Tweet of the Day: 80-year Old Does Everest

VERY inspiring story of oldest man to summit Mt. Everest, 80-years old, broken hip two years ago, heart surgery this past January…

…the excuses for becoming a decrepit old fart are running out.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Father Time is a sadistic bastard

Originally Published: November 3, 2009

It seems that at just about every turn these days Father Time is rubbing it in my face that I’m getting old.

Consider the following list of recent reminders that I turned 45 in August:

  • A friend emailed me to report that he’s hearing late-era songs by The Who, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and U2 on an Oldies radio station in New York. (These stations were like the soundtrack to the movie American Graffiti when I was growing up. I don’t know what’s worse, that Oldies stations have changed or that my friend listens to Oldies stations.)
  • As I wrote last week, I just attended an actual U2 concert, but what I didn’t say then was that I could not believe how many old-looking people were there. (I reassured myself that I looked much better, much younger, than my peers, but am I just in denial?)
  • At the very same U2 concert, the opening act was the Black Eyed Peas, a hip-hop group that appeared to be enormously popular, judging by the crowd’s reaction, judging by their singing along and screaming out their approval. Black Eyed Peas has been together nearly a decade and a half, they’re internationally famous, they’ve sold millions and millions of records… and I didn’t know one song.
  • Yesterday I read in the New York Times that a Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs closed after only one week, shocking the playwright and critics who gave it good reviews. The article contains this quote: “To that end, if ticket sales before the critics’ reviews were any measure, Mr. Simon struck many people as passé.” (I watched the TV show The Odd Couple, based on Simon’s play and movie, religiously in reruns when I was growing up, and I loved his autobiographical stage and film trilogy of Brighton Beach, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound. And now it’s passé. Oy.)
  • I work at a university and have a 12-year old son, meaning that, on a daily basis, I am reminded about just how little I know concerning the latest music, fashions, TV shows, movies, video games, lingo, behaviors, etc.

My new goal is to live long enough to hear Death Cab For Cutie on an Oldies radio station.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: You know you’re old when…

Originally Published: May 5, 2010

Today was one of those days when a convergence of events rubbed my face in the fact that I’m getting old. I’ve written about days like this before, but it’s been awhile.

And so, as I did last time, let’s go to the list:

  • I supervise student employees at the university where I work, which, on it’s own, is a setup for feeling old. Anyway, one of those students wears a woven cap with a bill that reminds me so much of a certain TV character that I grew up with, and so I said something to him about it:

Me: Hey, Nick, every time I see you wearing that cap I think of Radar O’Reilly.

Nick: Who?

Me: Radar O’Reilly!

Nick: Who’s that?!

Me: Radar, from M*A*S*H!!!

Nick: Well, I’ve seen commercials for the reruns on TV, but I’ve never…

  • This reminded me that before I began my current position at the university, I worked in the Admissions office for 6-1/2 years. When I’d been there a year or so, I reviewed the first application for a prospective Freshman whose birth year was the year I graduated High School, and I worked there long enough to have reviewed applications for students whose birth year was the year I graduated from college.
  • I’m writing this post after having gone for a run…well, my intention was to run. I hadn’t tried running in about a month, having been through a few weeks of illness and then recovery time, and I did a very stupid thing: I went running too soon after a meal. Good Lord! There’s a reason why exercise, yoga, and martial arts instructors recommend working out on an empty stomach. It felt terrible!

Someone fetch me a wheelchair!

Second Drop In The Bucket

Apulia, Italy

One of the most popular posts I’ve written here at Fish & BicyclesFirst Drop In The Bucket — was published in November 2010. It’s been viewed 85 times, and it’s ironic that it’s so popular because the post refers to the whole bucket list craze as a worn-out cliché, followed hypocritically by my naming the first item on my own list: a trip to Madagascar’s Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

Well, I promptly abandoned the list as soon as I was done with that post…until now, and travel, once again, has inspired me.

Polignano a Mare, a town with yellow limestone buildings dramatically perched on an outcropping looking over the Adriatic and a very favorable old-lady-on-stoop-to-foreign-tourist ratio.
–Seth Kugel

I’ve been reading with great interest a series of articles by a New York Times travel blogger, The Frugal Traveler, aka Seth Kugel. Seth is currently on a frugal tour of the Mediterranean that has me longing to book a flight with every installment.

The latest, a piece on the Apulia, Italy region, sounds like a dream trip to me. Of course I also want to see the classics — Venice, Milan, Florence, Sienna, Naples, Rome, etc. But Kugel refers to Apulia as a place where Italians go for vacation, and that’s something I particularly like to experience when I travel. While I also enjoy spending some time at well-worn tourist locations, it’s also nice to find someplace where the language of the country I’m visiting is the primary language to be heard.

