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There was a time when the President of the United States had to seek the approval of Congress to declare war. In theory, that holds true today. Things, however, have changed, among these are the definition of an enemy; the location of an enemy; the objectives of an enemy; how battles are fought; how the enemy receives aid, including equipment and money; the manner in which intelligence is gathered by agencies from both sides. Now Congress will tell you that this doesn’t matter a damn, but Congress is not involved in the fluidity of individual situations; the President is involved as part of his job, ie, commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

No one in America wants a dictator as their leader. We all want checks and balances of some kind or another. It seems to me, however, that it’s time for us to take a hard look at the roles of the President and of Congress when it comes to going to war. Member of Congress will tell you that that body did in fact support President Bush in going to war against Iraq. If you take the time to read the congressional resolution, however, it is so much gobbledygook that it’s really difficult to tell what was being supported and what was “wait until the United Nations tells us what they’re going to do.” While that’s not an exact quote, I figured I’d better cover my ass. In any event, that was against another nation and not a group of crazy people such as ISIS.

The actual wording that allowed President Bush to invade Iraq read, in part, like this. “President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that– (1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and(2) acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorist and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” I mean, come on; speak English for God sake! When it comes to killing, you can’t be a namby-pamby. We’re talking about dropping very powerful bombs and, most important, we are talking about the cost in human lives. If Congress has to go into committee, draft a recommendation of war for the President, take it to the floors of the House and Senate and get it voted up or down, Hell could freeze over before anything gets done.

We hope that we are electing leaders who have some sense of right and wrong. There have been many times when I have questioned this, e.g., the Affordable Health Care Bill which was jammed through Congress without being thoroughly examined for flaws, and invading Iraq without any proof whatsoever that there were weapons of mass destruction anywhere. But, by and large, these people are reasonably intelligent and have people around them who are even more intelligent – always hire people who are smarter than you; they make you look good and won’t let you make yourself look like a horse’s ass for fear you’ll turn around and fire them – and they can keep the leader on track. As a consequence of this and in today’s world, I don’t believe that Congress should be able to tell the President what to do about rebels in Somalia, or ISIS in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, or any other country where people who have vowed to kill Americans are holed up. This is not declaring war on a nation; this is a different type of warfare.

Perhaps Prime Minister David Cameron put it best when he said, “Islam is a religion of peace. These are not Muslims; they are monsters.” And it doesn’t take congressional approval for America to kill monsters. What it does take is an understanding on the part of those in Congress to understand exactly how far the monsters are willing to go to satisfy their blood lust.

The jihadist leaders say that they wish to establish an independent Islamic state. That’s a lie; let me repeat; THAT-IS-A-LIE! What they actually want is a base from which they can terrorize the rest of the world and be free from attacks upon them. It cannot be allowed to happen. The days of religious wars are over. People such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, considered the leader of ISIS, cannot be allowed to flourish on today’s world stage. The venom of hatred that is being spewed by him and his kind must be stopped by any means possible. Cutting off the head of innocents is indicative of their disrespect for human life.

To my friends in Congress I say, “You do your job for the country and let the President do his. Yes, you may ask your party leaders to ask for a military briefing, but if we are to avoid another 911, don’t go getting all prissy about ‘formal approval.’ It becomes no one and makes you all look like a bunch of whining children.

Someday

This is what I would like to do…First, I would like to take every single politician in Washington and each member of their office staff assigned to someone from their state who is as dissatisfied with their performance as I am with all politicians and their staffs. I would like the people from each of the 50 states sit on one of the steps behind the Capitol, take the Senator, Representative, and each member of their staff, individually, over their collective knees, pull down their pants or pull up their skirts and paddle their collective butts until they promised to stop lying to America and do something for the country that does not involve getting something, e.g., money, into their pockets.

The second thing that I would like to do is short-circuit Dick Cheney’s pacemaker to get him to shut up about how the Democrats and Obama are so terrible. It sends the wrong message to other world leaders Mr. I-can’t-shoot-straight, so as we say in the old country, “Shut your goddamned pie-hole.” It’s not what you say Mr. Former Vice President – catch that one Dick? Former; it’s past tense. You were in office and now you’re out on your ass. Obama didn’t start the war in Iraq; you and the kid did that, and it was a huge mistake. Sure, Saddam was an asshole of a dictator. However, bin Laden’s people were trained in Saudi Arabia and bin Laden himself was from Saudi Arabia…anything but the truth seemed to be your motto, but I won’t go on from there. Just take a long vacation…oh, and take Limbaugh with you. It would make for a fun time.

