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Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Today I have decided that I am going to ramble. You may elect to stay on this train or you may choose to get off at any point. We won’t be moving particularly quickly so it – whoops, there goes the first one – should be relatively painless.

Let’s suppose for a moment that I could be reborn as myself; same mom, same dad, same sister who bullied the hell out of me. Being three years older and much wiser, she got away with that crap. However, let’s assume that the current me left that “note to self” that many people seem to be talking about these days so that I could take advantage of what I have or have not learned in my rebirth. There are so many things I wish I had known in my various stages of life, so let us have a look at what I’d say. It might even trigger some thoughts of your own.

First, I’d say that I couldn’t be any luckier to have a Mom and Dad like my own. Neither one made it out of high school, but that was in the late 19th and into the beginning of the 20th Century. Seems a long way back, does it? You bet your ass it was, and things were a great deal different than they are today. Our telephones, if one was able to afford one, were party lines. I’m quite certain that I was in my teens before we had a private phone. We had no computers of any kind, much less the ones that we carry around in our pockets today. There was a pilot at the Hanover airport [a dirt strip with one hanger] who took us up – one-by-one – in his biplane – and I was smitten by flight. On Sunday nights, we had ‘monkey’ for dinner; it was tomato soup with cheese melted in it and poured over soda crackers. It was either that or fried bologna for Sunday dinner. When I ask people now about those two meals, most remember the fried bologna, but no one seems to ever have had ‘monkey.’ I was born just as we were starting to come out of “The Great Depression,” – we got by.

If I was leaving a note, I’d tell my new self to be more interested in what school has to offer and not to look at it as a drudge. Just because my folks didn’t go very far doesn’t me that it’s something I should want to emulate. My mother and father always believed in education; the fact that they dropped out was merely so they could earn money for the family, and it was a practice not uncommon in those days. Therefore, when Madeline Lannin was teaching us to read and write in the first grade…that’s correct; the first grade was for teaching reading and writing; there were no kindergartens back then, nor were there pre-schools or playschools or whatever the hell they’re called today…she was giving us the building blocks on which every other teacher would add a level. By Grade 6, I’d say to my new self, you better have mastered all of the subject matter you were given because if you hadn’t, Mr. Metiever would probably cuff you upside the head – see, even what you learn and when you learn it has changed – because you’re now heading for junior high school, a time for you to make some hard decisions. You can choose the easy road or the more difficult one; you can loaf your way through the next six years or you can work your ass off in the hopes that it will make a difference in your life. Personally, I’d recommend the latter; I did not and have paid a price for it up to this point of my life. I’d work harder in Agnes Lioy’s English class, and study harder in Mr. Joyce’s algebra period. I’d choose the more difficult curriculum over the one through which I could coast.

Like many kids of my time – at least as far as I knew – I was the first member of my family to go to and graduate from college…but I wasn’t any great shakes as a collegian – and I’d tell my new self to spend more time with studies than with trying to make time with girls by joining every coed club on campus.

I’d tell myself that smoking was perhaps the dumbest thing I ever did. At least today they put warnings on cigarette packs. They didn’t do that in my day and even those of us involved in athletics thought we could smoke without fear…what a bunch of idiots. It eventually catches up with you in one way or another, so don’t look at it; don’t touch it; don’t even think about trying it. We didn’t have narcotics like cocaine, heroin, oxycodone, or any of God-knows-what when I was growing up so I was never tempted. Let me advise you to put nothing in your body other than what might be prescribed by a doctor…even then, check out its potential chemical dependency

If you are interested in being an athlete, take good care of your body, and with all due respect to those who enjoy them, please stay away from sports where you stand a chance of concussions or what I call ‘later-life-injuries.’ Hell, I’ve had both knees operated on and three back surgeries which I can relate directly to my “glory” days…if that’s what you want to call ‘em! On the other side of that ‘dangerous’ coin is your talent. If you find that you have a talent, whether it is in athletics, academics, music, theater, or whatever, plunge into it with all of your heart and all of your soul. Don’t hold anything back; you will never know the full extent of your potential if you are shy with something that is uniquely yours.

As you move through your life, you will probably hear the word, “loyalty,” a great deal. You must be loyal to your company, to your boss, to your colleagues, etc. Don’t believe it. Loyalty is a two-way street, and unless your company, your boss, your colleagues have shown loyalty to you, don’t believe that you owe your loyalty to anyone who has never shown any to you. Another word you will hear a great deal is integrity. It’s the right and wrong of your soul. No one can ever take your integrity from you…you must give it away. To give your integrity away is always wrong, because when someone asks you to do so, their reasons are inevitably for the wrong reason…don’t give your integrity away…to anyone…to anything…ever!

Someday you’ll fall in love. It won’t all be sex and starry eyes. If you can determine whether or not she’s really the one for you, you’ll be the first man ever to do so since Adam. If you commit to monogamy and marriage, remember this…there will be good times and there will be times that are not so good. There will be great times and there will be times of inconsolable sorrow. Only together, depending on each other’s strength, will you both get through them. Just as you are her rock, so she must be yours.

Well, young me, there are many more things that I should probably tell you, but I’m in my dotage now so I can’t remember what they are. Let me leave you with a quotation from Leonardo da Vinci, “Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”

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It’s no longer enjoyable to give or receive Christmas presents.

Like you, I think, I’m not crazy about Christmas promotions that begin sometime in late September. Also like you, I recognize that need for merchants to sell goods, make a profit, even create jobs to help keep the economy growing, but I truly believe pushing some of this crap that you never see advertised at any other time of year is just plain tacky, tacky, tacky. For example, when else do you find ‘Clapper’ ads being pushed so hard, or the plush animals with all of their pockets? Want to drink fizzy flavored water, buy the stream dream or whatever the hell they’re calling it this year? I must admit that Chia Pets don’t appear to be big this year, but energizer bunnies are getting another shot in the arm.

