The Surface of Things…

As a writer, I’m trying to avoid the three Big topics of the day:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Covid-19
  • Donald Trump

These are this week’s low hanging fruit. Unless I have something personal to add, I think they’re better left to professionals working those beats while I limit my perspective to the surface of things – at least for today.

The events of the past few months have impacted the way we live our lives. We see the world differently because of the invisible threat. We’re aware that it’s inherently dangerous and unpredictable. The fallout from it has taken me places I thought I’d never go and given me permission to navel gaze as never before.

Voltaire said (paraphrase) “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” by which he meant striving to do something perfectly and getting nowhere can keep us from achieving something good.

As one who is both ADD (attention deficit disorder) and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), I give Voltaire a qualified maybe. Stretching for a metaphor, I think of Buddha’s quest for nirvana. Nirvana is perfect enlightenment. Buddha exhorts his followers to persist in its quest. I feel the same about closets and bookcases; shirts facing left arranged by color and season, scarves and hats on the shelf stacked and folded, suits and sport jackets facing right. Books arranged by subject, author and size. It gives me a feeling of order and organization in a world that is anything but. It’s not nirvana or perfect…but it may be as close as I get.

To shed a little light on it I should explain that when I became a pilot, it wasn’t because I was mechanically inclined or loved airplanes. It was because I liked the idea of the silk scarf, Ray-Bans, and leather jacket. It may not have been the smartest way to choose a profession, but with deference to Voltaire it turned out to be nearly perfect. And, that was 15 years before Tom Cruise owned a pair of Ray-Bans or knew the difference between an A4 and an F-16.

With my lack of interest and aptitude, it was clear I was never going to be Mr. Fix-It. As a pilot, technology consumer, and automobile owner I’ve always been strictly superficial – a systems operator. Unlike some of my Pan Am colleagues I’ve never changed the oil in a car. I figured a college degree and good job would provide the means to hire a professional. I want good service and as long I can afford it and my machines work properly I’m a terrific systems operator.

What Covid-19 has taught me is that in times of crisis when outside help is unavailable, I can learn to do things I would ordinarily avoid. For example, our TV died two weeks ago. Ordinarily I would call my stepson, Jon, an IT whiz kid, network specialist, and a really nice guy, to help me setup the new one. He’s always on call for technology emergencies. He comes by, puts his head down, does the work, and the problem is solved. Now that we’re isolating he’s not available, so I had to order, carry, unpack, assemble, setup, and activate a smart-TV with TiVo, DVD player, ROKU, and 4 HDMI ports. I’m not the least bit interested in dealing with inputs, outputs, and video jacks but in this instance I had to. Thanks to Covid-19 I’ve added a new skill to my CV and feel good about it.

One other casualty of the virus crisis is our friend and housekeeper, Julie, who used to come every two weeks. She’s a miracle worker, but she’s sheltering at her home on Whidbey Island, which means we have to clean our own house. Not our choice but necessary, so I vacuum and dust. M mops the tile floors and cleans the sinks and toilets, and what takes the housekeeper 3 hours – moving furniture, waxing wood, and chasing dust bunnies – takes the two of us 6. Not new skills but ones we’ve refreshed.

It may sound odd, but when I took the job at Pan Am, a stockbroker friend smiled and welcomed me to the second dumbest group of investors in America (only doctors, he said, were dumber). What he didn’t tell me was it was also one of the cheapest. Over the ensuing years, I watched senior Captains argue over nickels when splitting a dinner bill and the next morning give $10,000 to a complete stranger who promised to double it. That’s not all pilots…but some.

A related airline story involved walking into the crew room in Berlin where several pilots were discussing their investments. My friend Dennis, walking in with me, was asked about his investment strategy and without missing a beat offered this bit of advice, “I’ve invested heavily in pleasure and it’s paid great dividends.” He was on to something and I’ve done my best to follow his advice.

After all is said and done, I still don’t change my own oil, choose my own stocks, or ask friends to split the dinner bill, but I do program my own TV, vacuum, dust, make fresh pasta and organize closets and bookcases. And, I own it… my OCD keeps me focused on the surface of things. Sometimes, M even invites friends over to look.


  1. Thank you Jack! This was thoughtful, insightful, entertaining and uplifting! The photos were also a great addition! Your writing is heartful, personable and intelligent. I feel inspired to keep writing. Maybe some of your qualities will filter through! Keep living your joys and remember the advice of your friend Dennis.

  2. Ah, an honorable mention as I sit here at the Frankfurt airport, a virtual ghost town, awaiting a flight to Copenhagen. Yes, I remember the quote and it held true over the years. No regrets… Aviation was the answer for me and the investment you mention is still paying off. SF. D.

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