Saturday, January 31, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:49 AM
This week, here in Southern California, a man killed his wife, his five children, and himself. At the time I'm writing this post, the only information they have (other than the crime scene) is a note the guy faxed to a local TV station. His claim: despondency over his employment situation.

Depending on what news channel/website you follow, this country has eliminated over 600,000 jobs in the last few months. Businesses with 40+ years behind them are closing up shop. Shopping malls are becoming ghost towns. Schools are feeling the crunch. Programs for the impoverished are losing the ability to service a growing impoverished population. Banks are being eaten up by other banks. (Sidebar: is it considered a "monopoly" if you're simply the only one left in business?)

Some news stories claim that we're in the bad part of a recession. Others claim that we've been in a recession a lot longer than we've been willing to admit. What stops us, I wonder, from calling the current financial situation in America a Depression? I'm no expert, so I don't know what the textbook definition is (and Google has been less than helpful). I do know that the "Great Depression" had to do with the maldistribution of wealth among the classes, an imbalance between the rise of prices and the rise of wages, some sketchy stock market speculation, and other things.

I recall learning about the 1920s in school, but most of my memory is based on old photos of people in food lines and unemployment lines, looking sad and helpless. I don't know what such a thing would look like in the 21st Century, but today, people are losing jobs, the stock market's in sad shape, and people are now killing themselves and their families out of desperation.

So, why isn't this a "Depression?"
Thursday, January 29, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:29 AM
Over the course of the last few weekends I've had to make room in my garage for the new addition to my transportation family (not to mention some stuff coming over from my wife's condo). As a result, I've had to go through boxes in the garage--the cemetery of days past--and discard stuff that's truly unnecessary.

Placing that title on ANY of my belongings was NOT as difficult as I thought it would be. I applied the same rule I've heard for cleaning out closets: if you haven't worn it in the last six months, it should go. Of course, there was a lot in these boxes I hadn't seen in a very long time, and one or two of these boxes, given the childhood memories they contain, may never get tossed out. I started with the boxes filled with work-related files (the easiest to deem "unnecessary," since they all pertained to a school at which I no longer work). As I got to more personal boxes, however, the items became more sentimental.

The "six month" rule is all well and good; but there's more at work here, I think. See, I'm turning 40 soon; and while that's never been a problem for me, I also recognize that I'm at a marked point in this journey through the Universe, one where what's ahead of me is much more important than what's behind me. And as I looked at bits and pieces of my past strewn all about the garage floor, I was reminded of a quote my wife sometimes signs her e-mails with:

How can the future be molded with hands full of baggage labeled What Was and What Could've Been? Where can you go with all that stuff,and how much fun will you have with it when you get there? Leave those bags behind,and hope they stay lost before you get to your next destination.
All right, take a few souvenirs if you must, but just nice stuff. No junk.
~ Michael Rawls
Throwing things out got a lot easier after that.

There was also a box of old trophies from my collegiate Speech & Debate days (many of them were fire damaged). At one point, long ago, I was going to make sure each was properly marked and engraved and cover the wall with my successes; instead I merely unwrapped them all and stacked them on my workbench before bidding them farewell. At one point, my son asked me, "Are those all your trophies and plaques? Wow; you were really good." He was in awe. Of me. So now I'm thinking maybe I should hang on to those. Maybe do the engrave-them-and-hang-them-in-the-garage thing after all.

And so about six boxes have gone so far, with another ten slated for review and removal. All in all, I made room for the new car AND some of my wife's stuff, and there's room for more. There are also more boxes to go through: fire damaged film equipment, my kids' old school projects, and more old paperwork for the shredder. Little by little, it seems, I'm shaving away the unnecessary past so that I can relish in the vibrant present. The next 40 years are gonna be sweet.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:31 AM
Check out my new ride!

What you see is the 2008 Honda FCX Clarity, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. This isn't the econo-box that was Honda's first generation; this is a full luxury version . . . this thing has ALL the bells and whistles of any luxury car on the market, but runs on ZERO gasoline. And the only thing that comes out of the tailpipe is water (I have the first car in the world designed to pee). The car of the future is here, my friends, and it's wrapped around me whenever I drive.

