Got the OK from the doctor to resume my normal physical regimen. Good thing! I was going nuts sitting on my ass after 3 surgeries in two months. The good news is... no cancer! The other big news is that I'll be departing Woodstock, although the date for that is not yet set. I'll be getting un-Woodstuck.
"Woodstuck" is a term the locals have always used to describe somebody who moved to town, excited by living in the most famous small town in the world, only to become stuck with no way to get out.
I got Woodstuck over 40 years ago. Immigrated to the burg to immerse myself in the music scene, and to put my kids in safe schools. Got stuck. Long after there's any reason to be here, I'm still here.
Not moving very far away. Less than 20 miles, on the periphery of Kingston, but still out in the country and atop a mountain. A shorter mountain.
I will, however, be moving to an entirely different universe. I'll be living in an ordinary small town with no claim to fame, populated by people with a lot more sense and much smaller egos. No flocks of tourists.
The reason? I'm going in with my daughter and son-in-law to buy a house. They need all the help I can give them to care for my three grandkids, and I'm retired and happy to play the role of Mr. Mom. So, we'll be building an in-law unit in the basement of the new house for me. I'll be selling my house in Woodstock.
I've never lived in the town of Woodstock. That's too damned crazy. Town is full of rental houses for the transients, and shops and amenities for the tourists. The transients are artists, usually musicians or painters. An entertaining but addled bunch trying to continue to live the hippie dream.
No, I've always lived in isolation in the forest in the mountains to the west of Woodstock. That area belongs spiritually to Woodstock, isolated from the melodrama and mental illness. Every crazy artist and burned out far leftist must live for a while in Woodstock.
Another reason for the move is that I need somebody to look after me. I'm headed toward 70. No serious health problems, but living in isolation out in the mountains will soon be too much for me to handle. And, if I fall down or have a serious health problem, I will need to have somebody nearby to help me.
While I'm still completely independent, capable and mobile, I am old.
I'll be Woodstuck until my house sells. Might be a year or two. Or might happen in a hurry.
I'm ready. God has blessed the final chapter of my life... He has given me these beautiful and fascinating grandkids and He's given me a big role in rearing them.
I'll be commuting to my babysitting gig until the house sells. Then, Crazy Grandpa will move into the basement apartment. Happy days ahead, indeed.
Three surgeries in the past two months! Two months of enforced physical inactivity, opiate pain medications and not even being able to babysit my grandkids. I'm seeing the surgeon on Thursday, and if he gives me the OK, I will be able to resume my normal physical regimen of bicycling, yoga and weight lifting.
Kids fall down all the time. My grandkids, ages 1 through 3, are still learning how to control their bodies. The one year old twins fall down every 30 seconds or so. The three year old is starting to get her act together.
The worst part of my two month long struggle with health is that I haven't been able to get down on the floor with my grandkids to play and rough house.
Every aspect of my life is at a standstill because of the physical inactivity. Can't wait to get started again.
We all fall down.
Kids take it all in stride. If you don't get up when you fall and try again, you'll never learn how to walk. My grandkids fall down, scrape their knees, cry and show the boo-boo to grandpa. I kiss it and we start all over again.
I've been through this picking myself up and putting myself back together so many times. I no longer get depressed or angry about it. It just seems to be the reality of life. People get sick and die. Economic disasters strike from time to time. Completely unexpected problems overwhelm us.
My midwestern upbringing and Catholic indoctrination taught me stoicism. In rural Illinois in my day (the 50s and 60s), nobody wanted to listen to your whining, your excuses or humor your bitch. My family's background is hard ass Irish and German peasantry. I was taught from childhood that nobody was going to help me and that, if I wanted anything, I had better get it for myself.
This is quite a sensible philosophy.
I know how to put myself back together. I'll start out slowly with the physical exercise so that I don't hurt myself... the first consideration for an old fart. I'll get back down on the floor to play and rough house with the grandkids. Today, I got started playing music and drawing. (Even those things went by the wayside, since the opiates put me to sleep for most of the day.)
