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Archive for October, 2010

I live near an airport. It’s not a large airport, more what one might consider a “community airport.” I don’t really know anyone in the community who owns, rents, or even knows how to fly an airplane – something I always wanted to learn – but it’s called a municipal airport.

All of the Boston area television stations that own helicopters appear to house them at ‘my’ nearby airport. When the wind is right, you can hear them warming up for the morning traffic reports; come to think of it, the wind doesn’t really have to be blowing our way; it can be blowing directly away from us, and one can still hear these folks warming up to begin their business day. Generally, they “come home” after the morning traffic rush and aren’t hustled our again until the evening rush begins…somewhere around noon the way traffic patterns are now beginning to form. That’s not quite true but it often feels that way.

The nicest thing I can say about these helicopters is that they let me know when a disaster will be part of the evening news. I may be out at the pool, fiddling around in the garden – I know how to ‘fiddle;’ my partner knows how to garden – or doing some other inconsequential thing out of doors when, suddenly, I will hear all of the helicopters “bladdleing” and taking off in a great big hurry. If they don’t fly within viewing distance of the house, I can almost without fear of contradiction tell you the route number to which they are flying. I have the distinct feeling that some news reporter is on constant standby with the helicopter pilot, just waiting for the word from an assignment editor at the station. Perhaps they don’t wait; perhaps they have a police scanner in a coffee room where everyone gathers round just waiting for a car crash or some other disaster to take place. Since it’s been so long since I’ve seen an “on site” reporter traveling any distance to cover a good news story, and since those aren’t generally the type that come over police scanners, perhaps my expectations are a bit skewed.

You must understand that New England – all six states of us – is pretty small. As a consequence, a murder, rape, burglary, or bank heist in Maine can find its way to television stations in all of the other five New England states, just as Maine benefits from similar stories that may happen in Connecticut; well, at least the eastern half of Connecticut. The western half of the Nutmeg State is more interested in the doings out of New York City. We consider most of those living there to be Yankee fans, a sobriquet reserved for those who worship the Devil and who should have been burned at the stake during the witch trials of the sixteen hundreds, thus preventing progeny from living here today. Before you say that baseball hadn’t been invented yet, check your facts carefully; the Yankees hadn’t been invented but baseball seems to have arrived during Colonial times…however, enough with the history lesson.

When we first moved to this house nearly a quarter century ago, helicopters and short-runway jets didn’t seem to be as popular as they are today. There are a lot of things that weren’t as popular back in the eighties as they are today – obesity, bullying, teen suicide, cocaine, crack and crystal meth, etc., – but perhaps that’s just because in retirement I’ve become more aware of these phenomena. I really shouldn’t complain although there are times when a small private jet taking off at three-thirty in the morning tends to rattle my cage just a bit. “Move,” you say? Now why would I want to do a thing like that? I know now how the people in East Boston felt when Logan International Airport constructed a runway that took air traffic directly over their houses. “We were here first,” is really our only argument and you know what, that is not a valid point. Progress is progress and if commercial air traffic increases and I’m affected to a degree, I’m just gonna have to suck it up. I do, however, have greater empathy for those people who live in ‘Eastie.’

Our oldest daughter called the other day. “Dad, I don’t if you’re on the highway or not, but don’t go near Route 24. We just got through there and there’s traffic on both sides of the highway and ambulances and police cars all over the place.” I really didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was pretty certain that’s where the helicopters were going when I’d heard them an hour before…damn, I’m good!

Helicopter commuting in New York is something I’ve always known about since the old Pam Am building went up. Now it’s the MetLife building but the commuting goes on. Folks on Wall Street can commute to work by helicopter for $200 per day. This means that the bosses can arrive on time but those lower down on the pay scale will be tardy if anything should go awry in the ground transportation area.

I’d love to get mad at those helicopters and the stations, executives, etc., who use them, but I cannot. I can’t deny that it eases the burden for some commuters, mostly because those that are giving traffic reports are trying to help those in cars. I’d rather get irritated with those who insist on using their cars purely out of convenience…if you call getting stuck in traffic a convenience.

Ah, well, life goes on. Long after I’m gone, there will probably be “air busses” from my little municipal airport. Eventually, they will be much quieter and affordable. Until then, we have the noisy choppers wending their way through the sky.

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Politicians are liars! I don’t believe there is a man, woman, or child old enough to watch television who would disagree with that statement. Heck, I don’t believe there’s a politician alive who, if his or her feet were held to the fire, wouldn’t admit that he or she has lied to the constituency. Richard Nixon was a crook; he was also one of the best ambassadors we ever had when it came time to dealing with China. Jack Kennedy was a “swordsman” and for those who don’t know what that means, I’m not gonna bother to explain. History has yet to determine his effectiveness and his positive contributions to the nation.  Bill Clinton did have sex with ‘that’ woman and probably many, many others we don’t know about. However, he also took a deficit and made it disappear. He kept us at peace for his entire term. George W. Bush was not a good president but his intentions were wonderful. The problem that he had was that he listened to a war monger like Richard Cheney and a political hack by the name of Karl Rove. The point I’m making is that all of our Presidents – from Washington to Obama – have lied about one thing or another and each lie seems to have grown larger with time. “The evil that men do lives after them,” Mark Antony said. “The good is often interred with their bones.”

Perhaps we’re too hard on our Presidents and not hard enough on the other branches of government. Remember, the President has an agenda. In the case of Barack Obama, his first agenda item was health care. Was it the most important agenda item for the majority of Americans? No, probably not; however, are we to castigate the President for trying to get a universal health care package passed by Congress? No, we’re being short-sighted if that is how we feel. Was TARP a mistake? That all depends on the Congressman or woman with whom you speak, but again, just as in the health care package, the Congress has become so polarized that you can be guaranteed that the truth will be twisted to meet the party line, Democratic or Republican.

