General Ramblings

Happy Birthday, Bill!

I don’t think I realized how long it’s been since I last checked in around here. Assuming anybody is still following this blog and still cares, sorry. I hope I didn’t worry you. There’s nothing’s wrong. I haven’t been sick or anything, just busy… and perhaps filled with a touch of fatalistic “what does it matter” ennui. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. Instead, let us observe our silly annual tradition of wishing the one and only William Shatner a very happy birthday. The actor who portrayed my childhood hero, Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, turns an incredible 90 years old today.

Ninety.

That’s difficult to believe, as he remains more engaged with the world than many people half his age. He’s active on Twitter, for one thing, sparring with trolls and fans alike on a daily basis. He’s still working, too. The image above is from his upcoming movie Senior Moment, in which he stars with the equally iconic Christoper Lloyd. (The trekkies among us will no doubt remember that they previously worked together in a little thing called Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, way back in 1984.) Judging from the trailer, Senior Moment will probably be the sort of thing that’s best described as “cute,” a by-the-numbers exercise in life-affirming treacle. I don’t have very high expectations for it at all, but I think it’s admirable that Shatner has found a starring role at this stage of life, and I hope it’s a success for him.

And here’s an interesting project that was just announced today, no doubt to coincide with his birthday: Shatner has become the “brand ambassador” and will be the first subject of a new service called StoryFile that will use recorded interviews and AI technology to create interactive video simulations of people that others can converse with, just as if they were talking to the real person. I’ve had a look at the company’s sizzle reel; it seems entirely plausible, and they have a lot of interesting potential applications in mind. But the one I’m really intrigued by is the idea of creating a legacy, some hint of a person that will remain after that person is gone. Journals, photographs, personal possessions, even film and video can only go so far in giving you the sense of an actual person, but one of these StoryFile simulacrums could capture an inkling of someone’s actual personality. It reminds me of the old Max Headroom concept, where a computer-generated TV personality was created from a scan of someone’s brain. Of course, that was more akin to downloading someone’s mind, which this isn’t. But some of these AI chatbots are getting pretty difficult to distinguish from actual human customer service agents. If we could create that level of realism… well, like I said, I’m intrigued. Where I never got around to having children, the idea of living on in even a video simulation form is… appealing.

I know start-up companies with these grandiose, would-be revolutionary ideas are a dime a dozen. StoryFile could easily be vaporware, this year’s version of that Mars One debacle a few years back. But like I said, I’m intrigued. And I love that William Shatner, 90-year-old William Shatner, is involved with it. He is still a role model to me in so many ways… still curious, still engaged, still grappling with the human adventure. I aspire to that.

Happy birthday, Bill.

 

 

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Lileks on the Awesome ’80s

It’s been a long, long time since I checked in on James Lileks. Longtime Loyal Readers may remember that name. I used to refer to him quite a bit here on Simple Tricks, back in the days when blogging was a going concern and we were all linking to each other in a big happy ecosphere… before the dark times… before social media.

I read his Daily Bleat regularly in that halcyon age, and I even aspired to model my own blogging efforts on the sorts of things he was doing. Then came The Lileks Incident, when something I wrote about him here got back to him. He slagged me pretty thoroughly, made me mildly famous for a couple days, and I was startled when his not-inconsiderable fanbase was so… unforgiving. It was probably pretty mild compared to the corrosive shitstorm that’s commonplace nowadays on Twitter, among other places, but at the time, I found it pretty difficult to take, especially where I felt like I’d been misunderstood. I contacted him, explained my side of it, we exchanged apologies, and that was the end of it. Except… I’ll be honest, the whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth and shortly thereafter, I just… stopped going to his site. It was a big internet after all, and there was lots of other content to eat up my leisure time without any lingering embarrassment or resentment. C’est la vie.

