Monthly Archives: December 2014

So Bright as to be Blinding, Part II

MeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UPMeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UPTen fifteen, Christmas morning, and poof, Christmas was cooked.

Once the last gift had been unwrapped, the entire holiday season was a memory. No more anticipation, no more unbridled glee. With all the weeks of preparation and festivities concluded, Mom wouldn’t make me take down the tree I’d lovingly decorated now, would she? Would she?

She did.

I took a stand and left my masterwork up until April.

Sure, the tree was a little brittle-looking, but I was still in the holiday spirit. However, even I had to admit watching the Masters Golf Tournament on TV next to a still-lit Christmas tree didn’t look right. When was Mom going to explode about the matter, outraged how the pathetic three inches of tinder dry needles below the parched tree were going to make the perfect nest for this year’s Easter egg hunt? Or what if she blew up and asked Dad to remove it, getting him riled at me in the process?

Fearing that scenario, sometime between the golfers turning Amen Corner and the final putt, I began the process of stripping the tree of all its sparkling adornment. In doing so, I made three mental notes about my tree responsibilities for next year. #1. Taking thousands of icicle strands off the tree was a lot less fun than putting them on (Mom insisted we save them all). #2. Trying to recall which boxes the 179 ornaments went back into was torture. #3. Not watering the tree was just an overall bad idea.

As I pulled the dry, browning evergreen out from the corner, a showy display of brittle needles rained to the floor. Just a few feet behind them was a frazzled electric cord plugged into a sparking wall outlet. Imagining the scene of our house going up in flames and Dad yelling, “How could you be so irresponsible!?” I dragged the crackling pine outside as quickly as I could. Then Mom proceeded to complain about the Appalachian Trail of needles that wound through the house all the way to the stack of trees piled in the backyard from previous Christmases. I couldn’t win. As I stared down at what was left of the tree, all I could think was Christmas was over, really over now, and that Mom and Dad were disappointed in my tree removal ability.

Regardless, I reminded Mom about wanting a pet for my next responsibility, suggesting a bear cub, maybe a St. Bernard. She said no. A week later, however, she said yes to a Venus flytrap. What? A plant?

My Venus flytrap lived inside a shiny, clear plastic box of dirt. It looked odd, but fashioned long, pretty lashes, inspiring me to name her Maybelline. I loved to watch her sit perfectly still one second, then snatch a fly inside her lightning-quick jaws the next. Assuming care of a Venus flytrap was Mom’s test to determine whether I could handle responsibility with a living organism (our Christmas tree didn’t count – fortunately), I didn’t want to blow it, and made sure Maybelline stayed on a regular eating schedule.

Soon, however, Maybelline stopped eating. Dead flies I dropped in her mouth sat there. Even bits of protein-fortified hamburger fell in with no change. Not until she turned yellow and her overflowing mouth looked like a dried-up, all-beef taco did I conclude she was actually dead.

“I don’t know what happened. She just died,” I cried to Mom.

“May this be a lesson to you to eat nutritious meals or you might shrivel and die, too.”

An image of Mom’s scary goulash came to mind, but I mustered enough strength to answer with words I absolutely had to deliver if I ever wanted another pet.

“Yes, Mom, I do know. I do. Nutritious meals are important. And the ones you serve are really really good.”

Sure enough, a few weeks later, she brought home a beautiful, royal-looking, sleek, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I immediately named Dexter.

This is an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer, and the chapter titled, “Responsibility.” You can read more from that chapter and others in the Excerpts section from this website.



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Being Benjamin: “The Graduate” – Then and Now (an ode to Mike Nichols)

At the end of the film, “The Graduate,” Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson are running for their lives. Darting into a Santa Barbara municipal bus, barely escaping their parents’ contempt and wrath, Benjamin and Elaine are on their way to living their own lives. Yes! Good for them. They made it. And “The Graduate” will end on a happy note.

But wait. Their jubilant smiles have disappeared. Sitting alone together at the back of the bus, they’re not even talking to each other either. Fade out? Roll credits? The film’s over? What? And who is this Mike Nichols guy?