The biggest smackdown of my life was, of course, Myrna's death. Took me years to want to go on with life. It's still a struggle without her. 12 years ago, the money was flowing in from two big paychecks and we were thinking we were on the verge of retiring to travel the world in luxury.
Everything changed in a few moments.
Then the grandkids came along. I'm not ashamed to say that they gave me a reason to enjoy life and to be positive and enthusiastic again. Caring for them has become my full time job in retirement, and I'm happy with that. In a few months, I'll be moving into an in-law apartment in a new house I'm buying with my daughter and son-in-law so that I can be full time Mr. Mom to my grandkids. Goodbye, Woodstock! (A good thing. It's time to become un-Woodstuck!)
That will come to an end to, but experience has prepared me for that. I already know that the day is not so far away when my grandkids will have other things to do than hang out with grandpa.
I stopped in Sam Ash in suburban Jersey last week to buy a couple of books of sheet music that had been tempting me for some time. The first is the great college music student standard, J.S. Bach's Two and Three Part Inventions.
This series of exercises is the standard text for learning correct piano fingering techniques. In my summer school sessions at the University of Illinois while I was still in high school, my piano teacher drilled me relentlessly on these pieces.
Completely different melodic lines in left and right hands. Fingering must be precise or these very short pieces fall apart. I have a classical compilation book that contains a few of these pieces. After six months of hacking away at three of these pieces, I have almost mastered one.
Mastering the entire collection of inventions will keep me busy for the rest of my days.
Here's Bach's own description of the purposes of these two and three part inventions:
Honest method, by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only (1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, (2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition.
This book served as a nice little present for a retired grandpa. Don't we all like to buy something on Friday? At only seven bucks, it was a bargain.
I tend to get up at 3 or 4 a.m. One of the oddities of retirement. This is several hours before the political controversy starts for the day on the internet. So, I'm looking for positive things to do with my time. I feel like I've accomplished something when I start out my day with my classical practice.
My other little present to myself, also purchased at Sam Ash, is this book of many of Chopin's Favorite Piano Works.
Chopin is my favorite classical piano composer. I wanted a big book of his standard pieces that included the Military Polonaise.
These pieces stretch my technique to the breaking point... which is my intention. I've been playing Chopin's Waltz in C Sharp Minor in my classical compilation. Here's a YouTube of a pretty Chinese girl, Yuja Wang, playing that piece:
Now, I have a ton of new pieces to explore, sight read (even if only one hand at a time) and think about adding to my tiny classical repertoire. A bargain at 17 bucks for the book!
I'll probably never play one of these classical pieces in public. (Well, I do play Chopin's Prelude in E Minor as a little mood setter before Mass.) That's not really the point.
I play classical piano for mental clarity, to promote a sense of peace and well-being, and for the simple satisfaction of conquering difficult pieces. My goals are entirely self defined.
And, I enjoy hearing my own interpretations of some of my favorite classical pieces.
Grandpa Howling' Steve will have 10 weeks off from daily babysitting of the grandkids starting next week! Yay! While I love my little Munchkins and enjoy my time with them, I need to recharge. (My daughter is a school teacher, so she gets the summer off.) What will I do?
I'll be taking a week long road trip to Chicago with a stop in Detroit. In Detroit, I'll be meeting a Facebook friend for a trip to Comerica Park and a Tiger baseball game. In Illinois, I'll be visiting my soon to be 90 year old mom and taking in a Cubs baseball game at Wrigley.
I considered continuing out to Colorado so that I could buy some 420 from a retail store, but that's a long way to go for a 1/2 ounce of pot. A lot of wear and tear on my 2011 Ford Ranger pickup, too!
The grandkids will still be very much in my life. My 3 year old girl has made it clear that she wants picnics in the backyard with chocolate ice cream. That's fine with me! My back yard is a great place for my one year old twins to play, too. You couldn't find a quieter, safer place. No traffic noise. Only the birdies and the deer.
And, I have no doubt I'll be called on for spot babysitting.
