Author: Martin, George

The Old Geezer Speaks His Mind
This would be the first full day that I am 67 years old; yesterday was my birthday. Yesterday was Thomas Edison’s birthday, too. I used to wonder if Thomas and I had some astrological link, but then somebody else invented the mp3 player and the compact fluorescent light bulb before I could get around to it, so I guess not.

For some years now I have been pondering just when one becomes “old.” At 40 I was in great shape. I decided some months before I turned the big 4-0 that I should do something to mark the year. I hit upon riding my bicycle up Mount Tamalpais, just shy of 3,000 feet over about seven miles of road.

I was already pretty fit from two backpacking trips that summer, so it only took me about six weeks of training until I made it. I remember standing at the summit, looking down over San Francisco Bay and the hills of Marin County and feeling a great feeling of satisfaction. On the way down I actually passed a slow-moving car.

Fifty still felt kind of young, although I figured “middle age” was the word that described me. At 60, middle age was a little harder to believe, but I still felt about the same as I had felt for many years.

But in the past few years, I think I have to accept that I am O-L-D, even though that’s almost one of the six words you can’t say on TV or in polite company.

Musically (here comes the bluegrass content) I know more about chords and harmony and how music works than I ever did, but my fingers aren’t as quick as they were some years ago. This might be a function of not practicing enough, but I think some of it is that my nerves simply don’t work as well as they did.

I’ve been concerned about my brain, too, since I now mislay my glasses and my cellphone rather more than I’d like to. At least I can dial the cell phone and follow the sound. Has anyone ever thought of putting some sort of audible signal in eyeglasses?

Some months ago I decided on an experiment: could I learn to sing “I’ve Been Everywhere”? There are about 94 cities in that song, and no story line to follow. I’m usually pretty good about learning lyrics but that one was tough. It took literally months. I carried around a lyric sheet in my shirt pocket and looked at it multiple times a day.

Eventually I got to where I could “sing” it in my mind, but when I tried it at band practice, I would screw it up. Eventually, last fall, I decided to try it one morning when we were playing the Oakland Grand Lake Farmers Market, and I got through it. So, no Alzheimer's yet.

But my body is another story. There’s a funny (?) thing that happens now and then when I start to do some physical thing that my brain assumes I can do, something I haven’t done in a long time, and suddenly there’s this signal back from my limbs that we better take this slow and not just launch into it.

Our little grandson just turned two years old in December and he is the source of some of this. Playing on the floor or climbing on the play equipment at the tot lot, I notice my lithe, flexible young body is now mostly a memory.

Three blocks from my home is the historic Richmond Municipal Natatorium (colloquially, “the Plunge”), the largest indoor swimming pool in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is being retrofitted to make it earthquake safe and is due to reopen in about 18 months. I can hardly wait, because I sure could use some regular swimming to see if it helps the ol’ bod like it used to.

In the meantime, I ponder things, like the sad state of the economy, local, state and national. And I grumble.

About the banking crisis: Hey, if there was a federal program to lower those high mortgage rates that are making people default on their loans, maybe all those “bad loans” wouldn’t be bad anymore and they wouldn’t have to dump multibillions of taxpayer dollars into the banks.

About California’s budget crisis: Hey, six years ago, Arnold the Governator won election by promising to end the car tax. That whacked about $5 billion a year out of the state treasury. Six years later we are $30 billion or so in the hole. Can anybody multiply 6 x 5?

About our local schools crisis: Enrollment has dropped in our school district and the board is in a huge financial hole and wants to close some schools. But angry parents show up at city council meetings and demand to keep the schools open and the city council (which has its own budget problems) agrees to subsidize the schools for two years with some millions of city dollars. Two years from now: same old problem except the city will be millions poorer.

Now I personally believe Californians are actually under taxed (I know I’ll get in trouble for saying that) but in the short run (paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld) you operate your schools on the budget you have, not the budget you might wish to have.

The sad state of the filibuster: As a practical matter, any bill now needs 60 votes to pass the U.S. Senate, because the minority threatens a filibuster. But we seem to have forgotten just what a filibuster is. I’m old enough to remember REAL filibusters: a group of senators takes the floor to stop a bill by debating it endlessly. And I mean endlessly: the Senate runs around the clock, and they bring in cots to nap on, and the senators opposing the bill run out of things to say, so they start reading magazine articles and phone books into the record. And eventually the majority gets tired and gives up on the bill in question, or the minority runs out of steam and the thing passes.

So why can’t we have some real filibusters? I know the Senate is basically a cozy club of millionaires, but hey, it is doing the people’s business and the pay is pretty good. Let’s get serious here senators.

About the stimulus package: Would it stimulate the economy to have Steve Huber and Geoff Stelling and Greg Deering make a bunch of banjos (on the federal dime) and give them to deserving banjo players? I think it would not only help the economies of Tennessee, Virginia and California (three very fine states), it would increase the amount of bluegrass being played and thus improve the national mood.

Oh, and where the hell are my car keys?
Posted:  2/12/2009

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