The Old Man and the Camaro

29 08 2010

Something interesting happened recently as I was making my weekly pilgrimage to the local landfill.  We live way out in the country and private trash pick up service costs about $30 a month.  Since we recycle and put most of our kitchen waste in the compost bin, we only have a couple of bags of trash a week.  It just didn’t seem like money well spent so I combine my dump run with any other little errands that I can in order to economize on the twelve mile drive into the county seat.

Along the way, I saw that someone had a fire engine red Camaro parked out by the highway–it was for sale.  I knew it was a mid to late 1960s model, and from my 60-miles-an-hour inspection looked to be in good shape.

Like so many boomers I am now at the point in my life where I could buy a toy like the Camaro in question without having to go borrow the money or sell a kidney.  We all know there is nothing cooler than some fat and bald old fart driving a really cool muscle car, right?

After I made my deposit at the landfill and checked off the other items on my list–I am also at the age that if I don’t make a written list my efforts to economize are for naught because I will invariably forget something trivial like paying the telephone bill or going to the doctor’s office to get blood drawn.  The really important stuff like buying beer or seeing what new varieties of garden seeds are on the shelves at the local hardware store always stay at the forefront of my memory–I decided that I would stop and see what the guy was asking for the Camaro.

I have never been a big fan of Cameros.  I don’t have anything against them but the Chevelles and Corvettes were what always got me hot and bothered.  Still, this car was from my glory days and I wanted to see how it looked.

As I pulled up the driveway, I saw two men standing there having a conversation.  I could tell even before I got out of the car that they were posturing themselves physically; they must be sizing one another up in preparation to haggle over the Camaro.

As I approached them I was a little hesitant because I didn’t want to queer the deal for either one of them.  After all, I knew I was just a looker, not a buyer.  Apparently, my approach offered one the the men, who I later learned was the seller, a chance to break off the conversation as he greeted me.

Cautiously, I inserted myself into the conversation with something like, “I’ll bet you guys are talking about the Camaro, right?”

Duh!  I always was good about sensing things like that.

The seller replied in the affirmative and said, “Are you interested?”  Talk about all sorts of ways to interpret and respond to that question.

I didn’t give him a direct answer but rather asked what model was it; I was thinking 1968.

“It’s a 1967.  It’s about 80% restored.”

“What are you asking for it?”

“$10,900.  Another $5000 and it should be in perfect condition.  There needs to be some body work done.”

Apparently, the man who I assumed had been negotiating with the seller as I arrived reached his breaking point.  He unleashed a diatribe emphasizing his expertise with restoring muscle cars and how this Camaro had so many problems a person would be crazy to buy it at that price.

All I could think was, “Slow down, dude.  I’m not going to start a bidding war.”

I honestly thought that was his fear; boy, was I ever wrong.

After the man finished pointing out all the problems with the Camaro he started a rant on what the hell is wrong with cars today and how they are all crap.

Finally, after the seller and I did not take the bait and just stood there for at least five minutes, the guy ran out of wind and left.

As he was pulling out onto the highway, he stopped, got out of his vehicle, walked around the Camaro shaking his head before going on his way.  Oh, I guess I should interject that he was driving an old, rust and primer colored Ford Ranger pickup.  I guess he was in the process of restoring that as well.

As I turned back to the seller, his whole expression had changed.  He was relaxed; almost mellow.  He said, “I don’t know you but was I ever glad that you pulled up.  That guy was busting my chops about my Camaro for at least twenty minutes before you pulled up.”

“You are more patient than I would have been.” I replied.

He explained that normally he would not have put up with it but he figured the guy was just using it as a tactic to whittle down the price.

“I figured out that was not his game, though; he never asked me the price.  I think he’s just one of those guys who gets some sort of warped pleasure out of complaining about everything.” the seller postulated.

I said, “I guess there are people in this world who would gripe if you hung them with a new rope.”

We both laughed and talked about the Camaro.  I think the seller knew I was not a buyer and I knew he was not going to try and sell it to me.  We just enjoyed the conversation and never missed the grumpy old man.

However, I have not been able to get the old man out of my mind.  Is a person born with a genetic tendency towards a certain way of viewing the world?  What were the old man’s parents like?  Did they see the world as a place filled with obstacles rather than opportunities?  Were they the type of people who not only saw the glass half empty but also saw the glass as being cracked, chipped and dirty?

