Earth Day, Dr. Seuss, and handicapped parking

For some in our society, today – April 22 – is a religious holiday.  They dedicate this day to the worship of Mother Earth.  Therefore, without further comment, I will simply reprint here a Letter to the Editor that I wrote, and was published on April 22, 1998.

Dear Editor,
Since when has April 22 become Secretaries’ Day? I remember when April 22 was Earth Day, commemorating the 1970 event in which nearly 20 million people participated on college campuses and high schools nationwide. As a result, “a generation dedicated itself to reclaiming the planet;” the environmental movement was born. However, I’m somewhat glad that April 22 degenerated into “Secretaries’ Day” because the Earth Day movement itself had adopted an incorrect premise. We are not here to take care of the Earth because she is our aging Mother, as environmentalists claim, nor because we worship it as a deity. Instead, we are to care for the earth in obedience to the command of its creator: “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28). Of course, fulfilling this mandate involves benevolent and responsible stewardship, not exploitation. This, I believe, is the only valid basis for an environmental movement.
Cordially,
Lee Cuesta

(I must insert two comments here. First, the name of “Secretaries’ Day” has been changed because it is no longer politically correct.  It is now called Administrative Professionals Day.  Second, it isn’t always on April 22.  In fact, this year it is celebrated tomorrow, April 23.  It is always on the Wednesday of the last full week of April.  So next year, Administrative Professionals Day will again fall on Wednesday, April 22, as it did in 1998.)
While I’m at it, I want to also reprint here two more Letters to the Editor that I wrote.  They both enjoyed tremendous reaction from other readers, some of whose responses were published subsequently.  The following letter was published in The Gazette (Colorado Springs) on February 28, 2001. First of all, it illustrates one of the themes in my book, Once: Once, which is that of over-regulation. Second, this letter generated such a controversy in the “Letters” section, that it ultimately gave rise to a short editorial.

Dear Editor,
In reference to the recent letter from Robert H. Johnson (“Parking Problems;” Feb. 20), I applaud those drivers who have the courage and fortitude to park in spaces that are ostensibly reserved for disabled motorists. They are the type of rebels we need in our modern society because they demonstrate the foolishness of regulations that are too easily abused. One criterion of an enforceable law is its immunity to abuse. As it is, so long as one person in a family has a handicapped placard or license plate, everyone in that family benefits from it. Rules such as reserved parking spaces are merely visible symptoms of the rampant over-regulation in our society. A foundational problem of such regulations is that they grant special rights only to a small segment of society, thereby limiting freedom rather than expanding it, and dividing rather than unifying the citizenry. Those who codify such regulations should recognize the social risk of turning something that’s actually a privilege into a statutory “right.”
Cordially,
Lee Cuesta

My next Letter to the Editor was published on November 18, 2003 in The Gazette (Colorado Springs), and it generated quite an explosive response from other readers, whose letters were published subsequently.

Dear Editor:
Dr. Seuss was wrong. Unfortunately, the philosophy that The Cat In The Hat expounds became the behavioral guideline for the first generation that was educated by it. The moral of Dr. Seuss’s story is this: Any behavior, no matter how chaotic or destructive, is permissible as long as you don’t get caught.
The Cat’s escapades were OK as long as the house was cleaned up before Mother got home. In other words, it was OK because she knew nothing about it. How else are we to interpret this couplet at the end of the tale: “And Sally and I did not know what to say. Should we tell her the things that went on there that day?” Even the fish in the pot is ridiculed for his words of caution. As a result, donning a tall, floppy, red-and-white striped hat like the Cat in the Hat’s is popular among miscreant segments of society because it symbolizes their freedom to misbehave as long as they’re not caught.
That’s why I’m sickened not only by the movie version’s release this Friday, but even more by the flood of pre-release publicity. I find the Cat in the Hat’s image on boxes of Kraft macaroni-and-cheese, on jars of Smucker’s strawberry preserves – even in the Post Office on gigantic posters! Not only did we have to endure the original book’s influence, but now we’re being forcibly subjected again to Theodor Geisel’s anti-social philosophy.
Sincerely,
Lee Cuesta

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Lament for the Seventies

Throughout the 1970’s, the magazine called Northwest was a renowned and respected Sunday magazine in The Oregonian.  And I had the honor of having my work published there on three occasions. Northwest’s short yet prestigious history is recalled in this online article by Charles Deemer –

http://www.ibiblio.org/cdeemer/bianco.htm

Deemer writes:  “By 1969 Northwest had gained national attention.  In an article called ‘Not For Oatmeal Minds’ in the May, 1969, issue of Quill, the Magazine for Journalists, James J. Doyle wrote:

‘Much of Northwest’s high-voltage has come, and has been retained, by its dynamic editor Joe Bianco. Trained in the hard school of East Coast dailies, Bianco works from the premise that this country is undergoing a great social upheaval – a potentially rapturous calamity which calls for investigation and social analysis beyond the scope of newspage content. What has resulted is an open forum of ideas for freelance writers and professional reporters.’”

