Part 1, The beginning of the story.
When one starts going back, one realizes one must go further then further then further cause that’s what life is-a bunch of interlocked blocks, together making a house or a big pile of messy blocks depending on how your life turns out.
So, 4 guys had an idea, probably taken from someone else as most good ideas are. Graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara Ken, Mike, Jim and I decide to go to Europe. It was a typical awesome graduation gift from typically awesome upper middle class parents of the time, 2 months on Eurail, staying in hostels (the OG Air B and B), seeing, smelling, and living Europe.
That is until we got to Salzburg, which is a mere 4 hours from this dinner table at the Hotel Flexen in Zurs Austria. Ken and I had flown into Paris then up to London to gather Jim then down to Amsterdam to gather Mike. We free rolled through Europe, if a place was good, stay, if not, go. In two months we ran with the bulls (more on that later), visited Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Naxos, I had the tip of my shoe run over by Ion Tiriac with Boris Becker riding shotgun at Wimbledon, got adopted twice, once by a hash smoking couple in Munich and once by a beautiful woman in Portocello Sicily.
Anyway, you don’t care about that; the important story is from about halfway through the trip when the four of us were together in Salzburg. After an evening of shoe brews (Jim’s invention-stand on table, take off shoe, pour beer in shoe, drink beer from shoe, loud cheering follows. Ah youth) at a place called the Augustinerbrau where activities like shoe brews were not really abnormal behavior. Loud, drunk and happy.
About 11, we leave and are looking for the way to get to our hostel. We are tossing Malcolm, our constant companion, a Wham-o 165 Gram Frisbee. I run up a knoll with two sets of train tracks and see a train coming slowly toward me but I manage to miss the one coming from behind me. Worst travel story ever, trained in Salzburg, three days in the hospital while the boys are miserable and antsy to get on with our trip.
Get Out Now
I vividly remember the ants. My buddies had taken their shirts off thinking that would improve the chances of me going into shock. 11:00 at night and the four of them were propping me up on an ant-filled grassy knoll in Salzburg Austria. We had just left the Augustinerbrau, local monastery turned bier garden and were looking for the quickest way back to our hostel. In typical 22 year-old-travelling-through-Europe-after-college-graduation fashion I was not 100% sober and had run up the side of the knoll, atop which there were two sets of train tracks.
I turned toward my friend Ken and was about to throw Malcolm, our trusty Wham-O 165 gram companion, when blam-I’m flying through the air 15 feet to where Ken is, hit by a speeding locomotive. Yes, you read that right; this is not a fiction story. I was hit by a train while playing Frisbee in Austria.
I remember the orderly wheeling me around some hospital that reminded me of the many churches we had visited. “Scheisse Americana.” He kept saying over and over. X-rays and CT Scan showed nothing was broken.
I remember blood soaking through my white cotton hospital gown and stealing three extra fresh gowns after two nights in the hospital because we were going to the Festival of San Fermin and white is traditionally what one wears when one is running with the bulls.
I remember the doctor coming in the next day, putting his hand under my back and lifting me as I screamed from the action.
“You got hit by train, you should be dead.” He explained with zero sympathy.
I remember peeing in the bidet at the hospital and looking at myself in the mirror, black and blue from the base of my neck to the heel of my left foot.
I talked to many important looking people who apparently thought I was seeking some sort of lawsuit. I remember feeling guilty about the boys having a terrible couple of days at the hostel while I was living large in the hospital (thanks Austrian socialized medicine). I remember throwing out my pair of shredded and bloody khaki shorts in the train station in Salzburg before boarding a gruesome over packed train to Spain.
I’ve thought about those shorts often, what a great souvenir they would have made, a reminder of how fragile life can be and how stupid I can be. Much better than the tattoo I designed of a train running the length of the scar on my left butt cheek with me and a little Frisbee flying ass over teakettle from the impact.
Never got the tat (not really a tattoo guy), but now here I am 30 years later heading back to the scene of the crime. And not just for nostalgia’s sake, travelling halfway around the world to revisit my gnarliest memory is not the real reason for this trip.
Fronk is the real reason for this trip. He being my longtime friend and ski partner who five years ago said at our boys ski weekend, “Ve really should go ski in Austria one of these years Valter.” It was one of those comments that get a little less crazy every time you say it out loud. Until this year when Fronk and PackJack committed by deciding on the dates, booking the flight and getting the rest of the posse on board. Everybody needs that friend in his or her lives who turns the theoretical into the real.
And we all really should get out more. I do an activity inspired by an ex-student who was obsessed with Japan (she used to wear a panda costume to school and talk her version of Japaneseish). We calculated what it would take for her to afford two weeks in Tokyo after which she got a job working at a local sushi restaurant. After saving for 8 months, she took the trip.
Students choose a place anywhere in the world then calculate airfare, lodging, food and entertainment costs for 2 weeks then how many hours they would have to work to pay for the trip. It’s simple budgeting but it also helps small town kids start thinking about how big the world is and once they open that door there’s no telling what other open doors might follow.
And affording trips as an adult is even simpler as Sonoma is an easy place to be the master of the side hustle. A second job at a winery, driving for UBER, Air B and Bing a room in your house, babysitting, housesitting, pet sitting, or a part time gig where work is not work (coaching, wine tour bus driving, writing blogs). C’mon, you have the time and you might make some new friends and you really are spending way too much time behind your screens. Get out in the real world.
But ten days in Austria is kind of excessive. If you know me or you read any of these blogs, you know I’m cheap as hell and not only cheap as hell but frugal as hell. It’s an unfortunate combination based on a career choice, which is not the most lucrative, and the reality of affording the good life in Sonoma. I’m not whining here (OK, maybe a little bit), it’s just economic reality.
Is this the common denominator why we currently have no head of the Boys and Girls Club, Chamber of Commerce, Superintendent of Schools, Community Center or Visitors Bureau? Have we become too expensive to attract quality leadership? Should we care? Another blog, another time.
So, I did the classic, can’t afford it, kid in college, I work too hard to blow it all yada yada yada until Kate decided to give me the plane ride for Christmas and I saved the rest through golfing and hanging out with strangers in wineries. http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2017/10/04/love-what-you-do-do-what-you-love/
After some debate I committed, as did three others plus Fronk and PackJack making a total of 6 of us. A week at the Hotel Flexen in Austria which looks like the set of a 007 movie. Breakfast and dinner included (heavy on the fois gras and fondue), the ski area is like 10 connected Squaw Valleys and most importantly, there is a massive amount of snow this year. Like almost too much snow, like bring a snorkel and an avalanche beacon amount of snow.
But it’s important for humans to blow out the pipes every so often. Without fly fishing (RIP Leland Ranch) and ski trips and a little bit of me time, my homeostasis suffers. I get resentful, I’m not happy, things begin to suck and soon I’m spiraling down the rabbit hole into my dark place. And oh yes, I can go dark (the dark blog is also coming soon).
There’s another thing that gets me spiraling: no snow ski seasons of which this one has been the worst. The terrain at Squaw is about half open (all the intermediate and beginner runs) and I have logged a grand total of zero ski days so far. Only skiers understand what this means, when the first snow happens before Thanksgiving it is the start of good things for the season and after a year like last, you think the massive dump is the new normal.
Unfortunately, it has snowed very little since then and a year like this one slaps you in the face reminding you that Ullr is really in charge, that nature always wins, and you can’t control your mother. Sorry Donald but it’s true.
And since I booked my flight after the others, I have an extra three days before I fly out of Munich, thus I’m able to have the reunion with the scene of the train. I will find the grassy knoll, I will stand atop it and take a selfie, I will remember the ants and I will feel as alive as I ever have. Who knows, I might even find a place to get the tattoo.
Life is an adventure people, plan and live accordingly.
So, I was going to find that knoll. Kind of a go back and face your worst fear kind of a thing but I won’t get there, been there, done that and with only one day to tour Munich there are plenty of new knolls to find. I’ve been skiing hard for 6 days in St Alberg and I’m looking forward to getting back to normal. Whatever that is.
Part 2 Friends
We have been the token Americans for the last week, CC, PackJack, Fronk, Connie and Blain-o. Connie and Blain-o are new additions to my world, not yet bodies-level yet.
Friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.
CC, Jack, Fronk and I have been ski trip buddies for many years. All but Connie went to Todos Santos together last year for Jack’s 60th.
There might be a point on the evening of October 29 at the yoga retreat facility Pachamama in Todos Santos Mexico when Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” will scream into the warm night and your new Patagonia board shorts will drop to the floor as you strip naked and dance maniacally, channeling your inner Ray Donovan from the end of season 2 episode 7.
Because you, as a member of the species Homo sapien, need to dance and celebrate and connect. Because Linda sent invitations to Jack’s 60th birthday party with a picture of a topless woman dancing by a pool and these things lodge in your head. Because you haven’t partied naked since “that crazy beach party” in college at UCSB. Since you’ve been trying to get people back into streaking (cue up Will Farrell in Old School). Because Viggo Mortensen was right in Captain Fantastic, “It’s just a penis, every man’s got one.” Because small is the new big (interpret that however you want Mr. Trump).
Because this is why you work. To provide for your family and yourself, to balance the daily grind with beauty and adventure and a dash of craziness, to generate great stories and release Dopamine and Serotonin. Even though dropping a grand on a weekend while employed as a teacher is irresponsible financial behavior, the window of opportunity opens infrequently and when it does you should jump through it.
Because friendship is important. Go to every party you are invited to because the people throwing the party care about you enough to invite you over everyone else in the world. Because one day you will die and what will really matter is the impact you have made on the people around you. Immortality is possible through the effect you have on the earth and the people who inhabit it.
Because you need adventure. Sonoma is boring as shit. Good boring: safe, raise-your-kids-in-a-village-that-cares kinda boring but boring none the less. Ten years of debating leafblowers could only happen in a certain type of town with a certain level of important issues.
Because your surfboard hasn’t seen the beach in a year and a half and it’s not happy about it. The break at Los Cerritos, eight miles from Todos Santos, is a rocky point break and if you want to ride it you need to get your lazy butt to Salmon Creek and practice. You’ve seen all the episodes of Ballers and Veep but you can no longer stand up on a surfboard. Koyaanisqatsi mother f-er; don’t let your life get out of balance.
Because you deserve it. Your marriage is pretty strong, one kid in college, the other doing well in high school, you are somewhat respected at work although your colleagues wish you would stop writing about them. Friends are good, money OK, things are working out because you work hard and make pretty good choices.
