It's interesting how age profoundly impacts perception after one has been playing the game of life for a few decades. Herewith follows an 'average' retroanalysis of an 'average' life, lived 'averagely'. Try not to fall asleep before you reach its last sentences, eh?
One of the annoyingly mixed blessings of growing older is perfect hindsight (which becomes even more acute as the years pass, ironically). Specifically, as typified by the endless reposing of that eternally lingering question: “What might I have done, if I could live my life over…knowing what I do now?” Lest you waste any time wondering, I am a past master at posing that particular rhetorical query.
I suppose I could start off by enumerating the many things I have entertained keen interests in throughout my life, but was never really good at…the ‘Good try, but no ceeegar category’ of unremarkable, pedestrian human notoriety.
Early on (in high school), I became aware of sports like most boys. I also quickly noted that bash-and-smash team sports like football and the ‘directly-applied personal physics’ of one-on-one sports like boxing were not good for the human body, despite all the peer acclaim and adolescent female ardor they generated. No siree, I quickly perceived that my brain depended upon my cervical spine for its continued normal function and maintained the sentiment that no higher evolved sentient life form could possibly think that absorbing severe abuse to the body was a positive developmental stage for former fair-to-middlin’ primates to aspire evolving into. Nope, I was quickly able to discern that solitary ‘man against the clock’ (or personal best) activities were far more suited to my temperament (running, etc.)
That did not prompt me to exclude competitive swimming, however, since not only did I enjoy the sensuous nature of movement through fluid mediums, there were also lots of gorgeous gals to oogle at the swimming meets, clad only, as they were, in flimsy tank suits. As a swimmer, I was never spectacular and the only stroke I did halfway well was the breast stroke. That won’t come as a surprise to some of my former girlfriends, who quickly found out that I had a winning way with tactile stimulation of their impertinent little (or big, as the case might be) mammary protuberances. Be that as it may, I was invariably mediocre with my Australian Crawl, only moderately adept at Side Stroke, fair enough at Back Stroke, but a complete failure at that spectacular windmilling stroke known as the Butterfly (despite my having developed a marked Don Quixote affect already, in my early life, ironically enough). My few shining moments as a swimteamer came in Individual Medley races, when I would usually breast stroke my leg of the team effort admirably to our rare victories. Although I did go on into American Red Cross water safety training, ending up as a Red Cross certified WSI (Water Safety Instructor), with my pasty white (Irish-French) skin, I was always at much higher risk for sunburn than most. Somehow the prospect of a Lobster-pink water safety hero just didn’t quite sync in the public’s eye, so about midway through college and after a few summers spent lifeguarding at various Sierra Nevada summer camp lakes, my interests in going on into water recreation with more seriousness evaporated away.
As a kid growing up in the early 60s (high school, 1960-64), the single most captivating teen interest aside from rock & roll music was the neosurfing craze. Despite the fact that part of the time I was living in land-locked locations (about as far from the sea as a range of mountains can demarcate), I and all my high school buddies were absolutely stoked by the outrageously attractive world of surfers and surfboards. Like all my friends, I affected Pendleton ® wool and Madras patterned cloth shirts, navy blue surfing tennies (actually Topsider boat shoes), ‘Hang Ten’ ® baggies, wore fake iron crosses, and listened to Jan & Dean (and the Beach Boys) every chance I got. Since I had naturally blonde hair (albeit a shade they call ‘dishwater blonde’), this gave me an erstwhile advantage over all my peers whose dark looks underscored their Italian and Chicano ancestry (so I thought, but they, of course also had permanent suntans, a fact I failed to focus on and fully appreciate at the time). Speaking of that, ever reflect on how perverse it is to regard White Anglo-Saxons as somehow inherently superior to ‘people of color’, when most honkies can’t wait to develop a deep brown suntan hue such as the third-worlders possess genetically? Bizarre, I’ve always thought.
