Archives for posts with tag: thoughts on the modern condition

I am reading ‘The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company’, written by Michael S. Malone. And I am totally enjoying it.

The book starts out with how Noyce and Moore along with 6 others jumped ship from William Shockley’s startup – he was the physicist who won the Nobel prize for inventing the transistor – and started Fairchild Semiconductors in ’57 before moving on to start Intel.

After a brief introduction the story picks up with Bob Noyce and gives the reader a peek into his formative years; growing up as the son of a congregational minister father and a mother who was also the daughter of a minister.

Anyway, it struck me today while reading about Noyce’s childhood how the quest for success can come from two distinctly different vantage points: A nurtured childhood or an oppressive childhood.

First, there was Noyce who grew up in home where both parents were educated and where both parents encouraged all four of their sons to learn, to experiment, to build and to create.

And then I got to thinking about my Uncle Glenn, another highly successful individual and how his motivation came from that entirely different place; a hatred of his father and being a kid who was constantly the object of undeserved criticism.

Glenn – like Bob Noyce – graduated at the top of his small rural high school class. But unlike Bob he did so probably because he was told by his dad that he’d never amount to anything. It is my opinion that Glenn strove for success if for no other reason but to rub his father’s nose in it. And the more his success the further he could push his father’s face into it. As in, ‘F**k yourself. You were wrong about me.’

And his first success came with being the first in our family to go to university; the University of Michigan where he got a BS in Civil Engineering.

When the war started (WWII) he joined up and became a commissioned pilot in the European Theater. And then when the war was over he returned and went back to school where he got an MS in Mechanical Engineering.

Ironically, shortly thereafter he discovered he didn’t much care for the profession and turned to medicine where he got his MD; all the meanwhile raising four kids with the most major support of his long-suffering wife, Helen.

Then it didn’t take him long to discover that he really didn’t like working with sick people so he turned to research. He eventually landed in tropical medicine studying infectious diseases where he had a pretty distinguished career that took him to 120 different countries.

He was pretty much a success at everything he did. He played scratch golf – and did a few rounds over the years with the legendary Arnold Palmer – and he was a talented cribbage player, among other things. (The last time that we played he beat me three straight games in California when he and my Aunt Helen came to stay with me and my young family in ’90.)

I loved the guy. He was really the only mentor that I had growing up and he was a great uncle to me. Extremely smart, sophisticated, 6′-2″, movie star handsome; all in all, a man’s man.

I looked up to him and he knew it. And growing up he always acknowledged me. Like he always sent me postcards from faraway places like Egypt. And when he came up north for a visit he and I would always play a game or two of cribbage.

But he was never able to shake the anger from his childhood. And like his father, he was mean son of a bitch to his family. His kids, especially his son, could never measure up to his standards. He was – it turns out – also a mean husband, and oftentimes sarcastic to those who he perceived as underachievers (which could be pretty much everyone else).

So here we’ve got Robert Noyce, the product of a good home, and my Uncle Glenn; the son of a mean oppressive father. Both men driven to success from two entirely different environmental models.

And as I think about my Uncle Glenn – although he was never once cruel or condescending to me – I forgive him for his transgressions to others.

Shaking off an evil childhood and having a mean bastard for a father can sometimes prove to be an impossible thing to do.

So. American Foreign Policy creates a vacuum in the Middle East first by destabilizing it, then vacating it.

ISIS, a complete surprise to the same foreign policy experts, starts carving out a kingdom across Syria and Iraq. Killing and destroying sites of antiquity.

It was recently reported by one of the British papers that an archaeologist discovered that ISIS was destroying the antiquities not because they were offensive to Islam – which has been their cover story all along – but rather to cover up up the fact that they’d looted the sites before blowing them up to cover their trail. Collectors have been buying up the artifacts on the black market and the money (tens, hundreds of millions of dollars) is then fed back into ISiS’s war machine.

So vacuums create opportunities. At present Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and ISIS all have troops on the ground in Syria. And Russia just yesterday admitted to sending troops in. Even the French are talking about expanding their presence. And the US is still willy-nilly bombing targets.

Which brings me to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Who in the hell in their right mind would want to live in Syria these days? Or Iraq? Or for that matter all those scary parts of Africa that are being shot up in the same fashion?

No one. And those that can get out, are trying to get out. And this is creating – and I quote – “The largest migrant crisis since WWII.” Every last one of those migrants are desperately trying to get into Europe.

P1000444

Why can’t those over paid foreign policy geniuses attempt to a least try and envision a real endgame before running off to whisper in the president’s ear?

PS – The EU has an overall unemployment rate somewhere around 10%. Spain’s is more like 25%, so has Greece and most probably Italy. Where are the jobs for all of these displaced people going to come from? The answer is they’re not. That’s why this summer the evil genie has finally been called what it is. A crisis.

To kill people.

A person can’t even watch the news anymore without seeing yet another incident of someone murdering someone else with a gun.

This is so stupid because: a. There are no take-backs with guns. Bullets are so irretrievable. You shoot someone in the right place – one time – and it’s a done deal. And b., it is just giving the government one more excuse to take everyone’s guns away.

So I implore all you would be killers out there. Use heavy crystal ashtrays, decorative rocks, solid brass lampstands, tomahawks, a hockey stick, your colleague’s commemorative trophy, your mother’s favorite frying pan – you get the idea – just lay off the damn guns.

You’re giving guns a bad name.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

PS – And always remember. Bludgeoning is a much more personal way to say I hate you.

A year and a half ago I wrote a post called ‘A Story of Two Nickels’. It was actually two stories that took place within just few miles of each but separated by some 40 years.

The first story involved a nickel that was asked for, freely given and then surprisingly blessed.The second story involved a nickel that was asked for but most stingily refused.  .

I was recollecting on this as a roadside food vendor willfully and most deliberately beat me out of five pesos. Five measly, stinking pesos. But I already ordered the roasted ear of corn and the man had already doctored it up with chili sauce and placed it in a plastic bag so when I got five pesos back in change back from my twenty I called him on it.

I told him they were ten pesos. He very matter of factly told me that the little ears were ten and I was holding a big ear; those were fifteen. I didn’t say anything more.

I walked across the street and talked to the guys there who were also grilling corn over charcoal burners. I asked just when did corn go up to fifteen pesos?

They said, ‘Nah, they’re still all ten pesos.’ They shouted at the guy across the street and said in so many words, ‘What gives? You’ve seen this guy. He lives here.’

The man replied, ‘He’s not Mexican.’

My guys looked at me and shook their heads like, ‘What an asshole.’

So the moral of this particularly insignificant tale of such a paltry sum of money is just how differently some of us view money, possessions, and entitlement. Like in this case, if I am too stupid to ask what something costs before ordering then the vendor is certainly entitled to taking a few extra pesos off me.

Forget the fact that I walk by these guys every single day of the year and I might only get an ear of corn once a month – but now that I think about it – generally from the guys on the west side of the street. I still know that the damn things cost ten pesos. Just like ice cream in the plaza is 10 pesos a serving. And the fruit vendors sell their bags of chopped up fruit covered in chili sauce for ten pesos.

So the corn vendor guy beat me out of five pesos. To him he felt entitled. To me he’s just a insignificant little worm of a thief. Who is more right? Him or me? I can certainly understand his point of view. But the whole buyer beware argument is morally sketchy at best.

So what am I going to do about this? Easy, just simply ignore it and never buy from him again. Getting angry over anything while you are a long term visitor in another country is to mark yourself as a complainer or a troublemaker. But to get gypped out of money – that is pay more than the locals – time after time is to mark oneself as a fool which opens on to other troubles.

Five cents or five pesos. What the insignificant sometimes tells us about ourselves as human beings. Someone very wise once said something to the effect of “Show me what a man does when he thinks no one is looking and I’ll tell you who that man is.”

PS – I came to the conclusion years ago that no one can ever argue with correct behavior; unfortunately that is postulating something that is easier said than done.

I knew it was only a matter of time before one of those stinking piles of offal or some other unceremoniously dumped dead thing left on the edge of the canal in my run zone would turn out to be a person. And today was that day.

I’ve become conditioned to see dead dogs, calf fetuses, heaping piles of guts and garbage so it took me a moment to recognize the body for what it was. The head and half the torso were wrapped in a 6 mil sheet of plastic and the body had been pitched head first off the dirt road down the slope to the canal 50 yards from where it intersects the main highway.

Apart from the plastic sheeting there wasn’t much to see. An exposed belly, a bleached out white that was not much differentiated from the plastic. The body was clad only in trousers. The feet were the same color as the belly. After mentally separating the wrapper from the contents it took most of another five seconds to see that the body was of a man who was unquestionably stone cold dead.

I became instantly aware of the fact that I had just been repeating out loud, ‘Forty years,” over and over again. I was recollecting the length of time that an old high school era acquaintance had been locked up for the crime of second degree murder. Matthew Kyle Johnson was just 22 years old when the judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole. A pretty harsh sentence but I reckon that the judge knew that Matt was going to be a perpetual menace to society and decided to put halt to any future misdeeds.

I was 16 or 17 when I met him. Matt hung out at the house of one of my least supervised friend’s and he was a fun party guy. He was a couple of years older and we all thought he was pretty suave and sophisticated; a good looking lady’s man as the Joni Mitchell lyric goes.

But he was reckless and as it turned out prone to crime. He got a buddy of mine to help him break into the restaurant that one of them worked at and they got busted and my friend, John did a couple of months in county lockup and Matt got sent away downstate for a short term in prison; although we didn’t know that at the time.

On my run this morning I was marveling at how it could have been me – and not John – who was with Matt on that break in. Me – not John – who would then continue to carry the weight of that felony charge into the ever present future. Or maybe it could have been me who got talked into being in the wrong place when that murder happened. But by the Grace of God I remain a free man unencumbered by not so much as even a smidge of a criminal record although countless acts of thoughtless stupidity could have easily swung my life in that direction.

So I see this corpse of a guy and it got me thinking that there was someone who through some act of stupidity was going to miss tomorrow; the single best day of the biggest fiesta of the year. That’s so harsh. Think about it. Getting yourself murdered the day before the best day of the year. And just what did he do anyway? Was he a big criminal or a little criminal? Whatever he did, he certainly screwed up in some way and it got me thinking that sometimes it can take only the smallest of mistakes that lead to the harshest of consequences.

But unfortunately the story doesn’t end there but continues to trend in continuance with that theme: small mistakes; unpredictable and often harsh consequences.

So I was walking the last hundred yards back to the bridge where I catch the combi for the ride back into town when suddenly there came a big white SUV rolling up on me, running fast, pulling with it an immense cloud of dust. Per usual I threw my t-shirt over my head to act as a filter. But not per usual this time, it turned out to be the absolute wrong thing to do.

After it swung by I heard another vehicle following going equally fast before it abruptly broke to a hard fast stop on the gravel. I lifted the t-shirt off my face to see two policemen jump out of their SUV, level their machine guns at me, shouting, telling me to put my hands in the air. The one cop had his finger on the trigger, the gun pointed at my head, and murder in his eyes. He wanted to shoot me. And I could see in that one split second that he came very close to pulling the trigger.

Needless to say, my testicles shriveled to something resembling raisins but thankfully my Spanish didn’t fail me and I said back, “Polvo. My shirt was covering my face because of the dust.” So there I am like a complete dumb ass, less than a mile from the crime scene to which they were racing to investigate, and me with my face covered like some terrorist assassin.

In the short span of an hour, I found myself at the confluence of three unfathomless coincidences: I was thinking about the consequences of the crime of murder. I witnessed the product of a murder. And then damn near got myself murdered.

PS – While living in Washington, DC I once had a chilly feeling wash over me suggesting that a gunshot wound was never any further than a just small misunderstanding away.

I just read a friend’s post which essentially was one big gripe list to which he signed off saying, “Know that you are still alive only because murder is a crime.” I love his posts especially when he adds a drop of malicious bitterness to them. His post got me thinking about some of the bumperstickers I have seen over the years that resonated with that same particular flavor of disrespectful political incorrectness.

  • “Make the world a better place. Kill Yourself.” I gave this one to my sister when she was living in LA 20 years ago. She taped it briefly to her bumper before acknowledging that the humor was a little too grim even by LA standards.
  • “Pave the Rainforest” I own this one and it sits unused in a box in my daughter’s garage.
  • “Pave the Planet” I own this one too and it sits along side the previous one.
  • “Nuke the gay baby seals” This one pushes all the buttons doesn’t it?
  • “Save the whales. Harpoon a fat chick.” I saw this one on the Texas Gulf coast fixed to the bumper of a rusty pickup truck with two surfboards in the back.
  • “Mom knows” I saw this one on the back of a white convertible Volkswagen Cabriolet being piloted up Conneticut Ave. by a pair of teenage blonds. Thinking about this one always puts a smile on my face.
  • Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth”; seen years and years ago on the back of a classic old pickup truck parked in front of the courthouse in tiny La Grange, Texas.

PS – While I admire the pithiness of certain bumperstickers, I have never felt the need to put one on my car. Probably for the same reasons that I have never been tattooed. It can be pretty hard to commit long term to what more times than not proves out to be no more than a transient impulse.

Beginning at a very early age I tested everything. My earliest operational model was ‘don’t tell me what to do; for surely if you tell me something is bad then rest assured I am going to do it and find out for myself.’

It doesn’t take a genius here to see that the results for any child who takes a pragmatic approach to subjects requiring more adult like life experiences would obviously always prove to be more reckless than coherent. Consequently, my experimentations were met with more punishment than I care to remember.
FYI, I wrote a previous post – ‘My earliest crimes’ – that captured some of those lowlights.

Note: Pragmatism, noun. An approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.
Correspondingly, rationalism is the application of reason to gain knowledge.

Combining the two, test everything. Throw out the impractical and the unsuccessful models and always be prepared to defend the remaining model(s) with reason; that is with measured data and data analysis.

So preamble aside, I was perusing my old hometown newspaper online this morning – scanning the obits, if you must know, for familiar faces – when I spied an article entitled ‘Liberated by grace’, written by E.J. Dionne.

E.J., judging by his/her attached email address, writes for the Washington Post. And I am guessing that Petoskey News picked up the article on the Associated Press wire and published it locally.

E.J.’s second paragraph outlines the nature of his/her argument, “Over the last few weeks, white Americans who never paid much attention to the religious convictions of their brothers and sisters of color have received an education. As has happened before in our history, much of this learning is prompted by tragedy, beginning with the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and also a series of church burnings, not all of which have been explained.

E.J. goes on to say somewhere later, “But the church is about more than politics, and a liberating Gospel is also a Gospel of love. The family members of those slain at Emanuel AME astonished so many Americans by offering forgiveness to the racist shooter, Dylann Roof.
There was nothing passive about this act of graciousness, for forgiveness is also subversive. By offering pardon to Roof, said the Rev. Cheryl Sanders, professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University’s Divinity School, the families of the victims demonstrated that there was “something radically different” about their worldview. The act itself “was a radical refusal to conform to what’s expected of you. It’s a way to avoid hating back.” They were, she said, following Jesus, who declared on the cross: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

If you are so inclined to read the rest of the article, please click here – Liberated by grace.

I was very moved by the article, not just because the story itself was so well written about such an important subject nor because of E.J.’s careful and thoughtful linkage of the aspect of Christian grace to that recent tragedy; but more so by the dignified rationality that threaded the entire article.

I felt inclined to respond to E.J. and sent a quick email to his/her Washington Post email address.

I simply said, “I just read your lovely article – online – that was published in today’s PetoskeyNews (Michigan) and I felt compelled to respond. I am always immensely grateful when someone can articulate some aspect of the Christian faith rationally. Your well written story was much appreciated. Thank you very much for that.”

My personal response to anyone who disparages the Christian faith or the Bible is to merely ask if they’ve read the book. Because I liken the same experience to Book Club. You can’t go to Book Club and discuss that week’s book unless you’ve read the book.

If you do take time to read the book and study it I think you’ll be surprised by the shear immensity of connecting points. The book is interleaved to a complexity that can only be, by my way of thinking, supernatural. But you’ve got to read it front to back, back to front, and center out to both ends to begin to grasp the enormity of connecting points.
A written work of such multifaceted structure where the beginning foretells the end and the end explains the beginning, with reinforcing corresponding linkages through out, speaks to true rationality.
But you got to read the book…

PS – I know at least two of my atheist friends who find my Book Club argument objectionable (but I still like it).

It has taken me fifty some odd years and almost three years living in Mexico to finally come to grips with work. And it’s been a long and contentious road my friend.

Growing up, work was viewed as an obligation. Work was something that you did because you had to. Work was mandated by parents. Work wasn’t viewed as something to be enjoyed. Work was drudgery. In the summer as a little kid I worked in the garden. In the fall I raked leaves. In the winter I shoveled snow. The gardens were big. So were the yards and there were lots of trees. And six months of winter meant there was lots of snow.

At eleven I was told by my old man that I was old enough to get an outside job. I somehow managed to get a much coveted paper route. So Monday through Saturday I delivered 65 papers a day. If everyone paid I was awarded the princely sum of $7.00 a week, which worked out to be $0.50 per hour. I still had all of my home chores to do in addition to all the seasonal work. And of course there was school.

At thirteen I spent a summer caddying. At fourteen I was washing dishes in restaurants. Then busing tables at fifteen. Worked as a bellhop at sixteen. Waited tables at seventeen. Bartending at eighteen.

Then life had me pounding nails and pouring concrete at nineteen which financially speaking was a huge step up in the menial skills department. I was making a whopping $3.50 an hour as a junior carpenter flunky where before I was earning $1.60 in the restaurant trade.

Oh, did I mention that I was on my own trying to support myself? That I got kicked out of the house 2 days after I turned seventeen? While I was still in high school? With that in consideration, have another look at those poverty level wages.

In my little town in Northern Michigan there were few opportunities. It was a resort town where rich people from mostly Chicago and Detroit had huge summer cottages on Lake Michigan. We were 250 miles to the nearest big city so the job spectrum was very narrow. There was the local hospital, the courthouse, retail stores and gift shops, restaurants, and construction jobs. That was about it. Being a gangster wasn’t even a career possibility as petty crime was limited to shoplifting, breaking and entering, or holding up the occasional gas station.

By 1973 it became readily apparent that my future wasn’t going to play out well regardless of my charm, wit, or pleasing smile. I had no family. No connections. No skills. And most important, I had no education.

My future was scarily starting to shape forevermore as to be just another member of the working poor. That meant subsisting on unreliable construction jobs in the warmer months, the occasional side job, and drinking away the winter like everyone else on the allotted six months of unemployment insurance.

Now granted my life wasn’t exactly garbage picker poor as in New Delhi dirt poor kind of poor, but socio-economically speaking, in the United States I was living at the lowest rung on the ladder. For example, I was so poor in the summer of ’74 that I lived in a place with drunks and some of those others that had hit the bottom so hard that the best we could afford was a $25/week room in a flophouse. And I lived there for 4 months.

Needless to say I had a huge hard-on for authority, rich people, and working menial jobs for starvation wages. But then one cold fall afternoon on a day long after the leaves had fallen from the trees I received a check in the mail – my first student loan – so by January of 1975 I was attending classes at NMU.

As I’ve mentioned before, university was a deal changer for me. It was there that I was able to get a exposure to a wider range of philosophical protocols. My image of the world – and my future in it – expanded greatly. I spent 5 semesters trying on different aspects of the liberal arts which proved to be useful in the short-term but I couldn’t see that kind of education as offered up at NMU as the place for gathering the necessary tools for the long-term.So I needed a better plan.

By 1978 I convinced myself and more importantly my girlfriend that the future lay far away to the south in the Great State of Texas. So in the fall of ’78 we moved to Corpus Christi. After the move my girlfriend promptly re-enrolled in the local university while I floundered around working at this and that before finally landing a job working as an apprentice pen and ink draftsman for a mechanical engineering company. And it was love at first sight.

I worked my ass off and got promoted to a different position with more money. Then I changed companies a year later and got even more money. Then a year and a half later I got an offer from another company and doubled my salary. I loved engineering and industrial construction so much that I was taking classes at the local junior college to get my math skills up to par.

After about another year I quit my job and enrolled full-time at the closest university that had an engineering school. I decided on electrical engineering and I loved every minute of it so I studied my ass off and graduated in the top 20 of my class three years later.

In ’88 California called and I accepted a job with Intel. And so it was that my girlfriend (then wife), baby daughter and I moved. Sadly, it wasn’t long before I began to hate Intel.

In Texas I had always worked for engineers. Whereas at Intel I ended up working for business majors and consequently hated just about every single minute of it. I could never reconcile their business processes – or their business objectives – with the actual true work of getting systems designed, built, tested and implemented. I stuck with them for ten years mostly because I got to do a lot of interesting work in a bunch of different countries.

But still it wasn’t meant to be. And just like with my subsequent divorce, it has taken the past 15 years to finally understand that it wasn’t their fault. It was mine. I could sum it up by saying it was all about seriously mismatched expectations. That said, I should have never left Texas. Never left oil and gas. And made sure that my career involved only reporting to other engineers.

But the siren song of electronics had called. And like a fool I answered.

So from 1989 on (or thereabouts) my career was always an unhappy struggle. I always wanted to please the product or the project where instead I should have paid more attention to management and their political realities. As I recited in an earlier post, “It’s not what (or how well) you do that matters. It’s the perception of what you do that counts;” or so said a very senior Intel manager during one of my performance reviews.

It wasn’t until I bailed out of the workforce in ’99 to take an extended 5 year sabbatical did I begin to earnestly question the nature of work and what it meant to me. And so I learned, that while yes, I needed to earn a living (however modest), but more importantly I discovered that I needed to work. Which for me – money and work, even while related – turned out to be two entirely different things.

Anyway, I did a lot of reading and studying and thinking those 5 years of sabbatical that I spent in the mountains of western North Carolina partly spent building a house. And at some point I stumbled upon, “Ho, everyone that thirsts, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you spend your money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which satisfies not?”

Those words got me thinking in an entirely different direction. Like maybe work was something that should be sought after inasmuch as it was originally created to be an activity from which men could find satisfaction. And maybe a more meaningful existence could be found through this satisfaction of labor.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all still need to earn a living don’t we? So we work. And we get paid for our work. That is all conventional wisdom and as such is what we accept as being economically speaking – unimpeachable.

But just what if the whole idea of work for pay was never the intention that the Creator had for his creation? What if at the advent of creation that man could buy wine and milk without money and without price? What if fruit just fell from the trees and could be picked from the ground without labor or charge?

So just what if labor in this once perfect world was something entirely removed from the economics of day to day life? Such as what if that labor done by man were instead intrinsically linked to acts of creation? I find the thought of that appealing.

For my atheist friends, I’ll ask you to take the creation aspect out of the equation and instead ask you to envision some same type of world. Like think Borges meets Utopia mishmash.

Respective of what I just said, I still believe that labor which isn’t satisfying is just a job. The same kind of work that I grew to hate as a child. And after all these many years of hating work I have recently discovered that I need to labor. I need to make things. Build things. Test things. I want my life to be such that every morning when I get out of bed to know deep inside that today is a brand new day with new opportunities to do new things.

Dylan said it best for me “That he not busy being born is busy dying…”

synthetics mass produced

Because I still tenaciously cling to the whole value proposition argument. That buying quality – economically speaking – always plays out best in the long term. And in the short term provides the added benefit of owning (and using) something that isn’t just another piece of common synthetic mass-produced crap.

So I am down here in Mexico, almost three years on, still struggling to build a viable sandal-making business. And in the immortal words of Abraham, “I am a stranger in a strange land,” here in mountainous Michoacán; the land of avocados, back to back to fiestas, ear shattering Banda music, carnitas, hot salsas, sultry women, hard mustached men, and laughing bright eyed children.

I came down here following the mythical huarache trail. A trail, so vague and so ethereal that it existed only in my mind. I started out in Mexico City almost three July’s ago and slowly worked my way north stopping along the way in the small colonial cities of Queretaro and Guanajuato before settling into Leon for a more serious look around.

I came to Mexico to learn the craft of sandal making from the best huaracheros that I could find. The only real reference I had before I left the US was the city of Leon; and then only because it was the oldest city in Mexico with a tradition of leather working. I like leather footwear and the nicer the better.

While sandal shopping around the world I found that my taste in footwear didn’t align with popular culture; what I wanted no one sold. I was forced to settle for a brand called ‘Reef’ which had a leather upper that was glued to a synthetic lower. I would buy a pair in the early spring, like April, and almost like clockwork the heel had worn through by October. I ignored this for the first couple of years but gradually this dependence and this cycle of planned obsolescence at my expense got me angrily rethinking about this new and troubled relationship that I was having with Reef. So I decided to make my own.

And then also somewhere along the way I got tired of spending a hundred bucks for my minimalist running shoes. I thought why spend that kind of dough for a few ounces of nylon and vibram rubber? So I decided to have a go at making some sandals that I could run in.

I had been seriously in search of alternate careers since 1985 when I started my first company with two other guys. In a short 6 weeks time both naivety and cash flow problems killed us dead. (I heard a reporter on the radio in North Carolina a few years back say how someone was ‘seriously killed’ in a boating accident and I have been enamored with such hyperbole ever since.)

Biographically speaking, I am 59 years old and have a relatively long history, to borrow from a once popular book title, of taking the path least traveled. I somehow miraculously survived the drug party culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s to which I might add was much to the surprise of the parents of my many childhood friends who didn’t. And for an unexpected follow on, I escaped the poverty of my then fraught existence by leaping at the first opportunity into the arms of higher education.

After floundering around for several wasted semesters I rightfully ended up studying electrical engineering and got a BSEE and subsequently entered the workplace full of confidence. I followed my interests in low-voltage communications systems and in the doing somewhere along the way got sucked into the whole IT funnel cloud.

I began my career in oil and gas down in Texas back when engineering was still a gentleman’s game but ended it when rampant technical worker immigration and Cisco certificates began to undermine the profession. So I got to enjoy about 30 years of banal prosperity before my interests in running and making my own sandals finally over took the lagging interest in my professional career.

And luckily for me I was in a pretty good spot financially when I decided to downshift. I had been living frugally my entire life. I lived well but managed to save a good part of my money. The first time I downsized was involuntarily when I got divorced in ’91. I dropped some more weight in ’99 when I sold my last California house and moved to North Carolina. The third and more serious downsizing came when I sold the house, the one I built in NC, and moved more or less permanently into my small apartment in Washington, DC.

I got into the sandal making business down in Mexico because the problems that I had encountered – tools and materials related – couldn’t be solved in the US. And there were alternatives to be found in Mexico, so in the final analysis, Mexico was the hands down choice; but that’s another story.

The problem was nobody was making the running shoes or the sandals that existed in my head. The corporate manufacturing standard practice of planned obsolescence had been so firmly embraced by popular culture and for such a long time it seemed that only the rich and cognoscenti remembered what quality goods were anymore. And quality goods handmade with the best materials by the best craftspeople generally come with big dollar signs. My buddy’s grandfather used to have a saying, ‘Buy the best you can afford and cry only once’.

Walk into any Macy’s today and without trying too hard you’ll discover if you just look around a little bit that there are no alternative buying solutions; everything they sell comes from the same spectrum of crap. Same for Nordstrom’s; it’s slightly better but it is all pretty much crap too. If you want craftsmanship you have to go to Italy or France. But be prepared to get out your platinum card because you are going to pay for what you get.

And I thought, ‘why couldn’t someone other than the Italians make originally beautiful leather sandals but make them more awesomely comfortable and more long lasting by putting bottoms on it them that don’t wear out’? My daughter, Sarah and I were in Italy 4 years ago and I bought each of us two pair of sandals while we were on the island of Capri. Beautiful sandals. Expensive sandals. Comfortable, not so much. Durable, not so much. Sarah wore the back bottoms through in 4 months time; of course she wore them every day, but still. I thought if those same sandals were more comfortable and had a more durable bottom then you’d definitely have a home run.

Material speaking airplane tire is to automobile tire what carbon fiber and titanium is to cast iron; its way lighter as well as way stronger. And because it is made for one of the most critical services in the world it is also pretty indestructible. And because the material is thin as well as a ubiquitous color of black it marries perfectly to the greater contemporary design aesthetic. So that’s what I am doing these days; combining fine leathers in an Italian style crafted upper, double-lock stitched to a recycled aircraft tire bottom (with just the hint of a mid-sole) to make for the most beautiful, comfortable and long wearing sandal in the world.

I should know, I wear them every day.

Sometimes I find a design so incredibly bad that the resultant outrage renders me into a stuttering speechless clench-fisted heart palpitating manic.

Take my back door. Apart from the unbreakable window pane covered by welded bars, it is solid steel. But as I discovered yesterday when I was trying to replace the strike plate; the entire door assembly had not one but two fatal flaws.

A chain, it is said, is only as strong as its weakest link. And in the case of my 150 pound solid steel door it was the two screws (not the required four) that tenuously (at best) held the strike plate to the wall.

And the door opens inwards. Think about that for a minute. So anybody like me who has ever taken close look at one of these doors would very quickly come to the conclusion that it would only take two hard smacks with a sledge hammer (at the lock) to knock the door in and open.

This wouldn’t be the case if the door opened out because then someone would have to pry the door open from the outside which would be a much more difficult operation even with a potentially weak strike plate.

My home security all this time has been a complete illusion. (And by my reckoning, someone deserves a serious beating).

So I fixed it. I replaced the lock and the strike plate and for extra security put an additional hasp, staple, and padlock on the door in another place. I wore out two and broke yet a third steel drill bit. And it took 4 hours and just as many trips to the hardware store. But the piece of mind was worth it.

Oh, and I pointed the oversized padlock up instead of letting it hang – as they more traditionally do – down. I wanted the big old padlock to be seen by whoever it is that might think to want to break through that door.

After all, security to a certain extent is still an illusion.