Cue the music, “Here comes Johnny Yen again…”
Friends make the world a better place. The last night in Munich I walked into the EisenMunchen alone and sat down across from Dick from Toronto. Never met before and after an hour and a half, I know about his kids (son, 24, boomeranged back home last year, figuring it out. Daughter 23 in second year of law school in Ireland) his new job (managing tech installation, moving to Munich for a year) his philosophy of work (take ego out, work hard, make sure your workers are supported) and politics (confused by Trump). We laughed, ate wonderful German food, shook hands at the door and went our separate ways. I doubt I’ll ever see Dick again but I felt great heading back to the hotel.
This is life, endorphins flooding the brain because of great experiences. I could have stayed in my room after my museumpalooza day hiking all around Munich but I didn’t and my payoff was an evening with Dick from Toronto (maybe meeting Dick is a better way to put it, no, how about hanging with Dick-whatever, get your mind out of the gutter).
I pass by a couple of strip clubs and take notice of the guys hanging outside. Lots of facial hair, hanging jewelry and eyes darting back and forth. I’m thinking about the man code as I say hi to Rafa, the nice doorman with terrible breath at the Beyers Hotel.
“The man code is strong with the boys. It says simply that if you make a commitment to someone or something you honor it. Wedding vows are at the top of the list but other things, like following through on promises, are also included. When someone breaks the man code they drop down a rung on the ethical ladder. Too many slips and you’re no longer in the club.”
-Dance of the Party Gnomes, p. 87
When you grow up with people who believe in the man code, it’s easy to continue the tradition. This is how the brain works, patterns are created through being exposed to stuff which leads to how you react to situations. Grow up with healthy, supportive, ethical examples and you probably will become healthy, supportive and ethical. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true which brings me to the Man Code.
The quote above is from my screenplay, currently in pre-production with Judd Apatow (OK, maybe it’s in pre-pre-production meaning Judd has yet to get back to me but with the “new truth administration” reality is fuzzy). The scene is set at a ski weekend with 14 guy friends and the main character has just learned that his wife might be cheating on him.
I’ve always lived by the man code, as have most of my friends. Not that I don’t know and hang out with divorced people and not that I have some super-ethical standard of living but I don’t know or hang out with affair people or people who don’t live by the man code. I committed to rigorous honesty a few years ago and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Man code is part of this, it means not deceiving your spouse, accepting that life is not always rainbows and flowers and since you are from Mars and your wife is from Venus, disagreement and frustration and compromise are all parts of the deal. If you don’t want to accept that then don’t get married. Simple.
And if you want to break your vows, you go to her first and say, “Honey, I’m in love with a stripper I met on PornHub and I want to throw away 20 years of growth and experience so that I can have sex with a confused millennial who will soon realize I am not as rich as I said I was and drop me for the next midlife-crisis-experiencing a-hole.”
Hopefully, that’s not what anyone will ever say but you get the point.
So, how does one stay committed in a time when any guy with most of his hair and a job can attract women? Easy, commit to the man code. Mean it when you stand in front of peers and family and say “To love and to cherish till death do us part.” Only get married if you are ready to commit and have found the one (best way to find this out: five-day camping/canoeing trip-trust me on this). But, once you’ve put a ring on it, know that that’s it, you are now on the waterslide of committed life, embrace it, love it, hate it, but commit to it.
Develop your own lineup if that makes it easier. The lineup is the list of women you would pursue if your wife suddenly vanished. Sarah Silverman is at the top of mine, which shows how realistic my lineup is. The only rule with the lineup is to not put your friends wives on it, trust me on this one too, no good will come of that.
Your wife should also have a lineup because, well, it’s only fair and maybe it will help you up your game. I’ve been trying to be more like Daniel Craig for years now but you can see how well that’s going.
Relationships are tough, it’s amazing that anyone stays together in these times of Tinder and Grinder and Zoosk and FarmersOnly.com (yes, this is a thing). But if you go in to your commitment with the attitude that fighting and disagreeing are a part of the equation and will help you become a stronger couple then getting through tough times becomes much easier.
Most women want to find people who complete them and can take care of them. They might say they’re all independent and stuff but really women want partners who are strong and confident while also being sensitive and loving. Of those four boxes, most guys check at least two, some three but very few can check all four.
Most men want the same thing, unless you’re a sexist thug like a certain person who shall remain nameless, #FreeMelania. However, society has implanted the Barbie image in men’s brains so we have this unattainable desire to search for the perfect size 2. The answer, of course, is to commit to the Man Code and love what you have.
We have to take our commitments more seriously. Promise to do something, promise to go somewhere, promise to act in some way and you should do it. People with integrity are better people, trustworthy, honest, and more fun to hang out with because you can count on them. Deception, lies and a lack of integrity pull us apart, as we become more entrenched in our bubbles and less able to accept others. A 50% divorce rate is just plain wrong.
Commit to the Man Code.
Part 3 The beginning of the story part 2
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s confusing but try to keep up.
Thursday Morning 9:15, 2/8 Alaska Desk SFO
If only it was all this smooth. Excellent ride down from Sonoma with Blain-o. Politics, religion, flying, we are new friends and we matched in all areas which is nice as we will be sharing a room and possibly a bed for much of the next week.
The bag is checked, the schedule is on time and all looks right. SF to Seattle to Frankfort to Munich-why is this the easiest route to Europe? It’s not but it’s what $650. Gets you. I sit down and eat my slice of leftover pizza, which Kate pushed on me this morning, can’t get it through gate check. I eat using the three rules of digestion: Start by thinking how delicious your meal will be (increases saliva), chew till liquid (duh) and be grateful (cause many have no food) I got it from a TED talk about digestion. To teach is to learn.
And there’s a lot to be grateful for. My new super sweet ski stasche-a dirty squirrel wrapping down past my mouth like I just stepped out of a Wild West saloon, my very understanding yet kinda crazy wife, the fog illuminating the mustard with light from the rising sun as we drove out of the wine country, great friends, a good life and so far a smooth start to an exciting adventure.
10:25 Virgin Gate 54A
Found the most comfy chairs for my hour and a half wait. I make a nest: Water, newspaper, book, phone, IPAD, sketchpad. Had a nice 20-minute yoga sesh in the SFO yoga room. Could only remember about 4 Bikrim poses so it was brief. Namaste motherfucker, Bikrim is my jam; at least that’s what I tell myself.
Somewhere in the first Sabastna, I find South America in the ceiling. Sabastna is my favorite pose in the hour and a half Birkrim experience. It signals the transition from standing poses to floor poses but to me it means I just might not die. Not to be all dramatic but I am about maxed. (http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2017/01/26/pushing-front-boots-family-ski-trip/
I love Bikrim. Love it so much that I go about once every six months. Love it so much that after almost every class I say I will start a new regime, twice a week minimum, then I come back six months later. Great intentions, terrible follow through: story of my life.
Besides the physical exercise and the full body cleansing of losing about three gallons of sweat, the mental side is the biggest benefit of Bikrim. The room is mirrored on three sides and you stare deeply at yourself throughout the hour and a half, at 52 I rarely stare at myself in a pair of shorts for 90 minutes. But I should.
The ceiling has a stucco non-pattern that forms random designs in various shapes. South America is just to the left of the ceiling fan, which is never on. We are supposed to be concentrating on mental stillness and Namaste but my ADD brain spends the time looking for continents in the stucco. This is a big challenge for me too, let go of the projects, jobs, relationships, responsibilities and focus simply on the postures and my breathing.
Entering the room is when the benefits begin. Low light, quiet, hot, I immediately start to breathe slower. In small town Sonoma it means I am positioned behind two of my ex-students, across the room is my good friend Frank’s wife, Lorene’s ex-husband is two rows up and that exotic looking cashier from Whole Foods is behind me. I think for a moment how creepy it must be to see your teacher half naked and sweating profusely then I elevate my mind and all worry washes away.
My wife is usually next to me; she’s a regular and the real reason I go. There’s a subtle sensual component to the practice: sweating together, endorphins, exercise, mental connection, minimal clothing. But it’s more psychic-connection-sensual than erection-sensual (good thing too cause there’s no way to hide erection-sensual while wearing only a sweaty tight fitting pair of shorts).
Julie was the first teacher when we moved to Sonoma many years ago; Bikrim was Kate’s thing then. I always found excuses not to go: Too hot, too much of a time commitment, yoga is for hippie-weirdoes-that kind of a thing. Then I started reading Mark Morford in SFGate and realized I kind of am a hippie weirdo.
For many years, Nada was our fearless leader, owner, and yoga professional. She is about as strong a cup of coffee as one would ever want in a teacher. Assertive in a European-put–on-your-big-boy-pants kind of way. She is the finest example that one gets the teacher that one deserves. She corrected me when I was lazy, “Valt-toes pointed to ze mirror” and encouraged me on the rare occasion when I was pushing myself, “Good reach Valt.” She opened the door and fanned the room with cool air just as the 107+-degree heat was getting to be too much. Nada provided the perfect balance of encouragement and motivation.
But now there is a new vibe in the room, Dan Fisherbaugh is in charge and Raina is today’s instructor. New floors, new art, new humidifiers but, thankfully for me, the same ceiling.
During today’s class, while searching for continents, I’m also thinking about getting old. Not the boring-midlife-crisis-buy-a-Porsche-get-a-girlfriend kind of thinking but the bucket-list-what-do-I-want-to-do-in-the-next-30-years thinking. Climb half dome again, go to Burning Man, throw more parties, play more tennis tournaments, help the kids become independent little beings. This is another benefit of having an hour and a half of contemplative time.
50 is the new 30, at least that’s the lie I’m sticking with. Bikrim helps the vessel stay pliable and if I want to be skiing at 80, flexibility is vital. Plus the kids will be gone in a couple of years, wife and I will have to get used to being alone again and Bikrim connects us.
My body is holding up pretty well but I could always lose 20 pounds. The mind is questionable but there is no Bikrim for the brain (actually Bikrim kinda is for the brain). I’m thinking about this eventual retirement thing. I’ll finish the novel, go to Europe, build a cabin in the mountains…
“Bikrim yoga sit up!” Raina breaks my daydreaming with the words that mean Sabastna time is over, 12 more poses beginning with Pavanamuktsana The Wind-Removing Pose. Love this one, knees in tight, right then left then both, head flat on the ground, chin down, pull and flatten at the same time. I am working towards getting every vertebra flat on the floor, but my position looks more like a ten year-olds failed cannonball. I push and stop thinking about South America or turning 50, I breathe, I relax. “And back to Sabasstna” says Raina.
The class eventually ends and we all lie on mats for a few extra minutes. Two people work their way into headstands while I struggle just to roll up my mat. The endorphins outside the room are thick, one of my ex-students says hello and I chat briefly with Lorene’s ex.