It’s a shame, too, because in those early, heady days of the blogosphere, when people were homesteading themselves an online presence and declaring themselves and all their weird interests, it was easy to feel like you knew someone, like they were a friend, even if they had no idea you were even reading their stuff. Lileks had felt like a friend. I had emotional investment in him, in his interests and daily life, in stories of his daughter and his dog and his problematic backyard water feature. When he turned on me, even if he felt justified in doing so… it hurt. And for a long time after I stopped reading the Bleat, I felt like I’d lost a friend. Even though I knew he barely knew I existed. It was an important lesson in how this brave new world operated, and how harsh it could be.

Earlier today, I was going through a very old folder of bookmarks and came across the link to his site. My curiosity bloomed almost immediately. It’d been nearly a decade, I think, since I last read him. Was he even still out there anymore? Did I dare take a look? Although I’d always admired his writing ability, his turns of phrase and his sense of humor, his politics were not entirely compatible with my own and I frankly dreaded what the Bleat might have mutated into during the Trump years.

To my relief, it appears to be pretty much what I remember: close examination of architecture, pop culture, bits of ephemera, the details expounded upon for laughs and yet somehow he zeroes in on a kernel of truth about the way things were and how they are not that any longer, and what a shame that is. One new addition to the site soon caught my eye, something he’s calling “The 20th Century Project,” which consists of scans of old magazine ads, catalogs and other ephemera, organized by decade and described in his particular sensibility. Naturally, I turned to the subset of material from The ’80s first. Here’s his introduction to that decade that is so near and dear to my heart:

Yes, it was awesome.

Also, terrifying! Any minute now, nuclear war. Oh, and by the way, sex is fatal now. That said, it was everything you remember, or everything you heard, and so much less.

… think of it like a story told in a smoky bar with streetlights slanting through the venetian blinds. That sounds rather 40s, I know – but it was also very 80s, and we loved it, because it seemed as if we were back to one important basic lesson: the classics weren’t dead. We could bring them back to life at the same time we made up new ideas, and it all fit together. America was BACK! Also nuclear dread and deadly STDs, but you got your win and you got your wang.

I stand in awe of how he captures so much what made the ’80s “the ’80s” in so little verbiage, whereas I would probably carry on for another 2000 words without every managing to say anything. Nuclear dread, STDs, and bands of light through venetian blinds… that’s exactly how I remember it.

Yeah… I still want to want to do what he does, even as I watch the digital tumbleweeds blow past the weatherbeaten porch of this old platform…

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Happy Halloween

As darkness falls across this blighted, socially distanced land, I hope we find a light for the path ahead…

 

 

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This Is Curiously Satisfying

Watch all the way to the end…¬† also, extra points to the makers for using the original filming locations!

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The Things We’re Missing

I’ve never really thought of myself as a “man about town” type, but in the last few days, I’ve realized how much time I used to spend just… running around. And how much I’m currently missing that lifestyle.

I find myself fantasizing in vivid detail about roaming a mall I used to hang out at when I was in my early 20s, Cottonwood Mall over on the east side of the valley, a mall which no longer exists.

I want to go for a pizza, but not just any old pizza. I want to go to a pizza place called Gepetto’s, a funky old relic of the early ’70s that was built into an old bank, a place where I went on countless dates with Anne when we were young and pretty. A place where the house salad dressing was as remarkable as the pizzas. It’s not there anymore.

I picture myself browsing a bookstore I used to frequent back in college, a converted house called Waking Owl. Later, it was a CD store called Graywhale. The house is still there. Waking Owl and Graywhale aren’t.

I want to browse through a bin of bargain-priced DVDs and check out all the latest movie-related toys at Media Play. Or maybe Suncoast. Remember Suncoast? I can’t recall if there was a Suncoast at Cottonwood Mall, but there was one at Crossroads Mall, located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. I loved Crossroads when I was a teenager… five stories high, with a food court and a movie theater at the bottom of a central atrium. I liked to ride the escalators to the topmost floor and stand at the railing looking down that atrium through the center of the mall, feeling that little zoom of vertigo. I saw E.T. in that theater. The theater, the food court, Suncoast, the atrium, even Media Play… all gone now.