I live in Massachusetts. We have a local cable channel that covers much of the six New England States. I will often watch it because we see political ads from New Hampshire and Connecticut. The people in Vermont don’t seem to be doing too much television advertising. Maybe they’ve learned that you should travel the state…you can do that in many of our six-state region…and shake a person’s hand while looking him or her in the eye. There’s a lot to be said for looking a politician in the eye. Some of those I’ve met can’t hold your gaze for too long. It’s as though they realize you’re seeing right through them and into their souls. Those are the ones I won’t vote for. I met one of our Congressmen at a concert this summer. He was out pressing the flesh. When I looked in his eyes, I could see the toughness of the iron worker he once was; I could see a hard scrabble man who would probably not openly lie to my face…and he did hold my stare. Oh, sure, he’s like the rest of them; he’ll bend the truth when he has to do so, but I genuinely believe this guy knows what the issues in which his constituency has an interest.

I wish that it was possible to set term limits for members of Congress.  Senators and Congressmen and women will tell us that they can’t get things accomplished if term limits are set. My question is, “Why the hell not?” If we have an Agenda for America that says (1) we want full employment or as close to it as we can get; (2) we want a universal health care package that benefits all Americans; (3) we want fair and equal representation on taxes so that everyone – with a capital ‘E’ – is paying his or her fair share of the burden; (4) we want a strong military that will protect us from threats at home and abroad; (5) we want people coming into our country who wish to be part of our nation and not part of the nation from which they came. If you’re coming to America to seek a better life, lean our language and our customs because those have been fought for and young men and women of all races and ethnicities have spilled blood and paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that our nation retains its identity. (6) We want an educational system that will provide a strong base for our children and adequate compensation for those who are teaching them. We don’t expect to be at the top of every poll that ranks nations by subject matter; however, we expect to be competitive. (7) We want an infrastructure that ensures our bridges are safe; our roadways are adequate for the traffic to bear, and our climate is clean and free of pollutants.

Without question, there is more to the Agenda for America, but if I can ‘bang out’ those seven in less time that it takes for most fools to smoke a cigarette, then surely our Congressional leaders, working in consort with our Executive Branch can come up with an appropriate number of items to attack and if some members of the Congress doesn’t want to work that way, term limits, not the ballot box, will get rid of them and put people in office who understand the Agenda and who are will to work with, not at odds with the rest of the gang.

There’s another bunch of liars who work in Washington. They call themselves “lobbyists,” although many of them may have changed their positions to something that has less of a stigma attached to it. That just shows that they won’t even tell the truth about their job titles. These people have their own agenda…and you can bet your sweet ass it isn’t for America. It’s for the particular group for whom they are serving as pimps. Whether it’s the pharmaceutical lobby, the tobacco lobby, the farmer’s lobby, the medical association lobby or any of the other 12,000 lobbying clients, my reaction is, “Get rid of them; they do more harm than good when it comes to an Agenda for America. Granted this will put 22,000 lobbyists out of work and close the doors on 2,500 or so lobbying firms, but let them find honest work for once in their lives. Perhaps that’s too harsh, but they merely seem to muck up legislation rather than help Congress achieve the goals for which we sent them to Washington.

Is there a naiveté about all of this? Of course there is. Changing a political system that has gone from the sidewalks to the sewers isn’t as simple as I have portrayed it. Once the snakes are out of the pit, it’s an absolute bitch to try and get them all back in. We have an entrenched system in Washington. I can only hope and pray that it will not take another 911 to bring these people together. Washingtonians would say, “You don’t understand the complexities of government,” and I would agree with them one hundred percent. My response to them is, “You don’t understand today’s American. You have lost sight of the needs of “the people,” and have focused so tightly on your own little world that you, not the rest of us but you, are failing to see or understand what we are seeking from “our” national governing body.

The mid-term elections are almost upon us. I saw a sign on a front lawn the other day that read, “Defeat the Incumbents.” It was professionally printed, not hand drawn. If this is what we have come to; if this is how the majority of Americans feel, our Republican form of democracy is on its last legs. When that happens, we will be ripe for conquering. Is that what we want or do we want to tell our politicians to grow up and begin working together for the common good of America…yeah, America…The Beautiful.

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What does “I love you” really mean? Google it and you’ll get nearly seven million results in less than a second. Many of these are quotations from Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Emily Dickinson or some other famous writer. Many others receive no attribution and I can’t help but wonder what would possess anyone to write about love without wanting their names revealed…ah, well.

The subject of love has come up recently because I’m in love and feeling guilty about it. I spent three of my high school years in love with a classmate. At least, we called it love. In hindsight, it was probably just the lust and hormones of teenage youth. For those of you who possess puerile minds, no, we never consummated our relationship. Were we both interested in doing so? I cannot say for certain nor is it anyone’s damned business. I will say this, however, that we respected one another’s space. Looking back, I have the feeling that we were either very much ahead of our time and more mature than many of our classmates or that we were a couple of dunderheads who had too much respect for one another. Anyway, things didn’t work out; I suffered the broken heart of the young, and then it was off to college. Love never reared its beautiful head in college; lust did, but not love…gee, maybe I was just a late bloomer.

In my senior year of college, I found Love…please note the capitalization. My major was marketing with an economics minor. However, I elected to take a second minor in education, feeling that teaching was a profession in which I might have an interest. As a consequence, I was allowed to take a semester and pursue my second minor. As luck would have it, a teacher in my hometown high school resigned the last day of the fall semester; I’d like to say that I planned it, but I have the feeling there was another power at work on this one. On my first day, I walked into the teacher’s room before classes were to begin – that’s where we all went for coffee and cigarettes, and to get away from the little monsters – and was hit in the heart by one of Cupid’s little darts. My high school love hadn’t felt like this. My body tingled; I began to sweat, and; I know I was incapable of intelligent conversation. Fortunately, I was saved by one of my former English teachers who asked what I thought I was doing in the teacher’s room. My mind changed gears for a moment, just long enough to put this harridan in her place by telling her that I had been hired as a permanent substitute while on break from college. I also enjoyed telling her that education was my second minor. The language I really wanted to use in putting her down would only have served to reinforce her original thoughts that I should have taken a full time job in a food store because I’d never amount to anything. In addition, the Love of my life was sitting nearby and I wanted desperately to appear worldly and sophisticated…what a jerk!