Unfortunately, I have another surgery scheduled for this summer. What can you do? I'm old, as my toddler Munchkin so often tells me. My body is starting to break down. The surgery will hospitalize me for a couple of days, then I face a month long recovery.
I'm still recovering from two surgeries over a month ago. Yesterday, I did a full set of yoga for the first time since those surgeries. I was afraid to go all in. Now that I have, everything feels better and my outlook has improved.
The picture above is from Uncle Grandpa, one of my favorite kids' TV shows. The grandkids do not appreciate the sublime humor of this show. They prefer The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Princess Sofia and P J Masks. I do love Minnie and Mickey, but a summer off from the endless reruns will do me some good.
Most of my great Grandpa Summer Vacation will be spent at home, doing what my dad called "puttering around." Bicycle riding, softball in the backyard, tending to my yoga regimen, playing, writing and recording music, and sketching and painting. My house needs some minor repairs that I can manage, too.
My time with the grandkids is already running out! I've been babysitting them almost full time during the school year for three years. Next year, it's off to pre-school for my toddler girl, so I'll only see her half days. In two more years, my baby twins will also head off to pre-school. Within four years, all the kids will be in school full time and grandpa will have to find something new to do with his life.
Of course, this line is from the big 60s hit by Buffalo Springfield that evokes the atmosphere of that era of street protests.
In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, paranoia has taken over. Facebook is full of horrifying accusations, with every political faction trying to pin the blame on their opponents.
The need for a scapegoat seems so deeply embedded in the human psyche.
I wish I had answers, but I don't.
Part of the explanation for the paranoia that took over the anti-war movement in the 60s was that so many people were experimenting with acid and sex. LSD produces good and bad outcomes. Those outcomes are dependent to a great degree on the psychological stability of the user. Sexual experimentation also provokes deep seated fears.
I speak from experience.
The rebellion against authority and patriarchy in the 60s also left people feeling adrift in a sea of random waves. There were no longer any rules or loyalties.
That rebellion against tradition, order, morality and authority continues to this day. In fact, rebellion has become a mass movement, a brand. Woodstock is the dominant symbol of that brand.
On the left, the paranoia over sexual identity drives people to wild extremes. The shame that people feel for their perversions and experimentation must be somebody's fault. That that shame might originate within the individual because of what he is doing seems unacceptable.
This sexual paranoia provokes bitter hatred. In Woodstock, it is an article of faith that the rubes out in the styx want to kill the perverts and homosexuals. I grew up in small town Republican Illinois and I can attest that that is nonsense. Nobody cares that much.
My life is very peaceful. I'm out here at the end of a dirt road in the forest in the Catskill Mountains. Should I even care about this outburst of paranoia and hatred? I'm retired and out of the fight of life. Should I just ignore the madness?
Myrna believed, correctly I think, that humans become consumed by bloodlust during times of peace. Peace equals boredom. The desire to blow things to hell begins to creep into our consciousness, particularly among the young who lust for action. The desire for revenge against our enemies begins to consume us.
Is the internet a global single consciousness?
If so, that single consciousness is infected with madness and bloodlust, the desire for revenge and paranoid hatred of imagined and real enemies.
I really don't measure my life in relationship to celebrity. There was a time in my life when I actually knew a lot of celebrities... musicians and media people. None of them were really close friends, just business acquaintances. So, Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74. What's that got to do with me?
I found the rather clever cartoon above at this website.
I certainly look at the celebrity obits. How can you help that? My Facebook page already sports dozens of references to Ali's death, with each friend relating their bit about how and when he affected their lives.
My main interest in the celebrity obit nowadays is... How old was the deceased? This gives me an opportunity to revise my guess-ti-mate of just how long I have left before I croak.
Ali croaked at age 74... an average age for a man. 82 seems to be the favorite age for male dying.
How did the great fighter affect my life?
Back in the day, let's say around 1968, he was an anti-war icon with his "No Vietcong ever called me nigger" quote. This seemed incredibly brilliant to me at the age of 18, although it now seems like incoherent nonsense.