I'm sure that, over time, I'll be posting a lot about the new car, including photos (to be honest, I have to make sure I don't post anything proprietary, per Honda's wishes). For now, I'm going to post the answers to the four most frequent questions I've had in the last week:

1) How did you get one of these? (Usually asked, "How did YOU get one of these?") Honda's trying to put 200 of these on the road over the next three years (mine, I'm told, is one of the first ten--Jaime Lee Curtis has one, so I'm in a pretty nifty club), and their website asks interested people who live near one of the fueling stations to sign up. I did. Frankly, it's one of those things that you fill out and you know they're never gonna call--but they did. I've been speaking with them since November, and we got everything worked out. Despite what certain reviewers are saying, they're not just handing these things over to celebrities; they are, however, screening the potential lessees pretty carefully. Anyway, my answer to this question is, "I raised my hand, and they called on me."

2) Is it hard to drive? Is it hard to refuel? In both cases, no. I've never had a luxury car before, so I'm going from a stripped-down 2000 Hyundai hatchback to this. Driving a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle--basically, an electric car--means becoming accustomed to the acceleration, the gauges, and the mechanics of starting the car, but it's not all that different. I think that's the point, actually: to make the cars cleaner without changing the way we drive them. As far as refueling the car is concerned, it's actually easier to fuel with hydrogen than it is with gasoline. Once you know what you're doing (a simple 30 minutes of training), and once you've done it a few times, it becomes . . . well, kinda boring, actually. But that's better than needing a 50-page manual each time.

3) Is it expensive? Um . . . yes. Yes it is. Here's the thing, though: with the $600 per month lease, I'm getting all maintenance AND the comprehensive and collision insurance included (I just need to pay for the liability insurance and the hydrogen). That being the case, it's not really all that different from leasing any other big-ticket luxury car. On top of that, I get to drive around in a "limited edition" kind of car, and I'm not polluting anything while I do it. As far as the hydrogen itself is concerned, you have to learn the math of driving all over again (what with the new fuel type, the conversion of numbers isn't always easy--or possible). Let's put it this way: it costs me the same to fill this car's tank as it did to fill my last car's tank. So again, there's not a whole lot of change here.

4) Are you going to let your son drive it? Look, my almost-17-year-old son doesn't even have his license yet, and doesn't take the test until next week. I love my son, I trust my son, and I'm glad I sent my son to an expensive driving school--but unless there's a federal bailout package specifically for my liability policy, I don't see him driving it anytime soon (one of the guys from Honda--I'm looking at you, Tim--suggested that I let him take the test in my Clarity, for crying out loud). Actually, my son doesn't have his eye so much on my new car as he does my OLD car. He has dreams of co-opting that one. We'll see.

If I get questions, I'll answer them (if I'm allowed to, of course). In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be in my car.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:11 AM
So I spend a lot of time on Facebook. Yes, I know, social networking over the Internet can become an addiction. I'll own up to it: I'm somewhat addicted. Once upon a time I would stop at my computer several times a day, quickly checking my personal e-mail and my work e-mail. My work e-mail has been nudged off the list by my Facebook page.

The thing is, Facebook has given me an opportunity to not only communicate with people I currently know, but also with people I haven't spoken to in ages. It's really easy to find all your old high school friends (it's viral, actually: find one, and he or she is connected to three others, who are also connected to a few, . . . ). The best part is this: constant communication isn't necessary. Each person posts something here and there, and I just check the postings. It's like a big, personalized news feed. And I'm addicted.

I think the best part of the Facebook format (I barely check my MySpace anymore) is that, like high school, it's nice just to know that those people are there. I don't need to send e-mail after e-mail to each one of them. On occasion, the contact will be more personal and I get to catch up with my old friends. We've aged, and our lives have changed, and I'm sure that there are people whom I once knew who won't speak to me anymore, but it's nice to be the "now" me with my "then" friends and my "now" friends.