Fifty plus years later we parted company; death did part us. Death, however, cannot take away Love, just as it can’t take away memories or the progeny that Love produced. She will always be my Love, and it will only be my own death that will mark ‘fini’ to our relationship. Now I have found Love again. It’s not the same love that I had for so long; it’s not a Cupid’s arrow kind of love that makes you all stupid and foolish. Perhaps it’s better called “mature love.” Nonetheless, today when I say, “I love you,” I mean it just as much as when I said it to my Love so many years ago, before we stepped up to the altar.

Love has to be one of the weirdest emotions that human beings can feel. When one is young and stupid, the words, “I love you” flow from the lips with ease, particularly of young horny males, who completely misunderstand the definition of the word. I prefer to think of young love more as “infatuation.” It seems to come at a time when we are still trying to understand our own being as well as the being of the one with whom we are infatuated…if that doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to you, go back, read it again, and think about your own “first love.” That may help although that’s open to question.

As we age, love changes meanings thereby defying dictionary definition. “No, I don’t adore her or him; neither do I worship this other person.” It’s amazing the number of stages that love goes through in our lives. We feel affection; we just want to be near; we would like to spend the rest of our lives with…and often, even the reasons are difficult to express.

My new Love is 180 degrees opposite my first Love. She loves to get her hands dirty in the garden; she cares nothing about fashion; she’s an avid crafts person; food is merely an afterthought. These are all things which might or might not have been attractive to me years ago…I have no clue. Today, in my dotage, I’m fascinated by them, by her; by the way she thinks and puts things together. It’s a new and different kind of Love, but Love it is my friend, Love it is.

Sure, we would all like to put love, along with everything else, into a little compartment in our brain. “This is what ‘love’ is just as…” whatever. Love doesn’t work that way. If you are one of the unfortunate ones who has yet to find Love (with a capital ‘L’), I wish you luck and Godspeed. If you have found Love, you know that it, as I have said, defies words; it just is…thankfully.

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For the past couple of years the government has decided that a Social Security increment to offset the cost of living is unnecessary. In 2009, a 5.8 percent increase was given. That’s more than I received in my last few years of employment, so I guess I should be happy. There is, however, a problem with government thinking in this. What the government fails to understand is that while they aren’t giving me anymore money, my cost of living does, in fact, increase.

Let me give you a few facts: In 2009, my monthly health insurance cost was $129. For those of you who have trouble with math, that’s nearly $1550 for the year. This year, the cost is $144 per month, a not insignificant increase. Recently, I learned that my per month coverage for 2011 will be almost $160 per month. Stay with me here…this means that my health insurance has increased $480 over this three-year period but the government feels that I don’t need a cost of living increment. I suppose that I shouldn’t complain too much; after all, the government sent me a check for $250 – a one-time payment – to help with my subscription costs. That covers nearly half of what my health insurance increase is going to be; isn’t that just wonderful? Don’t you just love the way the Federal Government is looking after its senior citizens and trying desperately to keep them in their homes?

When she learned that she had Stage IV lung cancer, my wife asked that she be allowed to die at home. It was a simple request. Our house was paid for; our car, while several years old, was running well and had just under a hundred thousand miles on it, so that didn’t seem to be a problem; the kids were grown, educated, and had families of their own. Sure, we would have liked to help them out but things were a bit tight. My wife’s request, however, was one that I would do anything to fulfill. On Father’s Day, 2008, she died; she died at home; she died sitting in her favorite chair…and that was a good thing. In 2009, the property taxes rose and again in 2010. It has become more and more difficult to meet those quarterly payments, but they are still being met. I’d like to die in this house; fact is, I’d sort of like to die in that same chair, but I’m not certain that will be possible.

It seems that the price of everything has gone up in a manner that further delineates the rich from the poor. I don’t see much of a middle class anymore. Perhaps there should be some new designations: the super-rich, rich, almost rich, almost poor, poor, and piss-poor. By the way, that last is not as obscene as you might believe. In olden days, human urine was used in tanning leather. Families who had trouble making ends meet would collect their urine in a pot and take it to the local tannery for pennies; they became known as piss poor. Others who were poorer still and had no containers, ergo, they “didn’t have a pot to piss in.”

Now that we have finished with the colloquial expressions lesson, it’s time to move on. Perhaps I am most bothered by the attitude of a certain group of younger married folks in my town. These are the SUV driving yummy mommies who are proud of the fact that on recycling day, they have more green bags than anyone on the street. Yet they also make a stop at the local gas station almost every day. For many, the position is, “If you can’t afford your property taxes, move into a retirement home.” The sense of compassion for those who are not making six figure incomes is totally lacking. These are the young ones who consider old people to be more of a burden than a treasure. Had I lived in olden days, I know what I’d have done to them with my pot of….ah, never mind.

Those of us who have survived to collect Social Security grew up in a time when food, clothing, and other essentials were less expensive than they are today. We even may have saved a bit – put it away for a rainy day, to use another colloquialism – hoping that we would have it for our retirement. Today’s young people appear to believe it necessary to spend every penny in order to have what their friends have or to go them one better. Our son, who lives in Colorado, believes this phenomenon to be peculiar to the East Coast. “I just don’t find it to be as rampant in the western part of the country,” he told me, “although I will admit that in parts of the South, it’s worse than it is in Massachusetts!”

There was a time when I never bothered to look at the advertisements from the local food chains. Now I study them carefully each week. I can tell you that at one chain, bananas are remarkably cheap on Mondays, along with several other items I use. They also have double coupon days on Tuesday, and I’ve become a coupon fanatic on the computer, finding site after site to print out those lovely pieces of paper that can save me so much. Not too long ago our eighty-eight dollar grocery bill was reduced to sixty-eight by using our coupons on double coupon day…it was a joyous occasion.

I’ve learned that you can pick up some great necessities at places like the Dollar Tree store, Overstock.com, Ocean State Job Lot, and even Walmart. There was a time, I freely admit, when I looked down my nose at some of those stores. I was an American snob; now I’m just an American. Oh, I’ll die in my house all right. The furniture might be kind of ratty by that time and I’ll probably be eating only what I can grow, but I’ll be damned if they’re gonna prevent me from dying the way I want to die or in the place I wish to do it!

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“I hate the cold!”

“Oh, man, the summer heat is unbearable.”

“We don’t have a spring. It just rains all the time.”

“Geez, the fall is terrible; you know when the days start getting so short.”

These are New Englanders. They are a bitching, wailing, never satisfied group of men, women and children who believe, and rightly so, that complaining about the weather is their birthright…and I’m one of them. Since the Pilgrims first put foot on the rock, slipped, fell off and got their pantaloons wet in the freezing cold Atlantic, those of us who were born, brought up, and will die in these six states because we’re so damned parochial, have found a common bond about which to complain…and for those who count, that was a sentence of over fifty words but who cares. Our common complaint is the weather. It is not only our birthright, but I understand, from a totally unreliable source, that it has been bred into our DNA.

When one takes the time to analyze this phenomenon, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. We are actually blessed with seasonal changes. If we lived in San Diego, for example, would we complain about the sameness of the weather year round? Oh, yeah…just because it’s weather. We would, of course, also be complaining about the illegals, the drug trade, and the possibility of an earthquake at any second; therefore, we wouldn’t move to San Diego. How about Florida, would that make us happy? Not on your life, Ace. New Englanders are, by their very nature, “weatherites.” There, Mr. Webster, I just gave you a new word to consider. Who could stand Florida with the hurricanes and the heat and humidity? Yuk, not for the foolhardy folk in the Northeast, all of whom talk funny.

This diatribe is not to say that some ‘cowards’ haven’t bailed out over the years. There are the ‘snowbirds’ who flock to Florida each winter, along with several species of cowardly birds, only to return in the summer and crowd our highways and byways…and bird feeders. Some have even gone west to live year round along the San Andreas fault or in the Arizona dessert, thus being deprived of the beauty of New England winters.

As a native New Englander, I guess that I have as much right as others to complain. However, I find that as I age, I’m less inclined to do so. I’ve seen Florida in the summer and experienced the heat of summer in the Southwest. We in New England never see that kind of heat for a lengthy period of time. I’ve seen Colorado in the fall when the mountain peaks are covered with the first snows and the aspens have turned to gold. New England in the fall is a rainbow. The mountains aren’t high; westerners would, more than likely, call them “hills,” but those hills spew forth colors ranging from shades of red and orange to beauteous hues of yellow and gold. When you combine them with the differing greens of the firs, you would be hard pressed to find anything, anywhere in the country to match the beauty of a New England Fall.

Years ago, as a lad of seventeen, I swam in the Pacific. It was okay. However, for some strange reason – after all I grew up not far from Cape Cod – I prefer the Atlantic. This is by way of saying, we’re all happier with that with which we’re familiar. Sitting on his deck in Colorado Springs, looking at Pike’s Peak, I said to my son, “The only drawback to Colorado is that it doesn’t have an ocean.” As a New Englander, I’m certain that I would find more to complain about if I stayed for more than a week or so, but that was my sole complaint at the time.

Americans; we really are a weird bunch. I have the feeling that Missourians, Ohioans, and Minnesotans complain about something with their own states, as do those in the other forty-seven. We have the dust bowl, tornado alley, the earthquake zones, hurricane zones, lake-effect snow zones that can dump a foot or more on you overnight and everything in between. Therefore, we in New England really have no reason to complain.  As my partner said, “You’re just a bunch of pansy-assed whiners who don’t know what you’ve got.” She’s right, of course. Last winter, during one of our New England snowfalls, she went for a walk. It was close to Christmas and she took a picture of one of the houses down the street. The house, a Colonial, was white with black shutters. It had wreaths in every window with an electric candle sitting on each sill. The front door was adorned with a large, decorated wreath complete with big red bow. On the ground was about eight inches of snow and a light snowfall was continuing. “It’s Currier and Ives,” she said, showing me the digital photo she had taken.  “But it’s like that everywhere I turn,” she informed me. “It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.” When she returned to California – she wouldn’t retire and move here until her school year was over – friends and colleagues asked her about winter in Massachusetts. “They wouldn’t believe me until I showed them the picture,” she said in an e-mail. “Then, they went into shock!”

So, to all of you pansy-assed whiners who live in New England; in fact, to pansy-assed whiners all over America who complain about where you live, “fug-ged aboud it,” you’d be no better off than where you are…although to this New Englander, complain as I might, we live in the most beautiful part of the country for seasonal change and beauty!

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And when he gets to Heaven
To Saint Peter he will tell:
“One more Marine reporting, Sir!
I’ve done my time in Hell.”

It’s called the Guadalcanal epitaph. It’s been modified over the years and adopted by many people in many professions; however, no one will ever know except those old men who were there, who served for the six months it took to win that island, what that epitaph really means. Their sacrifice – over 23,000 killed, wounded, or incapacitated by disease – helped to pave the way for the freedoms we, as Americans, enjoy today. I believe we tend to forget the price these men and women, who are now dying at the rate of nearly 1,000 per day, paid to ensure that we can enjoy what we have today.

At the Battle of the Bulge in Europe, there were 90,000 American casualties. There is no epitaph for those young men. What we lovingly remember from that terrible siege is the response of General McAuliffe when told by the Germans that he must surrender. The reply was one word… “Nuts!” Probably few people know that for that single battle, seventeen men received the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, five of which were awarded posthumously to the brave soldiers who, by heroic actions, earned the honor.

