Thursday, June 30, 2022

Paint Colors 2

            In celebration of my four hundredth blog post, I am presenting this week one of the very early posts, after which my blog was named: “How to Discuss Paint Colors with your Wife.” Some of you may not have seen it before. More of you may have read it and forgotten it. Whatever. Here it is:


How to Discuss Paint Colors with Your Wife


            I’m like most men—comfortable discussing colors using one-syllable words like red, blue, green, or brown. Orange and yellow make me a little nervous, and anything that sounds French, even monosyllabic French, brings on a queasiness of stomach, a rolling of eyes, and a desire to go outside and chase something. Try it and see: taupe, beige, mauve, or (shudder)—ecru.

            I was recently in a paint store with my wife. While she was pouring over the 3,000 shades of yellow to find the right one for our bathroom (“the color of butter, but fresh butter, straight from the farm”), I noticed a young couple doing the same thing. The wife was studying 40 tabs of off-white, placing them next to one another as if that would reveal some profound truth, while her husband sat with arms crossed and a scowl on his face. “Just pick one,” he said, “and I’ll tell you if I hate it.”

            Now, as a man enjoying my second marriage, I could tell that he was going about this in entirely the wrong way. For his benefit, and men like him, here are my seven secrets for discussing paint colors that you don’t see or care about:


Take it outside. This is what the experts do. Natural light is very different from indoor light, and even indoors, incandescent light bulbs are different from fluorescent. Trust me on this one. So when your wife asks your opinion on 2 or 3 colors, repeat what I just told you about light and take it outside. You probably won’t notice any difference except that everything will appear brighter if the sun is shining. But at least you get to go outside for a while.


Use the plural. When your wife asks you what color you think the television room should be, don’t say, “tan” or “green” or “I don’t care.” Say something like, “I was thinking of greens.” Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t—it doesn’t matter, since we all know that she is going to pick the color anyway. But answering in the plural marks you as a sensitive guy who is aware that there is more than one shade of green. This will be worth some points down the road, though I have yet to discover where.


“There’s X in it.” Here’s one that took me years to figure out: No paint color is what it is. There’s a base color, and then a bunch of other colors are added and the result is blue or red or whatever. The discriminating eye—my wife—can look at a brown and conclude, “There’s red in it,” and other women will nod in agreement. Well, you can learn to nod just as wisely. And you can also pronounce, when looking at a blue wall, “There’s green in it.” Here’s the funny part: You may start doing this randomly to appear sensitive and discriminating, but if you stay with it, you’ll start getting it right more and more often. In fact, I’m starting to believe that my wife is correct—there really is green in that yellow wall in our dining room.


Tapdance. This strategy is based on two assumptions: 1) Your wife will eventually choose the color anyway, and 2) You don’t want to suggest that you “don’t care.” Some fancy footwork might help you through this minefield. Sigh and explain how the light is different depending on the time of day, or that the color changes depending on what is next to it (as in that green couch, which has some blue in it), or that it depends on whether it’s drywall or plaster, the size of the paint sample, the nap on the roller, etc. Hold something up to it—a pillow, a piece of curtain, whatever—and turn your head about 30 degrees to the side as you stare and frown. Warning: Most women catch on to this one fairly quickly, as they don’t like being made fun of. If you sense that she is staring at you rather than the paint samples, take it outside.


The name game. If you ever actually look at those color tabs that your wife brings home from the paint store, you’ll be surprised to learn that all those colors actually have names. You might want to pick your color based on which one has the coolest name—much the way I pick horses at the racetrack, and probably with the same results. Anyway, one way to discuss colors with your wife is to toss around those color names as if they were real. When she asks what color you would like the bathroom to be, say something like “morning rose,” “peppermint,” or “summer evening.” (OK—I confess I’ve never dared to try this strategy, but I enjoy imagining the look on my wife’s face if I actually said “summer evening.”) You can have fun with this one. The color for your living room? How about “putting green” (a real color name I saw), or “light lager,” or “nice pear.”


