Happy Birthday To Me! (2016Feb03)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016                                       10:13 AM

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I am sixty years old today. I was born in 1956. Television is only a few years older than I am—but I’m a few years older than NASA. Some of my sharpest childhood memories are of watching NASA on Television—in between Civil Rights protests, Vietnam War news-reports, the assassinations of Martin and John and Bobbie, the Flintstones, Mary Poppins, and Star Trek. Computers used to be building-sized machines—cars used to have curves—and so many things used to be ‘shocking’—I miss ‘shocking’.

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There was shocking art, shocking music, shocking language, shocking nudity (remember “Hair”?) and shocking space flights—orbiting the earth (Mercury), docking in orbit—and space-walking (Gemini), and landing on the moon (Apollo). I am not the only thing that has gotten old—‘shocking’ is showing some gray hairs as well—here in the future of wrist-computers, gay marriage, black presidents, and robots on Mars. I like it—I’m happy that we’ve matured to the point of accepting these new normalities—but I do miss ‘shocking’.

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I miss kids outside, too. That used to be where you found kids—outside playing. I’m too old for kick-the-can—but it’s sad that no one plays kick-the-can anymore. I play Candy Crush now—and, yes, I’m too old for that as well, but I enjoy it—still, it’s no kick-the-can. As a kid, I was often chided for staying indoors all day, reading books—but even then, I spent more time playing outside than the heartiest of today’s kids.

My parents took us five kids camping in the summertime—Taconic State Park was a wilderness to a kid from Bethpage, Long Island—but we also hit Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia—hiking in the woods, building a campfire, sleeping in a tent—I’m often disappointed with myself that I didn’t do the same with my kids. Being the son of a Scout Troopmaster, I certainly had the skills—I guess it’s just one of those things where you have to grow up to appreciate it—and my kids grew up before I did.

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My dad taught me carpentry, too. I knew how to use power tools before I had a shop class—my dad had a workshop in the cellar—and I used to have a small workshop of my own—I could build furniture and fix parts of our house—but it’s a library now and most of my tools are gone. My son is familiar with basic tools, but I never taught him as much as I should have—he’s like me—more a reader than a builder.

I find myself thinking about time—the past, the present, the future—and while my head is whirling with thoughts, I have nothing to write down here—I suspect I’ve blogged for so long that I’ve already told most of my life story—and I hate to repeat myself.

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Claire has put flowers all over the house to mark the day for me—and with the rain pattering down outside the open front door it’s very spring-like for my birthday—how bizarre—I remember one early Long Island birthday party when my father had to shovel a tunnel from the front door to the street—not a path—a tunnel—to allow my party-goers into the house after a blizzard. While blizzards are not the standard, either, it is true that a February-third birthday has always been snow-covered—whether Long Island or Westchester, February’s coming is well into winter—and a lack of snow is unnatural—though these easily-chilled bones have trouble complaining about warm winters.

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I feel sorry for my contemporaries—hitting sixty has traditionally been the beginning of a slow, comfortable slide towards the sunset—but for us, it’s more like someone has hit a reset button—saying, “All that you have known is no more—and all that is new is strange to you”. Between climate change and technology change and social change I don’t know which is more disorienting. I wish I could come at all of this brave new world with a young heart and a young body—that I could face with some relish. But to have things go whirling off into the unknown, now, when I’m no longer a real part of it—that’s disheartening.

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Still, I cheer the good changes—and there have been many—the world is undoubtedly a better place than it was in 1956—all our present troubles notwithstanding. You learn that progress changes for good and for bad—the people with bad agendas and self-serving goals adapt and overcome obstacles just like the good people—computers and rockets can be used for good or ill. The fight for the soul of humanity abides—and always will—no progress can change that.

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Have you ever heard the fourth movement of Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony? It’s the greatest—I mean the whole symphony is nice, but that last movement—OMG. It’s like the Beatles—you can hear the same tune a million times, but it stays exciting and new, year after year. The difference, with classical music, is that you get something that lasts a half hour or more—instead of a four minute tune—that alone makes classical music great—to me, at least—I like something that hangs around for a while. And the conductor can alter the tempo and phrasing so much—I swear, I’ve heard Tchaikovsky’s Fifth by at least five different conductors and it’s like they’re five different pieces of music—it’s really something. Even a piano solo—look at the difference between Bach played by Wanda Landowska and Bach played by Glenn Gould—you’d swear it was a different composer.

Anyways, here’s some of my piano-playing:



Wednesday, February 03, 2016                                       10:21 PM

Surprise Party!

Okay—talk about a contrast of moods—this morning I was all contemplative—I played a thoughtful improv—I got sentimental with my blog post. I assumed I’d have a quiet day—I had asked Claire specifically not to have any party plans for my birthday—and Pete had called and said we’d get together to jam today. But as soon as we set up to record—Claire threw me a surprise birthday party—Pete was there as a decoy—to make sure I was up and dressed when people arrived, and Harlan and Sherryl came, and Marie and Evan—Claire and Spencer, of course—and Greg came along eventually. It was a lovely time—there was Swedish meatballs and mac’n’cheese and angel-food cake with strawberry icing—and I got nice presents (mostly colored socks—my specialty)—and I had a captive audience while I played the piano. Jessy called by I-phone from California—so we got to see her baby-bump and her pregnancy ‘glow’—she’s so beautiful as a mother to be—even more beautiful than usual. But maybe I’m biased. I gave the camera to Spencer and asked him to take pictures of everyone.