I chased around celebrity musicians in Woodstock way way back in the late 70s and 80s in the hope that they could do something to help me in my ambitions. Quite a few of those musicians have since kicked the bucket, and none of them did me a bit of good. Some of them did thoroughly enjoy playing the S&M game of pissing on me for chasing after them. A few of them asked me to work for them for free.
I did not attend the funerals of any of these musician celebrities. Many of the supporting cast musicians in Woodstock did in the forlorn hope that this would be a last chance for some of the sheen of celebrity to rub off on them.
Celebrity is so cheap nowadays. Back in the 60s and 70s, celebrity was a rare thing because media was limited. So, the celebrity figures of the 60s and 70s seemed bigger than life.
In the era of super mass media on the internet, Warhol's "Everybody will be famous for 15 minutes" maxim is literally true. Celebrities abound. I no longer even make the attempt to keep up.
I am content now to face the future of dying in anonymity. We all die alone.
When Myrna was dying in the hospital, I tried at first to rally all her friends and associates to visit her at the hospital. But, I quickly observed that neither she nor they really wanted that. Death is an intensely private and not very pretty thing. Myrna wanted to be left alone with me holding her hand in her last moments.
Only a handful of people really care for us during our lives. This is not a negative reflection on people. Intimacy is difficult and time consuming. We don't have the ability to care for a broad swath of humanity.
I will also die alone, with maybe my daughter at my bedside. Nobody will notice much that I am gone, and that's fine, too.
After babysitting three grandkids under the age of 3 all day, I head home for dinner and take a nap that tends to last until 10 p.m. or midnight. When I wake up, I surf the web to take in the Cubs' news and all those ever important political opinion sites. I might get in an argument or two. Then, I try to change gears, play music and sketch. Some nights I succeed. Others, I don't.
What is it about bullshitting about opinions, particularly political opinions, that is so addicting? Opinion bullshitting is probably the major use of the internet. Comments sections of weblogs are filled with people arguing all night with an urgency that is preposterous.
Of course, there are a few weblogs and websites that are important presenters of opinion, like Steve Sailer's blog, probably the most influential on the web. Although Sailer has not endorsed Donald Trump for president, Sailer's explosive (and witty) deconstruction of political correctness may be the most significant factor in Trump's rise. The fact that Sailer now draws in excess of 200 comments per post is a demonstration of the demand for heretical commentary. Most people are followers who wait for somebody else to take the hit for saying that it is obvious that the emperor is naked.
The rest of us are just weighing in with our two cents, getting pissed off because other people don't agree with us, and filling our time with... what?
When I am gone from this vale of tears, what will be the most important thing about me that will remain on this earth? Obviously, my progeny. My children and grandchildren will be my most important legacies. My artwork seems altogether likely to be forgotten. My political opinions, already of little consequence, will disappear into the electronic ether.
I chose the graphic above because it's funny. No, my opinion isn't important to the website, blog or newspaper that tries to attract my comments. What's important is that my click to these sites can be counted by advertisers paying for web page views.
So, what is this endless bickering on the web about? What else would we do on the internet other than argue about politics? Why do we seem to believe that the first measure of compatibility with other people is political opinion agreement?
I only have a few answers.
Back during the dot-com era, I worked for a number of very ambition start-ups. By ambitious, I mean that these companies planned to produce compelling, interesting and, often, educational original content on CDs and on the web. These start-ups all went bankrupt, often after blowing through $100 million in venture capital. Why? The cost of creating that original content could not possibly be recaptured in sales. Teams of engineers, programmers and content creatures consumed money at an astonishing rate.
Political opinion, on the other hand, is dirt cheap... maybe even free. It can be produced in unlimited quantity daily with very little effort. And, people seem to have an unlimited willingness to consume the product. The emotional furor produced by disagreement is a powerful drug that keeps people engaged.
What else would you do besides fight about politics on the web? MIT has a great online education site. Despite my good intentions, I have yet to take a course.
I was invited to a benefit for a musician (I'll call him "Joe") who I've known for decades here in Woodstock. The pitch was that musicians should band together to help him because he has no health insurance and he's been through a bout of bad health. So have I.