“So awesome, love it.” I say, “I’m committing to two days a week minimum…”
I have an interesting time in line at security check, only little kids make eye contact, as everyone is busy scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. I look over the shoulders of my neighbors in both directions; one is on Facebook, one on Instagram. Why is this more important than being excited about where you’re going? Don’t these people know that the best day of vacation is the day before departure when anticipation is the highest? That the looking around and seeing strangers from all parts of the world is part of the adventure? That we should all be grateful to be sharing this experience because it’s kind of amazing that in 12 hours I will be on the other side of the world? At least the kids seem to get it.
Flying to me is a series of little hurdles to get over. I don’t travel much and haven’t flown to Europe in 30 years. Am I organized enough to have all my shit together? Did I do everything on my list? Did I put everything down on my list? Will I get flagged by TSA (answer usually yes), Will my bag arrive? Will I meet up with friends? Will I miss a connection? Will a flight get cancelled? This is how my brain works and the closer I get to my destination, the better I feel. My real vacation will start when I connect with Fronk and PackJack at the Lufthansa baggage claim at 2:10 Friday. Till then, anxiety, although I do call my ADHD my superpower:
My Superpower ADHD
Saturday afternoon and I’m late for a 4:00 appointment at Hess Winery in Napa. I’m heading down Mount Veeder Road, with 12 happy guests in my wine tour bus when I realize not only is the steering on my Turtle Top Terra Transit vehicle compromised but also the brakes are mushy and they are not stopping the 14,000 pound bus when I push the pedal to the floor. I shift the bus into first gear and use the emergency brake to slowly pull to the side of the road.
“Sorry folks, I can no longer safely drive this bus so we’re going to have a little pit stop while another bus comes to pick us up.” This is not the way to get good tips in the wine tour business, the engine is smoking from a broken Serpentine belt, we are in the middle of nowhere and I’m already 20 minutes late to Hess. This is also how my mind works, crisis averted, move forward, execute the next plan, go.
Monday afternoon I’m teaching a class called “Ready to work” for Sonoma Valley Teen Services. I’m loosely following someone else’s PowerPoint and the day’s topic is Resume Building and Applications. I dislike PowerPoint’s as much as I dislike scripted curriculum and so I have substituted the sample application with a real application from the Lovin’ Oven (a catering and cooking program run by SVTS). I also have breezed through the slides to get the students filling out their resumes on a template.
By the end of class all have applied for their first job and most are completely done with their resumes. I meet one of the students at the tennis courts for an hour of hitting after class and he complements how easy the process was. Create, adapt, change, and grow.
Tuesday morning I’m teaching addition of polynomials and I hear one student call another an F-ing B (censored version) in the back of class. I hand over my whiteboard marker to a favorite student (yes, I have favorites), and call the two mean girls outside for a quick discussion about “maintaining a positive learning environment”. I teach 5 subjects a day, I have done this for 20 years, I work with kids who hate school and I love my job. My superpower enables me to process multiple situations at once, know what’s going on in all parts of the classroom, and react as needed.
Tuesday afternoon I’m in a parent meeting and my student, who is suspended for five days for doing a dumb thing, is blaming his ADHD. “No,” I tell him, “You’re lucky to be one of the 5% of the population that has the superpower. Because your brain produces more Theta waves, you are calmer in a crisis than other people. ER docs, nurses, rescue personnel, stock traders, these are your people. Plus you are more creative due to all the ideas ping ponging around in your head. You’re more intuitive because of increased sensory input plus you have no “analysis paralysis”. You do things first then think about them second. This obviously is a blessing and a curse.
Of course, this is exactly why the student has a five-day suspension for his dumb stunt. I think about when I hit my Physics teacher in the face with a birthday cake in high school. I thought it would be funny, the teacher disagreed and I was suspended for three days. I decide it’s unnecessary to relate this story; craziness will come to his life without permission from me.
The key, I explain to the student, is reigning in your superpower. Knowing how to control it. Organization, meditation, exercise, surrounding yourself with people who complement you (shout out to my office manager Terri, and my saintly wife Kate who really didn’t know what she was getting into). And finding a path you love, look at the ADD poster children, Richard Branson, Justin Timbrlake, Will Smith, Catlin Jenner (Wait, no, don’t look at Catlin Jenner). Do they hide behind their diagnosis?
My superpower was hidden when I was a kid. 30 years ago there was no ADHD. My parents sent me out to “the wall” whenever they knew I getting rambunctious (their word, not mine). The wall was our garage door that had to be replaced twice during my adolescence; it is where I learned how to play tennis. We didn’t have cell phones, we entertained ourselves. I wasn’t an extreme case, functioned pretty well, graduated from college, self-medicated, discovered my passion, fell in love, raised a family, living the dream.
My superpower went undiagnosed until I was 48 and ready to make some lifestyle changes (quitting booze). This led to the understanding that my brain works just a little differently than others. “You mean everyone doesn’t constantly scan a room looking for little attention sucking details.” “You mean people can actually sit quietly for long periods of time.” “You mean people actually care about balancing their checkbooks.” Like I said, my wife is a saint. I take .5 mg of Concerta on days when I know I might need a little help with my linear thinking but mostly I keep homeostasis in my life through diet and exercise.
Riding my cruiser home Tuesday afternoon and I stop and write for an hour in the plaza cause, why not? People come from all over the world to hang out in our plaza; to me it’s just my path home.
I took my creative writing class today behind the school to a little park so they could write about their senses, what they smell, what they hear, what they see, no punctuation, just write. It was because of my ride to school in the morning where the smells of fall in Sonoma were overpowering. First it was the weed that grows in the backyards of the houses along the bike path then the smell of fermenting grapes wafting from the Sebastini winery, then the smell of sawdust and fresh wood from a pair of houses being remodeled on Second Street East. I hit the classroom inspired, ready to share my experiences. Thanks superpower.
You have to play the hand you are dealt in life. The better you understand what that hand is, the better you will be able to play. Find out how you work best then surround yourself with activities and people who complement you. Get rid of the baggage and treat what makes you different as a good thing. You can even start calling it a superpower.
11:30 Still at Virgin Gate 54A
Thinking about why I love my wife. The $300. In cash she had ready for me this morning because she knows I rarely carry cash (cheap and frugal). This new shirt from Scott Lyall in Sonoma, a store I love but can’t afford to shop in. Kate’s dad flew for Pan Am back when people dressed up to fly; we always dress up to fly. Forgiving me for sometimes being an irresponsible child (more on that later). Supporting adventure and many other daily things that make me feel loved.
Friday of last week I came upstairs in the morning and said I had to cancel the trip. I had been denied my vacation request by the superintendent on Wednesday and was facing either taking a $2000. Ding at work (taking time off without pay), or cancelling a $700. Flight and whatever other nonrefundable expenses I had yet to pay (since there are 6 guys, losing one complicates everything but it is always better than getting a divorce).
Kate told me No, we have money in savings and I need to go. Turned my attitude around and made me find a way (obtain psychiatric medical excuse for taking a few days off). It made me realize that my moral disengagement and move fast and break stuff philosophies are not always the best. Sometimes one has to play by the rules and if I’m going to succeed in the next 30 years, I have to at least know how to play the game.
Free-range chickens in a micro managed world
The Zuck had to retire his Facebook motto of, “move fast and break things” in 2014 but the ethic is still alive and well and encouraged in the tech world. Thinking independently works well unless you develop “moral disengagement” (rationalizing behavior at odds with your own principles, often resulting in wrongdoing).
This is why we break rules we don’t agree with. This is also why there is a 24-foot wooden tennis wall sitting outside my art room. I am a free-range chicken, happily teaching, coaching, touring, fathering, and writing with little direction from others.
I like to move fast and break things. Part of being an engager of minds is to wake people up from their complacency and show them that they can do anything. I don’t care what you think, it’s true, I’ve seen it happen. A little self-confidence, a little direction, a lot of hard work and you can go and do and be anything.
Unfortunately, I’m a free-range chicken in a micromanaged world.
120 Million the hard way
Are you bored with the rhetoric yet? The talking heads, the endless meetings, the rumors, the alliances, the sucking up, the haters, the “passionate community members with their list of demands”.
Yeah, me too.
There was a time (18 years ago) when my students would jump the fence on hot days and swan dive fully clothed into a beautiful blue Olympic size pool at the high school (I’m not condoning this, just telling a story). My alternative students had full access to drama productions and all sports and clubs and 0 period because then principal Bob Kruljak maintained an open access policy with SVHS. Bob was a powerful presence, walking the campus at break and lunch, picking up litter and talking with students. He cared for his school and knew his population because, well, that’s what high school is about, knowing the students.
Today we have no pool but many more rules. My students have no access to drama or sports or any SVHS activities. And when someone tries to improve something as simple as a replacement wall for tennis players, they are smacked down by bureaucracy. http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2017/02/27/wall-not-bridge-bigger-wall/
Not that everyone should be able to put up walls (or SONOMAWOOD signs or post semi-offensive blogs, or community proposals) but a little more support for the free-range chickens would help get a few more things done. I tend to act first and ask for permission second (moral disengagement). It’s not my greatest trait but most of the time it gets things done which is why I’m sticking with it.
I was watching my girl’s golf team play our first match with Analy and I realized that we can and should do a better job prioritizing opportunity for students. I have 20 girls on the team and they are not stellar golfers but they are having a stellar time. Golf is not an easy sport to practice in Sonoma as the driving range on Arnold is now a weed field, the three par on Watmaugh is a distant memory, and the membership fee at the Sonoma Golf club is a little out of reach.
But, we make due. Mondays and Tuesdays my team sets up a series of hitting stations in the field around the SVHS track (the track is still in excellent shape, for putting on), Wednesdays we practice at Putters mini-golf and Thursdays we go to the Sonoma Golf Club. I rotate all the girls during matches and reward the ones who show extra interest and work hard.
We make the best of it, we innovate, and we have fun. Most of the girls have never held a club before and we have yet to win a match but so what? High school is a time to try new things, some activities stick, some don’t. The important thing is to keep engaging.
Driving home from Analy the girls are talking about what they like and don’t like about high school. Teachers who don’t listen, too much homework, social media drama, all the expected stuff but they also said there is plenty to like. Teachers who innovate and connect with students, classes that challenge them, electives that expose them to new things and of course the golf team (yes, they have to say this, they are quite aware of my very fragile, childlike ego).
I don’t have all the answers, no one does, but I do know that we need to talk less and build more. Learning to swim should be a requirement for high school graduation on a planet that is 71% water. Access for all should not only be a policy but something all students feel empowered by on the daily. More yes, less no.
Move fast and break things. Support the free-range chickens.
The 72-cent solution is a start. I recently went to the hardware store and purchased a 56 cent locking screw and 16 cent bolt to fix the gate which I had previously jerry rigged with an old bent nail. Spend the time and do it right, simple right? Not so much for me. It’s the final 20% that trips me up. I’m good 80% of the time but that last 20% of life often eludes me for reasons yet not fully understood.