“It Works.” This is an important phrase. I know this because they use it a lot on HGTV. As in, “That couch works in the living room,” or “This color works on this wall.” The nearest I can figure out, “works” falls somewhere between “is the same as” and “clashes with.” The meaning is close to “blends,” but “blend” is too much like “bland.” I suggest you think of a color “working” in a room the way you think of your relationship with your wife. You certainly aren’t the same, but you don’t go together as badly as the clothes you wore before your wife started dressing you. No, you “work” as a couple because you are just different enough to keep things interesting.


Thursday, June 23, 2022

Nothing Sirius

            I finally got my new car – a Jeep Wrangler. (My grandson said that a Jeep would be the last car he thought I would ever own. But note this, Ben: I had my first off-road Jeep experience when I found myself trapped behind some golf carts at a restaurant and had to drive across a lawn to park.) The car came with Sirius installed – a satellite radio program with over 100 channels (if that’s what they are called). I get it free for six months. After that, it’s about $15 per month.


            I’m not planning on subscribing, but for the next few months, or until I crash the car while looking at the dashboard monitor, I will be exploring the options that Sirius is offering.


            My first observation is that there is lots of music that I really don’t like at all. Lots of kinds of music – the stations each have names, so each one, I suppose, is a different kind. Most involve some mutation of the pop genre, or perhaps what we used to call “rock,” though it now seems more electrified/digitized. There are over a hundred stations, many of them named after musicians I’ve never heard of.


            A few of them, however, made me linger. There’s one devoted to the Beatles, though usually when I go there I find people talking about them rather than playing their music. There’s another named for Frank Sinatra that I’m rather fond of. It features various folks singing songs from The American Songbook – classic semi-jazz vocals from mid-20th century. The jazz channels don’t feature the jazz I like – Miles, Diz, Dave Brubeck, Count Basie and the like, also rooted in the last century. I suppose I am rooted there, too, as I am also drawn to channels with the word “vinyl” in their name.


            Kim and I were also drawn to the Bluegrass channel, though after about half an hour it got a little annoying. The lyrics were fun, however, and I am always impressed by banjo musicianship. And I’ve also, thanks to Kim, become fond of some of the Country channels, perhaps as a relief from the soup of pop and rock that dominate Sirius. I confess that these country channels may be appealing because they seem to go with my new Jeep. Did I mention that it performs well off-road? I also spent ten good minutes in Margaritaville.


            I have very little interest in the channels that feature people talking about sports teams.  My indifference may be because we have moved away from Ann Arbor and Gainesville. I may resume my interest in sports when college football resumes, though for me it’s more about checking the scores than watching the games, and my interest certainly does not extend to hearing discussions of teams or games.


            On one drive back from Traverse City I located a couple of comedy channels, and I heard a couple of good stand-up routines, and some of their jokes may appear, unacknowledged, in my blog. But all of that raucous behavior, sometimes crude, started to wear thin. And too much laughing. And the comedy channels have commercials – not funny!


            So far, I have not found the poetry channel, or the one that features bird songs. These might involve something called “podcasts,” but I suspect the lease on my Jeep will expire before I figure out how to find and listen to them, and that’s ok, because they might distract me from my driving. And fortunately, I have not found one with political discussions – fortunately, because such a channel might lead me to deliberately drive off the road into one of our picturesque lakes.


            After a couple of weeks of Sirius, I find myself channel surfing – a danger when I’m driving. Eventually, if I can find the right button, I go back to my old standby radio choice – the local NPR station. I think I drive better when that is on.


            As a side effect, I find that Alexa is somewhat jealous of Sirius. More and more often she interjects herself into a conversation we are having in the dining room, perhaps to remind us that she is part of our family, and she resents this interloper in the car.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

This Garage Sale

            I’ve written about our garage sales before, and we are having another one. But this one feels a bit different. I’ve said about previous garage sales that it’s like taking a dump, and someone comes and hauls it away, and they even pay you to do it. Well, not this time – or not exactly.


