Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Seriously (don’t take me seriously)

Years ago a coworker told me that when she first encountered me at the hiring interview, she had the impression I was a mean, tough guy and would be against hiring her. I had actually told the hiring committee that I thought she would be a great fit for the office. She had taken me too seriously largely because, well, I guess I look very serious.
I have had a Van Dyke for about 20 years (long before it became fashionable, I might brag) and with fairly broad shoulders and short hair I guess I can see why people might think this. I do smile a lot, but because of that Van Dyke I don't think people can see it. It's probably more of a Mona Lisa half-smile.

However serious I may appear though, I am rarely serious.

It all began back at high school. I remember talking to my German teacher, Mrs. Mason, about my plans to go to college to become a Phys Ed teacher. I want to point out here that Mrs. Mason was a WWII concentration camp survivor. Although I knew she had lived in Germany and was Jewish, I didn't understand the number tattooed on her arm until I got to college. Yes, I probably was a little more naive in HS. Maybe I thought she had escaped before the war, I'm not sure why I didn't make the connection. I mention this about Mrs. Mason not just because she was my favorite teacher, but as a survivor she deserves to be talked about.
(Hilde Mason)
Anyway, Mrs. Mason expressed surprise about my career path. She thought I was more of the chess club type, not the type of guy who likes to work up a sweat or bang bodies on a playing field. Okay, maybe because I was such a quiet kid, she also thought I was the serious type too.
(Jay the serious soccer coach)
Oddly, I liked that she misread me. She stereotyped me based on certain behaviors and maybe looks (no Van Dyke back then). 
As I have blogged before people often stereotype others based on a lot of different factors. As time went by, I found myself purposely trying to get folks to misread me. It became a rather perverse habit to see different people's reaction.
My beard is a good example. I have almost always had at least a mustache, partly because I liked Magnum PI, but also as a GI it was the only facial hair allowed—but was frowned upon. So of course I had to push those military boundaries. Through the years I seldom had a beard though. Around November I would grow one and then slowly shave it off after the New Year. In other words, I would first just trim it back, then maybe the next week shave it down to a Van Dyke, then a Fu Manchu, then just back to the 'Stache. On one of those occasions that my facial hair was down to the Van Dyke, this female coworker told me I looked evil. That was when it became one of my permanent accouterments.  
(The Army 'Stache)
So I have been stereotyped over the years as gay because I was single, skinny (back then) and had a mustache;  a "player" because people would often see me with a different woman every time they'd encounter me (it was really because they didn't see me that often and I never seemed to have very long relationships); a partier because I used to hit the Austin nightlife five to six nights a week; or a right-wing fascist due to my previous military experience (I still don't get this last one, because if you look at those who served it seems more common for progressives to be in the military. I've always postulated that we enlisted were more likely to be Progs and officers were more likely NeoCons. Since people see officers talk more than enlisted on the news—even though there are more enlisted—well, everyone gets the wrong impression. But that is just a theory).

Besides my appearance and demeanor generating these false images of me, I also have a habit (some will say bad habit) of trying to get a reaction from people. It's a writer's responsibility to do this, of course, but I have it ingrained in my makeup to do this naturally.  So I will often take the opposite side of an argument just to see what the other person will say or do. Devil's advocate as they say.
The thing is that there really isn't a lot that I take so serious that I'd be willing to take it to the mat. And often people won't bother to ask if I am serious, even though they may know me. They'll just take me at face value. So when I wrote my notorious blog about women drivers, no one bothered to ask me if I was serious. In truth, I believe that everyone is a much worse driver than me (I am great), it's not just women. Yeah, I should probably take the bus more often, because I am always telling all those other drivers out there how rotten they are (and often while using a funny voice; wish they could hear it).

Likewise, in my dating/hunting tips blog a lot of females took it as something a predator might find useful rather than a snide commentary about how we Americans go about looking for dates. The main reason I had written the thing was really because I had overheard a woman telling her friend how disgusted she felt about a guy who dated a younger woman (it wasn't me). My thought on this is that first off it's none of her business who other people are attracted to, and second, since it is always the male who must make first contact, it is up to the male WHO that contact will be, not some uptight non-participant (I had asked her once before if she had ever gone up to a male she didn't know and strike up a conversation. Of course, she hadn't). So that blog wasn't meant to be taken serious, it was more of me just making a snide remark.

Yes, I specialize in sarcasm.

Although a lot of what I write is satire/humor, I do often write serious stuff. In the 90s I wrote about police brutality (since it is a huge topic these days, I like to think I was on the leading edge). Plus, I have written several books that include mystery/detective (Tax Break) and action/adventure (Wings of Honor). Okay, my last book was humor/satire (and I think it was obvious that it is not serious) yet people see the title and seem to run.

Even though I do write some serious stuff, I seriously don't think you should always take me so serious. So the next time you read one of these blogs on The Thurber Brigade and it ruffles your feathers, you might first just take a deep breath and relax, but then you might write a snarky comment to me in response.

If nothing else, you should write/shout "are you f.....g SERIOUS!"
(I wonder if James Thurber was always taken seriously?)

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Hiker

Colorado has some beautiful scenery, but what most people don't realize is that half the state looks more like Kansas than those stunning pictures we see in travel magazines. I know this well because of my family's vacations when I was a child.

My Dad always loved to travel. I think this wanderlust came from growing up on a small Kansas farm during the depression. About the only adventures his family might undertake would be a shopping trip to a nearby small town.

So as an adult, not only did he become a Navy pilot during WWII, he did a stint as a pilot after the war, then even after getting a family (and degree in engineering) would move from state to state after a number of years. Oh, not every few years but often enough that it was hard to establish strong roots.

Unfortunately, his type of travel for vacations meant putting the family in a car and driving somewhere. Oh, you would see things, but it was from the car. And the majority of the time our vacations were to drive to Colorado. This meant driving the expanse of Kansas (we lived in Topeka) to reach the mountains.

As you are drive through western Kansas you eventually enter Colorado. You have no idea you are in that state except that there is a big green sign you pass saying "Welcome to Colorado" (nowadays they seem to be made of wood). In other words, Colorado looks just like Kansas.
Of course, after about 30 minutes you would begin to see the tops of the distant mountains. After so many miles of flat plains it was really exhilarating to see those peaks, so the rest of the drive, which was pretty long and still in flat country, didn't seem that bad.
Once in the mountains the real adventure began. Oh, not because we did anything special, but because my Dad would always drive on these perilous winding roads—with thousand foot drops off the edge, a small two-foot rock wall the only barrier—and simultaneously stare over the edge of those cliffs.
In other words, we were never sure when we would be plunging over those cliffs to our spectacular deaths as he missed that next bend.  He never did though. Even though it freaked his passengers out his roaming eyes never resulted in an accident.

Oh, sure, there were turnoffs he could have taken to stop and look, but he wanted to keep driving. So the vacation mainly consisted of driving and looking out the window at those majestic mountains as they whizzed by.
However, there was always a little voice coming from the back seat begging to be allowed to get out and explore those mountains. You see, I am completely different than my Dad. I am a hiker. My idea of seeing something is getting out of said car and walking around.
I still vividly remember a time we were driving by some snow (it might have been a glacier) and convincing my brother into whining along with me to be allowed to go "see" that blazing white stuff. Dad relented and we two little boys ran up to the snow to frolic and throw snowballs. It was summer after all, so a snowball fight in July was pretty exciting.
To this day I still love to travel, but after 50 miles I am ready to get out of the car and start hiking. This can make getting somewhere a real challenge because every time I see a turnoff near some great scenery I feel this need to pull over and go see whatever is there. One trip along the Oregon/Washington coast took an inordinate amount of time because just about every 10 miles you would see something breath-taking that required exploration.
So when I plan a vacation these days, the question I always ask myself is "what kind of hiking can I get in?"

Last year, I hiked around Mt. Rainier

The previous year were The Grand Tetons

The year before: Olympic National Park
Even this year, when I decided to just take a short trip and stay in Portland, Oregon (just to escape the Texas summer heat) it was with the idea that I would take at least one day to hike around The Columbia River Gorge plus go often to Washington Park.
All this being said, my vacations have been solo adventures because usually my girlfriends knew of my habit of walking a lot. They knew that even a short trip to a nearby store could result in a stop by a hike-and-bike trail we "accidentally" passed on the way.
I am sure there are females who also have this wandering habit. After all, I have passed a number on the trails. But for now it seems I’ll be hiking along the various paths I come across by my lonesome.
I don’t mind.

(Of course I had to have a James Thurber cartoon about the wild too!)