“Not into that whole completion thing” as William Hurt said in The Big Chill. But this I’m looking forward to changing, this is my goal.
Still, I don’t feel like I deserve good stuff, like ski trips to Austria.
1:10 Seat 20F SF-Seattle Alaska Air
Of course there’s the crying baby 2 seat back and the uncomfortable angry guy one person over but seat 20E is empty and my Biscoff cracker and apple juice are about the greatest snack ever. Gratitude baby.
Another reason to love Kate, she gave me the book, “Hillbilly Elegy” as I was packing the very dry “Love Busters” book this morning. She knows me so well, the book is awesome, a perfect escape for a long flight.
Beautiful snow covered mountains popping out of the clouds like jagged giant white pillows popping out of a mattress. Descending to Seattle, Fronk texts that I’m going the wrong way. Funny guy. Looking for ski lines down the white pillows and signs of cut runs.
T-Mobile texts a reminder to text #766# to enable international data roaming. Love it when technology is helpful.
3:45 Gate S Seattle Airport
Seattle is grey and all the women are wearing yoga pants and UGG boots. Ready for the international leg of the trip. Met Anna, a nice German thirty something who has been travelling from Asia to Hawaii to LA to SF since October and is now heading back to Germany. Why don’t Americans do that more? No Wanderlust, travel is a week of well-planned activities, no time to wander I guess. But travel makes you want to travel; you develop paths in your brain as you do it more.
I’m stocked up with food (got a bacon turkey wrap at the airport just in case the food sucks), water and entertainment. I’m ready although for some reason my IPhone 5 does not want to switch into airplane mode, hope it doesn’t bring us down deep in the frozen Canadian Wilderness.
The Seattle airport is an efficient mess. Took 3 trains to get from Alaska to Condor but easy to navigate, Gate S, follow the signs.
5:00 Seat 29D Condor Air Seattle to Frankfort
We take off and I’m rocking to Van Morrison. Busting through the clouds of Seattle is a roller coaster ride but Van helps. What doesn’t help is my inability to yet find the volume button. “Cool Running” sounds great loud. A full plane but nice people next to me. 10 hours should pass like 8.
7:40 Seat 29D
Watched “The Millers”, ate a pretty OK dinner, watched the nursery develop in the aisles around me (having flown with babies, I have empathy), and now a little break between movies. Lou Reed and writing and resting my eyes (I have had my Costco 1.5 magnifiers on since we left as they help with seeing things up close. Everything on a plane is up close).
It’s strange that the stewardesses are walking up and down the aisles hawking duty free cigarettes and booze. Not into it. 7 hours 36 minutes left, somewhere over Canada.
10:20 Friday, 29D
33 minutes to landing and I just changed my watch from 3:20 to 10:20. Strange how that happens, must turn it into a classroom project. A little sleep, couple of movies (“Grand Budapest Hotel”, much better than “The Millers”), lots of listening to Condor Airlines oldies station, a good book, light conversation and some quality goo goo gaa gaa time with the surrounding babies and I’m about to land on the other side of the world. In Sonoma, everyone is sleeping.
I should be in Frankfort in plenty of time to make my 1:00 pop over to Munich. 1 degree Celsius, cloudy skies, welcome to Germany. I think the guys two rows up watched movies for 10 hours straight and the Germans next to me need baths.
1:00 Frankfort Airport Gate A21
A little shucking/jiving/out/in, a change of gates in another confusing but efficient airport and here I am for the final leg to Munich.
1:40 Seat 25A Frankfort to Munich
Ta da! Final leg in progress. A hop down to Munich, collect bag, connect with others and all is well. Last I heard Blain-o was stuck in Iceland, CC was rerouted through Atlanta, Fronk and PackJack are in Copenhagen and Connie is whereabouts unknown. It will all work out, I am only responsible for me.
German Kit Kats taste better than American ones or maybe I just needed a quick sugar fix after sprinting across the Frankfort Airport. A pit stop to spray the plane down with anti-freeze before takeoff. Did I mention it’s cold?
3:45 and the miracle has happened. 5 of 6 have arrived in Munich with Blain-o still stuck in Iceland thanks to a surprise cancellation from Wow airlines. We get the right rental van after three tries then head to the Munich Marriott.
Saturday 12:45 Munich highway back to the airport
“Nobody tattoos their snatch unless they have a little hooker in them.” Connie is the master of the inappropriate one-liners as we head back to the airport to finally pick up Blain-o who had to cough up $800. For a one way ticket to Munich on Icelandic Air (Wow!).
I thought traffic only happened in California but I was wrong. I had the best Osso Bucco of my life last night at the Kaisergarden then had a solo king bed at the Marriott thanks to the above situation. We stopped to watch the surfers this morning, yes, there is a hardy group of about 30 men and women who maneuver their short boards back and fourth on the Eisbach River (translation “Ice Brook”) at the southernmost point of the English Garden (Munich’s central park). Check it out on YouTube, I’ll wait…
Why do Americans only get 10 days of vacation? No Wanderlust, all schedules. Just like the three rules of eating, we have to slow down, get lost once and a while, go out for no reason, and say Hi to strangers. I do this while walking through the English Garden, every person we pass smiles and says hi in a variety of languages (at least I’m pretty sure they are saying hi).
Part 4 Everything works out or it doesn’t
The trick will be getting through a 50-minute therapy appointment without having to talk about the trip to Austria. I won’t lie. That much I know and up to this point I have been selectively truthful with my therapist but this is a $2000. Session, the stakes are kinda high.
Let’s go back to the beginning. I wasn’t going to go, teachers don’t go skiing in Austria, CEOs and tech bros and trust fund kids go skiing in Austria. Not teachers with mortgages and kids in college and responsibilities. But why not? Get some side hustles, save a few grand, anything is possible. So I did. 6 weeks out I told my principal who said yes but that I should talk with a colleague who took 9 days off for a vacation in Africa last year. All I heard was yes.
Two weeks before my trip, I put in substitute information, thinking a good sub is the most important part of taking time off, and I put down “Sick Leave” as my reason for taking time off. I have about 300 hours of leave time and thought that Sick Leave would be the easiest way to go.
A day later I get a letter from HR saying that I need to submit and have a formal request signed by the superintendent who I have never met but once wrote about in a way that he might not have thought of as complimentary:
Welcome! Can I call you Chuck? I hope so, Mr. Young is so formal and in 25 years of educating in Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Sonoma I always strive to be on a first name basis with administrators and superintendents because it’s much easier to talk with Chuck than with Mr. Young.
So let’s start with this shitstorm of drama you are now in charge of. By now you’ve been briefed by all the players as to the needs of the schools, the tragic losses of personnel and all the adults-behaving-badly-hijinks of the last year. Well, F-that, people fight, people disagree, people have different bubbles, views and agendas. We have to get back to good old civil debate, something you were apparently very good at at UCLA.
What is most important is what will happen on August 14 when the kids walk into their classrooms. Will their teachers be rested, invigorated, inspired for the year, and feeling like the educational hierarchy of support is in place? Will they be happy to be back because they miss their students and they miss the intrinsic rewards of developing minds and inspiring futures? Or will they dread the return because they don’t really feel supported or they don’t really like students or they don’t really like teaching?
No one expects miracles Chuck, you are a Band-Aid trying to cover a severed arm, but hopefully you can help stop the bleeding and I have a few ideas (shocker).
Sonoma is an amazing place, beautiful, wealthy, full of outstanding people who all want their kids to have the best education possible, let’s just start there. We’ve got the diversity covered in elementary choices, Waldorf, Montessori, Spanish dual-immersion, garden programs, music, drama, art, plus Presentation and St. Francis covering their individual needs. Choice is good; it’s the one thing I agree with Betsy Devoss about,
But then the funneling starts: two junior high’s and one high school where the A-G college push is well intentioned but can also limit choices. Students are stressed about too much homework, too much pressure and teachers who require learning without sufficient explanation (#1 complaint of students who end up in my alternative program, teachers don’t listen to them when students don’t understand the information).
But let’s not blame the teachers, overall the quality of educator in the district is outstanding but many are stifled by a lack of support. See Chuck, I don’t work for you, I work for the students and you, the board and administrators work for me. The job of the educational hierarchy is to support the classroom, keep the learning environment healthy, and help make teaching fun and inspiring. To turn the light on inside the learner. That’s what it’s about.
But what can you do now to earn your $836/day?
First exit the excrement pool. You have an OK board, good administrators and OK teachers; it’s time to get some stuff done. Change is good only if it produces results and this district needs some results. You will have haters, people who say you are too old and out of the educational loop to really change things but you were hired for a reason. Move past the drama and start getting things done, look at programs like Altschool to see where education is headed.
Second, be present. You don’t have to go full Carlomagno (http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2017/06/11/thanks-lou-car/) but you do have to get in to the classrooms. Don’t trust the administration to tell you how things are going, see for yourself. Meet the kids, bring them treats, start a “Popsicles with Chuck” Friday program, whatever, just stay connected because it’s always about connection. Oh, and try to have a little fun cause we all need a little more laughter and a little less hate in our lives.
Third, utilize your environment. You moved to Sonoma for a reason and now you can work helping to incorporate the 100+ non-profits with the educational system. The Ed Foundation, Mentor Program, B&G Club, SVTS, Artescape, SVMA, SIFF, there are thousands of people who share your philosophy and want to see great things for kids. Let’s start the art school (yes, I do have a proposal), let’s ask people how to improve the learning environment, let’s empower people to think big (http://www.sonomanews.com/news/6988831-181/state-orders-sonoma-developmental-center?artslide=0). Create a safe, supportive district and you never know what might grow.
And finally, always, always, always be student-centered. Your record is good in this department but the needs and priorities of a small town can get complicated. There are reasons Lou Car and Paul and John moved away from their home district this summer and sadly, the reasons have little to do with students and more to do with adults.
So, again, welcome Chuck, we are excited to have you steering the ship for the next 11 months. I promise a warm welcome if you want to pop into room L4 at Creekside on August 14.
My door, hopefully like yours, is always open.
So, I put in the request to the superintendent (Dr. Young-never Chuck- is actually an 11-month substitute superintendent who is much more by the book than I anticipated). He denied the request citing, “Skiing in Austria” as not on the list of acceptable reasons to take time off. He did say I could take the time off without pay provided he approves the sub. Thanks Chuck.
I was at a 2-day training in Santa Rosa when I got the reply and let’s just say it was not a happy moment.
