75 And Counting

Eleven months ago I published a piece in which I noted that I couldn’t believe how fast 2021, and hence my life, was flying by. Well, somehow 2022 has equaled or maybe even surpassed 2021’s fleetness. And I have no doubt that 2023 will tear out of the starter’s block like Usain Bolt and then do nothing but pick up speed. Man, time unquestionably is the most precious commodity of all. It’s unsettling too.

Now, not everybody would agree with my perception of time. Most young people, for instance, don’t sense time as being a high-speed train.  Hell, for the most part they don’t think about time at all. Like many senior citizens, however, I have time on my mind pretty often. Meaning, I’m anything but oblivious to the facts that I’ve been on Planet Earth for a good long while, and that I’m a whole lot closer to the end than to the beginning. I don’t become badly depressed about it, or anything like that. However, the reality of the situation definitely gets my attention now and then.

I mention the above because I was stunned big-time a couple of months ago as I neared the completion of my 75th journey around the Sun. I did not feel at all celebratory about the upcoming birthday. The cockles of my heart refused to warm even one little bit. “75? Are you shitting me?” I asked myself. “How is it possible that I’ve become so f*cking old?” I mean, it seems like only yesterday that I was in my twenties, let alone in my 40s. Holy crap, where in the world did the time go?

By anyone’s definition, 75 is old as frigging dirt, or nearly so. Yeah, I know that plenty of people are older than me. Not as many as you might think, though, nor as many as I thought until I researched the subject earlier this month on a website that can tell you where you fit, age-wise, on the human population ladder. (Click here if you’d like to see the site. When it opens, click on Let’s Go. Next, click on My Place In The Population, which is where you enter your age.)

The answer, for 75-year-old me, was not joy-inducing. That’s because I learned that I am older than 96% of the people on our beautiful, polluted planet. That figure was an absolute kick to the balls. All I could do was shake off the pain and acknowledge the bad joke with a half-hearted chortle. And then I got right back to doing the things I love, such as palling around with my wife and other friends, exploring the natural and man-made worlds, writing, reading, and imbibing cool music. They make for a good life. With luck, this regimen will continue for a bunch more years.

With 2023 a mere handful of days away, the time now has arrived for me to wish all of you a most Happy New Year. May it be rewarding. And may peace, love, understanding and freedom fully permeate the human condition one day. They are in short supply in many parts of the globe, as we know all too well. So, as I’ve been thinking about freedom a lot lately, I’ll conclude this essay by presenting a song, Miles And Miles, that knocked me off my feet when I heard it for the first time recently. It’s a brilliant rocker, released this year by The Heavy Heavy, a young British band that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with for a while, traveling with them from gig to gig and absorbing their vibes. For the song’s about being flushed with freedom as you groove to life’s rhythms and grab hold of the good stuff out there in the world. I tell you, that orientation has appealed to me exquisitely since I reached adulthood many moons ago. I hope I never stop feeling, and acting, that way.

Running Free

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that driving in any inhabited area these days is a sure fire way to add kilos of stress to the body, to send the diastolic and systolic numbers moonward. For me, driving even on my typical suburban block can be a true pain. One recent morning, for instance, I stepped into my ancient Honda, which was parked directly in front of my home, and saw a young couple 100 feet in front of me. They were putzing around with their SUV, also parked on the street. Their rear driver’s side door was wide open, making passage past their car difficult. Worse, the female member of the twosome was standing in the middle of the street, la-dee-dahingly removing boxes from the back seat. “OK, no problem. I’ll simply make a K turn and head in the opposite direction,” I said to myself. As I gracefully maneuvered the Honda to my left and then backwards, needless to say another SUV headed towards me from the direction in which I now was planning to drive, putting pressure on me to complete the K pronto. Bottom line: Nearly everywhere you go there are just too many people and too many motor vehicles. “Hey, that’s modern life,” some would say. “Get with it.”

Oh yeah?  Arrgh . . . Let me outta here! I need to run free! At least some of the time.

I don’t like congestion, dig? But what’s a person to do? I’ve written a few times online about the sweet spot that Cape Cod occupies in at least two hearts, mine and my wife Sandy’s. Cape Cod is where we head when we want to get away from it all. Not that Cape Cod is free from congestion. Hardly. But if you know where on the Cape to go, and when, you’ll be far far far from the madding crowd and its cars and trucks. And you’ll have fun too.

