resolutions: ordering your life

So set aside the things I struggle with and let’s look at the things I might have a shot at doing something about in 2020 while the world burns down around me. It all boils down to trying to take some control over the things I can control in my life, since so many other things aren’t (or at least certainly weren’t in 2019). More to the point, these are modest and achievable goals, of a sort that will make my life better for having accomplished them.

So to put myself on the record:

– Clean out the garage. It’s kind of a disaster area, and I could make it a lot more palatable than it is if I would only take the time to rearrange and stack things properly, and get rid of some stuff like the four-year-old unopened home brewing set that I’m never ever going to actually use. Along those lines, look at some of the stuff I’ve accumulated and see if some of it might not be better off given away where somebody else can make better use of it.

– Start running again. I got a bit of a start earlier and then got myself off track (ha) but every single health professional I have says that my life will be improved by running. Weight loss, cardio health, quality of sleep, quality of mood – running is apparently the silver bullet for everything, and I have to give it another shot. Might have to wait until it gets warm in (checks calendar) February though.

– Visit the local library. This was on the list for 2019 and was a glaring example of things I didn’t manage to do. I did manage to break the seal on trying the local downtown as a pub night option, and the increasing frequency of light rail service will open up a wider area for exploration, but I need to seek out transit-able things that aren’t just a place to get a drink, and the library is something I’ve ignored for far far too long. Speaking of:

Use the transit. The rejiggered VTA system has fewer lines but run more frequently. I need to avail myself of that, give the nearest local drinking establishments another chance, take light rail to the farmers’ market, walk to the new bus and make it a one-shot commute in the morning. Avail myself of what I can do on foot and not rely on someone else to drive my drunk ass home, and keep trying to dig out the Northern California that lies beneath the slimy surface of Silly Con Valley.

– Use the apps. Duolingo for German, Soundly for my apnea, Headspace for mindful meditation. Every day. I can get out of my own head and improve myself a little with just the earbuds and this thing in my pocket, and I need to do just that. It’s a lot easier to improve yourself than to wait for the world to improve.

– This is a big one: I have to stop buying things from Amazon. We recycle way too much cardboard and way too much fuel was burned to get it to me. If I can walk to CVS on the way home, or pick it up at REI on a Costco run, or actually visit a store, better to do that. And hopefully, after the ridiculous spending binge of 2019, I’m done buying things for a long time. Looking back at paper notes from 2008 or so, nearly everything on the old “Friv-o-List” has long since been purchased or gifted, and it’s starting to feel like I’m looking for things to fill the holes elsewhere. Soooo…

– This might be the biggest one: I have to find a way to reconnect with actual people that doesn’t depend on social media. Facebook is a no-go area already. Twitter will probably become so very soon. I’m still going to need to feel like I have other human beings in my life, and all the literature says that once you hit my age, the best way to make friends is to reach out to the ones you already have. And it’s not easy. By the time you’ve skipped going to the dentist for two years, it’s easier to make it three than to bite the bullet and do it, and next thing you know, you have nineteen teeth left.

– Live deliberately. The things, places and friends you enjoy aren’t going to be around forever. Tied House is closed for good. The pubs in San Jose are now two trains away, not one. Every friend I had in my own town has moved away, whether over the hill or around the world. My iPad mini isn’t getting upgrades any more and may not get updates much longer. Brexitcast is ending soon. The Junks can’t go on indefinitely. Keep trying to get better. Make the extra effort to do the things that make you happy. Stop doing things that make you unhappy. It’s not hard to figure out. 

After all, this is the Year of the Rat. Last time that came round, I said “my year, baby!” and ended up with everything I wanted by the end of it. I’d give an awful lot to have that happen again.

resolutions: football

What are my values?

Well, some of them would probably be things like:

– Follow the rules, or else there will be consequences.

– Don’t take credit for stuff you didn’t do.

– Your actions matter more than who you are, or who other people think you are.

– Do the best you can, whatever that may be at the moment.

– Don’t be a horse’s ass.

