Turning 50

Last Updated on 5/1/02 By Tom Prefling

Chris Kaufmann Tom Prefling Morgan Sloane Dean Wallraff

From Chris Kaufmann
As I approach my 50th lap around the sun, I feel it fair to reflect on how lucky I feel. First and foremost with all the problems this young country has had and continues to have, it is a pretty great place to live. This "experiment" in democracy has withstood so much. The incredible courage and tenacity of our forefathers is certainly impressive. Those patriots, that against all odds, sacrificed so much for this republic to endure. A country founded strong principles of freedom, liberty and a resolute belief in God. Hopefully we shall all constantly reflect on those unfaltering precepts that made this country so strong and never fail to guard the same ideals that so many before have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend.

As look back over 5 decades I am so thankful I was raised in Arizona in a time the schools were filled with a thirst for knowledge and a constant reminder to follow the Golden Rule. To analyze what you read or heard and not to judge a man until you had walked a moon in his moccasins. To respect our parents, our teachers, our country and our leaders.

It was a time that everyone had firearms and no one even considered the misuse of this sacred privilege. I was lucky to grow up in a new land. To not have a telephone until I was 13. To ride horseback to school. To have one teacher for three grades that really cared that we learned as much as we could. When TV came along I'm thankful we were only allowed to watch it a half-hour per night (unless there was a special on). I'm thankful that my first role models made such a lifelong impact on me that even today I see their images. People like John Wayne (the Duke) and Charlton Heston (Ben Hur and Moses) and Dinah Shore and Andy Williams. Just good people that did good things and said good words. When TV got popular I'm appreciative of the fact that the shows were about doing the right thing like: Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Father Knows Best and even the Twilight Zone. What a time to be alive.

I remember when we did the air raid drills in the late 50's and early 60's that it seemed like a complex time, but perhaps all times seem like that. In truth, it was a simpler era. Father's could support a family very nicely on a 44-hour workweek and what we could not afford to buy outright we either did without or built ourselves. What a concept.

It was a time we respected most of our leaders and if they did wrong, we shunned them. It was a time when people took blame for their own mistakes and didn't find some far fetched excuse for why they did something wrong. Leaders who did wrong had the courage to admit it and step aside. I remember a President name Ike who had two terms without major conflict and my Dad told me that sometimes a good judge of a leader's greatness is the trouble they avoid, not how they deal with trouble they create.

At times when I see our great country poking its nose in where it doesn't belong I ask myself why? How does this help me and what does it cost me and who else cares? Why do we get in the middle of disputes that have raged on for centuries? It is different if countries that follow our form of government are threatened from outside, like Israel or Taiwan. I pray we always have the courage to defend those that need and want us. What did Teddy Roosevelt say? Walk softly and carry a big stick. Sounds pretty good. It sure worked for Ronald Reagan.

I am so thankful for what we call technology. It has allowed so much enjoyment and given us so much knowledge. Tools like the Internet are like a new frontier and while it can certainly bring many of us so much closer, like any frontier certain danger is there and must be confronted. The incredible sounds of music that a CD-ROM allows us to be engulfed by. The digital cell phone the size of your palm that allows you to talk to your aunt June in Arizona while driving in the snow in Indiana. The speed of a 700 MHz, 16 gig, 128 Mb desktop computer with DSL that has more knowledge available at the click of a mouse than any hundred libraries in the world. I recall how Dick Tracy with his talking wristwatch was "science fiction" only a generation ago. Then the X15 flew well over the sound barrier and over 50,000 feet in the air and then before we knew it Neil Armstrong was flying over 25,000 miles per hour and walking on the moon. What a wonderful time.

I also am happy for what makes me happy. For the ability to laugh. To see humor and enjoy it. The great teachers of this idiosyncrasy were Groucho and the Honeymooners and the Smothers Brothers and Bill Cosby. I know that every single day I must eat my vegetables, exercise, do my job as good as I can and laugh. And not be afraid to laugh out loud or even at yourself. Heck I do some of the dumbest things and I'm glad I can see that and laugh at it too.

