Do you think a good time to steal bikes off the racks is 7 a.m. on a Tuesday, when the sun has been up for two hours and folks are leaving for work? I don’t, but when I opened the kitchen blinds today I saw a guy doing just that. He looked like a tweeker, dressed in dirty t-shirt and shorts, probably in his forties or fifties although drug abuse ages the skin. He was trying to pry the back wheel off my bike, which was locked to the rack.

I watched this for a moment and thought, “Am I really seeing this?” Most mornings I’ll take a peek out the window to check on the car and the bike, because you figure your stuff will disappear late at night if it disappears at all. I wasn’t prepared for, let alone expecting, to see some bum unscrewing the rear wheel from my bike.

I went back to the bedroom and got dressed and grabbed my keys. I knew confronting the guy was risky, and it made me nervous. But I was just as pissed off, because this brainless jerk decided he wanted my bike, at this moment.

I peeked through the window again. He had given up. My bike was still on the rack, with both wheels. A woman, just as old, just as tweeked out, joined him. She was pushing a bike and carrying a tire with her other hand. They walked around the opposite apartment and to the parking lot.

I went outside and checked my bike. Sure enough, both lug nuts were loose and the wheel was off the frame. Fortunately, the bike lock was wedged between the frame and the rack, with another bike pressed up against mine, preventing the old  tweeker from yanking it off. The two were gone. I took the bike inside and reattached the wheel.

God, what a scene to wake up to. The bike, a cheapo beach cruiser, is brand new.  I bought it less than two weeks ago. My old bike sat on that rack for a year, and nobody touched it. And now this. Obviously, the new bike is spending nights indoors from now on.

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Just so you know, I’m going to Europe for a while. A little treat for myself for finishing four years of college. The wife says I can go but I have to bring back at least one hand-stitched Italian leather bag.

I leave May 18 and return June 11. I’ll be with seven other ASU students, a professor from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication, and a professional photographer. It’s for the Cronkite School’s study abroad program, Cronkite Euro.

23 days. London, Dublin, Belfast, Rome, Florence and points various. Three stories or more, lots of blogging and photos. It will be busy, it will be enlightening, it will be over before I want it to. Alas, said Merlin.

To give you a taste of what’s to come, check out last year’s stories, Faith & Friction: European Cultures in Conflict. This year we’re calling the blog “Bridging Beliefs.” Bam!

Epigrams

March 17, 2010

March 14, 2007:

Jesse of Auto Glass, you provide me with a service

You have a skill I do not, and yet

Your lack of smarts makes me nervous.

April 20, 2007:

To you in the white Bonneville with license number PSA

Why were you so rude and impatient on the road today?

Thanks for cutting me off, now please go away.

July 2, 2007:

Spending a week in Xanadu again, after a three-year absence

With games and friends and drink

Yes, it’s good to be here, thank you for asking.

Sept. 25, 2007

Talking heads warn of global warming, bird flu, nuclear war,

But people are the problem, so is extinction really going too far?

Yet the sooner the earth removes us, the sooner earth raises the bar.

Oct. 16, 2007

This nation celebrates the stupid and shallow

Scorns the gentlemen, and their ways will not allow

But we’re having a renaissance, with good times to follow!