Cape Cod is famed for the throngs that descend upon it between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. People and cars up the wazoo. That’s why Sandy and I never go there during that period. We were on the Cape last month though, when things were back to normal. We spent plenty of time among others of our species. But we also made sure on most days to bathe our souls in places where the human and vehicular factors would be minimal.

Parabolic sand dunes territory. Truro, Cape Cod.
Parabolic sand dunes territory. Truro, Cape Cod.

“You know,” I said to Sandy on this most recent trip as we stood atop a humungous sand dune. “If you plopped most people down here and asked them where they were, they’d never guess it’s Cape Cod.”  That was true. When the majority of folks think Cape Cod they envision seaside-ey villages and seafood-ey restaurants. But we were miles away from any of that. We were in parabolic sand dunes country, inland just a bit from the Atlantic Ocean in Truro. Truro is a sprawling area of the Outer Cape, and probably the most rural and desolate section that Cape Cod has to offer. The parabolic dunes are by far the Cape’s biggest, undulating 80-feet-and-taller monsters that extend for several miles, covering part of Truro and of Provincetown too. We’d been in this locale a bunch of times before, and as always were knocked out by the vistas. Several parallel chains of dunes ran long into the distance. Between each chain were deep valleys that, surprisingly to me, a low level naturalist, were loaded with small trees and shrubbery and all manner of other plants that I couldn’t give names to. This is a mind-blowing environment, a vegetated lunar-like landscape that, I’m sure, many Cape Cod residents and vacationers barely know about. It is open and wild. I feel alive there. And that’s why I like it.

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of hours scampering up, down and around the parabolic dunes, and even more among the slightly smaller and less dramatic dunes that take over in Provincetown when the parabolic big boys eventually peter out. At this point in my life I’m not going to be climbing any mountains in the Alps or bungee jumping into canyons in the American West. For me, the Outer Cape’s dunesville does just fine as a spot where I can indulge my sense of adventure and feel as though I’m pushing my puny limits. There’s no congestion out there. You might cross paths with a few other trekkers, but that’s okay. They are kindred spirits.

Dunesville is great. But what I like even better on Cape Cod is the Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Most of it is under government protection, meaning that mankind won’t be messing it up any time soon. It’s pure, it’s long — 40 or more miles — and it’s beautiful. What’s not to like? Sky, ocean,  and sand-cliff-backed endless beach.

Its presence of water is why I would choose, if I had to choose, this shoreline over the Outer Cape’s dunes territory. Though Sandy and I aren’t swimmers, we’re big time water admirers. We have hiked hundreds of miles over the years on the Cape’s ocean shore. There’s just something about being there. The power of the water, its changing face from day to day. The rigid coolness of those sand cliffs. The real low numbers of humankind in the off-season. And then there’s our kite, which enhances this scenario. Last year we bought the kite and flew it on beaches many times. We launched it frequently during our recent stay too.

Atlantic Ocean shoreline at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.
Atlantic Ocean shoreline at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.
Our kite at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.
Our kite at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.

One day last month, on the ocean shoreline named Marconi Beach, the conditions for flight were perfect. A strong but not overpowering steady wind meant the kite would stay aloft sans problem. What we discovered at Marconi was that the kite was insatiable. It kept pulling on the string, begging us to let out more and more length. This hadn’t happened to us before. And so we did. The kite went higher and higher. The amount of string on the reel grew less and less. I hardly could believe it when there was no more string to release. The kite was way up there. How far away I didn’t know.

After an hour or so we decided it was time to move on, to say goodbye to Marconi Beach for the day. It took a long time to reel in the kite. Later I checked out the kite manufacturer’s website where I learned that our polyester friend came equipped with 300 feet of string. I was impressed. At Marconi Beach we had overseen a long-distance journey.

Congestion . . . bad. Running free . . . good. End of story.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

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Two Movies Talkin’ About Freedom

This year started a bit sluggishly for me moviewise, but I’ve been picking up the pace. The final weekend in May was a busy one. Two movies in two states. The movies couldn’t have been more different, one a somber sci-fi thriller, the other an anarchistic romp. But at their cores was a common theme that has been part of the human experience for millennia. The Rascals summed it up very nicely oh so many years ago when they sang, “All the world over, so easy to see/People everywhere just wanna be free.”

Ex Machina, one of five movies listed on the Ambler Theater's marquee.
Ex Machina, one of five movies listed on the Ambler Theater’s marquee.

