I feel heavy and my neck and shoulder muscles constantly feel tight. I took Norvasc in the early ’00s for a year and while it did lower my blood pressure, I also gained 20 pounds. I’ve gained 8 lbs since starting Norvasc again. Last time I stopped taking the medicine and my weight went back to where it should be and the headaches stopped. I’m going to check with my physician about stopping the medicine again.

I hate the idea of being dependent on a medication. Some will tell me that it comes with the territory when we age, but there’s a part of me that hopes that’s not completely true, because I really don’t want to have my body chemistry altered if it doesn’t really need to be. There’s a hippy-dippy granola type in me at times that believes that if we eat right, maintain regular exercise and live a reasonable lifestyle, our body will find the balance that it strives to obtain. I’m not a huge fan of pharmaceuticals anyway, they lost me when they started advertising on television.

I’m going to carefully monitor my blood pressure for the next few weeks and see if I can maintain these lower numbers and then see about getting off the medicine. I know that once I’m prescription free I’ll feel much better.

Complicated.

Earl and I are sitting at a local pastry shop doing the thing one usually does at a Starbucks, except we are not drinking coffee and we don’t have a Starbucks within 45 miles of our home. Hence, we are sitting a locally owned establishment that has more pastries available than Panera. They also have a few more bugs in the display cases here but not to worry, the staff is so relaxed that they sip on their mocha-cocha-cha-cha-la-la whilst they’re taking your order. All that’s missing is a handlebar mustache.

As we were driving here, sitting at the randomly placed traffic signals, I noticed that two of our six of the drivers in front of me (at the various locations) were hesitant to make that all-too-scary Right On Red. Right On Red is a perfectly valid, permissible and legal turn to make in New York State, outside of the five boroughs of the Big Apple. Earl and I occasionally have a discussion about my observations of Right On Red hesitance; he reminds me that making that Right On Red turn is not mandatory, it’s completely up to the driver. I counter that Right On Red works no differently than a stop sign, and sitting at a red light, waiting to turn right for no other reason other than waiting for the light to turn green, is like sitting at a stop sign and waiting for it to dance.

Several years ago I overheard a co-worker telling another co-worker that she wasn’t going to let her daughter (who was learning to drive) make that all-too-scary Right On Red turn until she had her license. I had a silent yet demonstrative fit about this because this is counterintiutive to the learning process; when one is learning, one is building habits and confidence, and being essentially trained that Right On Red is something special and out-of-the-ordinary does neither to inspire confidence nor build good habits. It’s cowardice based on a perceived complication revolving around Right On Red and how scary it is.

A local community was recently Up In Arms about the fact that the Department of Transportation was looking to replace a traffic signal with a Roundabout. People came out in droves to protest the Roundabout, with the prevailing argument being that Roundabouts are scary and unfit for vehicle consumption. Someone should let the fine Ministries of Transportation throughout Europe know this, because European drivers seem to be able to navigate a Roundabout just fine and they even occasionally have to do it in the opposite direction of travel.

It really is a pity because as I become more proficient as a pilot, where you basically do everything as safely and as consistently as possible, I am finding that I have less and less tolerance toward the common motorist in the United States.

Maybe I need to become a driver’s license examiner or something.