The third thing would be to take know-it-all’s, me included, to meet some of the captives we have in wherever. If we’re not convinced that these people really hate us by the end of our conversations, maybe we, too, should shut up. However, I for one do not have to be convinced that somewhere in some Middle Eastern country, there is a plot afoot to attack the United States in a manner that will dwarf 911 in scope. Perhaps I am a conspiracy theorist, but someone has set a course to “degrade and destroy” America. The reasons are many. Jihadists have been convinced that we, as a nation, are evil incarnate and that unless we are destroyed once and for all, we will attempt to take over the world and dictate how it should be run. No amount of denial; no amount of foreign aid; no amount of help in any form will ever convince the extremists that our goals are honorable. Of course, if President Obama now or if George Bush before him had come out and said, “America has a single goal; we wish to conquer the world and tell every country how it should be run,” every country in the world would, today, be a nuclear wasteland…not a particularly good ‘thang.’

The fourth thing, and this is something I’d like to see rather than do, is to elect an administration where the President in his inaugural address states, “Before the end of my second term, we will reduce fossil fuel emissions by 90 percent. We will no longer be dependent on foreign oil because oil, in any form, will become a minor commodity in fueling our cities, towns, vehicles and farms.” If Kennedy could say that we would put a man on the moon inside of ten years, why can’t we find an alternative form of energy to move our country? The answer is out there. Let us not be bullied by lobbies and big business within our own borders. As my popular saying goes, “Let’s get an administration that has a pair and doesn’t struggle to grow a pair.”

It seems that after Harry Truman, our leaders have been somewhat wishy-washey. Each has done something. Eisenhower built an interstate transportation system second to none. Future administrations have allowed it to fall into disrepair. Kennedy’s contributions included NASA and averting a nuclear war by solving the Cuban missile crisis.  Johnson managed to get an historic Civil Rights bill passed. He appointed the first African-American justice to the Supreme Court. He established the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts to support “humanists and artists,” and he “Created programs to tackle poverty such as Head Start, food stamps, Work Study, Medicare and Medicaid.” Nixon ended the Vietnam War and for that alone, he should be commended; however, his other contributions, including the opening of trade with China must be viewed in the light of a Democratic Congress that nearly forced his signature on the Environmental Protection Act. Nixon’s was, perhaps, one of the most complex of presidencies we have seen in modern times. It would be a simple matter to go on, but you get the idea. Our presidents since good old Harry who didn’t give a damn about doing anything but what was right, seem to have found themselves bogged down by petty details and forced into micromanaging situations. Their visions have not been clear nor have they always followed their visions to completion.

Am I just being curmudgeonly about where America has been and where it’s going? Perhaps, but then, I’m just another octogenarian who can do little but cast a single vote…or bitch and wail, piss and moan, and write small essays that will be read by few. Perhaps, somewhere out there, there is another Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, a child who can see the greatness that we can achieve and will lead us in achieving that greatness. I sure hope so. By the time that happens, I will be fish food for a few bluefish and stripers in Cape Cod Bay. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be looking…up or down…to see what’s going on. I have high hopes…so kid, you damn well better be out there…cuz I’m dependin’ on ya!

There we were, having one of our after breakfast “He said; she said,” conversations about what is bad and what is…what, you don’t know what a “he said, she said” conversations is? You’re kidding, right? Oh, okay, this is the type of conversation where you begin with a fact…in this case, “Can something or someone be bad without being evil?” Once you run out of facts to justify your position, you then begin pulling things out of your ass for which there is absolutely no foundation in truth. It’s at this point that it becomes a “he said, she said,” and you are free to use glass hammers and sky hooks, along with left-handed paint brushes to prove your case. Since there is no or are no judge or judges, this discussion can go on until someone decides that one more word and they will pee their pants. At this point, both contestants storm off into walls [that weren’t supposed to be there] and the discussion reaches its conclusion.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion about any subject [until it differs from my own], even whether or not Oscar Pistorius intentionally murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or whether the Ray Rice elevator video was actually an outtake of a Mike Tyson confrontation with a reporter. Neither of these cases is subject to be discussed with humor. Both are horrific crimes. How Pistorius has gotten away with murder and why Rice is not sitting in a jail cell are both beyond my comprehension, but I guess that’s the manner in which people with big names and big reputations can get away with things for which the average citizen would find himself doing hard time in a lockup.