Surfing had originated in the South Pacific islands hundred of years ago, although evidence exists to suggest that there were aboriginal cultures elsewhere that also rode waves on flattened logs for sport. Due to the extremely chaste moral attitudes of the Protestant evangelical missionaries that succeeded so well in putting the fear of their Christian god into the hearts of the Hawaiians back in the early 1800s, surfing, a sport enjoyed originally by both Hawaiian men and women equally and one in which nudity was the preferred native style, quickly fell into disfavor. So much disfavor, that by the early 1900s, except for a handful of covertly resisting native holdouts on the islands, surfing as a sport had almost died out entirely.
Thus, when a small handful of archetypal Hawaiian and transplanted Malihini (read: White or ‘haole’ mainlanders) ‘watermen’ rekindled interest in surfing in Hawaii, it took a few decades before youthful rebels discovered this excellent means of exotically standing out and away from their peers. When the resurgence of he’e nalu (surfing) finally hit the mainland back in the late 50s, it had become almost exclusively a guy thing. Surfers were, as any righteous young dude of the period knew, exclusively long-haired blonde males with outrageous tans and the sort of sallow James Dean affect of utterly bored diffidence that so endeared Dean to causeless rebels everywhere. ‘Chicks’ at the time (or ‘beach bunnies’, as we called them) were merely decorous eye candy who hung around the beach, trying not to catch a wave, but rather to catch a righteous dude of the surf sets (who was trying himself to catch a wave).
Most of us then were in ‘board deficit extremis’ status, meaning that none of us could afford to hand over the sort of extreme rasbuckniks being asked for Dale Velzy longboards (either new or used) at the time. Therefore we had to settle for the embarrassment of renting a board at the local beach—a clear stigma that immediately marked us out as not being a board owning ‘local’, but rather the surfing era’s equivalent of a water-borne carpetbagger from ‘elsewhere’. Still, we tried very hard to strike the right poses: squinty-eyed and detached, always trying to look as if there were somehow perfect waves awaiting us out at sea that had not yet rolled in. We were what were called in the slang of that period ‘hodads (non-surfers, or pseudo-surfers who had only vague knowledge of the fact that to surf, one had to stand upright on a board and ride a wave to shore—more or less successfully) and ‘gremmies’ (now called ‘grommets’), or novice wannabee surfers who lacked the perfect physical coordination and natural balance of the genuine surfer dudes out there, waiting patiently beyond the surf line for sets.
At the time (early 60s), the so-called foam-sandwich longboard was still the favorite ‘stick’ of preference for those on the California southern coast, the more highly maneuverable and far more abbreviated shortboards not yet having been invented. The big-name surfboard makers of that era I recall were principally Hobie, Velzy, Gordon & Smith, Noll, Bing, Wardy, Weber, Hardy, and Hansen. I well remember lusting after a Hobie board so badly that I thought my tender teenaged life would surely come to a spontaneous end if I couldn’t obtain one. Of course it didn’t, despite my romantic image of board-deprivation suffering, but I occasionally borrowed one from a good friend whose parents had actually bought him a new Duke Kahanamoku ‘pop-out’ (a term used to describe mass-produced, manufactured surfboards—as opposed to the individually shaped and custom finished boards that were found at the high end of the business). The Duke, despite his life-long (and well deserved) reputation as the ‘Ambassador of the Aloha Spirit’, had unwittingly allowed himself to be exploited commercially to some extent by a few colleagues who figured to bankroll their businesses through clever association with the Duke’s immensely honored rep. A whole line of ‘Duke signature’ commercial products eventually came out and word was that Duke, being the good-natured and warmly generous person he was, never made more than a small amount of money from that whole affair. Interestingly, I still have a bright red ‘Duke Kahanamoku signature’ board in my small longboard collection. It’s in rather sad shape, having taken a beating throughout its life, but to me (and despite its proletarian mass-market origins) it’s like a genuine relic from the One True Cross, brahs and wahines!
At any rate, I tried hard to cultivate the casual surfer image, talk the talk, strike all the right poses, and carry just enough beach sand around in my blue surfing tennis to underscore my claims to legitimacy as a member of the true brotherhood of California inland surfers. All to no apparent avail, however, since somehow or other I simply didn’t make much of an impression on the bunnies. I guess it was the lack of steroid-quality muscles that made the critical difference, but as any REAL surfing dude of that era knew, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to remain true to the surfing code and ALSO attract the bunnies. Consider, for example, that the surfing ‘code’ of that time demanded the cultivation of a severely austere loner image, the convincing appearance and apparent substance of someone who always gave the impression of being somewhere out beyond that virtual surf line of the mind, eternally waiting for the one prefect swell to appear on the horizon, and about as approachable as an annoyed polecat. This naturally complicated the OTHER chief objective for adolescent proto-surfers, and that was to ‘score babes.’ Naturally, the two goals ran to polar extremes, one being the antithesis of the other with little compromise by way of middle ground connectivity.
Most of my buddies, who were gifted with the average looks of the lumpen adolescent proletariat and who were definitely not Jan & Dean clones, had about as much luck with the ‘local’ chicks as they did on their algebra exams back in school. That was certainly my own experience, no matter how hard I tried to talk the talk, look the look, and walk the walk. Seems to me, looking back on things, that if I had had anything at all to offer the beach bunnies in terms of surfer dude attractiveness, they were simply never in a ‘buying’ mood. None of them were ever apparently in the mood for a date with a stunningly superior hypocampus, at any rate. I suppose a few good things did result, though. I certainly learned how to strike a suitably heroic pose on the beach, holding a surfboard as if I knew what to do with it, and I also managed to rather quickly learn how to dull that unwanted and genuinely lonely feeling that no ‘lonesome surfer boy’ REALLY wanted to be saddled with, by drinking quantities of cheap beer.
Aside from that, and the fact that I managed to fool a lot of people by strapping my friend’s board to the top of my lime green 1940 Chevy Custom Deluxe Coupe and driving around everywhere with it (despite being over 150 miles from the nearest beach in the midst of a cold winter day), I was more or less a complete failure at cultivating the central and most desired image of my time…the sullen ‘lonely surfer’ affect.
I should here point out that early in life, when one is young and the balance in one’s life checking account is full, deliberately cultivating an image of bravely detached loneliness is an easily achieved and coolly attractive thing. There’s something that is somehow heroic about that highly romanticized image of solitarily striking off and away from the beaten path to pursue individual uniqueness, apart from the rest of the herd. But later, as the number of days one has lived starts to grossly out-tally the number of anticipated days left remaining in life, comes a time to rethink the proposition. It becomes almost laughable to think that whereas one once purposefully avoided intimacy and camaraderie, the true difficulty of ever successfully achieving fulfillment of our common human need for mature intimacy occasionally comes near to being overwhelming in the increasingly frequent ruminative modes of thought that characterise later life. But that’s the shortsighted and questionable wisdom of youthfulness making itself felt as one ages, isn’t it? Or perhaps the myopic and uncertain wisdom of aging insecurities, eh?
A bit later, after discharge from the US Air Force in 1968, a strange tendency to develop rather severe foot cramps further eliminated any chances I ever had of embracing the ocean with the whole-hearted commitment required of a successful ‘would-be’ surfing bum. It also ended my formerly enthusiastic interest in aquatic activities, since the development of those annoying cramps in my feet out in deep water served as a strong contraindication to taking any water-based activity seriously. Today, I keep a quiver of about 8 vintage surfboards around the hale, as a reminder of this great aspiration of my earlier life, but I doubt seriously if I’ll ever be able to get out there on any of them again for this last reason. Isn’t it funny how our dreams have a tendency to desert us unexpectedly? I guess that’s one of the characteristics of human life we must all grow to at least understand, if never to fully accept and embrace.
Another activity I am not much good at is flying, believe it or not. Another of those great pleasures and enthusiasms some of us cultivate, interest in aviation and a love of flying have always for me gone together as naturally as a mother and her child. I developed a passion for aviation very early in my life, starting as a 4 year old tyke who spotted his first model jet plane in an Air Force recruiter’s window (in 1950). From that moment onwards, all I wanted was to be a pilot and learn to fly the big, fast military jets that were just being developed. It was a glamorous era for the Air Force, since the Korean War brought with it further development of this newest armed forces branch, and consequent tremendous public awareness of pilots, airplanes, and the exciting lifestyle of aviation people in general.