This year, Christmas ads are vying with health care promotions; thus, it would appear making it unnecessary for writers to develop scripts too complicated. While there may be rules and regulations regarding how many minutes of advertising can be crammed into an hour of programming, I get the gut feeling that those rules are suspended between Halloween and the Super Bowl.

The one market that has yet to be tapped by the advertising agencies or the manufacturers is the over 70 group. Since some are saying the, “Seventy is the new fifty,” there must be a Christmas market there somewhere.  You can’t really sell them a “year’s supply of…” anything because while you’re preaching youth to these folks, the fact of the matter is they could go anytime…and they know it. Since so many seniors are computer literate, selling board games (a) isn’t particularly profitable and (b) can easily be found as an “app” somewhere. Pushing a Nook or a Kindle also becomes a complex issue when dealing with seniors, most of whom will tell you they “…like the smell of paper and ink” that a book gives them, and what do you say in a thirty-second spot to counter that one. Gift cards are great but for how much? Is the degree of importance measured by the amount of a Walmart card? Not only is it a gift card – which shows just how little you think of me” – but to what store…”you know I never shop there” – which means you’re just going to regift the card anyway. Understand something very, very clearly: When you are searching for a gift for a senior citizen, there is a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that you will screw up!

I sort of came to an agreement with my three kids years ago, after they were married and had children of their own…I won’t give to them and they don’t give to me. I will give only to the grandchildren and because I have no idea what they like – our ages being as separated as they are – I give money. Obviously, it can never be enough but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. If I have a rough year, they have a rough Christmas…my answer to their downturned-little-mouths is a very silent, “tough shit; get over it!”  I say that the agreement to give or not with the children versus grandchildren only, because the kids will sometimes try, but then, they don’t know my tastes, nor do they know that I really don’t need anything. I’d rather they put what money they spend on me into reducing their mortgage or buying something extra, like a good steak, for their refrigerator…”I don’t friggin’ need anything.” That’s not to say I have everything I want. Sure, I’d love the winter home in Boca or the Grand Caymans. The jet to get me there and back would also be nice, but who the hell is kidding whom. At my age, I like my bed at home; I don’t like flying anymore; and Boca in the winter is just as bad as it is in the summer – it’s God’s waiting room and who wanted to be reminded?

When Joan was alive, I would give a gift in her name to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It was her favorite charity. If you asked her why, she wouldn’t have been able to give you a good reason, but she loved what they were doing. She may have seen a story on television or something that impressed her. To me she would give a gift in my name to the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge to help benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. I have lost so many friends and family to that insidious disease that anything that can be done to find a cure makes me happy.

Christmas is a great Holiday. It’s also a great Holy Day. Sure, scholars can prove six ways to Sunday that Christ was not born on December 25th. I don’t care; that’s the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christian’s Lord and Savior. My rabbi next door and my Jewish friends at the gym all wish me a Merry Christmas and, tomorrow being the first day, I will wish them a Happy Chanukah. Our faiths may differ but I’d like to believe we all have faith. My prayers may be a bit longer around the Christmas Holiday, but that’s not to say that my faith is weaker throughout the rest of the year. It seems at Christmas I just like to spend a little more time talking to the Big Boss. Gifts don’t seem as important as prayers that He somehow help to unscrew this screwed up world.

My gift to myself is to watch White Christmas and a few other movies on that day. It’s a day when I cry some because Joan is no longer here to celebrate with me; and I cry some because I have a wonderful woman with whom to celebrate the holiday. I’m a pretty lucky guy when it comes right down to it. I pray that you feel lucky too.

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“I have to take fuzzy britches out.”

“C’mon Muttley.”

“Hey Widge!”

“Let’s go dog.”

Cripes, it’s a wonder that the dog will come to you when you call it by its right name. Of course, if you happen to call the dog by its right name, you’d be breathless by the time you finished and the poor freakin’ dog wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about!

Our new pup comes from a top breeder of Cairn Terriers. No one planned it that way. Our last two dogs have been Cairns and they’ve been wonderful. This one’s full American Kennel Club (AKC) name is – now get this – ‘Tin Top Cairn’s Winchedon’s Widget, Wicked Witch of the West,’ summarily named ‘Widget.’ It just fits; no, no, no, not the whole damned thing, but she is a Widget. For those of you ignorant of the origin of the name, Mr. Webster says…”a small gadget or mechanical device, especially one whose name is unknown or unspecified.” Okay, okay, so it doesn’t really fit; blame the breeder. She names her litters by the letter of the alphabet and this litter had to begin with ‘W.’ Therefore, for AKC purposes, her name had to begin with that letter. Then you have to take into account the fact that Winchendon is one of Juli’s favorite towns in Massachusetts and that her favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz – and with all those ‘W’s’ in there, Glenda just didn’t fit – and the naming process becomes exceedingly transparent…right?

Winchendon is a lovely little town….more on that later.

Anyway, as amazing as it may seem, Widget will come when called by name…the shorter version that is. She also knows what to do when you tell her to go to ‘poop hill.’ This really requires no edification, but is merely a dictate of the intelligence of Cairns in general and Widget in particular. It was difficult for me to teach her to ‘stay’ and ‘down;’ Juli, of course, had that down to a science the first time the dog attempted to become entangled in Juli’s legs as well as the first time the dog attempted to jump into her lap – Juli good dog trainer; Dick good chew toy, ugh!

It’s somewhat difficult to describe the manner in which the dynamic of the household has changed since we’ve gone from being dogless for six months to now having a pup – she’s now six months old – in the house. There is, however, a definite change. When I get up at 4:15 am to go to the gym, I do now speak or acknowledge Widget in any manner despite her whines of “I’ve been in this crate the whole night; my legs are crossed, I gotta go so badly. C’mon, bud, let me out.” There is a very good reason for me not to let her out to go or even to acknowledge her in any way. No, it has nothing to do with my cruel personality. Assume for a moment that there comes a day when I do not wish to go to the gym for whatever lazy excuse I may wish to use.  I do not wish to hear a Joe Lieberman whine – that’s what it sounds like – coming from the kitchen just because I elected not to stay in bed that day. It’s amazing what and how quickly dogs can learn…and no, I do not leave the kitchen light on when I leave! And yet, despite my refusal to acknowledge her as I leave, when I return and Juli has taken her out, her tail and entire body wag and wiggle at the sight of me. Perhaps it’s because she knows that if I’m wearing a hoodie, there will be treats in the muff.

I will grant that there are people who do not like dogs or cats or any pet at all. There are times when they are a colossal pain in the ass. Here in New England we seem to have a proclivity in the period between autumn and spring for things called blizzards. They can be extremely unpleasant and if one has to take one’s pet out of doors for biological reasons, the unpleasantness increases a hundred fold. When the pet has finished its ‘business,’ however, and said pet curls up in your lap or at your feet…you realize just how stupid you were not to dry its paws!

Oh, and about Winchendon…check out the town’s web site and stop expecting me to do all the work!

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Driver: “Hey, I think I’ll take a ‘selfie!’

Cop: “Jeez, he wasn’t a bad looking guy ‘fore he went through the windshield.”

Driver: “Watch this guys; the first day, I got my Mom’s car. This really needs a ‘selfie.’”

Cop: “Yeah, all four gone…not one of ‘em with a seat belt.”

Sound stupid…or simplistic…or unrealistic…or like…I’d never do that? If you want to be cool, young, hip, and trendy, it’s exactly what you will do to impress all of your ‘friends’ – all 7,356 ‘friends’ – on your social media page.

The ‘selfie’ culture doesn’t necessarily focus on taking pictures of ‘oneself’ while driving. It merely focuses on taking a picture of ‘oneself,’ and posting said portrait on Instagram, Tumblr, or some other social media site, period. If this isn’t the ultimate form of narcissism I’m not certain what is. Sure, my picture is on Facebook; however, the photo was taken eons ago and I’m not particularly eager to update it. I’m not proud of my looks; neither, I should note strongly, am I ashamed of my looks…I think the nose less, one eyed, no teeth look is coming back into vogue, don’t you?

To me, self portraits are somewhat akin to posting everything and anything on your Facebook page, including what one had for breakfast as well as the time of your daily bowel movement. I hate to be a spoilsport but unless one has friends as warped as they are, most of us just don’t care that you lunched at Old Country Buffet or Applebee’s. I ate at Applebee’s once, not that it matters, but I managed to lose about ten pounds after that meal in what was an unpleasant and very uncomfortable evening. The worst part was that I was staying in a motel and had to get up early the next morning to teach an all-day workshop…yuk!

One of the arguments I have heard for taking ‘selfies’ is that they show the mood of the person at the time of the photo. Why? If, as many of these photographers have said, you are not taking them for friends but for total strangers, why should they give a damn about your mood; better yet, if you don’t even know them, why care about what they think?

Over one million self-photographs are taken every day. While the percentage is relatively small, several ‘selfies’ have admitted to taking what they thought was a sexy photograph and have later regretted it. A photo taken of you by you leaves you open to all sorts of comments from compliments to the ugliness that we all know exists in the world today. The minute you post a picture, you’re asking for trouble. Photos are an open invitation to criticism, even if it’s only joking. Depending on whom you are and your degree of self-confidence, the remarks made by others can be devastating to your psyche. “Oh, I don’t let that type of thing bother me,” is bullshit. No one takes kindly to criticism; I don’t care what they say or how strong they may believe they are.

You are what you are. You don’t need to become a ‘selfied,’ seeking approval from your peers. I’m old, fat, bald [by choice], have a white mustache, and have started to grow a hairy chin. I wear a T-shirt, shorts, sweat socks and sneakers to the gym. I know any number of people at the particular Planet Fitness where I spend time most mornings. We joke about age, weight, and anything else we can think of. However, every one of us realizes that we aren’t there to become a body beautiful; we are there for two basic reasons. The first is that we understand the importance of exercise to our health and well being. The second reason is that we all enjoy getting stoned. What? No, no, no, it’s not that kind of stoned. Well, perhaps in a way it is; you see, physical exercise triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins were discovered in 1975. According to Symptomfind, “They are neurotransmitters, which mean they can prompt or suppress the signaling of nearby neurons. Mostly, endorphins function by interacting with receptors in cells in the part of the brain that controls emotion and blocks pain.” Cutting through the bullshit, here’s what they can do…

  • “Block pain: Endorphins affect the part of the brain that controls how you feel pain. When beta-endorphin was injected directly into the brain, it was 48 times more effective at pain relief than manmade opiates.
  • Boost mood: Endorphins have long been associated with increased feelings of pleasure. It’s thought that endorphins help encourage us to do the things we find pleasurable, including everything from friendship to exercising to eating food.
  • Relieve stress: When you’re stressed out, a boost of endorphins can make you feel more relaxed.
  • Moderating appetite: Part of endorphins’ role is to let your body know when you’ve had enough of something.
  • Enhance the immune system: Your immune system can get a boost when endorphins are secreted.
  • Release sex hormones: The production of endorphins can also trigger the release of sex hormones.”

Holy macaroni, Batman, one little drug can do all those things? Yes, it can. When I talk about getting ‘stoned,’ that comes under the mood-boosting part; however, I kid you not…when you get an endorphin rush, you feel on top of the world. The beauty of releasing endorphins is that this release lasts for hours. You don’t need photos of yourself; you know you’re great!

Leave the ‘selfies’ to the insecure ‘stars’ like Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and the rest. Recognize that it doesn’t matter and it particularly doesn’t matter if you also happen to be driving a car at the same time.

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I think I’m in the early stages of dementia.

You think I’m kidding? Dementia is not a subject about which I would try to make jokes. Illness is not funny, particularly an illness that very slowly drains you of the powers you once had. My mother in-law had dementia. While it was pneumonia that actually killed her, her mind was long gone before the disease hit. She never even knew that her husband had died. The doctor told us that part of his death was probably caused by his determination to take care of her at home rather than put her in the care of professionals. Watching her waste away so slowly was not only torturous, it drove us away from going to visit her.  As examples I would offer that first she thought Joan to be her sister; then her mother; then her grandmother; and then a complete stranger. After our visits, Joan would sit in the car and cry. It would take a day and a half for her to recover from those visits…and they became fewer and fewer. It was easy to find some excuse, flimsy as it might be, not to visit Anna.

I have a couple of friends who are going through the problem right now; one is my age; the other is nearly fifteen years younger. In both cases, it’s the wife who has the illness – funny, I was going to say “problem,” but dementia isn’t a problem, it is an illness. Webster defines it as “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.” That’s not completely accurate because it’s a term that really describes various symptoms of “cognitive decline such as forgetfulness,” according to Medical News Today, “but is not a clinical diagnosis itself until an underlying disease or disorder has been identified.”

“Dementia is a collective term used to describe the problems that people with various underlying brain disorders or damage can have with their memory, language, and thinking.” When the majority of people think of dementia, the first word that comes to mind is Alzheimer’s, but it’s only one of the mental disorders that come under the heading of dementia.

Why do I consider myself in the early stages category? Good question…what was the question again? Now I am trying [and failing once more] to be facetious. Seriously, I have trouble remembering things. For example, there was a time when I – he said with great braggadocio – had no problem with putting words in logical sequence. It was no problem for me to write long passages without repeating adjectives or nouns or adverbs. My lexicon was vast. Uh-uh, not any more. I find that I have trouble stringing several sentences together in a cohesive fashion…and it is truly maddening. My car keys and wallet appear to grow legs or wings and aren’t where I usually put them. Of course, with a new puppy in the house, the kitchen table probably isn’t the safest place to leave things where they were usually left.

I find myself recognizing faces to which I can’t quite put names. Is this the onset of dementia or is it, perhaps, a function of age. After all, we know that we brain cells begin to die off when we are in our twenties and that cognitive ability does decrease with age. As a consequence, I’m torn between seeing someone whose name does not come to me until after we part company and calling it dementia, and merely saying, “Nah, that’s just because you’re old.”

Brain cells can be sped on their way to death by something such as a brain injury. If you happened to see the recent revelations by Brett Farvre  former Greenback Packers quarterback, or Tony Dorsett, retired running back of the Dallas Cowboys, you are aware that brain cells can be killed by sports injuries. Farve indicated that he didn’t remember his daughter’s summer soccer season while Dorsett admitted that his memory loss is increasing. Does this mean that we should ban football because of the head injuries? Hell, no, because if people elect to play sports, they are going to get injured somewhere along the line. Soccer is considering helmets for some levels of the game. Hockey went to wearing helmets years ago; unfortunately, ice and helmets don’t mix well, and concussions are still part of the game.

Let us not condemn all athletic competition as the major contributor to the death of brain cells leading to dementia. Heck, shaking your head rapidly from side to side is enough to cause a reaction that can kill brain cells. Other things that can kill them include most illegal drug use such as cocaine, meth, or ecstasy; sniffing paint isn’t a good idea either. Drinking too much water or allowing oneself to become dehydrated, eating junk food, smoking, steroids, and even not getting enough sleep are contributing factors in brain cell death. Where do I get all this stuff? It’s quite easy to do research on the Internet if you have the interest. When I began to consider what I felt was happening to me, I did the research. Happily, I’ve found that the majority of my failing brain issues can be explained (a) by my age and (b) by youthful indiscretions that are probably better left undetailed at this time. I will say that smoking and alcohol abuse were certainly contributing factors.

Do I really have dementia? No, probably not. What’s going on with me doesn’t seem to affect my daily life in a severe way, which is one of the warning signs. I don’t seem to be having any trouble working with the spread sheet that governs the manner in which money is spent on a monthly basis, and I can still balance a checkbook….if it’s becoming a problem, that’s another sign of dementia. Misplacing things like the wallet and keys may be a first sign, but remember, new puppies will make you change where you put things pretty damned fast, and so far, I still remember where everything else is…just have to get used to putting the wallet and keys where ‘Widget’ can chew on them!

I think I’m going to stop worrying about whether or not I have dementia. After all, excess worry and stress can also kill brain cells. As long as I can remember my way to the gym and how to put words on paper in some semblance of order, I guess I’ll just continue to do what I do and enjoy the time I have left.

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“My children don’t speak to me.”

“Mother and I have grown farther apart as the children have gotten older.”

“Dad doesn’t want to see us anymore and goes into another room when we visit.”

“My kids don’t like my parents very much.”

If any of this sounds familiar, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for touching a nerve that is probably the same nerve over 75 percent of people have to one degree or another. I’m one of those 75 percenters so I know what you go through or have gone through. In defense of ‘us,’ however, it’s nice to know that we’re not alone. Maybe, just maybe, some people are able to control their feelings far better than those of us who are openly honest and candid. My own family breakup began when Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. Yes, you’d think that would be the time when the family would come together to help him with his struggle; it didn’t work out that way. He was pissed at the world – probably God, too – and I would say, from a psychiatrist’s point of view, that I became pissed at my father because I [erroneously] attributed my own smoking addiction to seeing a cigarette constantly in my father’s mouth. Oh hell, who am I kidding; there are probably millions of reasons that a psychiatrist could use to describe my schism with my family…jealousy over mother having another child when I was almost a teenager; Dad never being home because he worked a 3 to 11 shift at the shipyard; teachers who always told me that I wasn’t as good a student as my older sister; etc, etc, ad nauseum.