Fragment 001

March 6, 2010

I have always hesitated to move about in the countryside at night, and a recent moonlit hour’s encounter only reinforced my hesitation to step outside my door in the dark hours. I had gone out at a later hour than I wont for some business or other. And while passing on the main road (or what passes for a main road in the countryside; these bucolic lanes are most definitely not the busy paths of the cities!) with farmlands all around me, I felt a strange sadness. Perhaps it was the emptiness of the landscape. The ground had been freshly turned and presented itself to me as a single level black plane. Some miles away I could see the simple homes of the farmers, with warm yellow light coming from the windows. I could imagine the farmer and his family sitting at their table having their dinner, or relaxing under a candle with a book or game. But I was alone on the path, with not even a taper to light my way. Why, I knew these lanes so well, I did not need to light my way. That, and I will admit it, I did not want my bobbing torch to take the attention of unwanted passersby in the night. Now I know that the walkers of the night hours will pass me by whether I catch their attention or not! For this night, moving with soft footsteps on the hard earth of the path, with a half-moon draped in cottony gray clouds overhead, with the night sky the same black as my ink, and the few stars visible shining brightly, all this above, and around me the flat dark empty spaces of farms, I found another walker, going the opposite direction! I knew the creature was approaching before I saw it; a sudden clammy fear fell on my chest. It moved like the early morning mists one sees at times, after a cool nighttime monsoon. Above, the strips of clouds slid away and the intense white moonlight fell upon the lane. It illuminated the dusty footprints and scattered clods of dirt with a sort of cold and soft white light, giving an exhilarating but uneasy glow to all. It was the moonlight that revealed the creature’s eyes. The moonlight reflected off the bobbing pair of eyes, like red glinting discs, further up the lane. I admit, I did hesitate, but I continued to walk. If the creature saw my stopping for an instant I do not know. Perhaps it saw the sudden nervousness of my gait. I whispered prayers under my breath and with my right hand made the sacred signs. And then I saw the creature in its entirety! Like a wolf it was, one of those gray, lean quick-looking beasts of the hills. Its hide was a shaggy gray mixed with white. The body looked much longer than I should think a wolf should be. The beast moved with a slow, tired gait. It seemed burdened with terrible secrets and truths. And now I did not fear it. I pitied it. The sense of loneliness the spectral wolf put in me is indescribable. Here was a creature of the night, wandering empty dark paths while good men sleep in their beds. It seemed to crave solace, or solitude, but was forever walking the lanes and paths of the countryside. Perhaps it was the cursed soul of a doomed man, a mendicant? A man who walked the world to rid himself of his sins, and after death a horrible thing happened to his spirit, and he walks still. I admit, I could look at the creature for but an instant. Its wraith’s step on the lane, and the heavy sense of despair and loneliness, and the misty weightlessness of its body, and how all these things clashed against my senses, was too much for my poor frightened fool’s mind. And my heart! I looked away, and hurried on up the path. Only now do I feel guilty for having done this. For would not this lonely spirit, having encountered by chance a fellow lonely wanderer, have not felt a fleeting, glinting hope? A flash of hope for friendship? But I ran away from it. I tell myself I must go out into the lanes again. I wish to apologize for my slight, for it is an ugly thing to turn away one in such pain. But I fear this strange creature would not want to see me again, after my offense.

On Despair

March 6, 2010

It’s a trite lyric, but true: Sometimes it’s hard to be a man.

It’s hard because we expect a man to be strong and to do the right thing. And doing the right thing is hard. Doing the wrong thing, or doing nothing at all, is easier. It’s easy to give up on responsibilities and duties and live like an animal. I know it’s easy, because I meet dozens of people every day who have done just that. I don’t know many true individuals. People are everywhere; human beings, not so much.

I am a human being. I am aware I exist and I ask why. I have dreams and fears and goals. I believe in doing what is right and accepting that comes with a sacrifice. I love my friends and family. I respect and admire intelligence and independence.

My upstairs neighbors are everything I am not. They have no talents to develop or ambition for anything beyond skateboarding and partying. They do not work or attend school. They produce noise and garbage, not thoughts or love. They choose to exist like this–I can’t call this living–and believe they are happy with it.

I despair for the price I pay to be a thinking human being, and I despair for what my neighbors have given up. In that, we are similar. And that also makes me despair.

With apologies to Kierkegaard.

On Mornings

January 18, 2010

I am a morning person. Oh sure, I like sleeping in more than waking up to an alarm clock (didn’t some medical study say waking up to an alarm clock means you are getting less sleep than you need, because you are forcing yourself awake? But I digress). But I feel guilty if I am still in bed at 9 a.m. I feel there is too much to do, too much I am missing out on. I want to be up and about in the mornings.

Not in the early mornings, mind. The way I see it, the next hour after midnight should be 6 a.m. Everyone should get eight hours of shut-eye before climbing out of the sheets; nothing less will do. In boot camp in summer 2001, we hit the racks at 10 p.m. and crawled out at 4 a.m. I hope to never repeat that.

But the mornings, all these mornings …

Mornings, to me, represent a clean slate. My day is wide open before me, a good 12 hours of possibilities. Even if I already have a schedule drawn up–work, school, whatever–I can look at the clock in the late a.m. and think of the huge stretch of time before me, and everything I can accomplish within it.

Run errands. Read a book. Write a letter. Go on a long walk. Go out for breakfast. Read the paper over coffee. Do housework. I look at the time, and think about how much I can accomplish before lunchtime, because the second meal of the day is its own pleasure.

The morning in a time to drink in the many possibilities of the day; a time to reflect on the previous day’s accomplishments, and on the accomplishments yet to come. A morning is wasted if you stay in bed to sleep. And I feel sorry for those folks who work the graveyard shift; keeping busy while others sleep is its own experience, but I will take greeting the morning sun, the dew on the grass, the cool sweet smell of the air, over the night shift any day.

Possibility, opportunity, probability; that is the morning to me. The 12 hours ahead of me are a gift, and I want to use them in a memorable way. I want to reflect on a certain day long into the future, and think, “Ah, that was a good morning!” I want to remember it in a sensual way: the smells, the sights, the sounds. Walking down your street in the bright clean a.m. hours is its own experience. The fresh scrubbed look of the sky, and the sweet wet smell of the air, is there for you. Remember it.

On Nostalgia

January 4, 2010

There are three places I’d rather be right now. There’s Plymouth, Minn., circa summer 1997.  There’s Diego Garcia, circa fall 2002. There’s Tokyo, circa spring 2005.  I have an abundance of fond memories of each of these places, and they look warm and inviting and happy compared to the present ennui of right now, right here.

What I miss and enjoy about Minnesota, when comparing with Arizona, are the four real seasons, the abundance of lakes and woods, the small farming towns. Every time I visit Minnesota I want to go out and wander and explore, even if it’s just through some lakeside suburb. I want to get off the park trail and go romping through the woods and hills, go swim in the lakes and paddle across ponds, look for fish and birds and beetles. Watching the grid-like streets of Phoenix, with the ugly haze of L.A.’s smog hanging above the unimpressive downtown skyline, I think of Minnesota.

Diego Garcia is a tiny coral atoll right smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and unless you join the military and receive orders to go there, you will never see this place. Life on a tiny tropical island is something I used to dream of; for 13 months I lived the dream. Constant warm, balmy days, afternoon snorkeling in the lagoon reefs, weekend cookouts with tuna and grouper caught only hours before, and bottles of rum passed between friends. My buddies from journalism school joined me in making creative and weird radio and TV spots. We were unfettered, or something close to it.

Tokyo, like Minnesota, was another case of wanderlust and an unquenchable appetite for wonder. I could go in any direction and find something new. The narrow winding streets of Japanese cities are unlike the dull avenues of Phoenix, all dirt lots between rundown properties behind cookie-cutter McMansions. The Japanese train system is the world’s best, and it could take me to any point on the main island of Honshu. I wasn’t satisfied with only riding the express train to the big intersections of Tokyo, where all the tourists and beautiful people went. Riding a tiny car on a ten-stop line, passing houses and two-story apartment buildings and ramen shops and little boutiques and bakeries, was an equally satisfying experience. I knew that millions of people all around me had stories to tell, and I wanted to hear them all. I wanted to know the secrets to be found in alleyway Buddhist shrines, in the top floors of skyscrapers, in the lobbies of Yokohama hotels and in two-chairs-only hair salons in the Tokyo outskirts.

