A quick trip to Phoenix, Arizona results in two JimandJamie.com posts. That’s what I call a successful weekend. Thanks, American Airlines.
Apparently American Airlines has become quite hoity-toity while I wasn’t looking. The rack in the seat in front of you is now reserved for “Literature only.” Unfortunately my rack was empty. I didn’t even get a copy of the airline magazine. Just a tattered copy of the emergency evacuation guide.
UPDATE: Now that I’ve given this a little more thought I think it might be a really good idea. Schools don’t teach shit anymore, so the airlines could perform a huge public service by offering the classics to their customers. “April is Greek Epic Month” or “July is Russian Novel Month.” And for shorter, commuter flights, maybe “November is Japanese Haiku Month.” Delta Airlines, headquartered in Atlanta, could offer “Gone With the Wind.” Alaska Airlines could stock “Call of the Wild.” Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, both headquartered in Dallas, could offer “Lonesome Dove.” That kind of thing.
More photos and stories from the Archives:
We still can’t get back to Australia because of Wuhan Flu quarantine rules, but that doesn’t mean we can’t visit via the Wayback Machine.
Let’s begin this amateur psychiatric session with an admission: I am terrified of heights. Far as I know, it’s my only irrational fear.
Many years ago, while on a driving trip through New Zealand, my girlfriend and I stopped along the side of the road because we saw lunatics jumping off the old Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge just east of Queenstown. The bridge stood about 150 feet above the river. After a few minutes of watching this spectacle from the side of the road, we circled back to the adjacent parking lot and walked out onto the bridge to get a closer view of the complete lunatics who were willing not just to jump off the bridge, but to pay a pretty penny for the privilege.
Insane, I thought. Why would anyone jump off a bridge? Yet we stood there completely transfixed. Every time someone took a leap, my stomach also took a leap. I didn’t even like standing on the bridge looking down and absolutely could not imagine tying flexible cords to my ankles and stepping off the edge of that rickety platform.
Flash forward to 1991. I had saved up several years of unused vacation time and took off for six weeks in Cairns, Queensland up on Australia’s tropical northeast coast, nuzzled up against the famous Great Barrier Reef.
A few miles north of Cairns, just off Highway 1, was a huge sign that said “BUNGY JUMPING” with an arrow that pointed into the rainforest. I pulled into the parking lot and walked a few hundred feet through the rainforest to the base of an immense arch built specifically for bungy jumping tourists. It looked like a steampunk version of the St Louis Arch, but was tall enough that its peak jutted up above the rainforest canopy.
From an observation deck at the floor of the rainforest, I again watched the spectacle of lunatics jumping off the platform at the top of the arch, plummeting down toward a large pond, reaching the end of the cord, and then gently bouncing back up and down until they finally came to a stop, at which point they were lowered downward by the workers at the top of the arch, and helped into a boat sitting in the pond.
I never considered jumping. The mere thought of standing at the top of that arch and looking down was enough to terrify me.
Over the course of the next five weeks, I stopped in to watch these lunatics several more times and then at the beginning of my final week of vacation I thought It’s time for me to conquer my irrational fear of heights. I need to do this.
The next morning I stopped to watch again. But I could not will myself to take any action.
The following morning I attempted to climb the tower to the upper observation deck, but only got about halfway up before fear took over and I had to cling to the railing to descend back to the floor of the rainforest.
The third morning I tried again and finally got all the way up to the observation deck.
The fourth morning I once again got to the observation deck and this time I stayed longer, watching daredevils take their leaps. I forced myself to spend some time speaking to the guys whose job was tying the bungy cords to the jumpers ankles and giving them instructions on how to jump. They were an outgoing bunch of guys and assured me that bungy jumping was fun and easy and that none of their customers had ever been injured.
“You should try it,” one of them insisted.
“Now,” said another.
“Tomorrow,” I responded. “I’ll come back tomorrow and do it.” I just wasn’t ready.
The next morning I told myself This is it. I’m flying home to America tomorrow and this is my last chance to overcome my fears. I drove to the bungy jumping arch, parked my car and walked up to the outdoor counter where the company’s clerks collected the jumpers’ money and helped them fill out the necessary paperwork.