As the descendent of a family with a strong military heritage, I had it in the blood, so to speak, and would have gone on to join the Air Force’s pilot training program from college, if the Vietnam War had not disrupted my future plans (as it did those of so many others in my generation). As a mediocre student (plagued by undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, despite being a very bright child) who failed to achieve academic distinction, my student exemption deferment (from the draft) stood in dire jeopardy of being pulled in 1966, since I was only making a 2.0-average GPA. Thus, I had to enlist in order to avoid ending up being sent across the pond to that common rice-paddy grave in Vietnam so many young men ended up in, slumped over lifelessly in knee-deep water, with a nice little red entry hole between my eyes.
I suppose some good came of this, after all, however, since although I never made the upgrade to being an officer and becoming a pilot, I did eventually find myself in aerospace medicine as the flight surgeon’s assistant, where my primary job was taking care of the pilots and flight crews who flew all those sexy silver birds with so much dashing élan. It proved, to my gratification, to be a relatively satisfactory vicarious substitute for being a genuine member of the righteous aviator brotherhood.
This aviation specialty I found myself in required qualification for flying status, of course, since part of our job was to be aware of the hazards and problems of high-altitude flight so that we could take care of our aircrews properly. In the course of my qualification for what the FAA calls ‘Class III Medical Flying Status’, I soon discovered that my chronic adolescent sinusitis made my middle-ear go crazy every time I ascended to lowered air pressure (ambient air-pressure diminishes as you fly higher, maintaining an inverse relationship to altitude change). Further, my sense of balance was frequently thrown entirely out of whack by that same middle-ear problem, so I was totally unsuited for much more than straight and level flight; severe changes in flight attitude (rolls, banking, dynamic yawing, and all the other strong inertial forces encountered in fast jet flying) being a quick ticket to a wrenching headache and an oxygen mask full of vomitus. Small wonder then, that I always carried an airsickness bag in the upper right breast pocket of my ‘zoombag’ (flightsuit), and was careful to fly with pilots I personally knew, who were not born-again sadists with a special delight in torturing aeromedical people during flight by performing gratuitous multiple high-G maneuvers on a whim.
Imagine if you can 1950s & 60s comic strip ‘right stuff’ hero Chuck Yeager with a predictable tendency to get airsick, or a John Glenn who always got severely nauseated upon reaching orbit. That gives some basis for comparative understanding of how fate and circumstance once again played its usual cruel trick on me, quashing my always ambitious undertakings and leavening them with a harsh dose of capricious reality.
To this day, I still cope with that grossly unhappy problem whenever I fly high and fast and the ironic nature of this affliction never fails to impress me as a perfect example of how the circumstances of real life frequently destroy any chance for fulfilling one’s romantic notions of personal glory and admiration by one’s peers one may have.
OK, not much of a surfer, not much of an aviator, and also not much of a rough, tough mountaineer/climber (that being another one of my several chief passions in life), either. When I was living in Berkeley, back in the late 60s (after being discharged from the Air Force), I discovered the serene joys of ascending mountains, with all the pleasurable aesthetics attendant to that activity. It wasn’t long before I joined the Cal Hiking Club (the University of California at Berkeley’s climbing group) and began going out on hikes, backpacking treks, and outright mountain ascents in the Sierra Nevadas. I soon discovered I had a special attraction to the harsh rigors of winter climbing, complete with chilling blasts of frigid air, sudden winter storms that layer everything under a heavy blanket of wet Sierra snow, and the personal challenges to be found in such potentially dangerous undertakings. I faithfully read all the American Alpine Club expedition narratives, went out and bought all the gear at REI, acquired requisite high altitude survival skills and low-pressure cooking experience, and bought a great number of books on world-wide mountaineering history (most of which I still have today in my library), thinking I would perhaps end up on the top of 20,000+ foot Denali (in Alaska, otherwise known as Mount McKinley) some day.