And yet I can, with little effort, dredge up unwanted memories of negative moments of all three places. In fact, there were times when I was supremely unhappy in my nostalgic places: middle school/junior high, when I was 13 to 15, were the absolute worst three years of school, hands down. Minnesota seemed like a lousy place to be in, at least if you had to go to school. The mere sight of the bus coming down the street to pick me up made me feel sick. While passing 13 months on Diego Garcia I grew bored with working the daily newscast and jealous of the radio crew, who had such easier–and shorter–work days. And I had a passive-aggressive troll for a boss, who made all the TV crew miserable. In Japan, I first felt alienated and misunderstood, pure culture shock for months, and meanwhile I was surrounded by drunk horny brutes on a Navy base I didn’t want to belong to and sharing a room with a lout I couldn’t stand.

I don’t bring those memories up. Not voluntarily, at least. Why would I? I didn’t enjoy those moments when they happened, so why bother reliving them? Rather, I keep the good moments at bay, because losing these memories would make me sad. Nostalgia is deceptive and misleading, but there is nothing I can do about that; and, indeed, I accept what nostalgia works. You see, while I want to visit Tokyo and Minnesota again, I have no desire to see Diego Garcia. That was such a special time and place to be a part of, and the isolation made it its own microscopic world. Going back, I can only be disappointed by how much has changed, and how who I was in 2002 has no business there today. Not so Tokyo and Minnesota. Those places are too big; there are too many places in each still to explore. Let me share some memories with you.

On Leadership

January 2, 2010

I have served under leaders and I have endured under managers. To lead is not to manage, and to manage is not to lead. I manage my sock drawer, I organize my book collection, I expedite my housework. I do not do these things with human beings. I lead, I enlighten, I inspire the persons who have elected to follow my leadership. For this, I am duty-bound to do well for them. To disappoint is to violate their trust.

In the Navy, the officers give the orders and the chiefs see that they are carried out. A Chief Petty Officer is a leader. The men and women who wear the khaki and gold anchor have earned it. In military jargon, CPO is E-7; that is, the seventh of the enlisted ranks. It’s up there, beneath only E-8, E-9 and the one and only E-10. I worked with chiefs, and sometimes I worked with people who just held the E-7 rank. Leaders and managers.

Leaders earn the respect of their followers. Managers begrudge respect, and that respect is only for the title or authority, not the individual. I do not want to be this. I do not enjoy people who are like this.

Leaders will make the strongest and hardest effort because leaders must set the example for their followers. Managers confuse their authority with their responsiblity; they see their people as abstracts or tools and not individuals; they think of how sacrifices and efforts will advance their title and not as recognition of subordinates’ strengths.

Leaders expect to make sacrifices because their responsiblity demands it. Managers expect compensation and privileges because they are in management. Leaders are direct, proactive and give opportunities for their followers to learn and grow and to be leaders themselves. Managers obfuscate and delay; they use passive voice and buzzwords to soften bad news, conceal ignorance and conflate responsibility.  Leaders say, “I want you to do this.” Managers write memos that read, “It has been decided that …”

Leaders give; managers take. Leaders inspire; managers diminish. I can’t manage you. You can lead me. Let’s do good work together.

Introduction

January 2, 2010

So. My name is David Olson, and this is my blog. I am a public relations senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and closer to 30 than I am to 20 (as of this writing).  Some numbers: I have been married for 3.5 years, I served in the Navy for 5 years, and have been a veteran for 4. I read books in large numbers and watch TV rarely. I enjoy solitude as a pleasure and seclusion as a privilege, so do not expect many posts on popular culture. I have many thoughts and ideas and I will attempt to share them here. Do not expect Genius material from me; the best thought I ever had was to accept I know very little. But I am learning all the time. Join me.