Irksome Revelation

Longtime San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan retired last week. The 40-year-old forward was one of the oldest players on the court; he had spent his entire 19-year NBA career on the Spurs. “It wasn’t any fun any more,” he said.

You can be washed up as a basketball player at 30 or as a race car driver by 50 but the Stones and Chicago and show you can still be a rock star at 70.

Robert Lamm who may be the youngest of the old rockers is the old man of Chicago; he was born in 1944. There’s a long list. Mick Jagger was born in 1943. Paul McCartney, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson (born 1942). Eric Burdon, Paul Simon and Artie Garfunkel (born 1941). Ringo (born 1940). Dion (born 1939). And Leonard Cohen, forced by finances to go back on tour in 2008, was born in 1934.

Chuck Berry (born 1926) will perform his 207th show at Blueberry Hill in his native St. Louis on August 13.

“So do you think you should’ve been a rock star?” SWMBO asked. “With the drugs, sex, fame, fortune and all that annoying crap? Because you want to be on the road at 70?”

Jeez. Sex, fame, fortune. When you put it that way…

The full Social Security benefit age — the unofficial official retirement age in the U.S. — is 66 for people born in 1943-1954; it gradually rises to 67 for those born in 1960 or later.

Huh. I turn 67 this week so I did the “fun” test, too. First I had to list what I actually do. Alphabetically, of course.

  • Goof off
  • Invent stuff
  • Keep an Arts Council going
  • Photograph stuff
  • Renovate houses
  • Repair houses
  • Run a small business with engineering and IT clients
  • Stage concerts
  • Travel
  • Write other stuff

I like to be on stage but I never wanted to be a rock star. My hands aren’t big enough to hold a basketball but I never wanted to play ball. I was a race car driver and would still do it if someone would pay me but it’s tough to win as we get older.

Upside Down Camaro Races at LeMonsDangerous, too. Ove Andersson was a Swedish rally driver and the first head of Toyota’s F1 program who died at 70 in a vintage rally crash in South Africa. Bob Akin, journalist, television commentator, and champion sports car driver, was killed at 66 in a crash while testing a Nissan GTP for the Walter Mitty Challenge. J. D. McDuffie, 52, died in a crash at the Glen. Dale Earnhardt was almost 50 when he died in a crash at Daytona. Neil Bonnett died at 47 when he returned to racing after retiring.

Still, Morgan Shepherd took the wheel of the Number 52 Toyota at age 71 and became the oldest driver ever to start a race in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series and became the second-oldest NASCAR Cup winner (after Harry Gant) when he won in Atlanta at the age of 51. He had made his Cup debut in 1970 but, even with no chance to grab a competitive ride, he still has no plans of slowing down.

OK, no slowing down, just changing direction.

  • I’ve already spent entirely too much time doing Windows 10 upgrades this month and didn’t have any fun. Some of my IT clients have already retired and I have now passed all but one of the rest to a really great shop in St Albans. Cool. IT Department will close this year.
  • I like goofing off. Keep.
  • Ditto inventing stuff, photographing stuff, renovating stuff, traveling, and writing other stuff. I should do more of that and improve the workflow so I have time to do #2.
  • I’m ready. If I never have to fix anything in an old house again, I’d have time to do #2 and #3.
  • I like the arts and enjoy the people but I’m not in North Puffin enough any more to do it justice.

Volunteer Chief Cook and Bottle Washer Needed
Longtime local arts service organization chair is stepping down. The search starts now. Inquire within.

“When I start hitting the wall or something, then maybe it’s time to get out,” Mr. Shepherd told Sports Illustrated in 2013.

Morgan Shepherd gives us all hope innit. Maybe we could race a little again, too?



Wow. I turned 66 this year. I can smell my impending 50th high school reunion and I’ve long passed my 40th college. I founded an arts council 33 years ago. George Orwell and I started a business 31 years ago. It’s six years since I shaved my head. A year since I qualified for Medicare. A day since I reached “full retirement age.”

Today is Monday, July 20, the 201st day of 2015. On this day 46 years ago, astronaut Neil Armstrong took one small step …

I’ve had an epiphany. I don’t want to retire. Mostly.

My mom had a real problem when I turned forty. “How can a 39-year-old woman have a 40-year-old son,” she asked me. My own son mentioned that he’s just eight years from retirement.

Say what???

My mom was about my age now when she stepped out on Gay Street in West Chester and darned near got run over by a cab.

“The headline in the Daily Lack of News flashed before my eyes,” she told me: “‘Elderly woman smushed by hack’.”


