IT’S ALL IN MY GENES

My wife decided to have our DNA tested. She didn’t do it to search for genetically based diseases or even for a DNA identification in case I get lost again.

I am a person who gets lost a lot. I get lost in large buildings. I get lost in parking lots. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been somewhere, I will still lose my way the next time I go there. There is a parking lot in San Diego’s Horton Plaza Shopping Center in which I am guaranteed to get lost. The structure is built so that I can see my car but I cannot get to my car. If the car is a floor beneath me, I will try to walk to that floor. I will walk to the floor below, and the car will then appear to be on the floor above me. It is the New England idiom “You can’t get there from here” made real. No matter where your car is, you can’t get there from where you are.

I’ve gotten lost in New Mexico sorghum fields, in bays, canyons, my own house at night, department stores, and shopping centers. I have a lousy sense of direction. Luckily I can read maps, because men, even those with a poor sense of direction, don’t enjoy stopping and asking for directions. I believe one of the two greatest inventions of the last century was GPS. The other was refrigerators with ice machines.

Because I always get lost (and not in an existential sense. If I was Sisyphus I probably wouldn’t be able to find the hill, and if I did, I’d lose the boulder before I got there), I decided my wife decided to have my DNA tested for two reasons. Firstly, scientists may be able to discover alleles for getting lost and losing things, and then with a CRISPR (some sort of device or method to re-arrange genes) they could re-order my genes so I never lose anything or get lost again. They would be creating a lost and found designer gene.

Secondly, she would have a way to identify me if I got lost. Suppose my life became a soap opera, I was hit over my head by a croquet mallet-wielding English terrorist (they’d be the only brand of terrorist who’d play croquet), developed amnesia, hitchhiked to Vermont, and forgot who I was. If the local Vermont trooper who found me ran my DNA against a 23 and Me data base, they would discover who I was and cheerfully return me to her.

No, she didn’t have her own DNA analyzed so she would never get lost. And she really didn’t care about what Albert Camus thought about Sisyphus’ boulder or hill in The Myth of Sisyphus. No. She did it for an existential reason, although only closer to John Paul Sartre’s reason: She wanted to discover the essence of her existence.

Because Americans don’t know who they are, we seem to love genealogy and heredity. For a relatively small sum, one can spit into a tube, send it back to the folks at 23 and Me, and learn who they are.

Since I am uncertain even whether I want to know who I am, she went first, sent in her DNA, and recently learned who she is.

For generations the belief was her maternal and paternal lineage consisted of French, Irish, British Isles, Northern European, and Cherokee stock. There were several surprises.

Even though everyone in my wife’s paternal family said they were part Cherokee, the genes disagreed. However, the surprise was that she is well over three percent Neanderthal, which puts her in the 99th percentile of people today of Neanderthal background. I, of course, am unable to resist the obvious and now refer to her as a Cave Chick.

She is a très chic Cave Chick, however, because much of her DNA comes from the part of Europe now called France as well as other parts of Northern Europe and the British Isles. A little derives from Eastern Europe, and a tincture from Sub-Saharan West Africa.

She is, except for the substitution of Neanderthal for Cherokee, pretty much who she thought she was: French, Irish, Scottish, English, and Northern European. But no Cherokee, and she seemed a little disappointed. She said for generations her family has lived a lie. Although she is a fair-skinned, green-eyed, redhead, she wanted to be something else besides simple European. Even Neanderthals came from Europe and some even had red hair.

Because of existential reasons, I really don’t want to know who I am. But she insisted, and I have learned after four and a half decades of marriage to just give in and do what she wants because she will never stop pestering me. So recently, I sent my DNA to the folks at 23 and Me.

I admit some competitiveness. I know I am Irish, Scottish, German, and Welsh. But mostly Irish. My father’s father was Irish. I know my mother’s mother was Irish. I also think my grandmother’s family were Irish Travelers because she was a card shark, she could cheat at cards very skillfully, and I had an uncle who could count cards.

Although my genes may disagree (I have not as yet received my results) I am pretty certain the gambling gene eluded me. I don’t play poker because I don’t know how to bluff.

At one time I could ride a unicycle so I must have a unicycle-riding gene.