Recently, I met a soldier, a sergeant who is going back for his sixth tour in Afghanistan. He’s not a young man by any stretch of the imagination. Married, with a couple of kids, he freely admits that it’s difficult to leave his wife and children, “…but this is my life and my duty,” he says. He’s also a cancer survivor and that’s extremely unusual. Generally, cancer will give you an automatic pass away from the other dangers of life, but this man feels “it’s my duty.” My God, how many young men and women do we have in our military that can sum up their devotion to our nation, to you and to me, with just those three words…”it’s my duty.” Yes, we think about them – often too casually – on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Veteran’s Day, but do we really understand their commitment. We have a volunteer military that guards and fights for our freedoms day in and day out and that’s something to which most of us fail to give sufficient thought.

Some will say that we have fought and are fighting “unjust” wars, and those people are certainly entitled to feel that way. Others will say that we have to fight these wars overseas so that we will not be fighting them on our own soil. They, too, are entitled to their opinion. My own opinion doesn’t really matter here; if people aren’t aware of how I feel by now, they haven’t read much of this blog and I have no intention of rehashing my political views. This isn’t about me or you or anyone who isn’t in the military; this is about the young men and women who ‘volunteer,’ and that’s the key word, volunteer, to put themselves in harm’s way in order that the rest of us do not have to do so.

To date, we have lost nearly 6,000 members of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t feel that I can trust any of the sources I’ve tried regarding casualties in Pakistan, therefore, they will not be mentioned here. To each and every wife, child, mother, father, and other family members who have lost someone in these wars; to each of those who have lost someone in any one of our many conflicts, I offer my profound thanks and gratitude. I am not part of your family but in one way…I, too, am an American. Please know that your son or daughter, husband or wife, is remembered, not just three days out of the year but every day, generally by someone you don’t even know.   

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Politicians are liars! I don’t believe there is a man, woman, or child old enough to watch television who would disagree with that statement. Heck, I don’t believe there’s a politician alive who, if his or her feet were held to the fire, wouldn’t admit that he or she has lied to the constituency. Richard Nixon was a crook; he was also one of the best ambassadors we ever had when it came time to dealing with China. Jack Kennedy was a “swordsman” and for those who don’t know what that means, I’m not gonna bother to explain. History has yet to determine what his exact positive contributions to the nation were. Bill Clinton did have sex with ‘that’ woman and probably many, many others we don’t know about. However, he also took a deficit and made it disappear. He kept us at peace for his entire term. George W. Bush was not a good president but his intentions were wonderful. The problem that he had was that he listened to a war monger like Richard Cheney and a political hack by the name of Karl Rove. The point I’m making is that all of our Presidents – from Washington to Obama – have lied about one thing or another and each lie seems to have grown larger with time. “The evil that men do lives after them,” Mark Antony said. “The good is often interred with their bones.”

Perhaps we’re too hard on our Presidents and not hard enough on the other branches of the government. Remember, the President has an agenda. In the case of Barack Obama, his first agenda item was health care. Was it the most important agenda item for the majority of Americans? No, probably not; however, are we to castigate the President for trying to get a universal health care package passed by Congress? No, we’re being short-sighted if that is how we feel. Was TARP a mistake? That all depends on the Congressman or woman with whom you speak, but again, just as in the health care package, the Congress has become so polarized that you can be guaranteed that the truth will be twisted to meet the party line, Democratic or Republican.

I live in Massachusetts. We have a local cable channel that covers much of the six New England States. I will often watch it because we see political ads from New Hampshire and Connecticut. The people in Vermont don’t seem to be doing too much television advertising. Maybe they’ve learned that you should travel the state…you can do that in many of our six-state region…and shake a person’s hand while looking him or her in the eye. There’s a lot to be said for looking a politician in the eye. Some of those I’ve met can’t hold your gaze for too long. It’s as though they realize you’re seeing right through them and into their souls. Those are the ones I won’t vote for. I met one of our Congressmen at a concert this summer. He was out pressing the flesh. When I looked in his eyes, I could see the toughness of the iron worker he once was; I could see a hard scrabble man who would probably not openly lie to my face. Oh, sure, he’s like the rest of them; he’ll bend the truth when he has to do so, but I genuinely believe this guy knows what the issues in which his constituency has an interest.

I wish that it was possible to set term limits for members of Congress.  Senators and Congressmen and women will tell us that they can’t get things accomplished if term limits are set. My question is, “Why the hell not?” If we have an Agenda for America that says (1) we want full employment or as close to it as we can get; (2) we want a universal health care package that benefits all Americans; (3) we want fair and equal representation on taxes so that everyone – with a capital ‘E’ – is paying his or her fair share of the burden; (4) we want a strong military that will protect us from threats at home and abroad; (5) we want people coming into our country who wish to be part of our nation and not part of the nation from which they came. If you’re coming to America to seek a better life, lean our language and our customs because those have been fought for and young men and women of all races and ethnicities have spilled blood and paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that our nation retains its identity. (6) We want an educational system that will provide a strong base for our children and adequate compensation for those who are teaching them. We don’t expect to be at the top of every poll that ranks nations by subject matter; however, we expect to be competitive. (7) We want an infrastructure that ensures our bridges are safe; our roadways are adequate for the traffic to bear, and our climate is clean and free of pollutants.

Without question, there is more to the Agenda for America, but if I can ‘bang out’ those seven in less time that it takes for most fools to smoke a cigarette, then surely our Congressional leaders, working in consort with our Executive Branch can come up with an appropriate number of items to attack and if some members of the Congress doesn’t want to work that way, term limits, not the ballot box, will get rid of them and put people in office who understand the Agenda and who are will to work with, not at odds with the rest of the gang.

There’s another bunch of liars who work in Washington. They call themselves “lobbyists,” although many of them may have changed their positions to something that has less of a stigma attached to it. That just shows that they won’t even tell the truth about their job titles. These people have their own agenda…and you can bet your sweet ass it isn’t for America. It’s for the particular group for whom they are serving as pimps. Whether it’s the pharmaceutical lobby, the tobacco lobby, the farmer’s lobby, the medical association lobby or any of the other 12,000 lobbying clients, my reaction is, “Get rid of them; they do more harm than good when it comes to an Agenda for America. Granted this will put 22,000 lobbyists out of work and close the doors on 2,500 or so lobbying firms, but let them find honest work for once in their lives. Perhaps that’s too harsh, but they merely seem to muck up legislation rather than help Congress achieve the goals for which we sent them to Washington.