Set against this list, it’s easy to see what happened with me and college football in the decade of the 2010s. College football as it exists today is in direct conflict with my entire value system. Consequences are meaningless, if you look at the NCAA punishments doled out to Auburn or USC or Penn State. Who you are is more important than what you accomplished, and if you don’t believe me, ask UCF or TCU or anyone who got jobbed out of the BCS or the Playoff so that Ohio State or Alabama or Oklahoma would be taken care of. Putting your players in front of the graduation stage rather than the judge avails you exactly nothing at all, and beating the same team three years in a row or five out of seven isn’t enough for the world to stop writing Vandy down as an automatic W for the Vols or Ole Miss or UK.

I guess that’s what’s made this so much worse after the last decade of the sport. Something I enjoyed, something I loved, something I set my watch by and marked my years around has become a thing that stands in opposition to the very core of who I am as a person. Which has been a problem in other areas of my life as well, and no easier to let go of. But there we are. I watched Army-Navy, and saw a team that should face an insurmountable obstacle to success win its tenth game – something Vanderbilt has never done in 130 seasons of football.

And then there’s just the insult to injury shit. Florida pitching itself as the most academically challenging school in the SEC. Clemson doing it’s pore-lil-ol-underdog-us routine off the back of two national championships in three years. And at the heart of the decade, Penn State exemplifying the meaning of lack of institutional control and strip-mining Vanderbilt’s best success in a century so they wouldn’t have to suffer the ignominy of only winning seven games a year any more. Never mind the ridiculousness of Missouri in the SEC or West Virginia in the Big (sic) 12 (sic) or Maryland in the B1G or, or, or, or. The list is too long to recap yet again.

The HBCUs of the SWAC and MEAC have this figured out, having gone the Ivy League route. We’ll opt out of your nonsense, play each other against teams that are regionally located and on a par in culture, values and athletic budget, and we’re going to punt the Playoff and the bowls and the polling and the nonsense. If that was all it took, and there was some way for Vanderbilt to make its way to the Patriot League or some other new division-I creation that would let football be itself without compromising all our other successful programs, I’d be all for it. But I think that ship might have sailed, there’s no Magnolia League coming, and the final outcome for me and college football will be watching less and less until it wastes away into a once-or-twice-a-year-on-the-radio thing the way the NFL did.

I’ll be diminished for it, but my quality of life will be better. Which is the tragic necessity of our dumb century so far.

resolutions: social media

Staring down the barrel of 2020 is unpleasant. Four years ago, Twitter became completely unworkable for me, to the point where I basically killed my primary twitter account off after having locked myself out of it deliberately for a couple of months. I see no reason to think that Twitter will be any more tolerable in the coming year – not only because Twitter is and has been asleep at the switch in the modern world of online ratfucking, but because it’s almost impossible to stop the toxicity leaking into your timeline through retweets and dry-snitching by the algorithm. Jack Dorsey needs to stay in whatever African village he’s white-hoping his way to and the board needs to shut down Twitter and give the money back to the shareholders.

Instagram became the only social media I can tolerate. Being over 40, it’s less FOMO and more trying to keep in touch with friends. But it’s still owned by Facebook, which is completely untrustworthy and even less willing to face up to its responsibilities in a new world. And while it’s not a problem keeping the politics at arm’s length on Insta, it’s also not comprehensive at keeping up with the people I’d like to be in touch with. And I don’t want to feed Facebook any more than I have to, despite the fact that I’ve almost certainly managed to keep Instagram completely separated from anything I’ve ever had on FB.

But what are the alternatives? I have several. On the photography front there’s Flickr, which predates social media as we know it, and VSCO, which is less of a social thing. There’s also Cluster, which is a sort of private Instagram-alike – if you can convince people to join it. There’s Slack, and the good ol’ group chat, either of which is preferable – but neither of which is comprehensive.

And then there’s Twitter. There are alternatives – micro.blog and Mastodon being the two most prominent – but both are intensely geeky, not that easy to get going, and don’t let you view and reply to Twitter users even if your content can be piped out to them. There’s Tumblr, which is out from under Yahoo or Verizon and is now an adjunct of WordPress that has some social media features and splits the difference between Twitter and blogging. And at some level, there’s still RSS, and it’s possible to get anything that approximates a blog into an RSS feed.  I have other people’s Twitter, Flickr, micro.blog and theoretically even Tumblr all going through RSS.

But RSS isn’t social media. Replies, including favorites, aren’t really a thing in RSS. If you want to be in touch with people conversationally, RSS isn’t going to get you there. And thus we come to the real problem: two-way communication is siloed within every app. Text messaging and email are cross-platform, but everything else is its own service. And you have to coax people into Tumblr, or micro.blog, or Slack, or whatever. (Or convince them to log into the Flickr account that everyone created in 2005 and forgot about by 2008.) You might be able to see things from other people, but if you want to react, you have to give in and log in.

I went through this before. After 2006, I basically knocked my LiveJournal on the head and resolved to get out in the real world. I ended up posting less than once a week on LJ in 2007, and by 2008 it wasn’t even a thing anymore. I was never able to coax enough people into Vox before its demise, and by that point Twitter and Facebook had taken over social media. And now, I’m faced with the same problem all over again, only twelve years older. The easiest way to make friends at 48 is to reconnect with the friends you already have. And when they’re scattered across the country – or the world – then if you aren’t in contact, the only real way to get back in touch is to open the sewer hole and log into Facebook.

Social media is a slot machine. You keep feeding it your time, your interest and exposing yourself to an ongoing corrosion of your soul, in hopes that when you pull the refresh lever this time you’ll get that serotonin hit from someone you actually care about. It’s fine at a casual level, I suppose, but it’s a pretty piss-poor substitute for actual belonging. Nevertheless, I have to find some way in 2020 of making it work for me without getting worked over by it. Maybe if things go well, there will be some regulation and control over these systems before long. And if they don’t…of which more later.

Festivus: Our Stupider Decade

“I don’t know if it was just the shock of September 11, or some millennial sense of “we’re through with history and now we can sit back and coast” or what it was, but somewhere back there, we were transformed into a nation of pants-wetting fraidycats, with no more curiosity than it takes to sit on the couch sucking down straight high-fructose corn syrup and watching the latest episode of THE REAL OOOH SHINY!!! And what’s worse…somewhere along the line, a large chunk of American decided that was just fine, and wanting anything more was somehow weird, or dangerous, or wrong. And another chunk of people decided that those folks were somehow more real, more authentic, more to be valued, and went on validating them. If you want an epitaph for the 00’s, here it is: this was the decade we let stupidity become a valid lifestyle choice.”

– 31 Dec 2009

 

The sad thing is, at the time I wrote that ten years ago, Obama still had a seat in the White House, a Congress with 59 Democrats in the Senate and a House majority, and three years to go before Election Day. I don’t think any of us realized that would be the political high-water mark of the decade on the first day. Birtherism was still a ways away from being fully mainstreamed by cable news and reality dickbags, never mind losing first the House and then the Senate – and then, ultimately, the country. The last four years, really, has been running to stand still. Lose as little as possible, try to stop things getting materially worse, hope against hope to get a win in 2020 knowing we have one more shot, maximum. This nation won’t survive four more years of active bullshit.

The enemy is bullshit. And the bullshit, honestly, is what laid us low. Russia and China don’t have to be better than us, they don’t have to beat us fair and square, they just have to drag us down to their level and wait for us to founder. And they found willing accomplices in the useful idiots who have built a politics of bullshit for a quarter-century. Stupidity went from being a valid lifestyle choice to the only valid lifestyle choice. Reject science, history, logic and reason in favor of what the cable news tells you truth is, revised nightly. And with so much sewage in the air, it becomes impossible to fight through without being drowned out, and ultimately people just give up.