I looked at the cost to cancel-$700 airfare, $80 train ride, and whatever charges our group of 6 had already committed to. Plus I didn’t want to leave friends hanging and I had been planning, working and saving for a very long time. But the idea of an extra 2 grand in missed wages tacked on to the trip did not make responsible financial sense.
I went to Kate and told her that I was cancelling. She said, “No, you are not.” We have savings that will cover it if we need to, you are going. I ran with this spirit and devised a way to get a medical excuse for the time off.
Now it gets sticky because I am currently under psychiatric care, seeing a therapist once every couple of months for anxiety, ADD, and life maintenance. I did need the time off in a big way and I don’t lie. I asked my therapist to agree to give me a few days off and she went with it. Did I stretch my symptoms a little? Maybe, but maybe not. A potential $2000. Ding in the family budget is definitely cause for increased anxiety and depression and insomnia and just made me feel genuinely crappy.
Did I tell my therapist that I was flying to Austria to go skiing? No, will I tell her tomorrow when I have the first face-to-face meeting (previous correspondence was on the phone)? Well, I won’t lie but if I can get through 50 minutes without telling the whole truth and I can leave with a medical note then all will be well, a therapy miracle. And if I have to tell her about Austria, she might write the note anyway. My only real fear is that she will be offended at my situation, refuse to write the note and end our sessions (she is my 5th Kaiser therapist).
Course, none of this is the end of the world, I did lose some sleep over it the first night in Zurs but whatever, life is like this, a bunch of choices, some difficult, some easy. Is it important to tell your therapist all the details about skiing in Austria? I’m conflicted.
And then it has to get approved by the district which shouldn’t be a problem except they are well aware of where I will be during my medically approved time off. But with a medical note it shouldn’t matter. One way or another, life will go on. Am I worried? Would it help?
7:45 Sunday Morning, Room 212, Hotel Flexen
Wow, what a crappy night of sleep. Could have been the excitement of being here, could have been the anxieties surrounding the trip, could have been jet lag or it could have been the coffee with last nights desert but it led to an entire night of tossing and turning and thinking how I should be not thinking about tossing and turning.
This is not how I wanted to start the first morning of skiing but there’s no time for whining, time to put the big boy pants on. At 52 I am very familiar with sleepless nights, wish I wasn’t but sometimes one just can’t turn the brain off. I spend my days trying to wake people up but sometimes it leads to a lot of sleepless nights.
We are all one drunk driver away from the big end.
Cruising back from Chico on I-80 on a Saturday night and this is what’s going through my head as cars whizz around me. It’s been a wonderful holiday, just left a quick fly-fishing session in Chico Creek after dropping my daughter off at school. Lots to be thankful for, but I can’t stop thinking about Steph.
Death after a long life is sad but expected. Death at 27 at the hand of a drunk driver is tragic. Death at 7 at the hand of a drunk driver is unconscionable.
The memorial was packed as they usually are at Duggins. I was happy to be posted up outside talking with ex-students, friends and total strangers about a life cut short for no good reason. A woman with a French accent introduced herself and explained that she didn’t know how these services worked and she was not sure what to do.
“This is pretty much it,” I explained, “stand around in shock telling stories and feeling sad. Nobody knows what to do but it helps to feel the pain together.”
“I can’t believe she’s gone, and her beautiful little girl too.” She said. Steph did her nails at Crush Beauty Bar. We cry together, strangers no longer, united in tragedy.
Estephania was a force. Positive, spunky, quick to laugh, strong. She graduated from Creekside in 2008 then put herself through cosmetology school and had since become an esthetician. She also had a miracle of a daughter and had established a good life in Sonoma. I hadn’t seen her in many years but kept up through the Sonoma grapevine. She was one of those people who are blessed with a very strong bullshit detector and she had no problem telling you how she really felt. One of the real people. She was honest, assertive, resilient and an excellent mother.
She lived out in Glen Ellen on the property of Old Hill Ranch. I learned this when Will Bucklin walked over and explained how nice it was to get to know Estephania. Will is not the most outwardly emotional fellow but even his voice was cracking as he consoled Steph’s relatives in his broken Spanish.
People like Steph make my job easy. They make work fun. Derailed from the regular educational system, they enter my program and soon realize that we are all on the same team. That it’s not about falling down but getting back up. Surround yourself with people who love you, work hard and laugh. The world is gonna miss that laugh.
Some drunken guy weaving down highway 12 hit Steph’s car at 7:45 in the morning. Unfortunately, the drunks usually live in these situations, as was the case here. Steph died at the scene and her daughter a few days later. There is no way to rationalize or understand deaths like this. It’s just tragic. But it is also avoidable.
This is where I go into the horrible statistics about drunk driving. That someone dies every 51 minutes (6 deaths in Sonoma County in the last few weeks), that it’s a totally solvable problem. All the stuff you already know.
What you might not know is that if you drive drunk, you have a drinking problem- period, and you need to deal with it before things go bad. Because things always go bad http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2016/06/14/day-san-quentin/.
Also, if you think you drive better when stoned, you are wrong. Booze and pot slow your reaction time because the neurons in your brain are not firing correctly. You need your neurons to fire correctly when you are steering a 2000-pound bullet.
Our community’s economy is based on alcohol and in a month if you are over 21 you will be able to walk into a store and buy all the weed in whatever form you want. Will this lead to less impaired driving? Kinda doubt it. Will there be more Stephs? Probably.
And since nobody f-ing reads and we’re both just a little of tired of my preaching, I’ll stop there.
Getting woke in the wine country is up to you.
I pull into my driveway happy to be home but unable to shake the sadness.
Sunday Night 5:52pm room 301
I’ve got naked brain and it’s a good thing. This is more like it. Just took my first foray into the Hotel Flexen spa and after about two minutes realized, “Huh, no big deal.” Fronk’s wife had overheard that I was a little nervous about the coed nude spa, “Just remember to look up here Valter.” She told me pointing to her eyes. And she was right. Ironically the only comment about my nakedness came from Fronk who suggested I up my grooming game a bit.
Sure it was different but it became just another cool thing to walk around and sit in saunas with naked strangers. Try new things, learn, grow, life.
First day ski conditions were tough. No sleep, low visibility, cold, light snow but man is this place incredible. We basically went as far as we could to the East then had lunch at Zug and wound around back to Zurs. Albers is a series of interconnected small towns: Zurs, Stuben, St. Christoph, St. Anton, Klosterle, Lech, Oberlech, Stubenbach, Warth, St. Jacob, Zug, and Schrocken which together make one ginormous ski area. Zurs is our hometown and the Hotel Flexen is located on the ski run. No, not next to the ski run, on, like walk out front door, put on skis, ski to lift then ski right to the front door at days end.
But low visibility can be a ski killer, I love skiing in storms or any other conditions but when you can’t see the terrain, it’s hard to find your line and when you can’t find your line you miss things like moguls and drop-offs. Albers is not a place where one wants to miss drop-offs. For this reason the runs are well marked with circular signs every 30 feet.
And those who want to venture off-piste on days like this carry backpacks with inflatable avalanche airbags, transceivers, and shovels. This seems like overkill to the average California skier but after seeing and understanding the expanse of terrain, the backpacks are just as important as helmets (which everyone wears).
Monday the forecast is stormy with fresh pow pow and bluebird skies Tuesday and Wednesday. ULLR, the God of snow has taken care of Austria this season unlike California where they are skiing on rocks and dirt.
And I’ve been switched to a single room on the third floor. The plan was for Blain-o and I to share a room but our housefrau, Maria told us, “You are two big men, do not need to share a room.” This was an awesome development as my little room is kinda like the owners room in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Two small single beds, a sink, and a little desk plus an old double window that looks out on the town of Zurs and the massive hill, which we just skied. Heaven. I head down to PackJack and Fronks room for a little Olympics watching before dinner (they have the deluxe room with a TV). Yay.
Somewhere between Sunday and Wednesday
The entries are brief and cryptic.
I doubt there will be much more writing due to the ski/sauna/eat/sleep schedule that we’re on. Let’s just say we’re having a good time.
We’re all black T-shirt guys. Fronk, PackJack, Connie, CC, and Blain-o, all black T-shirt wearers. Not sure what that means.
Fondue night is work.
Blain-o has a lot of words.
Tortellini is Connie’s code word for vagina.
Best skiing of my life Monday, powfacial day.
Tuesday we all ski together for the morning. My two pet peeves in life are looking at other people’s phones, as in, “Hey, have you seen this kitty video?” and waiting for people when I’m skiing. Yes, this offends certain folks but skiing is like my meditation, very singular, very solo, Zen-like. For this reason I often ski alone, I don’t think I’m a snob, I just have my own philosophy when I’m on the mountain.
We take photos (another thing I rarely do) and ski to Stuben for lunch finding a recommended spot what is right out of a European storybook. After a 2-hour lunch, we’re back at it. Even I am happy with the break, as it is one of those experiences we know will be remembered from the vacation. Great food, outstanding setting, abundant schnapps tasting for the boys, just one of those experiences you can only find in a little ski village in Austria with 6 friends on the other side of the world.
8:00 Wednesday morning, Room 301
Almost time for breakfast at the midway point of the holiday. So awesome here, everything is taken care of. Breakfast, ski, sauna, dinner, Olympics, sleep, repeat. Love it.
Began wearing my leather boots without socks because I don’t want to bend over too many times. Kinda sore from the skiing. No further problems with the insomnia though for obvious reasons.
Hotel Bayers, Bayerstrabe 13, Munich $236. For two nights, better and cheaper and closer than the Munich Sheraton (Too American according to Fronk).
Part 5 Loud, Stupid and Happy
Wednesday afternoon we ended our day skiing down run 50 in St. Anton. Three quarters of the way down you ski past one of the strangest scenes ever. A few hundred people dancing on the tops of picnic tables, hopped up on schnapps and jaeger and beer. Fronk had been looking forward all week to stopping at Mooserwirt but we didn’t think much of it.
We kicked off our skis and sat outside. Guy walks around with a huge tray of beers and jaeger/schnapps shots. The boys didn’t know how to drink the concoction-it comes in a glass with an inch of schnapps and a little bottle of jaeger. Tray guy says, “Simple, like this” happily drinking one of the concoctions off of his tray. This is cause for much laughter and a second round of shots. I sneak off for a little of the business then walk into a yurt to get a hot chocolate (never ask for cocoa or you will get Coca-Cola, and if you ask for hot cocoa you will get a very funny look and a hot Coca-Cola).
The hot chocolate was the best tasting thing ever, did I mention it rarely got over 0 degrees Celsius all week. But after drinking about half, I attempted to descend the icy stairs outside the yurt and my ski boots kicked up like a cartoon character. Cocoa up, me down, all weight landing on the corner of a stair on my right upper bicep. Funny that my worst injury of the week was off the slopes. My purple party pants and blue ski shell were now leopard spotted with brown cocoa splotches. My very supportive friends laughed and grabbed another round of shots.
But that was only part of the story, after my fall, we venture inside to what I realize now is a very common party scene. Electronic thumping party music and about 300 dancing crazed people. Take a minute and search Mooserwirt Austria, its nuts. There was a guy in a horse costume to my right and a group of suuuuuper drunk women to my left, a packed dance floor, DJ singing on a second floor balcony, some of the sweetest dance moves I’ve ever seen and a giant picture of Will Ferrell wearing an afro with the words “Get Crazy” summing up the entire scene.
It’s fun to get loud, stupid and happy and I liked Mooserwirt, in moderation of course, it’s the kind of place that gets old pretty fast if you are not heightening your experience with jaeger, schnapps and beer.
We leave after a couple of hours, drunk skiing down to the bus that takes us back to Zurs. There is an old man scooting down the ski hill on his butt and when PackJack goes over to ask if he needs any help, he gets an earful of German gibberish and a wave off that translates to, “No, I’m drunk and happy, nothing to see here.”
3:30 Thursday, Room 212
And then it was Thursday. Sadly, things start ending tonight with the boys driving back to Munich. After two bluebird days, the snow and low visibility were back today and we decided that survival skiing after four days of powder skiing was enough. Flat light, fog, no fun. Zurs to Eig to Lech for sausage and sauerkraut then back to Zurs. It doesn’t sound like much but when you can’t see anything, it is much.
And sadly the boys are leave tonight. Two are flying out at 2 am, which means leaving Flexen after the duck confeit dinner, driving to Munich and catching the redeye home.
I have to push the back of the van before it gets traction leaving the hotel. I watch as it drives into the night following the light down the hill, sad to see the boys go but kinda happy too. It’s a different adventure being alone.
8:00 Friday morning, Much smaller dining room table
Strange to eat alone. Although not really alone as in the week we managed to become the unofficial dinner entertainment. I have lots of people to say hello to, as no one is a stranger at the Hotel Flexen. “Morgen”, “morgen”, “morgen” it’s the call of the morning. Not great weather this morning: Wet snow and low visibility. Temp 2, 0 sun hours, 90% chance of precipitation in the am, 75% in the afternoon.
Granola, yogurt, coffee, soft-boiled eggs, juice, fruit, lox, fresh croissants it’s an amazing spread to get you going in the morning. Solo eating is always odd but I’ve been watching the two single men across the dining room all week. They eat, stare, think, and talk with each other, just like the six of us but without the banter or phones. I decide to head back to St Anton today hoping the weather will be better over the mountain.
That’s how the morning goes, make a plan while eating, go Lech or St Anton, discover and evaluate as necessary. This is day 6 of skiing which I can’t remember doing since the ski patrol. Stronger every day.
Not really near death
It’s about 8:00 pm; we arrived in Bear Valley at 4 in a snowstorm. Since then I have snowmobiled my wife up to the cabin two miles up Bloods Ridge, (course we couldn’t find the cabin so I had to wade through waist high drifts knocking on stranger’s doors before finding the right one), stuck the snowmobile into a bank while carrying my brother-in-law’s 9 and 11 year-olds, flipped the snowmobile while turning too fast on one of the 6 runs carrying stuff and people to the cabin and now I can’t feel my fingers as I try to put tire chains on same brother-in-laws car so we can back it into it’s final resting spot for the evening.
“You gotta take over Chris, I got no feelie in my fingies.” I pronounce “feelie” and “fingies” not to try to lighten the mood but because my brain is slowly losing normal function.
Of course, it works out, both families make it back to the cabin where wife has prepared a beautiful ham dinner and a giant steaming pot of hot chocolate. I dethaw and realize I’m happier than I’ve been in years.
I have a theory. I believe people who have brushes with death are happier than people who don’t. Kinda the “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” philosophy. How can you appreciate life if you don’t see how precious it is? This is why cancer survivors carpe their diems, why thrill seekers are so damn positive and why people who sit around tend to wallow in the excrement pool.
We must seek adventure; it is a part of our humanness. Your life balance (homeostasis) depends on it. And, it’s easy to do, just get out, make a plan, call a friend and go. Course, when daily life gets in the way, we sometimes forget how important pushing on the front of the boots is (this is my favorite ski reference for “moving forward”).
Daughter just went back to Chico to start her second semester of college. During our many conversations over break we talked quite a bit about owning the place you are and how important it is to growth. College is funny, it is the time of first freedoms, first experiences on your own, first taste of adulthood, but it can also be the time of first fear of the unknown.
One of the best life choices I ever made was moving up to Bear Valley for the ski season. The plan was to get a mindless job (lift operator, waiter) and write the Great American Novel. Luckily one of the first people I met was Lee who was the head of the ski patrol. “No Walt, you want to be on patrol so you can ski all day.” I’m very pliable so that’s what I did.
It was an incredible season full of crazy people, crazy memories and crazy times. Watching the sunrise from the top of Yellow Submarine while carrying a backpack full of 10-pound explosive charges that were then thrown into the overhanging buildup of snow that spelled potential avalanche. Watching Bacca, our best skier on patrol, cut across the ridge crown as it gave way and pulled him under. Hearing what we thought was a loud snap of a branch and Bacca yell, ‘F——–k” as he went down with a broken femur. You can’t get those memories watching GoPro videos.
30 years later it’s still a part of me. I love returning often to Bear Valley, shooting funny videos, checking in with Scott and Chris and Ted and Kathy who all remained on the mountain. The experience didn’t kill me and it made me stronger.
Our family ski vacation is epic. Wife spends a blissful day tearing around the hills on the snowmobile, son rediscovers a love of snowboarding, brother-in-law’s 9 and 11 year-olds make an Olympic-level sled hill, and we all leave with memories which will stay with us forever.
In for a quick snack and change of ski pants at noon. It’s been a wet morning and I chose the wrong bottom outer layer. I’ve been going three and four most of the week: base layer, running tights and ski pants on bottom, base layer, long sleeve T, sweater or fleece, waterproof shell on top. Sun coming out, a welcome sight. Skied Zurs, Stuben, and St Anton. New pants, new gloves, almonds, pear, apple, tangerine, quick text check from the boys and I’m back out.
Friday 4:45, STFU Room
And here’s the greatest thing about this place. Even after a bad day of skiing (as if that could ever happen) there’s the “Shut The Fuck Up” room attached to the spa. So after a full hot wash and moisture steam, I can sit here watching the last few diehard skiers make their way up and down the hill. 0 degrees and blizzard outside, 80+ in my robe in here separated only by double paned windows.
The room is also supposed to be quiet, which it rarely is, usually because of blaring American music coming from the bar directly below (currently Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”). But that’s the deal, the quiet is only in theory really, kids all around, sauna people in and out but sometimes it works, relaxation happens here.
Hot, cold, steam, rest, this is good. An hour of hanging in the STFU room heals. Connie named the room after a group of kids took over the room and their parents were unwilling to intervene.
“I mean, right? Sometimes you gotta just tell kids to shut the fuck up.”
5:00 STFU room
Not so quiet today because of the jamming German band downstairs, kinda loses some of the aesthetic. Was thinking about how penis size relates to attitude. Must be the testosterone. True though, at least here in the spa.
Apparently the party below is the biggest of the season, hundreds of people according to Harold. Better go. Also gotta find a ski resort in California like this one. One price, meals and lodging and spa. Makes the experience so much easier.
I should stay here and write a novel about the Flexen Hotel before it gets renovated and goes away in 2 years. Building upgrades, progress; get rid of the sinks you have to pee in. Sad.
7:20 Smoking room/Olympics watching room
“Feed the Monkey Sugar” party is going on downstairs. This is quite something, Austria Uber Alles. Bunch of people yelling and dancing, Mooserwirt with a moveable schedule, apparently they gather in different little towns throughout the season and tonight it’s the little bar downstairs. Man, these Austrians are crazy. Watching tennis in the smoking room, oxymoron or an example of Irony? Hmmm.
I walk downstairs to find a packed roomful of men, many with their shirts off, singing and swaying, loud, drunk and happy. I last about 30 seconds; it’s like Moosewirt for aging Bears (The kind from the Castro, not the mountains). No thank you.
7:40 Last Supper
The herring is the way to go. Such a hugely weird taste, fishy and fresh, a filet of herring wrapped up in a pickle. Very Austrian, very weird, very delicious.
But if I win with Kate, it means I’ve lost. Why does that make sense? Not sure what that’s in reference to but I guess it means I’m missing my wife.
Just got the stink eye from Sasnia the server for having my writing pad on the table. OK, got her to smile now, it’s like she read my writing and decided to smile. Is that weird or are we under surveillance?
By the end of the week, the nakedness is still interesting but it has turned into mostly old guys you sit across from at dinner whose saggy wiener you saw earlier.
He’s the gossip at the party, that’s the role of Harold. Interesting to have him flitting around in his lederhosen, running downstairs to the party then back to gossip about the next table.
The theme from “Moonlighting” is in the background; I’m not making this up. Connie showed our hosts how to put on a station called, “The American 80’s Classics” and we’ve been tortured by songs like this ever since.
I can’t stop eating lemon olive oil because she suggested and poured it. She being the alpha blonde in the room. It’s been obvious for days, Austrian, perfect family, perfect clothes, and she knows she’s alpha wherever she is. It’s nice to be her, nice to have her here. Enough of that.
Alone is kind of a fun way to have dinner. Course I have my sketchpad which gives me something to do which is really what it’s all about. Something to do, Live, Love, Create, Watch, something to do, going deep on day 6.
Chris-T-On from France just sat down next to me. Things are looking up, like an older, healthier CC.
That was the call, the re-up of the business in the middle of dinner. Left turn Scooby!
My self-portrait is not a pretty look. Can’t wait to get to the hotel in Munich with hot water, always a plus. Still weird to eat alone. I never do it, even when skiing, grab a granola bar and go. Never been a sink eater.
And just like that Chris-T-On is gone. “He just comes in for the salad and goes.” Explains the waiter whose name I don’t know because I don’t need to learn it. What a snob I am.
Strange, totally bland cheesy lasagna thing for dinner, no Fois Gras all week, epic meals overall but sadly ending with a whimper after many bangs.
Politics- with Chris-T-On Insomnia
Moosewirt- Loud, stupid and happy. Family-daughter/son
Relationship-Duh. Penis Size
Stories/Skiing-Duh II How I can work everything in
8 naked guys in a sauna- Not sure what to say about that one but CC would have a great answer, he’s the master of the one-liners, we’re trying got get him to do standup. Nobody laughed at the “It looks like a Village People Reunion in here” line when I open the door even though it was the funniest thing I’ve said all week.