The kicker is that life is so short on the grand scale of things that we really shouldn’t have or take the time to be pissed off at any member of our family. We, each of us, inherit traits – good and bad – from those who have contributed to our birth and onward. Let the geneticists have a field day with that one, but I rather doubt they’ll even try. It’s probably beyond DNA strands to something even further removed in our human make up.

Attempting to define our familial relationships is akin to shoveling shit against the tide; sooner or later you’re going to find yourself swallowed up by the tide and you know what that’s gonna mean; you’ve got it. I don’t believe Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew, Dr. Oz, or Dr. Whatever can accurately determine what goes on in the human brain to cause us to act as we do.

Many efforts have been undertaken to determine why serial killers and these school, mall, and theater killers behave as they do. Brains have been scanned; frontal lobes probed and poked following death; interviews have been conducted with the living, and very little has been determined. Why should it be any different with family arguments that result in wounds that never heal?

Mother was really ticked off when I announced my intention to get married. My wife-to-be was several years older. I had just graduated from college. We were from different social strata. She was Catholic and I was Protestant. She was from Newton and I was from Rockland [as though the two were planets apart], and other equally ridiculous arguments that all fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until our first child was born that my parents seemed to take an interest in our ‘family.’  Ah, perhaps it was my rebellion in later years that created the chasm between us…who the hell knows? Perhaps that’s the wrong question; perhaps the question should be, “Why?” Why do we allow stupidity to get in the way of family? Family is what has created the ‘human condition’ as we call it. Defined, “The human condition encompasses the unique features of being human. It can be described as the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and innate to human beings and not dependent on factors such as gender, race or class.” What hogwash. The human condition is who and what we are and always will be. It is the good and the evil that is in each of us and what we become will depend entirely on which we find more attractive.

It seems to me that when it comes to family, we seem to find the evil more attractive in the long run. Certainly, there are exceptions to this rule, but if we are being “transparent” {that’s a new 21st Century buzzword], we have to admit that we have our own lives to live and our family is rarely a part of it. Why…Because our family’s life and our lives are not really compatible. To put it in terms that may be more easily understood…My parents grew up in the age of conversation; I grew up in the age of radio; my children grew up in the age of television; my grandchildren are growing up in the age telecommunication that is far beyond my scope of understanding. Kids are learning algebra in the second and third grades; kids in junior high are talking about quantum physics with a certain degree of clarity that I can’t even begin to understand. The times they are a changin’.

As a consequence of all of this, is it any wonder that families are torn apart. The only thing they can hold on to is what they shared in common way back when, and the younger generations don’t wish to look back. They want to look forward; to the future; to what lies ahead. And that attitude has become more common as the world shrinks. In my own case, I find that my children have become less tolerant of my [aberrant] behavior. They tell me they want me to be happy, but they want me to be happy on their terms; I prefer to be happy on terms that suit me.

I would offer this to all generations: Be happy with one another for what each has contributed to the other’s life. You will never share interests other than historical. Respect those interests and to hell with everything else. Youngsters…go your way; move forward and make a better world for yourselves and your children; rid the world of all of the evil that you see and take another step toward the Utopian existence you desire. Oldsters…let them go, but require the same of them; that they let you go and live your life the way you wish. They will learn; they will stub their collective toes along the way; they will add to our knowledge; and perhaps they will move the world forward on this front or that; wish them well in their endeavors; then sit back and pray for them. After all, in the final analysis, isn’t that what you did with your elders?

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About this time every year for the past several years, I become somewhat emotional as well as pissed off at my body for letting me down. This year I guess I have an excuse because of the torn Achilles, but if it’s not one thing, it seems to be another. I’m speaking of the fact that I am no longer able to volunteer for my favorite charity, The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) which will be held this first weekend in August. The PMC raises money for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. Since its beginnings in 1980, the PMC has raised over $375 million.

“What is this PMC?” you ask.

Oh please, don’t get me started. The PMC is a bike ride; it’s not a race; it’s a bike ride! For many, it’s a two-day ride from Sturbridge, Massachusetts to Provincetown, MA. Don’t bother to figure the mileage; it’s 192 miles. Don’t worry, these folks stop at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne for a sleepover before crossing the Bourne Bridge which is one of the two entrances to Cape Cod. Over the years, shorter routes have been added to accommodate the number of riders who want to be a part of this great organization. I guess here might be a good time to tell you that every penny raised by riders goes directly to the charity. Administrative costs come from a separate foundation – and the fact that there are overworked and underpaid slaves in the office who are beaten severely on a regular basis [just kidding]. There are now over a dozen routes to ride the PMC, and many are single-day rides.

My commitment to the PMC spanned over 10 years, not as a rider but as a volunteer. It began before my late wife, Joan, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and it lasted after her death in 2008. It is impossible to describe the feeling, the emotions of preparing to volunteer, just as I’m certain it’s impossible to know how the riders must feel as the train, both separately and in groups, for the ride – training includes a one-day century ride; you’ve got it…100 miles in a single day. Obviously, not everyone puts themselves through that kind of a regimen, but there are some 7,000 plus who do.