All jumpers were required to fill out a detailed ID form, not so much for safety but so that the company could match the jumper with the action photos it included in the package price. The bored young woman at the counter was filling it out my form and the conversation went something like this:
“Color of shorts?”
“Color of shirt?”
“Too late,” she said dryly. “I already wrote gray.”
Bitch. My hair was obviously the same reddish brown it had been since the day I was born. Thanks to her I hadn’t even made it to the first step of the tower and my day had already been ruined.
Paperwork completed and ego completely crushed, I climbed the tower with confidence. I got to the top of the platform, looked around and thought, What the hell was I so worried about? Piece of cake. No problem. No sweat. I can do this.
Want proof? Just look at the photo below. You can see the confidence radiating from every pore of my being, can you not? My face is painted with a cocky smirk. I am invincible.
There were probably a dozen people in line in front of me. One at a time they jumped and I crept closer and closer to jumping platform. Finally it was my turn.
“This is easy,” the young instructor told me. “We have your ankles secured. I want you to step out on the edge of the platform. I’m going to count ‘One! Two! Three! Jump’ and you jump when I say the word. I want you to dive straight out toward the island out there on the horizon. Just one rule: Keep your eyes on that island and do not look down.”
Being the moron I am, I completely disregarded his simple instructions. I stepped out to the edge of the platform and immediately looked straight down into the depths of hell. My testicles did a perfect impression of the French army and went into an immediate, rapid retreat. I was terrified.
“One! Two! Three! Jump!” he hollered. My body swayed outward, but my feet stayed planted on the platform and my hands never left the railing. I didn’t jump.
The instructor laughed. “Let’s try that again,” he patiently instructed. “You jump when I say the word jump. One! Two! Three! Jump!”
Again my feet and hands declined to cooperate. I stood anchored to be tower.
The instructor sighed heavily. I could tell he was very disappointed in me.
“Do you speak any other languages,” he asked.
“A little Spanish,” I said shakily.
“Then let’s try it in Spanish this time. Ready? Uno! Dos! Tres! Hump!”
I laughed but I didn’t budge.
He looked me straight in the eye and attempted to reassure me. “You have nothing to worry about. We’ve never had anyone get hurt. You can do this.” He stepped away and bellowed, “One! Two! Three! Jump.”
I was frozen in place. Completely immobile.
The instructor had clearly had his fill of my cowardice. He came over to my side, put his arm around my shoulder, leaned in closely, and spoke quietly enough that no one else would hear his words. “Hey, buddy,” he said with a bit of disgust in his voice, “Look at all the people in line behind you. Do you see the old ladies? The little girls? They’re all going to step out here and jump off this platform with no problems. Do you really want to embarrass yourself in front of all these people?”
“Now I’m going to count to three and say jump,” he said in a near whisper. “And when I say jump you’re going to jump off that platform. Understand?”
The son of a bitch was a master psychologist. He’d tried all his tricks and finally figured out that I would have no choice if he merely challenged my masculinity.
“One! Two! Three! Jump!”
As I recall from my dismal experience in high school physics, acceleration is equal to meters per second squared. Or something like that. In other words, you go much faster every second that you’re falling than you did in the previous second.
I have a similar, self-devised formula: Terror is also equal to meters per second squared — which means the farther you fall and the closer you get to the ground, the scarier it becomes. You are absolutely convinced the bungy cord attached to your ankles will fail and that you will crash into the ground and die a horrible, bloody, disfiguring death.
Except that didn’t happen. After a couple seconds of sheer terror, I reached the end of the cord, it held, and I began decelerating. And then almost magically, I was able to slap the surface of the water before I began rising back up toward the platform. Gravity is a miraculous thing. It slowed everything down and each bounce was less pronounced than the prior one. It was all over before I knew it and I found myself being lowered into a boat sitting in the pond below.
I felt like Superman. All the fears and doubts that left me frozen atop the platform were immediately replaced by an incredible exhilaration. I could have done it again immediately. I wanted to do it again immediately. I couldn’t wait for that little boat to get me back to shore so I could rush to the check-in desk and get my photos, the ones that would show the world how bravely I had conquered my fears.