Mike Nichols was one of the new, young Hollywood directors springing up in the sixties. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” his directorial debut in 1966, presented controversial social issues rarely seen in Hollywood films then. The following year, “The Graduate” was released on December 21, 1967 – forty-seven years ago today. Sadly, on November 19 of this year, Mike Nichols passed away at 83.

Because of Mike Nichols and the power of “The Graduate,” I saw life through a close-up lens, one that expanded a view of the world I desperately needed at the time. Watching “The Graduate” this week brought back that same hyper-impressionable Mike Andberg, the half-person who, more than anything, wanted to be anyone but himself. Sad, but true. Such is the power of film and how it can be used as a benchmark in life, for better or for worse. I had no idea at the time how Mike Nichols – through his lead character, Benjamin Braddock – would influence me in so many ways.

About to be a freshman at Maryland University, I couldn’t wait to look like Benjamin strolling around campus in a brown corduroy sport coat (just as Benjamin did at Berkeley for what seemed like the entire second half of the film. Hmmm, not a bad way to live life – to stroll, to wander, to drift.) Sadly, I wore baby blue tee shirts under my open corduroy coat, blowing away any sex appeal the jacket may have initiated.

My next goal was finding just the right shades to look like Benjamin. Shopping all over College Park was worth the effort getting my hands on a pair of large, dark-rimmed sunglasses (that really looked nothing like Benjamin’s, nor did I look any more like Benjamin when putting the spectacles on). Wearing them at night was cool, too – perhaps the best pay-off. That’s what Benjamin did.

Since Benjamin shunned the bar scene, so would I. I, like him, preferred to spend my Saturday nights gazing for hours into space, out the window, or through an aquarium, all to the introspective sounds of Simon and Garkunkel’s “Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” playing in the background.

Being part of the So Cal beatnik scene one day could be cool for me to join, but I’d seen how Benjamin tuned out the hipster crowd at the hamburger drive-in by rolling his ragtop down so he could eat alone with Elaine. That’s what I really wanted – an Elaine. Beautiful girls, beautiful dates, beautiful never-ending campus life. Benjamin (played by Dustin Hoffman) had a big nose; so did I. Benjamin got women; so would I.

Benjamin was a master of casual, deadpan reactions. He even yawned after his big kiss with Elaine. How cool and suave that act was, as if an attitude of “not really needing it (love)” turned women on! To him, marriage was a game. To him, his parent’s marriage was a wreck; Elaine’s was a wreck; in fact, my parent’s marriage was a wreck. It’s best to play it easy with love. And whatever you do, don’t do what your parent’s did.

So, here it is, many years later, and I’ve never married. I’ve also discovered treating women in an unemotional, casual, even-headed and deadpan way never really worked. Neither did it keep me from feeling deep pain when rejected. Even though I eventually dropped use of corduroy coats by day and shades by night, I wonder now how many years I felt far too comfortable as the man who inspired the coat idea in the first place.

I also wonder what took me so long to pay attention to the positive sparks ignited by “The Graduate” – my desire to go west and get away from my native east coast security; to feel the excitement of Hollywood; to experience the warmth of Southern California; to explore the San Francisco area bridges – all images of places introduced to me in the film. Yet, I waited until my forty-third year to go to film school. Forty-fifth to see Hollywood and Southern California. It wasn’t until this September I visited San Francisco and beautiful lower northern California for the first time. In part, this is what became of me.

As for Benjamin and Elaine, one wonders what became of them. Much older and wiser now, I say they probably became just like their conventional, values-depleted, money-oriented parents. Perhaps that was Nichols’ view, too (who, like many things, was far ahead of me in seeing this scenario). Mike Nichols was a visionary and great director.

I’m a film devote and helluva DVD spinner.

I guess I can live with that Mike.



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Personal Shopping Cart Space and the Effect of Christmas Upon It

Quote of the day: Hail!  Hail!  The gang’s all here. — D. A. Estrom

008Some people say Christmas is the most heartwarming holiday of them all.

“Silver bells, silver bells / It’s Christmas time in the city”

As I walk through the front doors of one of Santa Fe’s upscale grocery stores, the produce department sounds like a cattle drive gone cowbell crazy. Everywhere I look, aisles are crowded. People are rushing by me as if en route to an urgent bathroom visit. Shoppers, with one ear attached to their cell phone, fuss over lettuce as if choosing their last supper, albeit an organic one.

