Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Are You a Mark, or a Rob?

     In her book In the Woods, Tana French's main character, Detective Rob Ryan, comes upon an archeologist in the course of his investigation. The archeologist's name is Mark and he's young, well-educated and sure of himself. Rob admits that Mark makes him feel anxious and unwilling to cooperate. Why? Because, "men like him -- men who are obviously interested purely in what they think of other people, not in what other people think if them -- have always made me violently insecure."

     It made me wonder, is all the world divided into people like Mark, who are "interested purely in what they think of other people," and their opposite, people more like Rob who are interested in what other people think of them?

     It seems pretty clear that the author doesn't think too highly of the Marks of the world. If you're a Mark are you self-centered? Self-involved? Narcissistic?

     Well, I'm afraid, I'm a Mark. Not that I'm young, or so sure of myself, but I am more interested in what I think of other people, rather than what they think of me.

     Don't ask me why. I guess I was brought up that way. "You don't have to do what everyone else is doing," my dad used to drill into me. "If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?"

     The message, to me, was always to think for yourself. Don't follow the crowd. Don't worry so much about what everyone else thinks. Be your own man.

     So I developed a perspective (or it was developed for me) that I think it is, in fact, self-indulgent to worry about what other people think of you. What makes you so sure that everyone else is thinking about you at all? Do you consider yourself so important that everyone else is critiquing your every move? And even if they are, does that matter so much in life? No! You should know your own mind and chart your own course, regardless of what anyone else believes.

     Of course, this attitude was tempered during my adolescent years, when I was trying to be cool. And a least one way to be cool is to mimick other people who are cool. Follow the trend. Get with the in-crowd, and stick closely to their mores and morals. Dress like everyone else. And above all, worry about what other people think of you, and your clothes, and your car and your house and your taste in music.

     Well, I'm not even sure if that's how you get to be cool. As I've posted before, I tried to be cool, but never quite made it, until I finally figured out in my maturity that trying to be cool is a really dumb thing to try to do. My attitude adjustment was aided by having two children, who never missed an opportunity to remind me that I am not, never was, and never will be cool. (Although last weekend I went to the Smorgasburg in Brooklyn -- how cool is that!).

     Anyway, I wonder who will admit to being a Mark, and if they're proud of it or ashamed of it. And who will say they're a Rob?

     In the end maybe it doesn't matter. After all, I'm interested purely about what I think of other people. And I ended up with B -- who I think is great! And she's the opposite: she worries much more about what other people think of her. And I think she's great!

     So we get along just fine.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Am I Doing in the Garden?

     Is there any activity that you like to do, but you're just no good at? For me, it's gardening.

     I love being outdoors in the spring, breathing in the moist soft air, getting my hands dirty in the loamy soil, and dreaming about the flowers, vegetables and lush bushes that will soon adorn my property.

     So far this spring I've been out in the yard about a dozen times. I usually go for about two hours at a clip. I used to do more, but now my knees and my back will make me answer for any more work than that. Not to mention getting just totally exhausted if I do too much.

     But even as I've been digging and planting and fertilizing, I see how the weeds have already begun to encroach on my property. I have done some weeding. I pulled out probably a hundred dandelions (I actually like dandelions, except they do have a tendency to spread too much and too fast), as well as handfuls and handfuls of other Unidentified Weed-type Objects (UWOs).

     And that's what stops me. Right now the pretty green grass dominates the lawn. But I remember last year. In May my yard looked beautiful. By August it looked like a post-apocalyptic landscape choked with UWOs.

    There's no way to stop them, short of shooting Unidentified Spraying Liquids (USLs) equivalent to the entire annual production of Dow Chemical over your yard. And aside from my general concern with the environment, I have a well. I don't want to drink that stuff!

     Then there are the bugs. Again, I don't want to spray them with a tanker-load of USLs that the USDA probably outlawed in the 1970s after decimating the jungles of Vietnam. So I don't know what to do . . . other than watch the bugs wiggle and squirm along my plant leaves. I can almost hear them munching and belching and leaving their "trails" all over my yard.