While the alpha sits quietly, he stares at the blue screen under the table. A nice smile and wave when she left the room. This is good. Am I playing with fire if I write down “Room 301” in large letters and hold it up as she passes by? Yeah, too far.
Found Chris-T-On and Harold smoking in the bar. Nice conversation about American politics until super drunk, super fat, loud, stupid and happy guy bombs in the middle of the conversation and I realize it’s time to go.
Melissa had said, “We smoke together tonight.” Before dinner, I actually heard it as, “we sleep together tonight.” Which is a much scarier statement. Regardless, I’m heading to bed. Happily alone.
8:30, Saturday Morning breakfast table
You can’t control the weather. Bluebird morning, which is kinda sad because I wish I were skiing. Feeling strong after 6 days on the hill. Watched Mattley’s weather report from Bear Valley this morning and laughed at the difference in snow levels outside my window. Looks like the year I did the ski report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Lakr7ZxgYg#action=share
Sad to be leaving, I wave to the alpha who happens to be looking out her window as I walk down to catch the bus to St. Anton. I spend my 30-minute wait spinning around like Julie Andrews in “The sound of Music”, taking in the 360-degree view. Skied it hard, very happy.
11:30 downtown St. Anton
Just sitting and watching in St. Anton. 2 hours before my train leaves and I’ve found a nice bench to sketch and people watch.
Cody from New York. Finally an American, little mini-me from 30 years ago, just cruising around by train. 2 days skiing in Alberg then moving on to the Matterhorn and Switzerland. Young, free, and wandering. Goodbye to Cody and goodbye to St Alberg.
11:15 Saturday March 3, Madrone Winery Parking lot
And it’s done. I lose. The good news is that I was able to get the medical excuse from my Kaiser therapist. The bad news is that the head of HR had no interest in changing the situation citing “Reasons beyond those sighted in the contract”. Translation: We are not going to pay you to go skiing in Austria.
I had to play a little hard ball. Consult with my 4 lawyer friends who all said to go through the union first. Only problem is I am not a member of the union so I thought I was not able to be represented (wrong assumption, every teacher is covered). I think the teacher’s union and specifically tenure is a big problem in education so I have never been a member. In my world people get rewarded for doing a good job, period.
But that doesn’t matter, the union rep and I pushed HR, HR held firm and I had to decide whether I wanted to file a formal grievance or sue the school district both of which I really did not want to do.
The ugliest scenario came from an employment lawyer in Sacramento (colleague of a lawyer friend). He suggested filing a formal grievance and suing for pain and suffering (I was really suffering in Austria), claim that I was actually sick and don’t self-incriminate. Plus take all of my days off while in litigation. 300 hours equals about 50 days off which takes me through the end of the school year.
While tempting, especially with fresh snow at Squaw Valley, this would mean cancelling the boy’s tennis season, not displaying the two SONOMAWOOD signs at the film festival and most importantly, not helping our record 22 seniors at Creekside make it to the finish line of graduation. I’m not irreplaceable but putting a sub in to finish the year of Biology, Algebra, Geometry, Art and PE might be a little problematic.
Most importantly, I’d be putting more hate and separation in the world. And, I’d be risking “permanent consequences” (fired) from a district that I’ve supported (mostly, kinda) for 18 years.
Nobody wins in this scenario (except of course the lawyers) and the union representative explained that she would support me in whatever I chose but that “the situation is tricky”. Which is a polite way of saying she thinks I might lose.
So after my preliminary grievance meeting with HR it got down to them not honoring the medical excuse because of known facts. Because of my rigorous honesty, letter to the superintendent, naiveté, etc. it was apparent that I was not sick during my time off and thus according to the VMTA contract could not use sick leave. They also did not like that the letter came the day after I returned to the classroom but that was just when I was able to see my therapist.
To me, I was just playing the game, securing the excuse so the sick leave box could be checked off. Not so simple. Moral disengagement, my world versus the rest of the world. Also I am tired of the semi-deception I was perpetuating. Learn, grow, fall down, get back up. Time to walk the walk.
I learned that teachers cannot take vacations during the school year (scratch the burning man plans) and that there are five reasons for time off in the contract and skiing in Austria is not one of them.
I also learned that teachers and administrators are rarely on the same team and that my philosophy is more than a little naive and unrealistic.
And so what? Life goes on, I’m writing this in the back of my wine tour bus looking out at the beautiful Sonoma Valley. Driving 9 strangers around a place I don’t usually spend enough time driving around, six days of touring and I will have made back the 2 grand. I don’t think Kate’s going to divorce me, yet, and I can now share freely the life changing vacation to Austria.
Part 6 Politics
When we introduce ourselves in Austria, we always say that we are from California, not America, like there is a difference, which there is. It’s like California is its own separate country which it should be and which the Europeans understand. Nobody likes our president here and some are more vocal than others. I don’t avoid political discussions, I encourage them:
Flaming shit bags
CiCi is mad that I didn’t go further. My mantra is, “Educate don’t irritate” which makes sense to me but sometimes doesn’t have the impact I hope for. Putting up giant signs http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/2953927-181/activism-academics-meld-at-creekside, installing new garbage cans, filling the creek with garbage bags, placing a large present of trash on the SVHS campus http://www.sonomanews.com/news/education/6202878-181/sonoma-trash-display-aims-to?artslide=0 each caused a trickle of interest but no real solution to the problem.
17 years of cute, passive projects have not worked, my students and I still clean up two bags of garbage weekly from Nathanson Creek. What is a rebellious teacher to do?
“Should I put flaming bags of poo (I don’t swear in my classroom) in the principals office, lose my job, be brought up on charges and arrested for trying to make a point?” I joke, but wait a minute; I think to myself, I might be on to something. Hmmm, it might be time for flaming shit bags.
Donald Trump is a flaming shit bag. No, not because of the reasons you’re thinking (I can hear my editor now, “Sure, Walt, good luck trying to write your way out of calling the president a flaming shit bag.”) but because he is a giant nuclear blast in the face of a pretty complacent and civilized democracy. Eight years of Obama have kinda lulled us to sleep in the offensiveness department and now someone has left a flaming bag of shit on our doorstep.
No telling if the results will be good or bad, that’s the thing about flaming bags of shit: they could go out on their own, they could get stomped out by the people they are intending to wake up, or they could ignite the whole house on fire. Whatever the result, the flaming shit bag gets your attention.
“That’s what I’m talking about Mr. Williams. Wake people the f up.” CiCi is engaged, ready to be the change.
And maybe that’s what it’s about; this is our Jo-Jo moment http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2016/08/29/no-room-haters-island/.
This is when we wake up and react to the shit bag burning at our door.
Editors note: The views expressed above are solely the writers and in no way represent the Press Democrat. We would never call the president a flaming shit bag, ever, even if it were true, it’s just kind of gross and childish.
My editor didn’t really like that blog but so what? A year into the flaming shit bag presidency it’s just as true.
On the ski bus home from Mooserwirt we had a group of kids singing the YG song, “Fuck Donald Trump”, there was the father at dinner at the Flexen who thinks he will lead the world into financial ruin, and then there’s the 6 of us who, while not of exact political equal views, all feel that the presidency is just bad on almost all levels.
You are not Donald Trump
We can learn a lot from my son Tuck. Wednesday was not only the darkest day in American politics for many of us but also the final day of tryouts for Sonoma Valley High’s basketball team. My 16 year-old sophomore had been pushing hard to make the Junior Varsity team, daily practice in front of the house. Working it, 10,000 jump shots, sweating hard every day for months, I would help when he asked (I coached him at the Boys and Girls club and CYO, back when my lack of basketball skills were not so apparent) but I was proud that he was doing it for himself, learning not because a parent or coach or teacher wanted him to but because he wanted to better his skills.
“Didn’t make it dad, no big deal. I’ll work harder next year.” That was all he said as I picked him up from practice on Wednesday. I’m tearing up as I write this because that one line validated everything I stand for as a parent. Responsibility, integrity, owning it, all the stuff I write about and teach to my students on the daily, 12 simple words.
“Tuck, I’ve never been more proud of you,” I responded as we drove through town talking about training for baseball season and how he wished there were more winter sports offered. Grit is it; we fall down so that we can learn to get back up.
You are not bigoted or racist or misogynistic. You would never brag about grabbing women by the pussy, skip out on your taxes, deny science and take away health care. You would not promote hate or violence or separation. You would not mock the disabled, demean women and minorities, bully, lie and taunt your way to becoming leader of the free world. You just wouldn’t, you’re better than that.
And yet, here we are, the election happened. So, take a few days to vent and rest, talk to other intelligent, progressive people (I had Jennifer Grey and Rachel Hundley come talk to my class on Wednesday-very therapeutic), then wake up and realize that this is America where we decide on the direction we want to go in. Look at the US election map and understand that all those negative traits listed above, while they do not represent you, do represent at least half of the country.
How could 29% of the registered Hispanic voters vote Trump? Well, as legal citizens they don’t want any more benefits going to illegals and Trump promised more jobs. How could 53% of white women vote for the man? Tough one, I don’t get it but according to Susan Kolod, psychologist in New York,
“Trump comes across as a very phallic male,” Kolod says. When he brags about being able to do whatever he wants to with women, Kolod says, it creates a powerful image that resonates with some women. “There’s this sense of: He can do anything; he can get away with it. That’s the kind of guy who can protect us.”
I’m not buying it but the country sure did.
So what’s next? For Don-o a crash course in being leader of the free world and if the first meeting with Obama is any indication, there’s going to be a huge learning curve. Then there’s the federal trial for fraud over Trump University, the dozen lawsuits of alleged sexual impropriety, the investigation into his charitable foundation, releasing his taxes and bringing a country together after he very successfully ripped it apart. Are you listening president Pence?
“Didn’t make it dad, no big deal, I’ll work harder next year.” It’s time to be more like Tuck. Put on our big boy pants and move forward.
You are not Donald Trump.
Chris-T-On wanted to talk about guns in America. 17 high school students were shot dead on Wednesday in Florida, the latest in a horrific string of gun related atrocities. I explained my view.
357 Million Guns
Remember cigarettes? In the late 60’s 4 out of 5 doctors recommended Camel cigarettes. Everybody smoked, even 18 years ago when I started teaching in this classroom we would allow students to head out to the girls softball field for an 11:00 smoke break. If we didn’t many students wouldn’t come to school, at least that was the theory.
18 years later the message that cigarettes make you poor and kill you has finally sunk in. It is rare that I smell that familiar old tobacco reek that I grew up with (RIP Wilma Williams, lung cancer 2010). America realized that Big Tobacco was not their friend that they were sacrificing too much for a little nicotine jolt that was not worth the cost.