I mean, hell, I gave up myself. Oh, I still make sure I vote every chance I get, I try to put my money where my mouth is for the sake of certain charities near and dear to my heart, I’m liable as not to walk up to the table of some org feeding the homeless in a public park and hand them a hundred dollars cash before turning up my collar and stealing away – but all the cable news channels are blocked on my TV. I still don’t watch SNL or Last Week Tonight because I still can’t laugh at this shit. BBC World Service has been deleted from my car radio since November 9, 2016. I unsubscribed from the very channel I created in our friends’ Slack group for political discussion. I just can’t deal with it any more. I spent seven years getting two degrees in political science that in retrospect were worse than worthless, because nothing I was taught matters any more. Key, Sinclair, Wildavsky, Fenno, Folkways of the US Senate, Congress Reconsidered – all balderdash in the 21st century.

A solid grounding in the nature of SEC football rivalry and the forms and norms of Continental Championship Wrestling is all you need to understand American politics now. You can be openly delusional about your place in the world and the reality around you, you can substitute belief for facts, and you can update what’s real on a daily basis and deny anything and everything you said was true last year. Weaponized ignorance in service to wealth, in perpetuity. I don’t know how it’s possible for a country to survive embracing that, because sooner or later the real world will mark your beliefs to market. By this time next year, we’ll know how it went – and we’ll have the UK as an example of what happens when the wheels are about to come off. The die is already cast; the problem is living with waiting another eleven months for it to land.

rise

I’m six years old, running around my backyard with a blue broom handle, relentlessly whacking the hell out of an empty Windex bottle I throw into the air and then expertly slice with a two-handed swing, preparing for the day I’ll be lopping the heads off the Stormtroopers that stand between me and my nemesis, Darth Vader, the one I want to be like and must defeat so I can be like him, but a good guy. After all, when my first tooth came out at school and I lost it, thus missing out on the chance for that sweet sweet 25 cents that the tooth fairy paid for surplus enamel in Alabama, my dad made up for it by buying me my first action figure: Darth Vader.

I’m nine years old, and while we’re pretty sure that a new Star Wars movie is coming in a couple of years, I don’t have time to wait. So I plot out the next ten installments in the series. By the fourth one, I’m a main character. By the fifth one, we have crossed over with Battlestar Galactica. By the seventh, Star Trek. By the eighth, I’m THE main character and the action has moved to Earth 1981; so much for a long time ago and a galaxy far far away. And I want to fly a snowspeeder more than just about anything.

I’m twelve years old, and just starting to get a sense that there might not be an Episode VII in 1986. But then, I don’t do much with my Star Wars toys any more. The first movie just showed up on HBO last year, it only just aired on CBS, nobody has the movies on VHS yet, and it’s out of sight, out of mind.

I’m sixteen years old, and the original West End Games version of the Star Wars Role-Playing Game has landed in my lap (when the guy whose books they were runs away from home and gets packed off to military school). All of a sudden I have a framework to start thinking again about these characters – and others – much like what Marvel Super Heroes had done for me for comic books. And if I’m thinking of that battered Monte Carlo as an old but sturdy Y-wing, that’s nobody’s business but mine. (Those RPG books are still in Alabama. I need them back.)

I’m nineteen years old, and every guy in my freshmen dorm – even the ones pledged to the explicitly Confederate fraternity on a campus that runs on the Greek system – has run out and paid cash money for the hardback release of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, our first opportunity after eight years of blank space to learn what happened next. And since Zahn used the West End RPG as source material, it feels immediately comfortable and fits perfectly, and it’s like I never left.

I’m twenty-three years old, and going straight from cashing my grad school stipend check to the Target by Hickory Hollow Mall, because they have the toys that were sold out at White Bridge, and just like seventeen years ago, my first Star Wars figure is Darth Vader. And there’s a promise of new in-theater releases of the original trilogy, and a new prequel trilogy to come, and new stuff in the meantime like video games and novels that have their own soundtrack and even more on the way. And I’m playing the Dark Forces demo on my Mac over and over and seeing the beginnings of outlining a Star Wars universe that doesn’t have to involve a Skywalker to be interesting.

I’m twenty-four going on twenty-five, and all three movies are 1-2-3 at the box office. It feels like the Olympics, like for two weeks normal service has been suspended, because we’re all kids again and we’re popping like crazy for the bloody 20th Century Fox fanfare and again for “A long time ago…” and AGAIN for those words on screen. And we’re being teased with the prospect that there will be more on screen, and soon. And if my fleet little Saturn feels like a TIE Interceptor, or there’s a lightsaber-sized MagLite in the pocket of my long brown leather coat as I meander around campus after dark, that’s nobody’s business but mine, is it?

I’m twenty-seven, and the kid in front of us in the theater says “we’re about to see STARRRRR WARRRRRRS”, and my best friend leans forward and says “For the rest of the night, you have to say it like that” and just like that, STARRRRRR WARRRRRRS is a thing. And it doesn’t matter how iffy the actual movie is in retrospect, even after the seventh viewing in the theater, because it was new Star Wars. Sorry, new STARRRRRRR WARRRRRRRRRS.

I’m thirty, and our entire gang is going to the exact same theater for opening night of Attack of the Clones. My ex-girlfriend has a shredded knee that she tore up in a softball game only hours earlier, and we pulled her out of the ER and kept going, because STARRRRRRR WARRRRRRRS stops for nobody. And I’m playing yet another game demo on my PowerBook G4, and surreptitiously Force-pushing the doors open at the grocery store in a way I didn’t even do when I was ten.

I’m thirty-three, and I’m on a plane from California to Virginia, because I’m not going to miss the last STARRRRRR WARRRRRRRRS movie with that same crowd. My co-workers are all going to see it on Apple’s dime on opening day, but not me, I’m going to take a bird to the other coast for a midnight showing, because that’s what we do. And the Jedi starfighter in the first five minutes, so obviously the parent of the TIE fighter, is the spacecraft I’ve been waiting for my whole life, as much as the snowspeeder. And it feels like we’ve finally closed the loop on film, because there’s no prospect of Episode 7 or later, so the novels and such will have to do – the original Zahn trilogy will just have be an acceptable 7-9, and I’m OK with it.

I’m forty-three, older than my parents were when they took me to see the movie for the first time, and watching the second trailer for Episode VII, and I see Harrison Ford say “Chewie…we’re home,” and my throat catches and I choke back a sob in the middle of the office, because thirty years later, we’re finally gonna go into the theater and look up at the big screen and see what happens next. And when we do, turns out it’s dead solid perfect. Our old friends are there, and they’ve put the torch in the hands of a new generation, and I want to be Poe Dameron if I grow up.

I’m forty-four, and the world has been lit on fire and turned to shreds around me, and yet I’m watching something that looks and feels like it was plucked out of a 1979 that never was, and that last word, hope, resonates with me in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I can’t wait for episode eight now, and you can see why that elementary school aged kid wanted to be Darth Vader and slash effortlessly through a world that disputed him.

I’m forty-five, and I’m watching Luke Skywalker, who has to be well over fifty at this point, a man broken and damaged by the fact that things did not go the way he had planned, a man who has to stop perseverating on what was, a man who can’t be what he used to be but can be what he needs to be now, and for the very first time in my entire life, I feel like I get Luke Skywalker. See you around, kid.

I’m forty-seven, and I’m walking out of Galaxy’s Edge in Anaheim with something that isn’t so much a lightsaber as it is the thing that’s been missing from my hip for four decades. It’s lightly customized as best I can, and the blade is yellow, which I like to think is not “Jedi consular” or “Jedi guardian” but “Jedi IT support” color, and it’s a similar yellow to the inflatable blade of the original flashlight-based lightsaber that was in my stocking in 1978, and all I can think is, freeze me in carbonite until December, because I don’t want to die not knowing how it ends.

It’s December. It’s been almost forty-two years for me. I don’t want it to end, but it’s like the trailers say, “the saga will end – the story lives forever.” I want a good ending. I want to feel like I felt in 2015, or 1999, or 1991 or 1983 or 1980. I want to feel like it was worth the wait, that our questions are answered, that there will be victory and vindication and triumph, that General Princess Leia Organa will finally have her time to shine, that Poe will be redeemed and Finn will be complete and Rey will become who she was meant to be, that I can see the three of them with Chewie and BB-8 charging headlong into battle without choking up and blubbering, that I even can finish typing this without choking up and blubbering. I want the full payoff of the promise made to an eight year old in Alabama, that the most important thing in his life will have nine episodes. And I know I’m going to be a basket case on Saturday and probably right up until then, and I’m just going to have to deal.

It’s not an exaggeration to say my whole life has been leading up to this. Please be worth it.

second impressions

It feels so familiar. Like I’ve worn it for years. I feel like there should be a liter soda bottle in one of the big pouch pockets, and a whole jumbo bagel with cream cheese brown-bagged in the other. And then I remember that almost a quarter century ago, I did just that with the Elk, the ridiculous oversized leather field coat that I bought in a fit of madness my first year in Nashville and wore in the coldest weather until I left DC for California.

This is also brown and hip-length, if NyCo rather than leather. It’s also a little too big with its liner removed. The hood is zippered up in the collar, not snap-off detachable. But the sleeves are generous enough to go over a sweater, and there’s a specific heat on the neck when wearing it in unexpected 67 degree weather, and it feels…

It feels correct, for want of a better word. It feels like my black AmGiant work shirt, or my plastic Birkenstocks: like something I’ve had all along, should have had all along. It feels like it fits, the way the rare cigar feels in my hand, or the equally-rare pie beer feels on my tongue or the iPhone SE feels when you pull it out: this is the natural order of things. As if there’s another edit where this brown Army surplus jacket is my companion through snow in the District and fog in San Francisco and London drizzle and Patagonia winds and twenty years of pictures.

And the more I think of it, I realize this is an anomaly. I had a coat this length for a couple years in undergrad, a Helly Hansen parka meant for Central Europe and lost before grad school. I had the rarely-worn International, the never-worn CERT coat, and the too-stiff and too-slim “engineer’s coat” bought with AmEx points from Land’s End and subsequently donated. But as natural as the hip-length field coat seems in my memory, the Elk is the only one I wore for any length of time, and it stopped being a thing once I got to California altogether.

Maybe that’s why I was casting about the last few years. Barn coat, Barbour coat, some kind of horse-poop-colored British waxed cotton thing or blanket-lined duck workwear. All I know is, I’m none too quick to take it off at work – or when I get home, for that matter. It’ll probably be too warm by February, but all the more reason to enjoy it now.

instant postmortem

Labour was always going to be damaged by Brexit, because it split them in two: the urban cosmopolitan liberals for Remain, the Northern working class for Leave. And ironically, Leave was a reaction against David Cameron’s austerity – and now those voters have gone for Boris Johnson’s Tory party in what is far closer to a Trump election than the Brexit referendum was. This was the second referendum, and it was a bloodbath. And for its trouble, the Tories have now been thoroughly Republicanized. 

Corbyn’s old style Labour was forty years out of date and not credible, setting aside that he was a personally execrable candidate.The accusations that he was a closet Leaver may or may not have been on target, but his was a Labour socialism of the 70s, when Michael Foot was campaigning against continued membership of the then-EEC. There was no way to split that baby; he had to either go all-in on Leave and try to sell a “Better Brexit” or find a way to sell the North on pulling the plug. He did neither, and the inability to stand up one way or the other on Brexit was his final undoing.

It wasn’t enough to say “Not Boris”. Boris was the UK’s Trump: a rich toff who could make enough of the working class think he was on their side. He had to stray from the Tory faith, distance himself from austerity, and promise a moon on a stick which will not be deliverable if Brexit leaves the UK economy in worse straits than it is presently occupying. But at the heart of it, “Get Brexit Done” – beaten to death without ever explaining what that actually meant. Simple and stupid beats complex and clever, and the Tories won on simple and stupid.