Earlier, Deemer states:  “At the end of 1966, Bianco wrote a short editorial introducing a new format and title for the magazine. Finally he was identified as the editor. ‘Features’ became the first section of the magazine, receiving primary billing, with the home and garden stories following behind. This was the format that would define Northwest magazine into the 70s. In April, 1976, an Arts section was added. Six months later, a poetry page.”

I was one of the beneficiaries of Northwest’s poetry page.  My first poem that Northwest published, entitled “Lament For The Seventies,” tapped into Bianco’s “premise that this country is undergoing a great social upheaval.”  Here is my poem –

LAMENT  FOR  THE  SEVENTIES

I.

Since I arrived I’ve seen a decade twice.
I came amid conformity.
And as I grew older barely knew
Rebellion was changing all ideals.
It must have been a social fluke, though; now
We’ve come full course.  The show begins again.

II.

Now Rubin seeks a self-awareness, Marx
No longer outsells God, and I think Mick
Is loud and sour.  We must have missed our chance.
I learned to do my own thing, satisfied
No more by pointless games.  Was life a waste,
A neat device to occupy the time?

III.

This morning smelled like paper mills; it rained
The night before.  Scotchbroom’s yellow perfume
Outside my room entices me, and bees
Have found it too.  Their toil provoked
By that sweet smell alone:  devotion dependent
On fading blooms, and soon I’ll see they’ve gone.

Deemer continues:  “After my first issue-by-issue inspection of the archives, 1965-1982, I found myself with a list of several hundred stories I wanted to reprint.  …Soon enough, however, I identified the issues I should focus on – because these same issues face us today. The stories here about the Environment, Civil Liberties and the Changing Family, which were published by Northwest between 1969 and 1981, could have been written today.”

In separate editions Northwest published two poems that I wrote, and for which I was paid!  Here is the second poem, written while I was living in Greece in 1978 –

EARTHQUAKE  SURVIVORS

1.

I came to Greece three weeks ago, and now
It’s clear I can’t converse with people here.
Somehow their language evades me.  Voices babble,
Yet nothing said I comprehend.  Although
To them the noises are quite meaningful,
I now unconsciously ignore the sounds.

2.

The ground of Salonika shook at night
And we were having pizza at the time.
We ran into the street when things began
To break; and though I didn’t understand
A word, I knew these people were afraid.
Their faces spoke so well non-verbally.

3.

Aegean surf incessantly assaults
The shore.  And usually the water’s calm.
But, at times, this sea turns gray, and waves
Grow tall, and breakers crash upon the beach.
Then the surf is telling me that out
At sea, and far away, a storm blows fierce.

Finally, Joe Bianco bought and published my first freelance article for Northwest.  It was a how-to article explaining, step-by-step, how to sweep your own chimney.  Based upon my interview with a professional chimneysweep, the article also included my photographs.  Later, this same article was adapted and published at ehow.com; so you can still read it by clicking this link:

http://www.ehow.com/how_4534056_sweep-own-chimney.html

Northwest magazine is now defunct, along with much of traditional, print journalism.  Even The Oregonian is no longer a daily newspaper.  Therefore, it was an honor to be a small part of that era.

Lee Cuesta

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Lessons in Elephant Communication

Tonight I regret that I finished reading The Elephant Whisperer this morning, because now the book is done, and the adventures are over.  Written by Lawrence Anthony, he makes it clear that the communication he had with the elephants was only with the initial generation of the herd that he’d rescued.  “I will have no interaction with the new generations. …I only wanted to get Nana the matriarch to trust one human to ease her bitterness over our species as a whole. …Today, when I drive past the herd, Nana and Frankie may still approach me.  I will always have that special relationship with them.  Nandi, Mabula, Marula and Mandla and of course ET also still know me. …But the youngsters ignore me as I do them.  Totally.  I am an outsider.  The relationships I had with their grandmothers will never be repeated.”* (pp. 367-8)

Anthony passed away nearly two years ago, on March 2, 2012.  Following his death, the herd of elephants, led by the matriarchs with whom he’d established communication, reportedly trekked to his home on the Thula Thula reserve in South Africa, in the way elephants might mourn the death of one of their own.  His own book, however, attests to the fact that the herd regularly visited his house anyway.  Yet it was hearing of this story that prompted me to investigate his life and work.