There are so many movie theaters where I saw personal landmarks… I can picture them all in my mind and I want to revisit them all right now. I saw The Black Hole at the Fashion Place UA; Tron at the Regency on Foothill; Lawrence of Arabia and Dazed and Confused at Trolley Corners — I really loved Trolley Corners, which had a massive mural of the artwork from the original Star Wars painted on one wall, left over from when the film played there in 1977, and glass panels with portraits of various classic stars hanging from the ceiling. Then there was the Family Center Trolley, where I saw Superman II as a kid and a re-release of The Terminator in my twenties. The Creekside 5-6-7 (Star Trek IV). The Sandy Starships (Mother Lode, Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop, The Breakfast Club). The Cottonwood fourplex (most of the rest of the Star Treks, through Insurrection). The Star Wars trilogy at The Centre, then again decades later in an all-day marathon at The Villa. So many films at The Villa. Alas, The Villa is now a Persian rug gallery and all those other theaters have either been remodeled into office buildings or ground into the dirt.

I’d like to grab a pint at Port o’ Call (gone) or a martini at Green Street (gone), or see a blues band at the Dead Goat Saloon (gone) or any other kind of music at the Zephyr Club (closed nearly 20 years ago, the rotting hulk of its building demolished just this week).

More than anything, I want to sit in a restaurant booth with cracked vinyl seats and a sticky tabletop drinking shitty coffee into the wee hours of the night. A place with translucent-orange plastic dividers between the booths, the height of fashion in the 1970s but old and tired by the ’90s. I can’t find places like that anymore.

Notice a theme in any of this? As we sit at home in this time of crisis, hoping the plague passes by our door like the flowing green mist in The Ten Commandments and feeling the restlessness growing in our hearts, what I’m missing the most isn’t just physical places I can no longer go, but a time that’s gone as well… specifically my young adulthood, my twenties, the 1990s. A time that was fraught with all kinds of insecurity and anxiety about career and love and life decisions that I never did get around to making. But also a time of possibility and irresponsibility… a time when the existential threat of the Cold War was behind us and we all knew that we’d never face that kind of crippling fear again. A time when I was old enough to do adult things and young enough to not think too much about them. The whole world was out there in front of me and I couldn’t wait to grab hold of it and see and do and feel all of it.

Now the whole world is out there and we’re hiding from it. And when all this is over, things are going to be different and we can’t yet guess how… only that a lot of what we took for granted will be gone. Just like the things I used to take for granted: malls and restaurants and bars and theaters. The ones I really loved were all older than me. They’d been there forever, it seemed, and surely they would always be there. And then suddenly they weren’t. Same as the world we had only a few months ago. Before the virus. Before COVID-19 and “social distancing” and “self-isolation.”

And the world we had 20 years ago, before 9/11. We were frightened by the world then, too, and we never did fully recover. I’m not sure we even partially recovered.

I hate the 21st century. I really, truly do.

 

 

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Last Night of the Teens

It’s New Year’s Eve 2019, which means that social media and the degraded remnant of the once-mighty blogosphere are filled with reminiscences of the past twelve months, as well as thoughts on the preceding decade as we roll into the 2020s. (No, I’m not going to call the next ten years “the Roaring Twenties.” That one’s taken. And I’m also not interested in debating whether a new decade begins with zero or one. When people talk about “the ’50s,” they’re including 1950, right? It’s all arbitrary perceptions anyhow; it’s not like the universe actually cares about how we silly humans mark our passage around the local star.) I feel obliged to do some reflecting myself because I’m nothing if not a bandwagon-hopper, but… well… I hate to say it, but this past year and the decade before it are really just a blur for me. At moments like this, you’re supposed to make note of accomplishments and life changes and all that jazz, but off the top of my head… I got nothin’.

Professionally speaking, I’m still working for the same company and in the same job role I had in 2009, which honestly surprises me (frantically rapping my knuckles on the wooden desk in front of me… no jinx today, please!). I at least have a different job title now, copy editor instead of proofreader. Even though, in practical terms, I’m doing the same damn thing.