So now as we take this small step into another day on January First and this day is the symbolic beginning of a new decade and century and millennium. I suggest we should all say thanks to God for this spirit and life on this third big rock from the sun at this exact time in history. With all the millions and billions of people in the world we are so fortunate to be living in this grand country at this moment.

My wish for all is to allow this holiday period filled with love and peace and giving to permeate your life throughout the New Year. That you will celebrate the joy of the season and inculcate those sentiments throughout the life ahead.

As I look out the window there is one more thing I'm glad for. I'm glad for the great electronic ignition and EFI in my Explorer. I'm glad for the great heaters Ford has today and I sure love 4-wheel drive. The reason for all this is that it is about 10 degrees outside and a nice snow last night so we will have a white Christmas in Whiteland. I am blessed to have so many loving friends and family like the Gliddens, my Indy Family. And finally I so glad that after Christmas we plan on throwing the golf clubs in the car and drive as far south as we have to until we find a place normal people would play golf. What a crazy life.

God bless.
From Tom Prefling

I'm 50 years old. I can't believe I made it. In college I always thought I'd be dead before I was 50 (I was addicted to Hermann Hesse, read all of his books. "Steppenwolf" was my favorite). Given all of the crazy/stupid things I've done in my life, I probably shouldn't be here (but that's another story).

I am truly amazed at what's happened during my lifetime. On the plus side, color television, jet airplanes, CinemaScope, space travel and exploration, the incredible advances in science and medicine, computers, Eugene McCarthy running for President, the Blues, Tina Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Kate Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, the civil rights movement, "Star Wars", "The Little Prince", Isaac Assimov, the fall of communism, rediscovering my faith, my wife and my children.

On the negative side, pollution, pornography, the increase in violence, the decrease in educational standards, equal opportunity quotas, invasive government at all levels, the moral decline, materialism, the Kennedy assassinations, Rachel Welch, Cindy Crawford, Hillary Clinton, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", the decline of the family, Pokemon and Furbies, the hype over the "new millennium" beginning in 2000, "Happy" faces.

Doolen Junior High...two things always come to mind when I think back. I'll always remember John Smiley's science project on DNA. Most of the rest of us did things like "The Effects of Different Colored Light on Plant Growth". I'll never forget Ann McDowell inviting me to a seventh grade dance. I was scared to death! I wimped out by making some stupid excuse.

Over my life I've made lots of acquaintances and casual friends. In my line of work you have to be sociable, able to mix well with all types. Still, when I think of my "friends", I still come back to the ones I made in high school.

Jim, Regan, Me--Check out those checks!

If I try to name them all, I'm certain to leave someone out. Kit McIlroy, Jim Baughman and Regan Scott stand out. I probably spent more time with them than with my own family.

Most of my high school memories revolve around "The Trumpeteer"; evenings at Kit's proofreading, late nights at Fran Coffe printing, followed by midnight basketball games with Kit and Duncan Robertson. 

Senior year in high school and the first two years of college are a blur. I did inhale. All I remember about graduation was trying to put my shoes on as we marched out onto the field...and then it was three days later. I do remember taking a medieval English history exam in college, during summer school. I had been up for two nights in a row studying, with some chemical help. The test consisted of four short essay questions. The first one was to briefly describe English history from prehistoric times up to the Norman Conquest. We had four hours for the exam. At the end of 3.5 hours I was still on the first question. I managed to answer the other three questions with VERY brief answers. My professor was so impressed with the level of detail of my answer to the first question, he gave me an A. I went straight after that.

One of the highlights of my career as a Navy motion picture photographer came when I was at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena to document the public unveiling of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. The cast from Star Trek was there and a lot of Playboy Bunnies (never did figure that one out). The Enterprise was a test shuttle, it never flew in space--but it was the first shuttle. I hope that commercial space travel is possible in my lifetime. One of my dreams is to go into outer space before I die.

While I was in the Navy, my first year in fact, I came home for the weekend and my mother fixed me up with a blind date, a friend of a friend of my sister. I couldn't get out of it, so I arranged for Ricky Harris to call me that night, so I could gracefully exit the scene. Brenda walked through the door, tall, thin and gorgeous and I was toast. We were married six months later, March of 1974, and we're still together.

