Why I Blog

storytelling

“I had to write. I had to write to save my life.” – Hurricane Carter

That may not have been the actual words. In fact, it’s probably nothing like what was said. I remember reading a quote from Rubin “Hurricane” Carter years and years ago, in print nonetheless. I think it was Rolling Stone magazine. He quipped how he turned to writing in order to capture his life, which in turn gave him direction, gave him purpose, and “saved his soul”. I always remembered if not the quote but the essence of the short statement. It stuck with me. Unfortunately, even in the Internet Age I’ve never been able to Google those words or anything remotely from him that resembled his powerful statement.

Did Carter actually say those words, paraphrased, or was it someone else? Was it Woody Allen? Nelson Mandela? It’s now slipped into the ethereal of my consciousness but nonetheless “stuck in my craw”.

A couple of years ago I was egged on to start a blog. I’ve done the travelling in my life, and seen some interesting things. None of which I think satisfies the threshold of others who’ve scaled Everest or spent time amongst the Tuareg or lived through the civil wars of the Caucasus. However. As I’ve said before, I’ve known many wonderful and captivating storytellers.

You can have had the opportunity to travel to every corner of the globe, but be deficient in the ability to translate that to others. On the other hand, you may have had the life confined to a close radius but still live such an interesting life that would fill volumes in a library. My brother Jack is a testament to this remarkable skill.

Storytelling is indeed a dying art. Oral storytelling is even more endangered in this era of attention deficit and short-attention spans. There was a day generations ago, when folks would sit around the office water cooler and tell expanded jokes. (“A guy walks into a bar…”) In fact, the art of joke telling has been dying the same fate of oral storytelling, all due to the hands of the Internet. People rarely tell jokes like they did years ago. Now, people just make references to movie scenes and there’s a communal head nod and subtle laugh, all within about 5 seconds. Which is the attention span of most people in this digital age.

Now to blogs. I’ve learned painfully that blogs need to be short and sweet. When I was an airman in the USAF, one of my first bosses introduced me to the concept of ‘KISS’; Keep It Simple Stupid. I’ve realized that blog posts have to be short and to the point. People are inundated, in fact swamped, with data every second, every hour. The shocking, the vivid, the titillating, the funny cat videos, grab people’s attention. Diatribes and lengthy posts on human nature are like those black and white documentaries on channel 898 that get overlooked within a heartbeat.

Why I Blog. I continue to write posts about TRUE events, sometimes embellished but never made up, about events in my life from my aging perspective. Storytelling is indeed a dying art. It’s something that won’t be appreciated until it’s well dead and buried. But telling those stories, for the storyteller, with the emphasis on tone, timing and anticipation, is cathartic and a way to provide healing for the writer and sometimes the reader.

That’s why I write. To save my life.

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The storyteller of Marrakech:

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26988777

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Barnegat Lighthouse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnegat_Lighthouse

Barnegat Lighthouse sits at the very northernmost tip of Long Beach Island, a sliver of coastal land along the central Jersey shore. LBI, or at least the northern part, is not particularly hospitable to tourists. In fact, the locals do their best (Harvey Cedars, Loveladies, et al) to block any local access to their beaches. These private beaches are home to various types to include mafia dons, politicians, wealthy lobbyists and corporate moguls…generally the One Percenters. Philadelphia Magazine in the 1970s quipped it right when they said, upon approach to the island from state highway 72, “The haves turn right (south) and the have mores turn left (north).” On the bay side however, are the Joe Bagadonuts that service the diners, bait shops, and public servants who work to keep the island safe, secure and clean for the One Percenters.

Barnegat Lighthouse is a nice destination and refuge for those seeking escape and direction from the maddening crowd on this portion of the Jersey Shore. It’s also a pleasant diversion from the exclusive ensemble that try their best to ward off pesky visitors.

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The Lost World – thru stamps (Mozambique)

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Travel risks and how to try to avoid getting injured in Mozambique:

https://kuppajodotcom.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/calculated-risks-in-dangerous-places/

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“Roughing it” – Camping It Suburban Style circa early 1970s

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Nostalgia is defined as a “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”

People, who were born way, WAY well after the 60s and watch ‘Mad Men’, may think that those of that generation hold nostalgia for that period; good wistful events mixed in with the seemingly barbaric cultural mores. Everyone, or practically everyone who has gone through earlier periods do reminiscence about the “simpler” times. But better? Hold on now….

Camping back in the 60s and early 70s was definitely a unique experience and one that is not so easily replicated. Back then camping was less of a back-to-nature, feel good break from the hectic assault of materialism. Back then, camping was an experience that the newly minted middle class (or rather, working class) did mostly because that was the only sense of vacation we could do (or rather afford). There were no cruise ships to the Med, ski resorts in the Rockies, or zip lining in the Costa Rican jungles. At least on the east coast, camping circa early 1970s was the only affordable outlet large families could do on a shoestring budget.

Sally and I did a lot of camping, mostly at Lake Casitas, CA

Most families of that era packed up their pickup truck with the essentials and headed off into the suburban hinterlands. The wayfaring inventory included such items as: Propane grills, transistor radios, plenty of batteries, canned vegetables, Spam, a deck of cards, toiletries, a cooler filled with ice and beer and hot dogs and beer, and the web lawn chairs. It was a luxurious version of the Joad Family but heading into the nearby wilderness as opposed to across the Great Plains to the Promised Land.

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For summer vacations, my family would traverse the campgrounds of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but eventually widen the circle to places as far as Virginia, New York State, Maine and Canada. If dragging Nostalgia into this, the best part was seeing America up close along the back roads and towns along the way. Stopping for gas in small towns at the Texaco or Mobil stations, filling the tank on ‘regular leaded’ gas, and chat with the locals on weather, sports and the state of the nation (the war, or rather ‘Nam, hardly ever came up except if you had this nonverbal mental handshake that the other person saw things your way).

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My father kept a meticulous log in a spiral notebook of distance and gallons used to calculate how far we could go before the need to refuel. And the maps, of course, bought at rest stops and diners to help guide us through uncharted waters. There were no smartphones, no cell phones, no Google Maps, no AAA apps, no GPS. Technology was limited to the AM radio. If you had the misfortune of breaking down between Rochester and Niagara Falls, you just had to wait it out and rely on the kindness of strangers, if they came at all.

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But even when we did break camp, it hardly was a sing-a-long Prozac-induced smiling exuberant festival singing Kumbaya. Dad would eventually collapse into the lawn chair and down beers, mom would clean up and play door guard while us kids scurried off to find this addicted thing called trouble. One night, my father caught my brothers smoking cigarettes and “The Court” decreed they would smoke the rest of the carton, to “teach them a lesson”. They did get extremely sick that night and the next day, but it only wetted their appetite and both became hard-core smokers their entire life. Things you remember back then – hardly defined as nostalgia.

Then there was the night in Maine eating lobsters from the back of the pick-up truck while a severe thunderstorm crashed around us. That’d be Nostalgia.

Camping circa 1960s/70s was not as “extreme” and intense as we know it today. It was a glorified road trip, stopping at communal campsites mostly to rest and use their bathrooms, a chance to swap stories with other families and compare hardships. But it did bring us down to eye level with the locals along the way, along the trail, and being exposed to those “Salt of the Earth” people would forever flavor my palate for travel. (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/salt_of_the_earth)

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Rowing Towards Salvation

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I like ocean kayaking. I love ocean kayaking. I’m not as good as I should or could be, but my enthusiasm carries me through.

I’m not a gym rat. It takes a celestial miracle to bring me to the gym. But when I do, I gravitate involuntarily to the rowing machine. Most people at my gym work the weights, the nautilus, the elliptical, the running machines, et al. But I love to plug my iPod in and row like mad and mentally project myself onto the Atlantic waves. My favorite work out song is “Riding the Waves” by Afro Celt Sound System.

There’s the person who likes to jog around the neighborhood. And then there’s the person who runs literally around the globe. Chay Blyth and John Ridgway, in 1966, in an open boat named the English Rose III rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in 92 days.
No small feat. In fact, a remarkable testimony to endurance, survival, character and will.
http://www.oceanrowing.com/Oceanrowers/blyth.htm

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To open and push the envelope of exploration and the limits of human endurance is just stunning. The famous ones are enshrined on medals, currency, and in history books. But dozens and thousands more are buried in the minutiae of history (and Google). Fame is a fleeting comet, but their burning desire for the challenge and the test of human survival is a bright ignition that drives the passion and soul.

Blyth and Ridgway’s feat of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean is truly inspiring. They faced hurricanes, emotional hardships, and intense physical pain. But they dug down deep into their souls, and despite what was predicted as a 95% chance of failure (actually, death), they continued on. As Blyth would later say:

“Why did I do it? Because at the end of my days, I’m going to be lying in my bed looking at my toes, and I’m going to ask my toes questions like ‘Have I really enjoyed life? Have I done everything I’ve wanted to do?’ And if the answer is no, I’m going to be really pissed off.”