A touching video about Lawrence Anthony and the herd can be seen at vimeo.com:

(with one spelling error at 18 seconds, where the word should be “conservationist”).

Although my primary concern on this blog is for the Asian elephants and conservation projects for their benefit – because their habitat loss is extremely dire – I am also interested in interspecies communication and extra-sensory abilities among big-brain mammals.  So I wanted to find out what Anthony had learned with the African elephants.

His book’s content belies the connotation of its title.  Before reading it, the title implied to me that Anthony possessed some psychic or telepathic ability to have mutual communication with the elephants.  Of course, this wasn’t the case at all.  Anthony spoke aloud to them, and the elephants communicated with stomach rumblings and caresses with their trunks.  And sometimes by depositing a pile of dung.  Anthony says, “I have long since lost my self-consciousness at chatting away to elephants like some eccentric.  As I spoke I looked for signs that something of what I meant was getting across.  I needn’t have worried.  We had come a long hard road together, this herd and I, and talking to them had been a crucial part of that process.  And why not?  Who am I to judge what elephants understand or otherwise?  Besides I personally find the communication most satisfying.  They evidently liked it too, responding with their deep stomach rumblings.” (p. 325)

My impression is that it took months upon months for Anthony to achieve his intimacy with the original herd.  It began at the “boma,” a large corral that’s strong enough to hold elephants, where Anthony and a companion spent night and day, for many days, simply being there.  After their release into the wild, he continued to interact with them by driving his Land Rover to their location.  As I see it, the communication he achieved required three elements:  proximity with the herd; persistence; and incredible patience (with the time and freedom in his schedule to permit it).  In other words, the vast majority of humans on this planet could never attain or replicate it.

Nevertheless, his insights into elephant communication are valuable.  For instance, he learned the rules governing approaching the herd on foot, and crossing the imaginary boundary to enter an individual elephant’s ‘space.’  “Then it dawned,” Anthony says.  “As far as the herd was concerned, the boundary was not set in stone.  They will reset it – but only when they are good and ready.  It has to be their decision.  You can’t do it.  Only they can.

“From this I also gleaned another important rule in associating with wild elephants, and that is never to approach them directly, but rather put yourself in their vicinity and if they want to, they will come closer to you.  If not, forget it: they take their imperial status most seriously.” (192)

Anthony’s goal was to get the herd to tolerate humans nearby, albeit without his style of personal interaction, so that his reserve could conduct walking safaris.  Eventually the rangers could walk to within a reasonable distance of the herd without reaction.  “Nana had obviously taken her decision and communicated it to the rest of the herd,” Anthony concludes.  “And from that I learned another important lesson.  Previously traumatized wild elephants appeared to regain a degree of faith in new humans once the matriarch has established trust with just one new human.  But it must be the matriarch.” (198)

On one occasion, Anthony recalls, “I was intensely focused on this magnificent creature standing so close to me.  All the while Nana kept glancing across or staring at me.  Every now and then she would turn her massive body slightly towards me, or move her ears almost imperceptibly in my direction.  Her occasional deep rumblings vibrated through my body.

“So this was how she communicated … with her eyes, trunk, stomach rumblings, subtle body movements, and of course her attitude.  And then suddenly I got it.  She was trying to get through to me – and like an idiot I hadn’t been responding at all!

“I looked pointedly at her and said ‘Thank you’, acknowledging her, testing her reaction.  The alien words echoed across the silent veldt.  The effect was immediate. She glanced across and held my gaze, drawing me in for several deep seconds, before returning contentedly to her grazing.  It was almost as if she was saying, ‘Didn’t you see me, what took you so long?’

“The final piece of the puzzle clicked perfectly into place.  While I had been standing there like a robot, she had been prompting me to accept her presence and give some sign that I recognized her. Yet I had been as stiff and rigid as a plank.  When I finally acknowledged her, just with a simple ‘thank you’, she instantly responded.

“I had learned something of this before in dealing with some animals, but that ‘Eureka’ moment with Nana really drove it home to me.  I had at last grasped that the essence of communicating with any animal, from a pet dog to a wild elephant, is not so much the reach as the acknowledgement.  It’s the acknowledgement that does it.  In the animal kingdom communication is a two-way flow, just as it is everywhere else.  If you are not signaling to them that their communication has arrived with you then there can be no communication. It’s as simple as that.” (194-5)

When Anthony’s reserve received an orphaned, adolescent female elephant – whom they “affectionately named ET, short for ‘enfant terrible,’ terrible child” – he needed his herd to adopt her.