On the day of the ride, emotions run high. There’s a great deal of hugging and kissing, well-wishing and yes, a great many tears. Many people ride with pictures attached to their jerseys; for others, it’s a list of those for whom they’re riding. Helmets are adorned with animals of all kinds, usually representative of a toy that was someone’s favorite. There have been times I’ve invited friends to “just come over and watch.” Every single one of them has later admitted that he or she has cried tears of joy for what they saw as genuine dedication and commitment on the part of the riders as well as the volunteers.

The year after Joan died, I was asked to be part of the very brief speaking program that precedes the start of the ride. It was tough, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. As I looked out at that sea of riders, I had trouble holding it together. These people were riding so that there wouldn’t be any more Joan’s or Jimmy’s. There they were…cops and teachers, college students and investment bankers, Red Sox wives and then-Senator John Kerry; there were husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and just about any profession you can name, including many of the doctors, nurses, and administrators from Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund…now that I think of it, I wonder who the hell was minding the store?

Now that I can no longer be an active part of this event, I do a bit as a supporter of a couple of riders. I’m proud to support them and I’m proud of my association with the PMC. If you’d like to learn more, please go to http://www.pmc.org and learn more about this wonderful program. Oh, and if you’ve got an extra buck or so, don’t be afraid to become part of the PMC. I guarantee it’ll feel good to give to such a worthy cause.

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Dream with me for a moment or two.

What would you change if you could have come from a different womb? Would you wish to be born to someone other than the parents you have or had…or perhaps never even knew? At this time, when we are enthralled by the birth of George Alexander Louis as the third in line to the British throne, let’s take a look backward at where we might wish we came from and how it might have influenced our lives. I’ll dream with you and insert my own life because I surely don’t know where the hell you came from. If I had been born to parents of great wealth, it would have been a miracle. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t one millionaire in the whole damned town. That, of course, could have been deception at its finest, but the people who attempted to pass themselves off as wealthy were not people I would have wished as parents. It’s my understanding that my Dad had come from wealth. That’s why he quit school in the ninth grade. He rather enjoyed the life of a playboy and dabbled in tennis and golf “at the club” until the business went down the toilet in the late 20s and early 30s. By then he was married and had no marketable skills. This meant that he went to work for Bethlehem Steel at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. During those depressed years of the early 30s, my sister was born and that had to put more of a strain on the family. A year later, the nation put their faith in Franklin Delano Roosevelt as their new leader. It couldn’t have been an easy time for my folks but during my life I never heard them speak of that period other than to hear them say what a great country this is and what a horror WW II was for so many of their friends. Three years later I came along. On my 5th birthday, Hitler invaded Poland – I really had nothing to do with that, honest – and a couple of years later we were launched into the Second World War. Working in the shipyard and because of his age, Dad was exempt from military service. He never talked about it but in some ways I think he resented that.

The key question here is would I rather have been born to different parents. The answer is that despite some reasonably tough times growing up, my parents were always loving; that to me is the key. Mom and Dad both enjoyed a drink, but neither was a drunk. I never recall any shouting in the house although I do remember their headboard striking a rhythmic beat on their wall a few times. After I was old enough to understand, I don’t remember whether I thought it was gross or just thought…”you go, Pop!” So, no, I can’t think of any other parents for whom I could have wished.

Would things have been better if I had grown up as a Ford, or Carnegie, or the son of a Wall Street baron? Hell, I don’t know. Had I grown up in a palace with parents whom I rarely saw and with tutors who taught me from an early age that I was the be-all and end-all of humanity, would I feel differently? Certainly, but I don’t know anyone like that, not to the extent that I would ever ask them. What I had was great; we had food on the table each night and ice cream on Sunday. Because my great aunts lived in Cohasset, we could get a pass to Sandy Beach – where the water was so cold that walnuts became raisins – and where Mom would do the weirdest damned stroke I’d ever seen. Dad had been some kind of a champion club swimmer and taught us by example until we could almost stay with him on the way to the raft about 50 yards from shore. Those were good times.

I grew up being bullied by older kids and picking on younger ones. It didn’t happen often but it happened. Did that happen to the kids of other parents? Yeah, probably it did unless, of course, you were brought up in a glass bubble and not allowed to associate with “that kind of rabble.” We didn’t consider ourselves rabble of any kind; we were just kids who came from loving homes who didn’t mind getting into a small amount of trouble. Seems to me that despite all of our advances, kids today don’t get into small trouble; unless someone dies, the trouble isn’t trouble at all. It that’s progress, I’m just as happy that I grew up when I did.

So, if I wouldn’t change my parents, is there anything I would have changed? Oh, yeah, you betcha! I certainly would have been more serious about my education. My folks hadn’t finished high school; my sister was satisfied with a high school diploma before she left for a modeling career in New York, and I had no intention of pursuing a college education until Mom pushed me into it. I know they cashed in a life insurance policy to pay for my first year, so I guess I would wish that we might have been a bit wealthier…but we made it. I barely made it through college and it wasn’t until I was married and going back to grad school that education became important to me. Hell, if the graduate school dean wasn’t a friend, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed entrance; not with my record.

I’d like to have made more money in my life but then, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and we survived. I’d like to have been a more loving husband; I just don’t think I loved my wife enough. I’d like to have been a better father; I don’t believe I loved my kids enough either. Perhaps my memory isn’t as great as it once was, but I believe that we could all always do a better job of loving our spouses and doing more for our kids in terms of affection.

Another change I guess I’d make is that I would have kept in closer touch with some of those people with whom I first work and with whom I’d grown up. We grow; we change; we drift away; we get new jobs and new challenges; we make new friends; we may move far away; we find new loves and build our own families; we lose track and that’s okay, because those same people who might wish they’d stayed in touch have done exactly the same thing. Then one day, you see a name in the obituary column and memories return. As you age, the obituary page becomes mandatory reading. Then you get a call from an old classmate who wants to have lunch. You go and you aren’t certain about the subjects you discuss. Eventually, you end up talking about who’s dead and who’s alive; who has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel; how many kids you each had and what they’re now doing. If the classmate was a real friend, you don’t try to play the “my kid’s better than your kid” game; you just talk. Then one day you look at the Irish Sports Page as you’ve come to call the obituaries and you see your friend’s name. You wonder what you missed in that last conversation; what should have been said but never was. Then one day, your name is in that page…and you really don’t have any reason to be concerned about what it was you might have changed.