I wore heavy climbing boots around the campus to break them in, although not totally unmindful of the impression I was carefully projecting as the image of the tough mountain guy. Climbing was all the rage in the 70s, as the new ecology movement awareness spread and the Sierra Club’s noble aims attained ascendancy in younger minds. I even managed to acquire a climbing partner with whom I occasionally shared a rope on some of the steeper slopes (the Sierra 12,200 foot ‘Matterhorn’ on Sawtooth Ridge, along the Eastern border of Yosemite National Park) and did some winter mountaineering with him in Desolation Valley. Again, I mastered the mandatory climbing argot, emulated the proper rock-climbing moves, learned how to handle ropes, drive pitons, rappel rock faces, fix climbing nuts for belays, studied bergschrund development, effects of dehydration, crevasse rescue techniques, and practiced ice axe self-arrests on steep glacial slopes on Mt. Shasta. I thought myself to be the modern equivalent of a Mummery or a Frederick Cook and I suppose I also felt that every sensible woman in her right mind would swoon at the sight of such a virile mountain man. Wrong and wrong again.
None of my peers could conceive of why anyone in their right mind would deliberately seek out the frigid deprivations of the tops of mountains, much less look upon them as heroic figures possessed of adventurous spirit. For the most part, I and pretty much all my friends who frequented the Camp 4 granite walls of Yosemite and the crags of Indian Rock Circle in Berkeley were viewed by the non-climbers among us (estimated at about 99.9 % of any given crowd) as somehow maladjusted and peculiar misanthropes who defied serious understanding. As if that weren’t bad enough, I also found that I had an abnormal tendency to get extremely cold hands and feet in severe winter weather—not good survival characteristics for any James Whittaker (the first successful ascender of Mount Everest in 1953, along with co-climbing partner Sherpa Tenzing Norgay) wannabee and certainly not suitable for anyone desiring to fit that noble and heroic mountain climber image so often seen in the pages of the National Geographic. And then too, I was a very cautious climber, soon garnering a reputation for being known as ‘the little old lady of the mountains’ for my conservative approach to climbing risk management. I soundtimes found myself idly wondered if women far preferred men who regularly fell off high places to those who merely intimated the desire to do so.
Today, I still have all my climbing gear—much of it already in antique status—and still do lots of reading about mountaineers and the fascinating history of climbing. I retain my membership in the Swiss Alpine Club and occasionally think back on fond memories of having climbed the Swiss Matterhorn on holiday (via the Hornlirutte, along the northeast ridge), back in the 80s. My mountaineering library and antique ice axe collection take up as much space and gather as much dust as always. But I recognise, to my immense chagrin, that I never was that driving paragon of climbing fame I always hoped I could be in my mind’s eye and I realize the fact that no one who tends towards cerebrally reflective excess can ever hope be a hormonally supercharged hero at anything.
At heart, I suppose I tend to think too much about everything I take an interest in and the result is often what a female friend once all too aptly called ‘analysis paralysis’. Complex thought is, of course, the very antithesis of positive, direct action. No one who is an ‘egghead’ can ever hope to be a superheroic figure of direct action, since the more you rationalize something, the less you are prone to plunge directly into it for the pure and undiluted joy of genuine experience. Thought and deed are often polar opposites and no woman alive ever admired a man for his convoluted abilities to think, when offered a rugged man of dynamic action as an accessible alternative (it doesn’t hurt to have ripped abs, either, of course). Are we seeing a recurring theme here, folks? I believe we are. At any rate, for all of the above usual reasons, I was never much of an admirable mountain smashing conqueror in anyone’s eyes, LoL.