Looking back, if I had it all to do over again, I think I'd make the same basic choices, but I would strive for more balance between family, work and faith. I have always tried to do things that are enjoyable and self-fulfilling. "If it's not fun, I won't do it" was my credo. I loved my work, so I spent most of my time working. I loved technology, so when I wasn't working I was playing with gadgets. I neglected my family life and my spiritual life. For too many years I "watched" my kids grow up. Fortunately for them, my wife Brenda was an exceptional mother and raised four exceptional, bright, human beings--I contributed to their gene pool. It's only been in the last few years that I've begun to be an active part of my family...oh how much I missed.

Spiritually, I never particularly cared. It wasn't that I was an atheist, just that it didn't matter. I was a good person, so if there was a heaven I'd probably get there. God was patient with me, gave me plenty of hints and warnings that I was going down the wrong path, but I didn't heed him. I was in control of my life and didn't want to surrender to a higher power. Finally about three years ago (1997), he got through to me in a major way. And, after 25 years, he brought Regan Scott back into my life as a Christian guide. Since then my life has been richer, more meaningful, and I'm a better person to be around now.

Looks like the year 2000 will be the year Brenda and I become grandparents. I'm looking forward to it. Funny, the image I've always had of myself as a grandpa is to look like Leo Tolstoy (don't ask me why).

1949-1999. It's been an interesting ride so far. I'm looking forward to the second half. And no matter how hard I try, I just don't feel old!

From Morgan Sloane

Fif…fif… I'm sorry. I can't even say the word. I've never been in such denial about anything in my life, not even the fact that the boy in front of me in seventh grade English didn't actually find me attractive.

This is now the word that dare not be spoken. Even that letter from AARP has been a colossal mistake. They couldn't have known. After all, it's not true.

Even among you all at the reunion, it was easier. I must confess to you that I patronized you all about your feelings of turning fif…5… oh, you know. You see, in October I was only 49. Ha! Well, it's a whole 'nother thing now, folks. And I want to run screaming from the room. At my birthday dinner, tears came to my eyes when my beloved made a loving toast to me. My friends thought they were tears of love. But no. For that brief moment, because he had said something that touched my heart, my emotional guard went down and I was staring hard and fast at the ugly truth - that as I raised my glass of champagne, I was f---y. A pain welled up inside me and the floodgates opened.

Now I keep a pretty good lid on it. Don't talk about it, try not to be bitter. There are lots of topics in life we can put aside, things we don't need to upset ourselves with any more - guilt at eating bacon, fear of meeting new people, reading the grisly details of war atrocities.

They're stashed in a closet in my mind and I know exactly where. But the closet door is closed and locked.

And I'm still looking for the good things about this "time of life." Please, help me here, because the culture is telling me that I don't count any more. I've slipped out of the 18-49 demographic and landed with a thud in the irrelevant pile.

So, my only other way of operating in this new state is to try and pass. Some people say I look 38. Maybe 40. I revel in it.

But promise me this - when I am a wrinkled, hunchbacked old crone with a horrible dye job, giggling that I'm only 38 - one of you will sneak up behind me, point the barrel at the base of my skull and put me out of my misery.

Thanks. I'll do the same for you.

- Morgan Sloane

From Dean Wallraff
It is not an appealing number, 50, made, as it is, from 2s and 5s. 2s are common, the tiny building blocks of computer logic, the atoms of our digital world. 5s are popular far beyond their deserts, having gotten their gig as part of the 10s, the girders of our number system, whose prominence came arbitrarily, because of the number of our fingers and toes. A base-12 world would be an easier place to calculate in, and wouldn't slight 3, the neglected favorite of mystics.

49, my present age (my 50th birthday being tomorrow), factors into 7s, the other mystical favorite, a prime that has always appealed to me, though it's underused and underappreciated. Music, for example, is made mostly of 2s and 3s, with a few 5s thrown in, both at the long time scale of rhythm, and at the short one of harmony. 7's simplest interval, 7/4 is the smallest just interval that's not well represented in our musical scale. I like to use it in music, but to do this I have to write music in a different scale.