So, y'know, it's not a bad addiction.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:04 AM
Since 2009 has begun, it's time to retire my 2008 reading list. Here's what I read last year:

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Double Cross by James Patterson
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker
The Appeal by John Grisham
Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis
Cell by Stephen King
I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak
Blindness by Jose Saramago
The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein
The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot by Graham Roumieu
A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Feed by M. T. Anderson
Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Fables 10: The Good Prince by Willingham & Buckingham, et al
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Seeing by Jose Saramago
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Cross Country by James Patterson
Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson

There's a lot on my mind for 2009's reading list. It may not be as long a list this year because I'm looking at some longer books (Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and Rand's Atlas Shrugged, both of which are huge). I'm also looking forward to Grisham's new one in January and Christopher Moore's latest in February, and I've got some Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon titles to catch up on. I'd also like to write more in '09, which will mean less reading.
Monday, January 05, 2009, posted by Q6 at 1:49 PM
The Holiday season has come and gone, and I can't shake the feeling that I really screwed it up this year; not necessarily for other people, but for myself (and, by extension, for other people).

I have very fond memories of Christmas as a child. My parents, who I now, as a bread-winning adult, realize were poor, spoiled my brother and me terribly. Opening gifts took almost two hours ("scheduled," as it were, so that each opening had a full audience) and took up the entire living room--which again, as an adult, now seems very small. The gifts were also handed out in such a manner that they built up in scale to a wonderful crescendo, starting with the candy-filled stockings and ending with the "big bang" gift at the end . . . which, back then, was not always some battery-operated gizmo (since many of them had not yet been invented). The house was well decorated not long after Thanksgiving, complete with multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree* scattered around the handmade ornaments (most made by my mother, but ALL the ornaments were handmade).

Then there were the cookies. My stay-at-home mother made them every year, and it took her about two weeks to do it. Why two weeks? Because my mother is awesome, that's why. Using about two dozen different recipies, she made cookies for what seemed like forever. We once tried counting the actual number of cookies made one year, and stopped not long after 10,000. She had a plate of cookies for each of the neighbors, for each of my friends' families, for the mailman, for the UPS guy, and for two HUGE plates on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (She stopped after my father died, and the neighborhood has never been the same.)

That was the other thing I remember. My father's side of the family would get together both on Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day (at my grandparents' house). Eventually, the Christmas Eve thing got to be too much and was permanently suspended. Christmas Day, however, was an all day event with almost thirty people (including kids) sitting around one huge and one small table. It made the Norman Rockwell painting look like a card game.

As time passed, bits of the family grew up, or moved away, or both. Some of the partiarchs passed away, as did a matriarch, and we kind of splintered apart.

Several years later I converted to Judaism. I don't regret that decision, but it did take away greatly from my holiday experience. Hannukah isn't one of the "big" Jewish holidays, so we kind of give ourselves the shaft around Christmastime. It wasn't as severe a transition for my kids, who were too young at the time to develop enough of a traditional Christmas experience to miss. It was a big shift for me, though, and I did miss the yuletide atmosphere. (I still listened to Christmas music, however, because there are some things of which you just don't let go).

Jump forward to many years later of lighting menorahs and eating fried food (yep, that's about it, really), and the holidays lack the luster of yesteryear. But now I'm out of orthodox practice, married to a non-Jew, and feeling the pain of an absent Christmas. This year (our first as a married couple), we kind of experimented with a hybrid holiday. Being overwhelmed with home repair plans, change of work venue, financial issues, a teenage son, and other things, I kind of let the holidays get away from me this year. I didn't have my shopping done as early as I usually do, was not as extravagant or personal with my gift-giving as I was in the past, and didn't really "feel it" as I've tried to. And looking back to last month, I regret it. I should have done better. I would have liked to do better. Although I'm Jewish, I miss Christmas. I wasn't always Jewish, and now part of my family is not. Christmas must return, not just for my family, but for my own peace of mind and edification.

And so next year I will plan better (both temporally and financially), I will strive to make the holidays something of an event, and do it right. I'd like to enjoy the holidays as I have in the past. It's true that you "can't go home again," and that Christmas will never be for me like it was when I was a kid. Times change, sure, but they don't evaporate. My Christmas memories must change, and more must be made. Next year, this blog post will be different. Just you watch.

*The tree I grew up with was artificial, and I believe it now resides at my brother's house. Christmas changed a lot after my father died in December of 1982. We were always told that the artificial tree was necessary because my father was allergic and broke into hives. After his passing, it was too painful to put the tree up the following year. After that, new carpet was the excuse for not getting a real tree. After my brother and I had moved out, the tree moved with him. I'm now convinced that my mom was just too much of an OCD neatnik to deal with watering and stray needles. After having my own real tree for several years, I completely sympathize.