Thursday, January 21, 2010

Here’s to new beginnings, sort of

By Felix Carroll

No one’s saying you were tipsy on New Year’s Eve. No one’s saying you made a fool of yourself. But those New Year’s resolutions you proclaimed, which resonated so powerfully from your lungs and soared like eagles toward the other side of midnight (I will quit smoking, I will lose weight, I will read more articles about PCBs inPittsfield and fewer articles about Jennifer Anniston) — well, there they are now, come home to roost, plump and pesky pigeons at your feet.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Over the hill with the Geezer Hikers

Four self-described geezers fill their bellies with eggs and coffee at the Sunrise Diner in Sheffield, then make their way out into the parking lot. But something stops them dead in their tracks. Beside their own clumpy vehicles sits a shiny, red Mercedes Benz convertible, its top down like a girl gone wild.

They lean over it. They see their own reflections. They dream private dreams down puzzling roads. Phil Smith finally breaks the silence. “I could have a midlife crisis right now,” he says. They all nod in the affirmative, until they start doing the math.

“If I have a midlife crisis now, I’ll live to be a 140,” says Phil’s brother, Dave. (Actually, he’d be 148.) It’s time to move on. It’s hiking day for the Geezer Hikers, a club founded four years ago by Phil, who lives in Lee, and a group of Connecticut friends.

Every couple weeks or so, anywhere from three to eight Geezers — most of them mostly retired — trek into the woods with their walking sticks and their “Certified Geezer Hiker” T-shirts. They tell jokes (about vultures circling overhead, about how in the event they encounter an angry bear they’ll whack the nearest fellow Geezer with their hiking stick rendering him bear bait, then run for their lives).

Because the Geezers have bad memories, old jokes remain effective. They share stories about their kids and grandkids. And on the steepest, most grueling sections, they have visions of a God so benevolent that He’s placed a cooler of iced-cold Sam Adams beer for them on the trail up ahead.

They hike an average of eight miles with the clear intention of not setting any land-speed records. And because they’ve not yet once come across that cooler of iced-cold beer, when the hike is over, they pile back into their cars and meet at a pub, where they drink beer and eat burgers.

Except for Sandy Mazeau. “He orders something that looks like a lemonade and something that looks like a salad,” says Dave, with mock disgust. Sandy couldn’t make this recent hike up Mount Everett, so Bill Butler, 71, becomes Sandy’s stand-in stooge. Why Bill?

“Like Sandy, he takes abuse well,” says Phil.

“He’s got ostridge legs,” says Dave.

“And he’s got a bladder the size of a walnut,” says Jim Wakemin.

The Geezers gather at the trailhead in the town of Mount Washington. They all smell like Deet. They head upward in a forest alley lined with laurel, and they contemplate the meaning of the word “geezer.”

“The dictionary meaning is ‘old’ and ‘eccentric,’” says Dave. “And I guess that’s OK. Some of us have moss growing on our north side.”

They hike in a line of one-liners, with Dave leading the way along Guilder Pond — “named after Gilda Radner.”

“Fellas,” says Phil, “this is an area known for the eastern timber rattlesnake. So, Dave, if you come across one, use that tact and diplomacy you’re known for.”

“Now if Sandy were here leading us,” says Jim, “we’d be eating quiche by now.”

A little more than an hour into the hike, they reach the beerless summit, where the spectacular view is socked in by haze. “Too much hot air,” says Bill. “It’s us,” says Dave. “We’re like the Hawaiian Islands. We generate our own climate.”

The Geezers head — well — over the hill. “It’s one of life’s little injustices that downhill hiking is so difficult,” remarks Phil, who keeps the group mentally occupied by sharing some of the questions people ask him in his capacity as an employee in the tourist information booth in Lee.

“A guy came in and asked where he could get a cheap prostate exam,” he says. “A guy came with a real estate contract and asked us to look it over. We once had people come in and ask where they can go on a whale watch.”

On the last leg of the trail, in honor of Idaho Senator Larry Craig, the Geezers play a game of Washington-sex-scandal-name-recognition.

“Wayne Hays,” says Phil.

“Ohio congressman,” says Dave. “He had a secretary on his staff who could type four words an hour.”

And so it goes: with “Lucy Mercer,” “Megan Marshak,” “Kay Summersby,” and so on, until the Geezers come to the end of the trail at Berkshire School. They take a group photo for the archives, and Jim wonders aloud what eights miles would be in “dog miles.”

A half hour later, they’re all at O’Casey’s in Canaan, Conn., where they order those beers and those burgers, and they contemplate how so much more pleasant these Geezer hikes would be if they simply modified club bylaws so as to eliminate the hike itself. That way they could arrive at the pub sooner rather than later.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Come on, give it up

“Oh, pay it forward?”

“Wow, it’s like that movie, ‘Pay It Forward.’”

“See, you give and it always comes back to you.”

These are the responses I get every time I try to share my miraculous story of giving money away. People keep interrupting me with references to “Pay it Forward” (a movie I haven’t seen)or a variation of biblical quotes involving reaping and sowing and planting and gathering. (Are the Gospels just an earlier version of Farmer’s Almanac?)

So I hereby share my miraculous story with you. If you agree to read, I’ll not only agree to watch “Pay It Forward” (a film advocating random deeds of mercy), I’ll also heed all gardening-related tips from the Gospels.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Here’s to new beginnings, sort of

No one’s saying you were tipsy on New Year’s Eve. No one’s saying you made a fool of yourself. But those New Year’s resolutions you proclaimed, which resonated so powerfully from your lungs and soared like eagles toward the other side of midnight (I will quit smoking, I will lose weight, I will read more articles about PCBs in Pittsfield and fewer articles about Jennifer Anniston) — well, there they are now, come home to roost, plump and pesky pigeons at your feet.

Shoo, you say.

Welcome to the sound of the other shoo falling.

If you were an ancient Roman — a civilization we can safely blame for infusing guilt into the even more ancient annual urge of self-reform — it wouldn’t be a matter of a wing and a prayer. You’d make your resolutions and stick to them, or otherwise face the two faces of Janus, god of new beginnings. And once you get a lower-case god involved in your affairs, they’re on you like melted cheese. Better you run for your life (on a treadmill, maybe).

But nowadays, with God rightfully uppercase and not, shall we say, in the niche market when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, all those anti-vice vows you blabbed about, all those interminable good intentions, new projects, new-you-in-the-New-Year yadda yadda (“I will build that dang bookshelf myself,” you said ... remember?) will likely forestall at the starting gate. Maybe it happened two weeks ago. Maybe today. Maybe in a matter of a month.

And with little or no repercussions.

But you’re among crowded company. Of those who make serious attempts at
personal change, 30 percent will give up within two weeks, and more than half won’t make it past six months, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

And while the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions dates back 4,000 years to the Babylonians, the ritual of breaking resolutions — New Year’s or otherwise — probably dates back to the first creature who realized he had legs and stepped out of the primordial ooze promising to be back in a jiff.

There are terms used to describe the phenomenon of wanting to change for the
better yet stymieing such change at the same time. Shakespeare would call it “tragedy.”

Sigmund Freud, who tugged the ropes and pullies of consciousness to show how humans are saboteurs of their own selves, would call it “only natural.”

Indeed, while you say you want a resolution, living up to it may require nothing short of a battle of the divided self. (Janus may have had two heads, but who’s laughing now?)

So, there you are. Right now. The first month of the new year. The first day of the rest of your life. You’re feeling like a tragic hero, naturally. You’re all resolution but no resoluteness. You’re plenty game but with no game plan. All swash but no buckle.

What do you do?

Forthwith, some suggestions:

Hire a lawyer. Yes, really. You could draw up a legally binding contract to ensure you stick to your resolutions. It’s possible. Here’s how it could work: Say your resolution is to volunteer more with one or more of the county’s many non-profits, or say you want to quit smoking. You and someone who cares about you could sign a contract saying as much, and the contract could include a third-party beneficiary in the event you fail to adhere to your resolution.

One major drawback is that it would upend your New Year’s resolution to have fewer lawyers in your life.

How about this one: You can log on to, which charges users a monthly fee of $5.95 a month or $49.95 a year to be beleaguered with e-mail pushing you to stay on track. The website allows you to write your own resolutions or choose from hundreds of ready-made ones, including “improve my vocabulary,” “dive the Great Barrier Reef,” “retire comfortably at 45,” “eat more vegetables,” “read the classics,” “benchpress 225 pounds,” and “climb Kilimanjaro.” (I think there’s even one about “cooking more with marmalades.”)

One major drawback is if you are as equally enraged by e-mail spam as you are by your inability to follow through on New Year’s resolutions.

OK, here’s one more. Joan Lang, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, touts the best time to make a resolution is not at New Year’s, when we’re still preoccupied with the holiday season, but maybe mid-year.

Ah … that’s much better. Mid-year.

So relax. Really. You’re pushing yourself way too hard. See you in June, OK?