“I called out once I saw them.  Three hundred yards away Nana looked up, trunk reaching into the air.  A few calls later she sourced the direction of my voice and they all started ambling through the bush towards me. …As they advanced I marveled at this magnificent herd, these beautiful creatures, fat, grey and glowing, and how content they were with new youngsters.

“Now I needed their help.  But first I was going to try something in the wilderness I had never done before: get them to follow me.

“…I looked in my rear-view mirror.  There were nine elephants following me; I was for a fleeting instant the pachyderm Pied Piper. …Deep in the African bush I had a herd of wild elephants actually following me because I wanted and needed them to. …

“Three miles later we were at the ‘boma.’  Unbelievably, the herd had stayed the course.

“I stopped thirty yards from the fence and Nana came towards me, paused for a moment, and then saw the youngster.  She looked back at me, as if, perhaps, to acknowledge why I had called her, then went to the fence and emitted a long set of stomach rumbles.

“ET was as still as a tree, peering at the herd through the dense foliage, lifting her trunk to get their scent.  For some moments this continued. Then suddenly, excited as a teenager at a funfair, she came out and ran to where Nana was standing at the fence.  These were the first of her own kind she had seen in a year.

“Nana lifted her python-thick trunk over the electric fence, reaching out to ET who responded by raising her own trunk.  I watched entranced as Nana touched the troubled youngster who demurely acknowledged the matriarch’s authority.  By now the rest of the inquisitive herd had come forward and Frankie, who was also tall enough to get her trunk over the electric strand, did so as well.  There they all stood, their stomachs rumbling and grumbling in elephant talk.” (223-4)  Within hours, Anthony was able to release ET, and she successfully integrated with the herd.

One of the most poignant episodes with the herd involved a newborn elephant, whom they named Thula, who ultimately didn’t survive.  With the help of his staff, Anthony and his wife had taken baby Thula into their home because her front feet were deformed and she could barely stand or walk.  Eventually, the herd came to the house to visit, yet there was danger when Anthony perceived that they had caught the scent of Thula.  Anthony wanted to communicate that Thula was still alive, yet without triggering the elephants’ uncontrollable maternal instincts.  So he took advantage of their olfactory senses.  “I went to Thula’s room, took my shirt off and swabbed it over her body, put it back on and wiped my hands and arms all along her.  I then walked back down to the fence and called them.

“Nana came over first and as her trunk swept just above the single electric wire in greeting I stretched my hand out as I usually do.  The response was remarkable.  The tip of her trunk paused at my hand and for an instant she went rigid.  Then her trunk twitched as she sucked in every particle of scent.  I offered both hands and she snuffled up my shirt and vacuumed every inch.  Nandi the mother and Frankie the aunt stood on either side, trunks snaking as they too got the olfactory messages that Thula was alive and close by. …

“Eventually they read whatever they could from my shirt and these three magnificent elephants stood there before me like a judicial panel assessing the evidence.

“After much deliberation they moved off and I could tell that they were relaxed and unconcerned.  I’m not saying this lightly as I have seen unhappy elephants.  I am familiar with many of their emotions.  Whey they left, I know that they were happy.  I know that they could have stormed the fence, electric or not, if they had been otherwise.  I felt a glow ignite inside me.” (324-5)

Earlier, an arson-set range fire had engulfed the firefighters, including Anthony himself.  It is probable that the only reason they survived was due to the elephants’ intervention.  As Anthony and his team were fleeing barely ahead of the flames, they found fresh elephant tracks and dung – evidence that they had recently passed the same way, and were nearby.  Beginning to panic, Anthony’s companion shouts, “Where to?”

“Then in a flash I realized what we had to do,” Anthony recalls.  “Nana had shown the way.

“’Croc Pools!’ I shouted back.  ‘If Nana thinks it’s safe enough for the herd it’ll be safe enough for us.’” (184-5)  They “waded knee-deep into the pool.  The coolness and relief was exquisite.” (185)

“Then it was on us, the heat sizzling and hissing across the water.  Yet in that intense theatre I became aware of something transcending the din and fury and chaos.  I felt Nana’s stomach rumblings roll across the water, a dominating, calming presence.  There she stood, towering over the dam, shielding the babies with her body and spraying water over herself.  I found myself doing the same, scooping water over my head as if I had joined the herd. …We had made it, thanks to Nana.  She had saved us all.” (186)  Later, Anthony states that “we had an elephant to thank for our lives.” (188)