Desperate, I park my cart in a little nook of space on the sales floor the marketing director has actually failed to fill. Unfortunately, in the time it takes me to pick my first item up for purchase, the empty cart is gone, snatched away in a flash.

I go back to the store entrance and get another cart. The only one left is a huge family size monstrosity. As I wheel this green, tank-like contraption back to produce, I get butt-ended by other people trying to turn their tanks around. Space is at an all-time premium today. Some people act as if there’s a personal two foot area surrounding their cart, a zone I’ll get shocked by if proceeding within. (I don’t exactly experience shocks, but do see snarls and flashes of customer teeth.) Wasn’t the average personal cart space in August at least three feet in width?

Cautiously navigating my way out of produce, I head to one of the store’s middle aisles. No way – it’s clear of customers! Overhead piped-in Christmas carols are replaced by “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” I kick my heels in mid-air as I skip down the lane for no other reason than I can.

But, like Dorothy in “Oz’s” Munchkinland Square, shoppers quickly descend upon me from all directions. I stop to watch my fellow New Mexican shoppers race around, as if by doing so they’ll shave time off their unalterable fifteen minute check-out experience.

Christmas lyrics return:  “Strings of street lights / Even stop lights / Blink a bright red and green / As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.” “Shoppers rush home” is a reminder, a warning I must stop and look both ways for oncoming customers whenever exiting an aisle. I’ve learned that cart traffic laws don’t exist during Christmas, despite the fact it’s the season of giving.  How sad. Christmas isn’t a very heartwarming holiday anymore. Because of it, and feeling crowded, people just get grumpy. All I really want to do now is shop, pay, and get out of here.

Approaching my car in the parking lot (with its Munchkin-sized lanes and Munchkin-sized parking spaces), my checkout line bagger suddenly rushes up and says, “Oh, sir, you left your bottled water behind. Here it is. And happy holidays, sir.”

He smiles. I smile. We even shake hands.

“Silver Bells / silver Bells / Soon it will be Christmas Day.”

Maybe Christmas hasn’t completely failed the test after all. I guess it just depends on who you bump into.


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In which I apologize to my house, and deflect blame.

In which I apologize to my house, and deflect blame..

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So Bright as to be Blinding (was my tree decorating delight)

MeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UP“Being a man is about taking on responsibility,” Dad said to me one day in a  low and throaty delivery. “Some day your time will come to prove yourself.”
Thank goodness I was only nine and had a long time to go before proving myself, whatever that meant.

“Michael, I want you to put up the family Christmas tree and decorate it, then take it down at the end of the season,” Mom said to me one day. What? The moment’s here already? And I’m still only nine? And who, me? Given responsibility with tree icicles? Candy canes? AC powered bubble lights? Electricity? I’ll blow up the tree.

After Dad fulfilled his meek part of this year’s tree task – dumping a freshly cut Scotch pine on the basement floor and getting it to stand inside its cheap aluminum base – I initiated my big task.

I smothered the tree in a blinding sheen of bright silver icicles. Then, I covered the pine’s branches with twice their weight in bright ornaments and lights. To top everything off, I placed the heavy star contraption on the uppermost branch, bending it over like a week-old carrot. But it was fun standing on a tall ladder trying to get the wimpy limb to stand straight. When else had I been allowed to use a tall ladder?

I stood back, assessed my completed tree design, slapped my hands together and smirked. Responsibility wasn’t so bad after all – more like pure merriment! Decorating was art, and I loved it. Perhaps the best part was being allowed to create my tree masterpiece without being overseen, especially by Dad. It was all endless joy.


Ten fifteen, Christmas morning and poof, Christmas was cooked.

Once the last gift had been unwrapped, the entire holiday season was a memory. No more anticipation, no more unbridled glee. With all the weeks of preparation and festivities concluded, surely Mom wouldn’t make me take the tree down now, would she? Would she?

To be continued December 28th with my next installment of “Stories From Maybe Boomer.”



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