I looked at the photo immediately above and beamed. What a freakin’ stud, I thought to myself. Look at that remarkable, perfect form. If this were Olympic gymnastics, the judges would surely cheer and whistle and give perfect 10 scores for my Iron Cross formation.
And then I noticed one horrifying detail — my butt. The photo clearly demonstrated that far from being unafraid, I was so damn scared that I had puckered up and sucked my shorts right up my anal cavity.
I am pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. And now you have photographic evidence.
More great photos from the deYong Archives (that’s the uptown name we’ve given to the cardboard boxes and plastic crates stored in our backyard shed).
During the Great Depression my dad literally flipped a coin to determine if he would head north to Alaska or south to California when he left Montana in search of work. Unfortunately, for him, it came up heads. He packed his bags and headed for the Land of the Midnight Sun.
It’s not like Alaska was more prosperous than the Lower 48, but there is always a market for anyone willing to perform hard physical labor, something he relished. They imported cheap Chinese labor to build the Trans-Continental railroad in the 1860s, but I guess all labor must have been cheap in the Depression because he quickly landed a job laying railroad tracks across the state.
These photos are absolutely spectacular. Don’t you love the sepia tone colors and the beautiful Art Deco-ish edging? That delicate detail provides such a great contrast to the brutal labor my dad and his crew are performing in the photos. They swung sledgehammers all day building railroads across the frozen tundra, for god’s sake. And this, during the Depression, was considered a move up from the farming life he had lived in Montana.
I know he loved hard physical labor, but this must have tested even his resolve. Laying track all day, spending the night at the end of that day’s track, then waking up and doing it all over again the next day. And the next. And the next. All the while battling eagle-sized mosquitos.
He stuck to it for that first summer and into the fall until the weather got so cold that even a Montana boy could no longer find the fortitude needed to continue working outdoors.
This is where the funny part of the story actually begins. The Alaskan winter was too damn cold to swing a sledgehammer a thousand times a day, so my dad quit his job and headed for the big city. He somehow talked his way into a job washing dishes in an Anchorage restaurant, but soon got fired for breaking too many of those dishes. It was the only failure in an otherwise successful life, but it’s not surprising. Hands that swung a sledgehammer outdoors all summer must have been far too calloused and muscled for a delicate job like washing dishes.
At about that same time he received a letter from all his Dutch dairy farmer buddies in Montana inviting him to join them on their trek to Southern California. Voila! The failed washer of Alaskan dishes was transformed into a successful milker of California cows.
He then worked his ass off, established his own dairy, and became moderately prosperous. In fact, by most standards he was probably quite prosperous.
But that lone failure in Alaska nagged at him for each one of the following thirty years. So in the late ‘60s when another couple invited them to tag along on their Alaskan cruise, my dad surprised my mom by saying, “Hell, yes.” They had a wonderful time. They saw whales and fjords and calving glaciers and all the other sights Alaska had to offer. But for every minute my dad was sightseeing, he was also stewing. Finally, the cruise ship passengers were given a free day to explore Anchorage on their own, but instead of shopping or dining with their friends, my dad rented a car and demanded that my mom drive around the city with him in search of the restaurant from which he had been fired decades earlier.
Unbeknownst to my mom, he had tucked their checkbook into his pocket prior to leaving on the cruise. His goal was to find the restaurant, walk in, ask to see the owner, purchase the restaurant, and to then exact his revenge by immediately firing the guy who had so long ago fired him.
Remember that Anchorage had in 1964 suffered an immense 9.4 earthquake, one of the strongest temblors in recorded history. It upended the entire city. Hills appeared where none had stood before. Valleys opened up where they had not previously existed. Roads were twisted beyond recognition. Rivers changed their courses. Many prominent buildings were so damaged that they had to be demolished. In other words, Anchorage was a very different city in 1969 than it had been even five years earlier. And it certainly bore no resemblance to the city he had fled in self-defined shame thirty years earlier.
According to my mom, he drove east up one block, then west down the next one. Then he crisscrossed the city again on all the north-south streets, and with each block he drove he became increasingly frustrated because he could not find that damn restaurant.
“Forget it, Bill,” my mom wisely advised. “The city has changed too much in thirty years. Half of it was destroyed by the earthquake. And the restaurant probably went out of business long ago.”
“Hmmmmph,” he growled and continued his search.
Finally, he gave up and headed dejectedly back for the cruise ship.
My mom summed it all up.
“I don’t blame your boss,” she said. “I wouldn’t let you wash our dishes, either.”
You may look at the photo above and wonder if Jamie has a supermodel doppelgänger. Hardly.
As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve recently been cleaning out our storage shed. We had somehow accumulated dozens of cardboard boxes and plastic crates full of photos and memorabilia and complete crap, which I am now in the process of editing and digitizing. I’ve run across a lot of really interesting stuff that I had completely forgotten. One of those photos takes us back to San Luis Obispo.
We’d been living in the little Central Coast paradise for a couple years when Jamie came home from a luncheon one afternoon to tell me she’d met a photographer. This so-called taker of photos was a friend of a friend and approached her to ask if she’d ever done any modeling. She was all excited because he said he might want to use her in a local ad campaign.
I, of course, being the cynical ad guy that I am, told her it was complete bullshit, that this guy was undoubtedly some fast talking loser and that she had fallen for the oldest line in the world. She was horrified and told me he was a very nice man.
Well, it turns out that she was right and I was wrong. Barry really was a professional photographer and called her a few days later to schedule a photo shoot. Next thing I knew, Jamie’s face, blown up to about ten feet tall, was plastered all over the new Court Street shopping complex. Barry was completely legit, a terrific photographer, and a damn nice guy, to boot.
A few days later, I was driving into town listening to Pete and Joe, the very funny morning team on the local classic rock station, when they went off on a riff about the beautiful woman with the giant head whose photo now graced Court Street. It was a Who’s-On-First kind of exchange with one explaining to the other that it was actually the photo that was huge, not the woman’s head. But nevertheless, they went on and on talking about my wife and I was laughing out loud as I drove down Broad Street.
That afternoon I was getting a persistent knot massaged out of my back and got into a conversation with the new massage therapist. She told me her boyfriend was a local DJ.
“Anyone I would know,” I asked.
“Do you ever listen to KZOZ? He’s Joe of Pete and Joe.”
“I love Pete and Joe,” I responded. “Did you hear their bit this morning about the woman with the giant head down at Court Street?”
“Yes, I did,” she said. “It was hilarious.”
“Well, that giant-headed woman is my wife.”
She told me that Pete and Joe were scheduled to do a remote broadcast from right there at Court Street the following Thursday evening. She suggested that we should walk up and introduce ourselves to see if they recognized Jamie.
KZOZ’s portable studio was set up about half a block from Jamie’s giant head. We walked up to the booth and said, “Hi. Sarah told us to stop in and introduce ourselves.” Pete and Joe glanced very briefly at me, then immediately zeroed in on Jamie. (Something I have become very used to over the years.) They did a double take. They stared at her, then swiveled their heads to look down the block at her photo. They did a couple more double takes before Pete finally sputtered, “Are you the woman with the…with the…with the giant head?”
We all laughed and introduced ourselves. Pete and Joe were just as much fun off the air as they were on.
Now you might think this brings an end to the story of Jamie’s giant head.
But no. This is merely where it takes a decidedly more perverted turn.
Jamie and I were dozing off at about 11:00 one night when her cell phone rang. It was our friend Andy. He told us he was calling from downtown because he had spotted four homeless guys gathered near Jamie’s photo. “Swear to God, Jamie, they were all jerking off on your photo.”
She was disgusted and hung up on him.
The next night Andy called again at about the same time to apologize for what he’d said the night before. “I’m down here by your photo again and there are no homeless guys tonight.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Jamie said.
“Yeah,” he added. “So tonight I’m jerking off on it.”
We really need to upgrade our roster of friends.
UPDATE: I met with Barry, the photographer, one day and told him I wanted that photo of Jamie’s giant head when the campaign finally ran its course. He nabbed it for me and it has now followed us to three different residences. The colors have faded over the years and her skin now has a distinct green tinge, but I love it. Every time we move, Jamie begs me to put it in the trash, but I refuse. How many guys have ten foot tall portraits of their wives?