Rowing Song
 by Patty Griffin


As I row, row, row
Going so slow, slow, slow
Just down below me is the old sea
Just down below me is the old sea
Nobody knows, knows, knows
So many things, things, so
So out of range
Sometimes so strange
Sometimes so sweet
Sometimes so lonely

The further I go
More letters from home never arrive
And I’m alone
All of the way
All of the way
Alone and alive

You just have to go, go, go
Where I don’t know, know, know
This is the thing
Somebody said
Somebody told me
A long time ago

The further I go
More letters from home never arrive
And I’m alone
All of the way
All of the way
Alone and alive
As I row, row, row
Going so slow, slow, slow
Just down below me is the old sea
Just down below me is the old sea

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Blowing a gasket on the Atlantic City Expressway

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When I was about 19 or 20, I had just dropped out of college (first time), after trying unsuccessfully to be a journalist major. What I lacked for in discipline and study habits, I made up for exponentially with buckets of recklessness and abandon. After being drummed out of the local state college, I turned to Tony’s Garage for refuge. Tony was an old family friend who owned a gas station/auto shop nearby. My brother worked there, and I was given salvation by being employed as a grease monkey (change tires, prep the cars, minor repairs). Tony can best be described as a crotchety alter ego of Jay Pritchett from Modern Family. Tony was a savvy businessman, but would repel from overcharging a kind old lady; he was the stereotypical ‘hooker with a heart of gold’.

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Anyway, at the time I owned a ’77 Buick Regal. If you don’t understand cars, just understand this – the Buick Regal was a beast of a car, a relic of the apogee of Detroit’s unbridled enthusiasm for automotive power. It was an 8-cyclinder behemoth of fuel, metal, and more metal.

As I said, I had dropped out of college. My grades were sinking into junk bond status. I had recently devoured Hunter S. Thompson’s books and decided to emulate his writing style, and personal lifestyle. It’s one thing to be reckless and undisciplined. It’s another to be reckless, undisciplined and lucky. It’s quite another to be reckless, undisciplined, lucky AND talented. I was the former (the first one). I loved to write, and still do. I love the way words can flow on a page and be transported into your head by reading, and if done right, is a beautiful song without the music.

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At the time, when not working on cars at Tony’s, I’d make my foray down to Atlantic City to try my hand at craps at the casinos. If I was wiser, or had some out-of-body experience, I’d tell myself not to waste my hard-earned cash on a hope to make even more money, to eventually flush down the various casinos, but to save my paycheck and use it to buy a shovel to dig myself out of this existential hole I put myself into.

It was a warm spring day. My car was full of leaded gas, but my wallet light. I was travelling west along the Atlantic City Expressway when I noticed in the lane next to me were 2 nice looking girls in a small quasi-sports car. It must’ve been a Mazda or maybe a Nissan something. They looked over to me, and I to them. They raced a bit and I put my foot down on the pedal and roared back. We played this little game for a while until I decided to show them what this beast could do. My exit was coming up soon, so I floored the Buick and propelled like a Saturn rocket headed to the moon. The gauges all reacted and all the engineering gods of Motor City were shining up on high. But I went no more than 1000 feet than did this horse throw a shoe. “Houston, we have a problem.” A series of loud pops ensued and the gauges careened back. Life was beginning to be sucked out of this machinery. My exit came up and I pulled off onto the ramp. The cute girls passed on by, probably to some debutante ball or something, maybe even back to their college to study for an exam.

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The Buick died not long after I exited the off-ramp. Tony had to come on by to tow this damaged heap back to the shop. Under examination, the diagnosis was a blown head gasket, a serious matter. A repaired engine later, the Buick was restored, but my servitude to Tony even greater.

I eventually worked off my debt, and gained some insight along the way. Reality had appeared at my front door, as if dressed in a fine Italian suit and presenting me with a bill. Choices had to be made. That fall, I re-entered college, enrolling into a new major (art), changing colors like a chameleon. The Buick was restored, and so was I.

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Posted in Atlantic City, cars, essay, gambling, New Jersey, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lost World – thru stamps (Samoa)

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Read more about Samoa at:
https://kuppajodotcom.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/one-mans-exotic-is-anothers-mundane/

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Posted in food, Nature, society, South Pacific, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment