After a while, as long as your mind stays with you, something that happens or something someone says or something you see brings up pages out of your past that are sometimes entertaining, sometimes forgettable and occasionally troublesome.

I’m scrolling through FaceBook and my friend Doug mentions seeing people lined up for cheap beer early on a Saturday morning at a convenience store in South Florida. The image is indelible.  Would I ever be in such a line?  My Goddess, NO!  Get a cup of coffee, Doug, and leave those ne’er-do-wells to their own devices – or six packs.

It’s so easy to superimpose superiority on almost any situation.

One day sometime ago, myself and three other guys decided that we’d have beer with breakfast and then some.  I mean, we were in Minneapolis after all.  I think that’s close enough to Milwaukee to count. I believe I remember it being Grain Belt Beer.  The subtitle, in small print, said, “It’s strong beer”. It had the same effect on me as would have a morphine drip.  I’m not a morning drinker.

The rest of the day was spent trying to cleanse our bodies of the alcoholic fuzz because of a regulation or principle generally accepted by the private pilot fraternity that there should be twelve hours between the bottle and the throttle.  We had a little room to spare, but we also had a few beers to dilute in the time remaining before we flew our little airplanes back to Texas.

We had flown to Minnesota to the Bellanca factory to pick up three new airplanes and bring them back to Plainview, our home base.

After signing for our three airplanes at the factory: a Scout, one Champ and a Decathlon, we take off for out first stop – Omaha.  It is important to know that we are not flying above the weather.  We are flying in whatever weather there is.  Ahead we can see rain storms brewing right in our path.  We want to be in Omaha, which we can see off to our right but there is a vigorous storm between there and our location.  Any port in a storm seems to apply here.  We divert to the Council Bluffs airport, across the river, and land one right after the other and tie our little feather weight craft down and wait out what turns out to be a short but vigorous hail storm.  

Our objective it to refuel and make contact with the fourth member who is flying back to Plainview in the larger airplane that brought us north.  Alas, we have missed him due to the hail storm in Council Bluffs.  I am leading the flight into Eppley Field in Omaha and called the tower to announce the arrival of a flight of three Champs, but the tower says he sees only two.  An anonymous voice, deeply resonant, emanating probably from the 727 commercial airliner on the ramp waiting to take off, asks the obvious, “Where is that mystery Champ?”

It turns out that one of our number had gained some altitude to make radio contact with the person that brought us to the factory.  He then came in late for refueling, after giving messages to the pilot that we would be home later than expected.

Our next stop was Dodge City Kansas for lunch.  We were flying low and slow over the tops of wheat and corn across the heartland of the American bread basket.  I always wanted to say that.  It was like flying over the illustrated Rand McNally Atlas of he USA.  It is hard to imagine a more fulfilling experience for someone who had spent many hours as a child immersing himself in such a map book fantasizing what it must be like to actually see that part of the world.  I had to laugh.  It looked just like the map.  Little two dimensional rectangles bordered by roads as though someone laid it all out on a table with a square a ruler and pencil.  I entertained the thought, briefly, that I should have become a cartographer.  Actually, I think I would have enjoyed that.  It was quite a thrill.

The thrills were not over, however.  As we approached the Texas Panhandle, the weather began to deteriorate, again.  A front was passing through just as we sighted Plainview.  Luckily, we were able to duck in just under the worst of the wind and rain as the light faded in the western sky.

Now, it was really “Miller Time”.  It was a long day but nothing can match the the rush of flying a light airplane off the tops of the corn and wheat from Minnesota to Texas.  Well, nothing except a cold beer, some barbecue and an exciting rehash of the trip.  As I recall, it wasn’t cheap beer.  But memory being what it is, we’ll never know.

I look at the old photograph by my nightstand, and there is my mother and father and my three children – as children. it’s almost regal in appearance. I feel sometimes I could reach out and touch them. It’s almost as though if I turned around they would be there. They’re not of course. My father died in the mid-60’s and my mother died in the spring of ’93. But my children are thankfully moving on in real time. They are kids in the photograph, with silly grins on their faces. Well, my daughter, who was at “that” age, is not grinning.

You would notice my missing wife. I’m pretty sure she was having a nervous breakdown, which was the occasion for the visit from my parents. I’m just as sure I was the occasion for the nervous breakdown. That was almost 50 years ago. My oh my, how time flies.

Such is the power of old photographs. My breath catches in my throat. I almost slip into morning for what is no longer there, and perhaps never was – memory being the trickster that it is.

I have not been back to Corpus Christi since leaving in ’69. In my mind, I think of that waterfront scene and imagine it the way it was. Of course, it’s different now. It would be interesting to go there and see if I could find the spot where that photograph was made – in much the same way these historical re-constructionists now do on TV. I would stand in that exact spot and take a picture and then I would be sad. So, I won’t do that.

I had driven my parents and the children out to the waterfront to see the water. It’s what you do. Just being there, near the ocean, is somehow enough. Many believe it is where it all began. We are drawn to the sea and we are drawn to the mountains. We find solace there in the “everlasting” hills, the endless rhythm of the tides. We take our fill of the comforting sameness that we find in those places. A temporary relief from the shifting realities of our daily lives.

I enjoy living near the sea. Being there is like an infusion of personal power – even hope. I touch it’s waters and feel in that touch a connection with every shore, every bay, every stream that flows into the sea. There is something primal going on there. OK, that’s kind of a stretch but you know what I mean.