That this trip includes small villages, rural countryside, bicycling, caves, coastline, good food and wine…

…well, what’s not to like?

I will go there before I die.

The danger of the snooze button

As I alluded in my post this morning, I’m currently wrestling with a health issue, and if you wondered what the “old dog, new tricks” reference in the title was all about, all shall now be revealed…eventually…because I like taking the scenic route.

When I turned 30 I felt liberated. My twenties, after all, had been a decade of turmoil, of trying to extricate myself from my family and my internalized family baggage, all the while struggling inelegantly to grow up.

Even though the ten years that saw me graduating from college, moving 3,000 miles from home, developing a career as a social worker, and having a serious 3-year relationship with a woman was one prolonged effort to become an adult, when I turned 30 it didn’t feel as if all my efforts had finally come to fruition. Rather, it was like someone had simply waved a magic wand or handed me a membership card and suddenly I was adult.

In my latter thirties I had two pretty serious health issues that, at the time, seemed like wake-up calls. Despite my having been an athlete all throughout my youth, always participating in one sport or another, I’d become less and less physically active in my twenties, developing a dangerous procrastination concerning my health, rooted in the notion that I’d somehow get my act together sooner or later.

And so, after having survived a malignant deep tissue skin cancer with only a sizable scar and divot in my left upper arm, and a few years later having my gall bladder removed after a series of excruciating gallstone attacks, when I turned 40 I remember making an earnest resolution to take control of my health. Everything I read about aging and most people I talked to who were in their 40s and 50s made it clear: as you age it is harder to get back into shape after a period of inactivity, harder to maintain a regular exercise regimen, and harder to recover from injuries.

I remember going to my doctor and telling him that I wanted a complete physical, and that I’d like to once and for all get my knees thoroughly checked out, because for years I’d experienced stiffness and pain when I tried to run or on long hikes involving significant elevation gain and loss. I said to my doctor, in a speech I remember almost word-for-word, that I was ready to make big changes, to become much more physically active, to develop exercise habits in my 40s that will be sustainable throughout my 50s and 60s, with the aim to prevent all kinds of illness and injuries that prematurely erode the quality of life for so many people.

X-rays and MRIs concluded that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my knees.

Six years later, having failed to manifest a healthier lifestyle, I’ve recently developed serious sciatica symptoms, with pain that radiates from my lower back down my left leg, as of late keeping me from sleeping well. A visit to an alternative health care provider resulted in the following diagnosis: inflammation caused mostly by inactivity, but quite possibly, as well, from having developed a sensitivity to Gluten.

Gluten, that protein in wheat, barley, and rye that gives the dough made from these grains elasticity and the final product chewiness, a protein that happens to be present in many of the foods I enjoy and can’t imagine living without.

I’m from New Jersey. Let’s face it. Life without pizza and beer is unfathomable to me.

And yet, I know intuitively that I just can’t hit the snooze button many more times before I slip further down the slippery slope and develop chronic illnesses from which I might never fully recover.

And so, the question that begs asking: What about that whole “old dogs, new tricks” thing? Can I really change?

Well, as I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post, before the whole sciatica thing flared up, I’d already started a new exercise regimen, walking to and from work and attended a yoga class twice a week. Naturally, I’ve not been at it long enough to see any improvement. These things take much longer than that, but it’s a start and something to celebrate.

The harder piece, by far, will be the dietary changes, despite the fact that my wife has blazed the trail for me over the past five years or so, having successfully eliminated gluten and feeling much better for it.

And so, with the New Year’s Resolution season rapidly approaching, I know what I have to do, but it feels like I’m preparing to climb Everest. Yet, maybe I can glean something from the rock climbing world that can be useful. Many rock climbers, like other athletes, do this carb loading thing, consuming large amounts of carbohydrates the night before a big climb to maximize the storage of energy in the muscles. Well…

…I had this idea that I wrote off as silly at first, but the more I think about it the more I like it. The idea is to create a ritual farewell to beer, to invite my beer drinking buddies, and anyone else who can make it, to a party. At the party much beer and pizza will be consumed — a grand metaphorical carb loading to prepare me for the gluten-free life ahead of me. A fire will be lit in a fire pit, we will dance around the fire, drunk with beer, and we will sing and celebrate the simple pleasures of the fermented grain beverage. And at the end of the dance, I will take a full, unopened bottle of one of my favorite brews, I will lift it into the air, say a few words of gratitude for all the joy this beverage has given me over the years, and then I will throw it, swiftly, into the fire, where the glass will smash and the beer will be burned up by the flames.

First Drop In The Bucket

Listen, I know that the whole bucket list thing has become a worn-out cliché, but I’m trying to stop making apologies for the fact that, as I mentioned Monday, I’m usually late to the party.

(Aside: You know the equally cliché term early adopter, particularly as it applies to technology products, and how many early adopters come to regret having been so early, because new products often exhibit bugs and other problems that get resolved in subsequent, improved versions? Well, consider me a cautiously delayed adopter.)

Anyway, I came across some amazing photos today by photographer Stephen Alvarez, taken in Madagascar’s Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. And, I was so blown away by the images that I was inspired to start my own bucket list, despite having sworn I’d never jump on the bandwagon.

Bottom line, I WILL go here before I die:

You CAN hurry love to Phil Collins…please!

This morning a friend of mine sent me a link to a very sad article.

According to said article, it seems that Phil Collins, famed member and frontman of Genesis, has fallen on hard times — not having recorded an album of original music in ten years, suffering from a neck injury that leaves him unable to hold a drumstick or sign his name, all leading to persistent suicidal thoughts. Ironically, the very same Rolling Stone reporter who wrote about Phil’s tormented state also wrote a very positive June 25, 2010 review of a show Collins did in New York, performing songs from his recent album of Motown classics, backed by an 18-piece band.

Now, I have to admit that for years I’ve been known to say to friends and fellow music fans that I’ll always prefer Genesis music from when Peter Gabriel was in the band, and sure enough, on the rare occasions (just about once a year), when I get nostalgic for that sweet old prog rock from my youth, I always reach for Gabriel-era albums like Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

And yet, hearing that Phil is in such tough shape and hurting so badly, I was rather shaken up. As I prepared for my 45-minute walk to work, scanning my iPod for something to listen to, I settled on Genesis’ 1976 album Wind & Wuthering, the second album recorded in the year after Peter Gabriel left the band. And, as I write this I’m listening to the first album recorded that year, A Trick Of The Tail. They’re both wonderful.

By any measure, Phil Collins has had an outstanding career.

According to Wikipedia:

According to Atlantic Records, Collins’s total worldwide sales as a solo artist, as of 2002, were 150 million. He has won seven Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and two Golden Globes for his solo work. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.

Collins is one of only three recording artists (along with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson) who have sold over 100 million albums worldwide both as solo artists and (separately) as principal members of a band. According to Billboard magazine, when his work with Genesis, his work with other artists, as well as his solo career is totalled, Collins has the most top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the 1980s. In 2008, Collins was ranked the 22nd most successful artist on the “The Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists”.

And, I don’t think it’s an overstatement in the least to say that the story of Phil’s ascendancy to frontman status in Genesis is one of the greatest success stories in Rock & Roll history.

In 1975, Peter Gabriel was one of the most, if not THE most, eccentric and talented band leaders in music. For 12 years he’d been the voice and flamboyant visual entertainer for a group of highly skilled musicians, whom, by themselves, had no stage charisma whatsoever. When Gabriel decided to leave the band that year, a band that had gradually built a loyal following drawn by their complex, artful music and visually stunning stage shows, he left awfully big shoes to fill.

Meanwhile, although Phil Collins ably sang extensive backing vocals on many Genesis songs, he was not initially interested in taking over as frontman. So reluctant was he, in fact, that the band auditioned 400 singers before Collins finally agreed to step up.

And there can be no arguing what happened next. Phil Collins stepped into that massive spotlight as lead singer under intense pressure to do the Genesis back catalog justice, to helm new songs that both retained the Genesis identity while moving the band forward creatively, and while there were certainly some Gabriel loyalists who couldn’t accept a Genesis without him, the band did not lose a step, the two 1976 albums were well received, and the 1976 and 1977 tours drew more fans than ever.

As history proved, Phil Collins grew stronger and stronger as a stage personality, eventually launching a successful solo career. And while the latter Genesis material and his solo music might not be everyone’s musical cup of tea (mine included), the man deserves respect for his accomplishments. That he seems to have become dependent on the opinions of his critics for his self worth is tremendously sad, and yet it’s rather an epidemic condition amongst celebrities.

I hereby call on all Genesis fans (yes, even you Gabriel loyalists, because, after all, before Phil took over Peter’s vocals he was a kick ass drummer and you all know it!) to give a shout out to Phil Collins, thanking him for all the marvelous musical enjoyment he has given us over the years and to ensure him that he is loved and valued.

Since this entry will also serve as this week’s Video Fridays installment, I offer up the following clip, which perfectly captures the changing of the guard. The year is 1976, the video opens with Phil at his drum kit as the song Fly On A Windshield transitions into Carpet Crawlers. The lights dim, the quiet guitar and piano arpeggios roll along, Phil’s lead vocals come in on a song that Peter Gabriel had once sang with such deep feeling and expression, and amidst the dim light, at the 1:04 mark, a single spotlight pierces through the darkness and shines on the new indisputable leader of the band.

Happy Weekend, everyone!