A Guy and His Hobbies

Platitude of the day: everything changes. Petunias bud, wax, and wane. Ice melts and water evaporates. Even the most seemingly solid and immoveable objects—think mountains, think diamonds—change in time.

Even me. I just might change my hobbies.

Consider my most passionate and involved hobby of the past several decades: record collector to the nth degree, bonafide whack job about completions, ready to pounce on the latest box set of Leonard Bernstein or Fritz Reiner or the Southwestern Orchestra of Northeastern Saarbruckersteinerbach. I bought CDs like no tomorrow. Eventually my hobby expanded to encompass a brief but exhilarating fling with vinyl LPs, then went seriously retro with an even more brief fascination with shellac 78s.

Concurrent with that came waves of audiophilia, not a steady-state infatuation by any means but periodic. When you get right down to it, once I had achieved pleasing sound quality I stopped caring. It didn’t hurt any to eschew the pornographic audio fantasies of industry mags such as The Absolute Sound and Stereophile. Besides, I never could really afford audiophilia, and I’m far too rational ever to sign on to its many absurdities. True audiophilia requires taking leave of your senses. I mean that literally: you have to ignore what your senses are telling you, namely that you can’t hear one goddamn bit of difference between a $3000 amplifier and some audiophile-blessed $45,000 jobber. A willingness to believe that 2+2 does not equal 4 is part and parcel of the whole audiophile gig.

It all came to an end. I lost interest in having all the latest classical CDs, stopped haunting whatever few brick-and-mortal stores are left standing, and ended my daily visits to eBay, ever in search of that elusive je-ne-sais-quoi recording by some pet artist or orchestra. Desire for chic audio gear faded.

Yet the urge towards hobby remained strong. I may practice an altogether satisfying profession, but just like everybody, I need my hobbies. When you think about it, CD-collecting is only marginally a hobby for a professional musician. Anything I can take as a tax deduction isn’t really a hobby.

I acquired—by drift and not by design—two new hobbies. Neither of these has any connection to music as can be attested by their utter non-deductibility. Can’t take a sous for either of them.

Hobby No. 1: gardening. Perhaps it’s a sign of encroaching age, as musician-turned-duffer putters around in his back yard, tut-tutting over the worms in the dahlias and patiently plucking ficus-tree sprouts from between the rows of impatiens. Well, allow this duffer to putter as he will. Gardening costs a mere fraction of CD collecting—let’s not even talk about the price differential with audiophilia—and offers demonstrably greater joys. There’s something just so dang satisfying about watching some piddly sprig of green take root, take flight, and morph into a gracious congeries of flowers and leaves. I have taken a father’s prideful interest in observing a bed of begonias slowly rise to cover almost half of a garden Buddha, joined in by encircling impatiens that by now render the Buddha as looking as though he floats amidst a cloud of flowers.

Trivia: according to the suttas of the Pali Canon, at the time of Siddhatta Gotama’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (itself a species of ficus, just like the trees in my garden), the tempter Mara shied rains of arrows in his direction, all meant to distract him from the magnificent achievement just about to occur. Siddhatta knew those arrows for what they were, and the power of his concentration turned them into cascades of flowers. And there sits my garden Buddha, floating amidst the begonias.

It’s a pip of a hobby.

Now for Hobby No. 2: cycling. That one might be a bit of a surprise to anyone who has known me for any length of time, because athletic stuff just isn’t my forte. Yet cycling is indubitably physical. It actually builds up muscle tone over time. Imagine that. To date cycling is the only hobby I’ve ever had that could conceivably result in weight loss.

Whether or not my current hobby of recreational cycling, a.k.a. puddling about aimlessly, will act as a gateway drug to more involved or ambitious riding remains to be seen. I do tend to go in for the pound over the penny, so it’s not beyond possibility that I might eventually drape myself over some sleek carbon-fiber contraption and zoom hither and yon in an unquenchable quest for speed and distance. But not now. For now I’m the master of the down-shift. I sit upright on my “city comfort” model, looking around and enjoying the endless charms of the great outdoors.

I never would have picked up cycling when I lived in San Francisco. There’s a reason for all that grim militancy surrounding San Francisco cycling. It’s a lousy goddamn place for cyclists: the streets are narrow and pocked, the drivers inattentive or borderline homicidal, the winds chilling, the hills troublesome.

It was the move to the Delta region that encouraged me to take up cycling. Out here the streets are wide, the traffic light, the hills almost nonexistent, the breezes soft and inviting. Riding around East County is joyful and relatively safe. All of the main streets in my home town have bicycle lanes, and even the smaller ones that don’t are wide enough to allow for easy riding. And there are miles and miles of pathways and trails to be explored, some smoothly paved, some a bit more rustic, but all enjoyable and endlessly fascinating.

So I ride. I have become less maladroit about basic cycle maintenance although I remain a bumbling neophyte nonetheless. I can carry out a few simple fixes. Anything else requires a trip over to the bike shop.

Thus I shift one pair of hobbies (CD collecting/occasional audiophilia) to another (gardening/cycling.) A moment’s thought reveals the underlying reason for the shift: I moved from city to suburbia. My old hobbies were distinctly city-dweller hobbies, dependant on having a supply chain and big-city resources such as high-end stereo stores. My new hobbies are distinctly suburban, requiring as they do the access to lawns and gardens, and an ample supply of safe bike trails and paths. Not to mention a more salubrious climate.

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