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The More Things Change

Change We Can Believe In

That’s Obama’s tag, to touch briefly on the world of politics again. And McCain is scrambling to project his own non-stagnating image, putting a saucy-looking “hockey mom” on the ticket. The old guy has something there. When’s the last time anybody really wanted to do a vice president? Have to go all the way back to Spiro Agnew for me. But it’s change, or the idea of such, that continues to fascinate me.

The only change I remain fully capable of believing in is the kind I allow to accumulate in a large plastic cup on the wooden counter separating my kitchen and living room. The last time I took it to Commerce Bank and filtered it through their “Penny Arcade” machine, I walked away with over ninety-two bucks in bills. If I had to break it down after all this time slugging it out in New York, what this coast has over the other comes down to two things: better pizza and Commerce Bank’s Penny Arcade machine. They’ve got the same thing in some supermarkets on the West Coast, but you have to pay a surcharge in order to have your coins converted to bills. Not only does Commerce waive the charge, they actually pay out a cash reward if you come within a certain amount of guessing your total. And you don’t even have to be a regular customer. This represents a real throwback to the days when banks put the customer first and gave out free toasters with new accounts. Not only this, but “Commerce” was the name of the bank on the original Beverly Hillbillies television program, run by my brother’s long-standing personal hero and role model, Milburn Drysdale. Screw the A.P. Giannini loyalty to Italians thinking, I’m pulling my funds from Bank of America in the morning.

But I digress – which leads me conveniently back to my topic at hand. I’ve done my share of both standing still and taking a frantic run at change. In the process I’ve come to appreciate air travel the most. It’s the only relatively affordable activity that sustains the illusion of change. Being thirty thousand feet above the ground and moving at a high speed never fails to instill the idea that things will somehow be different when you land. I suspect that I’d lose this break from reality as well, were I to fly four or five times a month. But at the very least, being that high in the air removes any possibility of pursuing change for the time being. Nothing to do but stare at the guy’s head in front of you and wait to land. Those far more cynical than I might point to this as an apt metaphor for life.

Some years back, and before I left for New York the first time, I read a book by a guy named Allen Wheelis. It was called “How People Change.” Someone I was close to at the time had given me a printed excerpt that was part of a class she was taking, and I found it compelling enough to buy the book. It’s a concise and exceptionally straight forward work. In brief, Wheelis focuses on three different kinds of change: actual physiological changes as in adolescence or old age which lead to a different sense of self, change brought on by external forces like being a prisoner of war (hey, McCain actually has a legitimate claim to this one), and change from “within” that comes consciously and by design. To hear Wheelis tell it, this last type of deliberate change represents such a trying and immensely difficulty task, being a POW might be a preferable option. I thought it was a great book, and in retrospect it accurately predicted my own insights that were to come in the following years.

The current presidential candidates might be better off for perusing Wheelis’ work. At the very least they might be less likely to throw the word out there so carelessly or slap it on their campaign signs. I remember sending an email after reading the original excerpt from “How People Change” and quoting Steve Earle’s “Fort Worth Blues.” It’s a song he wrote on the west coast of Ireland, shortly after the death of Townes Van Zandt. “They say Texas weather’s always changing / and one thing change will bring is something new.” It’s a great song and it never fails to hit me every time I hear it. Some things will never change.

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