Many chapters of his book contain nothing at all about the elephants; there is also a lot about African culture and other wildlife.  At one point, he describes the spiritual and mystical role of the “sangoma,” or diviner, in Zulu society.  Anthony implies that the Zulu villagers might have begun to view him as a sangoma, due to his eccentric behavior.  “The news of my strange communication with elephants, coupled with my refusal to allow anyone to kill even a deadly snake or scorpion had spread, and many in the village considered me to be somehow mysteriously connected to the animals.  I mean, what sort of person would shun normal life and live in the African bush preferring to commune with elephants, rather than his own kind?” (271-2)

Much of the book’s content also discusses the history and background, including extensive meetings with tribal chiefs, that led to the creation of the massive Royal Zulu reserve, which has come to be called The Royal Zulu Biosphere.  On the website of The Earth Organization, which Anthony founded, it is described this way:  “Another one of Lawrence’s legacies is the creation of a 500 thousand acre game reserve, called The Royal Zulu Biosphere, through a unique partnership between The Earth Organization, six Zulu tribes, and two other game reserves.”(http://www.earthorganization.com/News.aspx?tid=115)  This web page also states:  “In tribute to our founder who recently passed away, The Earth Organization (TEO) is now operating under the name of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization (LAEO).”

Footnote:

* All quotes are from The Elephant Whisperer, copyright © 2009 by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence.  So I will simply cite the page numbers.

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Two “Lily”s at the Oregon Zoo

“I remember when Packy was born in 1962; I was six years old then.  Although I moved away from Portland for many years, I followed the progress of Chendra and her relocation from Malaysia.  And now I have seen Lily on a sunny afternoon from the path above the elephant enclosure.”  That’s how I began my formal, business letter to Bob Lee, Elephant Curator at the Oregon Zoo, in which I continued:

“I am starting a new series on my blog, which I’m eagerly anticipating, because it will highlight two areas concerning Asian elephants:

1)  Noteworthy accomplishments to educate the public as well as enhance the lives of Asian elephants, exemplified by the Oregon Zoo’s care for its herd, including the new Elephant Lands habitat.

2)  Their global plight, personified by Chendra’s previous experiences, including loss of habitat, the ‘human-elephant conflict,’ and mistreatment by owners, both government and private.

“For this reason, I would like to interview you in person for my blog.”

I sent this request to Lee’s own e-mail address at the Oregon Zoo on December 10.  Little did I suspect the controversy that was brewing simultaneously.  Three days later, on December 13, the Oregon Zoo received another letter via e-mail – this one from Lily Tomlin, comedian, actress and animal-rights activist.  I immediately saw the match between Tomlin’s first name, and the name of the newest baby elephant at the Oregon Zoo.  Hence the title of this blog post.  I saw baby Lily about six months ago, and took a short video of her, which I posted on my channel at YouTube.  Here is the link –

Tomlin sent her letter to Kim Smith, Oregon Zoo director.  She wrote on behalf of a Portland-based group called Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants.  “In it, Tomlin writes ‘the zoo initiated a bond measure in 2008 to create an offsite multi-acre preserve for the elephants. The voters overwhelmingly supported the measure. This preserve was meant to be used as a retirement home for the elephants. I urge you to maintain that original mission.’”(1)  However, in reality, that bond “never contained language promising to build a preserve and it didn’t say such a place would be designed as a pachyderm retirement home.” (1)

Nevertheless, Tomlin concluded:  “It is now 2013 and the preserve is still not a reality.  At 51, Packy does not have a lot of time to wait. So I implore you to give him a taste of real freedom.”(2)  “Tomlin has long worked to persuade zoos to ship their elephants off to one of the handful of sanctuaries nationwide.”(1)

Although the bond never promised to build an offsite preserve, the Oregon Zoo is moving ahead “with construction of the expansive new Elephant Lands habitat … which will provide our elephants with unprecedented choice in the way they spend their daily lives,” stated Smith. (2)  Packy “is among many reasons the zoo is in the process of a $53 million expansion of its elephant exhibit. The new 6.25-acre habitat, dubbed Elephant Lands, is due to open in 2015.” (1)

Smith also stated:  “With more than half a century of experience caring for Packy and his family, our community zoo is renowned as a world leader in Asian elephant welfare.” (2)

Those on both sides of the issue have valid points.  Here is how I see it.  A key factor in this controversy is that Packy is not a wild elephant.  He was born and has lived his entire life at the Oregon Zoo.  He is a domestic elephant.  He could not survive on his own.  The result would be the same as releasing any domestic animal into the wild.  When Tomlin states that Packy should have “a taste of real freedom and a chance to live out his days where he will be able to live like a real elephant”(1), she is ill-informed.

