General Ramblings


In a few days, I’ll be 46 years old. Once, not so very long ago, that age seemed as far-off and science-fictiony to me as 1999, 2001, or even, yes, 2015. And yet… here it is.

Long-time readers know that I don’t especially enjoy my birthdays. I used to, when I was younger. Like everyone else, I suppose, because hey, who doesn’t like cake and ice cream and presents when they’re a kid, right? Unfortunately, though, somewhere along the line, birthdays stopped seeming like achievements unlocked and started feeling like grim ticks of an ebony clock that can’t be rewound. I’ve dreaded them since at least my mid-30s. Maybe earlier.

It isn’t aging per se that bothers me, as people often assume when I start brooding about this. You won’t find me standing in the bathroom mirror, counting wrinkles and gray hairs. (On the contrary, I’d be delighted to have gray, silver, or even white hair, so long as I had a full head of it. I really hate being bald.) No, what gets to me isn’t the accumulation of years so much as what I’ve done — or more accurately, not done — with them.

I’ve blogged about this before, of course, approaching the problem from different angles, trying to find the clearest way of articulating a feeling that’s probably very common, but isn’t so easy to express. At least, it’s not so easy for me. The sad truth is that my adult life sat on the launch pad for a lot longer than it should have, and even now I have days when it feels like I still haven’t cleared the tower. And the real bitch of it is that I’ve got nobody to blame for it but myself. While my friends were establishing themselves in the world and charging toward the landmarks that our society uses to gauge success, I…  dithered. Wracked with indecision, insecurity, and probably a walloping good case of undiagnosed depression, I told myself I had plenty of time. I realized too late that that wasn’t true… that not only had I reached middle age without doing the ordinary things — marriage, babies, a mortgage — I hadn’t gotten around to any of the other things I wanted to do either. And despite what we tell ourselves these days about 50 being the new 30, opportunities not taken oftentimes really are lost for good.

(It probably doesn’t help that my birthday falls right on the cusp of the changing seasons, when the kids are headed back to school and the quality of the air and the sunlight is changing as Indian summer fades into autumn. It’s hard to avoid that sense of time running out when the Halloween decorations are starting to appear even though you’re still wearing shorts and driving with the top down in the afternoons.)

But you know, something interesting happened with my birthday last year. I didn’t blog about it at the time — no surprise, considering how rarely I manage to blog about anything substantive any more — but my 45th birthday was actually kind of… pleasant. I took the day off from work — the whole week, actually — and I got some excellent presents and I had a nice steak dinner with my parents and Anne. I had 170 people publicly wish me “happy birthday” on my Facebook timeline, and I also received a number of personal messages as well, all of which were very much appreciated. I even got a couple of old-fashioned cards in the mail.

More importantly, though, I (mostly) managed to avoid the smothering depression that usually afflicts me around this time of the year. As I reflected on my latest voyage around the sun, I had to admit — difficult as it was! — that I’d had a pretty good year. I’d maintained the healthier weight and lifestyle I was forced into back in 2012; I’d observed my nine-year anniversary at a job I originally figured wouldn’t last six months; I’d attended no less than four big nerd conventions right here in my own hometown, meeting a lot of childhood heroes in the process; and I’d even managed to lay to rest a couple of ghosts that had haunted my memories for far too long. (You’ll forgive me if I don’t elaborate on that last point; even with my exhibitionist tendencies, there are a few things I prefer to keep inside my own head.) So yeah, not too bad a year, nothing to feel especially depressed about.

And now this birthday coming up, Number 46, looks to be even better, because I intend to celebrate it in The World’s End pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Because birthdays are always like the end of the world. Get it?