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Despite my advancing years there are still many things that I cannot and probably will never understand. Perhaps this is not unusual for those of us who came of age during the “Father Knows Best Fifties,” or however one wishes to define those times. We did things back then that were perfectly understandable but that are frowned on or, in some cases, easily accepted in today’s society. Let me give you a few examples:

  • We drank from hoses and we all shared the same hose. Today’s parents appear to feel that this is an intolerable sin and that sickness and even death could result;
  • If we were ever to use the word, “fuck” in any kind of conversation, it might not get your mouth washed out with soap, but you can bet that your butt would be sore for weeks to come; today, the lyrics played on pop radio stations are completely off the wall and the word, “fuck” is among the milder of the expletives;
  • Smoking cigarettes was something of a mark of distinction during the fifties; justifiably – and this from a former smoker – it is today seen as a form of slow suicide;
  • “Cracking open a cold one” meant to have a beer or soda/tonic/pop or whatever in the 1950s: Recently on daytime television I heard it referred to as mortuary necrophilia. That’s not only sick; it’s disgusting;
  • It wasn’t until Fred and Wilma Flintstone slept in the same bed that that ban was busted. Lucy and Desi, as well as Rob and Laura Petrie had been denied that marital pleasure by the censors. Today, they don’t seem to sleep in the same bed so much as…well, you know…and they don’t even have to be married!
  • When the final school bell rang in the fifties, we either ran or rode the bus home; changed into our ‘play’ clothes; yelled “Goin’ out” and were gone until we knew enough to come home for supper…we didn’t call it dinner in our house. Today’s children seem so programmed that if they’re not texting and talking on their phones on the way home, they’re lost; Once they get home, they either go immediately to their computer; go off to some practice; or spend the afternoon in their rooms on the phone or texting.
  • In my day, “blow me” was just a figure of speech. Today it would appear that many young people don’t even consider it as being a sexual act.

Yes, our social and moral standards have changed a great deal during the last half century plus. Some of these are advances. Some I fear have already had dangerous consequences. Recently, I read a story about an office manager who was so disliked that his staff rebelled against him and quit en masse. When upper management investigated, it was learned that the manager felt that his people knew their jobs and had no reason to communicate with him. He felt that all communication should be by e-mail because it was much more efficient. One of my great concerns is that we are raising generations who don’t understand what real communication is all about. E-mail, instant messaging, and texting are great in their place, but face to face conversations are critical. Every high school and college graduate should be required to take courses in face-to-face communication. There are so many scenarios that could be brought forth in such courses the value added to the individual would be priceless. I don’t understand the emphasis on technology at the expense of humanism. I had the good fortune to work with seven college presidents during my career. All were different personalities. My philosophy, which I explained to each of them was this: “When I have good news to share with you, I’ll call you or send a memo – it was only with the last one that e-mail was a popular form of communication – but if I have bad news to share, I will come to your office as quickly as possible and deliver it face to face.”  The reasoning behind this was quite simple; I don’t need to be around to see you smile at the good news; I do need to be around to gauge your reaction to bad news in order that I begin to judge what the next steps should be. You don’t see the expression on someone’s face when you don’t look them in the eye. Can it be troubling or have nasty consequences? Of course it can, but if you are prepared in your job, you’re already with possible suggestions.

I don’t understand why everyone has to be a specialist in today’s workplace or why if you approach a sales person who is one aisle away from their ‘area,’ they are so quick to let you know, “I don’t work in this department.”

I can understand why we didn’t wear helmets when we rode our bikes – well, almost understand – but with today’s bicycles capable of speeds of 40 -50 miles per hour, why the hell aren’t helmets a requirement. And why do I see kids out riding with their parents where the kids are wearing helmets as well as knee and elbow pads while mom or dad are riding without a helmet. I just don’t understand.

I don’t understand drivers who think that laws don’t apply to them; who believe that turn signals are optional; who are unable to read speed limit signs on side roads; who view stop signs as a challenge to see if they can beat through traffic in an intersection; who feel persecuted in a work zone that’s marked as 45 m.p.h. when they were only doing 80. These are things I don’t understand.

I have never understood nor will I to my dying day why we can’t get one more person out of a hundred to give blood on a regular basis. Just one more out of a hundred would fill the needs of the hospitals that depend on that blood for saving lives. One of the achievements of which I’m quite proud is the five gallons that I gave. Unfortunately, the medicines that I have to take to this day preclude me from every giving more. It’s such a simple thing to do and yes, that first pinch hurts a bit, but that’s all over in a second or so.

Of course, I don’t understand quantum physics, nor do I have any desire to do so. Although I was married for nearly 51 years, I have never understood the opposite sex, and any man who says he does is either a liar or a fool. I don’t understand how bumblebees can fly or hummingbirds hover. I don’t understand why so many wonderful people die young and some of the rottenest bastards in the world seem to go on forever.

I don’t understand the people who work in my local Walmart. They are some of the nicest, friendliest people in the world. You may not find them in their department, but they’ll damn sure walk you to the person who has the answers and, at least in my experience, will make it a point to locate you in a checkout line and ask if you found the who’samajigits. Juli and I have decided that if we ever win the lottery, we’re going to buy a pile of birthday cards; stick five $100 bills in each one, and hand them to people who have been nice to us in restaurants, supermarkets, garages, and a few other shops. As we leave, we’ll just give them the card and say, “Happy Birthday.” That way, they won’t have to declare it as income nor will they have to share it with others as a tip. Sneaky, but what the hell.