Furthermore, his home and his family are here.  These animal activists do not place enough  importance on the elephants’ familial bonds.  Sending him away would be the equivalent of ostracizing a human from his or her family.  “We believe in family for our elephants,” says Smith.  “We have the oldest elephant family in a zoo because Packy started it all.  That social network is important to them.  It’s important to their social welfare.”(1)

Finally, Packy is now an elderly elephant.  Smith stated, “Packy is a geriatric elephant — the oldest male Asian elephant in North America — and he receives highly specialized care from our deeply dedicated keepers and veterinary staff.”(2)  What would happen to us if we were sent off to a wilderness refuge, away from our family, as a senior citizen?  That’s what Packy is.

I am a Portland native and current resident, even though I lived elsewhere for about thirty years.  I care about the Asian elephant herd at the Oregon Zoo, and caring for an individual elephant cannot be isolated from caring for the herd.  Lily Tomlin didn’t even come to Portland, and she has never met with the group called “Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants,” because she “didn’t have time.” (1)  And her letter was ill-informed.  Activists should get their facts straight in order to avoid diminishing their credibility.

“I wish,” Smith said, “they would focus on the plight of wild elephants. They face the biggest extinction crisis ever because of the ivory trade” as well as habitat loss and human-elephant conflict in Africa and Asia,(1) echoing the wording of my own e-mail letter, which the zoo received three days earlier.

The Asian elephants’ true plight on a global scale is this:  currently there is neither adequate answer nor solution for them.  In order to facilitate movement toward solutions, I will continue to document the controversies, conversations, current developments, challenges, and noteworthy accomplishments to educate the public as well as enhance the lives of Asian elephants.

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2013/12/oregon_zoo_responds_to_lily_to.html
  2. http://www.komonews.com/news/local/235864971.html
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How much different are we from them?

Whether enjoying a flight in a helicopter, or sitting on the beach at sunset with a fire and a guitar serenade, this is the way life should be for a Baby Boomer.

The flight was courtesy of Seaside Helicopters in Oregon, and the day was perfect, cloudless and zero haze.  In fact, as we banked and made the turn to return, we could see Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier – all the way from the Pacific Ocean.  We could also look far beyond the Columbia River into Washington state.  Unlike an airplane, it felt exhilarating to be flying in a bubble, with almost complete visibility all around me. Also unlike an airplane, experiencing the immediate gain of altitude was awesome:  one minute we’re coasting along the corridor at the heliport beside the highway, and the next minute we have a view of the forest and coastline from 3,000 feet.

I thought my fear of heights might be a factor, but I felt no fear at all.  The only surge of adrenalin I felt was when we banked for the turn, and I shifted down to my left, as if falling.  But I recovered immediately.

My son accompanied me, and we conversed among ourselves and the pilot via the headset.  A helicopter flight had been a lifelong goal, and it was a birthday gift from my wife.  She stayed on the ground, took photos, and I could see her fluorescent, fuchsia pink blouse from high in the sky as we were flying back.  My son is also the one providing the guitar serenade on the beach.

All this was facilitated by the fact that my wife and I rented an apartment in Cannon Beach from March through September.  We spent many long, lazy days tossing a Frisbee, harvesting mussels at low tide, avoiding salamanders on the trail, observing the sandcastle competition, strolling along the beach – including under the stars – and walking downtown to relax at the Insomnia Coffee Company, or to have lunch at Fultano’s Pizza.  I began to feel like a “local,” rather than a tourist.  During this time, my wife was working in Cannon Beach.

Although she moved back and we reconsolidated the two households in late September, we were once again at the coast by mid-October.  This time we drove to Newport, and we spent the night in a yurt at Beverly Beach.  We were experiencing a gorgeous Indian Summer, with warm sunshine and warm surf, yet at times we were truly the only ones on the beach!  I adore that kind of solitude!

In Newport, we enjoyed several hours at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, along Yaquina Bay.  While the keepers were feeding the otters, the spokesperson said something very similar to a statement from Shawn Finnell, senior elephant keeper at the Oregon Zoo: “We train the elephants in a lot of behaviors geared toward their care.”  They are animals in captivity, yet within natural habitats.  Most of them could not survive in the wild; many are there due to that reason.  How much different are we from them?  Later, in contrast, as we walked along the beach one last time, we saw pelicans, lots of them, soaring low over the breakers, sometimes four together, then intermingling with the seagulls on the sand, distinguishable due to their relative size, in unspoiled harmony.