I have spent significant time walking in the southern Rocky Mountains, living out of my pack. I always felt I belonged there. So did everyone else who ever visited there, I suppose. But can you forgive me for thinking it was actually true? Each time I left to drive home, I felt sad, as though I were really leaving home.

Each of us, I believe, finds a place in our daily lives that offers some semblance of that sameness and dependability that we find in our retreat to the sea or mountains. Our familiar spaces. It’s why we meditate. Dream. Walk on the beach, trek in the woods or have a beer on the deck.

My special place is my little room through which I can navigate with my eyes shut. I sometimes think, “This is it!” But, I never could be successfully consistent. I often become bored with the “self” I have found and want to do something drastic, like move the furniture around. Sometimes it is not that comforting to look around your special place and realize that the cluttered self you see is indeed the cluttered self you get. Well, I’m working on it.

I was talking to CA just yesterday about moving things around in here. Desk over there, couch in the other corner. I think my couch is too big. I know my desk is. Something more modern, perhaps, that would be more representative of who I am – I think. There I go again.

Wouldn’t it be funny if we found that we did not need to run to the ocean or climb the mountains to fine tune our identity – that all it takes is to move the furniture around? I’ll let you know. Now – I’m going to need a little muscle power. Anybody want to come over and help. Wait, I’ll clarify that: anyone want to come over and actually move this stuff for me? Maybe you’ll find your “self” under my couch, cavorting with a wild herd of dust bunnies.

Some time ago I mentioned that my new Levi jeans would not be washed, if not forever, at least for a long time. Well, they got washed anyway and no harm was done. What’s a firm resolve without a little soft yielding anyway?

So I was cruising around and ran across this blurb about a famous outfit, makers of must-have jeans in the one to two hundred plus dollar range. Now if you need to spend two and a half bucks for your butt hugging pants ( and I will concede that I have seen a few butts that could stand a little hugging ) then just go for it. But apparently these folks do offer pricy jeans for that special person who can drop $250 for their feel good pants. Cheaper than a series of visits to your neighborhood shrink, to be sure.

These people have raised the bar yet again by offering scented jeans in fragrances like apple, banana, eucalyptus and grapefruit. Wait – grapefruit? One has to wonder how many washings such jeans can survive and still smell like you just spilled your salad on them. I mean, raspberry?

I think I’ll go with neutral denim for less than $50 and hope for natural environmental aromas. You know, as in sitting on an ice cream cone, or actually spilling salad in my lap.

After wearing mine for a couple of months and deciding to wash them, I ran the old schnozola test. I bunched them up and sniffed them before and after the Tide treatment. I could not detect a remarkable difference.

There is this one disclaimer that I must mention. I can’t smell much anymore anyway. One of the side benefits of outliving your olfactory membranes.

Anyway, I’m not worried. I don’t remember anyone ever trying to sniff my jeans. OK, there was this dog. Her name was Daisy.

Through the years, I have asked various people one of my favorite questions: “Did you ever want to run away?”. I have gotten all kinds of responses, but a singular characteristic of them all was, to some degree or other, in the affirmative.

I worked with this guy once down in Baton Rouge in a chemical plant where tetraethyl lead was made. It was an extremely volatile and toxic substance that was added to gasoline. We were having a smoke about 3 AM in a designated area. I said to him, Dub – not his real name, of course – you ever want to run away? He looked at me and said quite enthusiastically, “EVERY DAY!”

He went on to say that each working day, as he drove to work, he had this strong urge to keep on driving north on highway 61 rather than taking a left turn down that mile long road toward the Mississippi where we worked at Ethyl Corporation. I confessed that I had that exact same urge. Neither of us had much from which to escape. Good families. Nice cars. Comfortable homes. And we talked about that.

What was it then? About half way through our second cigarette – we always managed two in our fifteen minute smoking break – we both decided that what was at the root of our daily angst was our truly meaningless work. Neither of us felt that what we were doing was all that important. It paid well and there was a certain amount of security. I mean, what do we tell our grandkids? We made antiknock compound so your car wouldn’t make noise going down the road? The thought did not inspire me. We both had a good laugh about that as we went back to our unit.

We thought we must have made a wrong turn somewhere back there and so every day we entertained the fantasy that if we just had a chance to begin life again we could do it better. We would find meaningful work to do. Happiness. Contentment.

Three years into that job, I quit and took my toddling family off to college. That’s the kind of impossible stuff one does when one is young. I never knew what happened to Dub. There were times in the years ahead that I didn’t know what had happened to me. I did look for meaningful work and found what I considered, at the time, to be just that. I’m not as sure now as I was then.

There is no question about it: there are situations from which it is wise to escape. A demeaning job. A demeaning relationship. A demeaning attitude. Some of us have experienced such life altering exits. Most of us have passed that left turn into meaninglessness and stayed on Route 61 North, at one time or another. For a few miles it’s liberating. Then your baggage catches up. Your mail gets forwarded. Unless you are in the Federal Witness Protection Program, your identity stays with you, however you want to interpret that.

The only fix for this unrest is finding something to do that brings meaningful peace and joy. Happiness. It may not be profitable. “Meaningful” doesn’t have to mean money. I actually never heard of money being the root of all meaning. It doesn’t have to be trendy. Who cares what the temporarily famous thinks or does? For most of us, what we are doing now is it. If you add up all the days of your life, the total amounts to what life is today.

I’d love to be able to change some of the numbers in my past. You know, make today’s total different and maybe better. Waste of time. Instead, for now, I think I’ll have a cup of herbal tea and a cookie. I’ll open my Robert Crais thriller and settle in for the evening. How’s that for the meaning of life?