That Saturday evening in Ambler, Pennsylvania, my wife and I caught the very well-wrought sci-fier, Ex Machina, at the Ambler Theater, an art house cinema. This movie has broken into the multiplexes a bit, and I think it might grow there yet. Its edginess, as I see it, makes it a match for adults young to old. For now, though, it mostly is confined to theaters like the Ambler, where the under 30 crowd doesn’t tend to congregate. We grabbed two seats in the first row, no better seats available. For the next two hours, our heads craned back, we risked developing stiff necks. Our necks survived just fine. The movie too was fine. It’s an unsettling creation.

Ex Machina’s Nathan Bateman (played by Oscar Isaac) is a techno genius who has made billions from the world’s most popular Web search engine, Bluebook. Nathan is pretty much a recluse, hidden away in an almost inaccessible mountain retreat which serves as his ultramodern home-cum-laboratory. For years there, Nathan has devoted himself to developing the perfect Artificial Intelligence robot, one so humanlike that, well, it would pass for human. And possibly surpass the average Joe or Jane. He has dubbed his newest robotic pride and joy Ava (Alicia Vikander). Ava’s mental abilities are exemplary, her personality coy and inquisitive. Brilliant as he is, though, Nathan wants confirmation of Ava’s wondrousness. Ergo, he flies in one of his Bluebook employees, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), to vet the robot’s capacities. Nathan, Caleb and Ava, for the next week, engage one another in mind games and seductions. Honesty sometimes comes to the fore. More often, deceptions dominate.

The three leads couldn’t be better. Isaac’s Nathan is a most unlikeable fellow, his nasty and vain streaks miles wide. Nathan doesn’t get along well with fellow humans. Or robots. Odd then that his life’s passion is to build human replicas? I think that the challenge is too much for him to resist. Baby-faced Gleeson finds the right balance for Caleb’s young guy innocence and bright guy brains. And Vikander is a stunner. Her Ava is dewy eyed and flirtatious and, as noted, smart as a whip. She knows that there’s a big world out there beyond Nathan’s claustrophobic digs, a world she has never seen. For Ava, a high IQ laboratory rat, freedom chez Nathan is not much more than a concept. But it is also a goal, though its attainment might be nothing more than a pipe dream.

The 100 Year Old Man's official poster.
The 100 Year Old Man’s official poster.

Freedom, something easy to take for granted. And something I should ponder more frequently. One day after seeing Ex Machina I drove to New Jersey, near Princeton, and met up with a long-time friend. We went to Montgomery Cinemas to watch a movie with one of the longest titles of all time. Namely, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, an absurdist black comedy that treats both life and death with a bouncy attitude. I thought it was a hoot, and looking hard for meaning in its looniness I realized that, as with Ex Machina, the quest for freedom is part of its inner workings.

A globetrotting and subtitled film embracing numerous languages, including English, The 100 Year Old Man follows Allan Karlsson (the excellent Robert Gustafsson) from birth to his 100th year. Born in Sweden, Allan at film’s end is still going strong, contentedly savoring life with a gang of recently-made Swedish pals, and an elephant to boot, on a beach in Bali. How did he get there? Let’s just say that Allan is one of the blessed beings. Serendipity has smiled upon him at most junctures of his life.

An explosives enthusiast since early childhood, at age 99 Allan lives alone in the Swedish countryside with his best friend, a cat. One day a fox kills the feline, so outraging Allan that he lures the killer to a lunch of dynamite-encased food treats. The ensuing boom boom boom that promptly dispatches the fox doesn’t go over well with Swedish authorities, who relocate Allan to a heavily supervised retirement home. A life of incredible adventures behind him, Allan follows his gut instincts on the afternoon of his 100th birthday. Out the window of his retirement home bedroom he goes, and fairly nimbly too. Wild and crazy events ensue, quickly multiplying in consequences. Unfazed through it all, Allan more than survives. He goes for the gusto like few centenarians are able. He loves the freedom that allows him to motor on.

Freedom can be stifled, people can be subjugated. But the desire and need for freedom are built into mankind’s genetic code. For many of us in the world, fortunately, freedom allows life to blossom. Allan Karlsson, on the road and at the beach at age 100, seems almost to skip through his days with joy. Ex Machina’s Ava isn’t remotely in Allan’s circumstances. She is a freedom neophyte. But Nathan Bateman has programmed her in a fully human way. Ava feels freedom’s call. Watch out.