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Minimize to the least degree our level of captivity

What I meant by my question, “How much different are we from them?,” is this:  in our society, we as adult humans, likewise are trained in behaviors that are necessary for our survival.  In a sense, each of us lives in our individual form of captivity.  Thus it behooves us to minimize to the smallest degree possible the level of our captivity, especially as Baby Boomers, as we have the increasing means to live otherwise, like flying in a helicopter, or sitting on the beach beside a fire at sunset, or strolling among preening pelicans, or performing stand-up comedy at the Thumbnail Theater.

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I debuted my two stand-up comedy performances

Thank you very much to Tim Noah and his Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, Washington. The website for his theater, “your cozy home for the performing arts,” states: “Friday Nights are Open Mic @ The Thumb!” And that’s where I debuted my first stand-up comedy performance.
Click on this screen in order to watch it directly from my new YouTube channel* –

It’s a family-friendly venue. So at the end of our performance, the emcee gave me the biggest compliment. He said, “You have the ability to know right where the line was, and step up to it.” But not cross over it.
I had been to the open mic at the Thumbnail Theater before, but not as a performer. So I knew that the performers almost always were musicians. I never saw a comic. That’s why we included a musical theme in our act, because that’s what the audience was expecting, and it was also a little reminiscent of the Smothers Brothers.
So when I was signing up for the open mic, I asked if it’s all right to do stand-up comedy. Of course, they said, within certain guidelines; however, no comic had ever succeeded in finishing his act before getting removed from the stage – due to being too crude and vulgar.
That’s why the emcee’s comment to me was such a big compliment. I am the first stand-up comic not to get kicked off the stage of the Thumbnail Theater!
I definitely enjoyed it, but it was also hard work – the writing, refining and rehearsing. My son and I rehearsed every Tuesday night for about an hour for over a month. After I put together the original draft, then the rehearsals helped us either eliminate or polish the lame spots.
I was very pleased with this performance. While I was up there at the mic, I could tell from their responses that I really did have the audience with me.
A few months later, I went on-stage again, this time at the Curious Comedy Theater in Portland, Oregon. Many thanks to Gabe Dinger, not only for opening his venue every Sunday night for the open mic, but also for emceeing the show. This time, though, I introduced my new persona, Don Delfeen. Click on this screen in order to watch it directly from my new YouTube channel* –

This is a much shorter set because Curious Comedy’s open mic has a three-minute time limit. It is completely different from the routine that I performed in Snohomish. But most people tell me that this performance is far better than my first one.
Both routines employ my brand of comedy that I call “Boomer Humor” – referring to humor that Baby Boomers will appreciate. But Lee Cuesta’s style is more family-friendly, utilizing some double entendre – appropriate for theaters and lecture halls – while Don Delfeen is more crude – though not vulgar – appropriate for nightclubs and casinos. One viewer said that Don Delfeen is Lee Cuesta “being inappropriate.”
*I have launched my channel on YouTube, called Lee Cuesta Live, which looks like this: “leecuestalive.” By typing this into the search-bar at YouTube, you’ll easily be able to find my two comedy performances. And there will be more videos and performances coming from me on this channel!

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éxitophobia: the fear of success

Because you’re considering contacting me to be a speaker for your future event, I’d like you to check out my recent posts at my companion blog.

Over the past three months, I’ve been posting a series based upon one of my popular talks, or seminars.  It deals with the Fear of Success, for which I coined a word:  I call it éxitophobia – like agoraphobia.  It is based on the Spanish word, éxito, with an accent mark above the e, which means success.  This is a project that will ultimately be compiled into an e-book.

If you’d like to explore some of my thoughts, observations and solutions about this corporate and personal fear, then click on this link:
https://leecuesta.com/blog/

And these are the types of outside-the-box insights that I will bring to your event.  You can also read about some of the results of my work in the “Testimonials” section of this website, as well as some of my more popular talks and seminars under the “Favorite Topics of Audiences” tab.

Besides preparing my latest installment about the Fear of Success, it’s been a busy month.  It began in northern Washington, celebrating Fourth of July with two of my sons, my daughter-in-law, my brother and sister-in-law.   This included visiting the airfield that is home to a helicopter service, which will be a future experience and article topic.  After sundown, we fired off some awesome fireworks, especially the ones that I bought in Washington.  I have realized that one of the activities I truly enjoy in life is firing off fireworks.  I originally realized this while living in Mexico, where they sell truly incredible ones, and Christmas is the normal season to do fireworks, although cities and states also put on spectacular displays on the night of El Grito, September 15, which is the eve of Independence Day.