I found this pic of this very nice jewelry piece at the Soul Jewelry Store.
Years ago, I attended almost all of these types of benefits. Back then I was hustling CDs and personal appearances as a solo performer or as a leader of a band. But, I let all that go a few decades ago, so I seldom do attend such benefits anymore.
The request to help out Joe baffled me. I had assumed that he had long exited the scene and found a job, as I had. Joe certainly never had any prospect of, as they say, "making it big" in the music biz. His highest rank in the biz was playing rhythm guitar in cover bands that gigged in local bars. So far as I know, he's never written a song, issued a CD or played in a serious venue.
Back in the late 70s until the mid 80s, I was doing pretty well in the local and regional music scene. My recordings were very well received in the press and played here and there on the radio, and I got a lot of critical acclaim. Even a few TV appearances. My picture was in all the papers and I gigged regularly. I even did some very highly publicized opening acts for a few big time acts.
And I still wasn't making any money!
This state of affairs is pretty common in the music biz.
So, I got the hell out of the serious pursuit of fame and fortune in the music biz. I returned to school to get an advanced degree in tech so that I could provide for my family. Even Myrna's urging to take the music biz seriously again didn't move me, much to her chagrin.
As a result, I have some retirement savings, Social Security benefits, a pension and I own my house outright. Had I continued on the course Joe took, I'd be a beggar too. As it is, the deductible on my Social Security Supplemental policy for the hospital visits I just endured will take quite a chunk out of my savings.
Music biz martyrs like Joe are a dime a dozen in Woodstock. He evidently never learned a trade or found a job that paid benefits and promised a pension. There are a thousand twists on this story of music biz martyrdom. Some guys had a hit single at age 18 and have lived in poverty the rest of their lives struggling to write and record that next hit that never comes. Others are political activists who play the lefty propaganda circuit and never make any money.
I didn't attend Joe's benefit. I was surprised that I felt more than a little pissy about being asked to pony up for his bills. Why should I? He made the decision to live in poverty and to never learn a trade. I swallowed my pride and ate shit. (I also enjoyed a family life that I would have sacrificed had I continued to chase fame.)
I guess helping him out in some way would have been the Christian thing to do. But, really, I don't give a damn.
I've fallen apart completely as a result of my now almost month long bout with illness. The kidney stone was removed surgically a week ago and now I'm trying to get back to my physical, artistic and musical routines. The illustration below was rendered digitally by Cristiano Siqueira.
The disintegration has been both mental and physical.
I've just been through the first major illness in my life. A trip to the ER and two surgeries within three weeks. I'm 66 year old, so I've had a hell of a good run, but my aura of invincibility has been shattered. The surgeries dramatically changed my mindset. I know now that I'm vulnerable. The frailty of old age is no longer an abstraction.
Everything came to a halt during my illness. I stopped playing and writing music and sketching and painting. I gave up my physical regimen. No yoga, bicycle riding or weight lifting. All I did for three weeks was take pain killers, babysit the grandkids for 8 hours a day and sleep.
So, now, I have to start over.
And I have to start over in the face of the reality that I'm going to have much more serious surgery in another month.
While I was being treated for the kidney stone, I went through 3 CAT scans. The radiologist found what appears to be an early stage tumor in my appendix. So, I got lucky.
Don't know yet if the tumor is malignant. My surgeon says the probability is that it is not. Had this tumor not been discovered, I would not have known about it until the tumor became malignant and the appendix ruptured, spreading that malignancy to every organ in my abdomen. That would have led to a very quick death.
So, I have to fight my way back to health and fitness, get my daily regimens going again, and then go through serious surgery to remove the appendix and a small section of bowel above it.
After that, I'll have a month long struggle to recover again.
The good news is no colostomy bag and I'll retain normal bowel function.
Three more weeks of babysitting the grandkids and I'll be off for the summer. Not the way I'd hoped to spend most of the summer, but life throws curve balls and we must adjust.