We embrace things that kill us because we think the cost is worth it then one day we start moving in another direction and realize, “Wow, what were we thinking”?
What will it take to get us there with guns?
Have we gotten as cynical about the problem as The Onion where they have been running the same story every time a shooting happens, changing only the location and date.
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX—In the hours following a violent rampage in Texas in which a lone attacker killed 27 individuals and seriously injured several others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Sunday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Kansas resident Britt Mulvanos, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”
It would be really funny if it weren’t so sad.
America has Gunbrain; we have bought the idea of peace through superior firepower, that if only everyone was strapped, there wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t need to get into details or statistics, just know that an AK-47 or AR-15 can be bought right now, only a simple Google search away.
And how do we get rid of 357 million guns? Really good question and like all good questions there is no single easy answer. The easy beginning is to stop manufacturing guns whose sole purpose is to kill people. Nobody hunts with an AK or a Glock. Making them illegal and reducing their numbers through gun buyback programs does two very important things.
First, it sends a message to the gun lobbies that we are ready to act to move toward disarmament. It’s the first line in the sand, we are not helpless, we are tired of this shit and we are going to move to clean it up.
Second, it puts the crazies on notice. Are you adamant to keep your stockpile of guns because you believe that the government cannot protect you and soon The Purge will actually happen? Bad news koo-koo, 357 million guns for 326 million people in America means The Purge could happen anytime, anywhere.
I wish cigarettes were like guns in that those who died from cigarettes chose to purchase and smoke them. Guns don’t work that way; they are equal opportunity killers, infants, children, democrats, republicans 13,500 in 2015, 15,000 in 2016, and guess which direction the results will be for 2017?
And so we wait, for the next Columbine or Sandy Hook or Vegas shooting. Things calm down, politicians who prioritize profits over people breathe a little easier and The Onion prepares to fill in another location and date.
Chris-T-On agreed but he also seemed to have a little bit of criminal philosophy in him, a worldview that it was he against everyone else. When Harold asked what he was doing in Zurs, his answer was a simple, “I’m not going to answer that.” Anyone who claims the fifth in a bar has some serious secrets. Our discussion moved to the environment then America in general then a drunken friend of his interrupted and the conversation turned.
I’m tired of DT, not that he will go away if we ignore him but I was developing OCTD and decided to stop. Narcissists thrive on attention so let’s stop giving it to him.
Every week when I post these blogs on Facebook, I write a pithy little comment to my 26 FB friends hoping to entice them to read past the giant mug shot that appears for reasons I cannot explain or change. Last week, I posted that I am suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Trump Disorder (OCTD) as each day I try to ignore the Flaming Shit Bag burning bright on the doorstep of America but I can’t. http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2016/12/02/flaming-sht-bags/
Obama has it right. We should all be kite surfing on Richard Branson’s island. Yes- care. Yes- be outraged. Yes- protest however you feel fit. Yes- be shocked and awed at the daily train wreck that is the Trump administration. But keep some perspective people; this is not the end of the world (at lease it shouldn’t be). Our elected official is a misogynistic, narcissistic bully but he is our elected official. And just like bullies in school, his popularity will fade, he will implode, and the school will return to civility.
Here’s a link to the best article I’ve read about how to channel your rage against the machine: http://blog.sfgate.com/morford/2017/01/27/this-way-to-the-resistance/ Mark Morford is a genius, follow him, he will not disappoint. But remember that doom kills and hate breeds hate and obsessing over the train wreck (OCTD) will only lead to insular depression and substance abuse. We have to get out and live, communicate and take chances, learn to kite board.
I spent last weekend skiing with 5 friends. No wives, cabin in Tahoe, epic snow at Squaw Valley, awesome fun and not a single comment about grabbing women by any of their parts. The one thing that bothered me was the OCTD. The guys were on their phones all the time checking CNN, Facebook, Fox News-trolling the train wreck. It was a proud moment when one got an interesting bite (my favorite of the weekend was Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/why-melissa-mccarthy-made-a-great-sean-spicer)
Facebook is a lie. Did you not get the memo? It’s a collection of the shiny, happy best of people. No one posts pictures of their new planters wart or their fight with their teenage daughter or their crashed car. But this is the new normal, this is the way we see each other, this is our bubble, it is how we communicate and why we think everyone else is doing better, living better and looking better than we are. BDT (Before Donald Trump) I would post rarely on Facebook and check in only when someone sent a direct message. ADT I am checking at least twice daily and sometimes more. Why? OCTD.
Betsy Devos is to education exactly as Scott Pruitt is to the environment and Donald Trump is to the presidency. Not smart, not aware, put in place due to sketchy decisions and circumstances, and just not the best person for the job. But can we change it? No- letters, protests, frustration, all moot. This is also the new normal, the dumb are in charge and they will insulate themselves with layers of more dumb. All we can do is change the things we can and forget the rest (My version of the Serenity Prayer).
OCD is traditionally treated with counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, OCTD should be treated the same. Talk with people who are also sufferers then fill your life with other stuff. Non-screen kinda stuff, get out in the world kinda stuff, call that old friend you haven’t talked to in years and go out for a pizza kinda stuff.
Like kids? Connect with SVTS or the Mentor Center or SAY or the Boys and Girls Club or the school district. Like animals? Pets Lifeline. Like art? Artescape or the Arts Guild. Sports? Plenty of teams to volunteer your time with. Writing? Local papers, blogs, I’ve even heard they are still printing those book things. The point is, you are alive and you are great and you have interests.
Log off, tune out and turn on. Life is too short for OCTD.
Part 7 The beginning of the end of the story
Saturday, Economy seat train ride, St. Anton to Kufsten
I can’t look down at my sketchpad because I just don’t want to miss anything. Spectacular landscape, Innsbruck, Wagl, industrial right next to farmland and a picture book mountain range in the back. Beautiful. I don’t want to write out of fear of missing something outside. Graffiti is different, cleaner, and artier, less tagging, more subjects and messages. Saw my first 2 swastikas tagged on the forehead of a picture of a politician running for office.
Kufstein to Munich
No bike locks, so cool. Remember to ask Fronk about the tiny houses that seem to be everywhere especially in the country. 3 out of 4 people around me are reading books. Sad to be excited about this but kinda encouraging.
7:30 Sunday morning, Hotel Bayers rm 702
In about 7 last night. Found hotel, had greatest shower and shave in a long time (RIP skistache), walked the streets for a couple of hours, slept like a baby. 3 art museums today and returning to the Eisbach Wave at the entrance of the English Garden. Even the instant coffee in the room is excellent. I find a blueberry fig bar that made it through all security checks, a leftover snack from my last wine tour, in the bottom of my backpack. My morning wakeup snack meal is complete.
Street food in Munich is outstanding. Especially the donuts cut in half with custard inside.
My three museums:
Beyerstrasse-rt at TJ Max, MUCA Hollerstrassa 12
Pinkothek-10-6, Bauer St. 40
Jimmy Nelson, “Before they pass away” Evolution or not. Spears and AK’s. You can tell the nice ones and the aggressive ones by their eyes. A friendly tilt versus a scowl. One boy in the middle of many-assertive, poised, tortured, questioning. Buddhist monks. Tibet, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Vannatu Islands, Papau New Guina, Somalia, Kenya, Chad, India, Mongolia, Russia, the expressions are universal.
“I don’t see myself as a photographer, I think I’m wildly curious.” –Jimmy in his very ADD interview.
Worship your subject, Jimmy would like Mooserwirt.
A giant spaceship and lots of cops in town for an international Security conference. I want to be 73 years old and still creating giant art. Nice way to go. Gunbrain-keep watching images of war and it becomes normal. Wonderland-Erlem Ozgen. Video display of young boy acting out torture/war/ugliness. Powerful.
Gorg Baselitz at the Pinkothek, yes please, upside down paintings.
Homeless in Munich, I keep giving my food to homeless people because how can you be homeless in Munich? And mostly older ladies.
“Does Permanence Matter?” great show about structures and sheltering people around the world from Burning Man to Oktoberfest. Ephemeral Urbanism.
3rd floor BrandHorst, finally some Rauchenburgs-context.
ADD teaching-take a daily picture of my board over 30 days. Like Cy Wombly’s early works.
I return to the hotel and feel the calling of the surfers, change into warmer clothes and walk across town to the Eisbach Wave. The fresh snow makes surfing in the middle of Munich all that more beautiful. I walk back proud of not getting lost, sit and listen to an accordion player, watch a street performer who is covered in gold, magic around every corner here.
I think about staying in after my museumpalooza walking tour then realize that is no way to end the trip. I dress and head to a German restaurant I passed by the train station. I meet Dick from Ottawa and we become fast friends. This is Munich, welcoming, gritty, artistic.
7:50 Monday morning, Lufthansa shuttle bus to the airport
To the Romanian bus driver it’s just Monday morning. We talk about politics and environmentalism and gaming and Munich. He’s my age and plays video games with people all over the world, on his phone and on his play station at home. I wonder what else the Romanian bus driver could do with his spare time then realize this is the life he has made, the life he wants. He is happy with his leisure time and he works hard and can afford it. Good for him.
8:37 Munich Airport, Gate G18
And then all the variables were done. Got my boarding passes, had an Olympic Gold vacation and hopefully will be back in Sonoma for an 11:00 bedtime. Love that, I fly all day but land at SFO at 9.
Important things I’ve learned:
- Cell phones are ruining everything. The more we watch and increase leisure time, the worse off we will be. Control and manage. Understand the danger.
- Travel is not scary and the journey is the destination. There are variables, things might evolve but this is life.
- Talk to strangers. At museums, on busses, on ski lifts, go to dinner alone and make new friends.
- The skiing in Austria is another level. Like 10 Squaw Valleys with rave bars, incredible restaurants, and magical small towns.
- The Hotel Flexen is how ski trips should be. Wake up, roll to breakfast, meet on slopes, ski all day, end at hotel door, change into robe sauna for a couple hours, 5 course dinner, Olympics, sleep, repeat.
- Be grateful. For all this and a beautiful life and family.
8:45 Condor Air Seat 28D
Somewhere over northern Canada and I’ve just discovered the James Brown station. Not much music this week, which is different than my normal Pandora-filled life. Wondering how to organize the Austria story. Kinda want to write it verbatim from notes but not sure how that will work. Titled sections then break up the story with jumping around all week. Could work.
5:45 Tuesday morning, library couch, 455 Cherry Ave. Sonoma
And then it was back to the familiar. I missed the digital clock that I stare at throughout the night waiting for it to read, 5:30. Missed rolling out of bed, quietly kissing Kate, letting Sam our dog out, making coffee and firing up the laptop to start the day. Good to be back, wonderful to be gone but always good to be back.