I was sitting at a Chick-Fil-A enjoying a delicious chicken biscuit breakfast sandwich this morning when I made the terrible mistake of watching this Chevrolet commercial. Before long I was enjoying a delicious chicken biscuit breakfast sandwich with tears rolling down my cheeks.
I made a living in advertising for more decades than I care to count, and I accept that I am now a dinosaur who has outlived my geological era, and that I don’t understand social media and algorithms and all that shit, so there is absolutely no way for me to comprehend what passes as advertising these days. But it seems to me that the highlight, le moment clé, in about a third of current commercials is when someone breaks out into dance. Another third build to someone giving someone else a quizzicle look. The remaining third don’t even bother with that meager effort. It’s as if they simply regurgitate the client’s rough input, call it a day, and then take off for an early lunch. Story telling, my friend, is a lost art.
Don’t get me started. Jamie has to listen to me bitching about it every time there’s a commercial break on TV.
But putting all my old man bitching aside, this is one great commercial. In fact, it’s more than a commercial. It’s a short film.
WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO WATCH THIS COMMERCIAL WITHOUT A HANKY IN YOUR HAND.
Australia has been battling England in cricket for, I don’t know, maybe 150 years. Every other year they play a series of matches to determine who will win The Ashes trophy. We’ve been trying to figure out how to watch the games here in America. Jamie, the family tech expert, finally figured it all out last night just as the first match was about to begin.
One of the world’s best players is England’s Joe Root. It cannot be disputed that he has the best uniform number in the history of sports.
Root 66. Funny boy.
UPDATE: The boys from Oz just destroyed the bloody Brits in a very lopsided game. One down, four to go. Match #2 coming up next Wednesday.
UPDATE #2: Game number two was even more lopsided. It was downright embarrassing for the bloody Limey bastards.
UPDATE #3: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the English, along came game number three. It’s hard to imagine a more one-sided game. The Ashes is a five match series, so the Aussies have retained the treasured trophy by winning the first three games. With a little luck, the English team will suffer two more humiliating defeats.
I’ve been going through dozens of boxes stored in a shed in our backyard. My goal is to get rid of anything that time has transformed into the “Why Am I Saving This?” category, and to combine what’s left into fewer boxes that will then be stored up in the attic.
During this winnowing process I somehow lost my car key. Not just my car key, but my house key, the key to our safe deposit box, and my gym membership pass.
”There are only two possibilities,” I told Jamie. “Either I accidentally dropped them into one of the boxes that went back into storage or I tossed them into the trash with a handful of other stuff.”
The keys had been missing for five days when Jamie found me in the kitchen one morning and said, “How much do you love me?” while dangling my keys in front of my face.
Where had she found them? Buried in a pile of leaves right in front of the trash can. Good thing she spotted them because I’m far less observant than she and I never would have found them.
Look at the photo above. Would you have noticed them atop that pile of leaves?
The kidney stone lottery drew my numbers on the Monday morning before Thanksgiving.
That’s my stone sitting next to the point of a pencil just to give you some perspective about how small they are. To the uninitiated it is almost inconceivable that something so small can cause so much pain.
It’s the third or fourth time (one loses count) I’ve suffered a stone in my life. I seem to get one about every fifteen years or so. So the voice of experience told me exactly what was causing my sudden onset of excruciating pain that Monday morning.
“You about done with that cup of coffee?” I asked Jamie, ”because I need to go to the emergency room.”
The doctors tried to make the stone pass with a variety of treatments but without without any success and without giving me any pain killers. I finally gasped, “Give me morphine,” a request with which they immediately complied. The first dose still didn’t dull the pain so they gave me a second one. (As a side note, I can completely understand how drug addicts become drug addicts. Stick that needle in your arm, push the syringe, and a warm glow suddenly replaces whatever pain you’re suffering.)
I was in ER for a couple hours. After they got the pain under control, they sent me home with an order to drink lots of water and to take an additional pain killer every four hours. Then they handed me a strainer. Considering that the headline on this story is a Biblical reference, I do not believe it would be appropriate to go into any detail as to how the strainer was to be used.
About twenty-four hours later I was the proud father of a bouncing baby kidney stone.
What is a kidney stone and what causes them? Here’s how the Mayo Clinic describes them:
Kidney stones (also called renal calculi, nephrolithiasis or urolithiasis) are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. Diet, excess body weight, some medical conditions, and certain supplements and medications are among the many causes of kidney stones.