Given the circumstances, are these two men bad or are they evil? Anyone in their right mind must conclude that their actions were those of an evil belief, ie, that it is acceptable to murder someone, even through a closed door [did she scream after being hit by the first bullet?} or that it is acceptable to coldcock a woman because she spits at you. Can we say that these evil beliefs are individual behavior or are they, in fact, the beliefs of the tribe to which these two men belong. Think about it for a moment. O.J. got away with murder. The Green River killer, the Zodiac killer, BTK, and even Whitey got away with murder for decades before they were caught. Pistorius is a hero in South Africa. Why shouldn’t he believe that he can do anything and not be severely punished? Ray Rice is engaged in a profession that encourages violence; demands violence as part of the road to success. If I can drive you into the ground hard enough that they have to carry you off the field on a stretcher, which provides a greater opportunity for our team to win and for me to make more money. Is it so difficult to understand the transition from opponent to someone who is being aggressive toward you anywhere else? Lacking a degree of maturity, I can certainly see it happening. Do I agree with it? Hell, no, I think it’s appalling but that is not to say that I don’t see where it comes from.

Domestic violence of any kind, whether it’s by gun or knife, or by foot, fist, or elbow has no place in a civilized society…and the excuse of “she pushed my buttons,” is no excuse at all. Every 9 seconds, a woman is abused somewhere in the world. In America, I believe it’s every 15 seconds. What does that say about us? Basically, it says that we should not be allowed to call ourselves “civilized,” because civilized people don’t do that. Here are a few facts from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

  • One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.
  • 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
  • Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.
  • Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.
  • Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
  • Approximately one-half of the orders obtained by women against intimate partners who physically assaulted them were violated. More than two-thirds of the restraining orders against intimate partners who raped or stalked the victim were violated.

The facts and figures go on and on. Children, particularly males, are twice as likely to abuse their partners when they become adults. Kids are also at risk of being abused if they live in a household where abuse is a fact of reality.

There is an unprecedented opportunity in the courtroom in South Africa and in the offices of the National Football League to make a genuine impact on domestic violence. Judge Thokozile Masipa may have cleared Pistorius of murder but she can still nail his hide to the wall with a charge of culpable homicide, discharging a firearm, and being in possession of ammunition, all of which carry serious jail time for this defendant. The NFL can ban Ray Rice for life, thereby sending a message that his type of behavior will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Is this taking away his livelihood? Yes, it is, but in theory he earned a college degree. Let him use it. If not, let him spend some of that money he’s received from the Baltimore Ravens to educate himself for another line of work.

Domestic violence is indefensible, no matter the reason. It’s indefensible for husband against wife or vice versa – yes, men are also victims of domestic violence – or whether it’s same sex violence, or violence of any kind against a partner, friend, or acquaintance. Crime of any kind is unacceptable, but, just like domestic violence, it will continue, and people like me will rail against it by our writing, take classes to become counselors and attempt to help in that way…but it will go on. It will go on because in some form, in same way, in some dark recess of our minds, we make it acceptable and we allow it to happen…and we should ashamed of ourselves.

Feeling the pain

Have you ever hit your ‘funny’ bone? Painful, isn’t it? If it’s pain, why do they call it ‘funny’ and how can a bone be funny? Well, if you have a small dog and a huge bone from the local market, I guess watching the dog can be kinda funny, but not when you hit your ‘funny’ bone; damn, but that hurts…but it’s a strange hurt. It’s not like getting your hand slammed in a car door. I mean, that really freakin’ hurts; it hurts like a mother and that’s only half a word.

So, what is pain? Someone told me this morning that at West Point, they consider pain as “weakness leaving the body.” Oh, those cadets…how funny is that…sorry guys but that’s kind of an asshole definition. It may be nice to say, but how anyone could consider that to be true is beyond me. Pain, Mr. Webster writes, is “…a physical discomfort or suffering caused by illness or injury.” Another use of the word as a noun is “careful effort, great care or trouble.” It can also be used as a verb, as in “it pains me to say this but…” or “You’re a real pain in the…” The Thesaurus has so many synonyms, you don’t want to hear them and I don’t want to keyboard them.