            As Kim and I approach our 80s, we have a different perspective. At some point we are not going to be able to do the work needed to maintain our home. This involves yardwork and housework. Kim has had continuing and increasing levels of pain and fatigue, and we don’t know if there is a pill or procedure to fix what’s wrong. Yes, she soldiers on – yesterday she planted about a dozen irises, and today she is going to move half of them to aesthetically better locations. Though I am physically sound, I don’t have the knowledge to do this or other gardening chores properly, and Kim dislikes being in a position where she repeatedly tells me what to do. If we can’t get qualified help with this stuff, we will have to move. We are hoping for at least another three years here, but we’ll see. One guy showed up to help with the gardening, but he quit before he started, possibly because he did not like the work we wanted, or possibly (unbelievable!) because he did not like us. We found someone great to clean the floors, and we are looking for other people to help with housekeeping work. We’ll see. Kim has mentioned selling the house several times this week.


            All of this means that it’s time for a garage sale. Not just with our junk or duplicated items or clothes we’ve not worn for years. Not just stuff we’ll have no room for when we downsize. No, Kim is also getting rid of some of her collections, stuff we have not found a good place for.


·      antique wooden tops

·      antique paint brushes

·      balls, including “sewer balls” dug up in Atlanta in preparation for the Olympics

·      pink “depression ware” glasses (we are keeping some)

·      vintage games and game boards, including Tiddlywinks, UNO, checkers, Battleship, and more

·      bird nests that she made

·      some of her photographs

·      yardsticks

·      old keys – some of which her Aunt Vivian stole from European castles

·      cigar boxes (some of them)


There’s more. As we sell stuff, Kim moves more out to the garage. At this point we are not selling her collection of shoe lasts.


            I’ve put some books and DVDs in the sale, along with a tire pump that doesn’t work, an old modem, and my classic penny loafers. So far, I’ve made about $15. Kim is over $1,000.


            We also enjoy garage sales because of the people we meet. Sometimes these encounters in the garage are brief but nevertheless encouraging about the state of humanity. A few have developed into friendships. Given the isolation we felt here with neighbors gone and Covid’s limiting our going out, garage sales give us a “people bath” to wash off some of that isolation. To help this happen, we do not put prices on anything. People at garage sales like to dicker for prices, so we go straight to dickering. Kim enjoys the back-and-forth. Here’s a sample:


            “How much does this cost?”


            “How much do you want to pay for it?”


            “Ummm . . . twenty dollars.”

            “You can have it for fifteen.”


            I am not trusted to price anything, as I inevitably price too low. We have not advertised our garage sale other than by putting our signs out when we have yard work to do within sight of our garage. This works for us and, apparently, the folks who stop by. So far, our neighbors have not stolen our signs.


            But still – this garage sale is different. We are confronting the possibility that we are living in our last house (we are living in our ninth), and we just don’t know about our housing future. Yes, we will have each other, but as I explained last week, our commitment to our home, together, is a large part of who we are.


            On a more positive note, I answered an age-old question by successfully unscrewing a light bulb that a bat attacked when after a bug. It takes one English teacher with needle-nose pliers to change a light bulb.





Thursday, June 9, 2022


            I live in a place. This probably does not sound like Big News, but it is. Kim has pointed out to me on occasion that I live, mainly, “in my head.” She’ll notice my blank stare and ask, “Where are you?” The answer is usually that I’m thinking about stuff I need to do, or what I can come up with for my blog, or the war in Ukraine, or what’s next for our housing if our health declines. I think what Kim really wants from me is a bit of conversation, so she can be included in what’s in my head.


            But now I live in a place -not just in my head. I know this is true because every day I find pieces of my place under my fingernails. I am engaged with our bark house and our acre of woods (which is really Kim’s garden). I do stuff, instead of just floating though being taken care of.


            I see our home. Kim has been instructing me for years, with varying levels of frustration and disbelief: “Use your eyes!” I’m still not very good at it, as I don’t see some weeds or a spill on the floor (Kim says this is “a guy thing,” almost giving me a genetic pass.), but I have learned to notice what we have done with our landscaping.