Kidney stones can affect any part of your urinary tract — from your kidneys to your bladder. Often, stones form when the urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together.
Coincidentally, we just had plumber out to the house to unplug the drain in our shower. He pulled out several giant wads of unidentifiable gunk out of the drain, screwed the drain cover back on, and said, “It’s a mystery. You never know what will cause a drain to plug up.”
The was roughly the same diagnosis the urologist gave me in the emergency room.
And in yet another wild coincidence, the plumber’s bill was almost exactly the same as the doctor’s.
This is the last photo ever taken of my mom and dad together. It was taken in May 1985 at my first ad agency’s tenth anniversary party. He suffered a heart attack a week later. “I think he was very sick before the heart attack,” my mom said after his death, “but he held on just long enough to go to your party.”
And that somehow leads us to today.
Jamie asked me what I’d like for Christmas. I gave her the same answer I always give when asked that question. “There’s nothing I want, nothing I need. I have everything I could possibly want in life.”
In other words, I have a lot to give thanks for. A lot to be grateful for. I may not have accumulated as much as some other people, but I have more than most.
Back in the late 1930s, my dad and a bunch of his Dutch pals migrated from frigid northwest Montana to sunny Southern California. They began their adult lives milking cows for other dairy farmers, but each of them fanatically saved every penny of their truly hard-earned wages, and they all eventually started their own dairies.
Milking cows is hard, dirty work and no one ever got rich from doing it. Nevertheless, all those Dutch dairy farmers — all except my dad, that is — became extremely wealthy.
How, you may ask. Well, dairies require land, a commodity that was cheap and plentiful in California in the 1940s, so the others bought as much of it as they could afford in hopes that they could use the meager profit they made from milking a small number of cows to buy more cows and sell more milk and then buy more land, ad infintum. I doubt that any of them were economically-savvy enough to anticipate how California’s post-World War II population would boom nor how that boom would impact the value of their land. Much to their surprise, sprawling suburbs soon began encroaching on the dairy properties that once sat in the middle of nowhere. Before long they all became land rich even if they were cash poor. (One of them just happened to begin his dairy a few blocks from a small Southern California amusement park called Knotts Berry Farm. The park grew and expanded and every time he wanted a chunk of cash he sold a couple more acres to the Knott family.)
“I never wanted more than I could handle by myself,” my dad always said. So instead of buying hundreds of acres as his buddies did, he bought twenty. Instead of acquiring thousands of cows, he slowly built his herd from six to one hundred. Instead of hiring dozens of workers to milk cows around the clock, he worked from 4:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night to do all the milking himself.
All of his Dutch dairy farmer buddies were baffled by his attitude. Twenty years later they were still poking fun at him the way guy friends do. “You’re still driving a Buick, Bill, but we’re all driving Cadillacs.” And a decade later, “You’re still driving a Cadillac, Bill, but we’re all driving Mercedes Benz.”
“Maybe so,” he chuckled, ”but everything I own is paid for.”
After they left, I’d look at him and ask, “Don’t you want to be rich like Jake and Hank and Sam?” and he’d respond by saying, “There’s nothing wrong with wanting more, but you should always be happy with what you have.”
I cannot tell you how many times my mom or dad uttered those words. And even more importantly, I cannot begin to estimate how many times they demonstrated that philosophy in their everyday lives. Hearing it called a philosophy probably would have boggled their minds because to them it was just a way to get through life happily.
My first business partner, the guy who founded the ad agency mentioned above, had the opposite point of view. He lived as if he were rich even if he wasn’t. From Monday to Friday he’d tell me, “You are the cheapest man alive.” Then, when I visited my parents on the weekend, my dad would say, “God damn, you just piss your money away.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve given my parents many silent thanks for pounding their remarkably sensible philosophy into my brain. I’ve tried to follow their example and that, I think, is what makes me such a lucky man. I’m just plain happy with what I have. And why shouldn’t I be? I have the best wife in the world. The sweetest little dog in the world. Great friends. Great neighbors. Five wonderful god children. And I was lucky enough to be born in the best time and the best place in the history of the world.
Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.