     As if that's not enough, I have a woodchuck living under the shed. He (or she) is ready to pounce on any edible vegetable matter I try to grow on my little corner of earth. And the other day, when I cut the grass, I was reminded of the moles -- or whatever the heck they are -- that burrow through my lawn all spring, leaving the ground as bumpy as an old-fashioned washboard.

     I swear to you this happened: Last week I was bumping along so much, and so hard, I broke clear through the metal bar that holds the mowing deck on to my tractor. It's in the shop right now, getting fixed . . . resulting in a bill, no doubt, equivalent to the entire annual income of Dow Chemical.

     And yet, through all this -- the bugs, the animals, the UWOs -- my bushes and trees grow like they've tapped into some kind of underground radioactive fertilizing source. I can clip and prune with the best of them. Or so I think. But I know I am never ruthless enough. I can't bear to clip down as far as I'm supposed to go -- oh, that new growth looks so pretty, and so precious -- and so most of my bushes end up overgrown and leggy. Then they eventually get high enough that I can't even reach to trim the tops.

     Will this year finally be the year I break down and hire a lawn service? Most of my neighbors do (although not the fellow who lives directly across the street from me-- he's out there on a Saturday morning cutting the grass, just like a suburban dad is supposed to do!).

     I remember, back when I was younger and had a wife and family, and lived in a four-bedroom house on a nice suburban street, there was a woman who lived in the house down on the corner. I never met her. But many times I saw her out in her yard, cutting the grass and trimming her hedges, and I used to tease my wife about how that woman was a true feminist, and obviously a model wife and mother as well. (And I wonder why I got divorced?)

     Well, I haven't called the lawn service yet. I can't see paying $50 or $60 a pop, just to have someone mow the grass. Plus, that doesn't even cover all my UWO problems, and I know their only solution will be to spray enough USLs to turn my yard into the next Love Canal.

     So I'll go out there again (as soon as this horrid rainstorm that's been here for three days and left enough water to float Noah's Ark goes away) and try again. And I'll pretend I'm not the ancient Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill. I'm just your typical suburbanite trying to spruce up his yard.

     Besides . . . there are always the bulbs to plant in the fall.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

No Sayings Like the Old Sayings

  
     I read a book last week called The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere. It's a novel about a single woman who rescues a boy who had been living in the hills with a mean old guy who wasn't even his father. It takes place in Kentucky, circa 1950, and the best thing about it is the old sayings the author sprinkles like corn seed throughout the story.

     Here are a few choice examples (some of which I've adapted slightly). Read 'em. They're a hoot!

     * It's so hot out my chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs.

     * Some land is so rocky and barren it's about as useful as a back pocket on a shirt.

     * It's so dry out that the trees are bribing the dogs.

     *My gallbladder shook I laughed so hard.

    * That boy's so dirty a worm crawling out of the earth is cleaner than he is.

     *She's so cantankerous she could start an argument in an empty house.

     * He's so lazy he doesn't buy anything with a handle because it could mean work.

     *  She's as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.

     *  The boy was so dirty he smelled like the underside of a donkey's tail.

     * The man shook hands, pumping on my hand long enough for water to shoot out of my mouth.

     Yep, I liked some of those old sayings . . . better than ice cream on a hot summer day. Have you heard any good ones lately?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

. . . And Two Thumbs Down

     I see the way kids are raised today. Honestly, it's not a whole lot different from the way we were raised -- maybe we've progressed a little. Most of the teens and 20-somethings I know aren't sneaking behind the garage to cop a cigarette, the way we were, and it truly seems that most of them watch less TV than we did.

     But there are two habits of theirs that drive me crazy.