Yes, it’s true, this whole entry has (mostly) been a really roundabout way of announcing that Anne and I are setting off on an adventure. We’ve talked about going to Scotland for years, she inspired by her all-time favorites novels, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and me because I’ve been a fan of the cult movie Highlander and its spin-off television series since I was in college. And of course, one of the things I’ve always most wanted to do with my life is travel. See the world, explore new places (new to me, at least), shake off the dust of this small town… all that George Bailey stuff. Not so very long ago, I was feeling a genuine sense of despair because I was increasingly certain that it just wasn’t going to happen, that my only two previous international trips (to England and Germany) were the only ones I was ever going to get. I know that’s more than a lot of people manage, but the thought that I’d already filled my dance card without realizing it, that my dream of being a world traveler was just over, was unbearable to me. At some point in the past year, though, Anne and I looked at each other and said, “We need to either quit talking about going to Scotland, or actually go to Scotland.” And so here we are actually going. And for a change, I’m not facing the approach of my birthday with regret and sadness. Because I’m doing one of those things I’ve long wanted to do. I’m crossing an item off the bucket list. And good lord, it is a good feeling…





I’m Not Dead


In case anyone was wondering, based on the mountain of tumbleweeds that’s gathered in this space.

Blame the usual suspects: The assembly line at work has been running at double-speed, my summertime calendar is always overly crowded, my commute sucks, I have too little free time (or at least too little energy to put that time to use in a productive way)… you’ve heard it all before. And it’s all true. But lately I’ve been wondering if the real problem isn’t something more… internal. I’m worried that I’ve… lost my mojo.

I know, I know…  you just heard that phrase in Austin Powers’ voice and you probably couldn’t help but chuckle. But I’m serious here. I don’t know how else to describe what’s going on lately. I’ve got something like 20 unfinished entries saved in my Drafts folder from this calendar year alone, but I can’t seem to summon the motivation to finish any of them, even the ones on topics that have been recurring hobbyhorses over the years, things I ought to be passionate about.

I don’t know. Maybe this blog has run its course and it’s time to find something else to do. Something else to write. Blogging in general isn’t what it used to be, and I sometimes wonder if I’ve overstayed my welcome. This has been such a rewarding activity for me over the years, a platform from which to share the things that excite me and sadden me, to gripe about the nonsense that frustrates me and the injustices that enrage me… but I’m really struggling with it right now. I feel like Simple Tricks hasn’t ever really come back to life since that long, unplanned hiatus in 2013, and I fight with a tremendous sense of futility every time I open up the dashboard and stare at the empty white space with its monstrous blinking cursor. I start to think about all the other things I could be doing, and probably ought to be doing, and suddenly I find myself quite unable to string three words together. I’ve self-identified as a writer for over 30 years now, since the bloody tenth grade, but these days… I feel like I don’t know how to do it anymore. And I can’t tell you how frustrating — how frightening — that is. It’s not hyperbole to compare it to impotence. Seriously. It’s exactly that same kind of sucker punch to the very core of one’s self-image and self-esteem, with all the horror and humiliation that goes along with it.

Yes, that’s it exactly. I feel like I can’t get it up for blogging anymore.

This isn’t a farewell announcement, by the way. I’m not shutting the place down, not yet. But I am wondering what I’ve got to do to reinvigorate this whole project… or if it’s worth the effort. A number of people of said to me lately that I ought to be using my talent to write a novel. Has this blog been preventing me from doing that? Maybe that’s why I’m having such a difficult time working on this: because somewhere deep inside, I feel like it’s a distraction from my “real” writing. Again, I don’t know… just thinking out loud, I guess.



Apropos of the previous entry, here’s a fun little video that explores the origin and evolving usage of the word “dude”:

Just as an aside, the word has a rather personal connotation for me: Back in the theater days, my fellow ushers and I took to calling ourselves “The Dudes,” a self-aggrandizing nickname we still use when we refer to each other, and when we send out the invitations to our annual “Dudes reunion dinner” around Christmas time.

And of course the video leaves out the most famous modern-day incarnation of dudeness, The Dude himself:

the-dudeBut there might have been some licensing issues there. I still thought it was a pretty interesting little tidbit.

Via Boing Boing, naturally.


What Did You Do with Your Saturday?

You know, the whole thing actually started as a joke.

Several years back, a good friend of mine was badly stressed while making arrangements for his upcoming wedding. Knowing of his affection for the film The Big Lebowski, and remembering something I’d run across in my wanderings across the endless InterWebs, I went to the Church of the Latter-Day Dude and got myself ordained as a Dudeist priest. I then sent him a message that said, essentially, “You can relax, all your planning troubles are over… I can marry you!” We both got a laugh out of it, and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. Some time later, I told this story to some other friends of mine, Geoff and Anastasia, and the next time Anne and I got together with them, they had a question for me. They wanted to know if that Dudeist thing was for real… if I could — if  I would  — perform their upcoming wedding? I was honored, flattered, and more than a little freaked out by their request. But I went ahead and made a couple phone calls, just to confirm that the State of Utah would recognize an online ordination from a tongue-in-cheek “religion” inspired by an oddball movie. And then just to be sure, I took out a more-legitimate sounding second ordination with something called the American Marriage Ministries. And then this happened:

Wedding-79_editAnd that, I thought, was that.

Except it wasn’t.

Two days before this past New Year’s Eve, Anne’s sister-in-law contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to do another wedding. Her sister wanted to tie the knot before the end of the year, and they didn’t know who else they could get on such short notice. I never did find out what the hurry was; something to do with taxes maybe. But hey, they offered to pay me for my trouble, and I was off work anyhow, so, in the middle of the afternoon on New Year’s Eve, I drove to a stranger’s house with my ordination certificates and a printed-out script and I married a second couple. Made some decent money doing it, too.

This past Saturday, I performed my third wedding, a favor for my good friend Mike Gillilan, a guy I met 26 years(!) ago, back in those infamous movie-theater days. We held it in a public park at the base of the magnificent Wasatch Mountains, with just a few family members and friends about. The sun was high and intense, but a bit of a breeze rolling up the side of the mountain carried away the worst of the heat, and I didn’t even stumble over the script this time. I just joined Mike and his bride Caroline in matrimony as easy as driving to the 7-Eleven for a Slurpee.

And then I went to a Willie Nelson concert.

Life takes you to some unexpected places sometimes, doesn’t it?


Shatner’s First Exotic Ride

You know, that fancy Rivet tricycle isn’t the first exotic vehicle that’s been associated with William Shatner. There’s also the little beauty that appears in this photo:

star-trek_shatner-space-carAn Internet evergreen, that photo seems to cross my radar every six months or so. (Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post it myself.) I have no idea what the story behind it is, whether it was a publicity still for Star Trek, or for the car itself, or if maybe it was just an amusing snapshot somebody grabbed one day that later escaped into the wild. Any of those options seem reasonable, since Shatner is in costume as Captain Kirk, and the car — a one-of-a-kind show vehicle that was originally titled the Autorama Special, and later renamed the Reactor — appeared in a 1967 Trek episode called “Bread and Circuses.”

The Reactor actually has a pretty interesting history, if you’re into this sort of thing. Built in 1965 by a Southern California hot-rodder named Gene Winfield, the two-seater boasts a lightweight aluminum body; a front-wheel drive train powered by a Chevy Corvair engine; electronically operated doors, hood, and roof bubble; and height-adjustable suspension… all features that were well ahead of their time. In addition to Star Trek, the Reactor was also featured in an episode of Bewitched and twice showed up on Adam West’s Batman series as Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman car.

Winfield enjoyed a long association with Hollywood, thanks in large part to the notoriety he gained from the Reactor. He would go on to build or play a hand in the design of many film and television vehicles, including the full-size mock-up of the Galileo shuttlecraft, again for Star Trek; the modified Sunbeam Tiger driven by Don Adams as the title character in Get Smart; and a plastic-bodied vehicle called the Piranha, which was prominently featured in The Man from UNCLE. Winfield’s creations in the ’80s included the 6000 SUX from Robocop; the flying version of the time-traveling Back to the Future DeLorean; the sleek “starcar” seen in both CGI and physical form in The Last Starfighter; and some 25 vehicles for Blade Runner, most notably the police “Spinner” that whisks Harrison Ford around the dystopian Los Angeles of the year 2019.

As for the Reactor, the commission job that put Winfield on the map, it still exists. Gene reacquired it in 1999 — I haven’t been able to learn where it was in the decades between its TV heyday and then — and restored it. It now resides at his shop, Winfield Rod & Custom, in Mojave, California. Yes, Gene is still building cars at the age of 87… another fine example of not fading away with age!


The Shat’s New Ride

Say what you will about William Shatner, the guy’s setting an incredible example of how not to go gentle into that good night.

Last week, he announced his plans to ride a custom-built three-wheel motorcycle across the United States at an age — 84 — when many people aren’t astride anything more adventurous than a rocking chair. His path will more-or-less follow the 2,400 miles of old Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, with planned stops in St. Louis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, and Vegas. There will be a film crew along for the trip (naturally), and an eventual TV show chronicling the adventure, and the whole thing is being done to raise awareness for the work done by the American Legion nationwide on behalf of veterans.

As for Shatner’s new trike… man, it’s something else, a wicked-looking, V8-powered, one-of-a-kind (for now!) machine called The Rivet. The press materials claim the design was inspired by the B-17 bomber, but it looks more like something from the Mad Max movies to me:

william shatner rivet motorcycle

The Rivet was built by a Chicago-area custom shop called American Wrench; they’ve set up a dedicated website for the trike here, if you’d like to know more about it… or look into getting one for yourself! (I’d kinda like to have one, but I have a hunch I couldn’t afford it. The “Reserve Your Own” page is suspiciously lacking any price indicators!)

Shatner’s cross-country trek (sorry!) is scheduled to begin June 23 at the American Wrench shop, and wrap up in LA on the 30th. I haven’t seen anything about when the television series might air, or on what network, but I imagine it’ll probably be on cable by the end of summer or early fall.

I hope I’m still dreaming of doing things like this when I’m 84, if not actually doing them… and yes, I’m perfectly aware that Shatner probably won’t really be in the saddle of The Rivet all that way at his age, that there will be some Hollywood illusion-making for the sake of the TV show. But I do believe he’ll be making the journey, one way or the other, and doing something pretty damn interesting and valuable as well (the American Legion angle), and that’s the thing that counts. He just doesn’t seem interested in slowing down, no matter what the calendar says. Captain Kirk was an inspiration to me when I was young; Bill Shatner is inspiring me as I face getting older…


Conspiracy Theories

Conversation between the lovely Anne and myself, just now…

ME: You take a risk every time you leave the house. You could get hit by a bus. You could be electrocuted by a random static discharge from a computer mouse.

ANNE: I’ve never heard of that happening.

ME: The government covers it up.

ANNE: You were pretty fast with that comeback.

ME: It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to.

And so it goes, here at the Bennion Compound…


I’ve Had Better Weekends

Fast-moving thunderstorms that dump a lot of rain in a very short time aren’t unusual during the warmer months in Utah, but the storm that hit Saturday night was exceptional even for a “summer monsoon,” as my mother has always called them. Have a look at this:


My house is just down the street from the spot where much of that footage was captured. As it happens, I wasn’t home during the storm, but my lovely Anne was, and she tells me that the lawn, sidewalk, and street all vanished within minutes beneath a small lake. She also tells me water was actually rolling up the driveway from the street. But these were only interesting natural phenomena, passing curiosities gone almost as soon as they were observed. The real problem was a blocked downspout on the edge of our roof, which caused water to overtop the brim of the rain gutters and cascade down in a four-foot wide sheet… straight into the window well of our basement bedroom.

The debris line left behind the next morning suggests the water rose to about six inches deep in the window well. I like to imagine it probably looked something like this:


Fortunately, our experience wasn’t as catastrophic as Captain Smith’s final moments in Titanic — the window did not implode in a spectacular manner — but the water got in anyhow, and, to finally get to the damn point, we’ve got to replace the carpet in our master bedroom. Our cozy, wall-to-wall, luxurious shag carpet, which my late Hannibal-cat loved to sharpen his claws in, which felt so warm and soft and cushy beneath my bare toes, just installed about two and a half years ago. Anne and I and my dad spent much of yesterday slicing it and the water-logged pad beneath into strips and hauling them upstairs in dripping, heavy bundles bound for the trash bins. To add insult to injury, I’d already spent much of Saturday hunched over in our shower, scouring away hard-water scales, so by the time I dropped into bed last night, I was so tired and sore I could barely move.

It’ll take probably a week for the concrete to dry out, and then we’ll have to source new carpet and installers… and Anne no longer works in the floor-covering industry, which was such a big help to us when we first finished that room…

Yeah, like I said… I’ve had better weekends.

It could’ve been worse, of course. I know other people in the general area who had several inches of standing water in their basements. We don’t even have any damage to the walls. But still… I find the whole situation deeply disheartening. What is it about being an adult that just about the time you feel like you’re getting ahead, paying off some bills, and finally seeing some goals coming within your reach, some bullshit thing like this knocks you back a rung or two?


Thinking of My Boys

I spotted this on Wil Wheaton’s Tumblr a while back and decided to save it, because it reminds me of my own kitty boys Evinrude and poor departed Hannibal, who was killed nearly a year ago on the road in front of our house. ‘Rude is immensely lovable and I wouldn’t trade him for anything, but Hannibal was my little pal, and, as much as I feel like a dick for saying so, my favorite of the two. I miss his cocky tough-guy swagger and insatiable curiosity (the two qualities that I suspect led him to be out on that road in the first place). I know his brother misses him too…



Making Some Changes

I had just turned twenty-four years old, and I walked into the DMV to renew my driver’s license. I walked out a half-hour later with a mandate that changed my life. I’d flunked the eye exam and would now be required by The Man to start wearing eyeglasses. At least if I wanted to keep driving under legal sanction.

I don’t think I’d been so close to throwing an all-out tantrum since I was ten. I remember stomping out of the drab institutional government building that afternoon pissed off at everything I could think of: the DMV, the State of Utah, the uncaring bureaucratic functionaries who’d delivered the news, the soul-crushing reality that, even at 24, I was getting older… I was mad at the entire fracking universe, really. I hated the idea of having to wear glasses, just hated it. Glasses didn’t fit my self-image or my idea of “cool.” Sure, Indiana Jones occasionally donned a set of readers when he wanted to study a Grail tablet or something close up, but that was different. Not like wearing the damn things all the time. None of the action heroes and matinee idols I, in my naive insecurity, wanted to be more like wore glasses. (This was the early ’90s, before they became a near-ubiquitous fashion accessory.) They still carried the taint of bookish nerdism to them (the fact that I was a bookish nerd was irrelevant; I didn’t want to look like one), and in my mind I could hear every playground taunt of “Four Eyes!” I’d ever overheard.

In addition, they were an added expense I didn’t want to pay (I didn’t have a lot of money in those days and was very conscious of where it went). Yearly exams, frames, lenses… I didn’t know how much exactly those things cost, but I figured they were pretty pricey. (That’s the one thought I had that day that turned out to be correct.) But I think the thing that most troubled me was that I hadn’t realized I needed them at all, and I was embarrassed about it. What kind of a schmuck can’t tell his own vision is going? Hell, in my job as a movie-theater projectionist, I’d been getting a lot of calls recently from ushers down on the floor that the movies were out of focus, but I’d dismissed them. The movies looked fine to me. But it was true. Apparently, my vision had deteriorated so slowly that I just didn’t notice. And now I had egg on my face. A lot of it, in my mind.

In short, being told I needed glasses had bruised my ego. And I’ll be honest… I never really got over it.

I’ve been wearing glasses for nearly 22 years now, damn near half my life, and even though I long ago got used to the idea, I still don’t like it. Oh, sure, it was like some kind of miracle the first time I put them on and saw that there were, in fact, trees on the mountain ranges that encircle my valley home — I’d long believed they were just bare rock — but somewhere, deep in the back of my mind, some little part of me still thinks “this isn’t really you…”

It’s not that I think I look bad in glasses. Quite the contrary, once I figured out that spending a little extra money on better quality and more fashionable styles was worth it, I’ve been relatively content with my appearance. But it’s not how I want to look, if that makes sense. And the glasses themselves are a pain in the butt. I’m always conscious of their presence, always. I worry about losing them, breaking them, scratching them. When it rains or snows, they get spotted. When I kiss my girl, they get smudged. I risk the frames getting bent if I hug somebody at the wrong angle, or fall asleep on the couch with my face down on the armrest. I can’t easily back up a car the way I was taught, by looking back over my shoulder, because I end up looking half through the lenses and half over the top of them, meaning my depth perception is all screwed up. I hate how they fog up when I come inside after being outdoors on a cold day. I hate how they hang off my face when I bend over, and sometimes will jiggle a bit and make me dizzy. I hate how, when I’m doing yardwork on a hot day, they’ll slide down my nose or catch droplets of sweat in the lenses. I hate that I have to spare a second (and a hand) to pop them off when I’m putting on or taking off a t-shirt. When Anne and I went on a snowmobiling expedition through Yellowstone a few winters ago, trying to wear the glasses and a helmet was uncomfortable as hell. And I haven’t enjoyed amusement park rides in years, partly because I’m getting old and everything makes me woozy now, but a big issue is worrying about my glasses flying off.

I realize these are all petty complaints, especially in return for being able to clearly see, a gift that many people in the developing world — or even poor people in our own first world — don’t have the luxury of complaining about. But I won’t apologize for complaining about this. And assuming everything goes well today, I won’t have to anymore.

I’ve been thinking about getting LASIK corrective surgery for years, but I kept putting it off for various reason. It was too expensive, or too inconvenient to take a couple days off work for the recovery, or it was just plain too scary to think of some quack firing an energy beam into my one and only pair of baby browns. On some level, I think I felt that I didn’t really deserve to do it because my motivation was vanity. I’ve always thought cosmetic surgery was largely unjustified, and what is this if not another form of cosmetic surgery?

Then a couple weeks ago, I opened the dishwasher right after it completed its cycle and got a faceful of steam. Naturally, my glasses fogged over, leaving me completely blind for 30 seconds or so… and that was the final straw. I didn’t get angry or anything, but I just decided right then and there that I was sick of wearing these damn things. My optometrist had mentioned on my last visit that I was a good candidate for LASIK if I wanted to consider it, but I hadn’t followed through on his referral. Now I was ready. So I scheduled an evaluation with Hoopes Vision, the most-often namechecked LASIK provider in Utah, and — to cut at long last to the chase — I’m going in today at 1:30 to have the procedure.

I’ll be honest, I’m nervous as hell. The first image that jumped into my mind once my appointment was confirmed was this:

Goldfinger laser

Followed closely by this:

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve had LASIK — it’s funny how once you start talking about something like this, fellow travelers seem to come out of the woodwork — and with only one or two exceptions, nobody has reported any problems at all, and even the ones who had a setback told me they didn’t regret doing the surgery in the end. But still… lasers… in the eyes… I don’t really think I’ll end up with smoking craters where my eye sockets used to be, but…

Sometimes a vivid imagination is a real curse.

Funny thing, though: the day of my evaluation appointment, a few hours after I got home from the clinic, I was leaving the bathroom and reached out to turn off the lights when I heard something clunk into the waste basket and suddenly my vision went blurry. It turned out the frame of my glasses had spontaneously snapped and one of the lens had tumbled into the trash. Now, if that wasn’t some kind of a sign, I don’t know what is…