Is there a naiveté about all of this? Of course there is. Changing a political system that has gone from the sidewalks to the sewers isn’t as simple as I have portrayed it. Once the snakes are out of the pit, it’s an absolute bitch to try and get them all back in. We have an entrenched system in Washington. I can only hope and pray that it will not take another 911 to bring these people together. Washingtonians would say, “You don’t understand the complexities of government,” and I would agree with them one hundred percent. My response to them is, “You don’t understand today’s American. You have lost sight of the needs of “the people,” and have focused so tightly on your own little world that you, not the rest of us but you, are failing to see.

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“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea Let’s go to press.” It was the way the legendary Walter Winchell opened each of his radio programs back in the thirties. One of the greatest problems to plague Winchell was his penchant for both the truth and for his ability to stretch it to just within its limits. This particular writer would never have the audacity to compare himself to the incomparable Winchell; however, the one thing of which you can be certain; I will always tell you the truth…as I see it.

America was founded by a group of dissidents who were hell-bent on escaping religious persecution back in their homeland. It was also founded by a bunch of thugs who had to “get out of Dodge or face the consequences.” In other words, the people who founded this nation were a combination of good and not-so-good folks who had a great deal of courage and who would battle to keep the country great even if it meant that a great many of its citizens had to shed their blood. These were men and women of good faith and while we have had our share of problems, the descendants of those first settlers have also done battle and paid in blood and with their lives to keep this country free.

Today, that blood of courage seems to be thinning. We appear to be bowing down to those of other countries, letting their wills be imposed on what I thought were our principles. Religion and religious fervor seems now to govern whatever we do. We can’t insult this group or be unkind to that group. We can’t do this and we can’t do that. And we have brought this on ourselves.

In our earliest years, when slavery was popular throughout the country – in the North, South, East, and West – it was an accepted part of what we were. It was not without turmoil and a war that claimed more American lives than any before or after that we finally wised up and recognized that Blacks and Browns, Yellows and Reds, are all people; one nation, “under God,” and every man and woman has a right to strive for the best life he can by dint of honest labor and toil.

Today, everything revolves around being politically correct and that is wrong! We hide our prejudice and when something happens that indicates prejudice is still a part of our culture, we act shocked and horrified that such a terrible thing, whatever it happens to be, can take place in 21st Century America. What a bunch of hogwash! Let me give you a few examples: Students kill themselves because they are bullied. Is this something new? No, of course it isn’t. Bullying has become a buzzword and suicide a way out for those who are unwilling to stand up and take on the bully or those who stand on the sidelines and don’t step in to help stop the bullying. Black people shoot each other over drug deals gone bad. Well, hell, that’s not news. Dealing drugs is a way to make fast money and lots of it. For those people growing up in the projects without a father or other male role model, this is the way things are done. It will take a cultural change for this problem to go away.  Gangs wreak havoc in the inner cities. Well, now, golly, if you’re a refugee from Cambodia, Thailand, China, the former Soviet Union, or Vietnam, you want to achieve the American Dream along with everyone else. You find it difficult to do on your own so what better way to achieve the dream than by joining with people of similar backgrounds…and gangs lead to violence.

Meanwhile, back in the “burbs,” Mr. & Mrs. White America just want peace and quiet. When the Jewish community first went to the local school committees and asked that their holidays be observed, they were told, “No.” Eventually, and with justification, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur became holidays for school children. Now the Muslim community has come forth, and because there are more and more Muslims coming to the United States, they, too, are requesting that their holiday of Ramadan be regarded as a school holiday. I don’t have a problem with any of this. Let my children make the decision on this for their children and on and on and on. My question is this: “If America is so concerned that its students are no longer at the top of the heap in terms of education, why are we increasing the number of holidays being celebrated throughout the school year?” Here’s an idea: Why don’t we have three breaks a year in the school calendar. The first of these would be a Thanksgiving break. It has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with the folks who founded our country, massacred the original Native Americans and went on to create the nation. Hell, even that holiday is controversial. Many say that the original 1621 feast was just a gathering of some people along with 91 Indians who had helped the settlers get through the first year. Another story goes that the Native Americans were having a feast and that the Pilgrims dropped by, killed all of the Indians, stole their food and had their own little party. It’s also said that the feast did not take place the following year. When George Washington proposed a national day of thanksgiving, there were many who were opposed to it. It wasn’t until 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Today, the holiday is viewed by many as the day before “Sale Day,” and the beginning of Christmas shopping. When I mentioned to someone that our grandson has each of us fill out a card before Thanksgiving dinner, asking what we are thankful for, the person thought it a wonderful idea and “something I wish we could do.” I didn’t bother to ask why it couldn’t be done; I probably would have replied, “Bullshit!” to whatever the answer happened to be.

After a Thanksgiving break that would, by the way, encompass the entire last week of Thanksgiving, the second break would occur in December. It would have nothing to do with Christmas or Chanukah, Kwanza, or whatever. It would be a “winter break.” It would begin two weeks before the end of the year and end two weeks into the New Year. The third and final break would occur the first week in April and would be for one full week. Why should we have this spring break? I have no idea other than it will protect the sanity of teachers everywhere.

I would also posit the idea of a longer school day as well as a longer school year. I believe that we should pay teachers what they are worth. I believe we should not tolerate any nonsense in school and that laws should be written that state, in effect, if you disrupt the school you are in, you will be sent to a school where disruption is not tolerated

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It’s called ‘leaf-peeping.’ Don’t ask me why because I haven’t a clue. I suppose it was someone’s bright idea to make up a cutesy name rather than just saying, “…looking at the foliage.” Maybe the latter sounds too snobby or something, but anyway, that’s what they call it. In New England, that glorious six state area in the northeast part of the United States, ‘leaf-peeping’ takes place during the month of October. Maple trees, ashes, birch trees and oaks, aspens and many, many others, begin to trade their summer chlorophyll greenery for what – believe it or not – is their true color. There are so many shades of reds, yellows, oranges, and even greens that when you see them massed on the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts or the Green Mountains of Vermont, their beauty can absolutely suck the breath from your body. “Glorious” is much too mild a word to describe the painted scenes that would make Manet, Monet, and numerous other landscape painters ‘green’ with envy.