I live in the same house in the same town, and I drive the same car. I’ve had no children in the past ten years, although I have grown closer to two of my significant other’s nieces and come to think of them as quasi-daughters (the rent-a-kids, we like to call them).

I find myself thinking in much more fatherly terms in relation to a lot of people. Ah, advancing age.

Now that my brain juices are beginning to flow, I can think of one big change in my home life since 2009: Anne moved in with me and she’s shown no sign of moving back out, so I’d say that’s working out well. We’ve even established a few quasi-traditions, like binge-watching an entire season of The Big Bang Theory over New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day. I’m not sure how that’s going to work next year, though, considering the show has now wrapped production so this year’s DVD set will be the last one we get…

Quite a few of my friends lost parents and other loved ones during the 2010s; fortunately, I still have both of my folks, although the past decade has seen them cross that mysterious Rubicon between not-quite-old and oh-wow-all-of-a-sudden-they’re-old-how-did-that-happen. I haven’t lost anyone else, either, but the artists whose work meant so much to me growing up have begun passing on with greater frequency, it seems. Just in the past few months, we’ve lost a number of 1980s rock stars — Eddie Money, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, Marie Fredriksson of Roxette — and just in the past few weeks, a number of people associated with the Star Trek franchise. And then there’s dear Carrie Fisher, our space princess, gone three years this very week. I still mourn her as much as any actual blood-related family member.

I have lost a couple pets since 2009, and in the last year, a feral cat that I kinda-sorta called a pet. Or at least… a familiar presence.

I became diabetic in the past decade, which sucks. I lost a lot of weight as a result, and returned to looking and feeling like the “me” I’ve always seen in my head, which does not suck. A number of my friends have faced — and continue to face, in some cases — serious illnesses, which definitely sucks.

I visited Scotland during this decade, something I’ve dreamed of doing for ages, as well as a number of lesser bucket-list destinations, like Hawaii; Washington, DC; New Orleans; and most recently, Seattle.

In the past ten years, Salt Lake got its very own comic con, which surprised me by turning out to be been very successful but then it got a little too big for its britches and had to be rebranded as “FanX” because of lawsuits from, ahem, that big convention in San Diego.

I’m ashamed to admit that my writing has largely petered out, not merely this blog but also my creative writing. That really bothers me. Likewise my personal reading habits have declined, although I’m a bit more sanguine about that failure; I read eight hours a day for a living, so it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for it after work.

Speaking of this blog, ten years ago, I was posting about the “miracle on the Hudson” when Captain Sully Sullenberger successfully belly-flopped a passenger jet into the river without losing a single person, and then a few days later the inauguration of Barack Obama and my hopes that bad old times of the previous decade were behind us. God, that seems like a lifetime ago, as well as so naive.

The 2010s have seen so much social progress — gay people acquiring the right to legally marry, the #metoo movement, a woman coming within a hair’s-breadth of winning the presidency, and even hope of finally passing the ERA — but there’s also been a truly disheartening backlash, which helped put a bellicose celebrity con man in the White House and led to literal Nazis marching in American streets. There have been countless mass shootings, countless conspiracy theories, and a rising background level of anger from all sides of the political spectrum. Every election now is a dire matter of life-and-death… or at least of Democracy vs. The End of All Things, depending on which side you’re on.

Ten years ago, nobody had heard the term “Brexit”; now the UK is on the verge of pulling out of the European Union and could face its own breakup following that, both of which used to be unthinkable.

In the past ten years, we’ve had five new Star Wars movies, but rather than them being received as an unexpected gift, the arguments are more vicious than ever and I’ve grown weary of the entire subject, as painful as that is to admit.

In the last ten years, movies I remember playing at the theater where I worked in my 20s have started to be remade.

In the last ten years, BluRay discs largely surpassed DVDs, and now both formats are declining in favor of streaming. CDs and even downloaded music files are on their last gasps, but weirdly, vinyl has made a genuine comeback. There are records on sale at Target, unlikely as that would’ve seemed in 2009.