It seems the more research is done the more important genes seem to be to behavior. For example, it was believed the “refrigerator mom” was to blame for causing autism. However, recently genes have been discovered that may be the true cause (along with genetic mutations caused by older fathers and environmental toxins). It is believed an athletic gene has been discovered. I am sure I don’t have that one either.

At one time it was believed homosexuality was caused by the way parents, particularly mothers, treated children. It is now believed to have a strong genetic component. I don’t know if there is a homophobic gene.

Some day places like 23 and Me will be able to look at your genes and plan your future. I don’t know if this is good or not, but it is better than my junior high school teacher who told my mother I should be a plumber. The Air Force told me I should be an electronics engineer. I don’t think my genes match either analysis. For one thing, I can never remember whether it’s righty tighty-lefty loosie or the other way around, and for another, I can’t draw a straight line and since I don’t know the difference between right and left, any electronics I design would be, uh, shocking.

Among other behaviors scientists tell us are determined by genes are: who we marry, musical ability, political beliefs, religious beliefs, vocal qualities, intelligence, sense of humor, alcoholism, and weight. Of course, environmental factors are in play, but even those are based more on chemical environment. Suppose you have a garden (I do) and you plant squash (I did). Whatever you do, if something grows, it’ll be squash. How good the squash turns out to be is determined by its chemical environment of soil, fertilizer, sunlight, and water. It doesn’t matter if its mother squash hugs it enough. Of course, if it is traumatized by a hailstorm its growth will be affected, but it will still be squash.

And my genes tell me it is good to eat. Or at least that’s what my wife’s genes tell her to tell me.

THE DIFFICULTIES OF MAKING A LIVING DOING NOTHING

When I retired and became a man of leisure, I  realized I was getting paid to get up in the morning. I wasn’t required to perform any other tasks. I could see a movie, read a book, write a story, ride a motorcycle, take pictures, or just sit on my butt and do nothing. I confess I can do nothing really well. In fact, I probably can do nothing better than anything else.

Doing nothing at Yosemite.

Doing nothing at Yosemite.


What I see while doing nothing at Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

What I see while doing nothing at Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

Doing nothing is harder than doing something. For example, my wife just asked me to help fix our back fence. I don’t like fixing things, especially fixing things that require the use of hammers and nails and wood.

Now, I know I can use hammers and nails and wood. I just don’t like doing it because I usually hit my thumb instead of the nail, and jamb a splinter into my finger. Both of these actions are painful, and I am adverse to pain. It also requires doing something instead of nothing. And, like I said, I like doing nothing instead of something.

I realized this when I was very young, but I also knew I’d eventually have to make a living. Making a living doing nothing is hard. I looked at the classified advertisements for work doing nothing. Somewhat ironically, I saw nothing.

I asked my father if he would support me so I could do nothing. What he replied is not printable, but basically he declined my request. I had anticipated his answer but I didn’t expect he would make me get a job right then. I. Think he did this to introduce me to life’s pain.

I was hired at 14 to stock a large walk-in refrigerator at the local liquor store with beer, wine, soft drinks, and other perishable items. I was also made to fill 10-pound bags of ice and place those bags in a freezer. The only good thing about the job was that I learned what and how much my friends’ parents drank, and business was good. Years later, when my own children were teenagers, I learned why business was good.

But I, as usual, digress.

Walk-in refrigerators are cold. I don’t like the cold because, well, it’s cold. I had no future as a stock-boy (sorry, but back then girls weren’t allowed to stock things so there were no stock-girls). Also, the job required me to do something and was classified as work. But I began to pay into Social Security so that when I was old I could do nothing.

I then thought I’d be a teacher because all I’d have to do was tell people how much I knew. But then I realized being a teacher is hard. For one thing, teachers can’t hit children anymore to control them. For another thing, I would have to learn things before I told other people things. And lastly, although I like my children well enough, I basically don’t like other peoples’ children. They usually smell of old gym socks and sweat.

A few years after graduation the Catholic high school I attended, the University of San Diego High School, claimed they were still owed several thousand dollars in tuition that my father must have forgotten to pay. Luckily, they kindly released my transcripts so I could attend college, but they had threatened to not release them. They never released my senior yearbook.