Other interests, such as photography, writing (word slinging), art, and such, all pretty much fit the same set of circumstantial qualifiers, so it would seem. Despite modest artistic ability, more modest photographic compositional assets, and a slightly more than mediocre ability to write, I remain about as ordinary and undistinguished a person as has ever graced the planet. In order to achieve any success in line-drawing, cartooning, and or painting, I really have to work hard—far harder I would imagine than those who were born with effortless great talent ever have to. Of course I have produced a very few really nice pieces on occasion (a couple of stunning acrylic paintings done back in the 70s come to mind, as do some recent cartoons), but by and large I’ll never be a fifth-rate van Gough or even a second rate Willem Kooning. Plagued by average mediocrity once more, it would seem.
One final area of unsuccess I seem to have positive brilliance in is attracting the attention of the opposite sex. This trait started in early life, when while most little boys were being tenderly clobbered on the head by little girls (an early sign of developmental affection and precociously premature maturing tendencies of the female of the species, I am told). Try as I might to be cold-cocked by some little bit of preschool fluff with her sandbox shovel, I didn’t even warrant an apparent thought to do so, as well as I am able to determine. While my handsome little pre-teen buddy Nicky was literally a bloody mess from all the affectionate blunt trauma he received regularly from admiring 6 and 7 year olds, you would have thought that somewhere, somehow, my noggin warranted a resounding ‘ka-thunk’ or two, as a precociously enthusiastic young split-tailer lobbed her bucket lovingly at my head. But sadly, no. Not even a simple ‘bonk’.
This trait continued well into later life and in fact I was voted by my high school graduating class as the ‘man most likely to be seriously avoided by any attractive young woman in her right mind and not under the influence’. How true that turned out to be, despite my most devious efforts to land a steady girl. Just more evidence of being spectacularly unspectacular, I suppose. And it didn’t help that I was terribly shy and hesitant to approach girls at school or during social affairs, of course. Or that I dance about as gracefully as I imagine an embalmed Ed Sullivan (he was a 1960s and 70s TV program host whose stiff affect made him look like he had been in an advanced state of rigor mortis since early childhood) would.
Yessir. Looking back on all this, from the ripe old age of 61 (despite being in good shape for my age), I can’t help but draw forth a few basic understandings from this mildly depressing miasma. One of these would have to be to stop cultivating so many different interests and such a broad range of activities, and simply pick one of them to concentrate on achieving perfection in alone. Another would be to be more of a dangerous acting Neanderthal around women, rather than the super-polite, thoughtful, and considerate Cro-Magnon nature programmed me to be (not a sexy quality, I surmise). Still another conclusion would be to get away from the US mainland and live somewhere else permanently (I may still realize a partial completion of that goal, when I retire to Molokai full time, even though Molokai is still part of the USA). And a final surmise would be that wasting time seeking that perfect woman of one’s dreams is a total and ineffable fool’s game. The chances are rather slim fate will allow her to turn up on one’s doorstep anyway and even assuming she eventually did, years of life together usually turns down the heat and dampens any ardor to possibly be found therein (once menopause settles in, LoL). It’s probably best to enjoy one’s dogs and not worry much about female human companionship, unless it somehow mysteriously materializes in your life of its own volition. That just seems to be the basic rule of life, anyway. Kismet, serendipity, fate, karma, call it whatever you wish, there’s no taming it or controlling its mysterious forces despite our best efforts, so you might as well go out there and boogy down until you drop, friends and neighbors.
One last thought: The only reason it was ALWAYS a ‘happy day in the neighborhood’ for Mr. Rogers was because he apparently derived more pleasure from his imaginary friends than from real life humming beans he had daily contact with. The same appears to have been true for Charles Schultz of ‘Peanuts’ fame, but then, cartoonists are generally all a bunch of severely misanthropic, introverted souls at best, so perhaps they make poor bases for any meaningful comparison. Is there an overall final lesson to be learned there, I wonder? Unfortunately, good old kindly Fred is no longer able to elaborate on that particular question, so it shall always remain unanswered. With that, I wish you all a very average, unspectacular, unnoteworthy, and unextraordinary status quo in your own lives, since that seems to be the universally prevailing human imperative, LoL.
(Despite all that, be well and thrive!)
Aloha nui loa, Kalikiano (of the split coconut)