     B's son comes over for dinner once every two weeks or so, depending on his schedule. It's good to see him, and it's nice that he still feels a connection strong enough with his mother that he makes the effort, even though he has a job, a girlfriend, his own friends and activities, his own apartment.

     But here's the thing. We're getting ready for dinner. B's preparing the food. I'm setting the table. And B's son sits at the table, completely ignoring us, tip tapping into his smart phone.

     We sit down for dinner. B asks a few questions of her son, who smiles and relates what he's been doing for the week, maybe a problem at work, or some friends he's seeing. And the conversation continues apace, until suddenly I notice that B and I talking together while her son is sitting there, looking down below the table, and again he's typing into his phone.

     His mother asks him politely to put his phone away, and he does, and the conversation goes on, until B and I are talking to each other again, and her son is back at his phone.

     Then he'll look up. "Oh, I have to go." He needs to meet someone, and get on the road for his next activity . . . having never really fully engaged in this current activity.

      I don't mean to pick on B's son. All the 20-somethings do it -- they give you half their attention, while the other half is focused on their phone or tablet, and some other conversation, some other activity, some other circle of friends.

     My sister was in town last week, and we went to a wine bar to listen to some live music. At one point I noticed that the singer was blasting away on his guitar, singing his heart out about a love gone bad, and half the audience was aglow in the reflected light of their cellphones -- giving the band just half their attention.

     So that's one thumb down. What's the other? A related issue.

     I'm supposed to pick up my daughter at the train. She's moving and is coming out to the house to leave some of the stuff from her old apartment in our basement. That's fine. The problem is that I can't pin her down as to when she's actually coming. First it was Wednesday night. Then she emailed me that she couldn't make it. She'd come Friday instead, sometime after she woke up; it wouldn't be too early because she'd be out late, but she'd call me from the train.

     Okay, I emailed back, but how about calling me when she woke up so she could give me a couple of hours notice, instead of a few minutes, so I could plan my day. I didn't want to have to sit around all afternoon waiting for her.

     So Friday comes. No call by 11 a.m. No call by 1 p.m. No call by 3 p.m. I had a repairman coming over to the house around 5 or 5:30, and I needed to be here to talk to him. I started worrying that I'd be out picking up my daughter at 5 p.m. So, finally, I call her. Of course, she doesn't answer. No 20-something answers their cellphone. I leave a message. Please get on the train by 4 p.m., so I can pick you up and get back to the house by 5 p.m.

     Finally, she calls back. She's on the train. She'll be here by 4:45. I rush over to the station, I'm back for the repairman, and we all have dinner together.

     But why can't a 20-something make a plan and stick to it? If everything is fluid, everything changeable, everything subject to last-minute updates via text message or facebook, then nobody else can make a plan for their day . . . they have to sit around and wait for you.

     Again, I don't mean to pick on my daughter. All the 20-somethings do it. They skip from place to place, always connected by phone, never making plans, just jumping from one activity to another. (According to the recent Time magazine story on Millennials, 70 percent of 20-somethings check their cellphones hourly, "interacting all day long by taking 'selfie' photos and seeking constant approval -- 'Someone liked my status update!'")

     Oh, I guess I do have one more thumb down. Kids! When we call you, answer the damn phone!

     In the meantime, say what you want about Paul Lynde (1926 - 1982) -- but the guy could be pretty hilarious, especially when talking about kids.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Two Thumbs Up . . .

     One thumb up is for Bob Lowry over at Satisfying Retirement who's now published his second book Living a Satisfying Retirement. It is based on a plethora of questions he asked fellow bloggers regarding various aspects of the retired life. The questions range from: What financial planning have you done to prepare for retirement? to: How do you fill up your day now that you're not working?

     So if you're looking for some answers to those thorny retirement questions, check out his book on amazon. Can't go too wrong for $2.99!

     The second thumbs up goes to Rachel Adelson who's written a book called Staying Power: Age-Proof Your Home for Comfort, Safety and Style. The science writer (and former IBMer) points out that over 90 percent of seniors live in conventional housing, as opposed to a senior-citizen facility. Some of the benefits of staying in your own home, or "aging in place" as it's sometimes called:  It costs less, keeps you in familiar surroundings, and offers greater independence.

     She reminds people to research the services available in your communtity for aging in place. Often there is more than meets the eye, including support for transportation, nutrition, fitness and entertainment.

     Then her book offers all kinds of advice for age-proofing our homes -- in the same way we baby-proofed our homes when we had small children. A few of her suggestions:

     * Improve lighting in the bathroom and the kitchen, and especially on the stairs.

     * Affix traction tape along the front edge of your stairs, in contrasting colors, to help prevent falls.

     * Outfit your kitchen with easy-to-use tools and utensils.

     * Get rid of scatter rugs throughout the house.

     * Install grab bars in the bathroom, as well as a raised toilet seat to help people with bad knees or a bad back.

     I myself enthusiastically support her suggestions, especially the last one since I recently took a spill in my shower. I slipped as I was getting out, grabbed for the soap dish, and pulled it right out of the wall. I tumbled over the side of the bathtub onto the floor and gave myself a big bruise -- this was several weeks ago and I still have an ugly brownish splotch as big as a basketball from waist to armpit.

     So (he said, with a wink and knowing cough) you don't have to be old to want to get yourself a proper grab bar. You only have to be my age.


Monday, May 13, 2013

There's Traveling, and then There's Traveling


     Jeez, it's Monday already!

     B and I don't do a whole lot of traveling, at least not by the standards of many of my blogging friends (hello Bob Lowry, Stephen Hayes, Linda Myers and others!). And when B and I do go on a journey, it's usually by car. To Hilton Head, SC, for example, where we vacationed for a week in April. Or Pennsylvania, for Christmas. Or Cape Cod, where we're decamping for a week in July.

     But my sister is a traveler. She and her husband flew in this past weekend from Phoenix, after making a stop in Washington, DC, and on their way to a reunion of old friends in Boston. They're also planning a trip for July, they tell us, to get away from the Phoenix heat. They're driving to Santa Barbara, then Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, where they're renting a place in the city for a couple of weeks.

     But that's just their run-of-the-mill traveling. The real trip they're planning is a pilgrimage to Spain, to walk the El Camino de Santiago.

     I only heard of the El Camino last year when I saw The Way, a 2010 movie that tells how Tom, an American doctor played by Martin Sheen, learns that his estranged son (played by real son Emilio Estevez) died while walking the El Camino de Santiago. Tom then decides to walk the trail himself to honor his son. He meets several travelers along the way, each of them making the journey for their own reasons, and in the end the doctor comes to terms with his son as well as his own life.

     Apparently, the El Camino goes back to the Middle Ages, when pilgrims traveled from their homes along a number of routes, all converging toward the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia in northwestern Spain. The church is reputed to contain the remains of St. James, one of the apostles of Jesus, who traveled to the Iberian peninsula to preach, was ultimately beheaded, and then brought back to be buried at the site.

     The route was particularly popular in the Middle Ages, when it was believed that indulgences could be earned along the way. Over the centuries the pilgrimage slowly lost its appeal, until by the 1980s it was almost forgotten. But in 1987 the Council of Europe declared it one of the first European Cultural Routes, and then UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site. The route began to attract more modern day adventurers from around the world -- people not necessarily going on a religious journey, but who have other reasons to make the trek.

     Presumably the movie further enchanced its appeal. My sister and her husband are going with another couple, who walked a part of the trail two years ago. They're taking their hike in the beginning of October, hopefully, "after the worst of the crowds have gone."

     I guess hiking the El Camino de Santiago has become a standard on many an American bucket list. It's not on mine -- I don't like to fly, and I don't like to go places where I don't speak the language. But still, it sounds like a great destination for the more adventurous wanderers among us.


     

    

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

3 Mythbusters

     B and I sometimes take dancing lessons, and so we recently signed up for a beginner's class on the West Coast swing. We arrived for the first lesson two weeks ago, and were surprised to find a pretty good turnout of about 12 or 15 couples, including one pair of women.

     B and I were both a little nervous, as you are when starting to learn anything new, so I didn't pay much attention to the other couples. We knew a few of them, and joked around about how we all had two left feet, but other than that B and I focused on trying to get the steps and not embarrass ourselves.

     Nevertheless, I couldn't help but notice the two women dancing together. Both were in their 40s. One was tall and thin, and wore jeans and a shirt, and seemed a little stiff on the dance floor. The other was shorter and curvier, wore softer clothes, and seemed more fluid when she was dancing. Sometimes they danced together, but during dance class we sometimes change partners, and so these two women were dancing with others as well.

     On the way home, B and I reviewed the dance lesson. We felt we had a good time and learned what we had to learn. And we remarked on the lesbian couple; no more than that. But later, I wondered, when we changed partners, did the tall, thin woman dance as the man with other women. Would that be awkward?

     Then I realized I didn't have to worry about it. When we changed partners, I would only end up dancing with the curvier softer woman partner.

     Last week we went back to dance class. We learned a couple of new steps and practiced the old ones, and then we changed partners. "Men," ordered the instructor, "move down, one to the left."

     And so I did. Until a little while later, I stood opposite the taller, thinner woman. She was dancing the lady's part, so there was no awkward pause while we figured out what to do. The woman danced pretty well, and she was very nice and even giggled at a couple of my jokes and complimented me on my moves.

     Later, again on the ride home, B and I reviewed the lesson. I mentioned I had danced with one of the lesbians. "Oh," B said, "they're not lesbians."

     "Huh?"

     "No, I overheard them say that they were friends, but the taller one was volunteering to dance the man's part, just to try to fit in. So she was dancing the man's part with the other woman; but then doing the lady's part when we changed partners."

     So, the conclusion I had leapt to . . . busted!

    "I guess times have changed," I remarked to B. "In the old days, we would have assumed that two women together were just friends. Women have always danced together, mostly because they have trouble getting their male partners onto the dance floor. But these days, we assume two women together must be lesbians."

     I don't know if this little anecdote reveals anything, except my own prejudice, but there it is.

     Then yesterday I went to the supermarket. Honestly, B does most of the shopping in our house. But I do buy my own "health and beauty" products, and sometimes B sends me to the store to pick up milk or some ingredient she needs for making dinner or something she's baking for friends at work or church.

     Anyway, I was looking for vinegar, and turned the corner and couldn't help but notice this big strapping guy pushing a cart. He stood out because most of the people you see in the store during the day are either women or old men, or else some kind of delivery guy. But this fellow was in his 30s -- a well-built redhead who looked hale and hearty, dressed in expensive casual wear. In the second it took me to "take him in" I figured him for a lawyer or business professional, maybe on a day off. A small child was with him. I couldn't see the kid, who was doing something in front of the man, but he was maybe 5 or 6 years old -- and I assumed he'd be one of these cute tow-headed blue-eyed boys, probably with freckles and a big white smile.

     I leaned over and picked up the vinegar and placed it in my cart. Then I caught the redheaded guy out of the corner of my eye again. I saw the kid. I was surprised because the kid wasn't blonde; he had dark, curly hair. Then he turned around. And I saw he was black. Not really black; but definitely brown-skinned. Hmmm, I wondered, the boy was clearly with the man. Was he adopted? Maybe the man's wife was black? I guess I'll never know. But once again . . . I was busted.

     Finally, B and I were coming out of the strip mall last night. There was a line of traffic backed up, waiting to turn onto the main road. One car a head of us inched out, then another. I waited; then it was our turn. Traffic was backed up. We were turning right, and the light off to the right had turned red.

     Still the traffic was moving, pulling up to the light, so I couldn't move just yet. I'd have to wait to the end of the line. I looked to the right, then to the left. There was an older Ford Mustang, tricked out with some extra big tires and a racing stripe -- a hotrodder of some sort, I thought to myself, figuring I'll certainly have to wait until he goes by.

      I looked through the windshield of the Mustang and caught sight of the driver, a 20-something kid with scraggly facial hair. But instead of the expected scowl, he gave me a polite smile, and he came to a stop. Then he waved me in front of him. Wow, I thought, that's a surprise. One more time, another stereotype . . . busted!


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Why Men Love Guns

     B and I were driving back from Savannah to our vacation house last week when I saw a billboard advertising a shooting range where you can go fire off a military-style machine gun.

     My first reaction was: That's crazy! No wonder why . . . And then about half a second later I realized my pulse had quickened and my thought was:  Hey, I bet that's really cool!

     I saw an image in my mind. I was standing at the range like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, heavy-duty machine gun at my side, blasting away at some vague, ill-defined target.

     Then I shook my head a couple of times. My critical mind took over again, and I asked B sitting next to me:  "You see that sign? Isn't that terrible?"

     And of course she agreed. "Why would anyone want to do that?" she asked, completely perplexed that a civilized person would find pleasure in shooting a heavy duty gun, like they're some kind of combat soldier, or in-the-line-of-fire cop . . . or crazed mass murderer.

     And we agreed it's a terrible thing that businesses are out there trying to lure people in to shoot their guns -- powerful, military-style guns designed not to kill people but to destroy them, turn them into an explosion of flesh and blood. We were baffled that the government even allows private businesses to exploit that sick side of people's psyche, the side that wants to get revenge, get even, make others cower and beg and kneel before their superior power.

     And yet, for a milli-second, I too felt the thrill of shooting a gun. (The last time I actually shot a gun was when I was about 14, in the woods in back of my uncle's house.) And, not a wimpy .22 caliber single-shot rifle. But a big military-style piece of equipment. And I admit, the appeal was the power. Me, standing there, not taking any shit from anybody, suddenly in control of the world. Like Superman. Or Iron Man. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

     And then, of course, I realized why the NRA and the so-called "gun nuts" are hardly interested in protecting the right of an American citizen to own a simple hunting rifle. They don't want a simple gun to hunt any more than the people who climb up into their 4-wheel-drive Hummers or Land Rovers want their behemoths to take them through the desert or up into the mountains. They want them because they want to feel the power. Because where else in this overly organized, corporatized, bureaucratized world of ours are you going to feel like you control the world, like people will listen to you, like you own the place?

New movie; same old violence
     Coincidentally, I happened to hear part of a report on Bloomberg radio about guns. They pointed out that not all gun owners are the stereotype of either the stupid Southern Redneck or the black gangbanger. They interviewed a dentist from Atlanta who owns an AR-15. He seemed very innocent. He didn't like to play golf, he explained; he liked to go to the shooting range instead. He found it very relaxing. Took his mind off his work and his everyday problems.

     But why not a simple rifle for target practice. Why did he need a semi-automatic AR-15 that could shoot more than a dozen rounds a minute?

     "Because it's cool, man!"

     It turns out that part of the appeal of the AR-15 -- the weapon used in mass murders from Aurora to Newtown; and a weapon favored by some hunters -- is that it offers a whole range of add-ons, many designed to make the weapon actually look worse than it really is. In other words, it makes people feel even more powerful when it's tricked out with all its extra options.

     I don't know. I personally don't feel the need to own a gun. I hate violence. I was a victim of some violence when I was much younger, and I know how painful, humiliating and debilitating it is. But my brush with violence only confirmed my pacifism. The last fist fight I got into was in 5th grade. (And I lost.)

     But I also understand how modern Americans have lost their individuality. Corporations only care about your credit score and what zip code you live in. The government only cares about your ethnicity and your taxable income. Modern man has been so emasculated, so trivialized, so marginalized, that we at times want to stand up and say, "I'm here! Pay attention! Don't mess with me!"

     I guess I'm just sayin' . . . if you feel that way, maybe instead of going out and buying an AR-15, you could go see Iron Man 3 instead.
    

Friday, May 3, 2013

Remember Him?

     He came from the north country. Minnesota to be exact. Born in Duluth on May 26, 1941.

     His paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, immigrated to America from Odessa, after the anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia in 1905; his material grandparents came from Lithuania. His parents, Abram and Beatrice, were part of a close-knit Jewish community in Duluth, until Abram contracted polio and the family moved to a small town in the iron-ore producing Mesabi Range, 80-some miles northwest of Duluth.

      In high school he played in several bands, imitating Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Once, when his band performed "Rock 'n Roll is Here to Stay" at a high school talent show, the principle cut off the microphone claiming the band was too loud. In his senior year, using the name Elston Gunnn (yes, 3 n's), he earned $15 a night  -- but only for a couple of nights -- playing piano with fellow teenager and aspiring rock musician Bobby Vee.

University of Minnesota
     He graduated from high school in 1959, moved to Minneapolis and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. He started playing at a local coffeehouse called Ten O'Clock Scholar, where his interest in rock 'n roll expanded to folk music. He was influenced by Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, later recalling, "The thing about rock 'n roll is that for me anyway it wasn't enough ... There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms, but the songs weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph ... much deeper feelings."

     At the end of his freshman year he dropped out of college, and a few months later decided to travel to New York City to see if he could meet his musical idol Woodie Guthrie. He arrived in New York, decamped in Greenwich Village, then journeyed out to a hospital in New Jersey where he succeeded in meeting the folk legend who at the time was seriously ill from Huntington's disease. The young man, just 20 years old, vowed to become Guthrie's greatest disciple.

     Those of you who know your rock 'n roll history probably already know who this iconic singer/songwriter is. Soon the whole world would know, as he began to play and sing in Greenwich Village clubs, and hang out with fellow folksingers Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, the Clancy Brothers, Joan Baez.

     In 1962 he released his first album, consisting mostly of covers of standard folk tunes. The record landed with a thud, selling only 5000 copies and barely breaking even. Then using the name Bob Landy he contributed to a blues album, and as Tedham Porterhouse he played harmonica on a record for Ramblin' Jack Elliott, another disciple of Woodie Guthrie.

     His second album was released in May 1963, and this time his record featured original songs, including "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." The album was called The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and proved a breakthrough of historic proportions.

50 years ago
     Some critics were put off by the rough edge of Bob Dylan's voice, but he found many admirers among his contemporaries, including The Beatles, and soon many musical acts were begging to record his songs, from Peter, Paul and Mary to the Byrds and the Beatles themselves.

     Bob Dylan's third album, The Times They Are a-Changin' reflected a more political side of the songwriter, and then in 1965 he stunned the music world at the Newport Jazz Festival by bringing out an electric guitar. He released Bringing It All Back Home, which featured recordings with electronic instruments, and then he put out a single "Like a Rolling Stone," which proved to be his biggest hit and was ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as the Number 1 "Greatest Song of All Time."

     There's lots more to the Bob Dylan story, of course. There are several books out by and about Bob Dylan, including Dylan's own memoir Chronicles: Volume One, and the definitive book on his early career, No Direction Home by New York Times critic Robert Shelton. In 2005 movie director Martin Scorsese produced a Dylan documentary, again focusing on his early years and also called No Direction Home.

     And yes, Bob Dylan is still alive and well and touring. If you want to go see for yourself, he's appearing this weekend in Charleston, SC, and St. Augustine, FL, and again in June in Palm Beach, Tampa, Atlanta and Nashville. For his complete tour dates go to his website bobdylan.com.

     Meantime, here's Dylan in Madison Square Garden at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, singing "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" from his breakthrough album of 50 years ago.