Meanwhile, I learned I could sit on the Mission Beach sea wall doing nothing for hours. Sometimes I drank coffee and sometimes I drank beer. Frequently I brought things to read. Sometimes I spoke with others and sometimes with myself. At any case, I was good at it. I mean, really good at it.

But, I still felt like Maynard G. Krebs, of the old Dobie Gillis television show, who considered work a four-letter word. “WORK?!” he’d shout and cringe while playing bongo drums whenever it was suggested he find suitable employment. Because of him, in sixth grade I bought a gray sweatshirt, a pair of bongo drums, and wrote what I believed was existential poetry. I didn’t know what existential poetry was (and still don’t) but I knew Maynard G. Krebs liked it, and everyone thought he was cool. In sixth grade that was good enough for me.

The biggest downside in doing nothing is guilt. I was raised Roman Catholic, and doing most things and doing nothing were both considered sins. One was expected to do something productive and receive an income. It was expected some of that income would be given to the Church. My parents expected me to grow up to do something productive so they wouldn’t have to support me, but they didn’t care if I gave any income to the Church.

“The Catholic Church has enough money,” my father would say. I figured that because he spent nearly four years studying to be a priest he knew what he was talking about. Those who knew him say he would have been a lousy priest.

All layers of government want me to perform useful and productive work so I can pay taxes. People who don’t pay taxes because they can’t find work get called lazy takers. People who don’t pay taxes because of sophisticated trusts and inheritance methods and hide their income offshore are called role models. The moral is be born to rich, smart parents who probably inherited their money, then dole out small amounts to charity instead of paying taxes. Those people are called philanthropists.

I decided the best way to do nothing was to get a job where I could sit and talk to myself, also referred to as thinking out loud, so I got a job as a magazine writer. Everyday I would go and speak to people and, because this was before Wikipedia and Google, occasionally I’d have to go to the library and do research. I would then talk to myself about what I learned and write that down.

We didn’t have to do much work. Once the magazine’s heating and air conditioning person, Kenny, asked if we did any real work because all we did was gab with each other and stare at typewriters. I told him that was the best part of the job.

After awhile I realized I needed more income, so I went to law school and got a job as a criminal defense lawyer. This entailed some actual work, but mostly I just argued with people called prosecutors and judges, who seemed to be the same people. It also provided a defined benefits pension plan so that now I’ve retired I can do nothing full-time. Rich people seem to hate Social Security and defined benefits pension plans because they think I’m getting something for nothing. Because they are rich, they apparently believe they deserve my Social Security and retirement money. They seem to forget I have paid into those accounts for decades, but that is a different story, and I am tired of digressing.

As I write this I am sitting at a Starbucks coffee shop speaking quietly to myself and writing things down. It’s a hard gig.

BUCKET LISTS

It seems everyone has a “Bucket List” consisting of unusual things they want to do before death. The concept never made a lot of sense to me. If one believes in an after-life, why not wait until then to do those things? It’d be a lot cheaper and I’m sure your heirs would appreciate the extra cash you would have spent on Bucket List items. If one doesn’t believe in an after life, there will be no memory of having completed the List and therefore, in a way, the List itself would have never existed.

However, I’ve always found interesting what people put on their Bucket Lists.

I’ve asked around and received different answers that can usually be classified by gender or age. But even those that are gender/age neutral amaze me with their shallowness.

For example, people who do not have a tattoo usually put “get tattoo” on their List. Conversely, people who have tattoos usually list “have tattoo removed”. For reasons I fail to understand, a lot of folks want to jump out of perfectly good airplanes.

For some reason, travel is a big Bucket Lister, or at least what they call travel is popular. It consists of:

  1. Tell all your friends you are going somewhere and will see something interesting, say, the Sistine Chapel.
  2. At considerable expense, go there and see it. As proof, take a selfie proving you’ve been to the Vatican.
  3. Splash selfie on facebook.
  4. Return home.
  5. Tell all your friends you’ve seen the Sistine Chapel. Say you were surprised it was so small. Show them your selfie.

The entire process takes 3-4 days.

I’ve decided most people travel not to learn new things or go places or even see things they’ve already seen pictures of.

No, they travel so they can tell their friends they’ve been places and seen things. Strange exotic places and things. Of course, they never actually spend time in any one place or talk to anyone. That’s not really important to them.