I have known people like the old man my entire life (stuff for another blog). Does the act of pointing out what is wrong make them feel better about themselves or is it actually the only way they see the world around them.  Of course, on the opposite end of the scale are people who see nothing wrong with anything.  At least those people don’t rain on every damn parade they can find.

It seems to me that the Buddhists have it right when they recommend “The Middle Path”.



Frog Wars

24 08 2010

Nearly every spring, summer and fall morning for several decades, you will find Linda and me enjoying our overindulgence in coffee and sitting beside our ornamental fish pond.  The sound of the waterfall and the perfect visual juxtaposition of the natural, sharp-edged Indiana sandstone rocks and the rounded lily pads seem to create something far more natural and Zen than ornate.  It is our time, the time we are more of a team than any other.  This is when we brainstorm problems, discuss children and grandchildren, develop strategies and daydream about our glory days, both past and future.  I think it is our morning time that allows us to be the best we can be as a couple. This time is sacred.

I built the pond because I wanted one ever since I was a young boy.  A neighbor of my grandparents had one in his backyard.  It was more of a mini-swimming pool complete with poured concrete sides and bottom but it still stirred my imagination. Thank you, Romeo LaPage for letting me experience that moment in your backyard so many years ago.

Except for the plastic liner fabric that can only be seen if you lift one of the rocks, our fish pond looks completely natural.  Heck, we even have frogs that live there year round.  And that is where the story of my fish pond gets a little complicated.

The fact that the pond looks and apparently feels so natural that frogs have taken up residency is a compliment.  And the frogs are comical as they sit on the rocks or lay on lilly pads sunning themselves in the dappled sunlight filtering through the Japanese maple that overhangs the waterfall.  Truly, my efforts to create a natural setting have been validated by the frogs.

Like fish, frogs grow.  And, like the fish, the larger they get the more food they need to sustain themselves.  I understand that; after all, that’s the natural way, right?  Well, starting last summer, dawned on me that the number of goldfish in the pond was diminishing.  I was prepared to blame  the harsh winter conditions or some woodland creature such as a racoon until, one morning as I sipped coffee, I saw a frog lunge at and nearly swallow a goldfish.  I’m talking about a goldfish somewhere between four and five inches in length.  The frog just floated on the surface of the pond with the tail of the goldfish hanging out of it mouth.

“What the hell?” was all I could conjure up as a reaction to what I just saw.  I did, however, shift into rescue mode and somehow was able to grab the frog with my bare hand as I laid across the rocks at the edge of the water.

“Not in my pond, dammit!”

As my hand wrapped around the frog, he opened his mouth in response and the fish flipped out and hide on the bottom of the pond.

With frog in hand, I walked the 300+ yards to our large pond (about an acre surface area) and told the frog–it was listening to me, I could tell–“We’ll see how you like it when the largemouth bass get a look at you.”  Even though I was pissed at the frog I was not going to harm him in any way; that’s not the kind of person I am.  I would let nature take care of that.

Two days after my relocation efforts, there he was again.  Back in the fish pond and with a fish in his mouth.  I am reasonable sure it was the same frog due to his size. Anyways, back to the large pond we go.  Again, two days later and he’s back.

Next to the time I spend on the rider mower, sitting by the fish pond is when many of life’s truths review themselves to me–the light went.

“How come I never realized this before?”

I don’t claimed to be the shiniest marble in the bag  but the life lesson emerging in my conscious mind was brillant.

The frog was doing what came natural.  Not only was eating the fish natural but also returning to his home place of safety, where, in all probability, he was born.  It took nearly two years for the frog to morph from a tadpole to the goldfish-swallowing lowlife he had become.  After all, wasn’t I hoping that the large mouth bass was going to do what comes natural?  Of course, I was.

How could I find some natural behaviors to be acceptable and yet other natural behaviors to be intolerable?  What was the criteria for making the determination?  Oh, sure!  It’s an easy choice if I find myself being considered as the main course by a mountain lion or some other predator.  However, what gives me the right to determine for other animals what is acceptable natural behavior and what is not when that behavior does not endanger the me or something held dear to me such as other humans or pets?  I like the goldfish but they do not rise to the level of pets.