Our Bark House

            Kim’s photography has taught me to see the trees, flowers and butterflies that grace our habitat, even though I struggle with their names.


            I have yet to know our place using my sense of taste, but that may be changing soon, as I have planted a few tomatoes, and our neighbors, Karen and Ted, have given us some of their strawberry plants – their fruit is “best ever” quality. I suppose I could love this place through my sense of smell, but that pretty much disappeared long before Covid, so smell doesn’t work for me.


            One of the other ways I connect with our place is through my muscles – back, hands and legs. I move rocks, dig holes, trim branches, yank weeds, shovel snow, chop leaves, clean gutters, etc. Indoors, I make the bed, vacuum occasionally, open jars and reach stuff on high shelves. Did I mention moving rocks?


            It will be hard to leave this place. Kim and I looked out over our yard following a day of welcome rain. “It’s not the same as having a landscaper do all the work,” she said. “We can see the love.” So, that’s what I have under my fingernails: love. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Being You


            When I was teaching Humanities, as part of my lecture on existentialism I encouraged my students, high school seniors, to do more than just “find themselves” when they went off to college. The existentialists might encourage them to “invent themselves.” If “existence precedes essence,” as the existentialists say, then you might not have a core essence that you can find when you get away from your family and friends. You can create a new identity.


            Kim recently raised this issue as we were waiting for our television to load a movie: “How can you stop being you?” Then she asked her question another way: “How can you step outside of yourself?” I should alert you here that I, my thumb poised to hit the “Play” button to start the movie, did not come up with an answer. But now, after several weeks of deep thinking on Kim’s questions, I still have no answer.


            People do make this kind of change. The most obvious examples are people who fake their way into a new career – you know, passing yourself off as a doctor, a psychologist, or a president. But it’s not easy. I know this because I’ve had the same New Year’s Resolution for several decades now, and I’m never going to be that emotionally open and available guy. The best I can do is to create a version of that person in my blog, but as writers know, that’s a persona, a character who perhaps resembles part of me. And I’ve tried to invent myself as a person capable at household maintenance, but the steps to the beach that I just power washed show that I have not made the jump to that new identity.


            But Kim has something else in mind. It may have something to do with sensitivity about how other people see you – perhaps as revealed through an overheard remark or tone of voice. It’s always possible to misinterpret, of course, but sometimes our sense of self reflects how we think others see us. The task, then, is to “rebrand” ourselves – a term I dislike, but it may fit here. Get a haircut. Grow a beard. Come out of the closet. Get tattoos. Learn to dance. Realize that the clothes you wear are really the costume that your character is wearing to define himself or herself.


            No, Kim’s questions go deeper than that. Who you are is a product of your genetic inheritance, your dealings with your parents, and your dealings with other significant people such as friends, siblings, teachers, and other significant adults. All of this leads to a self-image, one that often emerges in your dreams. Can you change that self-image, “stop being you,” as Kim put it?


            One of our favorite movies, “What the Bleep Do We Know?,” suggests that it is possible to rewire our neural connections, changing some of the associations and behavioral patterns that are part of who we are. Part. But this seems more like what we do in breaking habits and perhaps creating new ones, and I like to think that my identity is more than the collection of my habits. Some days, however, I’m not so sure. But what the bleep to I know?


            I have to pause here to mention a favorite parent-child exchange from a John Updike story. The teen-aged kid defiantly tells his parents, “I didn’t ask to be born.” The father replies, “When we decided to have a child, we didn’t think it would be you.” This has nothing to do with the matter at hand, but it’s my blog so I am wedging it in.


            Meanwhile, the truth may lie in a suggestion our friend Sue made to Kim: Despite everything that we can change, our “essence” does not change. If you were essentially an asshole at birth, you will always be an asshole. Likewise, if you are a mensch. All we can change are some superficial behaviors – a good or bad streak before you revert back to your essential self, your essence. 


            Now I’m more confused and uncertain than when I started. I guess that’s just who I am.