Finally, I haven’t stopped writing about them, but for damned sure, I’ll never understand the politicians in Washington, D.C. Running the nation seems to be a toy for the rich in order that they can make themselves richer without having to work for it.

There’s a lot more I don’t understand, but I’m tired of writing, and you’re probably tired of reading. Take a chance and drop me a line about things you don’t understand. Trust me; if I get enough, they’ll create another addition to the blog.

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We just lost our seventh dog. That’s not quite right; the dog didn’t run away; the dog died. Yet, I don’t feel particularly good about putting it that way either. I sentenced this dog to death, and the veterinarian was the executioner.

Vikki had been with us/me for over 13 years. She was a beautiful, brindle Cairn terrier we had purchased from a wonderful couple in Rhode Island. I had to go through a three hour interview on a Sunday morning before I was even allowed to view the pups. As I recall, I was asked to remove my shoes before I entered the house because they had a new litter in their bedroom upstairs and didn’t want to expose them to something I might bring in [if they’d only known where those socks had been – just kidding]. By the way, that new litter, as I recall was less than a week old. Following the interview, I went to see the 8-week pups playing in the backyard and told the breeder which one I’d like. “We’ll call you in a couple of weeks with our decision,” she said.

One week later I called the breeder. “Look, we don’t wish to wait another week,” I said. “We’ve had dogs before and we’re a good family for them. I’d like you to tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ please.” It sounded to my mind somewhat angry…which it was. “That’s funny; we were just about to call you and tell you that you can pick up your dog whenever you want,” I was told.

To shorten the story…We did. My late wife had eight wonderful years with our Vikki, and I had five more. About two years before Joan was diagnosed with cancer, the dog knew she was sick. There were no signs or symbols, but one evening, Vikki suddenly jumped into Joan’s lap, snuggled down and began licking Joan’s hand. She began doing it more and more often…right up to the time of the deadly diagnosis. No one will ever convince me that Vikki didn’t know Joan was ill.

In her 13th year Vikki went blind. She knew the house and the yard well enough to get around and do so rather skillfully. Whether her other senses sharpened or not, I have no way of telling; however, this blind-as-a-bat pooch must have had one hell of a sense of smell because she presented us with three baby rabbits the day before she collapsed. Her crash occurred in the backyard. She was lying in the grass and went to get up. Her hind legs just let go and she landed on her side. No matter how hard she tried, her body would not respond. Juli carried her into the kitchen and lay her on the cool tile floor. I called the vet and was told to bring her in the next day.

Vikki was the seventh dog we had owned since 1961. We knew she was in serious trouble. When the vet came into the examining room, she sensed immediately how upset Juli and I were. After a brief examination, she inquired, “Are you both here to say goodbye to Vikki?” We looked at our dog, then at each other, and despite my promise to myself that I would not show emotion, the tears began to flow. This was my seventh dog. I have no idea how many Juli had before moving to Massachusetts. I had never cried before. I loved every one of our other dogs, but I’d never cried. I rested my head gently on Vikki’s as the injection was made. I cried like a baby and so did Juli. Someone later suggested that my tears might have come from Vikki being my last link to Joan. I hadn’t though of it that way, but I suppose it is possible.

Then it was over; Vikki was gone.

Someone said to me a day or two later, “I know what you’re going through; it’s like losing a child.” I’m certain I just looked at them and said nothing. Had I opened my mouth it would have been to say, “Are you fuckin’ kidding me?” A child is your flesh and blood; a pet is a wonderful part of your life that leaves too soon, but to compare the two is sheer idiocy. I will always remember those last moments; better yet, I will remember Vikki falling in the pool and realizing she could actually swim, eventually understanding that on a hot summer day, “Hey, this is a pretty cool thing they put here for me.” Stick up the finger of one hand – not that one, fool – and sweep your other hand around it. That was Vikki in the middle with the world revolving around her. It wasn’t quite that bad, but you get the picture.

When they are pups, they leave little treasures for you to clean up. As they age, they bark at the back door. They let you know when they want to eat and when they want to cuddle. They are loving and they are a pain in the butt. There are times you’d like to slap ‘em upside the head and the next minute they’re laying beside you licking that hand you were going to use before. One moment they’re as stubborn as a rock; the next they are at your side. They are your pet, and if you’ve shown a little love on your part, you get a passel back that’s so big it will just melt your heart. The breed doesn’t matter. If you get a puppy and treat it with kindness, you will receive love that is unconditional. We’ve had Charlie the Dalmatian; Tammy, the Siberian Husky; Snowy, the small poodle, Dapper, the All—American something-or-other who was our only dog to appear on a Boston television show – that’s right a star was born and died on TV…but only when told to die. We had Lacey, our first Cairn. She died of cancer at six…and then we had Vikki. You know the rest.

Will I have another dog? Here’s what I wrote to Vikki’s breeder: “Since I am now 78, I fear this is the end of my pet days. After I go, Juli will be moving back to California with her family and, quite frankly, I just don’t think the kids want any more confusion in their lives Ann already has two labs, and Rick has some monster named Bandit who, I gather is a cross between the Incredible Hulk and Mr. Hyde. Janet’s kids are too young for a dog and they’re so into sports I fear the dog would be a second class citizen.” You should also know that I later e-mailed this breeder, asking if she had any puppies available. If she has, Juli will take him/her to California when my time is up. Vikki has been gone less than a week; the sense of loneliness is inexplicable. Could I love another dog? Of course not…well, not until that first lick on the back of my hand or on my cheek. What a bloody softy; I just hope I never grow up!

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