Nowhere is the fall-foliage-viewing – so there, you leaf-peepers – better than along the named trails of the Berkshires and the Connecticut River Valley. The Mohawk Trail is a former footpath for several Native American tribes as well as early settlers and salesmen. The Trail is a 63 mile roadway that runs east to west from Massachusetts through parts of Connecticut and into New York. Beginning in Williamstown, you can pick up the Taconic Trail which runs through Pittsfield, MA and into Petersburg, New York and travel another 35 miles of fall beauty.

By now you may have gathered what occupied Columbus Day weekend for my partner and me.  “How’d you like to go on a road trip?” I asked. Since my friend is from the West Coast and spent most of her life in a part of California where ‘leaf-peeping’ is not considered a fall sport, she was eager to see what New England had to offer. While I wouldn’t admit it, I was rather anticipating what we might see along the way. I think that my parents may have taken us to see the foliage at some long ago time, but I’m not certain. I know that the ’36 Chevy couldn’t have made the trip and recalling some of the names that Dad called the ’41 Terraplane, I rather doubt he would have trusted it to go any further than the end of the driveway. It really wouldn’t have mattered, because as a youngster, you can’t appreciate the beauty of leaves, the draw of a foliage tour, or the beauty of a New England valley in the fall.

The one certainty about any trip taken damn near anywhere in the United States these days is that you will run into road construction. Our voyage was no different. Four-lane, divided highways were reduced to two-lane, squeeze-tight-or-you’ll-lose-your-side-mirror horror shows. I suppose that in the long run, it will be better for our highway system, but you and I both know that by the time one project is finished, the road will be out of date and another project will begin. It’s rather like a never-ending disaster.

Road construction aside, the ride to the western part of the state was nice. Leaving from our home south of Boston where the leaves are still mostly green, we saw the transformation the farther west we rode. By the time we reached Gardner, where we would spend our first night, the trees had really begun to adopt their fall color. Now, here’s where things get a bit strange. Have you ever checked into a hotel and almost immediately been confronted by someone offering you a free flu shot? I kid you not. A health fair was taking place in the hotel and volunteers were patrolling the lobby, seeking out unsuspecting visitors and practically dragging them to the spot where you could have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked as well as receiving a free flu shot…the operative word being “free.” Drugstores in our area were getting as much as twenty-five dollars; my doctor didn’t even know if he’d be getting vaccine this year, so all-in-all, this sounded like a pretty good deal. In addition, this was the new vaccine that protects against the pandemic virus as well as a couple of others. If there was a drawback, it was that the shots would be given my nursing students from a nearby community college. We need not have worried; the students were great and the shot was a piece of cake. If this isn’t strange enough for you, how about this…we went out to eat and learned, by chance, that our waitress was the mother of an autistic child. My partner spent nearly twenty years working with challenged kids and since the restaurant wasn’t all that busy, the waitress sat with us while my friend dispensed some good information. Why and how the entire subject came up, I have no idea.  It was just one of those things that generally happen to us as we go through life. We seem to be magnets for folks who need help and you know what…that’s just fine with us.

The following day we headed west, higher into the Berkshires. This is where you round a curve and are suddenly confronted with a vista that will absolutely blow you away. On one side of the road you are looking down into a valley. White steepled New England church spires spouting up and tiny homes that look like toys stretch out below you. They aren’t crowded together. They’re sparse…but they’re there, and you think to yourself, “My God, Norman Rockwell really wasn’t making those things up. This is exactly how he painted it.” On the other side of the road a hill climbs straight up some 2,500 feet into the air and it’s covered with myriad colors. You’d like for a moment to put your head on a swivel just so that you can take it all in. Everywhere you look, every bend in the road brings something new and different. Yet, there is a sameness that’s not the same. Similar colors that change from one new view to another; puffy white clouds that darken parts of the hills and then move on, revealing even more color; scene after scene that would require a wordsmith with far great talent than I to adequately describe. We darn near went off the road several times because I became so lost in staring at the vistas before me. I’d hear a sharp intake of breath and realize it was time to tend to the driving. Perhaps one of these days I could just go along as a passenger.

On our second day of travel we managed to travel into three states, New York, Vermont, and back into Massachusetts. One of the most beautiful places in western Massachusetts is Williamstown, home to Williams College. This is one place where it can be honestly said that the town is the college and the college is the Town. Founded in 1793, Williams is a liberal arts college spread over a 450-acre campus with 2,900 acres of land that covers much of the region. It’s a school with extremely high academic standards and a rigorous curriculum. If Greenfield is the starting point for the Mohawk Trail, then Williams is the beginning of the ‘Tri-State Trail’ that will carry you from Massachusetts into New York and over to Vermont.

Because of our late planning, we were unable to stay in Williamstown, but by sheer luck, we landed in North Adams. This was a mill town, a factory town that had been in decline for a number of years. After hitting rock bottom a few decades ago, the town began a comeback. Today, it is one of ‘the’ destinations for artists of all mediums. Trendy boutiques and bistros dot the town and fill the old factory buildings along with art galleries of all types. Sad to say, the Holiday Inn was not hosting any events where ‘freebies’ were offered, therefore, we had to content ourselves with browsing the galleries.