I guess, when you get right down to it, pain is whatever your definition happens to be. Take when I passed out at the gym for example…there was no pain! That’s right; one minute I was reaching for a couple of Tootsie Rolls and the next minute I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital. However, and oh, is that a big “however,” by the time I got to the hospital, my elbow, my back, my head, and damn near every other part of me was in what I would call pain. That lump on my head was so painful that if someone tried to float a sheet of Angel Soft onto it, I would have crossed my eyes and jumped off the bed. The kicker is that no one, doctors, nurses, lab techs…nobody gave a damn about my head…and they were right. The external pain didn’t concern them as much as what might be going on inside. I think, and I could be way of base here, but I think that maybe pain is a good thing. I know that if I do a workout and feel pain the next day or two days later, my friends tell me that’s a good ‘thang.’ It seems that if one works out properly, one is putting small tears in muscles and when they heal they become stronger or some bullshit like that. All I know is that I can feel as refreshed from a weight workout as I can from a cardio workout…but what the hell do I know.

According to one source, “Pain can be nociceptive, non-nociveptive, somatic, visceral, neuropathic, or sympathetic.” Now since I don’t want to put you to sleep prematurely, I am not going to describe what each of these mean. It doesn’t really matter because only you know if you’re in pain, you know it. Pain is what you feel as pain. This brings me to another point: My late wife could cut herself with a knife and be bleeding. It wasn’t until she saw the blood that she might say, “Oh, I cut myself.” It wasn’t a big deal. I cut myself and right away, I know it. Pain thresholds vary from person to person. What might be unbearable agony for one can be just a nuisance to another. While I gave a total of five gallons of blood to the American Red Cross, I cringed every time I saw that ‘hollow harpoon” heading my way. Funny, but when I was told not to look or that I might feel “a slight pinch,” it was never as bad. Sheer anticipation can make the experience worse than it actually is.

Who is more susceptible to pain? That’s probably not a fair question. According to Dr. Grabois, professor and chairman of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine, “Pain tolerance is influenced by people’s emotions, bodies, and lifestyles.” Several factors that he has identified as affecting pain tolerance includes, depression and anxiety which can make a person more sensitive to pain; the conditioning of the body, i.e., “athletes can withstand more pain than people who don’t exercise;” and “People who smoke or are obese report more pain.”

Pain is classified as either acute or chronic. Acute pain is usually severe and short-lived, and is often a signal that your body has been injured. Chronic pain can range from mild to severe, is present for long periods of time, and is often the result of a disease that may require ongoing treatment. As one who suffers from chronic pain, I can tell you that living with it, one almost gets used to the idea of living with pain. For example, I have self-fused, by age, activity and inactivity, all of my lumbar vertebrae. In addition, I have undergone cervical spinal fusion. Effectively, my spine is about as messed up as it can possibly be without putting me in a wheelchair. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about this. I’m merely stating that I am one of the millions who live with chronic back pain…and I’d rather have this than what millions of others go through each and every day.

There really is no point to this essay. Pain is a very real thing…and it hurts! Just imagine what it would be like to live without suffering pain. Initially, you might believe this is a good thing but I assure you that there is more inherent danger in not feeling pain than there is in feeling the hurt.

When Obama first ran for Prexy way back in 2-ought-8, he sounded pretty good. We’d had eight years of George II, and I was pretty much filled to the brim with the bullshit that he’d been shoveling. I figured it was time to put the leadership back in the hands of the Democrats. “What the hell,” I thought, “it would be impossible for them to fuck things up anymore than Georgie and “the hit man” had already done. I even went so far as to send a contribution to the Obama campaign, and that, my friends, is the biggest mistake that any American citizen can ever make.

I had been warned by many people never to make a contribution of any kind to any organization of any type because they will hound you to your grave. It’s true; it’s true, and I’m not singing anything from Camelot. Thankfully, I’m not in my grave…well, one foot’s in and the other’s on a banana peel, but what the hell. I did not keep track since 2008. However, I did keep track of the last four days. In that time, I have received nearly 20 e-mails from someone in the Democratic Party. The first one came from the top dog himself. It read:

“I’ve already emailed you this month. I’m emailing you again because this is important. Take 30 seconds to read this: — Republican outside groups are outspending us nearly 3-to-1. — That’s nearly 3 times as many resources attacking our Democratic candidates. — The most important fundraising deadline we’ve faced is in just 48 hours. Richard, I don’t want to lose this election because we didn’t fight Republican attacks when we had the chance.”