Some might respond to my quasi-rhetorical question with some sort of a religious answer about man’s dominion over the beasts.  I ain’t buying it!

I think humans have, through intellect, developed a rationale that exempts us from most natural laws; that is a logical fallacy.  I always am amazed at the arrogance of humans (myself included)  when it comes to getting our heads around man’s relationship to and place in nature.

How often do we hear, “If we don’t stop doing______ or start doing____, then we are going to destroy the earth.”  Give me a break.  We may make it to where the earth is uninhabitable for humans but we are not going to DESTROY the earth.  It was here long before we became the dominant species and I’m putting my money on Mother Earth outliving all of us.  Of course, some other animal will be the dominant species.  I just hope it’s not those damned fish-eating frogs.  Talk about attitude.

Another human quirk to consider when analyzing man’s view of nature is mowing the yard and pulling weeds?  It is a never-ending job that as far as I can tell serves no utilitarian purpose in life other than to meet some contrived standard of what natural beauty is suppose to be.  Maybe there is some primitive fear in our subconscious that we need to have enough clear space between us and where the predators are lurking so that they cannot sneak up on us.  I’ll have to think about that one for a while.

What would happen if we did not mow the grass or pull weeds for just one year?  Oh, yeah.  We would be fined by some agency of government for not maintaining our property and be a nuisance to any neighbor who lived close.  Yet if you would go mow a meadow beside a mountain stream in a national park what would the outcome be?  See, we want to achieve a false sense of control over nature when, in all reality, we are only denying the futility of our actions.

When Linda and I first moved here thirty years ago, our place was a combination of woods and fields that had not been used by humans for anything other than deer hunting for at least twenty years prior.  As we walked the land, we could see where old fence rows had been, but to the untrained eye there was no sign of human interference with the nature’s plan.

Over the years, we cleared some parts and planted trees in others.  Of course, we have altered the land much more significantly than that.  We have put in underground utilities, built a house, a barn, a swimming pool, a driveway, dammed up a creek for a pond and created various vegetable and flower gardens.  As beautiful as Broken Plow is, both from the human design and the untouched natural perspectives, make no mistake, it will someday return to its natural state.  I hope it is several generations from now, but it will happen.

Trying to change that is like trying to get a frog to stop eating goldfish.


The Downhill View

22 08 2010

On my next birthday I will be 62 years old. Unless I live to at least 125, I am closer to the date of my death than the date of my birth. Thus, the the blog title, thedownhillview.

I think I’m okay being on the downhill side of life. I don’t really see it as an overall negative as the term might imply. Remember, the downhill part of any journey should be easier and generally is. In fact, I see my remaining years as a time to relish and pass on the lessons I have learned while looking forward to the ones yet to be learned.

As long as my health and the health of my wife, Linda, hold out for the next twenty to thirty years, then I will have no complaints. Of course, good health is such a relative term based on where a person is in life. I can live with the aches and pains associated with age and paying the price for abusing a young body but I hope we can avoid some of the serious problems that many people our age are starting to experience with both mind and body.

Speaking of problems with the mind, my four grown children always reassure me that if the day comes when I do step over the threshold into the great unknown called senility, I will not be alone in my lack of awareness that anything has changed.

Between now and that moment when my mind turns to oatmeal, I hope to figure out what I have learned in life and what I still need to understand. I am hoping this blog will serve as a vehicle/tool/catalyst (you choose the word) for accomplishing that goal.

I doubt that I will post every day or even ever week. I suspect blogging is a bit like keeping a diary or journaling; two activities I have never been drawn to in the first part of my life. I do have a lot of thoughts about life, most of which, when openly expressed, generally evoke wrinkled brows, “dumb cow” looks and responses overflowing with expletives questioning what is the half-life of some the compounds I ingested in the late 1960s.

That about wraps up my overview and explanation of “Why thedownhillview?” Stay tuned. I will usually post after I mow the grass. We mow about six acres and I do a lot of thinking as I ride around on the mower. An appropriate subtitle for thedownhillview might well be If It’s Green It Must be Grass: Thoughts From Atop a Riding Mower.

See you on the other side: