A Halloween Soldier

Kinder feiern Halloween - 2004
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Clothes make a statement.  Costumes tell a story.  ~Mason Cooley

In a time before litigation and neighborhood watch programs conspired to elevate Halloween mischief into misdemeanors, All Hallows Night stirred the delinquent within every kid.  What is now called vandalism was once labeled “rascalism.”  October 31st marked the first pearl in a delicious string of holidays – spaced gratefully over two months – allowing just enough time for a kid to recover from overindulgence or regain privileges that were perhaps lost for some silly misunderstanding such as hitting a public bus with an egg. It was a night fueled by sugar and poor judgment.

I had declared Halloween costumes as “stupid” at the sage age of eleven opting instead to don my father’s oversized, olive-green army jacket with its deep pockets and durable, double stitched woolen lining.  The coat was a talisman of good fortune having missed the Korean War, endured two years of officer candidate school and survived one angry gunnery NCO from Alabama who hated ROTC-trained second lieutenants.  It was warm, twilight camouflage when one needed to elude a parent, patrol car or older kid with dark intentions. Best of all, it carried my surname, “TURPIN”, tattooed in indelible military font on its white lapel.  My father considered me as I prepared to go out into the night, “That’s not much of a costume! You need some fake blood and bullet holes.” I rolled my eyes.  Parents were such losers.

My friends and I would begin discussing Halloween plans in September.  We were filled with bravado as we meticulously planned a mission whose success would be measured in pounds of candy, shattered pumpkins and ounces of shaving cream released on unwitting victims. To venture into a Halloween night in the 1970s was a risky business.  You must be armed and ready to rumble at a moment’s notice.

The standard issue weapon of choice for an All Hallows infantryman was shaving cream. We started by purchasing several cans of highly pressurized Gillette’s “The Hot One” self heating shaving cream.  It was the closest thing one could get to canned napalm. Many of us modified our weapons, creatively improving their accuracy and reach by inserting a sewing needle into the inch high nozzle.  We would melt plastic around the pin, waiting to remove the pin once the nozzle’s tip had cooled. The result was a microscopic hole from which the shaving cream would release – producing a highly pressurized stream of heated cream that could reach as far as ten feet.

When one was doused with The Hot One, one would experience a gradual burning sensation as the cream began to rise in temperature.  The Hot One was your pepper spray of choice – and the only weapon in your arsenal designed to discourage the local wildlife. If all went well, your larger assailant intent on stealing your booty would be writhing on the ground while you made good your escape into the suburban midnight

I was determined this year to prove myself as the most reckless of pranksters – – the stupid guy willing to throw the smoke bomb into the police station or pump three eggs into the side of a bus.  Yet, I was all bravado and no bite – a brash paper tiger that was more afraid of my father’s belt than peer humiliation.  Like the soldier in Red Badge of Courage, I wondered what I would do when faced with the elephant of combat, would I run or man up and emerge the hero.  Perhaps my coat would give me the courage that I suspected that I lacked.

The early part of that Halloween evening fell into cool, purple twilight.  The heat of the Indian summer day was receding and pockets of autumn air rushed down the residential streets. Daylights savings had run its course.  The early evening was the safest time to move openly from house to house.  We were typical smartalecks and often grabbed handfuls of tiny Tootsie rolls as the nice elderly lady urged us to just take one piece to leave some for the other children.  Behind her, her curmudgeonly husband would scowl.  He was most likely a WWII veteran and was disgusted that I was defiling an US Army officer’s coat.  “So, what are you?  A Soldier?“ he asked sarcastically. “ No, he’s a bee keeper” quipped one of my more disrespectful friends. (Laughter)  The older man shook his head as he confronted the decline of America’s youth and returned to Walter Cronkite.

As youth filled twilight yielded to a more adult sinister night, Jack-o-lantern candles dimmed and the manicured lawns and sidewalks emptied of all but a few shadowy stragglers rushing toward a warm fire and a candied feeding frenzy. We now moved into deeper waters of consequence – a submarine wolf pack in search of a bloated merchant Cadillac or a defenseless gas guzzling station wagon.

A van pulsing with loud music suddenly broke the silence, skirting around a corner and splashing us with an uneven jerk of halogen headlights.  Gratefully, the suspicious vehicle raced past us, revving its 300 hp, eight-cylinder engines. Someone inside the van yelled something incomprehensible at us. What is it with boys that the smallest kid in your group always feels compelled to throw the first punch or in this case, return the presumed insult?

It is hard to describe the terror a kid feels when a van packed with older teens suddenly hits its demon red brake lights and makes a U-Turn.   My friend and I had the good fortune of being next to a long private driveway and retreated into the dark while the rest of our group scattered in a flowering burst of panic.  The van sped past us chasing two of the more slovenly members of our group.  The doors and windows of the car were now open and we could see teens hanging out manically whooping like wild Indians.  No where in our meticulous planning had we made provisions for this Little Big Horn.  I suddenly remembered my own eggs resting like pinned grenades in my coat. I turned to my accomplice. He nodded, somehow reading my mind that this hiding place gave us perfect cover and that a direct hit with the eggs might distract the van long enough to allow our friends to make their escape.

In rapid fire succession, we launched five eggs – two of which thumped against the back of the van – causing it to slam on its brakes.  There was a moment of confused debate.  The van was a raging bull uncertain where to charge.  As we hesitated and ducked behind the safety of a high wall, a pair of flood lights flashed on from an adjacent garage.  Our hiding place had been revealed.

We bolted out on to the asphalt road where the van began to give chase.  We stopped, heaving for air and stood perfectly still inside a tangled juniper bush.  The van slowly moved down the street and  idled like a Tiger tank.  We could overhear arguing inside the vehicle.  It suddenly peeled off into the night.  My thoroughly shaken partner offered to have his parents drive me home.  I declined – figuring if someone’s parents drove me home that my mother would suspect that I had thrown eggs at cars – which I had.

As my buddy melted into the darkness, I smiled triumphantly and moved up the street, keeping to the shadows.  As I prepared to cross our town’s main drive, the van from hell suddenly reappeared.  I heard someone yell, “Get that kid!”

I sprinted across light traffic and made it to the south side of the street.  As I wheeled around the corner and across the lawn of neighbor, I had forgotten about a stiff wire that had been anchored to brace an ancient live oak tree.  The wire rose out of the ground at a 45 degree angle and reached ten feet up to the middle trunk of the oak.  Another wire braced it from the side of the house.  The rigid wire was exactly the height of my face and as I turned the corner to sprint across the wet grass, the ½” thick wire struck me directly in the face.

It must have looked as if I had been shot by a high-powered rifle as my legs carried in front of me and my head flew backwards.  I was completely horizontal when I hit the grass.  I lay motionless.  The van pulled up and I could hear the teens inside talking in low tones.  I heard, “dude, I think he’s dead.” As was, and still is the case with most teens when confronted with a sudden need to think clearly, they panicked and drove off.

The bridge of my nose was now bleeding and I had a diagonal bruise across my nose and forehead.  I staggered home the two final blocks not caring if I was caught out in the open.  I was finished with being the troublemaker.  It was hazardous duty. I would have preferred to have been home, eating my little brother’s candy and watching “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

I walked in the door and my dad, working in his study, glanced up at me.  Outside, a van rumbled slowly past our house like a Vietnam Delta patrol boat. He took one look  – bloody face, mud stained army jacket and massive diagonal welt.  He smiled, “Now that’s a costume!”

Ear Today, Ghoul Tomorrow?

Before and after surgery photos taken on patie...
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Ear Today, Ghoul Tomorrow?

I don’t plan to grow old gracefully. I plan to have face-lifts until my ears meet. – Rita Rudner

Life, for most mortals, is a zero sum game. As one enters middle age, you begin receiving physical past due notices requesting payment for every  act of vanity, gluttony, sloth and stupidity.

Having grown up on the beaches of Southern California, I became accustomed to enduring a permanent state of sun burn.  My delicate adolescent epidermis was in a perpetual cycle of burn and tan – always followed by a reptilian peeling of the skin. In the days where dermatologists existed to treat teens for acne and ancient beachcombers for melanoma, parents did not force kids to lather up with SPF 50 sunscreen. When overexposure to the sun produced second degree burns, mothers would simply apply a greasy, white industrial ointment known as zinc oxide to the afflicted area and hustle you back out into the sun.

Like the Aztecs of ancient Mexico, we were a society of sun worshippers. A tan was considered a healthy measure of a man’s cultural, physical and financial prowess.  Stars like George Hamilton and Robert Wagner personified the benefits of melanin and masculinity. Despite my light eyes and County Kerry skin, I was constantly in search of the savage tan. As with all the seven deadly sins, the Fates never forget to remind you of your deal with the devil.

At the ripe, young age of 35, I noticed a small patch of flaking skin above my left eye that never seemed to heal.  It was no larger than a thimble top. It had a predictable six to eight week cycle of itching, peeling and healing.  I mentioned it in passing to my physician during a rare physical. As a precaution, he sent me to a dermatologist who, after conducting a biopsy, surprised me with a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma.

My skin doctor further unnerved me by sharing that the basal cell’s removal would require the assistance of a plastic surgeon as the particular area in question had little skin to suture the quarter-sized area that would need to be excised. He went on to describe a Frankenstein type of procedure that would graft skin off my temple by twisting clockwise over open eyebrow.

Only in my mid-thirties, the notion of plastic surgery unnerved me.  I assumed that the only people in real need of plastic surgeons were public enemy number one criminals attempting to alter their physical appearances, aging celebrities and of course, Joan Rivers.  I instantly recalled the Frank Capra Halloween classic, “Arsenic and Old Lace”, where a sociopathic murderer played by creepy Raymond Massey, returns home to threaten his family after being disfigured by his drunken plastic surgeon, Peter Lorre. My active imagination transferred his scars on to my face – a face that not even my dog could love.

I endured the surgery but developed am embarrassing post operative complication when excessive scar tissue accumulated underneath the incision. It appeared as if I was growing a small horn. Since it had been several centuries since horned, pan flute playing fauns were in vogue, I was eager to receive a “horn-ectomy.” Yet, an infection would require that I wait six months for this critical second plastic surgery. In the interim, I learned a lifetime of insights about my own vanity.

The “horn” incident left me with a strong motivation to return to my dermatologist every six months to be probed for suspicious moles, foreign freckles and dubious discolorations.  If the doctor found anything, he would deploy his trusty canister of liquid nitrogen and proceed to “freezer burn” the cells gone wild. Aesthetically, my doctor never seemed to consider the fact that I had a social life. Perhaps he assumed I was a research librarian. You see, a man with freezer burns across his nose, cheeks and forehead looks like someone in the early stages of leprosy. It was inconvenient but I did finally come to realize that the person who most noticed my burn marks– was me.

Fast forward to October, 2010. It had been years since I had been diagnosed with any epidermal irregularities. I was beginning to think that I had finally gotten the skin cancer monkey off my back when the doctor found a small patch of flaking skin on the inside of my ear. What was thought to be a patch of eczema was instead, an aggressive squamous skin cancer that needed to be immediately removed.

The excision surgery called Mohs, involved removing the lesion and any surrounding tissue that might have been corrupted by the cancerous cells. The doctor essentially keeps expanding the radius of his incisions until the adjacent skin is cancer free.  What might start as a laser thin surgical bore can grow into the Grand Canyon. While preferable to the more medieval skin surgeries of the past which usually resulted in pieces of one’s body being removed, Mohs was still invasive surgery in an area comprised predominantly of cartilage – which is slow to heal, quick to infect and impossible to disguise.  I was not quite ready to go Van Gogh.

After a seemingly uneventful surgery, my ear was wrapped and I was sent home to convalesce.  The bandage looked like a battlefield medic dressing and screamed out to anyone passing by, “look at me!”.  It was enormous and came to a rather unattractive point at the top of my ear appearing as though I was either preparing for a journey to Modor or readying for a Star Trek convention. My spouse did what all good spouses do – she lied to me saying, “You – – can hardly notice it.” She was so confident of its total invisibility that she suggested we go to the local Varsity football game to get my mind off the surgery. I was reluctant to appear in public as I knew two-thirds of our entire community would be gathered to socialize and stare at my ear. I could already envision four-year old kids coming up to me and handing me scribbled notes asking me if I would not mind “giving their list to Santa.”

At the football game, I skulked in the shadows like Boo Radley convinced everyone was fixated on my head. I lasted two quarters and declared that it was time to leave.  Later that evening, under a bright vanity mirror light, I surveyed the bullet hole wound and the exposed cartilage. I felt like “Massive Head Wound Harry”, a disgusting character made famous by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live.  I started second guessing whether I should have asked the doctor for an appointment with a plastic surgeon.

As a healthcare professional, I had philosophical reservations about elective plastic surgery. Americans spend up to $13B a year on non-essential procedures. What was once a medical profession designed to improve the quality of life for those unfairly dealt deuces in the card game of life, had now become a multi billion dollar industry catering to the insecurities of a society that glorified youth and whispered promises that physical perfection led to personal happiness.

As an addictive personality, I could easily see myself getting caught up in the body image spiral. Despite a regimen of rigorous exercise, there remain parts of my body that categorically refuse to recognize me as their sovereign. These untamed regions of my legs and arms resist my periodic offensives to tame them. As I survey my wobbly inner thigh or stubborn love handles, popular culture chips away at my self-confidence. I  am a failure for somehow not bringing these rebellious bands of bagginess under heel. Perhaps getting my ear fixed would create more problems – like buying that new couch and then suddenly waking up convinced that I needed to remodel the entire house.  Within a few years, I would end up looking like a 15th century samurai.

I do not know what it is about middle-aged men and denial. While men generally age gracefully, they cannot always see the dignity of their salt and pepper patina. Take for instance, my hero Olympic Decathlete Bruce Jenner who now resembles the illegitimate offspring off an orange orangutan and an iguana. Bruce, who should be a star in a TV special, “When Good Facelifts Go Bad”, presides like a eunuch over a harem of micro-celebrity Kardashian women.  He spends his day playing with toys and sleeping while his B-list step daughters disrupt various public places across the US. Bruce is not the only sad sack of surgery. Have you seen singer Kenny Rogers, aka The Gambler, lately? Old Kenny has been stretched more times than salt water taffy and looks as if he is permanently walking into his own surprise party.

And do not think I would forget the ladies!  Ironically, these nymphs of the knife who spend tens of thousands each year to look “different” have actually become increasingly interchangeable.  Between their collagen injections, Botox, liposuction, tummy tucks, forehead lifts, chin contouring and implants – they have created their own subhuman race of taut, buxom human carp. The lists of cosmetic casualties that refuse to go gently into that good night include Janet Jackson (She and Michael are the same person), Meg Ryan, Donatella Versace and Melanie Griffith. Between the collagen gone bad, shifting saline and sagging facelifts, these Brides of Frankenstein are walking warnings of the price paid for listening to that nagging inner critic that keeps whispering that your butt looks big.

In the end, my ear will heal.  I’ll eventually stop worrying that I look like Evander Holyfield.  The bandage will come off revealing a scar and gasp, more imperfection.  It may detract from my physical appearance but in the end, it will be another unique brush stroke on my canvas – a flawed Dorian Gray portrait replete with scars, gray hair moments, crow’s feet and laugh lines.  I will play the cards God gave me, and continue to wage conventional warfare against those untamed physical regions that seem immune to my best intentions.

Who knows, in the end, I may look back and find that the only real terrorist that existed in my life – – was my vanity.

Watching Out for Woody

Woody Hayes on the OSU sideline
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“Statistics always remind me of fellow who drowned in a river where the average depth was only three feet.” Woody Hayes, legendary Ohio State Coach

It was a torturous bike ride up a tediously long horizon line hill.  At the summit of the road rested The Huntington Sheraton, the grand dame of early Los Angeles art deco hotels.  It was our generation’s Four Season’s with its ornate dining rooms, spacious grounds that included Oriental gardens and koi ponds adjacent to an enormous Olympic outdoor pool and courtyard with ivy that climbed and adorned its façade like a fairy tale Austrian castle.

Each year, the hotel played host to the reigning Big Ten Champion football squad who would invade Pasadena along with fifty thousand pale Midwesterners in massive motor homes.  Their mission was simple – return with second degree sunburns, a few phone numbers from local Rose Princesses and a win in over the Pac Eight champions on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl.  Each new years brought rose-covered parade floats along Colorado Blvd, flocks of alabaster skinned snow birds and Big 10 football players. Once the Big 10 team had checked in to the Huntington, we would pedal our bikes to the edges of the hotel grounds and infiltrate our way through the bushes like the Viet Cong avoiding the beefed up hotel security, valets and team staff who patrolled the perimeters searching for and eliminating straying media, gridiron groupies and adolescent autograph hounds.

It was December 1974. Three of my more daring friends and I had staked the four corners of the hotel to intercept the great Archie Griffin – a Heisman Trophy winner whose Buckeyes were here on borrowed time – – soon to fall in defeat to my beloved USC Trojans.  That afternoon, I remained hidden among azaleas, as still as lawn jockey waiting for Lady Luck to blow me a kiss.

I idolized these bulging, behemoths with their protruding eyebrows and necks that exploded into shoulders.  Yet, up close, they were rather intimidating missing links. Perhaps the most terrifying of them all was their leader, coach Woody Hayes.  Coach Hayes reminded me of every older man that ever chased me off his lawn.  He was all business with dark engineers glasses, wild, tangled salt and pepper eyebrows and a chin that screamed, “fight to the death.”. He hated everyone in California – USC, UCLA, our refs, and especially the tanned, metro-sexual fans. He probably hated our sunshine. The only thing coach Hayes hated more than his opponents in the Rose Bowl was The Michigan Wolverines.  To make it to the Rose Bowl in the 1970’s, you must beat Michigan and Bo Schembechler.  Hayes was rumored to hate Michigan so much than he once told his team (when they were running low on gasoline) that he would rather push the bus all the way to Ohio than spend one dollar in the state of Michigan.

In late 1974, Ohio State was flying high, having humiliated my Trojans 42-21 earlier in the year at the Rose Bowl.  Leading into that game, Ohio State had brooded, waiting to avenge their own beat down at the hands of John McKay and the Trojans who completed their amazing 1972 season becoming co-national champs. That ’73 OSU team was an unstoppable force with QB Cornelius Greene, monster fullback Pete Johnson and super star Archie Griffin. To add insult to injury, my hero, USC running back Anthony Davis had come in second in the Heisman voting to Archie Griffin.

I made bold promises all year and waited for Christmas, praying that those two golden tickets to the Rose Bowl might magically appear under the tree.  Yet, in those last few days of December 1974, there was a wrinkle in my confidence.  Ohio State was returning to the Rose Bowl with that angry old man and his Ajax – the greatest warrior running back, Griffin who would burst through Holland Tunnel sized breaches created by behemoth offensive linemen like Kurt Schumacher and 6’5” and 270 lb Doug France.

My friends and I had agreed to cover different parts of the hotel and in typical adolescent fashion, there was no plan to meet, communicate or reconvene.  It was each kid for himself. We had no idea what these helmeted warriors looked like and just assumed anyone with muscles must be a player. During that one-week in December, most kids would annoy any adult possessing a bicep and a room key. My first attempt at an autograph involved accosting a surprised but flattered overweight gentleman and his attractive companion.  He laughed agreeing to sign my book. Oddly, I later could not find a player for Ohio State with the name “ John Smith”.  Years later, I realized that I must have hit up some guy who was committing infidelity with his secretary.

My own bumbling attempts over the years to get autographs included being chased by a kitchen dishwasher  (he was very fast) and ripping my pants in the rose garden as I avoided a less mobile, ancient security guard.  This year, I was determined to get that Heisman winner’s autograph but I was afraid – – very afraid that Woody Hayes would get me before I got to his star running back.

After a half hour of watching cars and bellhops and valets, I made my move – edging out of the bushes and down a hillside tangled with Vinca and brightly colored Lantana.  Stumbling on to a narrow garden walkway between buildings, I gathered my bearings – gratefully recognizing the koi pools covered in magnificent lily pads the size of Frisbees.  I could have walked this area blindfolded.  As a boy, I had spent countless afternoons with my buddy Stu, dodging hotel staff and trying to capture the Chernobyl sized toads that peered from the ink blot ponds.  The hotel must have fed the amphibians a radioactive material, as even the polliwogs were the size of small brown trout.

Zigzagging north along a walkway lined with roses, I spied the swimming pool and to my delight, there were at least twenty shirtless, muscle-bound men in shorts and flip-flops resting in the late afternoon sun in its northeast corner.  This gathering was the mother lode of finds for a young teen eager for a brush with fame.  Yet, I had no one with whom to share the moment. I was going to have to execute this mission impossible without any backup.

I watched five gigantic players surrounding a tremendously fit and handsome black man who could not have been taller than 5’ 9”.  His 34” thighs were larger than my father’s waist.  He was smiling and laughing as he got up and began walking to the southern side of the pool where I was hiding behind a hibiscus bush.   He was coming to exchange a towel and get a soda from the poolside bar. It was – Archie Griffin.

Suddenly, a bumblebee the size of a B-52 strafed me and I swatted indiscriminately at air.  The bush started to violently shake as I lunged at the elusive flying fortress.  Archie glanced in my direction but quickly got distracted by the din of laughing players and transistor radio music.  He was now within five feet of me. I screwed up my courage and darted out of the bushes.  In my haste, I caught the higher edge of the walkway with my sneaker, spilling face first on to the poolside with my autograph book sliding five feet in front of me.  I looked down at my skinned palms and bloodied knee and then up toward the Heisman winner. His back was already turned to me as he returned to his lineman. I did manage to catch the eye of an annoyed security guard who began to move in my direction.

Suddenly, a pair of gigantic hands picked me up from behind and said, “ son, if you were playing for me, I’d make sure you learned how to carry that book without fumbling.  Are you ok?”  I turned and was suddenly staring into the face of the devil himself – Coach Woody Hayes.  I tried to speak but I was terrified that he was going to eat my face or perhaps just scream, “hey boys, we got us a Trojan lover over here.  Let’s give him an old-fashioned OSU can of whoop ass!”

Instead, he gently dusted off my backside, smiled and carried on over to a group of coaches. I was dumbfounded.  I had looked into the eyes of Satan and he had smiled. I just turned and sprinted down the back pathway against a backdrop of obvious laughter. I could not find my friends. Yet, I was not embarrassed. Au contraire, I had seen the man himself.  I pedaled home in record time to retell my story to an unbelieving audience.  “Sure, you did, you liar. And where’s his autograph. “ I was frustrated and lifted my pant leg. “ And how do you suppose I got this? “ My friends remained unconvinced.  “Well, let’s see.  You are an idiot so you could have gotten it any number of ways.” I realized at that moment, I had fumbled away my chance.

On January 1, 1975, my Trojans went on to beat the Buckeyes in an 18-17 thriller.  I was there – in the stands with my Dad clutching his ancient binoculars watching the plays and occasionally drifting over to coach Hayes as he screamed and cajoled his team to stop the USC’s final drive and two point conversion. Years later, the passionate silver Ohio State legend would be fired after striking a player in the 1978 Gator Bowl.  He would never again coach at the collegiate level.

I think of that day and wonder what might have happened had I possessed the guts to ask Coach Hayes for a few autographs. My guess is he would have surveyed my bloody knee and nodded, “Son, nothing cleanses the soul like getting the crap kicked out of you.  You go grab as many as you can.“

He was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame in 1983 and died in 1987 – taking with him a legacy of intensity, three national championships and a record of 238-72-10. He remains in my memories to this day– an imposing phantom from another time.  His is not the image that some choose to recall of a rigid, bitter relic grabbing the throat of an opposing player. He looms large, watching from a sideline – a great and passionate competitor, beloved coach, leader of champions and an Ohio patriot who simply refused to accept losing.

Libra, 49

Anatomical Man, Les Très Riches Heures du duc ...
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When the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars. Then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars.

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, The Age of Aquarius…. Aquarius! Aquarius!

(Aquarius, Hair)

I just hit 49.  It sounds like a lucky number.  7 is its square root.  It is a mere one year before the mortal male equinox of 50 – a life moment that is generally followed by the purchase of a sport’s car, a pointless fling with someone in the personal training industry or a kidney stone. These gray temple birthdays are generally a time where I just want to be left alone to eat five Clark bars sitting by myself in the closet.

As a younger man, I sought to find meaning in everything and was desperate to unlock the mysteries of life – and my brother’s piggy bank safe where he kept his loose change.  My mother was a classic mid-70’s, new age Californian who believed that cosmic law superseded dogmatic religious doctrine.  My father, on the other hand, was a huge fan of dogma. He felt that authoritarian religion was the glue that held together the family, the community and society. If we had lived in the 12th century, we would have rose to the call of Pope Gregory VIII and his band of crusaders to take the stuffing out of  Saladin.  While we were in Jerusalem fighting for the Holy Father, my mother, most likely would have been stoned, burned or drowned as a witch – simply for her insubordinate fascination with the sacred and profane.

Her preoccupation with new age spirituality resulted in a library of coffee table books on the paranormal, psychic pets, vortexes, and Native American mythology, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Astrology.  We were encouraged to employ such ground breaking devices such as the Bio Mate, a calibrated series of dials that could track one’s biorhythms and in doing so, better understand your invisible meridians that moved like radioactive sine waves through your body. On our 21st birthday, my mother paid for each son to see a famous psychic to have our auras read.

Astrology was very popular in the 70s.  It seemed everyone knew “his or her sign” in the Age of Aquarius.  I was born Libra, Cancer rising.  The “rising”, known as the ascendant, was explained to me to be the astrological sign that was emerging in the east at the time that I was born.  The ascendant is the initial impression one might make in a first encounter.  One’s ascendant is your veneer to the world.  Years later, an astrologer would show me my birth chart replete with its Conjunctions, Opposites, Squares, Trines, Sextiles, Semi-Squares, Sesqui-Quadrates, Semi-Sextiles, Quintiles, Bi-Quintiles and Inconjunctions.  It was harder to grasp than my college Statistics course.

Secretly, I did not buy into this celestial gobbledygook but it really seemed to resonate with my primary target: new age girls. Being so fluent in these strange sciences and dark arts gave me confidence like I was secretly wearing the coolest psychedelic shirt at a Dead show. It was my destiny to wait until the moon was in the seventh house and then I would find a Virgo with whom I would mate.  In reality, I loathed the sign of Virgo because it sounded like Virgil – which was the name of our neighbor who mowed his lawn shirtless each Sunday revealing more hair on his back than our entire family had on its heads.  I decided instead that I wanted a Gemini, maybe two – since they normally travel in pairs.

I could not reconcile my Mom’s Bay Area spirituality with my father’s rigid Southern Cal religious Christianity. I sort of played on both teams – depending on the circumstances. My mom had equipped me well to disguise myself as a new age chameleon.  While, it resulted in some memorable liaisons, I did not meet any sane individuals.  Eventually, I grew weary of the Stevie Nicks knock-off who believed she was a Welsh witch. I gagged on the fruit and granola sprite that swore that she could talk to her dead grandmother.  I longed for a more traditional partner whose religious order did not include running naked through redwoods at night.   Like the prodigal son, I staggered back to traditional Christianity. But, to this day, out of habit, I always check my horoscope.

I remain a classical Libra. Librans are a creative lot and look strong at first glance but we are essentially fragile spirits.  We are the equivalent to that knock off antique furniture you buy at Pier One or The Bombay Company.  We look so good in the store but once assembled, we can’t stop wobbling or handle much pressure.

We are an “air” sign.  Astrological insiders know that each sign is comprised of one of the four elements.  It could also mean that we are airheads.  We value freedom – of thought, expression and movement – which explains why most Libran men prefer to wear boxer shorts.

We are diplomats, aesthetes and easy-going ne’er do wells who prefer justice, balance and a good piece of cherry pie. We despise loud people and find smoking a huge turn-off.  We like long walks on the beach and oops, wait, I am sounding like a former playmate of the month.  Where was I?

Our Achilles heel is our vanity.  The fact that my wife and I both love the same person seems to support this theory.  I am told we Librans can be unreliable, superficial and indecisive.  This explains why friends have repeatedly encouraged me to run for public office.

I am told our “ruling planet” is Venus.  I am uncertain what a ruling planet does but I assume it involves some form of disapproval.  To have “Venus in Libra” suggests you are intimate, adore the attention of others, passionate, naturally compromising and always in search of a harmonious, good time.  This explains the behavior of several Librans: Bill Clinton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bill Wilson (Founder of AA), Genghis Khan, John Lennon, Princess Grace and HP Lovecraft.  Boy, I would kill to attend that dinner party.

Librans are politically independent – except once a year when Venus is aligned with Mars. On this night, we have an uncontrollable urge to eat a quart of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and vote for William Howard Taft for President. Fortunately, Taft is dead – all 300lbs of him, but we still long for more full figured politicians.

Other famous Libras include Evel Knieval – which explains every bad choice I ever made in college.  As you survey the list of Mr. and Mrs. Librans – you unearth myriad writers, actors, poets, activists, educators, politicians and only one Nazi.  Alas, you find only two Presidents.  It seems the law of averages would suggest we should have at least twice as many heads of state.  Perhaps we were writing poetry in Math class instead of being like the Taurus tool in the front row that kept raising his sycophantic hoof for attention.

Some websites advise you on how to attract a Libran woman.  They are sensual and visceral creatures.   You are most likely to meet one at a Mother’s Natural Food store, a Grateful Dead concert or in France. Traffic stopping Parisian Librans include Catherine Denueve and Bridget Bardot.

According to Zodiac Signs Astrology.com: “Environment is important for the Libran woman.  Make sure the first date is somewhere classy and elegant with posh surroundings, such as lunch at an elegant bistro. (Immediately following lunch) walk along the tree lined pathways of a ravine in the summertime with the flowers blooming.  She will feel at peace and love it.  Give her compliments and tell her how much she is appreciated. She may reply bashfully but with each compliments, the radiant glow inside her will shine brighter and brighter. She may need a few days away from you.  But don’t despair, she is merely pressing the reset button on the relationship. Be dramatically romantic by tucking sweet love notes into her pocket. Pick her flowers and watch old films. These things bring great joy to the Libra woman and they make her feel special”.

You know, come to think of it, forget it.  This is way, way too much work.  Find a tree-lined ravine with wild flowers?  Love notes? Are you kidding me? What if you live in Cleveland?

My advice is to those who have grown weary of e Harmony and Match.com and want to attempt celestial matchmaking – is go in search of another sign.  I actually hear Aquarians are cheap dates and do not mind washing other people’s underwear.  Obviously, if you can find those Gemini twins, that would be, well – – a spiritual experience.