In many ways, we seem to be closer than ever to the future I imagined when I was a kid: we now have reusable spacecraft that land on their tails like proper rocketships, solar panels are starting to pop up everywhere, electric cars are becoming a genuine thing rather than a weird niche market, and self-driving cars are just around the corner. Even my dad is using a smartphone. And yet… none of this seems very impressive. The world doesn’t feel that much different to me than it did in, say, the mid-’90s. Maybe it’s always been that way, although it’s hard to imagine someone who was alive in 1940 saying that 1980 didn’t feel different to them. Maybe it’s just me.

Now that I think about it, the past decade has been bloody exhausting. I never counted on that. In so many ways, this isn’t the life I imagined I’d be living, or the world I imagined I’d be living in, and frankly it hurts. So tonight, when I’m drinking my toast to the end of the year and the end of the decade, I’ll be wishing for peace. Not in the usual sense of an end to conflict, although that’s a laudable goal, but rather just the hope that things slow down enough for us all to catch our breath, to allow us let go of some of that… accumulated gunge that fills our heads and our hearts, so that maybe, just maybe, we — I — can dream again. I’m thinking of what Mary Chapin Carpenter once described as “cool quiet and time to think.” Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Of course, 2020 is an election year, so…

 

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Enter the Tauntaun

Following some recent misadventures I’d rather not go into, I find myself with a new addition to my personal fleet, a silver 2006 Jeep Liberty, which, if you don’t know, is a smaller four-door SUV roughly the same size as my old ’89 Bronco II. I got it for a real steal, too — in fact, when I made my counteroffer to the asking price, the dealer asked if I was sure about that amount, if I didn’t maybe want to go even lower. He was that eager to move the thing off his lot. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. While the vehicle is mechanically sound, or at least my dad was able to make it that way with only minimal effort, and the body and paint are in decent shape, the tires were as bald as Patrick Stewart and the interior…

My god, the interior.

I have never seen — or smelled — a vehicle that was such a filthy sty. This Jeep is thirteen years old, right? I have a hunch it’s never been cleaned in all that time. Ever. And judging from the evidence, the previous owner had kids and a dog. There was dog hair everywhere. There were stains on every seat, and on the backs of the front seats, and even on the headliner. Large stains. Brown stains that I really hope were coffee or chocolate and not some other brown substance. How the hell do you get a three-foot-tall stain on the back of the driver’s seat, anyway? I can only surmise that someone’s adorable little shit, er, offspring threw a large soda against mom or dad’s seat, and it never got cleaned up. Nothing ever got cleaned up, from the look of things. And did I mention the smell? It was unbelievable. A heavy, yeasty, organic funk like middle-schoolers’ gym socks, fried onions and spoiled milk. And indeed, I found a crusty white substance under one seat that I believe was spilt milk. I also found pretzels, popcorn, nuts, a whole granola bar (sans wrapper), a toy cellphone, a bunch of those colored glass pebbles that you use in fishtanks or decorative centerpieces, fifty-eight cents in loose coins, and about half-a-can’s worth of crushed Pringles. The map pocket on the driver’s door yielded a number of fossilized french fries. Oh, and there were straw wrappers everywhere. I mean everywhere. The previous owner must’ve just blown them off the straw while the windows were down and let them land where they may. But really, the big problem was the stink.

Look, I get it. I know parenting is hard, and I know that it’s not easy to keep clean when there are little kids and animals around. Accidents happen. Spills happen. And sometimes you can’t immediately take care of them because you’re on the road, in motion, places to be and all. But for hell’s sake, you can’t take ten minutes when you arrive at your destination to sponge things up? Seriously, did this person have no pride? If not pride, how about an instinct for self-preservation? I mean… how could you just sit in that filth day after day without doing something about it? The thought of what this person’s house might look like…

Ugh. Perhaps it’s best not to think about how other people live.

