24 January 2011

Is There a Point to These Memories?

Sometimes I feel like time flashes by in the blink of an eye. One minute, I am telling someone I’ll call them tomorrow, the very next minute it is two months later. But when I stop to think about my life so far, it often feels as if I have lived a whole bunch of lives, each separate and distinct from the next. One likely culprit in creating this effect is the rapidly accelerating technology in my lifetime. Let’s face it, even that shiny new cell phone that was the envy of the party last month, now feels like a couple of fruit cans connected by a string. But the real driving force behind the fragmentation of my life is that I never learned how to be normal. In fact, I now openly challenge the existence of “normal.” Here is a stroll through a very few decidedly non-inclusive recollections.


I used to always go to work with my father. He was a third generation custom finish carpenter whose craftsmanship abilities died with him. Anyway, we decided to walk home one summer evening and, as everybody was doing at the time, begin chatting about the moon landing. I was most likely about six, so that would have been the Apollo 15 mission. We talked about how long it took to get out there and my dad patiently dealt with all my silly questions. Forty years later, the moment is still vibrant in my memory.

Sitting around the dinner table, my father’s anger was palpable. The focus of his rage was not some transgression we were responsible for, so I remember feeling a little out of place. As if I was seeing something a nine year old had no right to witness. It was 1975 and images of the last helicopter out of Vietnam, desperate refugees falling from its skids, were plastered across the 17” screen of our black and white television.

I grew up in a sleepy little town in the upper Napa Valley. The entire town was basically a Seventh-Day Adventist College and some associated businesses. The one store carried no meat, no booze, and at the time, not so much as a solitary caffeinated soda. We sat along a major approach route to Lake Berryessa, which is a huge manmade lake. It was also the favored party location of just about everybody. In the early and mid 1970s, I remember the long lines of outlaw bikers, most notably Hell’s Angels, which would wind through town on their way to the campgrounds along the lake. We had no beer or steak so unless they needed gas, they never stopped. As a child, I took my cues from the fearful citizenry around me. Any petty crime in the entire area became the work of these ruffians. Later, some of my friends were members, family members, or associates and I found out about the difference between myths and reality. About the same timeframe, the Zodiac killer rolled through town leaving a few bodies behind. Groups of fearful citizenry prowled the streets with CB Radios at the ready as distorted news flashes crackled out of AM radios all over town.

Oil embargos, hostage situations, presidential assassination attempts, and proxy wars from Afghanistan to Nicaragua barely got me through high school. Heavy metal, Pink Floyd, video arcades, and midnight showings of “A Boy and His Dog” scrolled by as the settings of my life. Little changed, a 1969 Chevy Nova was still cool, even though that 1982 Trans Am was a faster ride to the other side of virginity.

In 1982, my father died; he was young and it was sudden. Issues of coping and grief aside, my future immediately took on a less structured feel. After high school, came the Marine Corps, motorcycles, Mohawks, communal living, and countless crazy days. Double features of “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior” still played like clockwork and still cost $2.75. I had a small, tight-knit group of friends. If you saw one of us, you saw most of us.

The 1990s started a personal evolution. One minute, I was uncertain as to my identity; the experimenting of the 1980s settling down on something decidedly different then mainstream, while skill sets worked to cement me into a conformist’s role. In 1992, I cringed when a mother stepped onto her porch in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and was shot in the head by an FBI sniper while holding her baby in her arms. Memories of a 1985 incident in Philadelphia where police dropped a military grade weapon on the headquarters of the African American group “MOVE” came flooding back. Then, absolute rage as I watched 76 men, women, and children burn to death in Waco, Texas. Their crime? Mostly it was being misunderstood in an era where different was equated to dangerous. It seems as if it is always that era in America. I took a transfer to Santa Fe and pinned on a badge.

I told myself I would be a different kind of lawman and I was. Having worn cuffs for petty traffic scuffles in my younger days, I was in no hurry to slap them on anybody else. High speed chases, high speed women, and dabbling in the world of competitive Chess filled my days. After a few years in the high desert, during which I watched a misguided attempt to retaliate against government abuses blow 168 innocent people into the next life, I headed back to the bay area where I lost my way.

Convinced that money was a key ingredient that had been missing from my life thus far; I pursued sales positions with some of the world’s biggest companies. Ensconced in the heart of Silicon Valley, I soaked up the dot.com party like a starving man. The energy, the excitement, the buzz in the air was contagious and addictive. The old rules didn’t apply, right up until the day that they did. I fled the insane cost of living and the two hour waits for movie tickets and headed north to the sanctuary of Portland.

My personal evolution warred with my pragmatism. Settle down, or continue to chase whatever caught my eye? To quiet them both down, I took up ultra distance endurance sports. It’s hard to worry about anything except your next step when you are mountain biking, running, kayaking, and mountaineering 150 miles over a twenty-four hour period. I immersed myself in the lifestyle. Scuba diving in exotic locales was my downtime.

Then came the exact moment when I could no longer pretend that everything was as I intended it to be. An argument broke out between my boss and me. He asserted that knowledge was just useless crap that got in the way of making money. In short, I was not delivering the sales production he wanted because I was “thinking” too much. The discussion got me thinking and it made me take a hard look at myself. The old gang had long ago dispersed; the once unbreakable bonds, broken by divergent time and space. I was out in no-man’s land alone, the decision was mine to make. It took me a month to pull the trigger and embrace thinking over selling; the pursuit of knowledge over the pursuit of dollars. Now, five years and a degree and a half later, I would only change one thing that I had control over during the last forty-five years. I really feel like I should have taken more pictures.

8 comments:

  1. What a brilliant post on what thoughts and memories bring back to us. A true time machine.

    Cheers A

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  2. So many different memories in a very inspirational post. You seem to have reinvented yourself along the way but it reads like you've enjoyed life, I'm glad the only thing you regret is not taking enough pictures at least that's one that you can change from this point forward :)

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  3. AS SJ said do it especially us "oldies" whose memories aren't so good.. take photos and even join in, on the Friday Moment we have between us blogplicitors...

    here's SJ's http://almostthere.biz/2011/01/1338/

    and mine http://www.raisingamelie.com/2011/01/moments-in-time_21.html

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  4. Paul, you may not have taken the pictures with a camera, but you’ve captured these memories with words. We see pictures of your father the carpenter… we hear your conversation… feel his anger.
    You paint a clear picture of Napa Valley… the Hell’s Angels… paranoid citizens… you take your reader with you back in time, give us a glimpse of recent history…. Introduce us to a boss who none of us would want to work for… not ever. Of course there’s a point to these memories!

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  5. inspiring stuff, i too, much later later life went to university, completed a 3 year science degree and now can't believe i did it. i have huge admiration to those who study and get that "all important" education, stuff the previous boss into the ignorant category he or she belongs. btw, please post the pictures you take from now on .. cheers alan

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  6. Alejandro summed it up, reading this was like being in a "time machine". I'm glad you realized your self worth and left that job/place. Reminded me of when this guy in upper management at a previous job I had (it was in sales lol) told me verbatim and in no uncertain terms that, "You're not paid to think, just do what you're told". What a loser! Let's just say I moved on! LOL

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  7. Thank you everyone for taking the time to read my posting and reply. I am happy that my memories touched a cord with you and it is obvious that we have all had a "that boss" or two in our lives.

    May you all continue to thrive!

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  8. Isn't it wonderful that our memories never disappear? Or at least not for a very long time:)

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