Thursday, May 26, 2022


            I’ve been feeling some stress lately, and I hope writing about it helps bring some relief. I am hopeful because when I write I become a character, a persona, who doesn’t seem bothered by stress. Let’s see if it works.


            Fast forward: I did write about the sources of my stress, and after reading what I wrote, I felt so foolish that I deleted several paragraphs of moaning and complaining. Who would want to read it? You should thank me for this.


            The summary: I get anxious when confronting change, even when I’m only anticipating change. (Kim is the opposite, in many ways, for she needs change, but she doesn’t stress about it.) I feel especially stressed when I think that the change means I will have to learn something. I dislike feeling flummoxed.


            One of the benefits of this process is that I re-discovered a word: flummoxed. I love the word not only because of the meaning (totally confused and bewildered), but also because the way it looks and sounds adds a sputtering quality to the meaning. Say it out loud and see for yourself. I was stressed about the anticipated changes (new car, getting old, moving, etc.) because they might make me flummoxed. It’s a great word, especially for any geezers struggling with new technology. Again, I will spare you my details – you probably have several of your own. If you have any examples of when you felt flummoxed, I’d love to see them and perhaps share them. If you’ve never felt flummoxed, try installing a new operating system on your computer.




Thursday, May 19, 2022

Music of the Spheres

            Let me begin by saying that my research on this topic was severely limited by the fact that Coldplay apparently has an album called “Music of the Spheres,” and most of the internet is clogged with pieces about the album. So, I’m relying primarily on what I remember about the concept. And let me also confess that my “inspiration” for this piece is that I heard the term “Music of the Spheres” mentioned in the television program “Touch,” which I’ve been watching with Kim for the last few days.


            Pythagoras, a few years before I was born, did some experiments that associated musical pitches with the length of a vibrating string. Shorten the length: raise the pitch. He worked out the ratio of string length to pitch. This breakthrough, I believe, was the beginning of the relationship between mathematics and music. His work was elaborated upon by Plato, Aristotle and others.


            At the time, it was believed that our Earth was the center of the universe, and the other heavenly bodies move around us on invisible concentric spheres. Each crystal sphere, of course, is at a different distance from Earth, and each one, according to Pythagoras, vibrates at a different frequency, producing a unique hum, depending on that orbital revolution, just as stringed instruments vibrate at a different pitch depending on the length of the string. These different “tones” are a form of music.


            With me so far?


            So, these vibrating crystal spheres create a Music. Conveniently, this Music of the Spheres is inaudible. The 16th century astronomer Johannes Kepler theorized that this inaudible music could nevertheless be heard by the soul. We don’t hear it – we feel it, much the way music can touch our soul, except without the actual sounds. Kepler agreed with Pythagoras that the quality of life on earth is a reflection of the music of these imperceptible hums generated by the spheres of the Sun, Moon and the planets. I have not heard the Coldplay album, but I doubt that it has that profound an effect on us. Some may disagree.


            It is not clear to me whether the Music of the Spheres is a contributing cause of our quality of life, or whether it’s a response to our earthly doings. I wonder what that crystal Music sounds like with the war in Ukraine, global warming, mass shootings, Kim’s sore knees, and the fact that I’m still waiting for the Jeep I ordered in December. But the Music of the Spheres is usually seen as a positive vibe, at least in the half-dozen times I’ve ever come across the term. Even better than positive. You need to set aside, however briefly, your attention to the shit going on, and listen for that divine Music.


            So, pause, now, for as long as it takes, and listen for the music.


            While some may see this as BS, I had my own connection with the Music of the Spheres on Saturday. I was watering the little chestnut trees we planted a couple of years ago when a hummingbird approached me and proceeded to take a shower in the spray from my hose. I saw what she was doing and turned the nozzle to a fine mist. She thanked me, flew in and out for about ten seconds, and then landed on a nearby tree to preen, looking at me with gratitude. I never heard the humming bird because of the sound of the water, but I know it was there.


            At that moment I felt in total harmony with the universe. The Spheres were playing my song. And when I went inside, the Music continued because Kim had baked me some scones.