In any event, I spent my four-day Thanksgiving weekend cleaning the shit out of this thing… perhaps literally. I still don’t know what that brown stuff in the cracks of the seats was, and I really don’t want to. In the end, the seats remain badly stained — cheap seat covers from WallyWorld solved that problem — but the smell is thankfully gone and now I have a (hopefully) reliable vehicle to use on snow days instead of my Mustang.

One final thought: I’m not really one of those people who names all my cars, but in this case, an appellation jumped into my head while I was cleaning that so perfect, so fitting, I don’t see how I can not use it. So from this point forward, my new Jeep shall be known as… the tauntaun.

Because it’s a silver snow beast that smells awful on the inside…

 

 

 

 

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Birthday Playlist

My darling Anne has wanted to throw me a birthday party of some kind for years, but given my discomfort with birthdays and with aging in general, I’ve never been enthusiastic about the idea. This year, however, was a different situation. A big landmark like 50 ought to be observed, right? And besides, like I said in the previous entry, the birthday thing has been growing unexpectedly easier the last couple years, so I told her okay, let’s do something.

The result was an open house, which isn’t quite the same thing as full-on party but still serves to get actual living, breathing people into the same space as you instead of them just leaving digital sentiments on Facebook. Anne did a fabulous job of arranging food, decorations and a venue, which coincidentally was in the same building where she and I attended elementary school, and where my grandmother attended high school before that. I quite liked that. It felt…. symmetrical. And it was fun to be in the old place again. I had a lot of flashbacks that night.

I also saw a lot of friends, some of whom I haven’t managed to get together with in a very long. My evil twin and fellow Blasphemous Bastard, Dr. Robert, even flew out from Pennsylvania to spend the weekend with me, a sincerely touching gesture for which I can’t thank him enough.

Although Anne handled all the real work of putting the thing together, I wanted to make a contribution as well, something that would put my personal stamp on the proceedings that our guests could point to and say to themselves, “Yep, that’s Jason all right.” So I curated a slideshow of photographs from throughout my life to run on some digital picture-frame displays, as well as a playlist of favorite music.

The photos were the easy part; it turns out that I have a lot of favorite music.

After a first pass through my iTunes library, I was shocked to see that the list I’d assembled would take approximately three days to get through. So I started trimming, trying to whittle the whole thing down to only the bare essentials. The second version was just under two days in length. At that point, I decided to screw it and just put the damn thing on shuffle play and call it good.

In the end, I needn’t have bothered. I don’t think anyone paid the slightest attention to the music. Which is fine. It was better that people enjoyed the company and the conversation. But you know… I did go to the effort of building the damn thing, and I think a real thematic tone emerges when you look at it: a bit wistful, definitely nostalgic, but also hopeful and even determined. I’d kind of like it to have some kind of life beyond the couple hours it played at the event. So, for the sake of posterity, I now present my 50th B-day playlist for any who might be interested. Just click the highlighted text. It’s in PDF format, and be warned that it’s very long… but maybe you can use it to build your own playlist of songs that remind you of me, or you can just shake your head at my appalling lack of taste or something… but at least it’s out there in the world now…

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Ruminations on Fifty

I was barely into my teens the first time I saw Blade Runner. It was on a rented VHS videocassette, probably eight months or a year after the film’s initial release, so that would’ve been some time in 1983. And I would’ve been 13 years old. The movie has a very specific time setting — November 2019 — and I remember being taken by the idea that I would likely live to see that future, as incredibly far off as it seemed then in the early years of the Awesome ’80s. I once did the math on the back of an envelope to figure out how old I would be when that future arrived, and the answer — 50! — was as fantastical to my 13-year-old self as flying cars, off-world colonies, and genetically engineered replicants.

Well.

Here we are, only six weeks away from November 2019, that once-distant future imagined in the now-ancient past, and today, as hard as it is for me to believe, is my 50th birthday.

Fifty. Five-Oh. Five decades. Half a century. You can’t see this, but I’m sitting here shaking my head in wonder.