‘They,’ whoever the hell ‘they’ are, say that you can’t get lost by following route signs. ‘They’ don’t know me. On our final day, I managed to take a wrong turn and wound up in a Vermont village. We had already stopped at the Apple Barn and picked up cider, cider donuts, and an apple crumb pie, so we weren’t worried about going hungry or thirsty; however, we were lost. The lady in the local thrift shop told us some smaller routes – that means you’d better be careful when passing a car coming in the opposite direction – and we were off again. Although the beauty of the hills and valleys was still keeping our heads spinning, we found something equally fascinating. We drove through small communities where they were holding art fairs, chili cook-offs, chicken and pulled pork barbecues; where streets were closed to accommodate town tag sales and places where original fire engines were on display. We saw small town New England at its very finest and at probably the finest time of the year.

Eventually, we found our way back to a main highway, but it wouldn’t have been a road trip for my partner unless I drove through Concord, Mass. and along the route traveled by Henry David Thoreau. Yes, we passed by Walden Pond and wound around the road that was once the pathway on which he trod. Coming home, getting home, being home is wonderful, and now we are home with memories that we will carry with us forever…of places seen, of people we met, of natural beauty and splendor that should we ever see it again, it will be as if we are seeing it for the first time. This was our journey as ‘leaf peepers’ and on top of everything else, a free flu shot. Ah, yes, the world is good.

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In this time of raging unemployment, a recession that damn near became a depression, and a population that is confused, disjointed, but certainly polarized, I thought I’d try to offer a few thoughts from an old man who’s been around the barn once or twice. For those of you who don’t know the expression, it means that I’ve probably been through what a heck of a lot – too many in fact – of you are going through right now.

Just before Christmas, 1974, I was fired from a job at the university from which I had earned two degrees, for which I had worked my butt off, and which cast me off like a used rag. We had three children, the oldest of whom was ten. It wasn’t as difficult to find “your kind” of work as it is today. Computers were, more or less, on the horizon back then; the Internet was but a dream; and, while man had landed on the moon, we still had a number of questions about what that truly meant. Money was a problem, but it wasn’t a huge one. We could pay our bills for a while so I spent the first six months getting to know my wife and kids. You see, they had all gotten older while I was spending most of my time at work. That’s a hell of a thing to say, but it’s true; we spend more time at work than we do with our families. Figure it out; each of us has 168 hours a week. Even if you calculate that you work a 40-hour work week, which rarely happens unless you’re being paid hourly, you still haven’t calculated commuter time; for many people that’s over 10 hours per week. Now throw in some sleep time and being the generous guy that I am, I’ll give you seven hours per night. This gives us nearly 100 of our 168 per week that we’re allotted. What remains, when you get right down to it, isn’t a great deal of family time. Thus, you can see why I wanted to get to know my family all over again.

When the time came to send our resumes and letters, I was a bear. Interviews in every New England state plus New York were a common occurrence. Sometimes, it was readily apparent that the “fit” would not work. Other times, there would be second and third interviews. It was frustrating to be told that, “You’re one of three; you’re one of two,” and in one case, “You’re our only candidate but we have to post it because we receive government grants.” The worst part of that, a job for which I had actually written the description, was that a better qualified candidate “came out of the woodwork.” I’ve been asked on numerous occasions how I mentally handled being out work for three years. Three things kept me going: (1) I knew that if worse came to worse, I could always go back into retail, even if it meant bagging groceries at some supermarket; (2) I knew that I hadn’t changed. I was the same person with the same talents I always had. There were friends who stayed away because they thought I might be contagious, and others who would take me to lunch to offer advice. I always thought of them as the ‘gloaters’ who had a job, couldn’t give me any leads, and just wanted to help. I’m certain they believed they were helping; they were not; and, (3) someone had given me Dr. Wayne Dyer’s “Your Erroneous Zones.” In it, Dyer states “Look over your shoulder. You have a constant companion; for want of a better name, call it your own death. Now, you can continue to look back over your shoulder and watch death get closer and closer or you can just accept the fact that death is back there somewhere and get on with your life.” I knew that I’d get a job, and I did. I knew I’d have to take a pay cut, and I did. I knew that this job, this new chapter in my life, was going to be great…because I wouldn’t let it be anything else! It was the best 20 years of my life.

The point is that I have lived a microcosm of what many of you are going through. I empathize with your plight, but I don’t pity you. Getting fired, losing my job, crash landing on the beach…however, you want to put it, was the best thing that ever happened to me. No, my house wasn’t foreclosed; no, I didn’t have to pull my kids from private schools. Hell, they never went to private school. Yes, we did have to adjust our lifestyle to meet financial changes; and yes, of course we grew concerned.

My hardships can never be compared to yours. This is a different time. This is a time when the technology you thought you had mastered will be replaced next month by something new and completely different. This is a time that was preceded by unprecedented growth and prosperity. This is also a time of great uncertainty about the future. Therefore, you have every right to be petrified over losing your job and your home and all that you’ve accumulated. However, one thing has not changed. You are the constant. You’ve held a job before. Perhaps it was the ideal job for you and perhaps you’ll never find that ideal again…so what? You are you; the same person with the same brain, a bit more seasoned, more savvy, more experienced, more whatever you wish to call it, but you are still you. You may have to enter an entirely new and different field. Don’t fear it; embrace it. It’s new and different and you may not like new and different but from experience I will tell you that, if you take a positive attitude toward it, it will be exciting, not frightening. It will be challenging but not impossible. You may well find, as I did, that you have some hidden talents. And when those talents explode, you’ll look back at the job you once held and say, “I never could have done these things there; wow, this is fantastic!”

There’s a ‘kitchy’ expression that says, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” I prefer “Life is a beach and then you turn the page.” If you’re a techno-freak, you certainly know what OMG means, and that well may what you’re saying right now. No, I’m not some Pollyanna who always sees sunshine and roses. Watch someone you love waste away in front of you and you’ll also know what I’ve known. Watch that same person die and you’ll know what I’ve known. Watch your kids grow, marry, have families of their own, and know the loneliness of not seeing them as often as you’d like; you’ll know what I know.

Just never forget what is inside of you, my friend. However difficult your current circumstances, you can see it through. You can see it through if, for no other reason, than you are you. You have strength, courage, talent, and conviction. Heck, with all of that how can you help but succeed?

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