I once had a friend who spent six weeks travelling through seven European countries. He didn’t trust European food and only ate at McDonalds. For some reason, he believed McDonalds had the only edible food in Europe. He went all the way to France and ate no French food, and in Italy, he didn’t even have a pizza. When he returned, however, he did show me hundreds of pictures. Going to Europe was on his Bucket List.

Lest you think I am above such things as Bucket Lists, I will share mine:

  1. Have a shopping trip to Costco where I do not have to wait in the checkout line for over an hour.
  2. Go for a motorcycle ride and not be nearly run over by either a soccer mom driving a mini-van or anyone driving a BMW. Soccer moms and BMW drivers are more deadly than drones.
  3. Live in a world without SUV’s, mini-vans, or BMW’s.
  4. Read a daily newspaper without at least one story about the United States invading a country somewhere.
  5. Go a whole day without looking at Facebook.
  6. Get a tattoo and then have it removed.
  7. Get somebody to explain the difference between the Hell’s Angels and the San Diego Yacht Club other than one organization likes motorcycles and the other organization has money and likes boats. Both have membership committees that weed out “undesirables”. Both clubs’ “undesirables” seem remarkably similar. True, Yacht Club members have better manners, but Hell’s Angels are more direct, so it’s a push.
  8. Spend an entire week without one person telling me they really need an assault rifle.
  9. Go a full day without hearing “Easy Listening Music”. Its neither easy to listen to nor music.
  10. Never hearing another man say a threesome is on his bucket list. I have ADHD and I can’t pay attention to one woman, let alone two.
  11. Show up on the FORBES “400 Richest Men in America” list.
  12. Go an entire week without any of my children asking for money.
  13. Learn to say no when my children ask for money.
  14. Surf big waves, I mean, really big waves, like at Todos Santos.
  15. Live in a shack on a beach in Punta Colonet south of Ensenada and spend my time drinking good beer. Or bad beer.
  16. Have a rug that actually ties the room together.
  17. Move to San Francisco.
  18. Have a third home in Costa Rica.
  19. Sail to Tahiti.
  20. Smoke pot with Willie Nelson. He has to provide the pot because my dealer has become an Assistant District Attorney and is paranoid about being fired.
  21. Go a year without hearing about anyone else’s Bucket List.

The problem with a Bucket List is that by the time you have enough money and time to do the things on your List, you lack the physical ability to do them. Or as Oscar Wilde said, “The problem with youth is it’s wasted on the young.” Not that I mind being an Old Guy. It’s being an out of shape Old Guy that I particularly mind. For example, I know I would never now be able to surf a big wave because I no longer have a good sense of balance and I fear my swimming ability has decreased. The whole thing seems like a nasty trick. When you are young enough to do a Bucket List kind of thing, you don’t have the money or the time to do it.

The problem is that by the time one has the money and time to live one’s Bucket List, one usually lacks the physical ability to perform the specified item on said Bucket List.

When one is young one is simply in shape. I came that way, but as I aged I found I had to work to stay that way. Then I was prescribed medication that made me hungry all the time. I ate, and I ate a lot of food that made me fat. I stopped the medication and lost weight, but not enough to be able to move well enough to get back into shape. So I traded one illness for another.

Another problem with aging is your body won’t do what your mind tells it to do. Your body gets an attitude like a rebellious teenager. If you tell it to do one thing, it will do another, which is usually pain inducing. Your children will then tell you of people much older who do the things you can’t do. Don’t worry because they’ll be old someday, too, and will have children who say the same things to them.

To all you future parents out there, never use this line on a child: “When I was your age I could…(fill in what they can’t do).” It’ll boomerang back like a Frisbee thrown directly into a wind gust and render you toothless.

Despite what psychologists say, no child will announce, “I wish I could spend more time with Mom and Dad.” In fact, only a few children even want to be seen with Mom and Dad. It just reminds them how dependent on Mom and Dad they are.

I’ve read multi-generational households are becoming common today because it is hard to find a decent job and if a young people do find a jobs, they frequently carry so much student debt (necessary to get the educations required to get the jobs) that living with good old Mom and Dad is required for their survival.

This is a circuitous way of saying what the last item on my Bucket List is:  Seeing the day when my children can live on their own. I’m certain that’s the first thing on their Bucket Lists.