My friends and Loyal Readers (assuming any of you are still out there!) know that I struggle with birthdays, and with aging in general. Of course you know that, I write about it nearly every year. The thing is, when this time of year rolls around, it’s very difficult for me not to dwell on what I have to show for the time I’ve spent on this planet… or rather, what I don’t have to show for it. I don’t have children, I don’t own my own home — hell, I’ve never even moved out of the home I grew up in! — and while I do have this thing that can be called a career, I didn’t choose it so much as I slipped on a metaphorical banana peel and fell ass-backwards into it. It works well enough for me, but I can’t help help thinking something else would work better if only I could imagine what.

And I haven’t written any of those novels I used to talk about. That one really hurts.

Bottom line: When I look at pretty much any of the factors that are considered to be markers of success in our late-stage capitalistic society, I haven’t amounted to much. And yeah, that bothers me, as much as I try to shrug it off.

That said, however, the last few birthdays have seemed easier, and I’m surprised to find that I’m pretty sanguine about this one in particular, even though it’s a big landmark. Maybe it’s true what they say about giving less of a damn as you get older. But I think I was also comforted this year by some wisdom I received from an unexpected source, a young lady I’m coming to think of as my work-daughter¬† (as opposed to a work-spouse… yeah, I’m definitely getting older!). We were chewing the fat a few weeks back, and I mentioned my angst over not having done much with my life, and she responded, “Maybe not, but you’ve seen a hell of a lot.” I asked her what she meant, and she said that I’m always talking about all the things I’ve seen, from concerts to movies to different places to just “the good old days,” and she thinks my stories are cool. As I returned to my desk, I started thinking that she’s right… I have seen a lot of things in my time. (And here we circle back to Blade Runner and its replicant anti-hero Roy Batty: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… “)

Not all of those things have been good, of course. The first big headline events I remember being aware of were the death of Elvis Presley and the Jonestown Massacre, when cult-leader Jim Jones coerced hundreds of people to drink poisoned grape punch or else just had them shot. Then there was the Iran hostage crisis. The AIDS epidemic. The Challenger disaster. The terrorist bombing of a 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Exxon Valdez. The loss of another space shuttle, Columbia. The nightmare of 9/11 and all the disillusioning, disheartening stuff that followed it.

Mass shootings have become virtually commonplace.

I’ve seen nine U.S. presidents in my lifetime. One of them was impeached, one of them narrowly avoided it by resigning, and we’ll see what happens with the current one. There have been four out-and-out wars (by my reckoning) and more small-scale
“actions” than I can remember. Lots of economic ups and downs in that time too, though fortunately not a full-scale Depression 2.0 (not yet, anyhow).

I’ve seen all kinds of social mores and paradigms evolve, reverse themselves, or completely vanish in the last 50 years. I was an impressionable child during the free-loving, post-sexual-revolution years of the ’70s and I’ve long held something of a grudge that AIDS and a social backlash came along right about the time I was coming of age myself. I feel like I missed the party by that much. On the positive side, though, same-sex marriage is a thing now and, generally speaking, seems to be more and more accepted, despite the forces that are trying to push people of all descriptions back into their closets. Marijuana is becoming legal in more and more places, and practically everybody I know over a certain age is using CBD products to deal with their aches and pains. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking has gone from near-ubiquitous to barely tolerated, and probably soon to disappear entirely.

And then there’s technology. Good lord, the technology. Sometimes my childhood seems like it was in the 19th century, not the 20th. I remember when computers were something you only saw in science fiction movies, and then they were always the size of refrigerators, with spinning tape reels behind glass doors. The idea that it’s only a few decades later and we’re all walking around with one in our pockets, smaller in many cases than a paperback book, is truly boggling.

Home video — which didn’t even exist when I was young — has gone from video cassettes to DVD to BluRay to streaming. My earliest TV was a 17-inch black-and-white “portable” with a finicky vertical hold and rabbit ears. Our “big screen” during much of my childhood was a color set housed in an enormous solid wood cabinet, and you changed channels by walking across the room and turning a physical knob.

Music: from vinyl LPs to cassettes and 8-tracks to MP3s, Napster, iTunes, Spotify, and now, improbably, vinyl LPs again.

Fashion: I’ve lived long enough to see the fashions of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s all make comebacks.

Cars were enormous when I was a kid. My first one, a 1970 T-Bird, was approximately the size of a supertanker. They’ve become smaller, then somewhat bigger again. Sedans are fading away in favor of SUVs and minivans. Driverless vehicles are on the horizon (I’m not thrilled about that one).

I watched as our civilization survived the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, Y2K, the Mayan calendar “end of time” in 2012, and any number of near-misses by asteroids.

When I was a kid, we had nine planets in our solar system and knew of no others anywhere else. Today, Pluto has been downgraded to not-a-planet and we’ve spotted hundreds of exoplanets orbiting other stars.

But that’s all big, societal-level things. On a more personal note, I’ve seen the farm town I grew up in become a suburb, and Utah itself change from a somewhat isolated outpost of civilization — I always related with Luke Skywalker’s lament that Tatooine was the point farthest from the bright center of the universe — to a well-known and even desirable place to be.

I’ve seen Big Ben and the tomb of Sir Richard Francis Burton and swans lazily gliding along the river behind the colleges of Cambridge, England. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and the Hollywood sign and the great cathedral of Cologne, Germany. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and a house shaped like a shoe. The lights of Las Vegas. Gettysburg. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Mustang Ranch. The Lincoln Memorial. At the Smithsonian Institution, I’ve seen Julia Child’s kitchen, Kermit the Frog, Archie Bunker’s chair, Lincoln’s blood-stained top hat, and the star-spangled banner itself. In the British Museum in London, I saw the Rosetta Stone and the body of a man from the Iron Age. I’ve seen Hadrian’s Wall and Glen Coe, Loch Ness and Culloden, the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. I’ve seen buffalo and alligators in the wild.

I’ve seen ditch banks burning in the springtime and alfalfa swaying in the June breeze. I’ve seen wide-open spaces and the enormous skies that tower above them. Two-lane roads and superhighways and turnpikes. I’ve seen a stash of dirty magazines hidden in a barn for the neighborhood kids to find long before anyone even imagined the Internet.

And I saw the Twin Towers before the bastards knocked ’em down.

Getting back to the subject of my birthday, I’d be lying if I said I’m not bothered by the physical signs of advancing decrepitude or by the idea that I now have more years behind me than ahead (referring to Blade Runner again, the scene where Batty confronts his creator: “I want more life… fucker.”) But when I look over this list, and I think of all the things I could add to it if I didn’t fear I was already straining your patience, I feel pretty good. All of that is more than enough to do my own version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” So Work-Daughter was right. I do have quite a lot to show for 50 years after all.

Not to get too sappy as I’m winding this up, but maybe I shouldn’t have been thinking about Blade Runner in connection to this day. Maybe a better choice would have been the movie I’m going to see this afternoon, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the tagline of which is “The human adventure is just beginning.” That feels uncharacteristically optimistic for me… but to my surprise, it is the way I’m feeling. And isn’t that weird?

 

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Happy 88!

Another year, another birthday for the one and only William Shatner, 88 years young today.

Although his latest television series Better Late Than Never (which I wrote about on his birthday last year, and from which today’s photo was snatched) was cancelled after two seasons, the irrepressible man of the hour isn’t letting that slow him down. He’s a force to reckoned with on Twitter; his annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show is coming up in June; he’s hosting screenings of The Wrath of Khan at various locations around the country (sadly, none in Salt Lake!); and he has a number of conventions on the calendar, as well as a Star Trek cruise a year from now in March 2020. As I’ve said before, I admire his vitality and drive to stay engaged, to stay curious, and to keep having fun. I hope I age with a fraction of that grace.

So happy birthday to the once and future Captain Kirk… and as always, my offer to buy him a celebratory drink applies any time he (a) hears about it and (b) wants to take me up on it.

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