I don’t like the idea that this is middle age, let alone geezerhood, this time when before a hard day of yard work my manly brain feels like 40 and after a hard day of yard work my manly body feels like 80. I suppose it’s justified.

Or maybe I just need some exercise. I almost put “more” there, but I am supposed to be a teller of truths.

I need to plan for my mid-life crisis.

I’m getting stale in my job and in the arts council. When I ran for the Legislature, I campaigned for term limits. Staleness was one of the reasons I gave.

So I’m making lists. Lists of the things I want to do, lists of the things I don’t, and lists of the things that would be fun but I won’t. It’s interesting (to me) that the lists seem to have stuff that belongs on a resume, rather than stuff that belongs on a tombstone. I don’t know what’s up with that. One interesting exercise is over here in the form of a “did ya do it” list.

The BIG chunk of my life that I spent goofing off in school, hanging around noisy greasy places like race tracks, and pursuing wanton women–usually shamelessly and usually unrequitedly–was only a single decade.

A long time ago I discovered that my ideal job was to be paid (handsomely) to sit around being a Very Smart Person. People in my company (and even others) could seek me out and pose questions. After appropriate rumination, I would — in Carnac-brilliance — provide answers. A Fortune 500 company is the best place to have that happen. Big companies or even divisions of same have the necessary support staffs to keep a smart person looking smart.

I do sit around now being a Very Smart Person. People do seek me out and pose questions. And after rumination, I do provide answers with appropriate fanfare. I guess the down side, and the reason this job is not satisfying enough, is that I am also the support staff required to keep this smart person looking smart. Google has become a lifeline.

Although that is still my ideal, I haven’t found a Fortune 500 willing to provide the desk. Of course, the search might go faster if I actually, well, looked.

It’s still up there on my list.


Race cars. Probably not even vintage. BTDT. Have the Nomex long johns. They still fit. If I stretch them a little.

Get a pilot’s license. Can’t afford it.

Race boats. That’s like racing cars in three dimensions.


Plenty of examples but really just one category. I went south last fall and discovered I needed to repair my roof. I came north this spring and discovered I needed to replace the water heater and fix the lawnmower.

The category? Home repairs. BTDT. I’d like to retire from that.


Twenty-mumble years ago, I ran for the state legislature. I still like the idea of telling people what to do, but the gamesmanship has gotten worse and it just doesn’t interest me today.

Work at Walmart.

Work in a factory. Been there, done that, have the scars.


It’s time for a little shift. I’ve been putting more emphasis on the commercial side of my photography so I have an online gallery and everything, but you can still buy a photo from me direct. And I’ll keep on telling stories. And solving universal questions like why can’t we teach kids to do math.

My big epiphany is pretty simple. Like most folks, I’ve found that the things I don’t want to do keep getting in the way of the things I do. I need a support staff so here’s your chance.

HELP WANTED: Support staffer able to raise enough business to keep me in the guru seat and the rest of the staff employed.

Easy peasy!

The Proust Questionnaire
I believe Marcel Proust answered these questions every five years:
• what do you consider your greatest achievement?
• what is your idea of perfect happiness?
• what is your current state of mind?
• what is your favorite occupation?
• what is your most treasured possession?
• what or who is the greatest love of your life?
• what is your favorite journey?
• what is your most marked characteristic?
• when and where were you the most happiest?
• what is it that you most dislike?
• what is your greatest fear?
• what is your greatest extravagence?
• which living person do you most despise?
• what is your greatest regret?
• which talent would you most like to have?
• where would you like to live?
• what do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
• what is the quality you most like in a man?
• what is the quality you most like in a woman?
• what is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
• what is the trait you most deplore in others?
• what do you most value in your friends?
• who is your favorite hero of fiction?
• who are your heroes in real life?
• which living person do you most admire?
• what do you consider the most overrated virtue?
• on what occasions do you lie?
• which words or phrases do you most overuse?
• if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
• what are your favorite names?
• how would you like to die?
• if you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
• what is your motto?


Tool Guy

Over the years I’ve built cars and houses and boats and batteries and computers and …

OK, you get the idea.

Over the years I’ve collected a lot of tools. A couple of them would go home at the end of the day but most went back in the toolbox or chest where they belong.

Over this summer I’ve had a little plumbing project.

Advertising Image of Bosch Power ToolsStop it, Harper! This isn’t the Story of O. This is the story of Dick the Tool Guy.

My great grandfather Barnard the farmer-engineer built cooling tunnels and had a small-gauge steam train on tracks in the front yard. He had tools. My grandfather Harper the station master built a wood shop in the baggage room of his station where he made lovely cabinets. He had more tools. My dad rebuilt most of our boat from that wood shop but he later moved it to our chicken coop where he made exquisite tables and more. This Vermont house has a nice 19th Century barn that I converted to my shop when we moved here.