Decades, like centuries and millennia, are arbitrary intervals of time, but decades do serve as useful milestones because there are the right number of them in our life. Judged just by the roundness of the number, 50 is the most significant milestone between 0 and 100.

What is this 50-year milestone? In terms of length of life, it's more than the halfway point - the life expectancy of a reasonably healthy American male 50 years old is 79 years. In terms of career, it's also more than halfway - if I started work at age 20 and will stop at 70, the midpoint is 45. The greatest significance is that, at age 50, old age is on the horizon. I'm eligible to join AARP. 50 is the start of the last decade of middle age. (Maybe I'll say that about 60 in another decade.)

My age is relative to the other people in my life. One of the reasons I'm glad not to have had children is that, so often, I feel in others a passing of the baton of life off to children - the children become the main event. This could have distracted me from my own life, my own unique contribution. The selflessness of living for or through another can be a virtue, but it can also be a cop-out. I'd feel a lot older if I'd so intimately watched and helped another person grow through childhood, adolescence and college, into romantic love and work. I would never feel, as I sometimes do now, the same age as those 25 years younger.

In the other time direction, my mother Evelyn died two months ago. With my wife Benita she was planning a surprise birthday party for me, and a little birthday trip to Las Vegas. I've missed her especially during this birthday, because I'm always feeling how she should be here. At least I got to know her well when we were both adults. I never had that chance with my father, whose mind started deteriorating with Alzheimer's disease just as I was getting into college. I would give a lot to spend a few hours with him as he was when he was 50 years old, but that sort of age equality is what we never get with parents or offspring; instead, they serve as bridges to other generations.

There are no longer other generations left for me, making me an orphan in both time directions, cutting me off in that dimension. I've been compensating in an orthogonal way by developing some wonderful friendships. And, being the oldest remaining member of our family, I'm finally understanding at a deep level that I'm really an adult, at least in the private sphere.

It's harder to feel like an adult in the world at large because it's hard, even for a thinking person like me, to resist our society's trivial values. The highest regard is for fame and celebrity itself, for a person made into a worldwide brand like Pepsi or Disney. Few question the value of the contribution made by Sylvester Stallone or Michael Jordan. Few would value higher, as I do, the contributions of Charles Rosen, whose books changed our view of Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven, or of the late Claude Shannon, who invented information theory. The large-scale branding of people wasn't possible in ancient Rome, or in America at the time of our revolution. It's a creation of the mass media. Rock, the first truly mass music, is adolescent. Movies are made for the 15-24 demographic. More and more, children's tastes are being imposed on all of us. It's hard to feel like an adult in the midst of the pervasive worship of fame and success, when what's famous and successful is childish.

What of my own contribution? My dot com company, to which I've devoted most of my professional efforts during the last 5 years, has just died. I had planned to grow it into a big, successful Internet retailer of educational and entertainment software, to make it an effective sales outlet for small, struggling publishers. Two big things went wrong. First, the market vanished for the kind of software that interests me the most, electronic multimedia books on topics of interest to adults. I think that this market will come back in some form, perhaps related to e-books. The second big problem was that it turned out to be impossible for me to raise sufficient capital to grow this business. I spent most of my time during the last three years on this problem, and learned more than I ever wanted to know about small-business high finance. Bottom line: we sold close to a million dollars worth of software, but a lot of it was mainstream product that didn't need our help. The contribution I ended up making wasn't worth five years of my life. My best work contribution so far was the DMX-1000, one of the first commercial digital synthesizers, which I developed and marketed during the 1970s.

What now? I'm at a crossroads, professionally. I've promised Benita not to start any more businesses, because we've saved relatively little money for our old age (I was hoping to solve that problem with hyperDrive.com), and we need some financial security. I have to get a job, ideally using such skills and knowledge as I possess to contribute to a cause that I feel is worthwhile, such as education, publishing or healthcare. I'm open to new ideas and new directions.

It's ironic that, for all of my talk about finally realizing that I'm an adult, I'm in a state that's remarkably similar to the one I was in when I moved to Boston 26 years ago, with a lot of ideas, but unsure about what I would do. I got into computer music then. Who knows what I'll do now?


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