Then I helped my other son and daughter-in-law, along with two of our grandchildren, move out here from Colorado.  My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter also are in the process of moving locally, after a two-week trip to Mexico to visit family.  And my wife and I are sorting and downsizing stuff that we’ve had in boxes for years.  All of this upheaval and transition has made me feel a little unstable, but a book that is super helpful for me at this juncture is Making It All Work, by David Allen, which is his sequel to Getting Things Done. I am listening to it on CD because it is more compatible with my normal routine, which is to listen to talk radio.  Allen makes the indispensable distinction between capturing ideas, goals, reference material, etc. — which I am good at — and clarifying their meaning.  This forms the foundation for how to sort stuff.  In a future blog post, I will write about our experience of truly downsizing, which is something that many of us Baby Boomers are facing.

Lee Cuesta

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Power Conversion

Hi Lee.
Thanks for the e-mail regarding the overgrown sidewalk. I will get with the property owner ASAP and alert them to this issue. [It is the property owner’s responsibility for vegetation control abutting their property…]  If they can’t or won’t respond I’ll make sure the issue gets taken care of and deal with the property owner later.
Thanks,
Vance Walker

—–Original Message—–
From: boomervoice@gmail.com [mailto:boomervoice@gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 2:11 PM
To: Vance Walker
Subject: Street Hazard Report
STREET HAZARD REPORT
———————————————–
Name: Lee Cuesta
Phone Number: n/a
Email Address: boomervoice@gmail.com
Description of Hazard:
The hazard is caused by the thick growth of underbrush, especially blackberry vines, that have already covered half the width of the sidewalk.  It is a safety hazard because it is pushing pedestrians closer to the busy road, especially with all the new shoots coming up.  In fact, when two pedestrians meet in this zone, one might need to step off the curb into the bike lane.
Comments/Questions:
I use this sidewalk several times a week, along with many other pedestrians who walk that way to catch the TriMet bus along Hall Boulevard.  Thank you very much for addressing this hazard.

The above interchange represents a brief e-mail conversation this month between myself and the head of the Public Works Department.  The outcome of this interchange was not merely the response from Mr. Walker, but results.  Three days later – by Friday afternoon – the overgrown sidewalk had been cleared.

Admittedly, this seems like a very small, local issue.  But small achievements that produce results can be empowering.  And when my life is empowered in one area, that can be converted to power in another area, and magnified.  As a result of seeing the response to my report, I felt empowered to take the small steps to accomplish other things in my life (such as setting up interviews and sending queries for my current article projects, about which I’ll report in future posts).  We are not powerless; so I encourage you to give it a try.

This reminds me of one of my many Letters to the Editor that were published in the Colorado Springs Gazette.  This particular letter addressed the inequity of handicapped parking laws.  It, too, generated an immediate response.  If you want to read it, here is the link:

http://www.leecuestabooks.com/handicap.html

This letter generated such a controversy in the “Letters” section, that it ultimately gave rise to a short editorial.

Likewise, on the same day this month that I wrote to Vance Walker, I also sent a report to TriMet, which provides public transportation in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area.  This, too, received a response from TriMet the same day, and I will share this episode next month.  These accomplishments may be small, but empowering, which can convert to other areas of life.

If you do give it a try, then be sure to use the correct communication channel.  For example, my city has a special form on their website to report a street hazard.  Make your statement concise and precise; and never accusatory or vindictive.  Show your gratitude; send a thank you e-mail.  Here’s the one I sent:

Dear Mr. Walker,

Thank you very much for restoring a safe sidewalk along SW Bonita Road.  When I walked home on Friday afternoon, June 17, I saw that the work was done.  The finished job looks awesome.  And thank you, too, for addressing this hazard in such a timely manner.  Along with many other pedestrians who walk along that sidewalk, I am very grateful.

Lee Cuesta

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Boomer Voices

This is the column for action and results.

As we know well, Baby Boomers expect to have a voice in their world and society.  We consider it part of our “birthright” to have our say, especially in issues of injustice or inequality.  Of course, this may have been fostered by the culture of the 1960’s, along with Vietnam protests.  Yet whatever the source, I believe that our voice will only grow stronger and more significant as we Boomers move into our senior years.

So if you’ve had similar experiences related to speaking out – expressing your “voice” – and you’d like to share it … or if you’d like fellow Boomers to help you promote your rave … then e-mail your story to boomervoice@gmail.com.

Maybe we’ll start our own World Wide Rave, as David Meerman Scott describes in his book, World Wide Rave : creating triggers that get millions of people to spread your ideas and share your stories.

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