I inherited and kept some of the tools my dad inherited. I inherited and kept all of his tools. And I’ve managed to buy one or two of my own.

Oddly, my dad and I shared most of the same tool preferences although he was a southpaw and always a Ford guy and I’m not. Still, you can’t tell the difference between his hand tools and mine. And I didn’t like my grandfather Harper’s hand tools but I did keep his Shopsmith.

I started the real assemblage when I started building race cars. In fact, the bed of my 22-foot long, green 1973 Chevy crew cab was more workshop than anything for the years we used it to haul race cars. The centerpiece of that was a stacked mechanic’s roller cabinet. The truck is long gone but I still have the tool box and now I’ve mostly duplicated them with my dad’s. (I got out of racing when it became apparent I’d need an 18-wheeler instead of a pickup).

Power tools are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

My dad was also a table saw guy. I lurve my radial arm. Now I have three table saws, the Shopsmith, and, natch, a good 12″ radial arm saw. Each one has its strong points although I find myself using one of the table saws more than the radial because I can put it on the jobsite while the radial sits in the barn.

Speaking of power saws, I somehow ended up with four circular saws; I bought one in 1975 and another a quarter century later. And two industrial Sawzalls. And three jigsaws which he always called “saber saws.” My dad was also a bandsaw guy. He had one that now lives in the very back of my hut, the outdoor cinderblock storeroom in South Puffin. He used it a lot but in all of my projects, I’ve never had enough reason to drag it out; it always seemed easier to cut that curve with a jigsaw. I bought a bandsaw on a super sale 20 years ago. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’ve never set it up.

I have three air compressors but only one pneumatic framing nailer. And one air hammer. A straight line air sander. A rotary air sander. Two impact wrenches, though, one air and one electric.

Other than the bandsaw, all of my own tools have arrived in response to a job: working on cars, building a boat or a cabinet in the barn, modeling a robot, building a bunch of float chargers.

The plumbing project also turned into a wiring project. The hole I had to dig in the kitchen floor stumped me, though. The original floor boards laid in 1855 or so were not quite as smooth as we expect for modern kitchen needs such as vinyl or cork or laminate or tile. The design isn’t conducive to using a (rented) floor sander and I knew I’d get wavy results (and a mess) with the big 9″ disc grinder or my belt sander and I’m way too lazy to use a jack plane on the whole bloody floor.

Ah ha!

What a perfect opportunity to buy a 3-1/4″ power planer. I’ve resisted that particular impulse in the past, simply because I didn’t need it. Until now. It did just what I needed and now I have another power tool.

Recently, I’ve been thinking I should have an oscillating multifunction power tool, too. And I really want a milling machine



4 Years Ago I Couldn’t Even Spell Engineer and Now I Are One

My granddaughter took a couple of online personality tests. One, she said, simply to determine what type of personality she has and the other to think a little bit about a career path.

She got engineer in the first.

She got engineer in the second.


“The fact that Boppa is an engineer actually made me think about it,” she said.

On this day named for Laborers on which we do no Work, I’ll talk about engineering. And what I do for work.

I’ve had vocations or avocations in a dozen different fields. From the time my folks bought a little 21′ plywood cabin cruiser, I wanted to be a belly button designer; I spent my time in high school laying out boats. Lots of boats.

Stevens recruited me with their naval architecture program and access to the renowned Davidson Lab towing tank and marine research facility. Once I got there, I found out that naval architecture was a graduate program that taught us how to lay buildings on their sides and make them float.

I.Am.Not.A.Civil.Engineer. I’ve never, ever wanted be a civil engineer. Heck, I’m just barely civilized. And I certainly didn’t want to design floating bridges to carry bulk ore (although a floating skyscraper presents some intriguing hurdles).

I am an engineer but … I founded and chair a regional arts council with a popular summer music series.

I am an engineer but … I taught swimming so I could get out of gym class in college.

I am an engineer but … I made beer cans. Millions of them.

I am an engineer but … I competed in SCCA National races (the National runoffs are back in California next month for the first time since Riverside in 1968) and built a couple of race cars.

I am an engineer but … I’ve painted pictures with words and told stories with photographs for decades. I write a weekly newspaper column. And this blog. And other stuff. My photography and digital art hangs around the United States.

I am an engineer but … I taught for Vermont Colleges.

I am an engineer but … I’ve run boats up to 65′ long offshore and along the Intracoastal Waterway.

I am an engineer but … I managed a movie theater.