Who is “us?” I will make the unwarranted assumption that “us” is members of the Democratic Party. Guess what, I-don’t-care. You see, I’m one of those people who is embarrassed by a Congress that has done absolutely nothing but pass an Affordable Health Care bill that is neither affordable nor does it cover, in a reasonable manner, the health care for all Americans. Other than that, they have spent their time pissing and moaning over the fact that the passed that bill – which, by the way, leads me to question their intelligence in the first place. Therefore, where it says, “incumbent” on my ballot in the fall of 2016, the other person will be receiving my vote. He or she can’t be any worse than what we have in the various suites right now.

The next e-mail came from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and the Congressional Representative from Florida’s 23rd congressional district. Debbie said

“If I thought this could wait, I wouldn’t be emailing you. Right now, Boehner is using his corporate cash to creep into TVs across America. All told, we’re facing $30 million worth of attack ads. I don’t plan on letting Boehner win in November. But we’re coming up short of what we’ll need to fight Boehner’s smears. Our critical deadline is in 48 hours. I’m pleading with you to take a moment and step up.”

Right away she pissed me off. Congressman John Boehner may be orange in color, a member of the opposing party, and a real son-of-a-bitch, but he is still a duly elected Congressman from Ohio and chairman of the House of Representatives. How about a little professional politeness here; you could, at the very least, refer to him as “Congressman” Boehner. In addition, remember that Congressman Boehner, for all his faults, doesn’t personally prepare the smears; hell, that’s why he has a staff.

There were a few more in between but then I received this one:

“We’re running out of people to email you, Richard. “In the last two days, you should have received an email from: — President Obama — Nancy Pelosi — Debbie Wasserman Schultz  “That’s how important this is! Democrats are getting massively outspent by Republican groups. And we’re fighting desperately to turn it around. “We need 61,037 more donations in the next 48 hours if we want any shot at giving President Obama a Democratic House for his final two years.”

And it was signed “James.” Who the hell is James? In addition, I must have missed Nancy’s. Oh, sure, she’s written letters to me from time to time, but I don’t recall any recent e-mails. I felt somewhat insulted not to have heard from Nancy. She’s that Congressional delegate who’s always trying to get legislation passed that will help her husband’s business…ooh, not nice!

I won’t bother to relate the texts of any of the other please. You understand the gist of what was going on. However, the subject lines in some of these were priceless: “Richard, I’m begging.” Don’t beg; begging makes you look bad; begging is a poor choice of words. “We’ve got nothing left, Richard.” Hey, what makes you different from the average American citizen? You’ve got nothing left? Tell that to the people who have been scammed out of their savings; tell it to the elderly who must decide between pills to keep them alive and putting food on the table. Another subject heading was “Boehner stunned,” telling all of the wonderful comeback in fundraising, and that, Congressman “Boehner will scream with rage when he sees this e-mail.” I’m quite certain the Congressman has better things to do. This was followed by, “everything has failed;” “we have failed;” “we’ve never failed like this;” “pummeled,” and this you have to hear: “It’s going to take everything we have to answer President Obama’s call-to-action, beat Boehner, and hit our fundraising goal tonight.” And, finally, “Astronomical,” indicating that all is well in the world of Democratic Party fundraising. If you’ve ever heard the expression, “Figures don’t lie, but liars sure can figure,” you can understand my skepticism over this whole thing.

The point is that if you intend to make a donation to some cause, do it by putting cash in an envelope and send it anonymously. Sure, it will get stolen by the person opening the envelope, but maybe it will go to a good cause. It will also pretty much assure you that you won’t get bombarded as I have and expect to until the day I die…then my heirs will get bombarded…serves ‘em right!

 

I was six years old in 1940; sixteen in 1950; and 26 and married for three years by the time 1960 rolled around. On my fifth birthday, Adolph Hitler and his thousand-year-Reich invaded Poland. Korea was on the verge of exploding and I was still a naïve American young boy, just old enough to begin working, at least according to the labor laws of the time, when I was 16. Sputnik had gone up and scared the crap out of everyone by the time I graduated from college the first time, and it seemed that the dreaded and hated Soviet Union was going to win the “space race.” As ‘they’ say, “A lot of water has passed over the dam and under the bridge since those days.