Because that’s really what happened. The Tories are the party of Brexit now, more even than the actual so-called Brexit party (which ended, like UKIP before it, with exactly no seats again), and they own the future of the UK – above and beyond the Brexit votes, for the next five years as well. They successfully bought the ticket and now have to take the ride; the problem is who all will be harmed as they ride this bomb to Earth. And with unionists shelled in Northern Ireland, and the SNP ascendant in Scotland, the future of the UK on Friday the 13th looks to be on mighty thin ice.

bloodbath

Jeremy Corbyn tried to have it both ways. In an election that was essentially the second referendum on Brexit, he tried to split the difference and ignore the fact that the 2019 split in the UK is not left-right, but Leave and Remain. He was a bad call in 2015, was artificially kept alive by the Tories’ 2017 omnishambles, and now should rightly be for the drop tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson finally grasps the brass ring: a commanding win as PM. However, he has now caught the car, and the Conservatives are the Brexit party now. They own the whole shooting match, and the opposition parties are under no obligation to go along with it or provide any help. And they will be holding the bag when and if Leave voters start to recoil in 2020 at what Leave actually means. Couple that with what looks like a tremendous showing by the SNP, and it’s hard not to argue that David Cameron will go down in history as the man who lit the fuse on the demolition of the United Kingdom.

Long night ahead.

new old stock

It’s an Alpha Industries M-65 field coat, military spec but in a civilian brown without the velcro attach points for name and unit patches. 50/50 nylon-cotton to repel water, concealed hood in the collar, buttons for a quilted lining for real warmth in a pinch – but the most striking thing is that if the copyright date on the tags is anything to go by, this jacket was manufactured in Knoxville, Tennessee sometime in 1997. Which means that it and I rolled out of the Volunteer State at roughly the same time.

It’s wild to think about this thing sitting on a shelf for two decades or more. It’s an artifact from a time when the WTO hadn’t turned China into the world’s discount manufacturer, and when Appalachia still had plenty of textile operations that hadn’t been outsourced to the cheapest Third World OEM. I doubt it was on sale for the $100 I got it for on eBay, but I’m not sure I would have had even $50 to snap it up with, and besides, I already had the Elk – that ill-advised leather coat bought as a callow first-year grad student that would be my cold-weather apparel of record through the end of the DC years. But it’s not inconceivable that I could have pulled this coat off the rack at Friedman’s Army-Navy in Hillsboro Village, and worn it for the ensuing two decades. It would have worked a treat in Edinburgh in 2005, or Paris and York in 2007. Perfectly suited for the rain in Kanazawa or in Puerto Natales. Just the right combination for a dozen wet and windy too-short California winters.

It’s a garment out of another era, a fifty year old design. Big pouch pockets, suitable for a cell phone the size of an all-in-one remote control and a Discman the size of a dessert plate. Surplus to the era of the peace dividend, when the American military was more likely to be coming to the aid of Muslims in the Balkans than be bogged down endlessly in Iraq and Afghanistan. When a vending machine meant a 12-ounce can of Coke for 65 cents, not a plastic 20 ounce bottle for $2.10 (and ten cents off if you use money and not a credit card or a smartphone). 

I tend to go through jackets in bursts. I was mostly sorted in DC with what eventually came out to three leather jackets, but after coming West that was plainly not going to be necessary. At the end of 2004, I bought a freakin’ suede trucker jacket and a longer synthetic sort of field coat with a zip-out fleece lining, and the latter became the international travel jacket in 2005 and 2007. And I didn’t look at jackets again until 2009, when I was suddenly commuting by train again and needed to stand around waiting outside. So I went on a four year binge. Plain cotton zippered thing, canary-yellow CERT jacket from work, Vandy soft-shell fleece, an ill-fitting Gap peacoat, a better-fitting surplus peacoat, a weird sort of “engineers coat” bought with AmEx points through Lands End, a cotton blouson from Uniqlo (and a couple of cotton blazers with it which are more casual wear than “outerwear”), and ultimately, my wife’s gift of a Levi’s-Filson collaborative trucker jacket in waxed tin cloth – and by that point, I was driving to work again and it was less of a big deal. 

