Monday, July 12, 2010

Sunday Kind of Thinking

The kind of thoughts the elderly have are with me frequently of late.
by Charlie Leck

If I didn’t live here in the countryside, in this quite incredible place, with treetops all about me, where the sun peeks in at the zenith of the day, where, when the wind kicks up, the treetops look like the waving, rolling ocean, I would live in the heart of the downtown section of the city, in a condominium, high up in the building, where I could look out over the vibrancy of American urban life.

I’m looking at sharp contrasts. Give me the quiet, solitary countryside – or give me downtown, with inner-city density and its noise and opportunities all about me. I don’t want anything in between.

I’ve got things I want to do in these last years of my lifetime. It would be okay if they end here, in this remarkable, rolling countryside – creeks, ponds, lakes, wetlands, meadows – and I wouldn’t mind a bit. Yet, lately, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with these final years.

I want to see Oklahoma. I’ve never been there. I understand it’s stark and flat and uninspiring. Let me decide for myself.

I want to see Alaska. I’m told it is overwhelming and incomprehensible in a moment or in a lifetime; and it’s too much for a camera lens. I want to see it.

Then I will have seen, or been in, all fifty states. Maine, Oregon, Washington, Northern California and Wisconsin are my favorite states. New York, San Francisco and Chicago are my favorite cities in America. Paris, Toronto and New York are my choice for world-wide cities.

On the coast of Oregon, I want to look at the great golf courses at Bandon Dunes. I don’t need, necessarily, to play them (they are walking courses), but I’d like to see them.

I want to go back to the northwest quadrant of Germany, to spend a week there looking for any records about the father’s side of my family. I’ll visit Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Flensburg and the little village of Leck. I’ll look for birth, death and marriage records. Why? To leave them for someone else who might want to know someday.

Doesn’t everyone want to know? I so envy my wife. She can trace her roots, family by family by family, all the way back to the first Olmsteds and Wakefields to come to America. I can't even get past my grandparents on either side of the family. I keep trying, searching and hoping I'll find some clues.

I don’t want to go to Yemen. I read a long, thorough and excellent report about Yemen in the New York Times Magazine section from this Sunday. It was written by Robert F. Worth and its conclusion was that Yemen might be the next Afghanistan.

“Officially, American policy in Yemen is twofold: using airstrikes and raids to help the Yemeni military knock out Al Qaeda cells, while increasing development and humanitarian aid to address the root causes of radicalism. In late June, the White House announced it was more than tripling its humanitarian assistance, to $42.5 million. But the numbers are still small given Yemen's need. And diplomats concede that they have not figured out how to address the central issues of poor governance, corruption and the economy.

Yemen is obsessed with Qat – a national drug that is part of the culture. It consumes the mind and the efforts of the nation but produces nothing. It takes huge amounts of water to grow it and it grows everywhere. Ninety percent of the men chew qat regularly and fifty percent of the women use it too. This You Tube video explains it all and you see the bulges of it in the mouths of the Yemen men while they go about their daily activities, drugged and incapable of thinking and guiding their own lives. Children take up the ways and manners of their parents and begin chewing qat very early in their lives. Meanwhile, the nation is fast running out of water and has little oil resources left. What shall happen to a nation like this? It will become a hot-bed of terrorist recruiting.

I try to think of other things.

I’ve lost 35 pounds in the last couple of months. I want to lose another 35 pounds by the end of the year and then another 35 by this time next year. That gives you some idea about how overweight I allowed myself get. I want to fix it. I’m working at it.

You know, in their 70s, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan and B.B. King (actually in his 80s) are still performing before audiences. Al Pacino is performing at Shakespeare in the Park in New York City right now, doing Merchants of Venice. I told a daughter, who lives near Central Park, to be sure to go to the performance. She said she couldn’t get tickets without making a $350 donation to the non-profit that runs Shakespeare in the Park. I told her: “For God’s sake, make the contribution!” Have you watched any of the videos of Pacino in this role? He does it in a strong NY accent. Wonderful! Extraordinary! The reviews have been overwhelmingly good. My wife said: “Let’s fly out there to see it.” I told her it only runs through August, and asked when we should go. Of course, she’s too busy!

This is a NY Times video of a scene in which Pacino dominates.

Average life expectancy these days is 78. My sister died at 78. I’ll turn 70 in September. I’d give a lot to make it to 78 – even a deal with Mephistopheles.

“Stay active,” everyone advises me.

Doesn’t writing and reading count? Doesn’t keeping my mind as sharp as possible gain credits?

No, walking for miles and miles and pumping iron is what they want me to do – “swim, too, if you can get access to a pool.”

I want to walk down the Champs Elyse again. I want to dine in a lovely restaurant in Provence. I want to see Greece and Turkey. I want to see Prague also.

Perhaps I should forget Germany, the Champs Elyse and the coast of Oregon. Shouldn’t I, instead, go to Port-au-Prince to do what I can? What a tragedy! Why haven’t we addressed the needs there better? Of course, we have the gulf to worry about and our own people! What could I do there?

These are thoughts on a Sunday. I jot them down. I hate thinking of future Afghanistans. Why do our men need to go there to be maimed or to die? I watched The Hurt Locker last night. I can see why it won so many awards, but it is not a pleasant thing to watch in the evening when you are alone, thinking.

I’m going to the Mayo Clinic in a couple of weeks. I have some things I need to talk to them about.


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