I am an engineer but … I’m a pretty good cook, despite the fact that Rufus thinks I dirty too many dishes.

There is almost no job that doesn’t benefit from an engineering degree. I know teachers and priests and lawyers and doctors, a ChemEng who has been the Tech guy-in-charge for decades for Great Performances and for the Metropolitan Opera, and a (former) president of a South America country all of whom were graduated from Stevens. One of my roommates there is an electrical contractor. One handled international patents for Bell Labs. The third was a spook.

Back to belly button design.

Engineering is a ball if the math and science excites you and, even more than that, if you just can’t pass some gadget without need not only to know how it works but also how to make it better.

Maybe it shouldn’t be “I am an engineer but …” Maybe it should be “Because I am an engineer …”

Because I am an engineer… I’ve invented a faucet and a table saw table and so much more.

Because I am an engineer… I designed and built the machines that make the batteries in the forklift that transports the Amazon package that showed up on your door. I designed and built a stacker that built great piles of Playboys and TVGuides and best selling novels.

Because I am an engineer… I designed and built a 30′ family sportboat with a catamaran hull. Belly button design at its finest.

Being an engineer isn’t labor. Because I am an engineer, I’m able to do art, and build and run boats, and make beer cans, and manage the movies, and race cars, and teach swimming and computers, and write, and photograph and paint, and more. Because I am an engineer, I have fun.



I got to thinking about them as people told me about geezerhood and codgerness this past week.

“Age is just a number.”

There’s some truth to that, although I’ve never heard anyone under 20 say it. In a much earlier op-ed, I wrote about the different important but arbitrary ages. These limit the minimum age at which we humans can take part in some exciting activity:

• 16 gets a driver’s license in most states. Most boys wish it were 14; most parents, 35.
18 is the minimum age to be eligible to vote in a public election. Except it used to be 21. Or 16 in Takoma Park, Maryland.
• 21 is the youngest one can be to drink because the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 withholds revenue from states if they let anyone under that age buy booze. Despite the Internoodle rumor, it is not true that the minimum legal drinking age will be raised to 25 as of August 2.
• 35 is the minimum of gray hair allowed to be President although in practice Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest person to assume office at age 42. JFK was 43-5/8. Mr. Clinton was 46-1/2.
• 65 is retirement age. Except when it isn’t. It turns out you can collect partial Social Security at 62 but full retirement is older than 65 for anyone born after 1937. Medicare, however, kicks in at 65.

By now you may have guessed that I have attained each of those arbitrary numbers and now I have a problem: I don’t know how to be a codger.

Codger /n/ käj-r — an elderly man, especially one who is old-fashioned or eccentric.

OK, I’m sometimes old-fashioned and usually eccentric but I was that way 30-40 years ago.

The Torch Bearers, a sculpture by Anna Huntington on the Stevens Institute campus

“Horsemanship through the history of all nations has been considered one of the highest accomplishments. You can’t pass a park without seeing a statue of some old codger on a horse.”
–Will Rogers

That’s another good one, but the closest I’ll get to being that behorsed statue was painting the one at Stevens.

Now, a geezer wants to drive as slow as possible. A true geezer will pick a speed ahead of time, say, seventeen miles an hour, and drive that speed under all conceivable conditions, no matter where, no matter what. With the turn signal on. A geezer will put the turn signal on when he buys the car and then just leave it on until he trades it in. The geezer car is actually three to four normal-size cars welded together. It should be much bigger than anything else on the road, or even the road itself. The hood should be so big that it’s impossible for the driver to tell what lane he’s in, sometimes even what zip code he’s in, by merely looking out the window. Planes could take off and land on the hood of the geezer car.
–Dave Barry

OK, I admit I don’t drive as fast as I did when racing, but that happened when I discovered how much I hate paying $3.799/gallon for all that gas. I still managed to beat the Coco Plum land speed record in a Lotus a couple of years ago.

The problem is that there is no Federal educational program for geezerhood. This leads to an inevitable conclusion. I have discovered, to my great pleasure, that geezerhood arrives a minimum of 10 years after one’s current age.

Liz Arden says that’s OK. I’m just a codger-in-training.

The real milestones are our losses in my birthday week:
Actor James Garner died of natural causes at home on Saturday night. He was 86. From Maverick and Rockford to Grand Prix, he was one of my favorites. And I have long used his answering machine message.
Astronaut and test pilot Henry Hartsfield died at 80. He commanded Discovery and Challenger missions.
John Melvin was an engineer, academic and racing safety expert in NASCAR.
Actress Elaine Stritch.
And Heinz Zemanek who developed the first complete transistorized computer in Europe and defined the programming language PL/1.