Since 2013, I’ve bought the William Gibson Buzz Rickson bomber as a souvenir of Japan, and was gifted my Harris Tweed at long last, but there hasn’t really been any new routine outerwear for five or six years. I don’t know if I was just bored, or looking to regenerate, or what, or if this is another piece of the mop-up. I’d looked at an M-65 back around 2006 as a good all-purpose jacket, but it was superfluous to requirement with the International jacket in hand, and besides, it was about that time that I started to realize that most of the surplus showing up in the Army-Navy store was Chinese, not government contractor overruns. And I pushed it to the back of my mind and forgot about it until a month or so ago, when I was looking for something longer than the trucker jacket, lighter than the peacoat and heavier than the rain shell, nicer than “smeared with wax” but sturdier than “smells like a damp sheep in the rain”.

And so here it is. Proper mil-spec, but the same sort of British waxed-jacket brown as a Barbour. Waterproof without being covered in chemicals or requiring re-waxing. Blended fabric that doesn’t look polyester. Roomy enough for a sweater, and (so far) warm without getting hot. I was comfy outside in the drizzle and cold, and haven’t felt the need to pull it off at my desk. It’s probably not one jacket to rule them all, but it feels right, somehow – and feels like another loop closed.

Football roundup

Well, Vanderbilt has reverted fully to Same Old Vandy. Alabama is probably out of the title picture again. Only Cal, with the Axe retrieved and Furd vanquished for the first time in the 2010s, offers our house a good outcome. Part of that is down to Alabama being a disappointment any year they don’t win it all and make everyone else miserable, but most of it is down to Vanderbilt being back to where it was for most of my life between 1997 and 2010: an afterthought.

The NFL has been kicked to the curb for years, honored only with the ridearound once or twice a year (and with no Sonny or Sam any more, I wonder how long that will continue). This year is the closest college has come to that. No games attended, nothing watched except for a few stray Army or Navy or Ivy League games. Because that’s really it, isn’t it? Teams where the players are definitely doing something else after college, teams that have deliberately opted out of the big-time. All that matters at Army and Navy is that you beat each other. The Ivies win the league, in the regular season. No playoff, no bowls, no title game. No interaction with the system.

Because the system is what ruined the game for me. The problem of facing a whole league of teams that have a university on the side. The problem of having to meet the financial demands of staying in the big time. The problem of not being worth anyone’s notice unless you were a year away from getting into a playoff that never has anyone in it but four of the same six or seven teams. And sure enough, this year, it looks like Clemson, Ohio State, $SEC_CHAMP and $OTHER_SEC_TEAM again.

Football could spark joy, if it were possible to be competitive on a regular basis and not be drowned out by the power teams. Who cares who you’re playing; if you could play ten games a year and be reasonably sure of winning six, and beating your arch-rival at least once every three years, and have the opportunity to tailgate and make a day of it, that would be enough. But that’s not enough for college football. It has to be the developmental arm of pro football first and foremost, and that’s what has helped destroy the college football experience.

Which is difficult. College football was somewhere between a hobby and a religion for decades in my life. Getting shut of it altogether is a big ask, and there’s a hole in my life it leaves that is not adequately filled by English or Scottish soccer. It was a social outlet, continuity with my past, the one thing I could always connect with my Alabama relations over. And inasmuch as I have been unable to quit it, it’s because of other people, whether friends or acquaintances or just those strange people in my phone. When your past has swallowed up everyone behind you, it’s hard to voluntarily push more people into the black hole.

Maybe next year – or the year after – I wake up to find that Vanderbilt is a member of the Patriot League, and we’re going to go out there and smash through Holy Cross and Lehigh and go option-to-option with Army and maybe have a non-conf against Princeton or somebody, and watch the games every week on NBCSN or CBS Sports and never have to think about the SEC ever again.

Wouldn’t that be something.