When I was in high school, there was one Black kid…Leo Kennedy. Leo was a great athlete, something of a good friend, but I really never sat down and talked with him. He was the only Black person I knew, and, well, I really couldn’t talk about him at home. Jimmy Proctor appeared in high school when we were sophomores and he made two Black kids in school. We even had our token Jew, Freddie Ferber, but all we knew was that he didn’t go to any of the churches in town. You see, I grew up in about as white bread community as you could possibly see back in the fifties. It wasn’t so much that it was a slower time of life as much as it was just a different time. Looking back, I’m happy as hell that I don’t have to be growing up today, and someday, some old fart like me will dictate or thought transfer the exact same thing onto or into God-only-knows-what, and that person will say the exact same thing…”Wow, I’m happy as hell that I don’t have to be growing up today.”

Times were really bad when I was born. It sort of makes me wonder if my conception wasn’t some big accident. There were still breadlines in some places in 1934…hell, there were breadlines in various communities right up through 1936. What kind of crazy people would want to conceive a child during times that were that tough? Accident or not, I’m rather glad that Bud and Rae decided that I was worth the making. I guess it paid off. Dad was a shipyard worker and, when war broke out seven years after that glorious September morning when I appeared on the scene, money became plentiful once more because the shipyards were so damned busy, they were going three shifts around the clock. Overtime was just one of those things of which you took advantage.

Things just seem so much faster-paced today than they were when I was growing up. Maybe, just maybe it’s not that things are that much faster; maybe it’s just that I’m slowing down. When I was younger, it wasn’t cancer that killed people; it was polio…and car accidents…and heart attacks, although no one seemed to know what brought about heart attacks. I suppose doctors knew about cancer when I was a kid, but I don’t recall ever hearing the word tossed around. Uncle Stanley dropped dead in the shower; never did know what killed Aunt Stacy or Aunt Celia – she was the former postmistress in Cohasset, you know – but it wasn’t until my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1968 that I ever even considered the word.

Everything has changed; in many ways you – at least if you’re near my age – and I have changed with a great many of them. We have cell phones with apps and maps and cameras and so many other gadgets that I’ve stopped trying to figure out what they all do or mean. I wear head phones to listen to my I-pod at the gym. Other folks use ear buds, but I can’t get the damned things to stay in my ears. Rather than seeing only one or two people who are Black, I find that most of my friends are either Black, gay, or from a country other than America. My next door neighbor is a rabbi, and I turn to him as much for a counselor as I do to anyone else.

What will life be like in 2214 or 2314? How much will it have change? Will there still be a world as we think of it today. Will kids go to work at 16? What will that work entail? Will college still be an attractive way to further one’s education, and how will students attend college? Will they sit in front of a television screen and take online courses only? If so, how will they learn to interact on a social level? Many people, when I was growing up, believe that the year 2000 would be the age of the Jetsons. Well, that one sure blew by the boards in a hurry, didn’t it? War has certainly changed since I was a kid. Back during the days of WWII, you knew who the enemy was…and they fought like men, not using the skirts of women or children to sneak around. Today, they don’t seem to be world wars as much as they are, religious actions. At least that’s what the politicians would have you believe.

While it’s been the case since time began, I don’t believe the division between the “have’s” and the “have not’s” has been so great since the late 1800s. Conspicuous consumption or “keeping up with the Joneses” has put many a family in ruin. The idea of having a new car every so often; sending the kids to a prestigious college, even if it means refinancing the house; having the newest of this or the very best of that seems to be the downfall of too many people in this country. Job uncertainty doesn’t appear to be holding people back from this idea of wanting everything without the means to provide it. Juli and I have adopted the philosophy of, “The Joneses are in debt and we don’t care to join them.” I wonder how that will be playing out in a couple of centuries. No one seems to be too concerned about these questions, and I’ll be pretty dusty by the time they come along, so I guess I shouldn’t worry a whole hell of a lot about them either. They do, however, intrigue me.

When I was teaching a workshop in creative problem solving, I would often open with some icebreakers. The class would be split into random five-member teams…strangers getting to work together. They would be given a problem similar to the following: “The year is 2375. You and your family are spending your two-week vacation on a beautiful tropical island, once known as Massachusetts, in a country once known as America. What happened to make this a reality?” Every member of the team had to speak; the story they told had to be cohesive…and they had only fifteen minutes to come up with their scenario. To me, this kind of thinking is what we need today if we are to ensure that there will be kids growing up two or three centuries from now. My life was so simple and today’s life seems so complex. I wish you well, those who are not yet conceived. To those of us nearing the end of our time on earth…have we done the job right? Will our kids do the job right? Oh, how I hope we haven’t messed up everything!

Me and my big mouth!

There is good news because I have found humor about which to write!

Yesterday, I forgot a luncheon appointment with an old friend who is the comptroller at a private secondary school in the area. We generally get together every three or four months to discuss…nothing  of great importance, but we enjoy each other’s company and swapping yarns about “the old days,” whatever the hell that happens to mean. However, being my responsible self, I forgot to put the appointment in my telephone calendar, on the printed calendar that hangs on a closet door in the kitchen, or on the calendar that is on the kitchen table – we try to cover as many bases as possible here: after all, wouldn’t want to miss an appointment.  Ed, my friend, kept the appointment; we generally confirm the day before, but we did not. Upon entering the restaurant, he inquired after an “elderly gentleman” (what a bastard on both counts…I’m not old and hardly could be called a gentleman). “We did show a gentleman to a table a few minutes ago,” he was told, “and said he was waiting for another party.  I believe he went to use the men’s room.” The hostess showed Ed to the table at which the elderly gentleman {her words…the bitch!] had been seated. My friend sat down, ordered a drink, and began munching on the hot bread that had already been served, and believing that I would return from the men’s room momentarily. A few minutes later, an elderly gentleman [hate that stuff] appeared and sat down at the table adjoining my friend’s. Ed continued to drink and munch until the gentleman sitting at the adjoining table said, “I didn’t know you would be joining us today.” Ed said nothing, finished his drink, stopped chewing on the bread, got up and left the restaurant [cheap bastard probably didn’t even pay for the drink], thoroughly humiliated and embarrassed! He e-mailed me in the afternoon, omitting no detail from his encounter. Reading it, I knew that humor had come back into my life, and also knowing that I had to, at all costs, share the story.

After sharing the above story with my companion, she reminded me of another event that occurred recently which, in retrospect, was rather funny. You see, she is an avid gardener, and this has been a nearly perfect growing season in New England. From six crook neck squash seeds, we probably received over 20 squash. From three jalapeno plants, I wouldn’t even care to count what we have received. From out four tomato plants, plus the volunteers, we’ve hardly been able to keep up with the harvest. What are the “volunteers,” you may be asking yourself. Volunteers are those tomatoes that somehow cast their seeds. According to all of the farmers with whom we’ve spoken, tomatoes don’t survive New England winters. However, someone has forgotten to tell our tomato seedlings this, and for the past several summers, we generally find six or eight “volunteers” growing around the yard. They are gently transported to beds and often produce a fine crop of Early Girl tomatoes.

Anyway, back to the story. The excess of our garden I take to the gym. Juli has a special tray that we use. She lines it with parchment paper; I load it into the car, and, after my workout I set the tray on a table at the exit and slide the parchment paper carefully onto the table. In that way, I can return the tray and not have to wait around until all of the produce has been snatched away. Recently, a fellow gym rat was asking me if we would be interested in some really how peppers. “Sure,” I said, and he promised to bring some in for our salsa. He brought in a bag which contained the peppers, but which also contained summer squash (oh no!) and a zucchini. That night, my partner noted that I would have tomatoes to take to the gym the following morning. Understand something very clearly: When I’m driving to the gym at 4:30 a.m., I’m not fully awake. This is said not to justify what happened but to justify what happened! After the workout, I went to the car, recovered the tray, laid out the produce, took the tray home and put it in its storage spot, i.e. the oven.  When my companion arose, she came into the kitchen and asked, “Where’s the tray?”

“I took it to the gym.”

“Why?”

“You told me last night that you’d have tomatoes on the tray for the gym.”

“Not that tray. That one had the produce on it that your ‘buddy’ gave to you. Was he there?”

“Omygod! No, thankfully, he was not there.”

“Weren’t awake, were you?” she asked

“Nope.”

“Damned fool.”

When I saw the other gym rat a few days later, I felt obligated to tell him the story. We both had a good laugh, but I was still embarrassed by my faux pax.

The moral is that humor is where and when you can find it. I think that now I’ll just start looking for humor in more places. I hope you can do the same.

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